Braves' Freeman cleaning up in new spot

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A lot was made of who would replace Michael Bourn as the Braves' leadoff hitter. But Andrelton Simmons batting first wasn't the only lineup decision that manager Fredi Gonzalez had to make.

The Braves will have a new cleanup hitter in 2013 and he isn't one of the team's key additions -- brothers Justin and B.J. Upton.

Freddie Freeman will bat fourth between the Uptons as Gonzalez staggers right-handed and left-handed hitters in his new balanced lineup.

Freeman, having a good spring, appears up to the challenge now that the health issues of last season all appear to be in the past.

"He looks great," Gonzalez said. "I think he's going to have a good year."

Freeman, batting .333 with three homers and seven RBIs after his first 15 spring games, feels the same way.

"My finger is good, my knee is good and my eyes, everything is great," he said. "If I can just stay this way, I can have a big year."

Freeman, 23, tweaked a knee and then badly bruised his left index finger in 2012, while also battling eye issues. He still hit 23 homers and drove in 94 runs, but his averaged slipped to .259.

The first baseman had trouble gripping the bat after injuring his finger in June when hit by a throw sliding into second base and was trying to cope with vision issues even before that.

"I never had that 100 percent confidence in my eyes," he said.

The 2011 runner-up for National League rookie of the year considered laser surgery during the offseason, but will stick with contacts. He has new protective glasses to wear in the field.

"Last year was just a weird one," Freeman said. "I didn't see well and I had my finger injury, so it never felt right."

Freeman, who hit .282 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs in 2011, tried to put on weight after his rookie season. This winter, he took it off.

"He came into camp about 10 pounds lighter," Gonzalez said. "He looks stronger."

"I ate right and worked harder than I'd ever worked," said Freeman, who had Dan Uggla as his workout partner. "It was insane how much stronger I started to feel right away.

"Dan worked me hard. I watched how hard he works and started to do it myself. It wasn't easy, but I started losing the pounds and started to feel better. I hope it shows this season."

Uggla, who dropped about 15 pounds, was impressed with Freeman's dedication.

"He worked hard and never dropped out," Uggla said. "He has a lot of talent and now that he's back to 100 percent I think it will pay off."

It will soon be time to find out.

"I'm getting antsy," Freeman said. "I can't wait to get the season started."

The Braves are counting on Freeman to have a productive one.