Road-weary Braves expect Heyward to come off DL

AP Sports WriterMay 16, 2013 

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves are ready to put their suitcases away and take their first look at the lineup they envisioned before the season.

General manager Frank Wren said Thursday Jason Heyward is expected to be activated from the disabled list for Friday night's series opener against the Dodgers. It would be Atlanta's first chance this season to have both Heyward, recovering from an appendectomy, and catcher Brian McCann, who made a recent return from right shoulder surgery, in the same lineup.

Heyward had his appendix removed on April 22.

The Braves will play back-to-back home series against the Dodgers and Minnesota after completing a 4-6 road trip -- their second 10-game trip of 2013.

"It seems like we have one of these (long road trips) every other series," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez after ending the excursion with a 5-3 loss at Arizona on Wednesday. "We're home for two series and hopefully we can get a nice little run in us."

Atlanta has played only 14 home games, the fewest in the major leagues. They still lead the NL East and will play 14 of their next 19 games at home.

"I think everybody is looking forward to getting past this section of the schedule," Wren said. "The first six weeks have been

not exactly accommodating. But we've weathered it and we're now entering a stretch that should be a little easier on our team. We're coming out of that in first place, a little wobbly but still in first place."

The Braves announced Thursday left-handed reliever Jonny Venters will miss the remainder of the season after having the second major elbow surgery of his career.

Otherwise, the recent injury news has been positive. Atlanta could have right-hander Brandon Beachy return to the rotation next month. He had ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow in June, 2012.

Before Thursday's games, the Braves were tied for fourth in the majors with 52 homers. It has often been an all-or-nothing attack as the Braves were second in strikeouts while hitting only .242.

Wren is hoping for a more consistent offense with a healthy Heyward and McCann.

"Likely this will be the first time this year we'll have our projected regular lineup together," Wren said.

"We're looking forward to hitting with some consistency, consistency in the lineup and consistency in production. I think getting off the road and getting everyone healthy will be the first step in that."

McCann made a strong return to the lineup on the road trip. He hit .296 with three homers and 10 RBIs in eight games.

Heyward was hitting only .121 with two homers in 17 games. B.J. Upton is hitting only .145. Dan Uggla has seven homers but is hitting only .191. Uggla and Upton have combined for 101 strikeouts.

Upton has struggled while younger brother Justin Upton (.286, 13 homers, 23 RBIs) has thrived in Atlanta. Wren said the Braves will remain patient with B.J. Upton.

"He's working hard," Wren said. "It's different than a young kid. He's performed in the past and we know he can perform. We've got to be patient and let him work through some early season struggles.

"Guys eventually will figure it out. You just have to try to be patient and every once in a while give him a day and it's kind of more of a mental day than anything to refresh.

"They're working so hard outside the game to correct what's going on that sometimes you just need a break."

Venters had Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, the team said. The procedure was performed in Gulf Breeze, Fla., by Dr. James Andrews.

Andrews also performed the first Tommy John surgery on Venters when he was a minor leaguer in 2005.

The usual recovery time is around 12 months, but the period can be closer to 18 months for a pitcher undergoing a repeat operation. Under that scenario, Venters would miss two full seasons. Also, the chances of a full recovery are considered less promising for someone who needs the Tommy John procedure a second time, though some have returned to pitch effectively.

Serving as a setup man to closer Craig Kimbrel, Venters was one of Atlanta's most effective relievers over the last three seasons. He appeared in an NL-leading 85 games in 2011, going 6-2 with five saves and a 1.84 ERA. He was selected to the All-Star Game that year.

But Venters experienced occasional pain last season, limiting him to a career-low 58 2-3 innings, and he had more problems in spring training. He was shut down at the beginning of the season with what was described as a sprained left shoulder.

Hoping to avoid an extended stay on the disabled list, Venters underwent an injection and rested his arm for a month. But the pain returned when he began throwing off the mound, leading Andrews to conclude that Venters needed another Tommy John operation.

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