Even though the Atlanta Braves had to endure an inauspicious start to their highly anticipated three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, Braves fans still had plenty of reason to stand up and cheer. That's because, 600 miles away in Greensboro, NC, Brian McCann was putting on a show. While the Braves were getting their clocks thoroughly cleaned 10-0 in Detroit, Brian McCann was finally back to playing real games.
The Braves' six-time All-Star catcher started his Minor League rehab stint with the Rome Braves on Friday. McCann put on a power exhibition early, going deep in his first two at-bats in Rome's 10-6 victory over the Greensboro Grasshoppers. McCann went 2-for-3 with two home runs and four RBIs.
McCann is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery which has delayed the start of his 2013 season. He began the year on the disabled list and has been playing extended spring training games as a DH. Friday marked the first time since Oct. 3 that Mac has gone back behind the dish to catch a game. McCann was cleared to resume catching on April 16, which was six months to the day of his surgery.
The plan for exactly when McCann will rejoin the Atlanta club is still a fluid situation. Tentatively, McCann is scheduled to play five games for Rome and then move up to Triple-A Gwinnett to play five more games before joining the Braves sometime around May 6. That date is significant in that May 6 is also the day Jason Heyward is scheduled to be activated from his 15-game DL stint after he had emergency appendectomy surgery during the Braves' series against the Colorado Rockies. The Braves could be just ten days way from being nearly back to full strength.
It is important not to get too excited about McCann hitting home runs off of Low-A pitchers Scott Lyman and Brian Ellington, both of whom have exactly zero innings of combined Major League experience between them. However, after McCann recorded a career-low .230 batting average in 2012, fans will undoubtedly look for any glimmer of hope that he can return to the to the Brian McCann of old. If he does continue to play well, the Braves could choose to call him back up to The Show sooner than that May 6 target. The problem for manager Fredi Gonzalez will be in finding exactly where McCann fits on this Braves' roster when he is ready to return.
Evan Gattis has been more than just a serviceable gap stop in McCann's absence; he has actually been one of the most dependable hitters in the entire lineup not named Justin Upton. Gattis ranks second on the team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. It's hard to imagine a situation where McCann would come back and completely take back his role from Gattis. A possible platoon situation would be the most likely solution, with McCann playing against right-handed pitchers and Gattis getting the nod versus lefties, but Mac is probably not going to be very excited at the prospect of becoming a part-time player. Year-round interleague play will allow McCann to get some opportunities to play DH, but both catchers would ultimately lose some playing time to the other.
There is also a guy named Gerald Laird to consider. Laird just signed a two-year contract with Atlanta before this season began. Would the Braves really think about carrying three catchers? Is it possible that Gattis would actually be sent back down to the minors to get him regular at-bats against live pitching? It's hard to believe that Gattis could go from batting cleanup in the majors to riding the bus and staying in the La Quinta Inn: Kenosha again, but that is now a serious possibility. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will have some tough decisions to make very soon.
McCann will be back at it on Saturday when the Rome Braves and the Greensboro Grasshoppers play Game 2 of their four-game series.
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