Infielder Blake DeWitt’s back flared up on him, a recurrence of an old injury, so the Braves put him on the disabled list Saturday and took the opportunity to bolster their bullpen for the last two games of the Pirates series.
The Braves recalled right-hander David Carpenter from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Carpenter will provide some depth for the Braves’ bullpen, which is a little thin given that Luis Avilan needed to rest a hamstring strain and the innings logged recently by Anthony Varvaro and Luis Ayala. Varvaro threw three innings combined in the first two games vs. Pirates, and Ayala pitched two innings Wednesday against the Royals and 1 1/3 innings Friday in Pittsburgh.
The Braves had contemplated putting Avilan on the disabled list Sunday before their trip to Colorado, wanting a staff at full strength for Coors Field. But he has shown so much progress in the past two days that Gonzalez said Avilan could pitch in an emergency on and likely would be available Sunday.
This is after Avilan went to the ground Tuesday night attempting a pitch against the Royals, grabbing his hamstring, and was carted off the field. The Braves got the best-case scenario from a left-hander they’ve come to count on in a set-up role.
He threw his second 25-pitch bullpen session in the past two days Saturday and felt “very, very good.”
“Avilan’s bullpen (session) today was really, really encouraging,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “(Pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) was really encouraged that he could finish his delivery and defend himself if he needs to on the mound and on a bunt or something like that.”
DeWitt missed the second half of last season in the Cubs organization with a lower back strain. He was 1-for-3 with a double and a key sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning of a come-from-behind win over the Nationals on April 12. But after grounding out in a pinch hit at-bat Friday the Braves knew it was time to take action.
“He wasn’t getting better, the back issues,” Gonzalez said. “He’s going back to get all the workups the MRIs, the whole back thing.”
DeWitt was the emergency third catcher, which enabled Gonzalez to take a gamble and send Evan Gattis to pinch hit in the eighth inning Thursday night for his game-winning two-run homer. But Gonzalez still has another possibility if a similar situation arises in the next couple of games anyway — Carpenter is a converted catcher.
Update on Freeman: Freddie Freeman struck out three times and drew a walk in his first minor league rehabilitation outing Friday night for Gwinnett, and his manager Fredi Gonzalez could call it progress.
“Hopefully they were all swinging so he could really test his oblique,” quipped Gonzalez. “Reports came back OK. He looked good. Obviously we don’t want him to go 0-for-3 with three punch-outs, but at least his side held up.”
Freeman played first base for Gwinnett on Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., and is scheduled to play there again Sunday when Gwinnett returns home to play against Charlotte. If all continues to go well, Freeman will rejoin the Braves on Monday in Colorado. On Saturday, Freeman was 5-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs.
With Freeman’s impending return at first base, Gonzalez is at least thinking about playing Chris Johnson every day at third base. He and Juan Francisco opened the season in a platoon at third base, but Johnson was leading the National League with a .412 batting average entering play Saturday night.
“Chris sure has made a case for himself to play every day, but we’ll see,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said if Avilan remains on course, the Braves likely will option Carpenter to Gwinnett to make room on the roster when Freeman returns Monday.
Homecoming for Carpenter: Carpenter got his first call-up as a Brave about 90 miles from his hometown of Fairmont, W.Va. The former 12th-round pick out of the University of West Virginia had eight family members and plenty of friends coming to PNC Park on Saturday night.
“Couldn’t have planned it any better myself,” he said.
Carpenter was 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA in four games in Gwinnett, allowing six earned runs in 11 1/3 innings, with three walks and nine strikeouts.
Carpenter, 27, has pitched in 68 major league games in the past two seasons with the Astros and Blue Jays.