Seven weeks into the season, the Braves finally sent out the starting lineup they had projected all winter.
Jason Heyward was activated from the disabled list Friday after missing 22 games after an appendectomy. The Braves placed reliever Jordan Walden on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation to clear room for Heyward on the roster.
Brian McCann, who made his return from shoulder surgery last week in Cincinnati, was set to make his first appearance in a home game this season Friday night.
“I’m happy to be playing the game I love again with the group of teammates I love and ready to have some fun,” Heyward said.
Heyward’s teammates had a little fun when they discovered what was in the box Nike delivered to Heyward’s locker Friday — T-shirts that said “Heyward owns Atlanta.” Teammates such as Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen were sporting them under their batting practice uniforms when the clubhouse opened Friday afternoon.
Heyward was hitting only .121 in 17 games when he went on the DL, but he said he used the time away to his advantage.
“I looked at video,” said Heyward, who went 6-for-20 (.300) with a double and six RBIs in six games for Triple-A Gwinnett on a rehabilitation assignment. “I feel a lot better than I have in a while at the plate. I know that doesn’t mean go press a button and tonight four hits, but it’s about wanting to be back to where you were mentally and thinking the game, reacting the game, not worrying about anything injury-wise. And I feel like I’ve done that.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Walden’s shoulder starting to bother him after his outing Saturday in San Francisco. He hadn’t pitched since, so the DL stint will be retroactive to May 11. He would be eligible to return May 27 in Toronto.
The Braves had planned to go with a six-man bullpen upon Heyward’s return, and Gonzalez wanted to make sure the six relievers were healthy. They’ll try to get through this six-game homestand short-handed.
“Having five guys available and try to baby one guy doesn’t really make much sense,” Gonzalez said.
Venters disappointed: Jonny Venters returned to the Braves clubhouse Friday wearing a splint on his left arm, just one day after having season-ending “Tommy John” elbow surgery. His disappointment was still fresh, especially having to undergo ligament-transplant surgery for the second time in his career.
“I feel like this team has a chance to do something special, and I’m not going to be able to contribute — that’s disappointing,” Venters said. “The whole thing is disappointing. All the work I’ve put in to try to stay healthy, but it’s nothing I have control over. Now I’ll go work as hard as I can and try to come back. I feel pretty confident about it. The surgery went well.”
Dr. James Andrews told Venters he can expect a 12-month rehab, similar to first-time ligament transplant patients. Odds of returning to form as repeat transplant patients are much tougher, but Venters said he’s optimistic he can be one that makes it.
“I’ve just go to work hard and do everything I can,” Venters said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I think I should be fine though.”
Venters had a long road back after his 2005 surgery as a minor leaguer. He was pitching again after 12 months out, but made it only 80 innings before a scar-tissue setback cost him significant time.
Venters had pitched only 103 innings combined as a starter and reliever in 2005 when his ligament blew. That gives him reason to believe that his workload of recent years is not what led to tearing it again, contrary to popular belief.
Venters led the major leagues with 85 appearances in 2011, his All-Star season, and pitched in 164 games over a two-year period.
“I think it’s one of those things that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” Venters said. “I think it’s just the way I throw. I put a lot of stress on that ligament. … I don’t think (workload) had anything to do with it. I wouldn’t change anything about those two years that I pitched so much for anything.”
Beachy set for Sunday: Brandon Beachy is set to throw three innings or 45 pitches Sunday in Gwinnett in the second start of his minor league rehabilitation assignment. He pitched two innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday. He’s set to pitch in six or seven rehab games before returning in mid-to-late June from elbow ligament-transplant surgery.