The Braves lost their entire starting outfield to injuries in a 26-hour span, and it didn’t appear Jason Heyward or either of the Uptons, Justin and B.J., would play again before the All-Star break, which begins Monday.
None of the injuries was thought to be serious, and Braves officials believe all can avoid the disabled list and return soon after the break, possibly during the White Sox series that starts Friday in Chicago.
Heyward strained his right hamstring Thursday. On Friday, the Braves cringed after B.J. Upton strained his right adductor muscle (near the groin) in the first inning and Justin Upton strained his left calf running to first base in the seventh inning.
They recalled outfielder Jose Constanza from Triple-A Gwinnett and started him in left field Saturday, with Reed Johnson in center and recent call-up Joey Terdoslavich in right for his first major league start. The fill-in trio came through with seven of the Braves’ 11 hits in a 5-2 win over Cincinnati, including Constanza’s 3-for-4 in the leadoff spot.
Based on manager Fredi Gonzalez’s comments, Heyward seemed the best bet to return first among the injured starters.
“I think if we hold him out this weekend, he’s going to be fine,” Gonzalez said. “He’s responding to treatment.”
On Saturday morning, B.J. Upton said he was still sore, but not as much as he anticipated.
“No worse (than Friday), a little bit better,” he said.
Asked if it were a good sign that it hadn’t worsened overnight, he said, “Definitely. I thought it would be a lot worse. Especially after going home and giving it time to settle down. It didn’t really feel that great, so I didn’t know what to expect this morning. But I woke up this morning, and it actually kind of felt better.”
He said it was too soon to know if he would be ready to play immediately after the break.
Justin Upton was running on a ground out when his calf tightened halfway down the first-base line. “It’s calmed down,” he said after the game. “It’s a little sore. We’re kind of going to play it by ear tomorrow.”
He wasn’t available to the media Saturday, but his injury was one that Gonzalez said the Braves would be cautious with, to make sure it doesn’t get aggravated and become a lingering issue.
“That’s the one that’s trickiest because you don’t know what you have until you really check it out,” Gonzalez said. “And those calves can be nagging.”
After Saturday’s game, Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren said Upton was examined, and the calf injury didn’t appear to be anything more than a mild strain or severe cramp.
Wood optioned to Triple-A: The Braves optioned left-hander Alex Wood back to Gwinnett, but not for long.
The impressive rookie was sent down because the Braves needed to open a roster spot for Constanza. Wood wouldn’t have been available for games Saturday or Sunday after throwing 57 pitches in 3 2/3 scoreless innings Friday.
The former University of Georgia standout is expected to return to the majors July 23, the first day he’s eligible, or sooner if the Braves put another player on the DL.
Players must spend a minimum of 10 days in the minors after being sent down, but that restriction is waived if a player is recalled to replace a player put on the DL. If one of the outfielders — or anyone else — is slow to heal during the break, the Braves could still make a DL move, but they hope to avoid that.
Wood, 22, has shown why he’s considered a big part of the Braves’ future and a leading candidate for a starting-rotation spot next season. A hard-throwing lefty with an unorthodox delivery, he has a 2.45 ERA in 16 games (one start) since a promotion from Double-A Mississippi.
Wood was 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA in 10 starts at Mississippi, with 57 strikeouts and 15 walks in 57 innings.
He has excelled in his relief role, allowing six hits, one run and one walk with eight strikeouts in nine innings over his past six appearances, including one hit and one walk in 5 1/3 scoreless innings over his past three games.
Gonzalez said the Braves wouldn’t be short-handed in the bullpen this weekend because lefty starter Paul Maholm would be available to pitch in relief Saturday or Sunday, if needed. Maholm’s last start was Wednesday.
Rotation plans: The Braves will swap Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm’s turns, but otherwise will keep the rotation in order following the All-Star break. Hudson is set to start Friday’s series opener against the White Sox, followed by Maholm, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. The Hudson-Maholm switch returns them to the order they had before those two swapped turns last week at Philadelphia to give Hudson extra rest for a nagging neck strain.