Matt Kemp was activated from the disabled list and returned to the Braves lineup for Thursday night’s series finale against the Nationals, and another veteran slugger is also progressing toward a possible return to the majors.
There’s no timetable for the possible Braves debut of Ryan Howard, but the 37-year-old former National League MVP has shown enough in extended spring training that he could be be at Triple-A Gwinnett by this weekend.
Kemp missed 10 games after straining his right hamstring in an April 7 game at Pittsburgh. He was the Braves’ hottest hitter before the injury, going 8-for-16 with six extra-base hits including two home runs in four games.
The big left fielder went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and a strikeout in four plate appearances Wednesday in his only injury-rehabilitation game at Triple-A Gwinnett, then went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Nationals, striking out in each of his at-bats against Stephen Strasburg.
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Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte, who left Wednesday’s game with a mild wrist sprain suffered during pregame batting practice, felt good during batting practice and was back in the lineup Thursday. He went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.
Howard, a two-time NL home-run leader who finished in the top 10 in MVP balloting for six consecutive seasons and won the award in 2006, signed a minor league deal with the Braves April 6 and has been at their camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., working his way back to game condition after going unsigned in the offseason and not having a spring training.
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The Braves made no guarantees of a major league call-up for Howard when they signed him to a deal that will pay him a prorated portion of a $750,000 salary for any time spent in the big leagues. They signed him to possibly add some needed power for a light-hitting bench as a pinch-hitter and designated hitter in interleague games at American League parks.
“Like spring training for him right now,” Snitker said. “The good thing is he’s not on any medical report. Just getting going now.”
Howard was slowed dramatically by injuries and Achilles surgery in recent years and is no longer a threat against left-handed pitching, but can still do plenty of damage against right-handers. He hit just .196 but had 25 home runs in 362 plate appearances last season for the Phillies, but had a .262 average with 13 homers and a .932 OPS in 142 PAs after the All-Star break.
Kemp’s injury wasn’t as severe as hamstring strains Kemp’s had in the past, but with standard disabled-list stints now reduced from a 15-day minimum to 10 days under the new collective bargaining agreement, the Braves and Kemp agreed it made sense to be cautious and go on the DL rather than risk having the injury linger.
When he was with the Dodgers, Kemp missed 51 games (two DL stints) for a strained left hamstring in 2012 and had a DL stint for a strained right hamstring in 2013.
He had no setbacks in his recovery from the latest injury and had been running and hitting for several days before his rehab game Wednesday.