NEW YORK — Freddie Freeman’s left index finger isn’t completely healed and probably won’t be the rest of the season, but he finally has enough strength and flexibility it to return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday.
The Braves first baseman had two cortisone shots near the knuckle to help reduce the stiffness and swelling, and said he was able to bend the finger and grip a bat Monday for the first time since the June 6 injury.
He missed his fourth consecutive start in Monday’s series opener against the Yankees, but was encouraged after testing the finger with some early swings and then during batting practice.
“It looks good,” he said. “I swung off the tee today and everything. There’s still a little pain, but it’s playable pain. They told me I’m going to have to play through it the rest of this year. But it’s to the point where I can play…. Hopefully it’ll be good to go tomorrow. This is the best it’s felt [since the injury]. I can even make a fist now; I couldn’t do that two days ago.”
Freeman was injured June 6 when hit by a throw from Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes as Freeman slid into second base and Reyes tried to complete a double play. X-rays taken each of the next two days were negative and Freeman missed only one entire before returning June 8 in the late innings of a 10-inning game.
He tried to play through the discomfort and started the next five games, going 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in the last two of those before determining the finger wasn’t getting any better.
Because of issues with his dry eyes and the finger injury, Freeman has started only 15 of the Braves’ past 26 games. Backup first baseman Eric Hinske was mired in a 4-for-54 slump with no extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts before Monday, when the Braves gave left fielder-third baseman Martin Prado his third start at first base, all in the past four games.
Wasting strong starts
Braves starting pitchers had a 2.50 ERA in June before Monday, second in the majors to the Yankees’ 1.97. But while the Yankees were 13-2 for the month, the Braves were just 7-7.
Atlanta’s starters were 0-4 during the team’s 1-5 stretch before Monday, during which Atlanta’s starters had a .189 opponents’ average that ranked sixth in the majors during that period.
McCann DH, Chipper next
Catcher Brian McCann served as designated hitter Monday against the Yankees, and manager Fredi Gonzalez said Chipper Jones would probably DH Tuesday in the second game of the series. He said he’d wait to decide on his DH the rest of the six-game trip against New York and Boston.
Because the Braves’ lineup is so left-leaning, Gonzalez said he wanted to have backup catcher David Ross in the lineup against lefty CC Sabathia.
If Ross had to leave the game for injury or anything else, Gonzalez said McCann would move to catcher and the Braves would “play by National League rules” the rest of the way, meaning without the DH. Once a DH enters a game defensively, the team loses the DH slot and has to bat pinch-hitters or the pitcher.