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Braves hope day off will help heal injuries
Atlanta utility player Omar Infante is the latest Brave to suffer an injury. Infante hurt his hamstring while filling in for starting shortstop Yunel Escobar, who is nursing a hip injury. - photo by The Associated Press

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves finished their homestand with a patchwork starting lineup. They hope to have a few familiar names back on the field when they play their next home game.

The Braves, who left Atlanta on Thursday only 41/2 games out of first place in the National League East, must be wondering where they might be in the standings if not for the rash of injuries that have filled the first three months of the season.

Among position players, the Braves were missing third baseman Chipper Jones, center fielder Mark Kotsay, left fielder Matt Diaz and shortstop Yunel Escobar in the starting lineup for Wednesday’s final game of the homestand. They lost fill-in shortstop Omar Infante to another injury during the 4-2 win over Milwaukee.

The Braves, who begin a weekend series at Toronto tonight, could have some of the injured players back when they play their next home game on Tuesday against Philadelphia.

Jones has missed five straight starts with a strained right quadriceps. He hopes to serve as the designated hitter against Toronto. If all goes well, he could be ready to play defense next week. He leads the major leagues with his .394 batting average.

Kotsay has been out since May 26 with a lower back strain. He was 2-for-3 with a run scored in his second injury rehabilitation game with Double-A Mississippi on Wednesday night.

The Braves tentatively plan for Kotsay to come off the disabled list on Tuesday.

Backup infielder Martin Prado, who was placed on the disabled list on May 5 with a sprained left thumb, was scheduled to begin his rehab assignment at Mississippi on Thursday.

The Braves hope Escobar and Infante can avoid the disabled list with their shoulder and hamstring injuries.

Escobar jammed his left shoulder on Tuesday night when he tried to dive back to first base and was tagged out by Milwaukee’s Price Fielder. Escobar, hurting and upset about the call, threw his helmet and was ejected from the game by first-base umpire Eric Cooper.

Escobar had missed the previous three starts due to a strained right hip flexor.

Cox had to stretch his bench to find replacements for Jones, Escobar and Kotsay at the same time. Gregor Blanco has been the main substitute for Kotsay, while Ruben Gotay and Infante made fill-in starts in the infield. When Infante was hurt, rookie Brent Lillibridge was the team’s final option at shortstop.

Diaz, who was losing playing time before his injury, may be two to three weeks away from making his return from an injured left knee.

The Braves anticipate a boost with the returns of Escobar, Kotsay and Jones.

“It’ll give us a little more pop,” Cox said.

Kelly Johnson had two hits and drove in three runs while hitting in Jones’ usual No. 3 spot in the lineup on Wednesday.

Even with the win, the Braves (39-41) left Atlanta two games under .500 but still within reach of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.

“We’re not that far out of it,” Johnson said. “Let’s win these games and get everybody healthy and then see what happens.”

The Braves also have had to compensate for injuries to their pitching staff. Closer Rafael Soriano and starter Tom Glavine are out with elbow injuries, and starter John Smoltz and setup reliever Peter Moylan had season-ending shoulder and elbow surgeries, respectively.

Mike Gonzalez, returning from elbow surgery, recorded two saves in his first week off the disabled list.
The Braves also are hoping for a comeback by Mike Hampton. The left-hander won a spot in the rotation in spring training then strained his left pectoral muscle before his first start. He was scheduled to pitch three to four innings in his second rehab appearance for the Gulf Coast League Braves on Thursday.
Hampton hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2005.

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