Braves battling through numerous injuries

Braves battling through numerous injuries

ATLANTA -- After his team moved a season-high 10 games above .500 and earned the fourth-best record in the Majors with a sweep-clinching win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon, Braves general manager Frank Wren said that it feels as though the club has actually played about five games below .500 this year.

As do many members of his organization, Wren appreciates the resiliency that the Braves have shown this year. At the same time, he believes the club has the potential to be even better and find more consistent success in the season's second half.

Thus, while trade rumors start to swirl and there is reason to wonder if the Braves will feel the need to find an outfielder, Wren plans to spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the club and getting a better feel for it now that many of the significant injuries that have marred the season's first half have been overcome.

"I've told our scouts and our people that until we get healthy, it's hard to know where we're going," Wren said. "Most of our needs are in this clubhouse if we can get healthy."

With their underachieving offense plagued by numerous injuries, the Braves are nearing the end of the season's third month with the sense that they have not played up to their capabilities. Dan Uggla's batting average is still below .200, and the ever-valuable Martin Prado has added to the club's injury woes while missing the past two weeks with a staph infection.

Still, even as Jason Heyward tries to find consistency while shaking off the rust that developed when he missed three weeks with an injury to his right shoulder, the Braves find themselves with the National League's second-best record. The only Major League teams that have a higher winning percentage are the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.

"I think that shows you how good our pitching staff is," Brian McCann said. "They've kept us in every ballgame that we've played this year. The bullpen has come in when we've had the lead, and they've shut the door. Our pitching staff is a big reason we are where we are."

Overall, the Braves' pitching staff ranks second in the NL in ERA, at 3.03. And even though Opening Day starter Derek Lowe is 1-3 with a 4.96 ERA in his past 12 starts, the other starters rank second, trailing only the Phillies' vaunted rotation.

With Lowe struggling and Tim Hudson battling to find consistency, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have anchored the rotation and also produced the NL's two-best ERAs. And though the Braves put Hanson on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder last week, there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe he won't be ready to start against the Mariners on Tuesday night.

When Peter Moylan was sidelined in early April with a back injury that required surgery, there was cause for concern about the bullpen. But even though left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty has been sidelined for short stretches because of his own back problems, the relief corps has has produced a Major League-best 2.98 ERA.

"When you get pitching and defense, you hang around," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Handed the unenviable task of serving as Bobby Cox's successor, Gonzalez has dealt with adversity with some of the patience he saw Cox use while working on his Atlanta coaching staff from 2003-06.

When Heyward revealed during the middle of May that his right shoulder had been bothering him for a couple months, the Braves were cruising, having claimed series wins over the Phillies during consecutive weekends.

But then the Braves began a trying seven-game road trip, during which they placed both Nate McLouth and Heyward on the disabled list. Two days earlier, Hudson had exited a start against the Angels with a stiff back.

Still, the Braves managed to play around .500 over the next couple of weeks, then they won six straight against the Marlins and Astros. They would then lose five of their next six before beginning their current four-game winning streak.

"It's huge the way we've battled through the injuries," Jonny Venters said. "We played decently with those guys out, and now everybody's coming back. Hopefully we'll be that much better. ... It's going to be exciting to watch us play over the next stretch. I think it's going to be awesome."

As the Braves prepare for a six-game road trip that includes stops in San Diego and Seattle, it does appear that they are finally gaining some good fortune in the health department.

Heyward and McLouth returned last week, and Chipper Jones ended up missing just four games after sustaining a painful right adductor strain on Thursday night. In addition, Freddie Freeman missed just two games after producing a scare when he felt some discomfort in his left side before a June 14 game against the Mets.

Prado might miss at least another week while recovering from the staph infection, but the Braves were encouraged that he was at least able to visit the clubhouse to interact with his teammates over the past few days.

During Cox's long managerial reign, he often talked about the need for teammates to pick up one another during the course of a season. Brandon Beachy assumed this responsibility in a successful manner on Wednesday, when he pitched in Hanson's place and showed no indication that he was making his first appearance since straining his left oblique muscle on May 13.

Beachy worked six strong innings and helped the Braves regain more of the optimism that was hard to find when they dealt with so many injuries this year.

"We're getting closer," Beachy said. "Everyone can feel that. Hopefully things will start falling into place, and we get a little snowball effect and things take off for us."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.