Braves playing with short bench

Braves playing with short bench

TORONTO -- Chipper Jones wasn't ready to return to the Braves lineup on Friday night. But if there comes a need for him to serve as a pinch-hitter, the veteran third baseman might find himself being called off manager Bobby Cox's nearly-vacant bench.

With Jones (strained right quadriceps), shortstop Yunel Escobar (strained left shoulder) and utility man Omar Infante (strained right hamstring) all unavailable because of injuries, Cox entered Friday night's series opener against the Blue Jays with backup catcher Corky Miller as his only healthy option on the bench.

But because Miller must be saved in case starting catcher Brian McCann were to join his team's long walking-wounded list, Cox essentially entered the game without a bench. His only saving grace was that this weekend's games are being played in an American League park, where the use of a designated hitter reduces the need for a pinch-hitter.

"All of the pitchers are required to put their spikes on tonight," said Cox, who fully understands he might need to use one of his pitchers as a pinch-runner or in some other unique situation this weekend.

There's a chance the Braves will have to spend the entire weekend without each of these three players. Martin Prado is the only other available player on the team's 40-man roster. But he just began a Minor League rehab assignment on Thursday after missing seven weeks with a left thumb injury.

Jones, who leads the Majors with a .394 batting average, still can't run with more than 50 percent effort before his strained right quadriceps muscle begins to bother him. He has missed six straight starts and is certainly still doubtful for Saturday afternoon's game.

"I've made a lot of progress," Jones said. "Now I'm looking forward to seeing where I am at in a day or two or three."

Cox had hoped Jones might be available to serve as a designated hitter during this weekend's series. But after doing some jogging on Friday afternoon, the third baseman knew he wasn't quite ready to put himself in a position where he might be forced to sprint to beat out something like a double-play grounder.

"I feel like if I'm put in that situation, I'm going to be back to where I was five to six days ago," said Jones, who has been encouraged enough the past few days that he no longer thinks going on the disabled list is even a possibility.

When Escobar strained his left shoulder while diving back into first base on Tuesday night, Infante started Wednesday afternoon's game against the Brewers. Just two innings into that series finale, Infante went to the clubhouse to receive treatment on his ailing right hamstring.

While the injury normally requires more time, Infante believes he'll be able to play on Saturday. As for Escobar, he just shook his hand from side-to-side in a so-so manner, when asked about his shoulder. His discomfort comes when he extends at the end of his swing.

"Chipper can pinch-hit for somebody," Cox said, while speaking specifically about Friday. "Escobar, I think can play some defense. Infante shouldn't do anything."

If each of these three players are still injured when the Braves come home to play the Phillies on Tuesday, a roster move will definitely need to be made. Prado is targeted to play six Minor League rehab games with Double-A Mississippi. But his schedule might be reduced if necessary.

In addition, center fielder Mark Kotsay is scheduled to come off the disabled list on Tuesday. Entering Friday, he had compiled three hits in 11 at-bats and played three rehab games for Mississippi.

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