J. Upton back; Freeman, Heyward close to returning

J. Upton back; Freeman, Heyward close to returning

J. Upton back; Freeman, Heyward close to returning

CHICAGO -- Freddie Freeman's smiling face on Friday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field was exactly what Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez hoped to see before a game against the White Sox to start the remainder of the regular season.

Freeman, who jammed his thumb in a game against the Reds just before the All-Star break and couldn't play in the All-Star Game, took his first swings since getting hurt. He didn't start the game, but did run through some pregame swing drills and took batting practice -- the results of which will likely determine whether he'll be in the lineup on Saturday afternoon.

"Freddie Freeman just came out of the batting cage and had a big smile on his face," Gonzalez said before the game. "This was the first time he's swung the bat since the injury on Saturday, so he's going to take some [batting practice) and hopefully he'll be ready to go [Saturday] afternoon."

Joey Terdoslavich took Freeman's place at first base on Friday night, with Evan Gattis getting the start at designated hitter. The Braves also got good news about star right fielder Justin Upton, who sprained his left calf last Friday against the Reds while running out a ground ball to shortstop. Upton returned to the lineup against Chicago and said he feels good.

Similar to Freeman and Jason Heyward -- who also strained his right hamstring last week against the Reds -- getting last weekend off plus the four days during the break was enough time off to help speed up the recovery process.

"Those days of rest, coincidentally, were coming up right after [Sunday's game] and I had a good amount of time to rest," Upton said. "I ran yesterday back at home and I felt good, so I feel like I'm ready to go. I was starting to get some hits and we had a little break, but the rest was needed. We're ready for this second half and personally I think I'm ready, too."

Heyward said he's also making progress thanks to the added days off for the All-Star festivities. He didn't start on Friday, replaced by Jose Costanza in left, but Heyward didn't rule out a return this weekend against the White Sox.

"This is the best I've felt [since getting hurt]," he said, before going through running exercises and batting practice for a second straight day. "I ran [Thursday] and I felt it a little bit. That's enough to say, 'OK, not just yet,' but it's been getting better every day, improving. [I've] got to be smart about it, but I'm really close. Every day it feels better once I get to the field and get loose. It feels that much better, so soon … real soon."

The Braves did lose center fielder B.J. Upton for an extended time last weekend when he landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right adductor muscle strain, but overall they have to feel somewhat fortunate the rash of injuries happened before the scheduled time off.

"If there is anything [such as] having injuries at a [good] time, I think the All-Star break was about as good as you could plan," Gonzalez said. "We didn't plan it, but it was as good of a break as you can get, a lucky break."

Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.