ATLANTA -- Reed Johnson found himself in the starting lineup for the first time in over two months on Friday night, and as baseball irony would have it, he had his left Achilles tested early when Jimmy Rollins ripped a fly ball to the edge of the warning track in the top of the first inning.
Johnson took off on a dead run to haul the ball in with an over-the-shoulder catch and showed no ill effects for the remainder of his night. The veteran utility outfielder shared the struggles of his teammates at the plate against Phillies ace Cliff Lee, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, but he did accomplish the next significant step in his frustrating return to full strength from the left Achilles tendinitis he aggravated on July 28.
"It will be fine," Johnson said. "The test will be tomorrow. I'm not going to be starting tomorrow, so I'll be fine to pinch-hit and all of that stuff. So, we'll see how sure it will be tomorrow. I'm sure it won't be too bad. I'll ice it a few times and be ready to pinch-hit tomorrow."
Johnson entered Friday hitting 8-for-20 with a home run in his career against Lee, but whether he was able to reproduce Jason Heyward's five-hit night on Thursday was less important than simply building comfort at the plate and in the field. He was replaced by B.J. Upton in center field in the sixth inning after his third at-bat, having accomplished the goals set out for him in his first start since July 25.
"I was pleased with him getting three at-bats and running around a little bit," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That is a big piece for us coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter."
Despite missing extended time, Johnson sits in a tie for fifth place for the most pinch-hits in the Majors this season. His 11-for-36 (.400) showing puts him just two hits behind leaders Kevin Frandsen and Steve Lombardozzi.
"He's going to be a big part sooner or later of a pinch-hit appearance," Gonzalez said before Friday's game. "Getting these three at-bats, getting him on the field and let him run around a little bit, I think it'll be good for him."
If the Braves determine Johnson needs a few more at-bats after the conclusion of the regular season this weekend, they can send him to the Braves' instructional league for a game or two to sharpen his approach for use in the playoffs.
Reliever Jordan Walden could also be bound for Florida after getting into a game this weekend. Walden threw a bullpen before Friday's game, but Gonzalez reiterated that the right-hander must show the Braves he has recovered enough from his nagging groin issues to contribute in a game situation before his spot on the postseason roster is secured.
"Maybe even an inning here and then an inning in Orlando for him to feel comfortable and for us to feel comfortable that we can use him and him be OK," Gonzalez said. "I think that's the right thing to do."
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.