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Infante's return adds depth to Braves' lineup

Infante's return adds depth to lineup

ATLANTA -- Omar Infante was activated from the 15-day disabled list, and Chipper Jones had no trouble talking his way back into the lineup. Everything was going smoothly for the Braves on Tuesday evening, before Nate McLouth felt some lingering discomfort in his left hamstring.

With McLouth still unable to trust his ability to use maximum effort while running, the Braves opted to put Ryan Church's name in the same lineup that welcomed Jones and Infante back.

Jones, who missed the final three games of this weekend's series against the Dodgers with a strained left oblique muscle, was surprised to learn that he wasn't in Tuesday's original lineup.

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Immediately after being informed by a couple reporters, Jones headed toward manager Bobby Cox's office and returned a few minutes later to say that he would be playing third base during the series opener against the Nationals.

Jones' insertion into the lineup led the Braves to switch Infante from third base to second base. Given that he hadn't played in a Major League game since breaking his left hand on May 20, the Venezuelan utility player was simply happy to be back in the Braves' lineup.

Infante was placed at second base because Cox opted to utilize Martin Prado instead of Adam LaRoche against Nationals left-handed starter John Lannan.

"It's been too long," said Infante, who capped his Minor League rehab assignment by hitting a two-run homer for Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday night.

Before Infante began his long stint on the disabled list, there was reason to argue that he was the Braves' most valuable player. In the 16 games he played before his left hand was crushed by a Manny Corpas pitch, he had hit .373 with a .411 on-base percentage and was playing second base on a regular basis.

"[Infante's return] makes us that much better and that much deeper," Jones said. "It's like acquiring somebody at the Trade Deadline. When he got hurt, he was a big part of this ballclub."

Infante provides depth off the bench, and with his defensive versatility, he is a valuable backup at each of the infield positions. While he can play the outfield, his need to do so was lessened when the Braves acquired the versatile Church, who has now made two straight starts in center for McLouth.

McLouth entered Saturday night's game in the top of the 10th inning and tweaked his hamstring while running into right-center field to make a catch in the bottom of the inning.

While testing the strength of his hamstring in the trainer's room on Tuesday, McLouth didn't experience any problems. But while pushing off to chase fly balls during batting practice, he felt discomfort and grew concerned about the possibility of making this a more serious injury if he were to push himself while playing at game speed.

McLouth strained his left hamstring during a June 26 game against the Red Sox and returned to the lineup one week later, during a July 3 series opener against the Nationals in Washington.

"I've never had a muscle or hamstring problem in my life," McLouth said. "I need to be able to run."

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

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