ATLANTA -- Given all that he has endured while rehabbing over the past five months, Tyler Pastornicky will be disappointed if he is not healthy enough to be a part of Atlanta's Opening Day roster. But the Braves infielder is also cognizant of the potential pitfalls that he could encounter if he returns before his surgically repaired right knee is ready to be subjected to the regular season's daily grind.
"I've just put so much hard work in and dedicated my whole offseason to try to be ready," Pastornicky said. "I'm going to try. But it's one of those things where if I'm not, I'm not. I don't really want to come back and reinjure it or have injuries all year. I want to make sure I'm 100 percent when I come back."
Pastornicky spent the past couple of days participating in the Braves Country Caravan. As he walked the halls at suburban Atlanta's Brumby Elementary School and interacted with students on Friday morning, he did not show any lingering effects of the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered when he collided with Jason Heyward in shallow right field during an Aug. 14 game against the Phillies at Turner Field.
When Pastornicky underwent season-ending surgery two days after the collision, he was relieved to learn he would have a chance to be ready for the start of the 2014 season.
"I feel way ahead of schedule," Pastornicky said. "You see some guys, I know it's a different sport, but Derrick Rose took 18 months. You also see some guys taking 12 months. I'm way, way ahead of that. It's one of those things, I think my knee is going to tell me when it's ready. I haven't had any setbacks or anything where I've had to take a step back. So it's all been positive."
As Pastornicky progresses toward what he hopes will be the final stages of the rehab process, he is still occasionally bothered by unavoidable soreness created by a long period of inactivity. But as he has run in pain-free fashion while wearing cleats and cleared his other progressive hurdles, Pastornicky has become more confident that he will be close to full strength three weeks from now, when the Braves begin Spring Training workouts.
"Two or three weeks ago, I ran and it just felt really, really good," Pastornicky said. "I'm still at the point where when I run, I still get sore for a couple of days. But it's definitely good. It's been really encouraging the way my strength has come back and the way I've been running."
Pastornicky is scheduled to be evaluated again within the next few days. If he proves that his knee is strong enough to take the next step in this rehab process, he could be cleared to begin taking ground balls and completing some other on-field baseball exercises by the end of next week in Tampa, Fla.
"This next progression is going to be a big one for me," Pastornicky said. "I think it's going to determine when I can get back on the field. I haven't been back on the field yet. Hopefully, by the end of next week, I can get back out there. But I'm just playing it by ear."
Pastornicky tore his ACL just one day after he was given a chance to serve as Atlanta's second baseman while Dan Uggla underwent and recovered from LASIK surgery.
It appears the Braves will give Uggla a chance to begin this season as their starting second baseman. But if Uggla extends last year's struggles, he could be replaced by Pastornicky or Ramiro Pena, who are both hoping to recover from the season-ending surgeries they underwent last year in time to begin this year as Atlanta's top two backup infielders.
"When I first got hurt, it was tough," Pastornicky said. "But what really helped was staying focused and just working hard. It's easy to sit and feel sorry for yourself. But that is not going to help anyone. So it has been good to just get back out there and work hard."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.