published Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Atlanta Braves still have questions in rotation, lineup

Atlanta Braves third baseman Paul Janish , 4, tags out Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, 28, on a steal attempt in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves third baseman Paul Janish , 4, tags out Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, 28, on a steal attempt in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Atlanta.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ATLANTA — By winning two of three game against Washington to complete a successful homestand, the Atlanta Braves confirmed what already was obvious: The National Leagtue East race is over.

The Braves just can’t officially announce it.

Before the Nationals series, Atlanta won two of three against Miami and Philadelphia in its longest homestand of the season. The Braves lead second-place Washington by 15 ½ games and boast the major leagues’ best record.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez rested several starters in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Washington. That could be a preview of “B-team” lineups to come as he gives regulars occasional rest. But he doesn’t want his team to relax.

Atlanta, which opens a two-game series at the Mets tonight, still has some big questions to answer in the final six weeks of the regular season.

Left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm, who says he has recovered from a bruised left wrist, may be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list. Suddenly there will be a surplus of starting pitchers, even after the team lost staff leader Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury last month.

The current rotation includes Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood. Maholm acknowledged he’s curious to hear where he fits in.

“I feel good,” Maholm said Sunday. “I’m going to talk to them to see what they want me to do and what role they want me to come back in.”

It’s a pleasant dilemma for Gonzalez because there is no obvious weak link among the starters. Maholm could be used to give other starters a rest.

“There’s a lot of different ways you could do it,” Gonzalez said. “You could reshuffle it where we could skip somebody and plug Maholm in there.”

Minor and Teheran are certain to be included in the postseason rotation. Gonzalez said he’s not worried about an innings limit for Teheran.

Medlen will be skipped this week because he had to pitch in relief after every reliever was used in Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to Washington in 15 innings. Thanks to Monday’s off day, the other starters will move up a day.

There also is a big question at second base. The team will have little time before the Aug. 31 trade deadline to see how Dan Uggla responds to corrective eye surgery. He can come off the DL on Aug. 28.

General manager Frank Wren made a minor move by signing infielder Tyler Greene, who can play second base, to a minor league contract last week. Greene was assigned to Class AAA Gwinnett.

Uggla said he’s already been tested with 20-15 vision following his Lasik surgery, and Gonzalez is excited that the muscular second baseman could return as “a new player.”

The team’s safety net at the position was Tyler Pastornicky, who promptly suffered a season-ending knee injury. Paul Janish, normally a backup shortstop, played strong defense in his first two starts at second base, but he’s hitting only .105. Rookie Phil Gosselin had two hits in his first start Sunday.

Uggla was to accompany the team on its trip to New York. He can begin taking batting practice today, and the next step will be a minor league rehab assignment.

Another question is center field as the long wait continues for B.J. Upton to find his hitting stroke.

When Jordan Schafer made back-to-back starts in center against Washington, it appeared he might be entering a platoon with Upton. Gonzalez wouldn’t confirm there will be a platoon and he insisted that he remains confident in Upton, who is hitting only .186 and was back in the lineup Sunday.

“I think he’s going to be a big part of this run we have, I really do,” Gonzalez said of Upton. “I really believe at the end of the day he’s going to be in there for us.”

Schafer is hitting .291. He leads the team with 13 stolen bases, and his .383 on-base percentage serves as a solid argument for him as a leadoff hitter.

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