ATLANTA -- When the Braves walked into their clubhouse at Turner Field on Friday afternoon, the second spot of the lineup was blank. A few hours later, Edgar Renteria's name was placed there for the first time in nearly two weeks.

After taking batting practice and feeling no further tightness in his left side, Renteria walked toward the dugout and simply raised his right thumb in the direction of Braves manager Bobby Cox.

That was all Cox needed to see before placing Renteria back in the lineup for Friday night's series opener against the Mets. The veteran shortstop's return allowed the Braves to field their regular lineup for the first time since April 9.

"It's going to be nice, but we're still facing Pedro tonight," said a smiling Andruw Jones, just before John Smoltz opposed Pedro Martinez in the opener of the three-game series against the Mets.

Of course, it hasn't really mattered who the Braves have faced the past two weeks, though their struggles can justifiably be blamed on injuries.

The injury woes began on April 9, when Chipper Jones sprained both his left knee and ankle. He returned from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday. As for Renteria, he hadn't played since straining his left rib cage while taking a swing against the Padres on April 15.

During that stretch, the Braves also lost Marcus Giles for three games because of a strained ligament and a chipped bone in his left middle finger. In other words, they just endured an 18-day stretch in which their lineup never included each of its first three hitters.

"Hopefully this offense will have me and Gilly and Edgar in the lineup consistently enough to be able to jell and start stringing some things together," Chipper Jones said.

The Braves scored four runs or more in each of their first 11 games. In their past 10 games, they've scored four or more runs just twice. They batted just .196 during their eight-game road trip.

Renteria's absence certainly factored heavily in the offensive decline. Before he strained his left rib cage on April 15, he was in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak and had compiled a .365 batting average.

There was some thought that Renteria would have returned earlier this week, but it wasn't until Friday that he was able to swing without feeling any tightness.

"Everything felt fine," Renteria said. "I didn't feel anything. That's a good feeling."

Ramirez's return slowed: While running his third sprint on Tuesday afternoon at Miller Park, Horacio Ramirez felt a twinge in his left hamstring. Initially, he was worried he'd done further damage. But the left-handed starter was able to throw a bullpen session on Friday afternoon.

"I was pretty frustrated the day it happened and the day after," Ramirez said. "Then a lot of the soreness went away."

Ramirez, who has been on the disabled list since straining his left hamstring on April 5, needs to regain all of his strength before the Braves will allow him to begin making Minor League rehab assignments. They want to be sure he's capable of covering first base without doing further damage.

Johnson worried: Kelly Johnson hasn't been able to play since March 15, and the 24-year-old outfielder is worried that he may need season-ending surgery on his ailing right elbow.

"I just don't want this to be something that lingers into next year," said Johnson, whose elbow only bothers him when he's throwing.

Johnson was given permission to throw from a distance of 120 feet on Friday. But it may be another week before he's allowed to begin throwing with maximum effort.

If Johnson, who hit .241 in 87 at-bats last year, is able to throw to bases from the outfield without discomfort, he'll likely begin a Minor League rehab assignment in two weeks.

Coming up: The Braves will continue their three-game series against the Mets on Saturday night. John Thomson (0-0, 1.31 ERA) will oppose longtime Brave Tom Glavine (2-2, 2.78 ERA).