Notes: Andruw, McCann heating up
Braves duo breaking out at the plate after slow start
ATLANTA -- When the Braves came back from the All-Star break on Friday, their confidence wasn't simply a product of the fact that they trailed the front-running Mets by just 2 1/2 games in the National League East race. More importantly, they had managed to gain this position despite the fact that the potent bats of Brian McCann and Andruw Jones were pretty much silenced during the season's first three months.
But McCann and Jones are both seemingly priming themselves to fare much better in the season's final three months. Since enduring their miserable five-game losing streak three weeks ago, the Braves entered Saturday having won 10 of 14, and in the process, they'd compiled a .312 team batting average.
While hitting a team-best .375 during that span, Chipper Jones has further proven the importance of his healthy presence in the lineup. But all of this success wouldn't have come without the regular production provided by McCann and Andruw Jones, who combined for 11 of the 18 homers the team hit during that span.
After homering in the bottom of the sixth inning in Friday night's victory over the Pirates, Andruw Jones left the game with a strained right quadriceps muscle that he'd suffered an inning earlier. Fortunately for the Braves, the injury wasn't enough to keep the Gold Glove center fielder out of Saturday night's lineup.
"He looks better at the plate," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said of Jones, who, while hitting .344 this month, has seen his batting average rise from .199 to .213. "That's a huge plus right there."
Jones' resurgence could be a product of the confidence he gained while continuing his career-long dominance at PETCO Park last weekend. Entering Saturday, he'd collected seven hits in his previous 13 at-bats -- dating back to the beginning of last weekend's series against the Padres. While it's a small sample size, that hit total matches the one he compiled in his final 65 at-bats in June.
"Maybe San Diego did him some good," Pendleton said in reference to Jones, who, despite all of his struggles, is still on pace to hit 29 homers and collect 99 RBIs.
While Andruw Jones' resurgence was expected, the Braves have certainly been delighted to see McCann hit .364 over the course of the past 14 games. In the process, the All-Star catcher has collected six of the 10 homers he's notched this year. He's seemingly positioning himself for a second half similar to last year, when he hit 18 of his 24 homers after the All-Star break.
McCann's second-half power last year came after he was able to put more pressure on a right ankle that he sprained in May. This year, his early-season power drought was a product of some bad habits he gained while battling a bruised left ring finger he suffered in late April.
"He's swinging the bat like he did the second half of last year," Pendleton said.
Pendleton feeling fine: The irregular heartbeat Pendleton experienced after walking for approximately 45 minutes on Friday afternoon didn't stop him from performing his regular afternoon exercise routine on Saturday. In fact, the former National League MVP says he'll continue to conduct business as usual over the next few weeks.
"I feel I'm alright," Pendleton said. "But you know the doctors, if there's something wrong, they'll let me know."
After feeling his heart begin to race on Friday, Pendleton went to Piedmont Hospital, where doctors ran some tests and found no immediate cause for concern. They told him the irregular heartbeat is something many men his age experience.
Pendleton said he'll undergo an ultrasound in a few weeks to determine if he has any problems with his heart. But based on the way he feels, he's not expecting the test to find any irregularities.
Sturtze nearing return: After needing just six pitches to complete the first inning for Class A Rome on Friday night, Tanyon Sturtze opted to throw an additional, unscheduled inning. In the process, he surrendered three, two-out hits that led to the only two runs he surrendered against Savannah.
Still, Sturtze, who has been on the disabled list all season while recovering from shoulder surgery, was encouraged by what was his fourth rehab appearance. He'll make two more appearances for Rome before moving on to Double-A Mississippi, where he plans to make his final four rehab appearances.
"I'm starting to get itchy, because it's been a long time," said Sturtze, who had his rotator cuff and labrum repaired by Dr. James Andrews on May 23 of last year. "I'm ready to get back out there."
Before joining the Atlanta bullpen some time within the next three weeks, Sturtze wants to increase the velocity on his fastball. He's currently throwing about 89 mph, which is approximately 2-3 mph slower than his optimal range. But the 36-year-old right-hander was encouraged with the command he showed while primarily throwing only breaking balls on Friday.
Coming up: The Braves will conclude their three-game series against the Pirates at Turner Field on Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. ET. They'll send Buddy Carlyle (3-2, 4.50) to the mound to face Paul Maholm (5-11, 4.76).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.