Braves wrap up Johnson's rehab stint
'True professional' could return as bench player, pinch-hitter
ATLANTA -- Kelly Johnson's Minor League rehab stint ended Wednesday night. When he arrives at Turner Field before Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Giants, he'll learn what the Braves plan to do with him.The Braves could choose to immediately place Johnson on the active roster with the intention to have him serve as a role player throughout the remainder of the season. Or like they did with Greg Norton earlier this month, they may choose to let the Major League coaches evaluate him before making this decision. Because he has options, there's a chance the Braves could send Johnson back to Triple-A Gwinnett. There's also a slight possibility that they could continue to attempt to trade him. But Braves general manager Frank Wren provided indication Wednesday that he believes Johnson could help his team in a versatile backup role. "He's been doing great," Wren said. "He's feeling good about the way he's swinging the bat and he feels good about the way he's been playing. It's been a positive time spent in Gwinnett." While going hitless in five at-bats with Gwinnett on Wednesday night, Johnson ended a tear that had seen him record nine hits, including two homers, in his previous 17 at-bats. Still, in the 12 games he played during the rehab assignment, he hit .308 and recorded 16 RBIs. If placed back on the active roster, Johnson will not serve in the platoon role at second base that he previously shared with Martin Prado. Since becoming an everyday member of the lineup on June 30, Prado has hit .393 (33-for-84) and helped the Braves win 13 of 19 games. "I don't think it can be overstated what a shot in the arm Martin Prado has been," Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said. "That whole situation couldn't have been handled better by Kelly. He handled it so gracefully, and it gave all of us who are his best friends permission to root for Prado." When the Braves removed Johnson from his regular role and then asked him to regain his swing during this Minor League rehab assignment, they were impressed with the dignity he displayed. He never publicly criticized the organization or the decision, which was based on the fact that he'd hit .191 with a .257 on-base percentage in his previous 39 games. "Kelly has handled all of this like a true professional," Wren said. When Johnson returns, he will enhance the Braves bench while serving as a left-handed pinch-hitter with power potential. In addition, he could play second base on those days when Prado is spelling either Chipper Jones or Casey Kotchman at one of the corner infield positions. Having played left field during his rookie season, Johnson may also find himself in the outfield when necessary. "Kelly is a great athlete and can do a lot of things," Wren said. "He's got great versatility. He's a good player." If they activate Johnson, the Braves may opt to keep Brooks Conrad, who could continue serving as an extra infielder until Omar Infante is activated from the disabled list. Infante, who has been out since May 20 with a broken left hand, said Wednesday that he won't be ready to rejoin the Atlanta roster until at least Aug. 15. If the Braves were to choose to keep Conrad, they may make room for Johnson by parting ways with Norton, who has just five hits in 45 at-bats this year. His value is also diminished by the fact that he's played the field in just two games this year.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.