WASHINGTON -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said that shortstop Andrelton Simmons is slowly working his way back from the hand injury that's kept him out for over a month.

Simmons went on the disabled list July 13 with a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal on his right hand. The Braves were expecting he'd be out six to eight weeks, and Gonzalez said it looks like Simmons will be out closer to the eight-week projection.

But they don't want to rush things and have the 22-year old rookie push himself backwards.

"We're progressing, but slowly," Gonzalez said. "It's healing. I think we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We feel good, but I can't put a timetable on it."

Simmons has a .296 batting average in 33 games so far this season.

Braves ink veteran Overbay to Minor League deal

WASHINGTON -- The Braves have signed first baseman Lyle Overbay to a Minor League contract.

General manager Frank Wren said on Monday that Overbay will report to Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday and start playing on Thursday. Wren said that the plan would be for Overbay to get ready at Gwinnett and come up to the Braves when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Overbay would be eligible for postseason play because he signed with the organization prior to Sept. 1.

"[It] will give us another left-handed bat off the bench," Wren said. "Obviously, he's a first baseman that can give, based on how [manager] Fredi [Gonzalez] wants to use him, give Freddie [Freeman] a day off. We feel like he's a nice addition, gives us another veteran guy that can give you professional at-bats off the bench."

Overbay was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of July. He was hitting .292 in 45 games this season.

"I think he wanted to take his time and make sure he made the right decision," Wren said. "We've been talking about once a week since then. There wasn't a great deal of urgency on either side, but he does need to start playing, and we need to have him in the organization prior to Sept. 1."

Braves well aware of DC series' importance

WASHINGTON -- The Braves know exactly how much this three-game series with the Nationals can mean for both teams.

Washington (75-46) entered the meeting at Nationals Park with a five-game lead over Atlanta (70-51), and it's a series that could go a long way toward determining what happens in the National League East this season.

"It's a big series," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Monday's opener. "It's a series that we can make up some room,[or] they can extend [the lead]."

After the Nationals beat the Mets on Sunday, manager Davey Johnson said they were ready to go, and said there wouldn't be many surprises since both teams know each other well.

Gonzalez agreed with Johnson before the series opener.

"Both teams have a lot of respect for each other," Gonzalez said. "It's going to boil down to who pitches the best over the course of the three days. We know it's a big series, and those walks in the seventh inning, or those leadoff walks in the eighth [and] missed opportunities early in the game are going to come back and bite you."

Worth noting

• The Washington series starts a tough group of road games for the Braves; they're going to play 22 of their next 32 contests away from Atlanta. This road trip involves stops in Washington, San Francisco and San Diego.

• The Braves are hoping they'll continue to get good work out of their very consistent bullpen, which comes into the series with a 1.84 ERA during August, tops in the National League.

• Jayson Heyward needs three more steals to become the 21st player in Braves' history to get at least 20 homers and 20 steals in a season. Heading into the Washington series, Heyward has 20 homers and 17 steals. Andruw Jones last did it for Atlanta, posting 36 homers and 21 steals in 2000.