ATLANTA -- After the Braves' 5-0 win on Friday night, the team announced that Jordan Schafer would be activated from the 15-day disabled list before Saturday's game, marking the end of the utility outfielder's lengthy recovery process from a lingering ankle injury that morphed from the sting of a typical foul ball into an unusual stress fracture.
Outfielder Jose Constanza will be sent down to Gwinnett to clear a roster spot for Schafer, who has been on the DL since July 4 with a right ankle contusion. A week after placing their speedy outfielder on the DL, general manager Frank Wren announced that team doctors had discovered an intraosseous stress fracture in Schafer's ankle that sidelined him for an additional four weeks.
Schafer struggled at the plate over the course of his rehab assignment, finishing 2-for-32 in eight games after an 0-for-5 performance on Thursday and an 0-for-4 effort on Friday. But the Braves saw enough improvement in the quality of his at-bats in the past two days to announce he would be activated before Saturday's game.
"If you go up the road to Gwinnett and ask Schafer if he's ready, he's going to tell you yes, but we're going to give him another day, get some at-bats," Gonzalez said on Friday afternoon. "The reports said yesterday's game was a lot better. His timing was a lot better, he looked better at the plate and more comfortable. This guy's missed a lot of games, so his timing's a little bit off."
Schafer could be just the first of two key backups to return to the team this weekend. Catcher Gerald Laird joined Schafer in the lineup on Friday night for Gwinnett's series opener against Lehigh Valley, hitting second behind Schafer in the leadoff spot, and the Braves believe his return is not far off.
Laird took the field for the first time since he landed on the DL, retroactive to July 26, after undergoing a procedure to remove a kidney stone. Laird caught six innings and went 0-for-3 on Friday night in Gwinnett.
"If he feels good, he could join us tomorrow," Gonzalez said before Friday's game. "If he feels like he needs some more at-bats, then he can stay there and maybe [serve as the designated hitter], so we'll leave that up to him. With a catcher, it's a lot tougher time saying, 'Go down there and catch three games, four games,' because they're in the middle of a foul tip -- break a finger, do something bad."
Laird's impending return gives the Braves the luxury of a third catcher, enabling Gonzalez to use Evan Gattis more freely as a pinch-hitter on days when he does not start at catcher or in left field. In his previous 11 games before fouling a ball off his right foot on June 26, Schafer hit .400 (10-for-25) with a home run and five RBIs while spelling all three starting outfielders and making an impact as a pinch-hitter.
Hudson visits Braves for first time since injury
ATLANTA -- His teammates may have pointed to Tim Hudson's season-ending ankle injury as a rallying cry that has sparked the Braves' 13-game winning streak entering Friday, but the 15-year veteran was quick to flip the script and put a humorous spin on his recent absence on Friday afternoon, when he returned to the clubhouse for the first time since his injury.
"They haven't lost since I left, so I told them if they didn't win tonight, I might not come back the rest of the year," Hudson said on Friday afternoon. "It's been fun to watch sitting around. I feel like a big brother sitting back watching their little brothers play and kick everybody's butt. I'm very proud of them for sure."
Two weeks removed from his surgery, Hudson spoke to reporters with a cast on his right foot, where he suffered a fractured fibula and damaged deltoid ligament in his right ankle. Hudson suffered the injury on July 24 when Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. stepped on the ankle as the pitcher covered first base. Hudson planned to meet with doctors on Friday night with the hope of moving from his cast into a walking boot.
"[Dr. Marvin Royster] said everything went awesome, went as great as it could've gone, and it feels like it did [before the injury]," Hudson said. "I can walk around without crutches right now. It's kind of hard with a cast on. I think that's why they're going to get me in a walking boot. It is what it is. I'm going to heal up."
The vintage start he was putting together on the night of the injury only accentuated the shock of the freak accident to the team and the rest of the baseball world. Hudson was overwhelmed by the league-wide outpouring of support in the subsequent days, noting that he had received messages from Geoff Jenkins and Jason Kendall, both of whom endured similarly grisly ankle injuries in their careers.
Hudson also recounted his excitement at watching from home as his teammates elevated their level of play in the past two weeks. The Atlanta offense has averaged 5.92 runs per game over the team's 13-game unbeaten streak, and the starting rotation turned in a series of solid outings over a perfect six-game road trip to help the Braves build a 15 1/2-game lead in the National League East heading into Friday's action.
"This [stinks], what has happened to me, but I'm so fired up for how the team's been doing," Hudson said. "The opportunities that Alex Wood has, and having [Brandon] Beachy coming back from his Tommy John [surgery] and going through this process, getting him back into the mix of things, that's been awesome to see. The other guys at the top of rotation, they've just been going out there and [have] been lights-out every time out."
Manager Fredi Gonzalez reiterated his desire for Hudson to spend as much time as he could around the team and in the clubhouse down the stretch this season, a nod to the leadership role the right-hander has assumed in his nine years in Atlanta. Hudson's future with the team becomes more uncertain when he hits free agency this winter, but for the time being, those questions took a backseat to his recovery process and an eventual return to full strength.
"I would love to be here, obviously," Hudson said. "I think that really goes without saying, but my main concern right now is to get healthy. I know the surgery went really well. We're going to start some light therapy stuff, and I'm going to just rehab the [heck] out of it, and I'm going to work out to be ready hopefully to be here next year, but if not, I still feel very confident that this isn't going to hold me back from playing beyond this year."
Just as his teammates and manager predicted at the time of the injury, Hudson confirmed with his words and his presence on Friday that what appeared to have been a gruesome and potentially career-ending injury would not keep him away from the game for any longer than absolutely necessary.
"From a personal standpoint, I've had a great, long career, and I don't plan for it to be over yet," he said. "Whether I'm continuing my career here or somewhere else."
• Paul Maholm threw an extended bullpen session before Friday's game in an attempt to simulate three or four innings of live action, the latest step in his return from a left wrist contusion.
"It's not a sim game, but it's a long bullpen," Maholm said. "Kind of doing up-and-downs just to get used to sitting around like an inning."
The team planned to see how Maholm responded from the session before setting a possible date for him to make a Minor League rehab start.
• Right fielder Jason Heyward celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.