04/21/2013 1:12 PM ET
Freeman looking at Monday return to Braves
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- As long as Freddie Freeman exits his final Minor League rehab game on Sunday without any problems, he will be activated in time to move back into the cleanup spot for the Braves in Monday night's series opener against the Rockies at Coors Field.
With Freeman back in the middle of the lineup, the Braves are planning to use Chris Johnson as their primary third baseman. Manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated on Saturday that was going to abort his plan to platoon Johnson and Juan Francisco at third base. He took a more committed stance on Sunday.
"He'll play third," Gonzalez said of Johnson. "The guy is leading the league in hitting."
Johnson entered Sunday leading the Majors with a .418 batting average. He has teamed with Evan Gattis and Justin Upton to serve as the most consistent contributors of a potent Atlanta lineup that has not yet lived up to its potential.
Entering Sunday, Johnson, Gattis and Upton had accounted for 40.4 percent (55 of 136) of the Braves' hits, 55.2 percent of the team's home runs (16 of 29) and 44.4 percent of the club's RBIs (32 of 72).
Despite playing in just five games before being put on the disabled list with a strained right oblique, Freeman entered Sunday tied with Francisco for the team's third-best RBI total, with seven.
Heyward not concerned by slow start
PITTSBURGH -- Jason Heyward has found little reason to be concerned about the mechanics of his swing. But the Braves' right fielder believes he will have to take a better approach at the plate to escape the maddening struggles he has experience through the regular season's first three weeks.
"I feel like I just have to stay patient and get good pitches to hit," Heyward said. "Even though I do have a bad man [Justin Upton] hitting behind me, they still don't want to make too many mistakes with me this year."
Opposing pitchers have certainly gained more reason to cautiously approach Upton, who entered Sunday with a Major League-leading nine home runs.
But Heyward has not yet taken advantage of the luxury of hitting in front of Upton. Before getting a chance to rest and clear his head during Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Pirates, Heyward had batted .121 (7-for-58) with two home runs and a .519 OPS.
"I really don't look at the numbers until it's said and done," Heyward said. "I just try to do as many things right as possible, and try to win as many ballgames by doing what I can at the dish, on defense and running the bases."
According to Fangraphs.com, Heyward has swung hat 40.9 percent of the pitches he has seen, and 39.4 percent of those pitches have been inside the strike zone. These numbers indicate he is actually being slightly more disciplined than he was last year, when he swung at 46.3 percent of the pitches he saw, with 43.5 percent of those pitches being in the strike zone.
"I don't feel like I'm seeing it bad," Heyward said. "I just feel like I've got to make sure I'm getting good pitches to hit."
Heyward has batted .121 (4-for-33) with a .310 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers. His struggles against left-handers have continued, as he has hit .120 (3-for-25) with a .185 on-base percentage and .160 slugging percentage against southpaws.
With the Pirates throwing their third left-hander -- Jonathan Sanchez -- in a span of four days, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez determined it was best to give Heyward a chance to rest on Sunday.
• Left-handed reliever Luis Avilan was available to pitch in Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Pirates. This marked the first time Avilan was available since he suffered a slight left hamstring strain and cramping during the ninth inning of Tuesday's win over the Royals.
• Second baseman Dan Uggla exited Saturday night's loss to the Pirates with a left calf strain. But Uggla was walking without discomfort on Sunday. While there is a chance he could play on Monday, it seems more likely that he will not return to the lineup before Tuesday.
• Gonzalez said Brian McCann has impressed members of the organization with the arm strength he has displayed recently. McCann, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, was slowed recently by a sore right wrist. But he is expected to begin catching in extended spring games this week.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.