8/1/2013 6:25 P.M. ET
Lefty Avilan relishes being key arm for Braves
By Eric Single / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Monday's acquisition of Scott Downs ensured that Braves reliever Luis Avilan would not be overworked down the stretch as the only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. This time last year, Avilan could not have imagined putting together such a productive run that the team would even see the need to lighten his load.
"Back then, I didn't even realize I was in the big leagues, because the Atlanta Braves organization has a lot of prospects, and I didn't even know," Avilan said. "If you told me two years ago I was about to play in the big leagues, I would've told you, 'No, I can't believe it.'"
After making his Major League debut on July 14, 2012, Avilan posted a 2.00 ERA in 36 appearances down the stretch, but that early success didn't mean he had completely settled in to the pressures of big league competition.
"Probably in the middle of August last year, I was like, 'OK, I'm in the big leagues. Now I have to work even harder to try to stay here,'" Avilan said.
Just a few weeks removed from the one-year anniversary of his callup, Avilan has surpassed the expectations of many. In late May, just a few days after fellow lefties Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, Avilan began his streak of 28 scoreless appearances, in which he has allowed just eight hits over 25 1/3 innings of work.
With a more aggressive approach against top competition this season, Avilan has settled into a groove on the mound that has limited the sting of the Braves' rash of left-handed Tommy John patients.
"Last year, I gave a lot of respect for the older guys," Avilan said. "This year, [bullpen coach] Eddie Perez and Eric O'Flaherty talked to me like, 'Hey, don't give the other guy too much credit. You're a big leaguer, too, so just throw the ball. You have enough skills to get those guys out -- just throw the ball over the plate.'"
Those skills needed protecting, and after Avilan appeared in 48 of the team's first 105 games, the Braves traded for the veteran Downs to preserve Avilan's arm for a potential playoff run.
"I know Frank Wren is thinking about making the playoffs, and I know he's going to pick the best guy out there, so I'm sure this guy's going to help us a lot -- not just me being another lefty in the bullpen, but he's going to help the whole team to make the playoffs," Avilan said.
B.J. inches closer with first rehab game under belt
ATLANTA -- B.J. Upton went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in his first rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday, leaving the center fielder with two more games in the Minors before he is slated to rejoin a Braves offense in the midst of its most productive week of the season.
"I got a little side-line from [Gwinnett manager] Randy Ready, and the at-bats were OK," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "For the first time in two weeks facing live pitching, the at-bats were good."
Upton has been sidelined since July 12 with a right adductor muscle strain he sustained diving for a line drive in the outfield. He tracked down four fly balls without incident over six innings in center during Gwinnett's 2-1 loss.
After a bounce-back June that showed signs of recovery from his prolonged slump at the plate to open the season, Upton hit .176 with 14 strikeouts in the first 10 games of July before his injury. Gonzalez said that the decision on how to slot Upton back into a red-hot lineup will come when it comes.
"The No. 1 thing for us is to make sure he's healthy and make sure he's ready to come back, that's the No. 1 thing," Gonzalez said. "When all those things are in place, then we'll figure something out. Something will happen, you know how that is."
Upton reversed his fortunes at the plate early on in his second rehab start, doubling in his first two at-bats in Thursday night's game and coming around to score each time.
• Backup catcher Gerald Laird underwent a surgical procedure on Wednesday afternoon to remove a kidney stone after spending the first half of the week enduring the painful process of attempting to pass the stone.
Laird rejoined the team before Thursday's game against the Rockies, but manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was likely still a few days away from being available to play.
• Jordan Schafer ramped up the tests on the healing stress fracture in his right foot with a few aggressive sprints around the bases out of the batter's box before Thursday's game. The team still expects their utility outfielder to begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday.
• Wednesday night's game left a pair of non-players nursing injuries. Braves third-base coach Brian Snitker wore a bandage on his right forearm on Thursday afternoon, still sore from a foul ball off the bat of Dan Uggla that struck him on the arm in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 9-0 rout. One inning after Snitker has hit, home-plate umpire Marty Foster was hit on the left forearm by a pitch that skimmed the jersey of Andrelton Simmons. X-rays on Foster came back negative, and the 14-year Major League veteran was diagnosed with a soft tissue contusion.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.