8/25/2013 7:42 P.M. ET
Schafer sees improvement at leadoff spot
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Jordan Schafer spent the past couple of weeks struggling to regain the successful form he displayed before being sidelined for more than a month with a stress fracture in his right foot. But with a two-hit performance in Sunday's 5-2 win over the Cardinals, he gave the Braves confidence he could make up for the absence of Jason Heyward from the top of their lineup.
Schafer began Sunday's game with a triple and added a second-inning RBI double that helped give Atlanta a 3-0 lead. The veteran outfielder entered this series finale having hit .088 (3-for-34) with a .162 on-base percentage in 38 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list Aug. 11. He did not reach base with a hit or a walk while manning the leadoff spot in the first three games of this four-game set against the Cardinals.
"It's just getting some of that timing back and getting that feel back," Schafer said. "It's getting close. I just need those at-bats, and I'll be fine. It's just getting back in there every day and getting into that groove."
Before sustaining the stress fracture while fouling a ball off his foot in Kansas City on June 27, Schafer was positioning himself for an everyday role courtesy of the production he provided at leadoff. In the 19 starts he made as the leadoff hitter before the injury, he hit .319 and compiled a .424 on-base percentage.
"I'm still not there yet," Schafer said. "But it's getting close. I'm starting to get some timing back. It's kind of me just having a calm, slow intensity, where I can slow everything down and still be intense at the plate. Once I can get that back, I know I'll be fine."
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he might use Andrelton Simmons as his leadoff hitter when the opposing team starts a left-handed pitcher. Simmons has hit .222 with a .259 on-base percentage in the 62 games he has manned the lineup's top spot.
Simmons' struggles led Gonzalez to replace him with Heyward, who hit .314 with a .414 on-base percentage in the 22 games he served as the leadoff hitter before sustaining a fractured jaw when he was hit with a Jon Niese pitch Wednesday at Citi Field. He is expected to be sidelined until at least late September.
Kimbrel tasked with rare four-out save
ST. LOUIS -- When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez called upon closer Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the eighth inning of Sunday afternoon's 5-2 win over the Cardinals, Kimbrel provided a glimpse of what he could do during the postseason.
Kimbrel needed just two pitches to end the eighth inning with a Yadier Molina groundout. Then, after entering the unfamiliar territory of the dugout, he returned to the mound to throw nine more pitches in a perfect ninth. This was his first multi-inning performance since he notched the only other four-out save of his career last Sept. 5 against the Rockies.
"It's a little different sitting in the dugout," Kimbrel said. "I found myself talking and joking around. I was like, 'Wait, I still have three more outs to get.' I was able to get back in the zone and get one, two, three."
Kimbrel said the Braves had told him during the game to be prepared to pitch in the eighth inning. His chance came after left-hander Luis Avilan surrendered two hits and allowed a run that cut St. Louis' deficit to three runs.
After confirming Avilan was healthy, Gonzalez said his decision was influenced by Monday's off-day and the fact Kimbrel had pitched just once over the previous six days.
"We just wanted to get Kimbrel four outs," Gonzalez said. "I didn't want to use the other right-handers in that situation. It was just perfect timing. He hadn't pitched since [Wednesday in] New York. He had three days off. You feel pretty good with him against Molina, instead of trying to bring in somebody else against [Luis] Ayala, [Jordan] Walden or one of those guys in that situation."
Injuries dictate unusual Braves lineup in finale
ST. LOUIS -- With Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla on the disabled list and Brian McCann needing to rest following a night game, the Braves had no choice but to post a lineup that would not resemble anything remotely close to what you would expect from the team with Major League Baseball's best record.
This lineup became even less imposing when Chris Johnson was scratched because of turf toe approximately 90 minutes before the Braves attempted to prevent the Cardinals from completing a four-game sweep \Sunday afternoon. Paul Janish was inserted to start in Johnson's place at third base.
Johnson sprained his left big toe when he stepped on St. Louis first baseman Allen Craig's heel and tripped over the first-base bag while recording an infield single in the fourth inning of Saturday night's 6-2 loss at Busch Stadium.
"I jammed it and bent it back," Johnson said. "Then I kept playing through the game. I took my shoe off, and it swelled up after the game. I came in today, and it was pretty swollen."
Johnson felt he could pinch-hit if necessary Sunday. After taking advantage of Monday's off-day, he is hoping to be back at third base for Tuesday night's series opener against the Indians.
"It's not a big deal," Johnson said. "Hopefully, it's just a one-day thing."
While hitting .257 (19-for-74) during his past 19 games, Johnson has lost his lead in the National League batting crown chase. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina entered Sunday hitting an NL-best .336. Johnson ranks second with a .331 mark.
Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons were the only members of Sunday's lineup who had made more than 34 starts for Atlanta this year.
• Uggla will begin a two-game Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday. Uggla, who underwent LASIK surgery Aug. 16, expects to return to Atlanta's lineup Wednesday.
• Gonzalez said he expected Heyward to be in the clubhouse before Tuesday's series opener against the Indians. It would be the first time Heyward had seen his teammates since he was hit with Mets left-hander Jon Niese's 90-mph fastball Wednesday. The Braves have not provided a definitive timetable for when Heyward could fully recover from his fractured jaw.
• Justin Upton celebrated his 26th birthday Sunday.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.