10/2/2013 7:34 P.M. ET
McCann, Walden set to return from injuries for NLDS
By Eric Single and Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- With the benefit of three days off, the Braves were relieved to get two key players nursing nagging groin injuries back to full health in time for Thursday's National League Division Series Game 1 against the Dodgers (8:30 p.m. ET on TBS).
Catcher Brian McCann sat out the final three games of the regular season after being pulled early in last Thursday's contest with a strained adductor muscle near his right groin, but the nine-year veteran will be in the lineup and back behind the plate working with Atlanta starter Kris Medlen on Thursday.
"I probably could've played that last [regular-season] game, but at the same time, you get another couple of days off to let that heal," McCann said. "It's feeling great."
Reliever Jordan Walden was also cleared for postseason play after traveling to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday to pitch one inning in an instructional league game, just his second inning of live action since Sept. 17. Walden missed three weeks with a strained groin and made four shaky appearances following his return in mid-September, but he was pleased that his trip to Florida gave the Braves enough confidence to keep him on the NLDS roster.
"Big-time progress," Walden said. "I'm getting more comfortable in my delivery, everything's kind of repeating and stuff. Everything felt good and my slider was really good."
Walden joins David Carpenter and Luis Ayala as the right-handed setup men at manager Fredi Gonzalez's disposal for the NLDS, having made 34 of his 50 appearances this season in the eighth inning.
Braves set NLDS roster with two big absences
ATLANTA -- When the Braves acquired Scott Downs from the Angels on July 29, he was excited about the possibility of pitching in the playoffs for the first time.
But while Downs' Atlanta teammates are playing the Dodgers in the National League Division Series that begins Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on TBS, the 37-year-old veteran reliever will be in Florida keeping his arm ready for the possibility he will be needed at some point during the postseason.
Dan Uggla and Downs were the notable players excluded from the NLDS roster the Braves officially released Wednesday afternoon. While Uggla's fate was essentially learned Tuesday, the news regarding Downs was more surprising.
"Basically, it sounds like it came down to a two-week audition," a frustrated Downs said. "The last two weeks of September, I gave up a couple hits to lefties late. So they felt going with two lefties in the 'pen was the right way to go."
If it was indeed an audition, Downs provided little drama in his competition with rookie Alex Wood to determine who would join Luis Avilan as the other left-handed reliever the Braves would use during this best-of-five series against the Dodgers.
Often viewed as a left-handed specialist, Downs allowed nine hits in the 13 at-bats left-handed hitters recorded against him in September. During this same span, right-handed hitters went 4-for-8 against him. Consequently, Downs allowed five earned runs and recorded nine outs in the 10 appearances he made after August.
After showing some fatigue -- not completing five innings in any of three September starts -- Wood moved back to the bullpen role he had for most of the six weeks leading up to the All-Star break. Although Wood allowed hits to two of the three left-handed batters he faced during the regular season's final week, he did not allow a run in the 2 2/3 innings he completed.
Downs will spend the next week pitching in instructional league games at the Braves' Spring Training complex. Joining him will be Paul Maholm and Anthony Varvaro, who were also left off the NLDS roster. Over the past couple of weeks, it had become apparent the Braves would most likely choose Freddy Garcia instead of Maholm to start Game 4 of the NLDS. Manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed this Wednesday when he revealed his rotation would be, in order, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Garcia.
A surprising addition to the roster was David Hale, who allowed one run in the 11 innings he completed while making his first two career appearances in starts made over the past two weeks. The Braves view the rookie right-hander as a better long-relief option than Varvaro, who compiled a 2.82 ERA in 62 appearances this year.
"We felt [Hale] was a guy who can give us some innings late in the game if you get into one of those crazy 12- or 13-inning games," Gonzalez said. "He's the one who is stretched out enough."
Pitchers (11): Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Garcia, Wood, Avilan, Hale, Luis Ayala, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel.
Catchers (3): Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird and Brian McCann
Outfielders (6): Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Jose Constanza, Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer
Infielders (5): Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Elliot Johnson and Paul Janish
Hometown rookie Hale earns spot on playoff roster
ATLANTA -- David Hale was already pretty satisfied with his first month in the big leagues. After being recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to join the Braves' roster in the first week of September, the 26-year-old right-hander made the first two starts of his Major League career, collected his first win and participated in a raucous champagne celebration in Chicago after the Braves clinched the National League East.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hale learned that his cup of coffee wasn't finished just yet when the Braves included him on the team's 25-man NL Division Series roster as a long-relief option despite just 11 innings of experience at the Major League level.
"Our rotation is [Kris] Medlen, [Mike] Minor, [Julio] Teheran [and Freddy] Garcia, and we kept Hale because we felt he's a guy that could give us some innings late in the game if you get into one of those crazy 12-, 13-inning games," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's the one that has stretched out enough that he can give you a long man at the end of the game."
Hale's inclusion on the NLDS roster came as a surprise to many, but he may have been more shocked than anyone. Before Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell met with him to tell him he had made the postseason roster, Hale wasn't even sure he was eligible to pitch in the postseason, having been called up after September roster expansions to make a pair of spot starts and help the rotation stay fresh heading into October.
"They just took me into the office and told me that I made it, and I was completely surprised," Hale said. "I didn't have any expectations of that, and it turned out amazing."
Even after performing well in each of his two starts, Hale was not given any indication he had impressed enough to be considered for a roster spot. On Sept. 13 against the Padres, Hale set a franchise record with nine strikeouts in his Major League debut, topping the mark of eight shared by Kenshin Kawakami in 2009 and Bob Dresser in 1902. He followed that up two weeks later on, Sept. 26, with six strong innings against the Phillies, allowing one run on seven hits.
Those two outings may not be much of a sample size, but Hale's comfort level increased with each solid inning he strung together. After missing more than a month of action in the first half while with Gwinnett due to a strained right shoulder, Hale went 5-5 with a 2.26 ERA in his final 14 Minor League outings, including 10 quality starts. He has outperformed those numbers in his brief time in the Majors and turned enough heads to keep the possibility alive that his third Major League appearance will come in October.
"I think I proved that to them as well as to myself, which is a good thing, so I can go into this with some confidence," Hale said.
A native of Marietta, Ga., Hale has no recollection of the World Series game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium his father brought him to in 1992, commemorated by the ticket on display in his parents' house. He hasn't been to a Braves home playoff game since then, even though he has had more than 50 opportunities to do so during the franchise's two-decade run of unprecedented success.
"Back in those days, we just waited until the World Series, because we were going to be there," Hale said.
With the Braves aiming for their first postseason series victory since 2001, Hale has earned a much better seat for the action than the one he had as a young fan. He may soon learn how the adrenaline of playing for his childhood team in the postseason stacks up against the nerves of his Major League debut, which he made with more than a hundred friends and family members from his hometown in attendance.
"Confidence-wise, I'll be a little calmer, just because I know I can do it," Hale said. "But I think with this packed-out crowd, that will bring the adrenaline back to where it was for that first one."
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.