Staff Photo: John Bohn. Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann warms up prior to batting third in the lineup as a DH during the first inning with the Gwinnett Braves on Friday. McCann began a rehab stint with the Gwinnett Braves who are hosting the Pawtucket Red Sox at Coolray Field.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- If Brian McCann gets his way, he'll be back in the Atlanta Braves lineup Sunday afternoon for the series finale against the Chicago Cubs.
If the fans at Coolray Field had their way, he'd still be signing autographs.
McCann returned to his home county for his first of at least two rehab starts with the Gwinnett Braves on Friday and even before the gates opened enough fans found ways into the stadium with balls to sign and pens to sign them with. For about five minutes, the All-Star catcher bounced back and forth in the G-Braves' dugout, breaking a sweat even as he tried to stay in the shade.
And this was 90 minutes before first pitch.
The Duluth graduate finally retreated back to the Class AAA Braves clubhouse to continue to prepare for his first game since the Atlanta Braves placed him on the disabled list with a strained left oblique on July 27.
"I feel good," he said before the game. "I am anxious to get back out there, see some pitching. I came out earlier to throw and felt good and I just hope to keep getting better each day. I hope that I can be back as soon as possible."
For McCann that means Sunday against Cubs' right hander Matt Garza.
"I am hoping Sunday. I am thinking it will be Sunday," McCann said. "You never know. These next few games are going to be huge for me to see where I am at."
McCann's was in the G-Braves lineup as the designated hitter, batting third against the Pawtucket PawSox, the Class AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. McCann went 1-for-3 with a game-tying RBI in his final at-bat.
He plans to catch today and play the whole game. He's taken plenty of swings in cages and off tees and McCann said getting behind the plate will be the biggest test.
"It is just going to be that motion of throwing down to second base or throwing down to third. As soon as I do that, I'll have more of an answer," McCann said. "That is the big test for me. My swing feels good. I am just wating to get back in there."
Before his injury, McCann was hitting .306 with 18 home runs and 55 RBIs in another All-Star season. The Braves entered Friday with a five game lead in the National League Wild Card race, something the six-time All-Star is ready to rejoin.
"I hope to keep playing the same way we've been playing all year," McCann said, adding he doesn't want to comeback premature. "The thing about (obliques) is if you reinjure it it will set you back two weeks. You have to just take it slow, let it heal and that's what I've done.
McCann got the full minor league experience Friday, wearing a special pink jersey in part of the G-Braves' jersey auction benefitting the Gwinnett Medical Center and breast cancer research. McCann's jersey sold for $2,500.
He also missed the retirement ceremony for former Braves manager Bobby Cox's number at Turner Field.
"I wish I was there watching it. Bobby is one of the best guys on this planet. I love him," McCann said. "He deserves everything he is getting. He's a special human being."