May 9, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann (16, right) is congratulated by second baseman Dan Uggla (26) for hitting a two-run home run during the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Uggla scored on the play. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Nearly seven weeks after the start of the season, Brian McCann will finally be in the lineup at Turner Field when the Braves open a weekend series against the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight.
"I definitely can't wait to play in front of the fans," the catcher said.
McCann should get a warm welcome. The Duluth High School graduate and Suwanee resident has shown just what he can do when healthy since returning from the disabled list on May 6 in Cincinnati.
The left-handed hitter batted .296 with three homers and 10 RBIs while starting seven games and pinch hitting in another during the Braves' just completed three-city road trip. He had four walks to four strikeouts while posting a slash line of .375/.630/1.005.
What a difference being able to fully extend on your swing has made for McCann after surgery last October to repair his right labrum.
"My shoulder feels really good," said McCann, who has also thrown out two of four runners trying to steal. "I didn't think it would be feeling this good, this early. In spring training, I didn't think I'd be at this point."
But the Braves went 4-6 on the trip and go into the Dodgers series at the start of a six-game homestand having lost five of their past six games.
The offense has remained inconsistent despite McCann's return and the pitching also has been up and down.
The Braves, though, remain on top in the National League East at 22-18, although just barely in front of defending champion Washington.
"We're in first place and haven't really been healthy," McCann said. "It just goes to show you a lot of guys have stepped up and played huge roles."
Right fielder Jason Heyward is expected to be activated from the disabled list to face the Dodgers and that finally gives the Braves their regular lineup for the first time.
Heyward had an emergency appendectomy on April 22 in Denver and has been rehabbing with Class AAA Gwinnett. In six games with the G-Braves, he hit .300 with a double and six RBIs.
"Once we get to full strength and once we get playing with each other for an extended period, I think our offense will click a little bit more, and I think we'll win a lot more games," said McCann, a six-time National League all-star and five-time Silver Slugger honoree.
Since their 12-1 start, the Braves are 10-17. McCann has done his part since returning. Now the Braves need Heyward healthy and producing and center fielder B.J. Upton to finally snap out of his season-long slump.
McCann, like Upton, may face the pressure of being a high-priced free agent with a new team next season. The 29-year-old is in the final year of his contract and could be a prime target for an American League team that could use him as a designated hitter as well as catcher.
McCann would prefer to stay in Atlanta and with the Braves. He is comfortable with both, obviously.
The hometown Braves made him a second-round draft choice in 2002 and it is the only team he's known. His wife, Ashley, is also a Duluth graduate and they are expecting their second child, a girl. A son, Colt, was born last July.
"I'm in a good place," he said.
But McCann knows that the Braves are unlikely to get into a bidding war. Evan Gattis has shown what he can do as a rookie and Christian Bethancourt, a top prospect, is doing well at Class AA Mississippi.
"I love it here, but I'm not worried about the future," McCann said. "I think when you get ahead of yourself is when you get in trouble. I'm just going to concentrate on helping the team win, like always."