video thumbnail

ATL@CHC: Chipper receives Braves flag before the game

At this time a month ago, the Braves were 0-4 and talks were already starting to swirl about their inability to recover from last year's late-season collapse.

Since then, Atlanta has gone on two separate five-game winning streaks, entering Friday's series opener with the National League Central-leading Cardinals at 4-2 on its current nine-game road trip.

So what was missing in those first four games? Well for one, it was the presence of veteran third baseman Chipper Jones.

Jones, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 26 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, returned to the lineup in the Braves' fifth game of the season and promptly helped them secure their first victory. Now nearing 100 percent in what he has said will be his last season, Jones enters his final regular-season series at Busch Stadium fresh off making three consecutive starts for just the second time this season.

"I'm not having the residual pain after games where it's hard to walk and hard to get out of bed," Jones said. "I'm glad that I pushed it and came back, because after [the team started 0-4] we needed something, and I like to help however I can."

As for the Cardinals, starter Jaime Garcia will be looking to not only spoil what will likely be Jones' final trip to St. Louis, but also rediscover his early-season success when he toes the rubber Friday night. The left-hander struggled to the tune of six runs off four hits and four walks in six innings of work Saturday against the Astros.

Garcia not only conceded more than three runs for the first time in his six starts, but he also served up his first home run of the year -- a two-out grand slam by Chris Johnson on an 0-2 pitch in the first inning.

"The problem was the walks. I did a terrible job there. I didn't get the job done," Garcia said before addressing what happened on the 0-2 pitch to Johnson. "I just didn't execute the pitch when I needed to."

Garcia will also get an offensive boost behind him as Lance Berkman is expected to be activated from the disabled list and slotted in the lineup. Friday will mark 22 days since Berkman last played after going down with a strained left calf. The return of the first baseman means the Cardinals will be at full strength for the first time this month. The remaining question will be how manager Mike Matheny balances his rejuvenated depth chart.

"We have good depth," Matheny said. "That's really what it comes down to. It would be nice to have them all healthy."

Braves: Minor hoping to bounce back
Left-hander Mike Minor will be looking to put a pair of subpar starts behind him when he takes the mound in Friday's series opener.

The 23-year-old Minor has been tagged for 15 runs on 18 hits over 11 1/3 innings his last two starts. He also issued seven total walks and served up four home runs in those two outings after he had handed out just five free passes and one home run in his first four starts combined.

Cardinals: La Russa to have number retired
Former manager Tony La Russa will have his No. 10 retired during a pregame ceremony on Friday. The longtime St. Louis skipper will be honored at 7 p.m. CT. The festivities will delay first pitch until approximately 7:25 pm. It will be the 12th number retired in Cardinals history, and more than two dozen people from La Russa's past will be participating in the ceremony.

"If you look at Cardinal history, you have great eras throughout. You look at the 30s and 50s and 60s and 80s and 2000s now," right-hander Adam Wainwright said. "Tony was at the helm of one of those great eras. Tony's success here speaks for itself. He's just a giant in the game of baseball, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. He brought a lot to this organization and this club and taught us a lot as players. It's well-deserved."

• The Cardinals seemingly dodged a bullet Tuesday night when X-rays on Yadier Molina's left wrist came back negative following his being struck behind the plate by a 96 mph fastball.

In an apparent mix-up with Mitchell Boggs, Molina set up on the outside of the plate expecting a slider, but couldn't react in time when Boggs threw a fastball on the inner half of the plate. The ball hit the same bone that Molina fractured in 2007, costing him nearly a month of playing time that summer.

"I think everything is good. I don't have too much pain right now," Molina said after the game. "After a couple minutes it was getting better and better and better. I'm glad everything is all right. Every time that happens to a catcher, it's scary. It's not fun."

Worth noting
• Minor has a career 3.87 ERA in 14 home games and a 6.08 mark in 16 road games.

• Garcia has struggled with the bottom of the order this season, allowing seventh and eighth batters to hit a combined .484. Cleanup hitters, on the other hand, are hitting just .087 (1-for-15).

• Braves center fielder Michael Bourn went 0-for-4 Wednesday, ending his 12-game hitting streak. Bourn had held the longest active streak in the Majors prior to Wednesday and was also just one game shy of his career-long 13-game run from July 15-28, 2011. Comments