ATLANTA -- When the Braves placed Jordan Walden on the disabled list and learned Eric O'Flaherty would need to undergo season-ending elbow surgery within a 24-hour span in mid-May, Luis Avilan said he was ready to accept the challenge of taking on a greater role in Atlanta's bullpen.
Nearly two months later, Avilan has established himself as a dependable setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel. In fact, during his first full calendar year at the big league level, the hard-throwing left-hander has developed into one of the game's top relievers.
Avilan made his Major League debut on July 14 last year and then proceeded to allow a run in three of his first four appearances. In the 69 appearances he has made dating back to July 30, he has compiled a 1.36 ERA and limited opponents to a .160 batting average.
Kimbrel and American League All-Star Jesse Crain are the only Major League relievers who have posted a lower ERA while making at least 50 appearances during this span. Paco Rodriguez and Glen Perkins are the only qualified relievers to produce a better opponent's batting average.
"I remember my first couple outings in the big leagues," Avilan said. "I was so shy and scared about what I was supposed to do. Right now, I feel comfortable about what I'm doing and what I have to do."
Braves' winner for Tribute for Heroes announced
ATLANTA -- The perseverance Brian Hicks has continued to show since losing his leg in Iraq has earned him a chance to represent Braves fans at this year's All-Star Game.
Major League Baseball and People Magazine announced on Wednesday that Hicks was the Braves' winner of the "Tribute for Heroes" campaign, a national initiative that recognizes veterans and military service members and builds upon both organizations' commitment to honoring our country's heroes.
All of the winners, each representing one of the 30 MLB Clubs, will be included in All-Star Week festivities and will attend and be honored during the pre-game ceremony leading up to the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field, July 16th on FOX beginning at 7:30 pm ET. The 30 winners can be seen at TributeForHeroes.com.
During a 2003 deployment in Iraq, Hicks suffered an injury that led to his left leg being amputated. He has since completed 35 triathlons and eight marathons. In 2012, he was awarded the USA Triathlon Comeback of the Year Award. Along with serving as a resident engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers at Maxwell Air Force Base, he mentors other disabled veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project and CAST (Christian Amputee Support Team).
B.J. Upton's solid night has Braves optimistic
MIAMI -- B.J. Upton understands one game does not completely separate him from the struggles he has endured throughout this season. But as he drilled three line drives and produced four quality plate appearances in Tuesday night's win over the Marlins, Upton gave the Braves reason to believe he might truly be turning the corner.
"That was the best I've seen him," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said. "He was aggressive, he was in attack mode and he stayed inside the ball. That has been his battle. His timing has been messed up, and he's been kind of late all year. There were a couple pitches he was late on last night, but he made the adjustment as the at-bat went on, and he got there on time."
Upton began his encouraging performance with an opposite-field sacrifice fly in the second inning. This was the first of the good signs produced by the veteran center fielder, who has hit .106 (7-for-66) and produced four sacrifice flies with runners in scoring position.
One inning later, Upton encountered some bad luck when he smoked a liner directly at third baseman Ed Lucas. But the line drives he produced in his final two at-bats of the night resulted in a pair of singles.
With what was just his 13th multihit game of the season, Upton improved his Major League-worst batting average from .173 to .178. He entered Tuesday with just three hits in his previous 27 at-bats.
"I've been hitting the ball hard," Upton said. "They are not always going to fall. But I'm starting to see the benefits of the work I've been doing. I'm starting to feel a lot better now. I think in the future, I'll know how to get the feeling back when I lose it."
• Evan Gattis and Jordan Schafer took batting practice on the field before the Braves concluded a three-game series against the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon. Gattis (strained right oblique) and Schafer (right ankle contusion) are both expected to be activated from the disabled list immediately after the All-Star break.
• Julio Teheran recorded his Major League-leading seventh pickoff during Tuesday's win over Miami. Teheran now has more pickoffs than any other right-handed Braves pitcher has recorded in a season. The franchise record is held by southpaw Charlie Leibrandt, who caught 16 baserunners by surprise in 1992.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.