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BRAVES NOTEBOOK: Johnson stepping in for injured Freeman

Chris Johnson is taking over at first base for the Braves while Freddie Freeman is on the disabled list with an oblique strain.

Chris Johnson is taking over at first base for the Braves while Freddie Freeman is on the disabled list with an oblique strain.

Simmons back in lineup after thumb injury from head-first slide

ATLANTA — Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ left thumb sprain kept him out of two games — but he was back in the lineup for Monday’s game in Miami.

The injury was an opportunity for Ramiro Pena to join the lineup after his strong play during the spring — and it also taught Simmons a lesson about the risk of sliding head first.

“For me, it’s OK,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said about the injury. “It’s just day-to-day and gives Pena a chance a little bit. We always talk about how good our team is and one of my biggest challenges is playing everybody. And now Pena gets to play a little bit.”

Simmons injured his finger while stealing second base during the third inning of Atlanta’s 4-1 victory against the Cubs Friday night at Turner Field. Simmons finished the game and was originally in Gonzalez’s lineup Saturday before getting scratched.

Simmons, who is batting lead off for the Braves, said he jammed the thumb on second base while trying to avoid the tag. He said it swelled overnight and was painful but tests confirmed that the strength is good.

“I feel good enough to go out there,” Simmons said. “If it was up to me, I would put myself in the lineup. But I guess they are trying to make the best decision for the team and for myself, I guess, so I understand.”

Gonzalez planned on Simmons out of Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs even if Simmons was cleared to play, just to be safe.

Simmons fractured his right pinkie finger while sliding head first into second base in July 2012. He missed more than two months with that injury.

Simmons said he doesn’t plan to stop sliding head first.

“It’s just how I feel faster,” he said. “Maybe (I can) put something on my hand that makes it easier sliding, but I doubt if I plain just stop sliding head first.”

Gonzalez, speaking on the subject of head-first slides after Friday’s game, said “you can’t shrink wrap them, you’ve got to let the guys play.” He didn’t know at the time that Simmons would end up needing to miss a day but he’s still realistic about the subject.

MIAMI — The bad news for the Braves was that Freddie Freeman, who was off to a hot start, went onto the disabled list just five games into the season.

The good news was that at least they had Chris Johnson to take over at first base.

Johnson was sharing time at third with Juan Francisco. Now both will get to be in a lineup that must carry on without its cleanup hitter.

Freeman, who was 7-for-17 with a home run and five RBIs, winced and grabbed his side after an eighth-inning single on Saturday and was put on the disabled list Sunday with a right oblique strain.

The left-handed hitter was unhappy about having to go on the DL, insisting that he could play through the soreness. But the Braves choose to be cautious, not wanting Freeman to aggravate the injury and possibly be sidelined much longer than 15 days.

“Sometimes we have to protect players from themselves,” general manager Frank Wren said.

Johnson, acquired from Arizona as part of the Justin Upton trade, also had a good spring, hitting .361 with three homers and 12 RBI. But when Francisco hit .333 with six homers and 14 RBI, manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to platoon the right-handed hitting Johnson and lefty-swing Francisco at third base.

Johnson had played in just six games at first base previously in his major league career, but manned the position in college and saw extensive action there during spring training.

To take Freeman’s spot on the active roster, the Braves promoted former major league infielder Blake DeWitt from Class AAA Gwinnett. He supplies a left-handed bat off the bench.

Freeman tweaked his side during a workout March 31, but homered in his first at-bat the next night in the season opener and had shown no issues until late in Saturday’s game.

“I’m not hurt to the point that I can’t play,” Freeman said.

Freeman avoided going on the disabled list last season despite dealing with hand, knee and eye issues and seemed poised for a banner season after hitting .342 with seven homers and 16 RBI in spring training.

UPTON BROTHERS: Justin Upton’s dramatic game-winning home run on Saturday gave him five homers this season, making him the first player since 1900 to hit five home runs in his first five games with a team. It was the fifth two-homer game and second game-winning homer of his career.

After going homerless on Sunday, Upton hit No. 6 of the season in the fifth inning on Monday.

B.J. Upton hit leadoff for the third game Monday in place of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has a sprained thumb and hit in the eight hole Monday.

Upton was 2-for-6 with three walks and a home run in his first two games as leadoff hitter.

Upton said he doesn’t care where hit bats in the order.

NEW CLEANUP HITTER: Catcher Evan Gattis was moved up to fourth in the batting order on Sunday. He hit eighth in his two previous starts.

Gonzalez said Friday, “He’s our second fourth-place hitter, that’s why he’s batting eighth.”

Gattis went 0-for-3 with a walk on Sunday, but drew raves for his work behind the plate from starter Tim Hudson.

With Freeman out of the lineup, Gattis hit in the cleanup spot again Monday.