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BRAVES NOTEBOOK: Reliever Avilan OK after scary scene Tuesday

While the injury looked bad when it happened, as it turned out, Braves reliever Luis Avilan just strained his hamstring, but simultaneous cramps made the reliever drop to the ground in pain during Tuesday’s game against Kansas City.

While the injury looked bad when it happened, as it turned out, Braves reliever Luis Avilan just strained his hamstring, but simultaneous cramps made the reliever drop to the ground in pain during Tuesday’s game against Kansas City.

Michael Cunningham

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

ATLANTA — The electricity at Turner Field for the Braves’ homer-fueled victory against the Royals Tuesday night was briefly interrupted when left-handed relief pitcher Luis Avilan staggered off the mound with an injury.

Avilan clutched his left leg and fell to the ground while starting to deliver a pitch in the ninth inning of Atlanta’s 6-3 victory. The Braves said Wednesday that Avilan suffered a hamstring strain and cramping. He will avoid the disabled list and was in the Braves’ dugout during Wednesday’s series finale against the Royals.

“Obviously, the way he fell down there it didn’t look good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said shortly after the game.

Avilan, 23, had allowed no runs in four innings of work in four appearances before Tuesday. As a rookie in 2012, Avilan posted a 2.00 ERA in 36 innings with 10 walks and 33 strikeouts.

Atlanta has a deep bullpen that includes top lefty setup man Eric O’Flaherty, but Avilan also has played a key role.

“He’s a huge part of our bullpen, a huge part of our team,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “And we need him back as fast as possible.”

O’Flaherty is the only other lefty relief pitcher on Atlanta’s active roster. Left-hander Jonny Venters is on the disabled list with an elbow injury and isn’t scheduled to throw again for at least another two weeks.

If Avilan is forced to miss games, the Braves could call up left-hander Yohan Flande from Triple-A Gwinnett. Flande normally throws out of the bullpen for the G-Braves but pitched 4 1/3 innings as a starter on Sunday.

MCCANN STILL REHABBING: Braves catcher Brian McCann began participating in extended spring training Wednesday at the club’s facility in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

McCann, out since Oct. 16 surgery on his right shoulder, opened the season on the 15-day disabled list. Under major league rules, once McCann begins a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, he will have a maximum of 20 days to get ready to join the active roster.

“Before we start the clock on Mac, we want to make sure he can catch a little bit,” Gonzalez said. “With extended spring, the clock does not start. As soon as he can catch a couple games, there we will send him out to a rehab assignment somewhere.”

McCann experienced shoulder pain on some swings for much of last season. He eventually had surgery to repair a torn labrum in the back of his throwing shoulder and also secure ligaments back to the socket to stabilize the joint.

A five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, McCann had career-lows in most categories in 2012, including a .230 average with 67 RBIs, a .300 OBP and .399 slugging percentage.

FREEMAN WORKING WAY BACK: Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman took swings Tuesday for the first time since he was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 7 with a strained right oblique muscle.

Freeman said the oblique “felt fine” while taking 30 swings. He was to be examined by the doctor later Tuesday to come up with a plan for the rest of the week. Freeman is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday.

“See if it’s sore tomorrow,” he said. “Go at it again tomorrow if it’s feeling all right.”

Freeman suffered the injury during a workout before opening day but played in five games before the Braves shut him down. He’s hitting 7 for 17 (.412) with a home run and seven RBI.

Gonzalez said Freeman could go to extended spring training “to get some at-bats, get into game speed” before re-joining the lineup.

“It wouldn’t surprise me when if 15 days are up he’s ready to play, or shortly thereafter,” Gonzalez said.

At the time the Braves decided to place Freeman on the disabled list, he was angry the team made the move without first talking to him. He also wasn’t pleased that he couldn’t travel with the team during its six-game road trip that ended Sunday.

Freeman appeared to be in much better spirits Tuesday.

“I had a week to calm down,” he said. “I’m good.”

General manager Frank Wren said the Braves made the decision after consulting with doctors and determining they didn’t want to risk Freeman tearing the muscle and being forced to miss an extended period of time. He said it’s club policy for players who are restricted from doing baseball activities to not travel with the team.

GOT A GOOD THING WITH GATTIS: With Braves catcher Gerald Laird set to take on his usual duties of handling starter Julio Teheran today and Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke on the mound, Gonzalez said he plans to play Evan Gattis at first base again.

Gattis, a 26-year old rookie, hasn’t played much first base since college but started there Friday at Washington and committed an error. But he’s off to a hot start at the plate and Gonzalez is looking for ways to play Gattis on the days he doesn’t catch; first base provides an opening because Freeman is on the disabled list.

“It’s hard to take that bat out of the lineup,” Gonzalez said. “I thought he was fine at first base. The only screw-up was that fly ball and I’ve seen Gold Glovers miss that play. I’m comfortable to run him out there.”

Gattis, who bats right-handed, is hitting .262 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 42 at-bats. His 1.120 OPS was third behind Freeman (1.121) and Justin Upton (1.306) among Braves regulars.

It will be more of a challenge for Gonzalez to find playing time for Gattis after Freeman and catcher Brian McCann return.

“It’s easy because when Mac comes back he’s not going to be the Mac of two years ago where you run him out there for 10 days in a row,” Gonzalez said. “He’s not going to be able to do that, or we don’t want him to do that. It will work its way out. Something else will happen. That’s why I’ve learned not to worry about it.”

CLOSURE TO DEATH OF TRAINER’S WIFE: A former state trooper was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday following his guilty pleas in a crash that killed the wife of the Atlanta Braves head trainer.

Donald Crozier, 43, was also sentenced to eight years on probation for the 2011 New Year’s Eve crash that killed Kathy Porter, wife of Jeff Porter, longtime Braves trainer. Crozier pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, reckless driving and violating his oath of office — a charge he initially denied.

Crozier, a 10-year veteran of the Georgia State Patrol, was speeding to assist in a chase on I-20 when his cruiser collided with the Porters’ Ford Expedition at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Memorial Drive. Kathy Porter, 54, was pronounced dead on the scene. Crozier, who had a history of wrecks, was fired from the state patrol days after the deadly crash, according to state patrol records.

In the courtroom, Crozier apologized to the Porter family for his actions.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall also ordered Crozier to work with other law enforcement officers at the state training center to help them understand the dangers and responsibilities of their jobs, Channel 2 reported.