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BRAVES NOTEBOOK: Maholm throws simulated game

Braves pitcher Paul Maholm is recovering from a sprained left wrist but is on his way back to the majors after a successful simulated game on Monday. (Reuters News Service)

Braves pitcher Paul Maholm is recovering from a sprained left wrist but is on his way back to the majors after a successful simulated game on Monday. (Reuters News Service)

ATLANTA — Left-hander Paul Maholm threw six innings of a simulated game Monday afternoon, throwing 80 pitches in what is expected to be his final step before going out on a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

Maholm said afterward he had no lingering issues with his sprained left wrist, and the Braves will likely finalize plans for a minor league start soon. The plan is for Maholm to pitch just one outing before returning to action.

“It’s not like I’m trying to build up to throwing 95 (mph) again,” Maholm said. “Just facing hitters is good.”

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves haven’t decided how they’ll work Maholm back into the rotation. They’ve discussed a couple of different scenarios, including skipping a starter who could use a few extra days’ rest. They could also go to a six-man rotation, but Gonzalez said he hasn’t even checked the schedule to see if that’s feasible.

Julio Teheran is one candidate to get some rest down the stretch. The 22-year-old has never thrown more than 168 innings in a season, which he did last year between Triple-A, Atlanta and winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

Teheran entered Monday’s start against the Phillies with 137 innings and is on pace to finish the regular season with just under 200 innings. That would be about a 20 percent jump from last season before he gets to the postseason.

But Gonzalez said the Braves aren’t going strictly on an innings count with Teheran.

“I think you treat that individually,” Gonzalez said. “I think he’s fine.”

The Braves don’t want to break up Teheran’s rhythm either. He was 9-5 and second to Mike Minor on the Braves starting staff with a 2.96 ERA in 22 starts entering Monday.

RUNNERS ON BASE: At the end of the day on June 14, the Braves had lost six out of eight games, slipped to 39-28 and ranked last in the National League with a .226 average with runners in scoring position. In the two months since, the Braves have hit .292 with runners in scoring position while going 33-18, raising their RISP average from last in the NL to third (.257).

Strong pitching has been a constant for the Braves, who had the sixth-best starters ERA (3.58) in the majors and a 2.38 bullpen ERA that was the best in the majors before Monday.

The offense is where the Braves have improved significantly since midseason, moving beyond the early boom-or-bust stage, when the lineup looked awful most nights that the Braves didn’t hit a couple of homers.

“Earlier in the season when we were scoring runs, it was basically walking and hitting home runs,” hitting coach Greg Walker said. “We knew we were too good just to be that type of team. Luckily we were good enough in those two aspects, it kept us going. But we knew there was more in the tank. We knew we could improve and we have.”

On May 18, the Braves were 1-14 in games in which they didn’t hit at least one homer and 23-4 in games in which they did. Since then they’d gone 11-15 in games in which they haven’t have a homer, a reasonable rate for any team and better than most. (They were 37-13 in games with at least one homer.)

The Braves hit .243 overall with 89 homers in 67 games through June 14. In the 51 games since, they hit .268 with 53 home runs. The homer rate has been reduced but so has the strikeout rate.

“I don’t think we were near as bad (with the early season offense) as people thought we were, because we were doing a lot of good things,” Walker said. “We were taking our walks and we were hitting home runs. So we were scoring runs, but not like we are now, obviously. Our guys are too good a hitters, they’re not just sluggers. And we knew it was going to come out sooner or later.”

BACK IN: Brian McCann returned to the Braves lineup Monday after taking two days off to rest a sore right knee before it became the problem it was for him last season.

“Last year I kept playing and it turned into something worse,” McCann said. “It was hard to get in my squat and get my glove where I needed it to be to frame pitches and to block.”

McCann said his knee started bothering him last week in Washington, where he said the infield is especially hard behind home plate.

“(Catcher Wilson) Ramos wears rubbers spikes there,” McCann said. “I don’t know many catchers that ever wear rubber spikes. … It’s like the (surface) ice hockey players walk on with their skates. It’s like digging your cleats into that, so when you twist and you go down to block, there’s no give.”

McCann caught Brandon Beachy on Friday night but then decided resting the next two games would be smart. He said it felt fine by Monday.

Justin Upton was also back in the Braves lineup Monday after leaving Sunday’s game with a hamstring cramp. Upton missed two games before the All-Star break because of cramping in his calf muscle.

Gonzalez said Upton is still adjusting to playing in the Atlanta heat and humidity, after six years of playing indoors in Arizona.

“Here with the heat, people tell you to drink water and you think you’re drinking water,” Gonzalez said. “It’s almost impossible to drink enough water, if you’re a sweater. So we’ve got to figure something out to get him not to cramp up like that.”