Ever since making this spectacular catch at the wall against the Cincinnati Reds last week, reserve outfielder Reed Johnson has been battling Achilles tendonitis.
ATLANTA — Between injuries to the outfield and their bench, the news has not been good for the Braves this month, and Reed Johnson was the latest to go down. Achilles tendinitis forced the backup outfielder to the disabled list Tuesday, and the Braves called up Todd Cunningham from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Johnson has had his Achilles tendon flare up twice previously this year, in Arizona in May and in Kansas City in June, but was able to come back a day or two later. This time the soreness lingered from Sunday night when he pulled up after beating out an infield hit in the eighth inning against the Cardinals.
Johnson underwent an MRI on Tuesday.
“After we get more tests done, we’ll know more,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Keep your fingers crossed that it’s only a two week thing.”
He’s the fourth outfielder to leave a game injured in the past 2 ½ weeks and the fourth of the Braves five bench players to spend time on the DL this season. Gwinnett’s starting outfield is on Atlanta’s roster now with Cunningham, Joey Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza.
And actually, it’s good news that a couple of Atlanta’s outfielders are going to be in Gwinnett. B.J. Upton (adductor/groin strain) began his minor league rehabilitation assignment Wednesday in Gwinnett. He’s scheduled to play three games against Charlotte, building up from two to four at-bats along the way. If all goes well, he could come off the DL this weekend in Philadelphia.
Jordan Schafer is not far behind him, likely to begin his own rehab assignment Saturday with Gwinnett in Durham. Schafer is a little more than four weeks into his recovery from a stress fracture in his right ankle.
The news, however, was not as good for backup catcher Gerald Laird.
Laird spent much of the past few days in significant pain while trying to pass a kidney stone, and when he wasn’t hurting it was because he was on serious pain medication. The situation forced B Gonzalez to adjust what’s become his usual late-innings strategy.
Laird, 33, was taken to a hospital after his pain intensified Sunday and he became nauseous, and he wasn’t at Turner Field during the Braves 5-2 win Sunday night against the Cardinals.
Gonzalez didn’t make the usual late-innings-with-a-lead defensive substitution of Paul Janish for third baseman Chris Johnson with a 2-0 lead after eight Saturday or 5-2 lead after eight Sunday.
Because Janish and Johnson are the Braves’ emergency catchers, Gonzalez didn’t want to get potentially caught without a third baseman if he moved Janish to third and removed Johnson from the game, then had an injury to catcher Brian McCann.
Second catcher Evan Gattis played left field Saturday and Sunday, and Gonzalez was also reluctant to take him out of the game for fear of being down to one regular catcher, McCann. He usually replaces Gattis for outfield defense with a late-innings lead.
Laird was at the ballpark Tuesday but wasn’t he available for Tuesday’s game against Colorado. Kidney stones can take several days or even weeks to pass.
“When I saw him Sunday afternoon, he was laid up and describing the pain,” Gonzalez said. “(A Braves trainer) said Gerald has some back issues. That afternoon, he comes in and he’s on the trainer’s table, he’s got his feet up and he goes, ‘Skip, I can’t get comfortable.’ He said, ‘It started back here (in his lower back), and now it feels like it’s coming around (his side).’”
Gonzalez, himself a veteran of four kidney stones, said he told Laird, “Gerald, I’m not a doctor, but it sounds like you’ve got kidney stones.”
After the pain increased and Laird became ill, he was taken to a hospital, where tests showed the kidney stone.
Surprise call: When you’re a minor league prospect two days before the trade deadline, and your phone rings at midnight with your manager calling, it’s not always a good thing.
So Cunningham got a little jolt when Randy Ready called him late Monday night while he was hanging out with some Gwinnett teammates on a dock at Lake Lanier at teammate David Hale’s parents’ lake house.
The team had just gotten back from playing in Charlotte on Monday and had an off day Tuesday.
“(Cody) Rasmus had just been traded,” Cunningham said. “So I got the call at about midnight and my first thought was, ‘Where am I going now?’ like I was involved in some kind of trade. So it was a pleasant surprise to find out I was coming to Atlanta, as opposed to some other ballclub.”
It’s the first major league call-up for Cunningham, a second-round pick out of Jacksonville (Ala.) State in 2010.
“It was kind of that awkward silence when I reapproached the group, (like) ‘Which side of the news is it?’ ” Cunningham said. “Lot of hugs and celebrations. So it was a fun time.”
Cunningham singled to left in his first major league at-bat, pinch-hitting for Alex Wood in the seventh inning.
He was named the Braves’ organizational Player of the Year in 2012 after hitting .309 in Double-A Mississippi. He entered this season rated the 12th-best Braves prospect by Baseball America and lived up to the billing by hitting .279 in 99 games for Triple-A Gwinnett.
The switch-hitting Cunningham built his reputation on his ability to hit for average and his outfield defense. He can play all three outfield positions and saw action in a majority of his games in Gwinnett in center field.
“Talking with some of our scouts, he’s one of those guys who’s not going to light you up,” Gonzalez said. “If you walked into the ballpark today and watched him play, you’re going to say, ‘OK,’ but if you follow him for four or five days you’re going to say, ‘This guy is pretty good.’ He’s one of those guys who is a solid baseball player. The more you watch, the more you appreciate.”
He might need a few more days before the Turner Field security gets to appreciate him. The baby-faced Cunningham, 24, got stopped trying to get into the Braves players’ lot when he arrived about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“I had to wait a couple minutes while they called up and checked my ID and all that good stuff,” Cunningham said with a smile. “I’ve got a parking pass now, so I should be good.”