With free agency looming, McCann aims for long Braves playoff run

Brian McCann, 29, a Duluth High School grad, was a seven-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

Brian McCann, 29, a Duluth High School grad, was a seven-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

ATLANTA — The last week of the regular season was definitely an eventful one for Brian McCann.

It was a case, in fact, of the good, the bad and the ugly, although not completely in that order.

It started as good as it can get with the birth of he and wife Ashley’s second child, daughter Colby.

Then it got ugly in a confrontation that touched off a benches-clearing melee between the Braves and Milwaukee.

Lastly, there was the groin strain that kept the catcher out of the final three games.

McCann is expected to play against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series that begins Thursday night at Turner Field.

It remains to be seen, though, if he will be 100 percent. He certainly wants to be with so much on the line.

McCann, a rookie on Atlanta’s last National League East championship team in 2005, may be winding down his time with the hometown Braves.

The Duluth graduate and Suwanee resident is sure to be courted by American League teams who could also use him as a designated hitter and the Braves aren’t likely to get into a bidding war.

McCann has refused to talk publicly about his future. Instead, he has tried to concentrate on the here and now.

Time is running out, though. Only a long playoff run by the Braves will stretch things.

“This is the most talented team I’ve been on since I’ve been here,” said the 29-year-old, who made the All-Star Game his first six seasons. “From top to bottom, all phases of the game — hitting, starting pitching, bullpen and defense — I think this is the most complete team. We’re in a good spot to do some good things.”

Of course, McCann’s health will be a factor there. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says he has made progress and is feeling much better.

“By getting him out early, I think we dodged a bullet,” said Gonzalez, who removed McCann in the second inning last Thursday.

McCann, who felt discomfort warming up the starting pitcher in the bullpen, was diagnosed with a right adductor strain.

“I’ve never had a groin problem at any time in my life,” he said.

McCann has had more than his share of other types of injuries lately, though.

The worst was last season, when McCann tried to play though a damaged right shoulder only to be benched for the wild-card loss to St. Louis. He had surgery after the season and missed the first six weeks this year.

The left-handed hitter made the All-Star Game for the seventh time despite his late start and finished with 20 homers and 57 RBIs to go with a .256 average in 102 games.

McCann’s value, though, can’t only be measured in stats. He is very much a leader and team conscience, as was shown twice recently.

That was especially apparent against the Brewers, when he challenged Carlos Gomez after he had tried to show up pitcher Paul Maholm following a home run.

“In the heat of the moment, I did what I thought was right,” McCann said. “I stand by what I did. I’m sticking up for this team. That’s a part of baseball.”

McCann didn’t even let Gomez touch home plate, meeting him 10 feet up the third base line.

“If you want to sit there and watch (a home run) for a few seconds, I’m OK with that,” McCann said. “But to yell the whole way around the bases, I just felt like I needed to say something. I don’t think that is part of the game of baseball. I thought he showed up our whole team. So I did what I felt any catcher would do in that situation, and that is sticking up for his team.”

McCann, though, may have a new team next year. It will be a difficult parting if it happens.

“I love it here, but I’m not worried about the future,” McCann said when he returned to the lineup in early May. “I think when you get ahead of yourself is when you get in trouble. I’m just going to concentrate on helping the team win, like always.”