BRAVES NOTEBOOK: Braves to open 2014 season at Brewers

ATLANTA — The Braves will open the 2014 season on the road on the road in Milwaukee, with three games March 31 through April 2, before traveling to Washington on April 4-6. This will be the eighth time in the past 10 years the Braves open their season on the road.

Major League Baseball released the tentative schedule for 2014 on Tuesday, with game times to be released in the offseason.

The Braves will open their home schedule April 8 with the first of three games against the Mets at Turner Field before hosting the Nationals on April 11-13.

The Braves’ interleague schedule features matchups against the Red Sox, Mariners, Angels and Athletics and a familiar foe in the Houston Astros.

After playing the Red Sox in 10 of the first 11 seasons of interleague play, which debuted in 1997, the Braves will face the Red Sox for the third time in the past seven seasons. They’ll host the Red Sox on Memorial Day, with the first of a two-game series May 26 and 27 and follow that with two games in Boston at Fenway Park on May 28 and 29.

The Braves will host three teams from the American League West, with the Mariners visiting Turner Field on June 3-4, the Angels on June 13-15, and the Athletics on Aug. 15-17.

Next year’s interleague road schedule includes the Braves’ third trip to Seattle, the first since 2011, on Aug. 5 and 6. The Braves will make two trips to Texas, to play the Astros on June 24-26 and the Rangers on Sept. 12-14.

WALDEN COULD BE READY TODAY: Jordan Walden threw a 27-pitch bullpen on Tuesday without even noticing the groin issue that’s kept him out of action for the past three weeks. It’s an encouraging step for the Braves, who could have one of their top set-up men back in a game before this road trip is up.

“This is the first one that I’ve thrown since I got hurt that I wasn’t even thinking about it,” said Walden, who’d had to cut a bullpen short after five pitches a week earlier. “… Ball was coming out good, shoulder feels good, just ready to get back in the game.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said if Walden wakes up feeling good Wednesday, he could be ready to pitch in a game as early as Thursday’s series finale against the Marlins.

Walden has missed extended time twice this season with injuries — including a DL stint in late May with shoulder inflammation. But the plus side to his resting these past three weeks is how fresh his arms feels for the stretch run.

“This is the best my arm has felt this late in the season my whole big league career,” Walden said.

Walden and David Carpenter are tied for fourth among Braves relievers with 46 appearances. Luis Avilan leads the Braves bullpen with 68, followed by closer Craig Kimbrel with 59, and Anthony Varvaro with 55. The Braves have been able to piece together the seventh and eighth innings without both Walden and Scott Downs, who is out at least a couple of more days with a broken ring finger on his non-pitching hand.

Gonzalez said he considered using Kimbrel for a four-out save on Monday night against the Marlins but didn’t need to after Luis Ayala got through the eighth.

“Probably Avi has gotten a little more work than we’ve wanted him to get, but I think he’s still got a good number of appearances,” said Gonzalez, who made a point to rest Avilan Sunday in Philadelphia rather than pitch him three days in a row. “I think we still feel comfortable with those (number of) appearances.”

REED JOHNSON BACK: The Braves activated outfielder Reed Johnson from the disabled list shortly before Tuesday’s game against the Marlins. Johnson has been out with Achilles tendinitis since July 29.

He has hit and thrown for weeks while waiting for his Achilles to feel good enough to where he could run comfortably. When he arrived in Miami, Johnson was planning to increase his attempts at running.

“If I could give it 75 percent down to first base, that’d be plenty right now,” Johnson said.

The Braves will likely let him pinch hit and then run for him at first base.

Comparing sliders: The Braves avoided facing standout Jose Fernandez for the first four series they faced the Marlins this season, but they’re getting him in two consecutive.

Fernandez started Wednesday against Mike Minor in what is expected to be his last outing of the season. The Marlins wanted to cap him at 170 innings and he’s 4 1/3 innings shy, but they’ll treat Wednesday like a normal start, not necessarily pulling him after five innings.

After the Braves beat Fernandez 2-1 in Atlanta despite managing only three hits, players came away comparing his slider to John Smoltz’s, who used that pitch to become a likely Hall of Famer. If anyone would know both, it’s Brian McCann, who not only caught Smoltz, but saw 10 breaking balls in a 14-pitch at-bat against Fernandez on Aug. 30, before striking out against him.

“It’s similar,” McCann said. “Very similar. I think what makes it is arm speed. His arm speed is the same on his slider as it is his fastball.”