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Braves Minor set to return

Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Minor prepares to throw the ball during spring training. Minor is set to return to the Braves on Saturday. (File photo)

Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Minor prepares to throw the ball during spring training. Minor is set to return to the Braves on Saturday. (File photo)

NEW YORK — Their starting rotation has been the best in baseball through the season’s first three weeks, and now the Braves are set to welcome back the pitcher who led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2013.

Mike Minor made what was likely his final rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Gwinnett, and the left-hander is tentatively set to make his season debut this coming Saturday against the Reds at Turner Field. He will presumably replace David Hale, whose next turn would otherwise fall on that day. However, the Braves haven’t divulged those plans.

“He’ll throw a bullpen (Monday) at home, and we’ll see where we’re at after that,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

The Braves had originally planned for Minor to make his season debut Wednesday against the Marlins or Friday against the Reds (the Braves are off Thursday). But after his scheduled rehab start was rained out Friday and pushed back to Saturday, that eliminated the Wednesday possibility.

And since Ervin Santana pitched Saturday night and would already be on an extra day of rest in his next regular turn Friday (after the team’s day off Thursday), the Braves are planning to have Santana stay on his turn Friday and have Minor be the one to get the two extra rest days.

“That’s what we’re thinking if everything goes well,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll see how (Minor) feels tomorrow and talk to him about it.”

Braves starters led the majors with a 1.46 ERA and .202 opponents’ average before Saturday. The ERA was nearly a full run lower than second-ranked St. Louis (2.40), and the Braves had three starters among the National League’s individual top eight: 1. Aaron Harang (0.70), 2. (tie) Santana (0.86), and 8. Alex Wood (1.67).

As remarkable as it must seem, Julio Teheran’s 1.93 ERA currently ranks fourth among Braves starters.

Assuming Hale — who took a 2.89 ERA into his Sunday start against the Mets — is dropped from the rotation this week, the rookie right-hander could be moved to the Braves bullpen or to Triple-A. He has experience starting and relieving and said he’s comfortable in both roles and enjoys the adrenaline rush of relieving.

Minor began the season on the 15-day disabled list after being sidelined by tendinitis in his throwing shoulder in the first week of spring training. They think the condition resulted from Minor doing too much too soon, after being unable to work out or throw for all of January following emergency urinary-tract surgery on Dec. 31.

The lefty was 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA in 32 starts in 2013, with 181 strikeouts and 46 walks in 204 2/3 innings. It was the second consecutive season that Minor led the Braves in innings pitched, and his strikeouts-to-walks ratio ranked eighth among National League starters.

Since the 2012 All-Star break, he’s 19-13 with a 2.90 ERA in 46 starts, which was the fourth-lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers with at least 40 starts in that span.

In his fourth injury-rehab start Saturday, Minor worked six innings for Triple-A Gwinnett and was charged with three runs (two earned), four hits and no walks with four strikeouts six innings and 80 pitches. In his previous start a week ago, he pitched five innings of one-hit ball for Class-A Rome.