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Injuries bite catchers; Braves fall short

@mlbbowman
April 6, 2019

ATLANTA -- Charlie Culberson does not believe he has served as a catcher since he was 10 years old. But when Brian McCann suffered a right hamstring strain that will sideline him for at least a couple weeks and Tyler Flowers’ right palm was hit by a pitch during Saturday

ATLANTA -- Charlie Culberson does not believe he has served as a catcher since he was 10 years old. But when Brian McCann suffered a right hamstring strain that will sideline him for at least a couple weeks and Tyler Flowers’ right palm was hit by a pitch during Saturday night’s 4-2 loss to the Marlins, Culberson scrambled to find a protective cup and catching gear.

“I’m the guy that if they need me to do whatever, I’ll do it,” Culberson said. “It is what it is and it kind of makes it more fun.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker certainly wasn’t having fun when he nearly lost both of his veteran catchers within a span of approximately 20 minutes. McCann sustained his hamstring strain running the bases during the fourth inning. This prompted the entry of Flowers, who was seemingly fortunate to avoid a fractured hand after he was hit by Marlins reliever Tayron Guerrero’s 98.4 mph fastball in the fifth.

Alex Jackson will be promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill the roster spot that will open when McCann is officially placed on the injured list. Multiple X-rays showed Flowers’ hand is not fractured. But he will likely be unavailable Sunday, when Jackson is expected to make his MLB debut as Atlanta’s starting catcher.

“I wouldn’t imagine [I’ll miss] more than a couple days,” Flowers said. “Hopefully, I have a magic pill or something that will make me ready to go tomorrow.”

Unfortunately for McCann, there will be no magic remedy that will expedite his recovery from a hamstring strain that could quite possibly sideline him for a month. This was the length of time Flowers was sidelined when he strained his hamstring on Opening Day last year.

“Anytime you stretch a hamstring, it’s a concern,” Snitker said. “Early, when they checked him out, he had good strength, which is a good thing. Hopefully, it’s something we can treat and get him back sooner than later.”

McCann felt his hamstring tighten as he ran to second base on Dansby Swanson’s RBI single in the fourth. But the muscle didn’t truly bite the 35-year-old catcher until he ran and slid into third base on Kyle Wright’s unsuccessful sacrifice bunt attempt.

“When I was going down to slide, I kind of felt it grab,” McCann said. “So, I kind of knew I was coming out of the game. With those things you’ve got to be careful it doesn’t turn into something major.”

Though Flowers showed some determination by staying in the game while the medical staff evaluated the first set of X-rays, he could barely grip the bat. So he was left with no choice but to attempt to bunt before striking out to end the seventh.

Knowing Flowers’ condition, the Marlins intentionally walked Swanson to load the bases with two outs in the ninth. This led the Braves to remove Flowers in favor of Culberson, whose attempt to add to his list of ninth-inning heroics resulted in a game-ending pop fly caught by second baseman Starlin Castro.

Now Culberson will have to prepare for the possibility he may be needed to catch for the first time in nearly two decades.

“Charlie is the emergency everything,” Snitker said. “It doesn’t really matter as long as he’s willing to do it. I know he’s got a glove broken in.”

Bullpen woes: Braves starting pitchers have produced a 0.96 ERA during the first five games of this homestand. But the bullpen’s season ERA sat at 6.99 ERA after A.J. Minter allowed Jorge Alfaro to cap his first career two-homer game with the decisive opposite-field shot that landed in the right-field seats.

Minter essentially missed the Grapefruit League season because of left shoulder tightness and ended up pitching in just four Minor League Spring Training games as the Braves expedited his preparations to strengthen their bullpen. But the left-handed reliever looked rusty in Thursday’s season debut and fell victim to Alfaro’s power after losing an 11-pitch battle against Castro, who began the ninth with a single.

“Velocity was there tonight,” said Minter, whose four-seamer averaged 96.1 mph and touched 97 mph. “I felt good. That’s one positive thing about it."

Missed opportunities: Along with squandering the bases-loaded threat in the ninth, the Braves also stranded three runners when they could have done some damage against Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara in the fourth. Ender Inciarte’s one-out walk loaded the bases for Ozzie Albies, who popped out, and Freddie Freeman, who flied out to left field.

Atlanta stranded 14 runners on the way to ending its four-game winning streak.

“That’s the big thing, the fact we had opportunities and it just didn’t happen,” Snitker said. “We had some pretty good arms coming at it. Those ones you leave at third base with less than two outs always come back to haunt you. It didn’t happen tonight.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.