ATLANTA -- While the Braves are hoping to activate Ender Inciarte before next week’s two-game set in Kansas City, which begins on Tuesday, manager Brian Snitker remains cautiously optimistic regarding the return of his Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder, who has been sidelined since straining his right hamstring on Aug. 16.
“It’s just a time-consuming [recovery] because he screwed it up pretty bad,” Snitker said. “He is feeling better. All the reports are good. But what he does in drills is a lot different than taxing it and playing in games.”
Time will tell how long it might take before Inciarte is physically capable of coming out of the batter’s box, breaking on balls and sprinting around the bases at game speed. But he didn’t show any limitations as he spent Tuesday afternoon taking batting practice and testing his hamstring with a variety of running exercises.
There’s an understandable concern Inciarte could aggravate the injury and be lost for the remainder of the year if he returns too soon. But this might be a risk the recently injury-depleted Braves need to take in preparation of building a postseason roster.
Though there is at least a slim chance Camargo could be ready for the start of the National League Division Series, the Braves have to prepare for the likelihood he will not heal in time to be available for the postseason’s first round.
The absences of Camargo and Culberson have the greatest impact on the infield from a defensive perspective. If Camargo is not ready, the Braves would need to carry Adeiny Hechavarria, whose value does not extend beyond his glove.
If the Braves were to enter the NLDS without both Inciarte and Camargo, their bench would likely include catcher Tyler Flowers, Hechavarria, Adam Duvall/Matt Joyce (they will platoon in the outfield) and Austin Riley. The fifth and final spot could be filled by catcher Francisco Cervelli or outfielder Rafael Ortega.
By carrying Cervelli, the Braves could more comfortably pinch-run for veteran catcher Brian McCann. Ortega has not provided much value since hitting a decisive grand slam against the Dodgers on Aug. 18.
If Inciarte is activated before next week’s series against the Royals, he would have a chance to prove his health over the season’s final five games. But there is also reason to be concerned about how ready he might be to be productive from an offensive perspective.
With all of the Minor League affiliates done with their respective seasons, Inciarte will likely need to take live batting practice against a Minor Leaguer before being activated. This approach worked for Markakis, who made a successful return after missing six weeks. But Inciarte might not realize the same immediate results after his long layoff.
“The thing I’m worried about is what we have to offer to get [Inciarte and Camargo] back,” Snitker said. “I don’t think you can say, ‘Well, look at Nick.’ He’s a different animal than the other guys. We just have to keep taking it a day at a time and see where we are at.”
Culberson arrived at SunTrust Park a couple hours before Tuesday’s game against the Phillies to reunite with teammates and coaches, who are glad to see him recovering from the facial fractures he sustained when his right cheek was struck by Fernando Rodney’s pitch during Saturday’s win over the Nationals.
Though he will not play again this year, Culberson is looking forward to the chance to be around his teammates as frequently as possible over the remainder of this season.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody in [our clubhouse] who wouldn’t go on and on about what he means to them as a teammate,” Snitker said. “The good thing is he’ll be able to be a part of the club and be with us here on a daily basis.”
When the Braves put Culberson on the 60-day injured list on Tuesday, they promoted John Ryan Murphy to serve as their third catcher over the next few days. Cervelli is still hoping to return to that role during the regular season’s final week.
Cervelli has been sidelined since his left ring finger was lacerated by César Hernández’s backswing last week in Philadelphia.