ATLANTA -- Tyler Flowers awoke feeling better than he had approximately 12 hours earlier, when he felt discomfort with every step he took as he exited SunTrust Park. But the Braves catcher has already conceded he will likely be sidelined for at least a month with a strained left oblique.
A few hours after placing Flowers on the 10-day disabled list, the Braves' catching concerns grew more significant when Kurt Suzuki exited Friday's night's 5-4, 11-inning loss. Suzuki was struck on the right hand by a Nick Pivetta pitch in the fourth inning. The swelling was too significant for the medical staff to review an X-ray, so the Braves will have to wait until Saturday to know whether they will be without both of their top two catchers for an extended period of time.
"You just never know what's going to happen," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You can't ever prepare enough. We were in really good shape coming in, and two games in, we're hurting already."
The Braves are hopeful Suzuki can avoid the disabled list. But even if he does, the Braves may need to promote Rob Brantly from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as Chris Stewart's backup for a few days. The 36-year-old Stewart signed with the Braves after the start of Spring Training, and there was uncertainty about his immediate future until the Braves opted for three catchers on their Opening Day roster.
It's too early to project a potential return date for Flowers. But all involved seem to fully understand the potential pitfalls of attempting to rush back from this oblique strain, which was suffered as the 32-year-old catcher attempted to complete his first plate appearance of the season.
"I've had teammates over the years try to rush it to get back, and they end up dealing with it for the entire season," Flowers said. "I definitely don't plan on doing that. I think we'll be as aggressive as we can be, but I don't want this to turn into multiple months when it can be something significantly shorter if we take our time."
The Braves thought about filling Flowers' roster spot with outfielder Danny Santana, but instead, they purchased right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich's contract from Triple-A Gwinnett. Socolovich will serve as a short-term roster filler. The move prevents the team from possibly losing Santana or one of its other more valuable out-of-options players when Johan Camargo and Anibal Sanchez are added to Atlanta's roster next week.
Flowers felt discomfort with the first swing he took during the second inning of Thursday's Opening Day win over the Phillies. He motioned for the Braves' trainers to stay on the bench and might have done more damage when he took his next swing, which led to his immediate exit.
"[Oblique injuries] are time-consuming," Snitker said. "You've got to be careful. The slightest little glitch and you can get right back to where you started. It's going to take time. You have to be patient. … I don't know if any two of these are the same. Even when guys heal and feel good, they're not ready yet."
Former Braves catcher Brian McCann was certainly not his usually productive self as the Braves collapsed near the end of the 2011 season. McCann hit .180 and produced a .638 OPS over the 37 games he played that year after returning to action just 18 days after sustaining an oblique strain on July 26.
Flowers will likely not even attempt to resume baseball activities until the latter portion of April.
"It's a bummer," Snitker said. "He [tweaked] it pretty good too. Things are weird."