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Updated: 11:49 p.m. Monday, June 30, 2014 | Posted: 5:58 p.m. Monday, June 30, 2014

Braves place Gattis on disabled list with back injury

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By Michael Cunningham

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Braves placed Evan Gattis on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a bulging thoracic disc, meaning the team will have to make do without one of its best hitters as it tries to hold on to a slim lead in the NL East.

Gattis left Friday’s game in Philadelphia after his first at-bat and had an MRI on Monday afternoon. Gattis said doctors told him the injury doesn’t require surgery in 95 percent of cases.

Gattis said he would get an epidural injection soon and then would be limited in his activities for three to five days. He said it’s too soon to tell if he will be ready to play as soon as he’s eligible to come off the DL.

“I’m not really sure on time table,” Gattis said after the Braves’ 5-3 victory over the Mets on Monday night. “Personally, I don’t think it will be too long.”

With Gattis out and Gerald Laird in need of rest, Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt got his second major-league start on Monday. Bethancourt was a last-minute call-up from Class AAA Gwinnett for the second game of the doubleheader against the Phillies.

After the game Monday, Braves manger Fredi Gonzalez said he hadn’t decided if he would split starts evenly between Bethancourt and Laird while Gattis is on the mend.

Gattis’ injury is a tough break for the Braves. He goes to the disabled list during his hottest stretch of hitting this season.

In 26 games since May 26 Gattis hit .354 (35-for-99) with eight home runs, 21 RBI and .407 on-base percentage. For the season Gattis is hitting .290 with 16 home runs, 39 RBI and .342 on-base percentage.

“It’s hard to be without anybody like that who comes to the field and wants to play,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “He’s dangerous in the (batter’s) box. He wants to get it done every day. Seeing him take such strides this year behind the plate and at the dish, we are going to miss that. But it’s part of the game; everybody deals with it.”

Gattis said he’s never had a bulging disk before. He said he wasn’t sure if the injury was cumulative in nature but he didn’t feel any pain until after he took a swing during the game Friday.

Gattis said it’s “not a crazy amount of pain” when he’s standing but hurts when he does certain movements. Gattis and the Braves initially hoped he would avoid a DL stint.

“I didn’t really know (the extent of the injury),” Gattis said. ” It kind of felt like a pinch. The first day, initially it felt like it was kind of close to the spine or something like that. I didn’t know if it was that or what. Initially it was kind of hard to breathe.”

Bethancourt now will see a lot more playing time than he did during his first major-league stint. He got just one at-bat during a three-week stretch with the Braves last September.

“It’s different this year,” Bethancourt said before Gattis was placed on the DL. “I don’t like to get the call because Evan got injured. I’m here just to do the job they called me to do and I’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Bethancourt, 22, has always been regarded as a strong defensive prospect and he appeared comfortable behind the plate in his first start.

“He looks great,” Laird said before the game Monday. “I’m glad Skipper (Gonzalez) is playing him. I mean, why’s he here if he’s not going to play, you know? I mean, I know I’m going to play tomorrow, but see what he’s got. Last year he came up (in September) and he didn’t even play. It’s nice to see him play.

“He looked good behind the dish. We sat down, went over the scouting report. I tried to help out with the hitters before he had to go on the field. I said, ‘This is how I’d do it, don’t let (Ryan) Howard do this; do this to Howard… He did a really good job.”

Bethancourt caught the Braves’ attention with his improved hitting this season. After a slow start at the plate, Bethancourt hit .271 with a .720 OPS in May and .326 with a .755 OPS in June.

“I haven’t changed anything,” Bethancourt said of his approach. “My hitting coach (James Dismuke) was just like, ‘You are fine. You’ve just got to keep working and be more consistent.’ That’s what I’ve been doing the last two months.”

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