Freddie Freeman, who has been out since June 17 with a right-wrist injury, should return sometime between July 17 (first game after the All-Star break) and July 31, a Braves official said. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)

Freeman makes progress, expected to start rehab assignment soon

A day after Freddie Freeman said it was killing him to still be sidelined with a wrist injury and no certain return date, the Braves first baseman was decidedly more upbeat Monday after hitting baseballs for the first time in a month.

Freeman looked and felt so good hitting balls off a tee and others tossed to him by coaches that the Braves said they could send him out on a minor league injury-rehab assignment in the next day or two.

“He feels great,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday afternoon, before a series opener against the Dodgers at Turner Field. “He’s trying to talk me into playing him and putting him in the lineup tonight. But no, we’ll get a plan in place to get him out and get him some at-bats, get him some games under his belt. How many, or how many at-bats, we’ll figure out in the next couple of hours.

“But he came out of the batting cage feeling great. Both (hitting coach) Kevin (Seitzer) and (assistant hitting coach) Jose (Castro) said this guy hasn’t missed a beat. That’s good news. That’s really good news.”

It’s the best news the Braves have heard in a while, as their offense has been fairly abysmal without Freeman. He last played June 17 against Boston, a game he left when the pain became too intense to grip a bat. An MRI revealed a contusion, or bone bruise, and he had to have fluid drained from his hand after inflammation that likely resulted from several injections he received.

In their last 18 games before Freeman left the lineup, the Braves hit .296 with 96 runs (5.33 per game) and 13 homers, and during that span Freeman hit .329 with six homers, 17 RBIs, 15 runs and a .392 OBP and .643 slugging percentage.

In the 26 games since he left the lineup, the Braves had batted just .234 with 69 runs (2.65 per game) and 16 homers, including a .208 average with 21 runs during a 1-7 slide before Monday.

A year ago, Freeman started all 162 games and led the majors with a franchise-record 1,449 innings, playing every inning of all but two games.

The Braves hope that Freeman’s compact swing will allow him to return to form quicker than other hitters with more complicated stances and swings.

“There’s not much timing-based (issues) with him, the swing is pretty short, simple,” Gonzalez said. “Just a matter of him being in shape, getting his legs in shape and being ready. But I think today was really a step in the right direction.”

Asked if Freeman might start a rehab assignment in the next day or two, Gonzalez said, “We’ll see. I’m not going to say until I talk to the (team trainers) and the doc. But yeah, the way he acted today, and the way he came out of the batting cage, I think we’ll get him out as soon as we can.”

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