The Braves’ offense has sputtered more often than not in the past month without Freddie Freeman, who continues a slower-than-expected rehab from a wrist injury. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)
Photo: Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton

Freeman on DL stint, slow progress: ‘It’s killing me’

Freddie Freeman has already missed a month and said it’s “killing me” to remain on the disabled list, but the Braves first baseman also knows his wrist injury could linger long-term if he comes back too soon.

And so, while the offense sputters without him, Freeman continues the tedious process of rest and rehabilitation from a bone bruise in his left wrist and subsequent inflammation that developed in his hand after repeated injections.

Freeman was optimistic in a progress report he provided Sunday, but also said there was no specific target date for his return, which already has been pushed back more than once from the initial estimates — back when he and the Braves thought they knew how long it would take. He swung a bat Sunday for the first time in nearly a month.

“I went out today and threw and went into the cage and took about 30 swings – I didn’t hit any balls, just dry swings,” he said. “I started out (swinging) at 50 percent, then went to 75. I didn’t get to 100, but I got close to 100. My wrist feels good, but a couple of days ago, probably three days ago, I got an MRI again and I had fluid in my hand. So we went in there and put a needle pretty deep in the fluid to try to get the fluid out of there, and put two cortisone shots in there.

“So it’s a little sore in my hand area, but other than that the wrist is feeling good. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow.”

He might begin a minor-league rehab stint during the next week, and depending how that goes, Freeman might rejoin the Braves soon thereafter. Operative word “might.” For now, it’s day-to-day and the Braves and Freeman don’t have a firm plan set for his return. The good news: the near-constant pain he felt in the wrist for weeks has subsided.

“The pain is gone. Right now it’s just sore and achy, obviously because I haven’t done anything in a month,” he said after his workout Sunday. “But I think we’re on the right track. Keep taking it day by day. I think maybe tomorrow we’ll be able to get to 100 percent, depending on how my hand feels. But today it’s a step in the right direction.”

Entering Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs, the Braves were 11-14 with a .238 batting average and 68 runs scored (2.7 per game) since Freeman left the lineup. They hit .296 and scored 96 runs in their last 18 games (5.3 average) with him, and Freeman hit .329 with six home runs, 17 RBIs, and a .392 OBP and .643 slugging percentage in those 18.

While every team would be affected missing its best hitter for a month, few teams are so reliant upon their main offensive engine as the Braves with Freeman.

“It’s tough,” said veteran Kelly Johnson, whose nine homers were second on the team to Freeman’s 12. “To be honest, not every team is built around one guy. There’s a few. I played in Tampa. We had Evan Longoria – that’s their guy. When Evan went on the DL stint the year I was there it was tough.

“Obviously Cam (Cameron Maybin) has done an unbelievable job stepping up for us. Guys are trying to figure it out, but he (Freeman) is too good. It’s tough to say whether you’d win more games if he was there … but the guy’s too good (to replace). We miss him too much. We wish we had him and we hope we get him back.”

Nobody wants him back in the lineup more than Freeman himself.

“It’s killing me,” he said. “I try to (persuade them), say I don’t need any rehab games or any of that. But I’ve got to take it slow, make sure I don’t rush back and then hurt it and have this prolong going into 2016-2017. I’ve just got to get this healthy, obviously get back as soon as I possibly can, but at the right time.”

He’s been out just over a month, yet he still had 33 percent more homers than any other Brave, and his .520 slugging percentage was 57 points higher than the Braves’ next-best before Sunday, Johnson’s .463.

“I would love to be able to tell you guys I’ll be back on this specific date, but you just don’t know,” Freeman said. “I haven’t done anything for a month, and I went out there and swung and threw. So you just don’t know what the soreness is going to be like tomorrow. But if all goes well, obviously I’m going to push the envelope with the training staff and the doctors, and obviously the Johns (Hart and Coppolella) up in the front office. But I’m going to do my best to get back as soon as I possibly can.”

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