Intact lineup fuels Braves’ optimism

Those are primary reasons that people in Braves uniforms and the front office feel better about the team’s performance to date than do some other people who watch them.

“We’re in first place, and haven’t really been healthy,” said catcher Brian McCann, who came off the disabled list May 6, after completing his recovery from October shoulder surgery.

The Braves were 22-18 and a half-game ahead of second-place Washington before the Nationals’ late game Wednesday.

“It just goes to show you a lot of guys have stepped up and played huge roles,” McCann said. “Once we get to full strength and once we get playing with each other for an extended period, I think our offense will click a little bit more, and I think we’ll win a lot more games.”

The Braves lost Wednesday for the fifth time in the last six games of a 1o-game trip, and will play 14 of their next 19 games at Turner Field, beginning with Friday’s series opener against the Dodgers.

They expect to activate right fielder Jason Heyward from the DL on Friday. He’s been out since an April 22 appendectomy and spent the past week rehabbing with Triple-A Gwinnett.

“Get home, get a little bit of home cooking, get last at-bats,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’ve had some injuries and we’ve been able to survive, and I think the teams that are able to do that are going to be OK. And we’ve survived it.

“We get Heyward back hopefully Friday. His rehab assignment’s going well, he’s swinging the bat, his legs are under him. I think he’ll play another game, and then we’ll make a decision Friday.”

To open a roster spot for Heyward, the Braves probably will drop a reliever and go with a six-man bullpen during the six-game homestand that is sandwiched between two off days on Thursdays.

Friday could be the first time the Braves have their lineup intact all season, and will be the first time that McCann has played before the home crowd since October surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

“I definitely can’t wait to play in front of the fans,” he said. “It’s going to be special. It’ll be a night that I probably won’t forget.”

He’s hit .296 (8-for-27) with three home runs, 10 RBIs and four walks in eight games since returning from the DL.

“My shoulder feels really good,” said McCann, who has thrown out two of four runners attempting to steal. “I didn’t think it would be feeling this good, this early. I’m still kind of getting my body under me, as far as catching every day. But my shoulder’s responded amazing. In spring training, I didn’t think I’d be here at this point.”

The Braves knew the first six weeks of the schedule would be demanding. Add unusually cold weather in some places, injuries, and slumps by hitters who were being counted upon, and the Braves seem fortunate to have stayed in first place.

“We’ve been on the road basically the whole year,” McCann said, “which is going to make for a good summer, because we’re going to be home a lot. So if we stay where we’re at, once the schedule comes in our favor we’ll be in good shape.”

Prospect Graham to see specialist: Pitching prospect J.R. Graham will have his throwing shoulder checked by a specialist in Atlanta after receiving no definitive diagnosis from the first doctor who examined him. The hard-throwing right-hander left a Double-A Mississippi game Monday after feeling soreness while warming up before the third inning.

Etc.: B.J. Upton returned to the lineup after missing one game with a sore shoulder from being hit by a pitch. He went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts Wednesday, dropping his league-worst average to .145. … Dan Uggla was out of the lineup. After going 10-for-27 with two triples and three homers in a seven-game hitting streak through May 9, he was 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts in five games and tied for the National League strikeout lead with 52 before Wednesday. … Juan Francisco went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and has 37 strikeouts in 89 at-bats. … The Braves have been shut out six times, tied with the Marlins for most in the majors before Wednesday, and almost half of Atlanta’s 2012 total (13).

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