Rodriguez, Medlen, Minter all could help Braves in second half

WASHINGTON – Veteran utility player Sean Rodriguez’s rehab from major shoulder surgery is even more ahead of schedule than was Freddie Freeman’s return from a fractured wrist, and metro Atlanta fans can check out his progress this weekend when Rodriguez is set to continue his injury rehab with a stint at Triple-A Gwinnett.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said Rodriguez would rehab at Gwinnett this weekend and then at Double-A Mississippi during the major league All-Star break next week.

Meanwhile, veteran pitcher Kris Medlen continues to work toward a hoped-for summer return to the majors with his original team, the Braves. He had made significant progress in his most recent couple of starts at Gwinnett, including six innings with eight hits, two runs and no walks allowed Wednesday in a win against Norfolk.

“Felt like I finally put a lot of things together and was able to navigate out of a couple jams without opening the flood gates,” Medlen said of that start, “which couldn’t be said about any other outing so far (at Gwinnett). Pretty encouraged heading into the break.”

Snitker said both Medlen and hard-throwing left-handed relief prospect A.J. Minter, who was bumped up to Triple-A last week, are progressing steadily. Minter was expected to compete for a spot in the Braves bullpen by early summer, but that timetable was pushed back by inflammation of nerves near his elbow that caused him to miss much of spring training.

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Minter, viewed as a future closer or setup man, has a 1.80 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 10 appearances this season, with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 10 innings. He could get his first call to the majors by mid-summer.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez continues to amaze many who thought he would miss the entire season recovering from surgery in mid-February for a severely torn rotator cuff and damaged labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. A biceps tendon also had to be relocated during that procedure.

All the damage was the result of a Jan. 28 car cash that Rodriguez, his wife, and two of their four children were involved in, when a stolen police cruiser ran through a stop sign and plowed into the SUV that Rodriguez was driving near his home in Miami.

Rodriguez signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract with the Braves in November and was expected to be their second baseman until Ozzie Albies was deemed ready to take over, at which point Rodriguez would move into a super-utility role. When the extent of his injuries was realized the Braves scrambled to trade for Brandon Phillips in the week before spring training began.

Snitker said Rodriguez, 32, could be ready to join the Braves by the end of July. He could be a big piece for the Braves the rest of this season and next, given his experience and versatility. Rodriguez had his best season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, playing seven positions and setting career-highs in average (.270), home runs (18), RBIs (56), OBP (.349), slugging percentage (.510) and games played (140).

He used that success to command his biggest contract, a deal with an average annual value more than twice his previous high salary of $2.5 million in 2016.

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