LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Melvin Upton Jr. expects to hear Friday that he can shed the protective walking boot the Braves center fielder will have worn for five weeks while a left-foot injury healed.
Upton has missed virtually all of spring training after being shut down midway through the first full-squad workout and diagnosed with sesamoiditis, a painful inflammation in a bone behind the ball of his foot. He likely won’t be ready to play before May, although he and the Braves have not announced any estimated return date.
Eric Young Jr. has parlayed a strong spring training — .317 with five extra-base hits and a .394 OBP in a team-high 63 at-bats before Tuesday — into what’s expected to be full-time duties in center field until Upton is ready to return.
At that point, whenever it is, the player still owed $46 million through 2017 (Upton) is expected to be back in the regular lineup, to have a chance to show whether his offseason work can lead to improvement over his dreadful first two seasons with the Braves.
For a little over two weeks, Upton has been able to hit in the batting cages wearing the boot. This after spending the previous couple of weeks hitting while seated in a chair or on his knees, a technique that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer introduced and that Upton found helpful, or at least better than not swinging at all.
Understandably, Upton is looking forward to hearing his doctor give him the hoped-for news Friday that he can dump the boot.
“I’ve thrown a couple of times, lifting weights. Just waiting to get it off,” he said. “It’ll probably take a week to actually start really working on it again — get in the shoe, start walking on it again. There’s no timetable, but it’ll probably be (when he’s ready).”
Once he’s able to walk comfortable, then jog, he will start doing more intense running and full baseball activities, which will be followed by a minor league rehab assignment.
But for now, Upton is just ready to get the boot off so he can start making real progress toward a return.
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