Gonzalez impressing teammates with glove work

Alex Gonzalez has been a regular feature on highlight shows — a couple of weeks ago he made ESPN’s top 10 plays twice in the same day. He leads all National League shortstops in fielding percentage, at .933, with only one error in 138 chances through Monday.

But where he’s getting the most praise is from inside the Braves’ clubhouse.

After Gonzalez drove in the go-ahead runs with a key hit in the Braves’ 6-2 win over the Brewers on Monday night, manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted to talk about his defense. Alex Gonzalez made a great play ranging to his right with the shift on to get Prince Fielder in the fourth inning.

“I couldn’t care if he hits .085 the way he plays defense,” Fredi Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez predicted the Braves, who were 15-15 entering Tuesday night’s game, might be three or four games under .500 without Alex Gonzalez.

Braves catcher Brian McCann might have the best view of Gonzalez’s glove work at shortstop.

“There have been so many balls since he’s been here that are hit, I don’t even go to back up first base because I think they’re hits,” McCann said. “He makes it look easy. He’s by far the best shortstop I’ve ever seen.”

Hicks reflects on first hit

Brooks Conrad wasn’t the only Braves bench player feeling a little relief after Sunday’s late-game heroics against the Cardinals. Infielder Brandon Hicks drove in a key run off the bench in the fifth inning to make the score 4-3 in a game the Braves won 6-5 on Conrad’s walk-off single.

Hicks’ pinch-hit also was his first major league hit.

It was a long time coming for Hicks, who was playing in his 26th major league game over the past two seasons Sunday.

“It was a huge lift off my shoulders to finally get that, especially in a big spot like that,” Hicks said.

He went 0-for-5 last year over the course of five stints in the majors, used primarily as defensive insurance at shortstop and third base. He was 0-for-12 to start this season, after making the club out of spring training for the first time in his career. Because he has made only one start, he hasn’t exactly been able to get in a flow.

But he’s drawn on work this winter he did with McCann and former Brave Mark DeRosa.

“[McCann] helped me a lot with the mental process of hitting,” Hicks said. “Have a solid approach every time you step in the box, have a game plan. A lot of the time last year I’d get in there and I’d be thinking about a whole bunch of different stuff instead of just thinking about one thing or having a game plan going into it.”

Marek to Gwinnett DL

Triple-A Gwinnett reliever Stephen Marek was placed on the seven-day disabled list retroactive to Monday with an inflamed right elbow. Marek was one of the top contenders for the Braves’ bullpen in spring training. He also was a “close second” choice to Cory Gearrin when the Braves called up an additional reliever April 22, Fredi Gonzalez said.

Marek had been scoreless through 9 1/3 innings over his first eight innings for Gwinnett, with 14 strikeouts and no walks. He struggled over his past two outings, giving up five runs and four walks in 5 1/3 innings combined.

Braves assistant director of player development Ronnie Richardson said Marek felt soreness after his final outing Sunday.

“It bothered him a little bit later that night,” Richardson said. “And we just want to take precautionary measures whenever any guy has that type of pain.”

The Braves don’t know yet the severity of the injury and whether Marek might need surgery.

Cox back from cruise

Retired Braves manager Bobby Cox returned Thursday from his two-week Mediterranean cruise, which was compliments of Braves players and his wife, Pam. Cox combined the two retirement gifts to upgrade to a deluxe package, including a 1,500-square-foot suite in the front of the boat, complete with fitness area.

“He said he really, really enjoyed it,” Gonzalez said.

Cox stopped by Turner Field twice over the weekend, but he had been in touch with Gonzalez throughout his trip.

“He called from Spain. He called from Rome. He called from Monaco,” Gonzalez said. “He just wanted to know about the game.”