ATLANTA — Brian McCann would like to be behind the plate on opening day and beat the projections which have him missing the start of the season.
Even so, the Braves catcher realizes he must be cautious in his return from major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
McCann said Wednesday “things are ramping up” midway through his six-month rehabilitation schedule. He began throwing last week and started running two weeks ago.
After making six straight All-Star teams, McCann struggled last season as he tried to play through the injury. He hit only .230, easily a career low and almost 50 points below his career average.
McCann is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season. He said his goal is to convince team doctors in spring training otherwise.
He knows it won’t be easy.
“I’m going to have to persuade a lot of people,” McCann said. “I’m going to have to show them I’m ready to go and my shoulder is healed. I plan on doing that. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but that’s my mindset. I want to be ready as soon as possible. I keep getting better each day.”
Braves general manager Frank Wren said doctors will be wary of clearing the catcher for jarring hits which could cause a setback to the shoulder.
“With the surgery he had, he’ll be able to hit, he’ll be able to throw, he’ll be 100 percent in those areas in spring training,” Wren said. “It’s just the last risk factor is diving and sliding. That’s the area in the shoulder repair our doctors want to make sure is healed. The only way you can do that is with time. You can’t rehab it to make it heal faster. That’s going to be the last thing before they turn him loose.”
If doctors hold firm to six months from the surgery for McCann’s recovery, he would be cleared on April 15. If so, he would miss two weeks – a small price if it helps to raise the odds McCann can return to his All-Star form.
“I think his mindset is that he’s going to be ready,” Wren said. “Our doctors would rather be safe than sorry and will probably pull the reins back some. But if everything goes well in spring training, I don’t think it will be more than a couple weeks before he is ready to rejoin us. I know that’s probably two weeks too long for him, but we don’t want to put him in a situation where he has any major setbacks.”
McCann, who will be 29 when the season opens, is a career .279 hitter. His string of six straight All-Star appearances began in 2006, his first full season. He has hit at least 20 homers six times and has three seasons with more than 90 RBIs.
Last season’s low point for McCann came when he was left out of the starting lineup for the Braves’ wild-card loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished the season with respectable power numbers – 20 homers and 67 RBIs – but he hit only .219 with seven homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break.
“He was swinging almost one-armed,” said Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. “It’s tough. But he’s tough and such a competitor that he was going to play through the pain.
“I knew it was bothering him. You could tell after watching him hit and play for the last seven years he wasn’t doing the things I was used to seeing him doing. I knew something wasn’t right.”
McCann said he “tried everything and it just didn’t work for me.”
“I could swing a bat,” McCann said. “I just couldn’t swing it and be effective like I wanted to. I still felt I could get a big hit for the team and I was still valuable, so I kept going.
“I feel like sometimes as an athlete you take a couple steps back to go a couple steps forward so I’m looking to coming back better than ever.”
McCann said his shoulder already feels better than last season.
“I’m limited right now in what I can do in the gym but I feel amazing,” he said. “I feel great.
“My range of motion is better now than it was last season, which kind of shows me it’s been there for a while now, I just didn’t notice it. It just got worse and worse.”
Wren, McCann and five other players, including Uggla and Jason Heyward, spent Wednesday morning at City of Refuge, an Atlanta mission located only a few miles from Turner Field. The players helped serve a meal and visited a daycare for children of clients working at the facility.
The visit was part of the team’s series of offseason public appearances through the Southeast.