ATLANTA -- When Justin Upton homered against the Yankees during a Grapefruit League game on March 16, Braves hitting coach Greg Walker sensed the talented left fielder had found his swing. But nobody could have expected Upton to do what he has done through the first two weeks of this season.
With his eighth-inning home run in Tuesday night's 6-3 win over the Royals, Upton became the first player in Braves history to hit eight home runs through the team's first 13 games of a season. Eddie Mathews (1959), Chipper Jones (1998) and Andruw Jones (2006) had previously held the team's record, with eight home runs through the first 16 games of a season.
Upton is the first Major Leaguer to hit eight homers in his team's first 13 games since Alex Rodriguez totaled nine home runs through the first 13 games the Yankees played in 2007.
"He's one of the most talented guys on earth," Walker said. "There is no question about that. I love his work ethic. I love the disposition he brings to the park every day. He's a real bright guy when he is talking about hitting. But as smart as he is and as good as he is, he is still in that stage of his career where he is learning to manage his own game."
Upton hit a career-high 31 home runs before finishing fourth in the balloting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2011. His home run total dipped to 17 as he endured an injury-plagued season with the D-backs last year.
Upton hit his first home run last year in Arizona's 17th game and did not hit his eighth until July 20, his club's 93rd game. The 25-year-old outfielder had never hit more than five home runs through his team's first 13 games of a season.
Avilan limping, but hopes to avoid trip to DL
ATLANTA -- It appeared Luis Avilan was destined for a trip to the disabled list when he fell to the ground in pain before throwing a pitch in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 6-3 win over the Royals. But the Braves opted to delay a decision after re-evaluating the left-handed reliever before Wednesday afternoon's series finale at Turner Field.
"I hope I don't have to go to the DL, because it's better now, it's way better now," Avilan said. "Probably in two days, I'll be fine."
Avilan was walking with a very noticeable limp when he arrived at Turner Field early Wednesday morning. But he was able to get around on his own power and his mobility seemed to improve slightly after he was evaluated by the Braves' medical staff.
Avilan has been diagnosed with a slight strain and cramping in his left hamstring, but the strength he showed during some tests that were conducted Wednesday morning was encouraging.
"It feels tight, but nothing serious like yesterday," said Avilan, who has a 2.01 ERA in 36 appearances since making his Major League debut after last year's All-Star break.
The Braves will have dodged a bullet if Avilan is able to avoid a trip to the DL. Avilan's presence has helped compensate for the absence of left-handed reliever Jonny Venters, who will likely be sidelined until at least late May with a left elbow sprain.
Avilan said it felt like he "had been hit with a ball" when he stopped his delivery and fell on the mound before throwing a pitch to Billy Butler in the ninth inning Tuesday. He needed assistance to get to a golf cart that transported him to the Braves' clubhouse to be evaluated.
Members of the Braves' medical staff informed Avilan that the cramping might have been a product of him consuming a highly-caffeinated energy drink before Tuesday's game. Avilan said he will attempt to stay away from drinking Red Bull in the future.
Thursday workout will be telling for Freeman
ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman is aiming to rejoin the Braves' lineup during Monday's series opener against the Rockies at Coors Field. But the first baseman will first test his previously strained right oblique muscle during a three-game rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Freeman will work out with Gwinnett before Thursday night's home game at Coolray Field. If all goes well, the 23-year-old will be in Gwinnett's lineup for the entirety of this weekend's three-game series against Charlotte.
"I feel great," said Freeman after pushing himself during a batting-practice session in Turner Field's indoor batting cages on Wednesday.
Freeman strained his oblique during the workout staged prior to the regular-season opener against the Phillies. He homered in his first at-bat during the Opening Day victory over Philadelphia and hit .412 (7-for-17) with a .647 slugging percentage in the five games he played before the Braves shut him down.
In other injury-related news, Brian McCann is expected to begin catching in extended spring camp games on either Thursday or Friday. McCann, who is recovering from offseason right shoulder surgery, has been serving as a designated hitter while playing in Minor League Spring Training games over the past three weeks.
McCann is hoping to begin a rehab assignment with Gwinnett or Class A Rome next week. But the Braves have not revealed a definitive schedule. It is also unknown how long McCann's rehab stint might last.
While preparing himself to play in games, McCann experienced right wrist discomfort that has been described as just a minor ailment.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.