Freeman braces for season after knee injury

First baseman Freddie Freeman felt his knee pop while snaring a ball in fielding drills on Tuesday, an unhappy development even if he missed only a couple of days of camp.

As much as he stretches to corral balls and as acrobatic as those stretches are, a sore and bulky knee is no asset.

Freeman is downplaying the injury; the same thing happened in 2010 when he was in Triple-A. But he’ll be wearing a brace from now on.

For the Braves to be any good, they’ll need his range on defense and his bat in the lineup. He’d worked his way up the order last season and is being counted on to continue his gap-to-gap hitting.

There will be more pressure on right fielder Jason Heyward to return to form if Freeman’s knee turns out to be a season-long issue. It’s too early, however, to say that it will be.

But Freeman’s injury, coupled with backup shortstop Jack Wilson’s strained right calf, which will cost him at least six weeks, means that infielder Drew Sutton will be a longer look than he otherwise might have. Particularly since no one can be certain how well rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky will do.

It was while hosting Pastornicky in workouts in California that Wilson injured his calf, by the way. Wilson offered to mentor the kid, which was appreciated in all corners, and which will surely pay off.

The Freeman-Wilson situations also open the door for infielder Brandon Hicks, who might have an edge because he’s already on the 40-man roster. In 26 at-bats over 33 games in call-ups with the Braves in the last two seasons, Hicks had only one hit, a single, one walk and 11 strikeouts.

For the immediate future, infielder-outfielder Eric Hinske will be getting more work at first base than anyone was expecting.

NOTES, QUOTES

-RHP Julio Teheran, making his first Grapefruit League appearance of the year, gave up six home runs Sunday in the Braves’ 18-3 loss to the Tigers. Winds up to 30 mph were blowing out of Joker Marchant Stradium in Lakeland, Fla., according to MLB.com.

Teheran, the fourth-ranked prospect on MLB.com’s Top 100 list, gave up more home runs in two innings Sunday (six) than he did in 144 2/3 innings with Class AAA Gwinnett last year (five).

-RHP Tommy Hanson finally threw from the mound Feb. 29, the first time he had done that since he sustained a concussion when his car blew a tire driving to the first day of camp. But the down time allowed him to work on the mechanics of his new delivery, so the mound session went better than he had expected.

-1B Freddie Freeman dislocated his right knee cap reaching for a ball in fielding drills on Feb. 28. The knee was pronounced stable after an examination by a specialist in Orlando, Fla. Freeman tried to talk his way into the lineup for the first spring training game on Saturday, but the Braves weren’t inclined to rush him. Freeman missed fewer than two weeks when the same thing happened to him in 2010, when he was in the minors.

-LHP Mike Minor was selected by manager Fredi Gonzalez to start the Braves’ first spring training game, versus the Tigers on March 2. Minor is vying for the fifth starting spot, and he figures if he can’t nail that down this year, he’ll soon be eclipsed by RHP Randall Delgado and RHP Julio Teheran.

-OF Matt Diaz, 33, bulked up last season, trying to tailor his body to produce hits in PNC Park. Instead, the added muscle slowed his swing. So this offseason, he slimmed down, and his swing is quicker. He jokes that the clothes he had in 2009 now fit.

-INF Drew Sutton has a good shot to make the team as a back-up infielder now that back-up SS Jack Wilson is sidelined because of a strained calf and 1B Freddie Freeman has dislocated his right knee. Although Freeman shouldn’t miss much time this spring, the injury does highlight the need for another infielder on the bench, and Sutton filled in at five positions with the Red Sox last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE

“At the end of this year, I want to be put in the exact same situation.” — RHP Craig Kimbrel, on blowing the save in the final game of the season.