Johnson recalled, ready to contribute
Braves welcome role player after three-week stint in Minors
ATLANTA -- When the Braves asked Kelly Johnson to go to the Minors to get his wrist and swing right, he admittedly felt some immediate humiliation. But three weeks later, he's returned to the Majors with the confidence that he'll be able to serve as an asset while serving as a role player.
"I know that I feel good and I know that I feel confident again," Johnson said after the Braves activated him from the disabled list before Thursday afternoon's game against the Giants at Turner Field.
After debating whether to make room for Johnson on the roster at the expense of Brooks Conrad or Greg Norton, the Braves decided to option Conrad back to Triple-A Gwinnett. The 29-year-old infielder hit .344 with two homers in 14 games with Atlanta this month.
Despite the fact that the defensively limited Norton has just five hits in 45 at-bats this year, Braves manager Bobby Cox remains hopeful that he'll be able to regain the form that he possessed last year, when he hit .316 with a .473 on-base percentage in 74 pinch-hit plate appearances.
"Norton should be fine," Cox said. "Kelly will be doing what Conrad was doing -- pinch-hitting, pinch-running and playing. We'll get him in. But it's just hard to mess with the lineup right now."
Since Martin Prado ended his days platooning at second base with Johnson and became an everyday member of the lineup, he has hit .386 and served as a primary reason that the Braves entered Thursday having won 14 of their previous 20 games.
While Johnson jokingly said that he might attempt to create playing time by placing something in Prado's coffee, he has the understanding that he put himself in this position to serve in a reduced role.
Before being placed on the disabled list on July 3 with tendinitis in his right wrist, Johnson had endured a 39-game stretch during which he'd hit .191 with a .257 on-base percentage.
Given the opportunity to heal his wrist with a cortisone shot and then experience a 12-game rehab stint with Gwinnett, Johnson quickly gained an understanding why Cox and Braves general manager Frank Wren persuaded him to take advantage of this opportunity to get himself right in the relaxed Minor League atmosphere.
"It's not their first rodeo, and they know what they're talking about," Johnson said. "It's amazing sometimes when you look back. They see a bigger picture than you do at the time. It worked out. I wasn't going to play a lot of games the way I was playing."
While hitting .308 and collecting 16 RBIs during his rehab stint, Johnson said that he benefited from working with Jamie Dismuke, who is serving his first season with the Braves as Gwinnett's hitting coach. The emphasis was placed on quieting the 27-year-old second baseman's hands.
"I feel like the swing part of it got better real quick," Johnson said. "It was really the first time that I felt calm and comfortable in a long time."
While Prado will continue to primarily play second base, there will be some games where he's asked to spell Chipper Jones or Casey Kotchman at one of the corner infield positions. During those instances, Johnson will likely get the opportunity to play second base.
"They're going to have days when they're sore," Johnson said in reference to Jones and Kotchman. "So I think the at-bats will be there. There's no doubt about it. They've always been there with this team."
Until Thursday, Johnson had never revealed that he's spent the past three seasons battling some discomfort in his wrist.
"It's not like a pain like something is broken," Johnson said. "It's just something that is there that hinders you and you don't realize it."
While not blaming his struggles on his wrist, Johnson displayed the same sense of professionalism that the Braves lauded while he handled this recent rehab stint without complaining publicly or within the clubhouse.
"I wouldn't have handled it any other way because there weren't any excuses to be made," Johnson said. "I hit very poorly for a long stretch of the season. You've got to do better and do what you can to help the team win."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.