ATLANTA -- As the Atlanta Braves continue their May charge toward the top of the National League East, two key but currently missing pieces of their puzzle, left fielder Matt Diaz and pitcher Jair Jurrjens, are slowly but surely working their way back to health.
Diaz sported a cast on his right thumb, which required surgery after a splinter that had lodged in the thumb grew infected. He had successful surgery on May 19, although it turned out to be more extensive than Dr. Gary Lourie, who performed the operation, had originally expected.
"I got eight or nine stitches," he said prior to Friday's game with the Pirates. "[Dr. Lourie] said everything went well. It was just a lot more cutting than he thought."
Diaz needs to keep the thumb still until he gets the stitches out (which he expects to happen the middle of next week), and while he hasn't gotten an official date to resume baseball activities, he hoped to start swinging a bat in about four weeks and be playing around the All-Star Break.
While his timing at the plate may need some extra work, he showed on Friday that his comedic timing has remained virtually unaffected.
"There's still a lot I can do. I can say in shape," Diaz said, adding with a laugh, "I'm not in too great shape to begin with, so I don't have a long way to go."
Jurrjens, who is rehabbing from a left hamstring strain, which has kept him out since April 29, was cautious about his rehab, but optimistic. He is doing light running, agility drills and long tossing, but didn't have a timetable for throwing off the mound.
"I need to wait and see what the doctors say," said Jurrjens, who was due to be examined by team doctors on Friday evening. "I'm trying to be patient."
The team's success, especially their recently completed 4-2 road trip, is proving to be, if not therapeutic, at least consolation.
"It always feels better watching them win," said Diaz.
Ross stepping up in McCann's absence
ATLANTA -- Preparation is part of the job for David Ross.
That preparation is paying off big-time for the seven-year Major League veteran, who was in the starting lineup for the third consecutive night in the opener of the Braves' weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"It's my job to go in there and do the best I can do," said Ross, who was hitting seventh.
McCann is nursing a strained right quadriceps muscle that he injured running the bases in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game against the Florida Marlins. He stayed in the game, driving in a run in the six-run seventh-inning rally, but then left the game and sat out Thursday's series finale. He had hoped to play Friday.
"My quad feels better," McCann said, who took ultrasound treatments and did some stretching Friday afternoon. "Bobby decided to play [Ross] but I'll be there for a pinch-hit or be there late. I felt I could [play]. I'd have to take it easy on the bases, but other than that I feel good."
That wasn't good enough for Cox, who chose to give McCann another day of rest.
Cox's discretion opened the door for Ross, who is hitting .265 with eight RBIs and a .390 on-base percentage in 10 starts this season.
"I'm definitely a backup catcher, and I've got a backup role, but the days I'm starting, I'm a starter," Ross said. "I'm starting today, I started yesterday. I'll go out there and I'm going to do the best I can in my at-bats and call the best game that I can, do my homework on calling the game, and give it the best I've got when I play. If that's once a week that's great. If it's twice a week or if [McCann] goes down and I play 15 in a row like I did last year, that what I'm here for.
"For the long haul, it's best if [McCann] gets healthy, even if we're a man short per se, and I'm in there instead of him. But it's just one of those things. I just go out and my mindset is to do the best I can to help the team win."
Ross wasn't sure he'd be in the lineup Friday following Thursday's marathon, which included a 77-minute rain delay.
But once that was confirmed, the ever-ready Ross, who played in his 500th career game on Wednesday night, had a different challenge to get used to -- the big crowd of reporters around his locker.
"I thought I got traded!" Ross shouted to teammate Eric Hinske, then laughed. "I thought, 'Dang! As soon as I start playing good.'"
Hudson reflects on rain-soaked start
ATLANTA -- Tim Hudson had long since dried off from Thursday night in Florida as he entered the Atlanta Braves clubhouse on Friday afternoon, ranting about his 90-minute battle through afternoon Buckhead traffic.
But the memory of that fourth inning, and his fending off the Marlins through a steady downpour was still fresh in his mind.
"It was bad," said Hudson, who threw 29 pitches in the inning and left the bases loaded, but with a 3-2 lead. "The worst part was when it first started raining hard, I was holding the ball [behind my back] and it's just pouring on it.
"I finally started holding the ball [against my chest]. Getting the ball in my glove I was covering it up. Even the throw from the catcher to me, the ball was getting soaked."
Hudson recalled that he had been warned by home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth about impending bad weather prior to the start of the inning, and was told to alert him should the mound need repair.
"The mound was never bad. It was just that I was about to drown," Hudson said with a laugh. "The only thing I was thinking was, 'Hurry up and get an out and get out of the inning.'"
The Braves led 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, but after retiring Dan Uggla on a groundout, Cody Ross singled to center. Then the fun began. Catcher Ronny Paulino singled to center, and both runners advanced on a throwing error by center fielder Melky Cabrera. Hudson then got to 2-2 on Cameron Maybin, but, barely able to grip the ball, walked him.
The rain by this point made any kind of control nearly impossible.
"For a while, Huddy didn't have his off-speed stuff," said catcher David Ross. "He couldn't get a good grip on the ball, so we were calling a lot of sinkers and hoping they hit them at somebody."
That strategy backfired when opposing pitcher Ricky Nolasco singled to center, scoring a run and keeping the bases loaded.
In desperate need of a dry area, Hudson resorted to covering the ball as best he could. Leaving the game was never an option, however.
"I didn't want to say, 'I can't pitch,' and they bring the tarp out, and we start the game an hour and a half later, the bases loaded and a reliever comes in," Hudson said. "I thought, 'Shoot, these are my runs. I'm either going to give them up or get out of it.'"
He fell behind 2-1 on Chris Coghlan then came back to strike him out. But, with the downpour continuing, he fell behind 3-0 to Sanchez.
"It was unbelievable how wet it was," Hudson said. "Then I went 3-0 on the guy and I'm thinking, 'Could there be any worse circumstance right now than bases loaded, and a 3-0 count?' The only worse thing was if I'd been struck by lightning. That would have been like the cherry on top."
Fortunately for the Braves, for Hudson and for his family, the only strikes were thrown by the veteran righty, who worked the count full throwing four consecutive four-seam fastballs, the last three fouled off. Then, on pitch No. 29 of the inning and No. 8 of the at-bat, Sanchez hit a line drive to Cabrera, to end the inning.
DeMuth immediately signaled the grounds crew to cover the field and a 77-minute rain delay ensued.
When play resumed, Braves relievers Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner limited the Marlins to one run and five hits the rest of the way, and Atlanta scored in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to post an 8-3 victory.
"It worked out," said Hudson, who got a no-decision. "The only thing that kind of ticked me off was that they didn't make them pitch in it."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.