ATLANTA -- The search for an offensive spark for the Braves continues.
After moving players up and down the lineup over the past several weeks in an attempt to ignite his struggling lineup, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday that he is weighing the idea of hitting the pitcher in the eight-hole.
"I've never done it. I've never toyed with it," Gonzalez said. "I really don't know about the theory. I'm digging deep."
Gonzalez has never put the pitcher eighth, a move recently made popular by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. But after seeing his offense get shut out six times this year and held to two hits or fewer four times, Gonzalez is willing to give it a try it.
"I think it all depends on the type of club you are," Gonzalez said. "All kinds of stuff. I know people that have done it haven't done it for very long."
It likely wouldn't happen until center fielder Nate McLouth returns from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett. Putting either McLouth or fellow outfielder Jordan Schafer in the ninth spot would give the Braves back-to-back leadoff hitters.
"It's a great theory ... but it never says what it does to the No. 7 hitter, when you put the pitcher behind the seventh hitter," Gonzalez said.
He didn't employ the move for Thursday's finale against the Mets, but did shake up his lineup. Jason Heyward returned to the two-hole, which for the last six games had been occupied by Dan Uggla. The second baseman slid down into the sixth spot, ahead of Eric Hinske and Alex Gonzalez.
"Moving things around," Gonzalez said. "Trying to do something to create some runs. Nothing crazy."
Pitcher Mike Minor hit in the usual nine-hole. How long that lasts, though, remains to be seen.
"It's times like this you wish you were in the American League," Gonzalez said.
Eager Freeman in Braves' lineup for finale
ATLANTA -- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman returned to the lineup Thursday after sitting out the last two games with a mild right oblique strain.
"He's itching to get back in there," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "So we'll get him in there."
Freeman suffered the injury while in the cage before Monday's opener against the Mets. After receiving a sodium shot to ease the pain, he tried to talk his way into the lineup that night, but was held out.
Gonzalez said Wednesday that Freeman would be available as a defensive substitution or a pinch-hitter, but neither of those happened in the Braves' rain-soaked 4-0 loss. Freeman was held out of the starting lineup only for precautionary reasons, but said he felt great at the time.
Freeman hasn't experienced any pain over the last two days and hasn't suffered any setbacks while swinging the bat. He hit fifth in Thursday's series finale.
"Fine [batting practice]," Gonzalez said. "Today he was fine. He moved around good."
Eric Hinske, who had manned first during each of the last two games, moved to left field to replace Joe Mather.
Brandon Beachy and Nate McLouth completed their respective rehab stints with Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night without any setbacks. Beachy, who has been sidelined since May 13 with a strained left oblique muscle, allowed Durham one earned run and four hits in five innings. McLouth, who has been sidelined since May 22 with a strained right oblique muscle, went 2-for-3 and recorded an RBI.
Lefty reliever Eric O'Flaherty's was unavailable for Thursday night's 9-8, 10-inning walk-off win over the Mets due to a stiff back. O'Flaherty's back has sidelined him for a few days multiple times this season.
Braves outfielder Martin Prado, who is currently on the disabled list with a staph infection, "feels great" according to manager Fredi Gonzalez. He is still several weeks from returning, but he will try and pay a visit to the Braves on Friday. "I think he's talking about coming in tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "For a little bit, anyway. Just to say hi. I don't think they'll [let] him hang around too much."
Some of the Braves have begun to chatter about the 2011 NCAA College World Series. Pitcher Mike Minor, Thursday's starter against the Mets, was the Braves' No. 1 pick out of Vanderbilt in 2009. The Commodores are in Omaha for the first time, and feature two recent Braves Draft selections in right-handers Mark Lamm (sixth round) and Navery Moore (14th round). Catcher David Ross also played in the College World Series in 1997 and '98 while with Auburn and Florida. He transferred from Auburn, where he had Tim Hudson as a teammate, after the 1997 season.<
The Braves are 27-7 when scoring first and 11-24 when the opponent strikes first. The Mets have scored first in each of the first two games with Atlanta this series.
Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.