ATLANTA The chrome blue rig idled in the player's parking lot at Turner Field Monday morning, slowly being loaded down with essentials both personal and professional to be transported to spring training. Seven short days remain; baseball looms.
Along with the rest of the Braves' supplies being packed and shipped down to ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, catcher's pads, mitts and masks were present. At this point, according to manager Fredi Gonzalez, those items are set to soon be worn by a six-time All-Star.
"I wouldn't put it past Mac (Brian McCann) to be there for Opening Day, you know?" Gonzalez said during an impromptu media session in his office Monday. "He's talked about doing it and he feels good and he could do it."
McCann underwent surgery on Oct. 16 to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder an injury that held him to the lowest batting average (.230) and OPS (.698) in his eight-year career but has spoken openly about being the team's Opening Day catcher for the eighth-consecutive season, the team's longest active streak. McCann also had anchors inserted the shoulder for stabilization. He and Gonzalez have both discussed being ahead of schedule during his rehabilitation process, but there are still obstacles between now and getting back onto a major league field.
"The last thing that the doctors want, before they clear him, is he's gotta be able to dive or slide or make sure that shoulder holds up," Gonzalez said. "So maybe that'll give him an extra four or five days, but hearing him talk, I know he's a competitor and he wants to get back in there.
"He's really, really close."
During his ahead-of-schedule recovery, McCann is expected to participate in all baseball activities during spring training from the get-go, with exception of playing in competitive games. The team has not broached the subject of when he'll be 100 percent and ready to play for the club.
McCann and backup shortstop Paul Janish look to be in similar boats heading into spring training Janish had surgery done on his left, non-throwing shoulder this offseason in that the team could schedule at-bats for both players in simulated games, which are designed to minimize the risk of re-injury.
"Back there you can say, 'Hey, just get four at-bats, get your pitch and don't run or don't slide,'" Gonzalez said. "Where if you put him in a game you can't control that competitiveness if he's gonna slide or do something to his shoulder."
As it stands, Gonzalez fielded questions with slight hints of amusement Monday, refusing to rule out any possibilities of his trusty backstop to not only return, but return to form.
He did point out the opportunities the spring held for other catchers like Gerald Laird, Christian Bethancourt, Matt Pagnozzi and even Evan Gattis, but, really, if McCann can return to his career averages in 2013 (20 home runs, .826 OPS, solid strikeout-to-walk rate), an already scary lineup could become, as Laird put it last week, that much better.
Every team and player in baseball houses some form of optimism in February Brian McCann and the Braves do not hold exclusive rights in that department. There's no rush with a veteran like Laird holding down the fort, but as Opening Day approaches, the clock is ticking on if the longtime catcher can make his self-imposed deadline.
And if not, Fredi?
"He'll be there shortly thereafter."