Notes: Possible platoon at second
Johnson's struggles open door for Escobar to play more
ATLANTA -- When May arrived, there was reason to believe Kelly Johnson might earn his first All-Star selection. But his prolonged offensive struggles and the fact that Yunel Escobar needs playing time have put Johnson in position to possibly be utilized in a platoon role at second base.
Before starting Escobar at second base in Tuesday night's game against the Nationals at Turner Field, Braves manager Bobby Cox discussed his reasoning with Johnson, who found himself on the bench for the second time in three days in a game where the Braves were facing a left-handed starting pitcher.
"He told me he wanted [Escobar] to play and get at-bats while he's up here," said Johnson, who has hit .228 with a .319 on-base percentage in June. "I don't have much to say about it, to be honest with you."
When Chipper Jones came off the disabled list on June 13, there was a possibility that Escobar would return to the Minors, where he could enhance his development with regular at-bats. But it now looks like he's going to remain in the Majors.
"I just can't sit Escobar," Cox said of the 24-year-old infielder, who has batted .264 (19-for-72) since joining Atlanta on June 2. "I just can't do it. It's a good problem."
While hitting .326 in April, the left-handed-hitting Johnson batted .366 (15-for-41) against lefties. Since the beginning of May, he's hit just .200 (13-for-65) against them.
Cox, whose team had been limited to one run in 46 innings before Monday night's 4-1 win, may continue to use a platoon at both of the positions on the right side of the infield. The skipper gave Jarrod Saltalamacchia his third start at first base on Tuesday.
Saltalamacchia, an impressive 22-year-old switch-hitting catcher, has played first base in place of Scott Thorman in three of the past four games that the Braves have faced a left-handed starter.
"It's nothing against Thorman and nothing against Kelly," Cox said. "It's just when you score one run in five days, you want to shake things up a little bit."
While Saltalamacchia and Escobar have the potential to make significant offensive contributions, the added versatility they can show while being used in a platoon role should do nothing but enhance the already strong values they have on the trade market.
Escobar, who has spent most of his life as a shortstop, proved he could handle the third base position when Jones was hurt. Now it looks like Escobar's going to be given the chance to prove he can also play on the right side of the infield. He made 24 starts at second base with Double-A Mississippi last year.
Insurance for Hampton: Braves general manager John Schuerholz hopes to learn in the next couple of days whether or not insurance is going to help cover at least a portion of the $14.5 million salary owed to Mike Hampton, who is missing a second straight season while rehabbing from left elbow surgery.
"We should know soon," Schuerholz said. "We're hopeful."
Whatever money the Braves can save via insurance could help them become bigger players in the trade market. They are among the many teams who will talk to the White Sox about left-handed starter Mark Buehrle. and it's believed they also have shown some interest in Rangers right-handed reliever Akinori Otsuka.
Rotation plans: Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said that Kyle Davies completed a pain-free bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon. Davies felt some cramping near his left oblique muscle in the seventh inning of Saturday's game against the Tigers.
Because they have an off-day on Thursday, the Braves could skip Davies' turn in the rotation on Friday and keep everybody else on regular rest. Cox had been hoping to take advantage of the off-day by giving each of his starters an extra day of rest. He'll likely announce his decision on Wednesday.
One guy who isn't getting any closer to rejoining the rotation is Lance Cormier, who allowed six earned runs and 10 hits in just 2 2/3 innings for Triple-A Richmond against Durham on Monday night. Cormier made two starts in Atlanta at the beginning of this month and then was sent back to Richmond to regain strength in the right shoulder that forced him to miss the first two months of this season.
Coming up: The Braves will conclude their three-game series against the Nationals at Turner Field on Wednesday night at 7:35 ET. They'll send John Smoltz (8-4, 3.14) to the mound to face Micah Bowie (4-2, 3.63).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.