ATLANTA -- While playing for the Rays, Elliot Johnson was playfully called a football player by Chris "Chico" Fernandez, the club's video coordinator. Fernandez was making light of the fact that Johnson's playing time was usually limited to Sundays and an occasional Monday.
Since the Braves claimed him off waivers from the Royals on Aug. 21, Johnson has made the most of the increased playing time he has gained courtesy of a few injuries.
Johnson started five games at second base while Dan Uggla recovered from LASIK surgery and then truly showed his versatility while starting in left field during the first two games of this weekend's series against the Marlins.
"I'd never seen him play in the outfield, but he was really, really good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "If you didn't know that wasn't his primary position, you walk in today thinking this guy's a pretty good left fielder."
Before this weekend, Johnson had made just two previous Major League starts as an outfielder, and he played right field on both occasions. But he looked like a seasoned veteran outfielder when he ranged into left-center field to make a diving catch in the fourth inning and then made an impressive shoestring catch to rob Donovan Solano of a leadoff hit in the 10th inning of Saturday night's 11-inning win over the Marlins.
"It's baseball," Johnson said. "If it's hit, go get it and catch it."
Veteran Garcia provides solid long relief after callup
ATLANTA -- The Braves moved to bolster their bullpen on the first day of September roster expansion, selecting the contract of veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia from Triple-A Gwinnett to add a long reliever and potential spot starter charged with eating innings and easing the load of the rotation down the stretch. They could not have expected how quickly their recent callup would receive his first assignment.
When the typically punchless Marlins exploded for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings off rookie starter Alex Wood on Sunday night, Garcia entered with runners on second and third and escaped the inning without further damage thanks to a pair of sharp groundouts.
The 36-year-old veteran only improved from there on his way through 4 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk and adding two strikeouts in his first Major League work since June 23. After stranding another pair of baserunners in a 20-pitch fourth inning, Garcia worked quickly through the fifth, sixth and seventh, throwing a total of just 26 pitches over those three frames.
"He did a nice job navigating through that lineup, taking a little off, putting a little on, spinning it," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You could see the experience, you could see all that kind of stuff. He didn't panic in certain situations and he really saved our bullpen today. Good for him, and good for us."
Garcia was acquired from the Orioles for cash considerations on Aug. 23, making only one start for Gwinnett before the Braves brought him up on Sunday, the first day teams may carry a maximum of 40 players on their active roster.
That initial Minor League start on Aug. 26 went off the rails early. Facing Norfolk, the Triple-A team he had been traded away from three days earlier, Garcia allowed eight earned runs on seven hits and issued five walks before being pulled after 3 2/3 innings. Sunday's performance provided the right-hander some assurance he could still contribute to oa playoff-bound club.
"It was cool to get in the game and throw some innings," Garcia said. "They brought me here to do this job -- long reliever, whatever, start if they need me -- so I'll be ready for anything."
In his 15-year career that includes a pair of All-Star appearances and a World Series championship in 2005 with the White Sox, Garcia has now appeared a total of 17 times out of the bullpen, all but one of which have come in the last three seasons. He carries a career 1.97 ERA as a reliever, but he struggled as a starter in his only Major League stint with Baltimore this year, posting a 5.77 ERA in 11 games before being optioned to Norfolk in late June. On Sunday, he rarely touched 90 mph but kept the Marlins at bay by commanding his sinker-slider mix, missing the strike zone for balls on only 15 of his 53 pitches.
"Whatever it takes to get people out -- it doesn't matter how hard you throw, it's how you get people out," Garcia said before Sunday's game. "Some guys throw hard, and they don't get anybody out. I used to throw hard, I don't anymore, but I figured out how to get people out, so that's what I'm doing."
Gonzalez expected to bring two more players up to Atlanta following the conclusion of the Minor League season on Monday, in addition to the return of Evan Gattis from his brief three-game stay in Gwinnett. The Braves will also add outfielders Reed Johnson and Jason Heyward to their expanded roster once they are able to return from their respective injuries.
"You got your fingers crossed that Reed could come during this month of September and then Jason could come later on this month, so it depends on how that goes," Gonzalez said. "You don't want to flood your roster with a lot of people just standing around."
Johnson adds to NL-best average with pinch-hit
ATLANTA -- When Braves third baseman Chris Johnson was out of the starting lineup on Sunday vs. the Marlins with what he described as sore and fatigued legs, one of his teammates playfully told him that he was simply attempting to sit on his lead in the National League batting title chase.
Johnson lost his lead in this chase last week and then regained it with Saturday's four-hit performance. He improved his NL-leading batting average to .333 with a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of Sunday's 7-0 loss to Miami.
"A month is a long time," Johnson said. "I'm trying not to worry about it just yet. If we get a week or a week and a half out and we're still up, maybe we can start looking at it and talking about it. But I'm just going to keep working on my at-bats and make sure I'm ready to go for the postseason. I'm just going to try to keep my mind off it. I think that is the best way to go about it."
Johnson expects to return to Atlanta's lineup for Monday afternoon's game against the Mets. This marked the second consecutive Sunday that he was given a chance to rest a minor ailment. He also missed just one game after developing turf toe during last weekend's series against St. Louis.
"The toe is really not much of an issue right now," Johnson said. "It's just turf toe, a jammed toe. It's just soreness -- one of those things that will probably be here until the end of the season. It doesn't really do anything. It doesn't affect my speed, really."
Johnson's humorous explanation should provide some comfort to those fantasy owners who are still hoping to receive at least one stolen base from him this season.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.