ATL@NYM: Braves jump in front on R. Johnson's single

ATLANTA -- As the Braves progress during the final days of the regular season, they will be evaluating some of the tough decisions they will face while constructing their roster for the National League Division Series.

"I think it's still a work in progress," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We met today with [general manager Frank Wren] and our coaching staff. I don't think we'll have a definite one until after the weekend."

Once his club concludes the regular season with Sunday's game against the Phillies, Gonzalez will have a better feel of how his 25-man roster will look entering the postseason. But if the Braves finish the season with the NL's best record, some of the final decisions could wait until their NLDS opponent is determined by the outcome of Tuesday's Wild Card Game.

The Braves will not have to submit their NLDS roster until Oct. 3, which is when Game 1 of the best-of-five series will begin. This could give them a little extra time to get a better feel for the status of Reed Johnson, a potentially valuable pinch-hitter who has been limited to three pinch-hit appearances since straining his left Achilles on July 28.

Gonzalez will attempt to get Johnson some pinch-hit appearances during the final five games and is thinking about having him start Friday night's game against Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee. While Johnson is certainly not 100 percent, he has improved enough to the point where he can at least attempt to run the bases and play the outfield.

If Johnson needs more work after Sunday, the Braves could send him to Florida to get some at-bats for a few days in the instructional league.

"When he's right, he's your best pinch-hitter," Gonzalez said of Johnson, whose 11 pinch-hits are just two off the league-leading total despite the fact he has not recorded one since July 28.

If Johnson is included on the NLDS roster, Joey Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza would likely be the odd men out. But there is also a chance none of these three players would be included if Gonzalez determines he would rather carry a 12th pitcher during this short series.

Anthony Varvaro and Jordan Walden could stand as the top candidates to fill the final spot on an 11-man pitching staff. Walden has struggled in two of the three appearances he has made since missing three weeks with a strained groin. But if he builds some confidence over the next few days, he would almost certainly be included.

But the Braves could go a couple different routes while constructing the pitching staff. Freddy Garcia has pitched effectively enough to be considered a legit candidate to start Game 4 of the NLDS. But if the club instead gives this start to Paul Maholm, there is always the chance Garcia could be carried as a reliever.

If Maholm is not targeted to make a start, it seems unlikely that he would be included on the NLDS roster. He has made just one relief appearance in his Major League career.

Heyward gets scheduled off-day vs. Brewers

MIL@ATL: Heyward makes a nice catch in deep center

ATLANTA -- When manager Fredi Gonzalez and the rest of the Braves' coaching staff laid out a script for Jason Heyward's return to action late last week, they circled Wednesday's series finale as a convenient way to split up the final 10 games of the season for their star outfielder in his return from a fractured jaw.

The two athletic catches Heyward has made in his first two games back at Turner Field since he was hit in the face by a pitch on Aug. 21 in New York were not in that script. In Monday night's game, Heyward came in on a dead run to make a diving grab in shallow center that robbed Yuniesky Betancourt of a base hit, and on Tuesday, he ranged back to the warning track to haul in a long fly ball off the bat of Jonathan Lucroy as his momentum slammed him into the center-field wall.

Each opportunity to sell out for a fly ball adds a measure of comfort to the team's view of Heyward's recovery going into the playoffs.

"He's got a reckless abandon, too," Gonzalez said. "He's fast, he gets good reads and he's not afraid to leave his feet, he's not afraid to challenge for a ball."

Heyward was left out of the lineup on Wednesday to rest after appearing in five consecutive games since his activation from the disabled list last Friday. He is scheduled to play the final four games of the season before taking advantage of the three days off before Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

"He came in on Saturday and played two innings of defense, and for a guy that hasn't played in, call it, six weeks, you hate to come this far and all of a sudden hurt his legs," Gonzalez said. "When we sat down in the Chicago area, we kind of scripted the plan out, and actually he's played more than what we were going to do from the very beginning, which is a great testament thus far."

Heyward's shift to center field just after the All-Star break to fill the void left by injuries to B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer largely coincided with his ascension to the leadoff spot in the batting order, which helped spark the offense and set the Braves on their season-long 14-game winning streak. Gonzalez did not hesitate to slot him back into those two prominent roles once he was cleared to play, knowing full well that Heyward would not be tentative in his return to action.

"I don't even worry about [re-injuring his jaw] anymore, other than [Sunday] when we were celebrating and he was wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.