DETROIT -- Without a legitimate leadoff hitter on their roster, the Braves entered this season with the hope that Andrelton Simmons could handle the role. As Simmons struggled through the season's first three weeks, B.J. Upton was given an opportunity to man the role.
But with three multi-hit performances over the course of the past week, Simmons has started to show some signs that he might be able to provide the consistency the Braves have lacked at the top of their lineup.
"It's definitely getting there," Simmons said. "I've just got to get a few days of consistently feeling good and getting my body to be relaxed. Then it just becomes automatic."
Simmons batted .185 with a .262 on-base percentage through his first 15 games. But the young shortstop entered Saturday having batted .353 with a .421 on-base percentage since then.
Saturday marked the first time since April 12 that Simmons batted leadoff in consecutive games.
Simmons said that he benefited from the chance to see a number of pitches while serving as the only batter Brandon Beachy faced as he threw live batting practice on Friday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last year.
"I got my timing down and got to where I felt comfortable," Simmons said. "That was really helpful."
Braves remain patient amid power shortage
DETROIT -- Through this season's first two weeks, the Braves masked their offensive struggles with an abundance of home runs. But over the course of the past week, they have experienced a power shortage that has depleted their early season optimism.
While winning 13 of their first 15 games, the Braves hit .257, tallied 29 home runs, struck out once every 4.4 plate appearances and averaged 4.9 runs per game. In the process of losing five of the previous seven games played entering Saturday, they had batted .223, collected six home runs, struck out once every 3.3 plate appearances and averaged 3.1 runs per game.
The recent frequency of strikeouts increased as the Braves struck out a season-high 18 times against the Tigers in Friday's 10-0 loss. This marked the ninth time since 1921 that they struck out this many times in a game. The franchise record during this span is 19, a total that has been reached three times.
"It's still April," Braves center fielder B.J. Upton said. "At some point, you're going to have to stop saying that, but that's the reality of it. There is a lot of baseball left to be played."
The fact that the Braves entered Saturday leading the National League in strikeouts (203) and home runs (35) was hardly a surprise. Long before the season started, it was assumed that this would be a team that would go deep and swing and miss with great frequency.
Instead of continuing to tinker with the lineup, the Braves entered Saturday afternoon's game with essentially the same one they used on Friday night, the only difference being that Jordan Schafer batted ninth and played right field in place of Reed Johnson.
Gonzalez batted Dan Uggla second despite the fact the second baseman struck out in each of his four at-bats after being moved into that spot for the first time on Friday night.
"You look at every team, there is always one or two guys who are still struggling a little bit," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You've got to be patient. You've got to keep running them out there and support your players."
Braves encouraged with McCann's bat, arm
DETROIT -- The Braves were not surprised to see Brian McCann homer in the first two at-bats he recorded in his first Minor League rehab game with Class A Rome on Friday night. Swinging the bat has not been a problem for the veteran catcher who is nearing a return from offseason shoulder surgery. In fact, manager Fredi Gonzalez said McCann might have been on the Opening Day roster if the Braves were in the American League and had the luxury of utilizing a designated hitter.
"After about three weeks of Spring Training, he was swinging the bat like he always has," Gonzalez said.
More encouraging than the home runs was the arm strength McCann showed while making four throws to second base during Friday's game in Greensboro. While he was charged with two throwing errors, Gonzalez said the report he received indicated the throws were strong and might not have resulted in errors with a little more assistance from the middle infielders.
McCann was scheduled to serve as a designated hitter on Saturday in the second of the five games he will likely play for Rome. He will continue his rehab stint with Gwinnett during the latter portion of next week and possibly be activated from the disabled list at some point the following week.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.