MIAMI -- As his team attempts to finish this season with the National League's best record and gain home-field advantage for the NL portion of the postseason, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez's lineup decisions will not be influenced by financial elements.
The lineups Gonzalez constructed for the first two games of this week's series against the Marlins did not include B.J. Upton or Dan Uggla -- the club's two highest-paid players. Both veterans have hit below .200 most of this season and provided Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis and Elliot Johnson the opportunity to prove they are better options.
"You've got to go with whatever you think is best to win that day," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We all want to win. We also want to see what we have moving forward too."
With Jason Heyward sidelined, Schafer stands as the only logical option to fill the leadoff spot. Along with hitting .268 with a .345 on-base percentage while batting in the lineup's top spot, Schafer has proven to be a better defensive center fielder than Upton.
Upton has provided occasional signs of encouragement while hitting .239 since he returned from a three-week stint on the disabled list in early August. But with the need to play Schafer and the once-again imposing Gattis in the outfield on an everyday basis, there is not currently an available lineup spot for Upton, who signed a franchise record five-year, $75.25 million contract in November.
Uggla has batted .133 with a .366 on-base percentage in the 41 plate appearances he has compiled since returning from LASIK surgery on Aug. 28. His extended struggles have led the Braves to give Johnson a chance to prove he is capable of handling second base duties.
Since being claimed off waivers from the Royals on Aug. 21, Johnson has batted .256 (10-for-39) with a .275 on-base percentage and three stolen bases.
Walden could be ready to return Thursday
MIAMI -- As the Braves spend the next few weeks attempting to post the best bullpen ERA in franchise history, it appears they will have the luxury of utilizing a refreshed and healthy Jordan Walden.
Walden's groin did not provide any problems as he completed a pain-free, 27-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon at Marlins Park. Barring the development of soreness, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Walden could be available to pitch again as early as Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Marlins.
When Walden returns, he could benefit from the fact that he has not placed much strain on his arm since straining his groin while running in St. Louis a little more than two weeks ago. The veteran right-handed setup man has experienced some right shoulder and back discomfort at different points dating back to the start of Spring Training.
"This is the best my arm has felt this late in the season my whole big league career," Walden said. "I'm just waiting to see what I can do on the mound."
While compiling a 2.47 ERA and limiting opponents to a .194 batting average in 47 appearances, Walden has proven to be the reliable reliever the Braves envisioned when the they acquired him from the Angels in exchange for Tommy Hanson in November.
Since Eric O'Flaherty suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the middle of May, Walden and Luis Avilan have proven to be capable setup men for closer Craig Kimbrel. Their success has significantly influenced the Major League-best bullpen ERA (2.33) the Braves carried into Tuesday.
The 2002 Braves posted what currently stands as the best bullpen ERA (2.60) in franchise history.
• The Braves activated Reed Johnson from the disabled list before Tuesday's game against the Marlins. Johnson had been sidelined since July 29 with left Achilles tendinitis. The veteran backup outfielder said Monday that he was planning to attempt to begin sprinting again at some point this week. Over the past few weeks, he has felt discomfort whenever he has attempted to do anything more than a light jog.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.