ATLANTA -- After getting a day off Sunday, Braves catcher Brian McCann was back in the lineup for Monday's series opener against the Cubs. It was, however, in an unfamiliar position: the No. 7 hole. McCann had not started so low in the lineup since April 6, 2008.
But with McCann mired in a slump that has intensified in the last two weeks, manager Fredi Gonzalez said it was time to drop McCann in the lineup in favor of some of the Braves hotter hitters. Still, Gonzalez is sure McCann will break out of his slump.
"I'm not worried," Gonzalez said. "You look at guys, you see them walking around -- he's upbeat, he's confident."
McCann played 12 games in the last two weeks of June and hit .143 (7-for-49) with just two extra-base hits. Entering Monday's action, McCann was hitting .226 with a .295 on-base percentage this season. He was not named to the All-Star team when rosters were announced yesterday, and will miss the Midsummer Classic for the first time since coming to the Major Leagues as full-time player in 2006.
McCann said he can't figure out what's been wrong, but has been trying to get back to the production he's more accustomed to.
"I'm not happy with it at all," he said. "I show up here every day and I've put a ton of work into getting this thing right. Unfortunately, so far, it comes and goes. I'm waiting to get it and then for it to stick for, hopefully, the rest of the year."
Gonzalez said he thinks defensive shifts that have become more prevalent in baseball this year have greatly affected McCann's production.
"If you go back and look at some of the films, I think he's been one of the guys that have been most penalized for hitting into the shift than anybody I've ever seen," Gonzalez said. "He's swinging it OK; he's just not getting anything for it.
Sheets' path to Braves began in backyard
ATLANTA -- Ben Sheets' road back to the Major Leagues began with his son's throwback. Late at night, the veteran right-hander would go out to his backyard in Monroe, La., and throw against the tightly wound net designed to bounce the ball back to him.
Sheets, who has not pitched since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2010, said his neighbors weren't big fans of his late-night sessions, but he kept throwing off the mound he built in the backyard for Seaver, his 9-year-old son.
It was just Sheets and the throwback.
"As my arm got stronger and I was long tossing, I was progressing into going out there by myself off his mound at his throwback," Sheets said. "It's got a little radar gun at the top. It's pretty cool actually."
Sheets has moved well beyond his backyard mound. Sunday, the Braves announced they signed him to a Minor League contract, and, if everything goes well, Sheets could be pitching in their rotation when they come back from the All-Star break. Sheets is a four-time All-Star and was among the best pitchers in the National League before a pair of arm injuries forced him to miss two of the last three seasons.
"We didn't sign him to be a Minor League player," general manager Frank Wren said. "We signed him to help us here."
The first step to determining how fast Sheets can get back to the Major Leagues will be Wednesday. Sheets is scheduled to throw five innings and 75 pitches in a start for Double-A Mississippi. He will start again for Mississippi on June 9 and increase his workload to six innings and 90 pitches.
After the first two starts, Wren said the Braves will reevaluate. But it's possible at that point Sheets would be ready to join the Braves.
Sheets quickly dismissed any talk of him winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
"I don't know who's going to get that, but it ain't going to be me," he said.
Instead, Sheets said his only goal for his comeback is to pitch in the postseason. He never had the opportunity over nine years in the Majors. The Brewers made the playoffs only once during his time in Milwaukee, and he had to sit out the playoffs with an injury.
"I've seen a playoff when we made it in , but I've never been a part of it," Sheets said. "That would be a good goal to set and maybe achieve it this year."
Teddy Cahill is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.