Howard to make debut for Gwinnett

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It remains to be seen whether Howard is physically capable of providing the Braves with incentive to add him to their big league roster at some point this year. The club viewed this as a no-risk signing that could eventually help it provide a much-needed power option to its offensively-challenged bench, which entering Friday had gone 2-for-25 in pinch-hit at-bats.

There’s a chance the Braves could use Howard as a designated hitter in Interleague games played in American League parks. They also might choose to simply carry him as a defensively-limited bench option whose value is negated by left-handed pitchers and the lingering leg issues caused by a torn Achilles tendon (in 2011) and multiple knee ailments incurred over the past few years.

Howard slashed .196/.257/.453 and tallied 25 home runs over 362 plate appearances last year. He is far from being the same guy who hit at least 45 home runs from 2006-09. But even as he attempts to continue breathing life into his career, he has the potential to strike more fear into opposing pitchers than any other current bench player possessed by the Braves.

Emilio Bonifacio entered Friday’s series opener in Philadelphia with a .407 OPS since the start of the 2015 season and a team-high 10 pinch-hit plate appearances. Starting catcher Tyler Flowers is the only other Brave who had recorded as many as five pinch-hit plate appearances.

Dansby dropped to the eighth spot

One day after being left out of the starting lineup for the first time this season, Dansby Swanson batted eighth during Friday’s series opener in Philadelphia. Adonis Garcia, who has also struggled during the early portion of the season, was moved to the second spot, which had been filled by Swanson during each of this season’s first 14 games.

“I want to try to change the scenery for both [Swanson and Garcia],” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s just about trying something else, because what we were doing wasn’t working. I just want to take some heat off [Swanson] and let him get back to doing what we know he’s capable of doing.”

Garcia, who entered Friday hitting .176, might now see some more fastballs as he bats directly in front of Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp. Swanson compiled a .131 batting average in the second spot. Now as he bats directly in front of the pitcher, he might need to show some more patience as opponents will be less apt to give him a chance to do any damage, especially with two outs.

But Snitker saw this switch as a chance to simply relieve Swanson of some of the pressure he might have been putting on himself while batting near the top of the lineup.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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