- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- April 16. Braves versus Royals. It's a date Brian McCann has splattered all over that imaginary billboard in his brain.
Why? Because on April 16, it will be exactly six months since the Braves catcher's shoulder surgery -- and also the date he's been told by doctors it will be safe for him to resume playing baseball games.
But will those games be in the big leagues? Uhhhh, not so fast.
The team's original plan was for McCann to play in either extended spring training games on that date or perhaps start a minor league rehab option. But McCann said Sunday he's hoping to accelerate that timetable.
"I'm feeling great. I'm on pace to be ready to go on April 16," said McCann, who had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 16 to repair a torn labrum in his right [throwing] shoulder. "The only thing we're wondering -- or that I'm wondering -- is if I can play before that date down here [in Florida]. So my first game would either be April 16 against Kansas City, or that's when I'm going to start my rehab."
McCann said he's hoping to play in "controlled" minor league exhibition games in which he could get a bunch of at-bats but not necessarily catch. At the same time, he would build up to begin catching by catching bullpen sessions and blocking balls in drills, he said.
It's unclear yet whether the team or his doctors will give him the go-ahead to do any of that. But McCann is already lobbying.
"I'll know when I'm ready," he said, "when I feel like I can get out there and help this team win."
Braves GM Frank Wren has said the team has been told by doctors that they don't want McCann to do any catching before the six-month mark after surgery, because he risks reinjury if he has to dive or block the plate, or if he got hit in the wrong spot by a foul ball. McCann says he's aware of those concerns.
"If I have a setback, that would be pretty awful," he said. "And that's the thing. When I come back, I want to come back and be able to do everything 100 percent and if I get run over at the plate, it's not going to affect me to the point where I have to have surgery again or anything."
Yet he can see himself making headway. He graduated last week from hitting off a tee and in the cage to taking batting practice off coaches. So every other day, he plays long-toss catch from 120 feet and takes batting practice, then takes the next day off.
"I'm not up to that point now where I'm ready to start doing stuff every day," he said. "I'm just going to listen to what they say. You've just got to find that fine line between not pushing too hard and not pushing hard enough. But every obstacle they've put in front of me, I've done with ease. So I'm anxious to get out there every day and interact with the guys on a daily basis outside."
For now, though, he still spends most of his time interacting with "the trainers and physical therapists. I'm asking them every day [when I'll be ready]. So I guarantee that THEY'RE ready for me to get outside," he said with a laugh.
McCann's health would be a significant story under any circumstances. But the fact that he also finds himself on the last year of his contract just heightens the importance of his recovery saga.
"I'm just looking at it as, I need to get healthy and get on the field," he said. "And I'm on that track. I'm on the right track. Physically, I feel amazing. So I'm excited about the season.
"I'm just going to play baseball. I know it's a big year. I know all that. I just want to get on the field healthy and get back to the way I play."