Jason Heyward back for Braves

ATLANTA -- The Braves have Jason Heyward back in their lineup, and another injured outfielder could join him in a few days.

Heyward, who has been on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder since May 22, returned on Wednesday to start in right field against the New York Mets. He said before the game he felt "awesome."

"It's good to be back around the family again," Heyward said.

Meanwhile, Nate McLouth could soon join Heyward in the outfield. McLouth, recovering from a left oblique strain, took batting practice before Wednesday night's game and is expected to begin a rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said McLouth, who has been out since May 23, may need only three or four games with Gwinnett.

"I'm going to make a point of making it no more than three," McLouth said.

With Martin Prado also out with a staph infection in his right calf, the Braves have remained close to the lead in the NL East despite missing their three starting outfielders.

First baseman Freddie Freeman missed his second straight start Wednesday with a mild right oblique strain but said he no longer felt discomfort and expects to start on Thursday.

Gonzalez said he hopes the return of Heyward provides an offensive boost for the Braves, who have relied on strong pitching.

"It means we're getting healthier," Gonzalez said. "There's a big presence in our lineup. Hopefully he takes off."

Heyward's strong 2010 rookie season, in which he was voted to start in the All-Star game, boosted expectations for this year. He hit .277 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs.

Bothered by the sore shoulder through most of May, when he hit .098 in 17 games, Heyward was hitting only .214 overall with seven homers and 14 RBIs when he went on the disabled list.

He said he needed only two games in his brief rehab stint with Gwinnett when he realized he was "pain-free and able to make adjustments."

"You're not always going to be perfect but you can't be close to it if you're not able to make adjustments," Heyward said.

"Am I 100 percent? I'm ready to play the baseball game and I don't feel I'm doing any damage to myself. I feel like I'm ready to be productive."

The Braves optioned outfielder Matt Young to Triple-A Gwinnett.