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Firepower at first base: Freeman makes early impact for Braves

Apr 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) watches his double driving in three runs against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fourth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) watches his double driving in three runs against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fourth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Freddie Freeman gave every indication in spring training that he was ready for a breakout third season. In the opening series against the Phillies, the Braves' new full-time cleanup hitter lived up to those expectations.

The first baseman hit a two-run homer off Cole Hamels in his first at-bat on Opening Day and finished the game 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Then he drove in three more runs in the middle game of the series, going 2-for-3 with a double and walking once.

Cliff Lee held him hitless in three at-bats as the Phillies salvaged the series finale with a 2-0 victory that included just two Braves hits.

Freeman then went 1-for-3 in the first game of the Cubs series that began Friday. His average sits at .462 after four games.

"I think the sky is the limit for him," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Freeman's 2012 season was hampered by a variety of woes, with his eyes and a knee giving him problems. But the big issue was a hand injury that hindered his grip on the bat the second half of the year.

"My finger is good, my knee is good and my eyes, everything is great," Freeman said after hitting .342 with seven homers and 16 RBIs during spring training. "If I can just stay this way, I can have a big year."

Freeman, 23, tried to make sure of that with a strenuous winter workout program, losing 10 pounds at the same time he built up muscle on his 6-foot-5 frame.

"Last year was just a weird one," Freeman said. "I didn't see well and I had my finger injury, so it never felt right."

Freeman's average dropped from .282 in 2011 -- when he was runner-up for National League rookie of the year -- to .259. But he still hit 23 homers and drove in 94 runs.

Both those numbers should be surpassed this season.

"I think he can hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs," Gonzalez said. "He's really swinging the bat."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not going to say I'm going to have a game like this every time. But I had the confidence going into the season that I was going to attack hitters like I did last year." -- LHP Mike Minor, who allowed only one run in 7 innings Friday to lead the Braves to a 4-1 victory. Minor didn't walk a batter and 60 of his 84 pitches were strikes.

MEDICAL WATCH: LHP Jonny Venters (left elbow sprain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 27. He will be shut down for four weeks and isn't expected to pitch again until late May or early June. He had to leave a spring game against the Tigers on March 26, and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection from Dr. James Andrews on April 2 after an MRI was inconclusive.

-- C Brian McCann (right shoulder surgery in October 2012) had a frayed labrum repaired and a cyst removed. He went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He returned to Florida on April 4 and will get in his swings as a designated hitter in extended spring training games. McCann will need a minor league rehab assignment after being cleared and isn't expected to join the Braves until late April or early May. He took batting practice and caught bullpen sessions while in Atlanta for the first two games of the opening series with Philadelphia.

-- RHP Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery in June 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He hopes to be ready to return to the rotation by late June. He has had no setbacks, and he likely will begin a minor league rehab in late May.

-- SS Paul Janish (left shoulder surgery in October 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He will begin a minor league rehab around April 8. He didn't get into any spring game action only because he wasn't allowed to dive.