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Rehabbing McCann uncertain of future

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Brian McCann's spirits naturally rise on the good days and fall on the bad ones. Rehabbing from major surgery always provides those highs and lows.

But what really appears to be troubling the catcher is the not knowing, both about his immediate and his long-term futures.

McCann wonders how soon he will be back with the Braves this season. Maybe more disconcerting, he wonders what the years to come hold. Will he still be in Atlanta?

Ask the Duluth graduate a variety of questions and often you get the same perplexed responses.

"I don't know," is a common one. So is, "I'm just trying to figure it all out." And then there is, "I have no answers."

Everything once seemed so set for McCann. He was starring for his hometown team and his life was so good and ordered.

Then came health issues and the resulting falloff in production. No longer is the 29-year-old assured of being a Brave for life. In fact, this may be his last season and he doesn't even know when it will start.

McCann, who had surgery on his right shoulder after the Braves were eliminated in the National League wild-card game last October, originally held out hope that he would be ready for opening day.

Then he more realistically scaled back to April 16 -- exactly six months after the surgery. The Braves open an interleague series that night against Kansas City at Turner Field.

Now it looks like that is when McCann will finally be cleared for his first real game action, with a needed minor league rehab likely to push his return to the Braves back toward the end of the month.

"The only timetable is that there isn't a timetable," Braves general manager Frank Wren said Saturday. "We are taking it week by week."

McCann hasn't experienced any setbacks in his rehab. But with the season a week away, his patience is being severely tested.

"I'm listening to what the trainers say," he said. "But it's hard not to push it and hold back."

McCann is left to take daily batting practice, which has gone well, and throw from assigned distances, which has gone a little less smoothly.

"I think his throwing will be the last thing to come around," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

McCann, who was named to the All-Star Game in each of his first six full seasons before missing last year, agrees with that. But there is also the hurdle of being able to withstand a play at the plate or avoid a collision on the basepaths.

By midweek, McCann should be cleared to hit in simulated games, with base-running and catching to come down the road. He will travel with the team back to Atlanta for the opening series against the Phillies, but then return to Florida.

"He's progressing fine," Wren said. "But there are still a number of steps he has to pass and we don't know how he'll respond to each one. Every shoulder is different."

Asked recently if he was still having occasional pain in his shoulder, McCann hesitated and then delayed even more.

"Any pain?" he finally said. "I guess I better watch how I answer that. I have my good days and my bad days. Hopefully, it's good pain."

Then there is the mental and emotional strain.

The Braves picked up McCann's $12 million option for this year, but he becomes a free agent after the season and there may not really be a win-win scenario.

If McCann comes back and plays well, as he and the Braves hope, that may make him too expensive for the team to re-sign.

"I want to stay in Atlanta. I don't want to go anywhere," said McCann, who slumped to a .230 average last season.

Many around baseball wonder if McCann didn't potentially damage his future as well as hurt the Braves' chances last season by continuing to play until the end of the season while hurting.

"I never considered shutting it down and having surgery right away," McCann said.

But when McCann was benched in favor of backup catcher David Ross for the wild-card game, it showed just how much he was struggling.

Seemingly beset by one ailment after another the last few seasons, McCann had fallen into some bad habits at the plate and behind it as he tried to compensate.

"I got in trouble the last few years trying to pull the ball too much," he admits.

Getting better extension on his swing, McCann has looked good in batting practice. But it is just batting practice. When will be finally get to hit and catch in a real game situation?

McCann doesn't know right now. The Braves don't really know either.

"They say I'm not supposed to play until April 16, but what does that mean?" he said. "Can I play in a minor league game? Can I play in Atlanta?"Not knowing is frustrating. That's all I can say. I have no answers."