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Chipper, Smoltz injuries could hurt during Cubs series

    ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves’ most important news Friday may come before the team opens its weekend series against the Cubs in Chicago.

    The Braves will watch closely as third baseman Chipper Jones tests his sore right thumb and pitcher John Smoltz finds out if a sore shoulder and finger hamper his ability to throw.

    Jones has missed seven straight games and could be placed on the disabled list on Friday if he cannot play.

    Smoltz, who said he felt fine after playing catch on Wednesday, may be able to determine if he’ll be ready for Sunday’s scheduled start against the Cubs when he tries to throw harder in a side session.

    Jones and Smoltz lead the Braves in seniority and also are keys to the team’s hopes in the NL East. The Braves, who were off Thursday, were four games behind New York in the division before the Mets’ game against San Francisco Thursday night.

    Smoltz, 40, left Tuesday night’s game in the fourth inning.

    He irritated a sore little finger on his right hand while batting and then felt discomfort in his right shoulder while warming up on the mound.

    Smoltz dislocated the finger on May 14 tagging Washington’s Austin Kearns. He bounced back quickly to win his next two starts — going 2-0 with 14 scoreless innings.

    The sore right shoulder could be a more serious concern for Smoltz, but he was pleased after his light throwing on Wednesday.

    Thursday provided another reminder of the Braves’ growing injury concerns. Reliever Mike Gonzalez was to have his elbow ligament-replacement surgery Thursday in Birmingham, a procedure that normally requires a full year for recovery.

    Gonzalez, who had a 1.59 ERA with two saves in 17 innings, was the team’s top left-handed reliever and joined Rafael Soriano as the top set-up men for closer Bob Wickman.

    The Braves felt the loss of Jones when they were outscored 27-13 while being swept in a three-game series by the Philadelphia Phillies last weekend. The Braves recovered to win two of three at Milwaukee, including a 9-3 victory on Wednesday night.

    In seven games without Jones, Atlanta’s fill-in starters at third base — Martin Prado, Chris Woodward and Pete Orr — have not driven in a run.

    Jones is hitting .300 with 12 homers and 27 RBIs. He needs two homers to match Dale Murphy’s Atlanta record of 371.

    Jones bruised both his thumbs in a May 11 collision with Pittsburgh’s Jose Bautista, causing him to miss four games. He returned to his starting job at third base but then hurt his right thumb again in a May 22 game.

    Jones hasn’t played since he had a cortisone shot in his right thumb following a game on May 23.

    The Braves have some pitching help coming this week. Right-hander Lance Cormier, who won a spot in the rotation in spring training but then landed on the disabled list before the start of the season with a strained triceps, is expected to be activated to pitch on Tuesday.

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