Braves start spring with 3 new pitchers, new outlook

By DICK SCANLON The Associated Press
Posted 2/16/17

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Eager for a fresh start and armed with a new rotation, the Atlanta Braves started spring training with an air of confidence and optimism, especially for a team coming off a season …

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Braves start spring with 3 new pitchers, new outlook

Posted

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Eager for a fresh start and armed with a new rotation, the Atlanta Braves started spring training with an air of confidence and optimism, especially for a team coming off a season of 93 losses.

“Hopefully this is not a rebuild,” said left fielder Matt Kemp, an early arrival on the day of the first organized workout for pitchers and catchers. “I want to win baseball games. I feel we can go out there and win, especially with these veteran guys we’re bringing in.”

Kemp, who came in a trade from San Diego at the end of July, was not around for the dismal start that doomed Atlanta to a last-place finish. The Braves had a winning record after the All-Star break.

The Braves signed the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, 42-year-old R.A. Dickey and 30-year-old Jaime Garcia to fortify their pitching staff, and traded for veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips on Sunday.

Manager Brian Snitker is hoping the Braves’ strong finish can carry over.

“It’s not going to hurt. Knowing what we’re capable of is going to be huge,” he said. “I told the guys this morning — we’re not here to get better, we’re here to win. Why shouldn’t we be?”

The three new right-handers, who combined for 92 starts last season, were brought in to give the Braves a chance to contend.

“We knew we needed some veteran guys we could get the ball to,” Snitker said. “It was the thing we really didn’t have last year because of injuries and trades and what not. We wanted guys we could bring in and give some time to the young arms that we have in the organization.”

Colon is the active major league career leader with 233 wins. Dickey, the former Cy Young Award winner, and Garcia figure to join Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz in the Braves’ rotation.

“If we all play up to our pedigree, it could be a special year,” Dickey said. “I’m not making any predictions, but being low on the totem pole sometimes is not a bad place to be at the beginning of things.

“As we get into the spring, we’ll see what all these names coming together will mean. But for right now it’s the same thing that makes spring fun every year, and that’s the hope that we can be really good,” he said.

Catcher Tyler Flowers, who has been around for only one of Atlanta’s three straight losing seasons, will spend the next six weeks learning how to handle the veteran pitchers, and Dickey’s knuckleball in particular.

“We’ve seen what they’ve done in the past and hopefully they can continue to duplicate those kind of numbers and success for us,” Flowers said. “But right now it’s time to just get to work and see what happens. You can’t really look at that big picture at this point. We haven’t really been on the field yet.”

Rodriguez to have shoulder

surgery, may miss season

ATLANTA (AP) — Braves general manager John Coppolella said Monday he isn’t sure whether it is realistic to hope for a return this season of infielder Sean Rodriguez, who will have shoulder surgery.

Rodriguez, who agreed to an $11.5 million, two-year contract with Atlanta in November, hurt his shoulder when a vehicle he was driving was rammed by a stolen police car in Miami on Jan. 28. His wife Giselle and two of their children were hospitalized with injuries she said on her Twitter account were not life-threatening.

Rodriguez’s shoulder injury was not immediately disclosed. Coppolella told The Associated Press that Rodriguez’s surgery hasn’t been finalized.

“He’s going to be out indefinitely,” Coppolella said. “We hope he comes back as soon as possible. We’re not sure yet if it’s realistic that will be for the 2017 season. We don’t have enough information.”

The team prepared for the possibility Rodriguez could miss the full season when it acquired second baseman Brandon Phillips from Cincinnati on Sunday.

The versatile Rodriguez had been expected to compete with Jace Peterson for the starting job. Now Phillips moves in as the starter and Peterson could fill a utility role.

Phillips, a 35-year-old second baseman, has a $14 million salary this season, of which $2.25 million is deferred without interest. He can become a free agent after the season.

Having Phillips for one season gives second base prospect Ozzie Albies another season in the minors. Albies and rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson are the Braves’ projected long-term middle infield starters.

“We see Brandon as somebody who is going to help us this year,” Coppolella said. “We’re always cognizant of our prospects. That’s why we’ve made mostly short-term deals but we’re excited about what Brandon brings to us in 2017.”

Rodriguez hit .270 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs — all career highs — for Pittsburgh last year.

The driver of the stolen police car was killed in the accident that injured Rodriguez and his family members. Giselle said on her Twitter account she suffered a broken femur and tibia.

Coppolella described the accident as horrific.

“More important than when he gets back to playing with the Braves is the health and well-being of his family,” Coppolella said. “That’s first and foremost in our thoughts.”

Braves pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Wednesday. Coppolella said Rodriguez is not expected in camp by any specific date.

“We want him to get healthy and get right and take care of his family,” Coppolella said.

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