Archive for February, 2010

Kawakami glad to have Saito as teammate

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — The Maserati and suburban mansion were nice, but now Braves pitcher Kenshin Kawakami has something to really raise the comfort level.

A Japanese teammate.

The Braves signed free-agent reliever Takashi Saito in December, and now have two Japanese pitchers, each with his own interpreter. Four countrymen in the clubhouse.

“In terms of having more Japanese people to speak with, it does make me feel comfortable,” Kawakami said through his familiar interpreter, Daichi Takasue.

Kawakami spent the offseason in Japan and hired someone to make regular visits to his house in Gwinnett County – an estate formerly owned by rapper Bow Wow. The pitcher had the person check in to make sure the sleek sportscar he bought last year was safe.

“Yes, he was worried about his car,” Takasue said, smiling.

Kawakami worked in the offseason to improve his two-seam (sinking) fastball, and strengthened a pitching shoulder that became fatigued at times last season.

He went 7-12 …

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Deep ‘pen and Hudson impress Cox

Cox rocks the new batting-practice cap. Manager = tradition. Lid = not so much.

Cox rocks the new batting-practice cap. Manager = tradition. Lid = not. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

A few thoughts while making my way around the stack of boxes in front of Jason Heyward’s locker,  from shoe and equipment manufacturers who have either signed him up to wear their stuff, or would probably like to.

This really stands out because Heyward, the primo outfield prospect (who hasn’t arrived in camp yet), is situated in the side of the clubhouse that non-roster invitees are assigned. He’s assigned No.  71, between No. 70 Freddie Freeman and No. 72 Craig Kimbrel, who’s next to No. 73 Mike Minor. You get the pattern.

One gets the impression this kid's a pretty big deal

Yes, this kid Heyward is a pretty big deal (Getty Images)

Young non-roster invitees, no matter how famous, get linemen numbers in big-league spring training. But very rarely do they have equipment boxes stacked at their locker stall awaiting their arrival. I watched some of the other non-roster invitees checking out those boxes this morning, in awe.

Hey, it’s a …

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With Damon off market, do Braves stand pat?

Now that free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon has reportedly agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract with Detroit, the Braves seem content to enter the season with their current talent. But that’s not a certainty.

General manager Frank Wren left open the possibility of pursuing other moves, now or later.

“We like our current club but we are always looking to improve when possible,” Wren said Saturday night, when asked about other possibilities for the Braves after news of Damon’s decision.

He did not elaborate on whether they had anything specific in mind, or was just speaking in general terms.

The Braves offered Damon a one-year contract that was thought to be worth about $4.5 million, with a portion deferred. The former Red Sox and Yankees leadoff man could have played left field and batted at the top of the Braves’ order.

With their current talent, the Braves’ projected opening day lineup would have Nate McLouth in center field and the leadoff spot, with top prospect …

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Proctor had 166 appearances in two-year span

166 – relief appearances for Scott Proctor during the 2006-2007 seasons with the Yankees and Dodgers. He had 153 strikeouts in a whopping 188-2/3 relief innings in those two seasons.

It shouldn’t have surprised many when Proctor required flexor-tendon surgery during the 2008 season, the first of two elbow surgeries in a span of 19 months for the workhorse right-hander. Now he’s nearing a hopeful return to the majors with the Braves.

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Valdez delayed by visa problems

Rookie relief pitcher Luis Valdez is having visa problems in the Dominican Republic and isn’t expected to report to spring training for at least two or three more days.

He had 27 saves and a 3.28 ERA in 58 appearances for Class AAA Gwinnett in 2009, with 75 strikeouts in 71-1/3 innings.

Valdez pitched in three games (0-1, 3.38 ERA) in his first major-league callup and is considered a longshot among the five or more relievers expected to compete for one or possibly two spots in the opening-day bullpen.

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Wagner impresses Cox, Wren — but not self

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — The Braves have 31 pitchers in camp, and Cox said three newcomers – closer Billy Wagner, setup man Takashi Saito and Jesse Chavez — stood out when he watched their bullpen sessions Saturday.

Wagner also impressed everyone near the batting cage on the main field as he popped the catcher’s mitt repeatedly with fastballs and sliders during a batting-practice session against other pitchers and catchers.

“That must be some barn he has,” general manager Frank Wren said, referring to the barn on Wagner’s Virginia farm, where the 37-year-old left-hander does his winter throwing when it’s too cold or snowy outside.

Wagner downplayed his work and Wren’s comment.

“I didn’t think it was impressive,” Wagner said, before being told that Wren and others thought otherwise. “Oh, shoot, I mean, you think Frank’s gonna sit out there and go, what the hell did we just do?”

Wagner has 385 career saves and signed a one-year, $7 million contract. He said he was excited …

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Lowe: Let’s turn page on winter controversy

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Derek Lowe was upset when the Braves tried to trade him this winter, but the veteran starting pitcher reiterated Saturday that it won’t have any affect on how he approaches the season.

“It is something that has come and gone,” Lowe said before the Braves’ first pitchers-and-catchers workout Saturday at Champion Stadium. “To continue to talk about the what-ifs and what happened and what you were thinking – it doesn’t really do us any good Feb. 20.”

The Braves tried to trade Lowe, but couldn’t find a suitor willing to pay most of $45 million he’s owed over the final three seasons of a four-year contract. He was 15-10 in 2009, but his 4.67 ERA and .301 opponents’ averages were among the worst in his career as a starter.

When they couldn’t trade Lowe, the Braves traded Javier Vazquez, who had a career-best season (15-10, 2.87 ERA) and one year at $11.5 million left on his contract. They needed to free up some payroll and open a rotation spot for Tim …

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Braves reliever Proctor’s recovery ahead of schedule

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Scott Proctor’s recovery from ligament-transplant elbow surgery is so far ahead of schedule, Braves manager Bobby Cox believes the veteran setup man might be ready at the start of the season.

Cox offered that information after watching Proctor’s 50-pitch bullpen session Saturday.

“He’s still on a rehab schedule, but you’d never know it,” Cox said of the right-hander, who missed the 2009 season while recovering from May ‘09 surgery, his second elbow operation in 19 months.

Cox thinks Proctor, who had consecutive 83-appearance seasons in 2006 (Yankees) and 2007 (Yankees, Dodgers), could be ready to compete for a spot in a Braves bullpen that’s loaded with more power arms than in recent seasons.

“He’s going to have plenty of time,” to compete this spring, Cox said. “We’ll get him out there as much as we can…. He’s up to 50 pitches off the mound – hard [pitches]. He’s throwing changeups, stuff like that. He’s maybe two weeks behind.

“If you talk to him, …

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Please make it end. Damon, sign somewhere!

It’s dragged on for weeks – or months? I lose track — but soon Johnny Damon is going to end our long national nightmare and sign with a baseball team.

No, but seriously, it’ll be over soon everybody. And yes, as we’ve said here all along, there’s a real chance Damon could end up leading off and playing left field for the Bravos. Not saying it’s likely, but there’s a reasonable chance.

This isn't Johnny Damon's zebra. It's one that got loose from the circus and ran through downtown Atlanta Thursday. Figured you'd seen enough Damon photos. (Ben Gray/AJC)

This isn't Johnny Damon's zebra. It's one that got loose from the circus and ran through downtown Atlanta Thursday. Figured you'd seen enough Damon photos. (Ben Gray/AJC)

It’s seemed odd to me that the Braves’ interest in Damon was practically dismissed by a couple of other media outlets in the last week, Atlanta described as having only lackluster interest and not making a serious push for him.

The team that made him an offer nearly two weeks ago, before Detroit or the Chicago White Sox made offers. The team that had Chipper Jones call Damon the same day it made its offer, to emphasize to him …

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15 saves to 400 for Wagner

15 — the number of saves Billy Wagner needs to reach 400, a career standard that only four pitchers have reached.

Wagner needs 40 saves to surpass John Franco (424) as the all-time leader among left-handers.

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