Archive for February, 2012

What we’re saying is, Adam Russell is big

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – At 6 feet 8 and at least 270 pounds, relief pitcher Adam Russell is believed to be largest man to wear an Atlanta Braves uniform.

Some have joked that he’d be worth having on the major league roster regardless of how spring training goes, as a one-man deterrent against beanballs and brawls.

“We need to have him around for all nine innings – nothing would ever happen,” said former Braves manager Bobby Cox, upon first seeing the mammoth right-hander.

“Nobody’s charging the mound against him,” catcher David Ross said.

“What, they have football players here now?” said former Braves catcher and guest camp instructor Javy Lopez, who did a double-take the first time he saw Russell.

Russell, 28, signed a minor league contract after posting a 3.03 ERA in 36 relief appearances for Tampa Bay, with more walks (20) than strikeouts (13) in 32-2/3 innings.

He has a 3.95 ERA in 85 career relief appearances in parts of four seasons with the White Sox, Padres and …

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Slimmer Diaz looks for return to form

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Matt Diaz doesn’t think his power has dissipated due to age, and over the winter he took steps to try to prove it.

After seeing his slugging percentage plummet more than 100 points in 2011 and home-run total drop to zero – he hit 20 in the previous two seasons combined — Diaz decided to change his physique.

Not by getting bigger in his upper body, but by slimming down.

Through one week of spring-training batting practice, first against coaches and in the past two days against pitchers, the 33-year-old outfielder said he feels a difference.

“Really good, free and easy on the swing,” Diaz said. “I had some power when I was hitting at the college I’ve been hitting at [during the offseason], but then when I came out here, hitting nice baseballs, I was like, ‘Wow, I do have power.’”

Diaz hit .263 with just a .625 OPS and 20 RBIs in 251 at-bats last season with the Pirates and Braves, who reacquired him in an Aug. 31 trade. He has a year left on the …

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Braves glad to get going with full-squad workouts

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – After going through six or seven of these, you might think a major league player wouldn’t get excited about the first full-squad workout of spring training.

Braves left fielder Martin Prado would set you straight.

“Oh, man, I feel like a kid,” he said while suiting up for Saturday’s full-squad workout, the first of spring. “And I think when I’m not feeling that anymore, it’s time to quit.

“I love it. There’s probably 100 million kids that want to be in this spot. I’m hoping that God gives me this same feeling every year, until He says, you’re done. And walk away.”

After putting the Braves through a 3-1/2-hour session that began with a team meeting in center field and ended with wind sprints in right field, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez seemed pleased and relieved.

A new baseball year was officially underway for the Braves. Another step in putting last year’s September disappointment behind them.

“I’ve sensed a good vibe since [camp opened],” said …

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Fredi G. likes change-ups he’s seen early

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Braves always like as many of their young pitchers as possible to master the change-up, and manager Fredi Gonzalez noticed several throwing the pitch more effectively during the first week of workouts.

While early arriving Braves position players took batting practice against coaches with fans in the stands at Champion Stadium, Gonzalez spent the mornings roaming the backfields and watching the pitchers throw live batting practice to catchers.

“Saw some good changeups,” he said. “Even Jonny Venters was throwing some good ones. Some of the younger kids, like [Arodys] Vizcaino and [Jaye] Chapman, have pretty good ones.”

Vizcaino, a strong candidate for a bullpen job, is one of three Braves pitchers – along with starters Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado – rated among the top 100 prospects in baseball by most experts. He impressed in a callup last season.

Chapman, 24, has risen slowly but steadily through the farm system and posted a 2.50 ERA in 52 …

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Hanson (concussion) thinks he’ll be ready for season

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Tommy Hanson has missed six days of workouts since suffering a concussion in a one-car accident Monday, but the big right-hander believes he’ll be ready to go by Opening Day.

“It’ll only be a week off,” said Hanson, who could suit up as soon as Monday, though not for full activities. “I was throwing 50-pitch bullpens before I came down here [to spring training], so I don’t’ think a week off is going to set me back too much.

“After I start throwing for a couple of days, I think I’ll be back where I would have been last week. Most of the time at the end of spring training, that last week is kind of extra anyway. So I don’t think it’ll be a problem. I feel like I’ll be ready.”

Hanson wrecked his Infiniti M45 on the way to Braves spring-training headquarters Monday before the first pitchers-and-catchers workout. He had no other significant injuries, only bruises. He said he had a tire blow out while rounding a curve, which sent his car careening down a …

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On Bourn’s impact, Pastornicky’s arrival, full-squad start

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – As he put on his uniform for the Braves’ first full-squad workout of spring training Saturday morning,  Martin Prado didn’t try to play it cool and act like  it was just another day.

“Oh, man, I feel like a kid,” he said.  “And I think when I’m not feeling that anymore, it’s time to quit.”

Michael Bourn (left) and Jason Heyward wait their turn by the batting cage. (Jason Getz photo/AJC)

Michael Bourn (left) and Jason Heyward wait for their turns in the batting cage. (Jason Getz photo/AJC)

The memory of their 10-20 slide out of the wild card may linger with many outside the organization, but Braves players say they’ve moved forward and that the feeling in the clubhouse is as upbeat as its been in years.

“The page is turned,” catcher Brian McCann said as he slipped into his pulled on his cap and headed toward the field for the team.  “Time to strap it on.”

(Let me take a timeout here, folks. Your Crusading Everyman would like you to know that I have strapped it on, so to speak, and subsisted for 11-13 hours per day at this Dark Star baseball facility …

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Hanson (concussion) likely out through weekend

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson rode a stationary bike for about 10 minutes Friday, his first physical activity since suffering a Grade 1 concussion in a one-car accident Monday.

Hanson, who was headache-free Thursday for the first time since the accident, might take the ImPACT concussion exam again this weekend to see if results match his baseline test three years ago. When they do, he could be cleared for baseball activities.

Hanson took the exam on Thursday for the first time since the accident.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Hanson might be ready to suit up and do light throwing on the field Monday, if he keeps progressing. The manager doesn’t think Hanson will be much behind other Braves pitchers if he only misses a week this early in camp.

Sunday will mark a full week of workouts missed by the right-hander. Braves pitchers and catchers began workouts Monday, and the first full-squad workout is Saturday.

Entering spring training, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy …

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Braves new shortstop Pastornicky is in the house

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Braves got a look at their new shortstop in action Friday when Tyler Pastornicky took infield and batting practice a couple of hours after reporting to camp.

“Had a lot of fun,” said Pastornicky, 22, who fielded grounders while third baseman Chipper Jones did the same not far to his right. “I got to watch him a lot growing up. Pretty cool getting to be beside him.”

Pastornicky is penciled in as the Opening Day shortstop despite no major league experience. He hit .314 with a .359 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 27 stolen bases in 117 minor league games in 2011, including .365 with a .407 OBP in 27 games at Triple-A Gwinnett before a sprained ankle sidelined him for most of the last month.

“I’ve still got a lot of work to do, and nothing’s going to be given to me,” said Pastornicky, who hasn’t been told the job is his and will approach spring training as if he must win it. “I’ve still got to go out there and play hard and play my game.”

His …

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Jack Wilson (calf strain) to miss 4-6 weeks

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jack Wilson didn’t make it to Braves spring training before straining his right calf, which is expected to sideline the veteran shortstop for four to six weeks and could land him on the disabled list to start the season.

The Braves re-signed Wilson in January to serve as a utility infielder and backup to rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves can fill in for Wilson with others already on the roster or non-roster camp invitees.

Wilson was injured Tuesday during a sprint drill while working out with Pastornicky at Wilson’s home gym in Camarillo, Calif. Pastornicky went out there Feb. 18 for a planned five days of workouts, tips and one-on-one lessons from Wilson.

“It’s one of those injuries you’ve got to make sure is completely gone,” Gonzalez said, “because if you try to come back too quickly it’s going to just nag on you for the whole year. It’s just a nagging thing. So four to six weeks — we’re hoping more four …

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Sunburn and fat jokes — rough day for Chipper

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It was bad enough that Chipper Jones had an epic sunburn that made merely swinging a bat at Thursday’s workout a bit painful.

But to add insult to his pain, the Braves veteran was greeted by a couple of teammates and his manager with … fat jokes.

“I’m also fat now, from what I hear,” Jones said, smiling as he winced while taking his jersey over his sunburned arms. “I’m a little worried, this is the first time I’ve ever been called fat.”

It happened after an Associated Press photo made the rounds on the Internet, which showed the 39-year-old third baseman walking in shorts and loose-fitting sleeveless T-shirt Sunday at Champion Stadium. As the photo was snapped, a breeze blew Jones’ shirt in such a manner that he appeared to have a large spare tire around his midsection.

An Atlanta TV station, along with bloggers and others across the country, ridiculed and ranted online about what looked in the photo to be a good 40 pounds of added weight. Which was …

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