LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Before heading north to Atlanta via cars or team charter flight, the Braves had to finish off their Grapefruit League schedule Thursday afternoon against Houston. They did it quickly.
Andrelton Simmons hit a home run and Paul Maholm and five relievers combined for a five-hitter in a 2-0 win at Champion Stadium that lasted just 2 hours, 9 minutes. Soon afterward, Wide World of Sports and Disney World were in their rearview mirrors.
“Let’s go; we’re ready to go,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said a couple of minutes after his team closed out the 35-game Grapefruit schedule with their 20th win. “Guys are champing on the bits to get it going. We got our work in, and we have a big game Saturday against the Skipper (retired Braves manager Bobby Cox) over there in Mississippi. Play over there, get a good crowd, then the season starts Monday.”
The Braves have an exhibition game against some of their top prospects Saturday at Double-A Mississippi — Cox will manage the prospect team — then a workout Sunday at Turner Field before opening the season at home Monday night against Philadelphia.
Against a (far) less-than-formidable Astros split-squad lineup, Maholm allowed faced two batters over the minimum in a four-inning tuneup start before his Game 2 start against the Phillies. He allowed two hits and one walk with two strikeouts, and induced a double-play grounder after Brett Wallace’s first-inning single.
Maholm was already on the road before reporters entered the clubhouse. He finished 4-1 with a 1.53 ERA in seven spring starts, allowing no earned runs in 24-2/3 innings over his last five games.
“Threw all his pitches, mixed in his breaking ball — he did a nice job,” Gonzalez said.
Kimbrel settles down: The first three Astros that Craig Kimbrel faced in the sixth inning reached on a walk, a hit-by-pitch and another walk. Pitching coach Roger McDowell went out to talk with the Braves closer at that point, and Kimbrel retired the next three on a pop-up, a strikeout and a fly to center.
“I think he just got the hamster back on the wheel,” said Gonzalez, who pronounced Kimbrel ready. “He got out of his delivery a little bit.”
Kimbrel had only two “clean” innings (no hits or walks) in his eight Grapefruit League appearances and also had a notable rough outing in a Team USA loss to the Dominican Republic in the WBC. He had many walks (seven) as strikeouts (seven) in eight innings with the Braves, and hit three batters.
Walden ready: With reliever Jonny Venters (elbow) out indefinitely, the Braves feel fortunate that Jordan Walden seems fit and ready after missing nearly four weeks of games with a bulging disc in his back. He had two strikeouts in a perfect inning Thursday in his fourth appearance in nine days since getting an epidural injection.
Etc. Simmons missed 3-1/2 weeks of spring-training games while playing for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, then went 7-for-24 with two doubles and three home runs in eight games after rejoining the Braves…. Lefty Daniel Rodriguez was reassigned to Triple-A Gwinnett after Wednesday’s loss against Washington, a move already planned before he gave up eight runs, five walks and four home runs in two-plus innings against the Nationals. The Braves still have 29 on their camp roster, but that includes Venters and rehabbing catcher Brian McCann, infielder Paul Janish and pitcher Brandon Beachy, none of whom will be on the opening-day roster.