Simmons off to WBC; Braves excited, sloppy in loss

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Simmons off to WBC; Braves excited, sloppy in loss

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla -- Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons will be away from the Braves for at least the next 2-1/2 weeks, leaving camp Saturday to travel to Taiwan for the Netherlands training camp and pool play in the World Baseball Classic.

The Curacao native went 0-for-3 in Saturday’s 8-3 loss to the Yankees, but made his second outstanding defensive play in as many games. He had a flight out of Orlando just before 7 p.m. The trip was to take about 20 hours, including a stop in Los Angeles.

Simmons gave up his first-class airline ticket to his mother, who is flying to Taiwan from Curacao.

“I don’t want to leave here, to be honest,” Simmons said. “It’s like, the (spring training) games are just starting and you want to start playing with your new teammates and everybody. But I guess I’ve got to go. I want to go, but at the same time I don’t want to leave.”

 Maholm six outs in six batters: In his spring debut, Braves lefty Paul Maholm faced six batters in two innings (no hits, no walks, no strikeouts). He induced a double-play grounder by Mark Teixeira to end the first inning after first baseman Freddie Freeman's error.

“The starter hasn’t been the problem,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves have lost their first two games and had three pitchers give up multiple runs in relief appearances in their Atlanta debuts, including Ryan Buchter on Friday and Jordan Walden and Daniel Rodriguez on Saturday. Buchter and Rodriguez are non-roster invitees.

 “It’s getting through some of those (relief) innings, the first time some of those guys coming in big league camp and you can tell. I don’t think J.R. (Graham) took a breath the whole time he was out there. He goes out there against the New York Yankees and a lot of people in the stands, it’s going to get him excited a little bit.”

The Braves made three errors including a pop-up that third baseman Chris Johnson let land in front of him. That started a four-run third inning against Walden, the former Angels reliever who was traded to Atlanta this winter. Next batter Zoilo Almonte homered off Walden.

Graham, a top prospect, allowed two walks and a hit in a scoreless sixth inning in his debut. The excited right-hander threw a fastball clocked at 99 mph, a tick or two above his normal top end.

“I’m thinking the next time out, we’re going to see a much calmer J.R. Graham,” Gonzalez said.

Outfield day off: Atlanta’s revamped outfield trio of B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward got the afternoon off and will make Sunday's trip to Bradenton to face Pittsburgh. Infielders Freeman and Dan Uggla won't make the trip to Bradenton, and Juan Francisco will start at third as Gonzalez continues to alternate starts between Johnson and Francisco in the early going.

Gonzalez plans to alternate road trips with the outfield making one trip and the regular infield (minus Simmons for now) going on the next trip. The exceptions will be one of two games against the Yankees at Tampa and an overnight trip to Jupiter March 12-13 for games against the Marlins and Cardinals. Gonzalez plans to take most or all of his regulars to those.

Matty D. with Evil Empire: Former Braves outfielder Matt Diaz signed with the Yankees this winter, and wouldn't you know their -- and his -- first spring game would come against the Braves at Champion Stadium in ESPN Wide World of Sports.

"Driving into Wide World of Sports today, really eight years of my life – I played two years of Double-A ball here with the Rays and then six years of spring training (with Atlanta) – eight years of my life flashed before my eyes," Diaz said. "Other than that, at least I’m somewhere familiar. I know where everything is. I got to go say hi to the (Braves) trainers and some of the guys in the weightroom earlier. Got that out of the way.

"Now I’ll just try not to get hurt and maybe hit a ball fair on the first day of spring training. Small goals on the first day of spring training.”

Diaz signed a minor league contract and is competing for a major league roster spot as backup outfielder and right-handed pinch-hitter, the role in which he usually excelled when healthy during his years with the Braves. He has fully recovered from late-season thumb surgery and went 0-for-3 Saturday.

He said that going to a new team that has Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte feels a lot like his first year with the Braves.

“Similar situation," he said. "First time I came to camp with Chip (Chipper Jones) and (John)  Smoltz and those guys, I didn’t know what to expect because they’re superstars. They’re really down-to-earth people who love baseball. Same thing for Pettitte, Rivera and Jeter. It’s a very similar mindset, too. One focus, and that’s on winning.

"It didn’t take long to realize why there are no names on the back of the Yankees jersey. It’s really all about winning. That’s the culture that Bobby Cox brought to the Braves, too.”

He's still getting used to wearing the Yankee uniform, but was better prepared than most for the experience.

“It’s different, and cool all at the same time," he said. "When I was growing up my godfather (Matt Nokes) played for the Yankees so I always felt attached to them somehow, some way. But on photo day the other day, you just put the pinstripes on and you get a sense of the history. Atlanta has its own history but (the Braves) moved around city to city to city. You put on the pinstripes and you just feel the history of the New York Yankees.”

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