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Alex Anthopoulos talks Braves’ plans, Hamels’ health and preparing for short season

Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos addresses the start of the shortened 2020 season and reports no COVID-19 cases among players or staff. (Courtesy of Atlanta Braves)

The Braves will begin their rebooted “spring” training July 1. Opening day will follow three weeks later.

On Wednesday afternoon, general manager Alex Anthopoulos addressed the media for the first time since MLB’s return became official. He covered several important points as the Braves prepare for a 60-game slate.

• Left-hander Cole Hamels "feels great" and is expected to be ready for the start of the season, per Anthopoulos. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen Friday. Hamels didn't pitch in a game during the original spring training after aggravating his left shoulder during offseason workouts.

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Hamels, whom the Braves signed to a one-year, $18 million deal this winter, was acquired to stabilize a young rotation. It would be welcome good news for the Braves if he is indeed ready for opening day.

“Right now, in terms of our projections, he’s someone we plan to carry with us to start the year,” Anthopoulos said, while admitting circumstances can always change over a month.

• On the subject of starters, Anthopoulos anticipates the team being extra cautious with its rotation for the first couple of outings. That means starters could go only three or four innings in their first two starts. The Braves’ ample pitching depth makes that easier to accommodate, Anthopoulos said.

“One concept we’ve talked about, because of the short spring training, and obviously guys have been staying in shape and throwing, is how much we push our starters in the rotation the first time through, maybe first two times through,” he said. “Because we feel like we have so much depth, and there are expanded rosters at the beginning, do we limit our starters early on just to be overly cautious and make sure they hold up? We want to make sure they all can last and we don’t run into any injuries.

“We’ll see where these guys are at the end of camp, but we’re not going to try to push our starters to do more than we think is safe. Because of our depth, we’re able to do that. We’ve talked about scenarios where we could be 10 games in terms of maybe having guys go two or three innings, maybe some go four. Then we have guys come in behind them that can go another two or three. It’ll be fluid, and we will evaluate that as we get through the month of July.”

• To Anthopoulos’ knowledge, there are no COVID-19 cases in the Braves’ organization right now. “I’m not aware of any, but as we all know, things are very fluid. You see what’s going on around the world in sports. As of now, we have not been made aware of any (cases).”

• The Braves are still working through the health protocols and guidelines for “spring” training. Anthopoulos couldn’t provide specifics yet, but he stressed the organization will be careful and thorough in preparations for opening day. He expects a finalized plan by the end of the weekend.

One known factor: The players won’t be required to stay in a “bubble” — they’re free to go where they please outside work — but there will be a detailed screening process daily as they enter the ballpark.

• Individuals who are deemed “high-risk” can opt out of the season and still receive service time and salary. Those with high-risk family members may also do so, though they won’t receive the same benefits.

Regarding any players potentially opting out, Anthopoulos said: “I do not expect any changes. That doesn’t mean there won’t be, but in the last few days we’ve been in contact with a lot of our players and so on. I would expect all of our players to report at this date.”

• Anthopoulos acknowledged the Braves face a difficult schedule. Along with 10 games each against their divisional foes, they face 20 games against the American League East. Of the nine opponents on the team’s schedule, five had winning records last season (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Nationals, Mets). The Phillies were .500.

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“It’s going to be challenging,” Anthopoulos said. “The NL East is the only division in baseball with four teams that are .500 and above. Those teams are obviously still there and very well intact. Now you add the AL East, which I have a lot of familiarity with the AL East from when I was in Toronto, that’s an incredible challenge as well.”

• The Braves, like the other 29 clubs, will have to submit their 60-player pools (roster and taxi squad) by Sunday afternoon. Their main players will train at Truist Park while the taxi squad will be stationed at Coolray Field, home of the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers.

“We have time,” Anthopoulos said. “We’re trying to be very thorough and thoughtful (in how we proceed the next few weeks). We’re going to have to make some decisions here very soon. But we’re in a good place from a timing standpoint.”

• The trade deadline is set for Aug. 31. Anthopoulos doesn’t expect difficulties in completing trades. He figures teams will still be motivated to make deals.

“You hope, a month into it, that you’re right there and in position to add,” he said. “That’s what the goal is going to be. I would expect, like any other year, if you have a chance to win and get better, I would expect clubs to take advantage of the ability to make trades.”

• The National League now features a designated hitter. Anthopoulos said the team is “very well-positioned” for the change given its depth. Anthopoulos noted the team was dealing with the challenge of finding players ample time without the DH, so it’s a welcome addition that will “open up playing time for guys who are well-deserving.”