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Buck Bids Adieu

Mar 26, 2015 -- 1:45pm

Bradenton, FL - The grind of a Major League Baseball season is unlike any of the other four major sports. Football players practice a few times a week and have one game per week for twenty weeks. Basketball and hockey players will typically play no more than three or four times in a seven day span. But for baseball players, between early March and October, nearly every day is a game day. So, when players decide they need to hang up the cleats and spend more time with family, it’s no real surprise.

On Thursday morning, John Buck, in camp on a Minor League deal announced his retirement at the age of 34. Buck was having a nice spring, but wasn’t likely to make the Opening Day roster. Fredi Gonzalez said as much a few weeks ago when he announced that he wasn’t thinking of carrying three catchers. With Christian Bethancourt taking over behind the dish, and AJ Pierzynski here as his backup/mentor, Buck was the odd man out. While other clubs could probably use a veteran backup like Buck, he decided that it was time to start his new life, post baseball.

Buck has nothing to be ashamed of. Over 11 Major League seasons, Buck played for seven different clubs. He posted a .234 lifetime batting average with 134 career homers in nearly 1,100 games. Buck’s best season came back in 2010 when he clubbed 20 homers and drove in 66 runs in 118 games. The grind of a Major League season takes its toll on both player and family. It’s not an easy schedule, and anyone who works in this business knows you need a great support system at home as well. While his time in Atlanta was short, it was certainly a pleasure getting to know John over the last month-and-a-half, and we all wish him well as he rides off into the sunset and begins his life as a retired Big Leaguer.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Braves Support Hawks On Lone Off Day

Mar 26, 2015 -- 8:31am

Lake Buena Vista, FL - For baseball players, days off are few and far between from the middle of February through the end of September. During Spring Training, the team typically gets one day where both the Major and Minor League sides shut down completely. After a loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, the team enjoyed a complete day off on Wednesday. Some likely enjoyed a round of golf, and others with families in town possibly took in a day at Disney. But there was a large majority who showed their support for a fellow Atlanta squad last night.

As fate would have it, the Hawks were in town taking on the Magic. Over the offseason, guys like Chris Johnson have been spotted a number of times at Philips Arena. However, the Braves presence was strong, supporting the best team in the East. Courtside, Freddie Freeman, Jace Peterson and Jonny Gomes could be seen across from the Hawks bench. Tyrell Jenkins and Eric Young Jr were also in the house, as was last years first round pick Braxton Davidson.

To me, it’s great to see fellow Atlanta athletes showing support for one another. The Hawks are having a breakout season, and many in the Braves clubhouse have hopped on for the ride. Meanwhile, baseball returns as the Braves travel to Bradenton to take on the Pirates this afternoon. Nick Markakis is expected to stay back in Orlando and take part in a Minor League game where he could get up to seven ABs.

Meanwhile, Andrelton Simmons is currently fifth in all of Major League Baseball with 12 RBI in his first 10 games after being slowed by a slight left oblique strain. It appears as though Simmons is set to have a breakthrough season at the plate, and his teammates will certainly need him. For a team that finished second-to-last in runs scored in 2014, Simmons will be a much larger piece of the offensive puzzle with Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and Jason Heyward all gone from a year ago.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Familiar Faces Around Braves Camp

Mar 24, 2015 -- 4:06pm

For fans who make the trip from Atlanta to take in Spring Training, you never know who you may bump into at Disney. From Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, to his former ace southpaw Tom Glavine, you certainly have to keep your eyes peeled. One thing the Braves do extremely well is get their alumni involved as guest instructors throughout the course of camp. A few weeks back, I caught up with Dale Murphy who was here working with some of the young outfielders. Murph told me what a thrill it was to get a chance to “unretire” the jersey for a few days, and get back into the dugout for a few games.

This Spring, the list of former greats has been extensive. From Steve Avery to Ralph Garr…from Ryan Klesko to Fred McGriff, it’s been a ‘whos who’ of fan favorites roaming the complex at Disney. Over the last six weeks, I’ve had the chance to chat with many young players who find it a thrill to get a chance to work with guys they grew up idolizing.

The enjoyment is shared by both parties however, as you can see smiles on the guest instructors faces when they get back out on the field and start sharing their knowledge. While many will never become coaches at the Big League level, the stories and experiences they can share with the current crop of players is priceless.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Braves Bats Break Out Against Astros

Mar 23, 2015 -- 4:27pm

Kissimmee, FL – On Tuesday afternoon, Nick Markakis made his much anticipated Braves debut, and it was one he has to be pleased with. After undergoing offseason neck surgery, Markakis’ Spring Training got off to a slow start. For the first few weeks, he didn’t do much in the way of baseball activities. But over the last few weeks, he’s gradually progressed from running, to playing catch, to taking BP and finally Tuesday, getting back into the starting lineup.

Markakis flew out to shallow left in his first AB, but then in the third inning, ripped a double to right and later scored on a Freddie Freeman RBI single. Then, in the fourth, Markakis dunked a single into right, finishing his Spring debut 2-for-3. Fredi Gonzalez told me prior to the game that he only planned on getting his new right fielder three at bats in his debut, and that he planned to have him play the outfield on Tuesday at Disney against the Phillies.

Meanwhile, it was an offensive explosion as the Braves bats came alive for 14 runs on _19 hits. With the exception of Alberto Callaspo and Jesus Flores, Atlanta’s offense combined to hit nearly .600 in the blowout win over the Astros. Six players recorded multi hit efforts, led by Andrelton Simmons who drove in four and Zoilo Almonte who had three hits, drove in two and scored a pair. From a pitching standpoint, the Braves decided to scratch Mike Foltynewicz, who was due to face his former team due to weather. There was some doubt the game would even be played as heavy rains drenched central Florida all morning. Folty is expected to be bumped back to tomorrow, when he’ll likely get the nod in place of Manny Banuelos against the Phillies at Disney.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Another Solid Start For Shelby Miller

Mar 22, 2015 -- 5:39pm

Lake Buena Vista, FL – Sunday afternoon, Shelby Miller made his fourth start of the Spring, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits over 5 innings of work. For Miller, it marked his third straight strong outing since being roughed up for 4 runs in just a third of an inning in his debut three weeks ago. On a few occasions, Miller had to work his way out of trouble, as the Tigers managed to get the leadoff runner on base in each of the first 3 innings. But Miller found his composure as he worked from the stretch and did a nice job limiting the damage to just 1 run.

Afterwards, Miller said that this is the best he’s felt physically in a long time. Over the offseason, Miller put on about an additional 15 pounds, which he says has helped him feel stronger and given him more poise. In addition to feeling confident about where he is from a ‘stuff’ standpoint, he’s also feeling energized from the revamped Atlanta clubhouse chemistry. “Great guys in the locker room, great veterans, great leadership. We're building a chemistry and building one pretty fast” Miller told me on Sunday.

As I’ve mentioned on the air this Spring, don’t you dare tell anyone in the Braves clubhouse that this team isn’t expected to win this season. While the revamped roster appears to be building for the future, there’s still games to be played between now and then. And nobody is willing to concede the season, especially two weeks before it even begins. The mix of veterans who have “been there and done that” along with the talented youth this team added this season has everyone believing the 2015 club could surprise those that have written them off before playing a meaningful game.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Braves Roster Slowly Taking Shape

Mar 21, 2015 -- 11:50am

Lake Buena Vista, FL - As the Spring has progressed, we’ve seen a handful of frontrunners emerge for a few of the positions that were up for grabs at the start of camp. You can all but pencil Eric Young Jr. in at center field for Opening Day, and Jace Peterson has also shown that he’s ready to be the clubs every day second baseman. But on Friday night in Jupiter, another hopeful put on a performance that all but iced a spot in the Braves starting rotation.

Wandy Rodriguez, the 36 year old southpaw, in camp on a Minor League deal tossed five more no-hit innings against the Marlins. Through four Grapefruit League starts, Rodriguez has allowed just one earned run in 13 innings of work (0.69 ERA). Prior to Friday’s start, Fredi Gonzalez said he’s seen enough from Rodriguez to trust him with one of two rotation spots. “We gave him a chance to sign here and give him an opportunity” Fredi said. “By Mike [Minor] going down for a month or so, he’s your most logical choice” the skipper added.

So with Wandy now a piece of the puzzle, the next logical question becomes “who’s next?” A handful of hopefuls will continue to toe the rubber in an attempt to win the fifth and final rotation spot. Today, it’s Eric Stuts’ turn. In a few days, we’ll see Mike Foltynewicz get the nod, looking to build on a strong start his last time out. If Stults wins the spot, it could complicate matters slightly with three of five starters left handed. Foltynewicz or Banuelos could also find themselves opening the 2015 season as part of the new look Braves bullpen as well. Camp breaks two weeks from today, so expect a flurry of activity between now and then.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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