Braves begin journey to playoffs
Atlanta motivated to erase last season's disappointment
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Derek Lowe didn't make an appearance at the newly named ESPN Wide World of Sports complex on Friday, when many of the Braves' pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.
But Lowe, who wasn't required to make an appearance at the stadium, arrived bright and early Saturday morning, in time to participate in the first workout for the Braves, who are hoping to embark on a journey that proves more fulfilling than last year's, which provided a tease for a postseason berth.
"Last year was a great opportunity for many of us who haven't been involved in the playoffs to get a taste of what it might have been like, because last year, we were fighting for a spot," Braves right-handed reliever Peter Moylan said. "Not that it's not exciting to come to the field every day. But for those last three weeks of the season, it was a different atmosphere, because we were actually playing for something. ... It makes you hungry to get to the playoffs."
Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team won 19 of 22 games before seeing its playoff hopes erased during the final week of last year's regular season, spoke to his players briefly before sending them on the field for the workout.
Instead of putting an emphasis on the fact that this is slated to be his final year managing, Cox said his message was similar to the many he's provided leading into previous seasons. He will deliver more of a motivational speech before the club's first full-squad workout on Tuesday.
"I haven't written that one yet either," said a joking Cox, who usually just wings these motivational addresses that are aimed toward the reminder that the goal every year is to win a World Series.
Before watching a group of his pitchers throw live batting practice and complete bullpen sessions, Cox took advantage of the opportunity to speak with Lowe, who expressed his frustration in December when the club was still exploring the option of trading him.
"I talked to him this morning and he was super for his name having been out there all winter long," Cox said. "I'm looking forward to another 15-20 [wins] from him."
Lowe, who struggled down the stretch during last year's 15-win season, said that he has removed himself from the frustration he felt before the Braves ultimately instead opted to trade Javier Vazquez.
"It is something that has come and gone," Lowe said. "To continue to talk about the what-ifs and what happened doesn't really do any of us any good on Feb. 20. It was a decision that was clearly made that something had to happen, and I was obviously involved. It didn't happen. Javy ended up getting traded. I think that's really as far as we need to go."
As these next six weeks progress, Cox will lead an evaluation process that will determine whether Jason Heyward is ready to serve as Atlanta's starting right fielder and just who will fill out the final roster spots.
Craig Kimbrel has arrived with the hope that he will begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander ascended through three levels of the Minor League system last year and now finds himself looking to make the most of his first big league camp, one that will allow him to rub elbows with two of his childhood idols -- Chipper Jones and Billy Wagner.
"Right now I'm just trying to get past seeing guys that I've watched when I was younger," Kimbrel said. "I'm trying not to let that get to me. I'm trying to focus on getting the job done and remembering that it's just a game."
Kimbrel said that it has been cool to hear Braves general manager Frank Wren and others refer to him as "the right-handed Billy Wagner." But at the same time, he's just looking forward to the opportunity to feed off the knowledge of this accomplished closer who like himself has proven that size doesn't dictate the velocity a pitcher can reach.
"When I was young, even before I knew how established [Wagner] was, I was like, 'I want to be like that,'" Kimbrel said.
During his first day with his new Braves teammates, Wagner acquainted himself with catcher Brian McCann and provided indication that he will be able to provide both leadership and the light-hearted attitude that aids the clubhouse environment.
When asked how he had been able to develop a bond with former Red Sox teammate Takashi Saito, who also arrived in camp on Friday, Wagner made it known that Saito had a firm grasp of the English language. The 38-year-old pitcher then said there were days when he wished that he could use the excuse that he doesn't understand questions provided by media members.
"[Saito] speaks English," Wagner said. "Like I told him, 'It's like everybody else. When you've got a second language, you only can't speak English when you've had a tough game.' ... It's something where [I] sometimes wish I had a second language."
Wagner, Saito and new first baseman Troy Glaus, who is scheduled to arrive before Tuesday's first full-squad workout, stand as the key offseason additions that have the Braves optimistic that this year's conclusion will prove to be more satisfying than the one they experienced in October.
"With the guys that we have here, I can't wait to get it going," Moylan said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.