03/12/11 4:12 PM ET
Starting fresh, Conrad eyes spot with Braves
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
After waiting eight years to feel the thrill of being included on an Opening Day roster, Conrad was nearing the completion of a dream 2010 campaign when his glove seemed to desert him as injuries to the Braves put him in an everyday role during the season's final week.
"It's a new year, and we're excited for it," Conrad said.
Conrad committed three errors in Game 3 of last year's National League Division Series and a total of eight errors in the final nine games he played last year, but he also made significant contributions while hitting .378 (17-for-45) with runners in scoring position and .313 (15-for-48) in late and close situations.
Conrad is hoping Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren are focusing more on the latter when they decide which position players will fill the final available spots on the Opening Day roster.
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Since claiming Mather off waivers in November, the Braves have seemed confident in his versatility. Along with being able to play each of the corner infield and outfield positions, Mather could also play center if necessary for a short period.
And if Mather is virtually a lock to be on the Opening Day roster, Conrad, Matt Young, Ed Lucas and Diory Hernandez are battling for the final two spots reserved for position players.
The Braves maintain that Jordan Schafer is also still a candidate. But because he's missed most of the past two years with a left wrist injury -- one that has finally healed -- there could be a need for him to spend at least a couple months in the Minors playing on an everyday basis.
While Mather can play center field in a pinch, Young can legitimately play the position. But because he is a left-handed hitter on a club stacked with left-handed bats, Young might not be considered one of the best options to begin the season on Atlanta's bench.
"We have good candidates, and guys have performed well in camp so far," Wren said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm among that group, because they know there are some jobs that can be won."
Because the Braves need somebody to serve as shortstop Alex Gonzalez's backup, either Lucas or Hernandez could end up filling one of those two available spots. Of the four aforementioned candidates, they are the only ones who are serviceable at shortstop.
Hernandez has recently spent more time at shortstop than Lucas, who spent the past few years filling a utility role for the Royals in the Minor League system.
As Lucas has made himself more marketable by playing a variety of positions, Conrad has shown the Braves that he is willing to increase his value by doing more than serving as a backup at second base and third base. He recently started taking grounders at first base and played the position during a "B" game against the Cardinals last week.
"I'm just going to do whatever the manager of the team wants me to do," Conrad said.
After going hitless in his only at-bat in Saturday's 12-0 win over the Mets, Conrad saw his batting average drop to .130 (3-for-23). Obviously he hasn't yet found the successful form he possessed last year, when he won the final available bench spot over Joe Thurston.
"I'm the kind of guy, I just want to get better every year," Conrad said. "I'm going to come in and build on last year. For me, there's no taking anything for granted."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.