02/23/2013 12:50 PM ET
Pop of Gattis' bat surprises few
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves came to Spring Training expecting to see Evan Gattis prove successful with the bat. Gattis' offensive skills have seldom been questioned, and he came to camp with the advantage of having played most of the offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League.
So there was not much surprise when Gattis homered and doubled while making his Grapefruit League season debut in Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Yankees at Champion Stadium. Over the next few weeks, the Braves will determine whether it makes sense to carry him on their 25-man roster as a backup outfielder who could play first base and serve as a third catcher.
"The biggest thing we need to figure out is, where are we going to play him?" said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who already has the comfort of having Justin Upton in left field and Freddie Freeman at first base.
Gattis' two-run home run in the sixth inning came against right-handed pitcher Mikey O'Brien. The line-drive shot provided a glimpse of the strength possessed by the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Gattis.
Gattis was used at catcher until the Braves moved him to the outfield midway through last season. While the 26-year-old prospect could catch if necessary, the Braves would not use him at that position on a regular basis.
While hitting 16 homers with a .960 OPS in 53 games in Venezuela, Gattis played left field at least once a week. Gattis will most likely spend some time in left field and at first base during Spring Training. He was serving as the designated hitter Saturday.
"Doing it every day is key with repetition," Gattis said of playing the outfield. "It's just like anything else. If you do it enough, you get better at it."
Simmons makes bittersweet journey to Taiwan
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After playing six innings of Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Yankees, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons went to the Orlando International Airport to begin a 20-hour journey to Taiwan, where he and his Netherlands teammates will compete in this year's World Baseball Classic.
"I will try to get myself tired, and it will help me get through this," said Simmons, who was planning to watch multiple movies and make good use of his iPad while in the air.
Proving unselfish, Simmons traded his first-class ticket for two coach tickets. He will use one, and his mother will use the other when she flies from their native Curacao to Taiwan on Sunday.
"She's a good sleeper," Simmons said. "She taught me how to sleep."
Simmons is looking forward to spending the next few weeks competing with many of his friends from his native Curacao, a Dutch island that is now producing a tremendous wealth of baseball talent. But he was also somewhat reluctant to leave Braves' camp after playing just two exhibition games.
The Netherlands will practice this week and begin play in Pool B on March 2. Simmons could return to Braves' camp as early as March 7. If the team advances to the second round, he would stay in Asia until at least March 9.
Either way, he will be away from Braves' camp for most of the next two weeks and possibly longer.
"I don't want to leave here, to be honest," Simmons said. "The games just started, and you're going to start playing with new teammates. But I guess I need to go. I want to go. But at the same time I don't want to leave."
Maholm cruises through spring debut
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Paul Maholm breezed through his Grapefruit League season debut without the temptation to tax his arm by throwing his curveball or slider. The Braves veteran left-hander faced the minimum while tossing two scoreless innings in Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Yankees at Champion Stadium.
"The goal going into it was no breaking balls," Maholm said. "I was just going to throw my sinker, changeup and cutter. We stuck with it. I told Christian [Bethancourt] if we got in trouble, we might need to rethink our game plan."
Maholm got four of the six batters he faced to hit the ball on the ground. After Robinson Cano reached via Freddie Freeman's error in the first inning, Maholm used his cutter to get Mark Teixeira to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Maholm threw 12 of his 22 pitches for strikes. He will be scheduled to pitch three innings Thursday against the Phillies in Clearwater.
Fredi not concerned by Graham's nerves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Highly regarded pitching prospect J.R. Graham looked like he was preparing himself for a prize fight when he circled the mound just before throwing his first pitch in the sixth inning of Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Yankees. This was his first appearance in a big league setting, and it showed, as adrenaline seemed to affect his command.
Graham's first pitch was a 99-mph fastball that catcher Christian Bethancourt reached up to prevent from reaching the screen. The 23-year-old right-hander threw a few more 98- and 99-mph fastballs while issuing a leadoff walk to Juan Rivera. After getting Matt Diaz to ground into a double play, Graham issued one more walk in his scoreless one-inning debut.
Graham's fastball primarily rests between 94-97 mph. He will most likely begin the season in Double-A Mississippi's rotation.
"I don't think he took a breath the whole time he was out there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's his first time in Major League camp, and he goes out there against the New York Yankees with a lot of people in the stands; it's going to get him excited a little bit. I'm thinking the next time he goes out, we'll see a much calmer J.R. Graham."
• Gonzalez also felt right-handed reliever Jordan Walden was battling nerves as he allowed three hits, including a home run and a double, in a four-run third inning that was plagued by two errors. This was Walden's first appearance since the Braves acquired him from the Angels for Tommy Hanson.
•Freddie Freeman has three singles through his first five at-bats of the exhibition season.
•Former Braves reliever Gene Garber arrived in camp Saturday to begin a weeklong stint as a guest instructor.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.