03/09/2013 5:30 PM ET
Braves confident in Laird's ability to handle pitchers
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- Less than a week after David Ross signed with the Red Sox in November, the Braves signed Gerald Laird, a veteran catcher who possesses many of the same traits that made Ross a popular figure as Atlanta's backup catcher the previous four seasons.
Through the first few weeks of the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have become even more confident in Laird's ability to be a solid defender who can handle the pitching staff and serve as a strong clubhouse presence.
"I'm really enjoying watching Laird handle the pitching staff," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm glad that he decided to stay here [instead of playing in the World Baseball Classic], because he has done a good job handling those guys and making them work all of their pitches."
Laird's decision not to play for Mexico in the Classic was influenced by his desire to get used to the pitching staff. While catching Mike Minor during Saturday's 2-1 win over the Yankees, Laird forced Minor to work on his breaking pitches and stay away from throwing too many changeups.
"He called a different game than [Brian McCann] would have called," Minor said. "It wasn't a bad situation or anything like that. It was just a little bit different, a little more backwards than I'm used to."
Laird has played in just five games this spring because of a left calf strain he sustained while going into second base during a March 2 game against the Astros. He returned to the lineup to make one plate appearance and play four innings against the Tigers on Thursday night.
During Saturday's win over the Yankees, Laird went hitless in two plate appearances and exited in the middle of the sixth inning. He will serve as Atlanta's starting catcher while Brian McCann misses at least the regular season's first two weeks recovering from right shoulder surgery.
"We are just taking it slow with [Laird]," Gonzalez said. "He felt great today and he felt great the other day. I'm probably going to give him a couple days before we run him back out there again with the calf. But it's good. He's fine."
Lemke reflects on RBI single off Mo in '96 Series
TAMPA, Fla. -- When Mark Lemke produced an RBI single off Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, his only thought was that he had just brought the Braves within three runs of the Yankees.
Seventeen years later, Lemke can take pride in the fact that the hit scored Marquis Grissom with the first of the 13 runs -- 11 earned -- that Rivera has surrendered in 96 career postseason games.
"It's a little more significant now than it was then," Lemke said. "It was actually a pitch over my head, and I tomahawked it and lined it off the pitcher's mound into center field. I couldn't believe I hit the ball."
Before the Braves and Yankees played at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Saturday afternoon, Rivera announced he will retire at the end of the upcoming season. The 43-year-old closer has totaled a Major League-record 608 regular-season saves (681 opportunities) and compiled a 0.70 ERA in 141 postseason innings.
Rivera has converted eight of nine save opportunities and allowed four earned runs in 11 regular-season innings against the Braves. Each of those four earned runs and the blown save were recorded on July 16, 1999, at Turner Field. Andruw Jones supplied most of the damage courtesy of a three-run, ninth-inning home run that helped the Braves win despite Greg Maddux allowing five runs in 3 1/3 innings.
In 10 1/3 career postseason innings against the Braves, Rivera has surrendered seven hits and allowed just the one run created by Lemke's single.
"It's like he almost becomes more invincible when the postseason comes around," said Lemke, who is currently a part of the Braves' radio broadcast team. "That's what is amazing about him. You see a lot of great players, and it's not fair to judge their postseason like when you have great hitters who might not have a great postseason. But when you take a great player who is great the whole season and then he gets even greater in the postseason, that is incredible."
Each of the hurlers who own the top five ERA among pitchers with at least 140 postseason innings have significant ties to either the Yankees or Braves. This group includes Rivera (0.70), John Smoltz (2.67) Whitey Ford (2.71), Greg Maddux (3.27) and Tom Glavine (3.30).
Minor effective while working out of trouble
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mike Minor was far from perfect as he completed four scoreless innings in Saturday's 2-1 win over the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. But the Braves left-hander showed poise as he scattered three singles and pitched around two defensive miscues.
"I know I need to work on things," Minor said. "I felt like I left on a good note today. I felt like I had a better last inning than all of the other innings. It just felt better to me."
Minor pitched around leadoff singles in the first two innings and proved fortunate when Juan Rivera lined into a double play with two on and one out in the third inning. He retired each of the final three batters he faced after Jayson Nix reached second base to open the bottom of the fourth on a wind-blown fly ball that fell between Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson behind first base.
"It was good just to work out of things," Minor said. "There were a couple of balls that landed in nowhere land."
Minor, who posted a 2.21 ERA in his final 15 starts last year, has worked eight consecutive scoreless innings since allowing two runs in the first inning of his exhibition season debut against the Nationals on Feb. 26.
"I feel like my slider and curveball are way ahead of where they were last year at this time," Minor said. "I feel like they are almost at the same point they were at the end of last year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.