03/31/2013 6:00 PM ET
Braves not worried about Kimbrel's tough spring
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Craig Kimbrel did not flash his dominant form during the World Baseball Classic or at any point during the spring season. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez believes his closer will be just fine once he gets a chance to feed off the adrenaline provided by meaningful games during the regular season.
"It just takes a little bit of a tweak to his delivery and he gets right back on track," Gonzalez said. "I think he'll be fine. When you're a closer, you get juiced up for that ninth inning -- and it's hard to get that adrenaline that you live for in the sixth inning of a Spring Training game."
Kimbrel allowed five hits and recorded three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings during the Classic. The most important game he pitched in during this stretch was on March 14, when he allowed hits to three of the five batters he faced and got the loss in a key game against the Dominican Republic.
Kimbrel allowed a run in just one of the five appearances he made after returning from the Classic. But he loaded the bases before escaping unscathed in both of his final two appearances. The first was against a split-squad Astros team on Thursday and the second came against some of the Braves' top Minor Leaguers in Saturday's exhibition game in Mississippi.
Gonzalez likely to shuffle his catchers, third basemen
ATLANTA -- Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird will have the honor of being in Monday's Opening Day lineup against the Phillies. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will likely alter his lineup by starting Juan Francisco and Evan Gattis during the regular season's second game.
With the Phillies starting left-hander Cole Hamels on Monday, the right-handed-hitting Johnson will get the nod over the left-handed-hitting Francisco. Gonzalez plans to platoon these two players at third base until given a reason to utilize one of them in an everyday role.
Francisco is expected to make his first start of the season when the Phillies start right-hander Roy Halladay during the season's second game on Wednesday. Johnson will likely be in the lineup for Thursday's series finale against Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.
But with the Cubs scheduled to start three right-handers at Turner Field next weekend, Francisco could start four of the season's first six games at third base.
Gonzalez said Laird and Gattis will likely share the starting catching duties until Brian McCann makes his expected return from right shoulder surgery in late April.
Instead of asking Gattis to make his Major League debut by attempting to handle the variety of sinking and darting pitches Tim Hudson will offer, as he makes his sixth Opening Day start on Monday, it seemingly made more sense to give this assignment to Laird -- a defensively sound veteran who signed a two-year contract with the Braves in November.
But Gattis, who showed his impressive power potential by hitting six home runs in 57 at-bats during the spring season, will likely make his first big league start against Halladay on Wednesday night.
"[Gattis] is going to contribute," Gonzalez said. "He'll be fine."
Heyward gets position of honor in clubhouse
ATLANTA -- Time will tell whether Jason Heyward replaces Chipper Jones as the new face of the Braves organization. But Heyward has already been moved into the corner locker that was previously used by Jones and John Smoltz at Turner Field.
"I was kind of pushed into here a little bit," Heyward said with a smile. "Nobody else really wanted to come into the locker and I was like, 'What the hey, it doesn't matter.' [Greg] Maddux had a locker here. [Tom] Glavine had one. Smoltz had one. Other greats had one. Somebody was going to have to take it. It's a great spot in the clubhouse."
Heyward's locker is positioned at the rear of the clubhouse, and it provides the amenity of being next to the hallway that leads to the weight room, trainer's room and other private portions of the home clubhouse.
Much of the talk surrounding this year's Braves club has centered around their potentially dynamic outfield, which was formed with the offseason additions of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. The Upton brothers are positioned side by side in the two lockers next to Heyward's.
"That makes it easier," Heyward said. "Having all of the outfielders here, everybody can have a conversation. We're going to end up getting up and talking to each other anyhow about what is going on. So you might as well [make] it easy on us."
The Braves have also opted not to use the "cursed" locker that has been occupied over the past decade by a variety of players, who lasted just one season or fewer in Atlanta. That locker is now filled by a computer that the players can use.
• With Jonny Venters starting the season on the disabled list with a sore elbow, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro will both begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen. If Venters had stayed healthy, the Braves might have had to part ways with either Martinez or Varvaro, who are both out of options.
Venters will visit Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., on Monday. Early indications are that his left elbow is structurally sound. The Braves are hoping his discomfort is being caused by a bone spur or bone chip.
• Jones will throw out the ceremonial first pitch and country music star Rodney Atkins will sing the national anthem before Monday's Opening Day game against the Phillies. Fans are urged to arrive early and use MARTA if they have not pre-purchased a pass for any of the team-operated stadium parking lots.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.