8/7/2013 1:03 A.M. ET
Wagner voices admiration for dominating Kimbrel
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- As Billy Wagner concluded his career with Atlanta in 2010, he was introduced to a hard-throwing young prospect named Craig Kimbrel, who at the time was referred to as the right-handed Billy Wagner.
Three years later, Wagner finds himself as just one of the many Braves fans who have enjoyed watching Kimbrel develop into one of the game's elite closers.
"He's doing so well," Wagner said. "He's going out and he knows what he's trying to do. He competes well and he holds himself with a heightened awareness. I told him it's like looking at myself in the mirror. I sit there and think, 'I wish I was that good.' He's fun to watch. He handles himself so well."
Wagner reconnected with Kimbrel and some of his other former Atlanta teammates when he visited the Braves' clubhouse before Tuesday night's game against the Nationals at Nationals Park. The former closer is the head baseball coach at the Miller School of Albemarle and enjoying the retirement life at his home in Crozet, Va.
Sticking with the childhood tradition he developed with his grandparents, Wagner said he still tries to watch the Braves as much as possible.
"I've been a Braves fan since I was a little towhead," Wagner said. "Nothing has changed. We don't watch anything else."
Wagner recently completed an autobiography titled "Way Out" with the help of Patty Rasmussen. The book, which will be available for purchase on Sept. 3, provides a look back at the experiences that helped mold him as he escaped the obscurity of his rural Virginia hometown and became one of five Major League pitchers to record at least 400 saves.
"I've accomplished so much in my life and I thought it would be nice to share it," Wagner said. "It's not a tell-all, but it was written to [inspire] kids and show them what dedication, hard work and going out and putting it on the line every day can do for you."
Pendleton sees some Ozzie in Simmons
WASHINGTON -- Braves first-base coach Terry Pendleton had the pleasure of spending the first seven seasons of his career playing alongside Ozzie Smith, the man widely viewed as the greatest defensive shortstop baseball has ever seen.
While Andrelton Simmons has not been around long enough to be placed in Smith's elite company, Pendleton has seen enough to at least draw some comparisons between the two.
"I know they were both born to play shortstop," Pendleton said. "[Simmons] is just so fluid. It's like, 'Put me there and leave me alone, I know what I'm supposed to do.' Ozzie was that way."
Along with being blessed with a cannon arm that is much stronger than the one Smith possessed and tremendous range, Simmons has a tremendous understanding of the game. He was alert enough to sneak behind John Mayberry Jr. to complete a pickoff play that allowed Alex Wood to escape a jam in the fifth inning of Sunday night's win over the Phillies.
During Monday night's win, Simmons showed off his arm with a pinpoint throw to the plate that denied Wilson Ramos' bid to score from first base on Adam LaRoche's two-out double in the first inning. With the potential tying run at third base and one out in the ninth, his all-out hustle led him to cover the plate as catcher Brian McCann caught Scott Hairston's popup just in front of the screen.
"[Simmons'] work ethic is off the charts," Pendleton said. "You have to shut him down. Ozzie was that way as a veteran. We had to say, 'Ozzie, is that not enough?' As an infielder, you couldn't take your ground balls and stop working because Ozzie Smith was still working. So that meant everybody has got to keep working. [Simmons] is that way now."
Simmons leads all Major League shortstops with a total of 31 in the Defensive Runs Saved category, one of the more popular defensive metrics. Minnesota's Pedro Florimon ranks second with 11 and Baltimore's J.J. Hardy ranks third with seven.
According to FanGraphs, the top two DRS totals recorded by a shortstop, since the stat was created in 2003, were registered by Adam Everett (34 with the 2006 Astros) and Jack Wilson (32 with the 2005 Pirates). Simmons should easily eclipse both marks by the end of this season.
Heyward day to day after straining neck muscle
WASHINGTON -- Braves right fielder Jason Heyward did not feel anything unusual when he fouled off the second pitch Gio Gonzalez threw during Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Nationals. But when he stepped away from the plate, he began feeling discomfort in the back of his head.
After being checked by Braves trainer Jeff Porter, Heyward concluded his at-bat with a popout. But he did not take the field when the bottom half of the inning began.
"Everything was normal until I backed away from the plate and the back of my head started pounding," Heyward said. "It started running up to the top of my head. I tried to shake it off, but it didn't happen.
"It was just kind of like a full-on instant headache and pounding. It started in the back of my head and then just kind of worked its way up. It was hurting me, pounding the whole time I was on the field."
The Braves have diagnosed Heyward with a strained neck muscle and placed his status as day to day. While Heyward is hopeful to play in Wednesday's series finale, he understands manager Fredi Gonzalez and the team's medical staff will choose to take the cautious approach.
Heyward was still feeling a slight headache when he spoke to reporters after the game.
"I feel better than I did when it happened," Heyward said. "But I'm just going to see how I'm feeling tomorrow. The doctor said it was calming down once he came to see me. I agreed with him. I'm just going to get some medicine and get it calmed down."
Heyward was feeling good enough to come back on the field when the benches and bullpens emptied after Julio Teheran hit Bryce Harper with a pitch in the fifth inning. Nothing but words were exchanged.
"It's an unwritten rule," Heyward said. "It's part of the game of baseball and competition. You want to be out there for your teammates. Everybody does. So that's just the way that goes."
• The side session Paul Maholm completed on Tuesday provided the Braves more encouragement than the one he completed on Monday. Maholm, who has been sidelined since July 20 with a bruised left wrist, will throw more side sessions before making what will be at least one Minor League rehab start.
• Gerald Laird is expected to either play for Class A Rome or at least take batting practice with the club on Wednesday. Laird has been recovering from the procedure he underwent late last week to remove a kidney stone. The backup catcher is expected to play with Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday. He could be activated from the disabled list as early as Saturday.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.