2/22/2014 5:30 P.M. ET
Braves' Venezuelans have eyes on homeland
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Like many of their fellow countrymen employed by other Major League clubs, Braves players and coaches who hail from Venezuela have spent the early portion of Spring Training closely monitoring the violent political unrest unfolding in their native land.
"It's sad," Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said. "I don't want to see the news anymore, to tell you the truth. I'm talking to Mom every day, and [my family is] all OK. But it's sad. They don't know what is going to happen."
Braves Minor League catcher Jose Yepez was unsettled earlier this week, as he saw his house while watching video footage of a riotous scene that included gunfire. While obviously concerned about the safety of his friends and family members, Yepez chose not to address the ugly situation that has claimed the lives of at least eight Venezuelans.
"I've told [my friends and family] to stay in the house and don't do anything stupid," Braves pitcher Freddy Garcia said. "It's really bad."
Braves left-handed reliever Luis Avilan has expressed his feelings on Twitter and remained in contact with loved ones just two weeks ago, before coming to the United States for the start of Spring Training.
"It's just terrible that the government is abusing and killing people," Avilan said. "It's kind of frustrating. I can do nothing about it. I'm here, far away. It's kind of hard for us being here while that situation in Venezuela is happening to them."
Avilan said some of his friends are among those who have rioted in opposition to President Nicolas Maduro and the country's socialist government.
"My friends are out on the streets now, too, fighting against the government," Avilan said. "We've all been talking about it. They have been in the streets protesting every single day. I always tell them to not do crazy stuff in the streets and stay in the houses. But they are always saying they want to go to the streets and do something for the country."
Fredi will gauge use of replay during spring
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez discussed Major League Baseball's expanded instant-replay system while meeting with Joe Torre and Tony La Russa at the Astros' Spring Training complex on Friday afternoon.
Torre and La Russa are currently traveling through Florida to help managers get a feel for this expanded system, which will be utilized for the first time this year.
"After [Friday's] meeting, you feel comfortable that you can work with it," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to go into Spring Training looking for every play that you can challenge."
Gonzalez plans to go through the Grapefruit League season gaining a better feel for how to best utilize the one challenge managers will get through the first seven innings of every regular-season game. At the same time, he will have a chance to better understand how it works during the five Braves Spring Training games in which the replay system will be in place.
"I think it's one of those things, the more you get used to working with it, the more comfortable you're going to get," Gonzalez said. "We talked a little bit about the strategy end of it and some of the reasoning why they went with one challenge and no more than two."
When the regular season begins, managers will have the ability to communicate with an individual in the clubhouse, who will be assigned the task of reviewing replays of contestable calls and quickly determining whether a replay challenge will be used.
The Braves have not yet determined who will handle this task. But they are currently evaluating former players, who would have the necessary knowledge and also have the ability to assume other pregame responsibilities, like throwing batting practice.
Pena learned plenty as Jeter's understudy
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While spending the first eight years of his professional career with the Yankees, Ramiro Pena found his path to the Major League level blocked by Derek Jeter's presence. But as he prepares to enter his second straight season as Atlanta's primary backup infielder, Pena continues to count himself fortunate to have benefited from Jeter's tutelage.
Whether during Spring Training or those stretches he spent with the Yankees at the big league level, Pena could also count on Jeter to provide him guidance in the clubhouse, on the bench or simply while they were taking turns fielding ground balls at the shortstop position.
"He was helping me a lot," Pena said. "I didn't have much of a chance to play there. But at the same time, he was teaching me a lot, too."
Given a chance to play much more frequently when he was introduced to the National League style of play last year, Pena thrived through the first two months he spent with Atlanta last year. The versatile infielder proved dependable in the field and hit .278 with a .773 OPS in the 107 plate appearances he tallied before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in June.
Pena has not been restricted from any activities during the early portion of Spring Training. The lingering shoulder discomfort he has felt has come after he has reintroduced his arm to the various slots from which he will have to throw, accounting for things such as turning a double play or making a diving stop that requires a sidearm delivery.
"Every once in a while, my arm gets sore," Pena said. "But as soon as I get treatment and a massage, it's fine."
Along with having the ability to play each of the infield positions, the 28-year-old switch-hitter also gives the Braves offensive versatility. But Pena will likely be used primarily off the bench against right-handed pitchers.
Pena batted .313 (25-for-80) and hit each of his three home runs against right-handers last year. He notched two hits, while recording just 17 at-bats, from the right side of the plate.
• Heavy rain limited what the Braves were able to do during what proved to be a short Saturday afternoon workout. While position players were able to take some swings in the indoor batting cages, those pitchers scheduled to throw live batting practice will now do so on Sunday.
Because of physicals, the Braves are also scheduled to begin Sunday's workout at 1 p.m. ET.
• Luis Vasquez was cleared to begin throwing again on Friday. But the right-handed reliever, who suffered a lat strain while pitching in the Dominican Winter League last month, will likely have to wait another week to begin throwing off a mound.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.