3/8/2014 6:30 P.M. ET
Back strain no longer bothering Braves' Laird
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Gerald Laird was in a good mood when he entered the Braves' clubhouse early Saturday morning.
"That's when you know you're a salty veteran," Laird told multiple teammates after he saw he was slated to be used as the designated hitter in the split-squad game against the Marlins a few hours later at Champion Stadium.
While handling the DH duties in Saturday's game, Laird further distanced himself from the discomfort of straining his lower back on Feb. 27 in the first inning of his Grapefruit League season debut.
Having benefited from a week's worth of rest and rehab, Laird returned to the Braves' lineup on Friday and spent five pain-free innings behind the plate during a 4-1 loss to the Red Sox.
"I knew it was going to be a week, and then I'd be ready to go," Laird said. "I feel great right now. There's no problem. It doesn't feel like it's going to happen again. It's one of those things that happens, and then it's over. It released, did its thing and now I'm ready to go."
Heyward, J-Up dazzle at the dish for Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As he prepares to serve as the Braves' leadoff hitter this year, Jason Heyward knows he will have plenty of opportunities to score on hits by Justin Upton. But he can only hope the scare he received in the first inning of Saturday's game against the Marlins was not the start of a trend.
As Heyward took his lead off third base, he narrowly avoided a rocket line drive Upton pulled foul down the third-base line. After regaining his composure, Heyward playfully started moving toward the Marlins' third-base side dugout.
"He was saying he was feeling good all day, and I said, 'I can't wait to see you in the game,'" said Heyward. "But I didn't want to see it that close. ... If it was up to me, I would have sat down in the dugout and had a ghost runner."
Fortunately for Heyward, Upton directed the next pitch thrown by Jacob Turner down the right-field line for a double that started his two-hit, three-RBI performance. Upton's impressive afternoon also included a lineout to left field in the second inning.
Upton entered Saturday hitting .167 (2-for-12). A sore right side forced him to miss the first four days of the Grapefruit League season.
"You just need your repetitions at the plate," Upton said. "I'm starting to get a few more at-bats. My timing was good today and my swing was good. So it was a good day."
Heyward also had a productive day as he singled in each of his three at-bats. This performance extended his momentum from Friday, when he hit his second home run of the Grapefruit League season against the Red Sox.
Since recording just two hits in his first 14 at-bats, Heyward has gone 6-for-9 and believes he is moving closer to where he wants to be when the regular season begins.
"Right now, I seem to have it down pat for a little bit," Heyward said. "I'm just trying to ride that out. I'm just treating this like the season. I'm obviously not going out there to get myself hurt. But I'm just going out there every day and making the most of the games."
After start, Garcia tends to wife in labor
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Freddy Garcia was not able to stick around to discuss his struggles on Saturday against the Marlins. But an explanation was provided when the Braves revealed the 37-year-old veteran had immediately left Champion Stadium after his start to be with his wife, who was in labor at a Miami-area hospital.
"That would distract me," said Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca, who served as the manager for the split-squad team that played the Marlins in a 6-6 tie before both teams agreed to end the game after nine innings.
Garcia surrendered six hits, issued four walks and was charged with six earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings.
Casey McGehee's leadoff home run accounted for the first of the four hits the Marlins notched in the second inning. Garcia walked four of the first six batters he faced in the third before exiting after Rob Brantly dented the right-center-field wall with a three-run double.
While Garcia's frustrating outing certainly did not strengthen his bid to win a spot in Atlanta's bullpen or starting rotation, it also did not necessarily destroy it. Taking into account the surrounding circumstances, the Braves have a pretty good understanding of what to expect from Garcia, who could add depth to their 'pen and make an occasional start during the regular season.
"He is what he is," Tosca said. "He's going to have days like that."
Kennelly emerges as Braves' best golfer
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After John Smoltz ended his long reign, Derek Lowe briefly took the honor of being the best golfer in the Braves' organization. Now it appears that distinction belongs to Minor League catcher Matt Kennelly, whose father is a pro golfing instructor in Australia.
"[Matt] is pretty good," Braves pitcher Brandon Beachy said. "We played yesterday, and there were a couple holes where he'd say, 'I'll fade it onto [this green],' or 'I'll draw it on here.' He's calling them and doing it. His second shot is impressive. He's on the green [in regulation] almost all the time. He knows what he's doing."
Kennelly will have a chance to test his skills and connect with a couple fellow Aussies on Sunday afternoon, when he and former Braves reliever Peter Moylan play a round with PGA Tour professional Nick O'Hearn at Orlando's famed Isleworth Golf Club. O'Hearn has claimed two match play victories against Tiger Woods.
"A few Aussies out there," Kennelly said. "It could be interesting."
While he has a 3-handicap, Kennelly doesn't see a professional golf career in his future if baseball doesn't work out.
"I didn't play [golf] enough," Kennelly said. "I was always playing baseball or Australian football five or six days a week. [Golf] is more just a hobby for me. I pick my dad's brain every now and again. I still have never beat him. Maybe when he gets a little bit older, I'll beat him." Kennelly signed with the Braves in 2007 and remained in the organization until being released during the early portion of the 2013 season. After spending much of last year playing for the Reds at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, he rejoined the Braves in November with the hope of gaining a roster spot with Double-A Mississippi or Triple-A Gwinnett.
• Jordan Walden has made three consecutive scoreless appearances since allowing two runs while working an inning in his spring debut on Feb. 28. The right-handed setup man worked a perfect fifth inning in Saturday's game against the Marlins.
• B.J. Upton was in the lineup for Saturday's split-squad game against the Marlins until the Braves announced he was sick. Jose Constanza replaced Upton in the lineup.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.