Braves' Laird preparing to open season as starter


Braves' Laird preparing to open season as starter

ATLANTA (AP) Gerald Laird is not letting anything interfere with his time getting to know the Braves' pitchers.

Laird said he turned down an invitation to represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic because he needs to work with Atlanta's pitchers the full spring training. He even reported for informal workouts with the pitchers this week at Turner Field.

Laird, whose mother is half-Mexican, signed a two-year, $3 million deal with Atlanta in November to be Brian McCann's backup. Laird is expected to open the season as the starter while McCann recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The Braves expect McCann to miss only about the first two weeks of the season. Laird, who started 51 games for Detroit last season, wants to make sure he's prepared for any length of time he's asked to be the starter.

``I feel like I can bring a lot when the starter goes down,'' Laird said earlier this week during his first day at Turner Field. ``I feel like I can fill in for a couple weeks, a month, whatever it takes. I knew the situation. When (McCann) comes back he's going to definitely help the ballclub. I can do whatever is needed to do. I can play every day, once a week or whenever they tell me to play.''

Laird said the spring training games will be crucial to the process of learning how to work with the Braves' pitchers.

``It takes a little bit. Catching in the bullpen only helps so much,'' he said. ``That's why when they asked me to play a little with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, I decided not to do it. If I was an outfielder, I might have done it.

``Being a catcher with a new ballclub and getting to know the staff, I felt that was my priority. I felt coming in and out and not being here the whole time wouldn't have benefitted the staff. I want to stay and catch as many guys as I can because if I'm the guy for the first couple weeks or however long, I want to make sure I know what their tendencies are and what they like to do in certain situations.''

Braves general manager Frank Wren said team doctors likely will hold McCann out of action at the start of the season even if the six-time All-Star is hitting and throwing well in spring training.

``If everything goes well in spring training, I don't think it will be more than a couple weeks before he is ready to rejoin us,'' Wren said. ``I know that's probably two weeks too long for him, but we don't want to put him in a situation where he has any major setbacks.''

The Braves signed Laird after David Ross, who backed up McCann the past four seasons, signed with Boston.

McCann and Ross were a tandem at the position for four years.

``David Ross is a guy I've learned a lot from,'' McCann said. ``We had an unbelievable duo going there for a while. It's going to be sad seeing him gone. We brought in Gerald Laird who is a veteran guy with a great track record and we're excited.''

Laird, 33, made his major league debut with Texas in 2003 and spent six seasons with the Rangers. He has appeared in as many as 100 games only twice - with Texas in 2007 and with Detroit in 2009.

After playing on the Cardinals 2011 World Series championship team, Laird returned to the Tigers last season and made his second straight World Series appearance. He hit .282 with two homers and 11 RBIs.

Laird could be a key offseason addition for the Braves, but his signing was overshadowed by two other moves. The Braves signed outfielder B.J. Upton before last week's trade for Justin Upton.

Suddenly, Laird likes his chances to make a third straight World Series appearance. The Braves won 94 games last season before losing to St. Louis in the wild-card game.

``When I signed I was excited that we've got a really good club here,'' Laird said. ``They got beat last year in that play-in game but they were there. They're always a good club, they're always competing. The next thing you know we got B.J. and Justin. I'm really looking forward to it. We've got a chance to do something really special.

``I've been fortunate the last couple of years to play with some good clubs and play in the World Series. With what Frank has done here with the roster, I've got a good chance to win again. I'm just going to have fun and do my part and maybe it will work out.''

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Bryce Harper felt he was 'able to just be Bryce' in his first year with Phillies

Bryce Harper felt he was 'able to just be Bryce' in his first year with Phillies

In Bryce Harper’s first season in Philadelphia, the Phillies jumped out to a 33-22 start before surrendering hold of the NL East lead to the Atlanta Braves in June and eventually falling out of the playoff race by the end of September. It was the Phillies’ best season since entering their lengthy rebuild in 2012 but still fell well short of their preseason expectations.

Despite the team’s shortcomings, Harper arrived at the Phillies’ spring training complex in Clearwater, Florida, on Sunday with nothing but good things to say about his club.

“I feel like I was able to just be Bryce,” Harper told reporters during his first media scrum. “It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people.

“That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. It made me want to work hard in the outfield. It made me want to work hard as a hitter. It made me want to play every single day.”

Harper’s defensive numbers took a steep dive in 2018, his final season in Washington. Those metrics may have been attributed to Harper playing it safe in the outfield and going for fewer big plays in order to stay healthy ahead of free agency. After accruing -16 defensive runs saved in right field (a career low) with the Nationals in 2018, he picked up nine DRS in right last year (a career best).

His offensive numbers in 2019 would’ve been considered strong by most players’ standards, but for Harper they probably weren’t as high as the Phillies were hoping to get for what they’re paying. He hit 35 home runs with a career-high 114 RBIs but also struck out (178) more than he ever had in a season and failed to make the All-Star team for the first time since 2014.

Were his comments a shot at his former fan base? Only Harper really knows that. He did congratulate his former teammates on winning the World Series without him, though.

“I watched through the whole series and I never have before,” Harper said, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. “I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”

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2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show: Time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

2020 NHL Trade Deadline Show: Time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The NHL Trade Deadline is approaching and a few teams have already begun making moves. 

So far, both the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders have executed trades. 

The Penguins acquired veteran forward Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, defenseman prospect Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick.

Will the Caps be making a move soon in hopes improve their defense? 

On Feb. 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET, NHL Insiders from the NBC Sports Regional Sports Network including the District’s representative Rob Carlin will provide insight, analysis and updates on this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. 

Here’s how to tune in:

What: NHL Trade Deadline Show

When: Monday, Feb. 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Live Stream: Stream on the MyTeams App on NBC Sports Washington

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.