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Braves' Laird preparing to open season as starter

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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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The Carolina Hurricanes have brought their good luck pig to Game 7

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@hamiltondtr

The Carolina Hurricanes have brought their good luck pig to Game 7

When Carolina Hurricane's fans Kyle Eckenrode and Karoline Briggs brought their adopted pig Hamilton to Games 3 and 4 in Raleigh, N.C. to help the 'Canes win, they created a good luck charm that resulted in three wins at home.

Hamilton even made an appearance inside PNC Arena for Game 6 for photos with fans.

The charm worked so well that fans created a Change.org petition to bring Hamilton to DC. But Caps fans warned they'd turn Hamilton into their dinner if he made it to the District.

“My worry is that I’m going to get up there and people are going to yell and throw bacon at him or something like that," Eckenrode told Scott Allen of the Washington Post. "I’d hate for that to happen, because he is a creature. Pigs are really emotional, and he’s my pet. I don’t want him not trusting me anymore.”

Despite Caps fans threats, Hamilton made the trek to D.C. with his owners to try and give the 'Canes an extra boost against the Capitals before Game 7.

Hamilton spent his day on the mall, taking in the Capitol building and the Supreme Court.

Hamilton won't be allowed in Capital One Arena due to it's strict limitations. The arena only allows service animals inside, and they did not make an exception for Ovie the Bulldog last season. Additionally, DC Code requires an exotic animal permit for pigs, which can take up to a week to obtain.

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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 9-5, Wednesday afternoon and fell to 11-12 on the season. Here are five observations from the game...

1. The Anibal Sanchez experiment is not going well so far.

The veteran right-hander came to Washington over the winter fresh off a fantastic season in Atlanta, one that was an aberration from previous years and may have extended his career. The Nationals hoped he would be much more like his 2018 version and not the guy he was from 2015 through 2017. 

But through five starts, the results have not been pretty, and Wednesday was his worst game yet. Sanchez got rocked for six earned runs on nine hits and five walks in five innings of work. His season ERA sits at 6.00 and he has 16 walks in 27 total innings.

The early returns on the Nats rotation have not been great. Patrick Corbin is their only starter with an ERA below 4.00. But Sanchez has been far and away the weakest link.

The Nats closed out their road trip with a 2-4 mark. Both series were against teams with losing records. They have lost three of their past four series overall.

2. Adam Eaton also had a rough day. His worst moment was in the bottom of the third, when Raimel Tapia knocked a bases-clearing double over his head in right field. 

Eaton appeared to misjudge the ball by stepping in too far. He jumped in an attempt to make up for it with a leaping grab, only to have the ball sail past him and to the wall. Though Victor Robles sprinted over to back him up, Eaton made the play look even worse by giving up on it and doubling over with his hands on his knees in frustration.

Just one frame later, Eaton struck out with the bases loaded to end the top of the fourth. He went 1-for-5 on the day with his lone hit a single in the top of the ninth.

Eaton also had a minor injury scare. While running out a grounder in the first, he slowed down and appeared to be limping. He was then shown on TV chatting with trainer Paul Lessard in the dugout. 

3. Because this is the 2019 Nationals, the bullpen of course played a factor and once again it was an adventure for Trevor Rosenthal.

Per usual, he was pumping heat but with zero control. He began the eighth inning by hitting Charlie Blackmon and finished the frame with three runs allowed on two hits and a walk. Of his 31 pitches, only 16 were strikes and three were wild. 

Those three runs were costly because the Nats scored two in the ninth and left runners on the corners. If Rosenthal had pitched a clean eighth, it would have been a one-run game.

Rosenthal has allowed runs in six of his seven appearances this season. He now leads the majors with five wild pitches.  

Rosenthal remains one of the Nats' highest upside relief options, so it may pay off down the road if they show patience in him. But it continues to be a disaster just about every time he takes the mound.

4. It wasn't all bad for the Nats. Juan Soto, who fouled a pitch off his right ankle in Tuesday's game, played in this one and launched his fourth homer of the season over the right field fence. He also drew a walk.

Jake Noll made the first start of his MLB career and landed his first hit. He rifled a double down the left field line in the second inning to score Matt Adams. 

Noll started at third base, which was a bit of a strange sight. By now everyone knows of him as the guy who looks like Ryan Zimmerman; now he's playing his old position?

5. The Rockies got a key piece back in their lineup, a guy who is a familiar face to Nats fans. Wednesday was Daniel Murphy's return from a fractured left finger. 

The injury gave him a four-to-six week recovery timeline, but he came back a few days early. Perhaps that can be taken as a sign of hope for Trea Turner, who remains out with a broken finger himself.

Murphy did some damage against his former team. He singled in his first at-bat off Sanchez, then walked and scored in the third inning. He also moved a runner over on a lineout in the fourth that contributed to a run.

Murphy's best highlight, though, came in between innings when he barely avoided disaster while running onto the field during the Rockies' equivalent of the Presidents Race.

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