Andrelton Simmons got to play in just two Grapefruit League games with the Atlanta Braves before heading off for the World Baseball Classic, but at least the slick-fielding young shortstop will get to continue his new role at the plate while away.
The 23-year-old native of the Dutch island of Curacao will bat in the leadoff spot for the Netherlands at the WBC -- just like he is penciled in to do for the Braves in 2013.
"The way the roster shapes up, there's really no other guy that we could give that opportunity," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
That really doesn't sound like a glowing endorsement, but Gonzalez feels that Simmons is very capable of hitting first in the order despite having only 49 major league games under his belt. Just don't expect him to work pitchers deep in the count.
Simmons likes to swing the bat and when he does he usually makes contact.
"I don't think he needs to change anything with the approach to be in the leadoff spot," Gonzalez said. "I think he's going to be in a good spot with all the veteran hitters behind him. I don't think he needs to do anything to compensate."
Simmons was as advertised defensively after being promoted from AA Mississippi last June and surpassed expectations at the plate.
Simmons hit .289 despite having his season interrupted by a broken hand. He posted a .335 on-base percentage with 12 walks to 21 strikeouts and had 13 extra-base hits while usually hitting eighth in the batting order.
With the addition of Justin and B.J. Upton, the Braves could have six players with 20 or more homers this season. But do they have an adequate leadoff hitter to replace Michael Bourn?
Simmons, confident beyond his years, is determined to win over the doubters.
"I like hearing the criticism a little bit. It drives me," he said. "So I'm going to show people I can lead off. I'm going to show people I can hit there."
Having a full Grapefruit League season with the Braves would have been beneficial, but Simmons felt that he had an obligation to play in the WBC. He left immediately after the Saturday game against the Yankees for the 20-hour flight to Taiwan and will likely be away from camp for about two weeks.
"I don't want to leave here, to be honest," Simmons said before departing Florida. "The games just started. But I guess I need to go. I want to go. But at the same time I don't want to leave."
LF Justin Upton's first homer in a Braves uniform against the Marlins' Scott Maine on Monday was believed to be the longest to left field at Champion Stadium, which opened in 1997. The towering drive sailed far over the berm and was estimated to have traveled at least 450 feet. RF Jason Heyward connected for his second homer in two days just before the blast in the fourth inning.
"That's everything I've got right there," said Upton, who had been 0-for-6.
It was a big day for the Braves' new outfield, which went 5-for-9 with the two homers and three RBI. CF B.J. Upton, Justin's older brother, had a double, single and stolen base.
Starters' streak snapped
LHP Mike Minor was the first Braves starter to be scored on when he gave up two first-inning runs while allowing three hits, two walks and throwing a wild pitch against the Nationals on Tuesday in the fifth Grapefruit League game. RHP Tim Hudson, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Julio Teheran and RHP Kris Medlin all had two-inning scoreless outings previously, with only Medlen giving up hits. Minor bounced back from his rough first inning, retiring the Nationals in order in the second.
Gattis serves notice
Utilityman Evan Gattis, used at DH, homered and doubled against the Yankees on Saturday, showing off the power that makes him so intriguing to the Braves. Gattis, 26, doesn't have a true position, but can play the outfield, first base or catch. The right-handed batter hit 16 homers in 53 games in the Venezuelan Winter League. "The biggest thing we need to figure out is, 'Where are we going to play him?'" manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Teheran off to good start
RHP Julio Teheran, in line to be the Braves' fifth starter, didn't allow a hit against the Pirates over two scoreless inning on Sunday in his first spring start. He did walk a batter and hit another while striking out two.
Teheran will piggy-back starts with LHP Sean Gilmartin, the Braves' first-round pick in the 2011 draft. Gilmartin also pitched two scoreless innings against the Pirates, allowing one hit and striking out two. Gilmartin will likely open the season at AAA Gwinnett, but is insurance if Teheran falters.
RHP Jordan Walden's first appearance for the Braves wasn't what he would have hoped. The former Angels closer gave up three hits, including a homer and double, in a four-run inning against the Yankees on Saturday. Only one of the runs was earned because of two Braves errors. Walden, acquired from the Angels in the trade of RHP Tommy Hanson, is trying to bounce back after missing about six weeks last year because of biceps tendonitis.
13 -- Strikes in 14 pitches RHP Kris Medlen threw while allowing two hits and striking out two over two scoreless innings against the Marlins on Monday.
Quote of note
"I think our rotation might fly a bit under the radar. I think we're better than what most people are giving us credit for. If everything goes well and everybody stays healthy, I think we potentially can be really good." -- RHP Tim Hudson