KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -This time last year Nate McLouth was hoping to avoid another season in last place. This year, he's poised to be the starting center fielder with serious championship hopes.
McLouth scored a run to lead off the first inning and help lead the Braves to a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, his former team. Kenshin Kawakami pitched two scoreless innings and struck out one in his spring training debut.
Second baseman Brooks Conrad had two doubles in three at_bats for Atlanta.
Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton, who was part of the deal that send McLouth to the Braves last year, allowed one hit and one run in two innings, but walked three. Reliever Brian Burriss walked four and gave up two runs for the Pirates and took the loss. Pirates pitchers walked 10 batters.
Andy LaRoche homered for Pittsburgh.
McLouth opened up the 2009 season with the Pirates but was traded to Atlanta in June for three players, immediately making an impact as the Braves everyday center fielder through the second half of the season.
McLouth said that he felt a complete change in atmosphere, comparing the Braves clubhouse to the one with the Pirates last year.
``It was tough in spring training last year,' McLouth said. ``Here, everybody is positive. I know (Pittsburgh) was trying to amass as much talent as they can get, but it was an atmosphere where everybody was uptight. You see so many things that are written negatively and it becomes tough to deal with. We tried to stay positive, but here with the Braves, everyone thinks they can win. It isn't always about next year.'
McLouth might be new in town, but at least he's getting to know his teammates, which wasn't the case in Pittsburgh.
``Even now I barely know any of their players,' McLouth said. ``Most of the players I was with in spring training last year are gone.'
He also said that he picked up some contact lenses during the offseason and compared his vision at the plate from going to a high-definition television from a standard one.
``I made the decision myself,' McLouth said. ``Nobody asked me to do it, but I noticed a difference the first time I stepped into the cage. I'm seeing it so much better now.'
Braves manager Bobby Cox said he also noticed a difference in McLouth's vision at the plate and predicted a big year for his center fielder, who started 151 games for the Pirates in 2008.
Cox was happy with Kawakami's first start of the spring. He's expected to join Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson in the Braves' formidable rotation. If any of them stumble, Cox said Jo-Jo Reyes, who gave up one run in two innings, could also start.
``Reyes was great today,' Cox said. ``Last spring he threw great. This spring he's been even better.'
Reyes was 0-2 in five starts for the Braves last season, but he might be Cox's first alternative if one of his starters goes down.
Morton wasn't pleased with the walks, but he said he's comfortable with his spring so far. Morton went 5-9 with a 4.55 ERA in 18 starts after the midseason trade and said he's still getting used to his new surroundings.
``It was tough to walk those guys in my first start, and I know I can't just shrug it off, but I have to,' Morton said. ``I was a little nervous today and I wish I had ice in my veins, but I just don't.'
Morton said now that the first game is out of the way he's ready to get comfortable.
``I am frustrated, yes,' Morton said. ``I wanted to go out the first time and get it done, but I have more chances to go.'
NOTES: Rookie Jordan Heyward went 0 for 2 but hit the ball solidly both times. He hasn't swung and missed on a pitch in three games. ... Cox said rookie Lee Hyde, who has never pitched in the majors, has been one of the highlights of the spring. Hyde got all three Pirates out in his one inning. ... Derek Lowe will make his spring debut at Walt Disney World Thursday against the Washington Nationals. He'll be followed by Todd Redmond, Takashi Saito, new closer Billy Wagner, Mike Minor, Mike Dunn and Jesse Chavez. Washington will start Miguel Batista.
The Associated Press News Service
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