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Braves' Laird preparing to open as starter

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

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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.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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