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Everything that could go wrong for the Braves this spring has gone wrong

CLEARWATER, Fla.-- In the competition for worst spring in Florida, there is a runaway winner: the Braves.

"Everything that could go wrong for them has gone gone wrong,'' remarked one competing executive.

Th Braves have followed their September collapse by beginning spring 2-10. But their troubles started even before the games began. Young starting pitcher Tommy Hanson suffered a concussion in a one-car accident on his way to spring.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is trying to look on the bright side. "I've seen a lot of good things,'' Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez did concede that the record isn't what they'd want, especially coming off a September swoon.

"We want to win, believe me. Winning is contagious,'' Gonzalez said. "But in spring training, I think health takes priority.''

Still, others are wondering aloud whether the Braves will be themselves this year. Only one team that's spent less on players over the last three years has won more games (the Rays). But their cost cutting may finally be catching up to them. They signed only one major league free agent this winter, and that was utilityman Jack Wilson for $1 million, and Wilson immediately blew out his Achilles.

One N.L. scout said he believes the Marlins and Nationals have now surpassed the Braves and that they look like a fourth place team, and a star player from the difficult division said the same thing.

Although, there have been two silver linings in the Braves' ultra-rough start to spring: 1) there have been no new season-affecting injuries, and 2) young prospects like pitcher Sean Gilmartin, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and third baseman Joey Terdoslavich, have played well.

But it's more than the losses. The disappointments and concerns are adding up, such as ...

-- Braves icon Chipper Jones suggested after starting 0-for-8 that he may be nearing the end. While he retracted his comment the very next day, Jones (now 1-for-11) hasn't looked like himself. His demeanor also hasn't reflected his nickname. Gonzalez said, "Chipper will be fine. He'll get it going. I'm not concerned about that.'';

-- Hanson finally pitched Sunday, but he appeared in a washed-out monsoon, lasting just one-plus inning;

-- Young lefthander Mike Minor has pitched brilliantly, with nine scoreless innings, but he needlessly dusturbed camp by suggesting he'd prefer to be traded if he isn't in the rotation. EARTH to Mike: You are in the rotation;

-- Kid shortstop Tyler Pastornicky was basically given the job to start spring, but he is threatening to make a race of it by starting 3-for-30. Simmons has outplayed him, and they are now saying the choice won't be made until the end of spring. Simmons is the flashier defender, but one N.L. scout said, "I see them both as utlity players.''

-- Former phenom Jason Heyward inspired worries with a slow start (he's at .194) but he's coming on now and had two extra-base hits vs. the Nats' pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday. Gonzalez said that while Heyward would have one good at-bat every "four or five'' at-bats early in spring, now he has four out of five productive at-bats;

-- Top young righthanded pitching prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are locked in a battle for the fifth rotation spot with ace Tim Hudson (back) out until May. But so far neither has dominated. Delgado has a 9 ERA, Teheran 11. Teheran had a game against the Tigers where he allowed six homers in two innings. That was one more home run than he allowed in 150 innings in Triple-A last year.

 
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