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Diaz making his pitch for more playing time

POSTED: March 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.
The Associated Press/

Atlanta Braves left fielder Matt Diaz catches a fly ball from Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Jason Repko last week in a spring training game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Matt Diaz, a productive platoon player for the Atlanta Braves the past two seasons, is making his case in spring training for full-time duty in left field this season.

The right-handed hitting Diaz was 3-for-3 with a double in the Braves’ 12-5 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, raising his average to .458. He scored three times and drove in a run.

"Anyone wants to play as much as possible," Diaz said. "I’d love to be in there every game and see want I could do.

"I’m not going to stress about it. But, of course, I’d be happy if I was in the lineup opening day against a right-hander."

Playing mostly against left-handers, Diaz batted .338 last season after hitting .327 the year before. He’s averaged only a little more than 300 at-bats per year, however.

"We can use him regularly," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who wasn’t ready to commit to full-time duty for Diaz just yet. "I really think that he hits right-handers better than left-handers. But we’ll have to see (how things work out)."

While Diaz is making a strong bid for full-time duty, Scott Thorman is just trying to hold his spot with the Braves as a backup first baseman. He came into the game against the Cardinals batting just .125, but drove in four runs with a mammoth home run and sacrifice fly.

Thorman’s blast over the Braves’ bullpen in right field came off Jason Isringhausen with two on in the third inning. Making his second spring appearance, the St. Louis closer allowed three hits and a walk. He did strike out two in his one inning.

Tim Hudson pitched four innings in his third spring start for the Braves, allowing three hits. The Cardinals scored two runs in the first inning, but both were unearned as Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones committed back-to-back errors.

Hudson, who is 2-0 with a 2.00 spring ERA, walked two and struck out one. The veteran right-hander threw 61 pitches, 35 for strikes, and nine of the 17 batters he faced hit the ball on the ground.

"I felt real good," Hudson said. "I’m really pleased with how my changeup and curveball have come along."

Clay Mortensen, a supplemental first-round draft choice last year, got the start for the Cardinals when Anthony Reyes had to be scratched because of the flu. The former Gonzaga University standout gave up three runs in the first inning on three hits and two walks before a one-two-three second inning.

"A couple of ground balls got though and he got excited," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Mortensen. "Then he settled down in the second inning."

Peter Moylan, the Braves’ main setup reliever, pitched a perfect eighth inning, getting two ground balls and a strikeout. He hadn’t worked in more than a week because of a tender elbow.

"He said he felt 100 percent," Cox said.Notes: Braves ace John Smoltz pitched a simulated game for the third time on Sunday and will make his exhibition debut Saturday against Tampa Bay. He hopes to pitch five innings against the Rays. Smoltz threw 72 pitches Sunday. ... The Cardinals didn’t use the DH for the first time this spring, with Mortensen batting eighth against the Braves and drawing a walk from Hudson in the second inning. La Russa will bat his pitchers No. 8 this season. . . . Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro presented the Braves lineup to the umpires prior to the game and will serve as an honorary coach through Wednesday. ... Braves left-hander Chuck James, coming off a slight rotator tear, pitched batting practice for the third time Sunday and is schedule to start Thursday against Detroit. ... Adam Wainwright, a former first-round draft choice of the Braves, will start for the Cardinals today. Jair Jurrjens is the scheduled starter for the Braves. ... The Cardinals sent left-hander Ron Flores, third baseman Brian Barden and outfielder Amaury Marti to minor league camp after Sunday’s game.



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