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Braves drop spring game to Indians

POSTED: April 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — After snagging Javy Lopez’s line drive near his ear in the third inning, C.C. Sabathia got an earful in the dugout.

Even Cy Young winners need an occasional stern lesson in spring training.

Motivated by the pep talk from pitching coach Carl Willis, Sabathia settled down after giving up three runs in the first three innings and the Cleveland Indians beat the Atlanta Braves 6-4 on Friday.

Braves starter John Smoltz was held out of the game because of tightness in his shoulder.

Smoltz said he would have been available for a regular-season game. Said Cox after the game: "He’ll pitch; he’ll be fine."

As for Sabathia, his pitching coach’s message was loud and clear.

"(Willis) told me after the third inning to throw with more intensity, dial it up a little bit," Sabathia said. "The lasers going all over the park" were more hints he needed to pitch better, he added.

Sabathia blocked one of the Braves’ lasers, the liner by Lopez, by sticking his glove in front of his face at the last second.

Self defense?

"Definitely," said Sabathia, who pitched six innings, giving up three runs and eight hits.

Sabathia gave up three hits and a run in the first and three hits, including a run-scoring triple by Matt Diaz, in the third. The right-hander, who was 19-7 while winning the 2007 AL Cy Young Award, gave up only one hit in his last three scoreless innings.

Braves manager Bobby Cox turned to Jeff Bennett to replace Smoltz. Bennett, competing for a roster spot, gave up only two hits in three scoreless innings and left with a 3-0 lead.

Bennett’s best chance for a spot on the opening-day roster may be as a long reliever and spot starter.

"Guys like that for me are real valuable," said Cox, who planned to meet with his staff Friday night to make decisions on roster cuts.

Bennett helped his chances against the Indians, facing only nine batters. Asdrubal Cabrera reached on a first-inning single, but Jhonny Peralta hit into a double play. Franklin Gutierrez was caught stealing after his third-inning single.

Bennett threw only 36 pitches, 21 for strikes.

"I think they know this by now, if they need me to stretch out to five innings, I feel I could have gone five today if I had the opportunity," Bennett said.

"I told Bobby the other day I just want to put on a Braves uniform. I don’t care if it’s long relief, short relief, starting, whatever."

Bennett was called up by the Braves late last season and impressed in the first two starts of his major league career, allowing four runs in 11 2-3 innings.

The Indians took the lead with four runs in the fourth. Braves reliever Ryan Drese walked five straight batters. Cleveland’s only hit in the inning was a run-scoring infield single by Gutierrez.

Drese added another walk and hit a batter in Cleveland’s two-run fifth inning. Peralta had a two-run double in the inning.

Cox said Drese, who began his career with Cleveland and last pitched in the major leagues for Washington in 2006, normally has good control.

"It was one of those crazy days, I guess," Cox said.



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