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McCann returns for Braves
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. Brian McCann will use the rest of spring training to become familiar with Atlanta’s new starting pitchers. His swing is already set. McCann, who batted .333 for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, had singles in his first two at-bats as he returned to the Braves lineup Tuesday night in a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The three-time All-Star catcher was the only Atlanta hitter to have success against Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf, who allowed five hits and no walks in six scoreless innings.

The right-hander is in a three-way competition for the final two spots in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

Team USA was ousted in the WBC semifinals Sunday night in Los Angeles, and McCann didn’t waste any time getting back into action with the Braves so he could catch Javier Vazquez — one of three newcomers in the Atlanta rotation.

McCann caught Japanese veteran Kenshin Kawakami before leaving for the WBC, but he hadn’t worked with Vazquez or free-agent signee Derek Lowe. McCann will get a chance to work with Lowe on Thursday when the Braves play Toronto.

"There is still plenty of time before the season starts, so it won’t be a problem," McCann said. "I’ll get a chance to catch everyone a couple of times."

Despite the U.S. loss to Japan in the semifinals, McCann said he enjoyed the WBC.

Vazquez, acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox this offseason, also took part in the WBC and was impressive in his second Grapefruit League start for the Braves after going 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA for Puerto Rico.

The veteran right-hander struck out six in 5 2-3 innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk.

He yielded one run and four hits over 4 2-3 innings against Detroit in his previous start.

"I’m tired, but it felt good," said Vazquez, who threw 91 pitches. "I want to go a little longer in my next start."

That will give him more time to work with McCann.

"He has to get comfortable with me and I have to get comfortable with him," Vazquez said.

Ohlendorf pitched even better than Vazquez, who had three strikeouts.

"He used both sides of the plate and his breaking ball was better," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He was aggressive and he has to be."

Shortstop Brian Bixler had three hits and two stolen bases for the Pirates, who improved to 14-9 while dropping the Braves to 16-6.

"He’s had a very nice, solid spring," Russell said about Bixler, who struggled as a rookie. "He looks like a different guy this year."

Pittsburgh’s run off Vazquez came in the fourth inning. Craig Monroe doubled in Ryan Doumit, who had singled. Doumit added a second hit in the sixth inning.

Third baseman Chipper Jones, who has fought a strained muscle on his side most of the spring, returned to the Braves lineup but was 0-for-3.

Before the game, he joked to manager Bobby Cox, "Skip, I haven’t got a hit in a month."

That’s about right. The reigning NL batting champion’s last hit was a homer against the Pirates at Bradenton on Feb. 27. Jones was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts before dropping out of the WBC because of the injury.

Braves outfielder Gregor Blanco, who played for Venezuela in the WBC, had a two-run triple in his first game back. It came in the seventh inning off Pirates reliever Tyler Yates.

Notes: Atlanta outfielder Garret Anderson, sidelined most of the spring because of a strained calf, is expected to return to the lineup this weekend. ... Tommy Hanson, the Braves’ top pitching prospect, threw five hitless innings in a minor league camp game. He struck out eight and walked one. ... Santonio Holmes and Ike Taylor of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers threw out ceremonial first pitches before the game.

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