LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — This time last year, Billy Wagner was facing little leaguers in Virginia and recovering from elbow surgery. The former All-Star closer, signed by the Braves in the offseason, retired all three batters he faced Tuesday night in Atlanta’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies and said he felt comfortable for the first time this spring.
The left-hander was knocked around in his first appearance last week.
“I worked hard to get back,” Wagner said. “I was having a blast pitching to Little Leaguers. I didn’t even think about coming back until the Little League season was over. They told me I was done, so I wanted to prove that I wasn’t.”
Wagner vowed to return to the New York Mets and he did in August, pitching in two games before he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox. He closed out the season in Boston and went the free agent route to Atlanta. Wagner came into the spring with a new attitude. He decided to drop the intensity a few notches.
“This year I just want to relax and have fun,” Wagner said. “They already told me I was done. I never even thought about coming back because I was having so much fun with the Little League kids. We went 11-1.”
While he was working on his rehab at the nearby University of Virginia, he got the itch to pitch back again. He knew he wouldn’t be in New York long and balked at the trade to Boston where he served as a setup man down the stretch. He wanted to be a closer and the Braves were looking.
“This is a good fit,” Wagner said. “I can still pitch and once I get comfortable out there again in my normal role, I have something left.”
“Wags is looking great,” Braves manager Billy Cox said. “He’s off to a great start and we’re excited about him.”
Roy Halladay pitched three shutout innings and struck out five in his second spring appearance. Halladay was making his second start in a Phillies uniform since being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays during the offseason.