KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Paul Bako's .381 batting average this spring is nice, but not necessary.
Braves manager Bobby Cox is more concerned about Bako guiding a pitching staff that will be without catchers Javy Lopez and Eddie Perez when the season starts.
Lopez broke a finger last week, and Perez has been slow to recover from rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder.
Until they return, Bako will follow Cox's game plan: play good defense, and don't worry too much about the offense.
"He's our No. 1 guy," Cox said. "He does a great job. We're happy with him - his catching, throwing, he knows the league, game calling, stuff like that. I want him to hit, but I want to have a catcher who can work with our pitchers, and I know he can do that. Basically his hitting is just a bonus."
The Braves acquired Bako last season off waivers from the Florida Marlins. He appeared in 24 games with Atlanta, catching every pitcher except John Smoltz, who was recovering from elbow surgery.
Bako, drafted in the sixth round by Cleveland in 1990, says he accepts his role of keeping the position warm for Lopez, who will be out about three weeks.
"I'm just going to try to play solid defense and hopefully get some hits when we need them, and hold down the fort until Javy gets back," Bako said. "We all know Javy's a big figure in the middle of the lineup who's going to drive in some runs. We need to get him back as soon as we can, but in the meantime I'll go up there and play hard and do what I can do."
Bako's teammates, especially the pitchers, say they are comfortable with opening the season with him. Tom Glavine knows there's a dropoff from Lopez and Perez to Bako, but he's not concerned.
"I enjoy throwing to him," Glavine said. "He's a good receiver, calls a good game. He's very receptive to talking about situations and hitters, whether it be between innings or out on the field. He's very conscientious about things you want to try and do and how he can help you accomplish that."
Third baseman Chipper Jones said Bako was a wise acquisition last year, based on Atlanta's history with injured catchers. Lopez played only 65 games in 1999 after suffering a partial tear of a knee ligament.
"He's insurance. Our catchers have had a hard time staying healthy the last couple of years," Jones said. "He's a guy out of the three catchers we have who probably throws the best. He's kind of the happy medium between Eddie and Javy. Eddie's probably the best receiver, Javy's probably the best hitter and Bako is probably somewhere in between both."
Bako has been a good presence in the clubhouse as well.
"He doesn't say much, but it always seems he's right in the middle of the huddle where something funny's going on," Jones said. "He's a good dude. I think we're all pulling for him and wanting him to do well.
"Now he's going to be pressed into action, and we need him to do his thing out there on the field."
Monday's game against Kansas City was rained out. The Braves will play Montreal in Jupiter today, with Kevin Millwood scheduled to start. ... Monday's scheduled starter, Tom Glavine, will pitch today in a minor-league game in Kissimmee against an Astros' Class A team. Mike Remlinger and John Rocker are scheduled to follow Glavine. ... Atlanta optioned infielder Marcus Giles and left-handed pitchers Damian Moss and Trey Moore to Triple-A Richmond. The club also sent outfielder Corey Aldridge to Double-A Greenville.
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