LaRoche still gets Braves laughing

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Typically stoic Chipper Jones had a look of excitement Friday morning when he came over and bear-hugged former teammate Adam LaRoche.

Atlanta Braves left fielder Matthew Diaz crashes into the wall while trying to catch Pittsburgh Pirates' Don Kelly's foul ball during the third inning of their spring training baseball game in Kissimmee, Fla., Friday. Watching from the Pirates bullpen are pitchers Matt Capps, and Franquelis Osoria, right.  Diaz missed the ball and was unhurt on the play.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Atlanta Braves left fielder Matthew Diaz crashes into the wall while trying to catch Pittsburgh Pirates' Don Kelly's foul ball during the third inning of their spring training baseball game in Kissimmee, Fla., Friday. Watching from the Pirates bullpen are pitchers Matt Capps, and Franquelis Osoria, right. Diaz missed the ball and was unhurt on the play.

Suddenly, Jones looked puzzled. The Braves veteran third baseman slapped the new Pittsburgh first baseman on the back and asked him, "Why number 96?"

LaRoche's head dropped for a second.

"I forgot my jersey," he said.

Jones laughed so hard he nearly fell down the visiting dugout stairs.

Some things never change. The likable goof lives on, even if he's in black, red and yellow now.

Players have said repeatedly that LaRoche is one of the best teammates they've ever had. That much seemed evident as a procession of Braves strolled over to greet LaRoche and wish him well. Even Atlanta team president Terry McGuirk walked over to say hello.

LaRoche was traded in mid-January for reliever Mike Gonzalez, who made his Atlanta debut Friday.

LaRoche hit 32 homers and drove in 90 runs last season, a breakout year. Gonzalez, the hard-throwing left-hander, was 24-for-24 in save chances last year as Pittsburgh's closer.

"Everybody knew they needed help in the 'pen," LaRoche said. "There's no hard feelings. It's part of the game."

LaRoche went 0-for-2, grounding out to second against John Smoltz and flying to center against former Screven County standout Macay McBride.

Smoltz threw LaRoche a knuckleball and then tried to hit him with a warm-up toss as a means of saying hi and good luck.

JOHNSON HIT, BUT OK: Kelly Johnson was taking some grounders during batting practice Friday when he took a shot to the sternum.

Pete Orr hit a ground ball that struck Johnson in the chest as he fielded fungoes from strength coach Frank Fultz.

After weakly getting up on his own and being helped off the field, Johnson told Cox he was OK and wanted to play in Friday's game.

QUICK HITS: Infielder Willy Aybar should join his teammates at camp today after missing a week and a half because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

Reach Travis Haney at travis.haney@morris.com.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/associated press
Atlanta left fielder Matt Diaz crashes into the wall while trying to catch a foul ball hit by Pittsburgh's Don Kelly on Friday. Diaz missed the ball and was unhurt on the play.

BRAVES WIN IN 10

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - John Smoltz said he's never felt more mechanically sound in his first spring start, and Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox was inclined to agree.


Smoltz threw two scoreless innings, striking out three in Atlanta's 5-4 victory against the Pirates. Of the 39-year-old veteran's 23 pitches, only four were balls - and one was a knuckleball he was goofing around with to former teammate Adam LaRoche.


"Smoltz threw really, really outstanding," Cox said.


Willie Harris scored on Martin Prado's fielder's choice in the 10th to break a 4-4 tie. Peter Moylan, who pitched scoreless ninth and 10th innings, picked up the victory for Atlanta, now 2-0 in Grapefruit League ball.


- Travis Haney

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deedac 03/03/07 - 09:58 am
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