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Notes: Johnson catching on quickly

Notes: Johnson catching on quickly

ATLANTA -- As Kelly Johnson looks back on the first eight games of his career as a second baseman, he definitely feels satisfied. But at the same time, he doesn't believe he's been challenged with the types of plays that would provide indication of his capabilities in his new environment.

When the Braves parted ways with Marcus Giles, they tabbed Johnson to be their starting second baseman. Although, Johnson had never played the position, they were confident that his athleticism and dedication would allow him to make the smooth transition.

So far, it's safe to say that, defensively, Johnson has exceeded all of Braves manager Bobby Cox's expectations.

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"It's just really amazing," Cox said. "I've seen guys playing 10 years at second base who don't look like that."

Over the last week, Johnson has had a number of people approach him and commend him on the strong defense he's displayed. While appreciative, he gains the sense that the compliments are a product of the surprise individuals have gained while understanding that he didn't even begin learning the position until November.

Many of these same people wondered if Johnson would be a better candidate than the more experienced Martin Prado, who is currently playing for Triple-A Richmond.

"If it was Prado or [Giles] out there making those plays, there probably wouldn't be much made of it," Johnson said. "But because it's a new position to me, it's probably surprising to some people. ... Some of the plays, I don't feel are all that difficult."

Other than losing a pop fly in the sun in the sixth inning of the Opening Day win in Philadelphia, Johnson has been flawless. Entering Thursday night's game against the Nationals, he hadn't committed an error in 37 chances.

Johnson still hasn't turned a double play with shortstop Edgar Renteria. But during Spring Training, he turned one with third baseman Chipper Jones that caused Cox to say, "I don't know if I've seen a faster [turn] since Glenn Hubbard."

Hubbard, who currently serves as the Braves' first-base coach, was an adept second baseman during his playing career with the Braves and A's. Since November, he's ardently worked with Johnson, who began his Minor League career as a shortstop and then moved to the outfield in 2004.

Before Tuesday's game, Hubbard and Johnson worked on fielding slow rollers. As fate would have it, the 25-year-old second baseman would retire both Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns on slow rollers during Wednesday's victory over the Nationals.

"I just feel like I'm in the right spot and a good spot for me," Johnson said. "Hubby has been awesome. He's still going out there and working with me every day."

Gonzalez earns rest: After Mike Gonzalez contributed a second consecutive scoreless inning on Wednesday night, Cox told the left-handed reliever that he'd earned two days of rest. Unless necessary, he won't pitch again until Saturday.

Cox's decision had nothing to do with Gonzalez's elbow, which still appears to be quite healthy. Instead, it was made based on the fact that the reliever had made six appearances in a span of 10 days and, in the process, totaled 98 pitches.

Gonzalez's high pitch count was a result of the control issues he experienced last week. While allowing a run against the Phillies on April 4, he needed 22 pitches to record three outs. During his one-inning stint against the Mets three days later, he threw 24 pitches and allowed another run.

Since then, he's worked 2 2/3 scoreless and walk-free innings that have been much more efficient. While throwing a perfect inning against the Nationals on Tuesday, he needed just 14 pitches. Wednesday's scoreless inning consisted of 12 pitches.

Gonzalez, who missed all of last September with a tender left elbow, says he's starting to settle into a groove and hasn't felt any physical problems.

"I'm getting close to where I need to be," Gonzalez said. "I've got enough right now to get by. But it's coming good."

No concerns for Soriano: Watching Rafael Soriano surrender four straight hits and three earned runs in Wednesday's eighth inning was a bit of an oddity. In his previous 3 2/3 innings this year, the hard-throwing right-handed reliever had allowed just one baserunner, and that came courtesy of a walk.

"He was throwing hard, really hard, probably as hard as he's thrown all year," said Cox, who has been more than pleased with Soriano, who was acquired from the Mariners in December.

While Soriano had good velocity, his primary struggles against the Nationals were a product of his ofen inconsistent breaking ball. With the life he has on his fastball, he can often get away with only using his breaking ball as a setup pitch.

Hampton update: The Braves expect Mike Hampton to visit Turner Field sometime this weekend. The veteran left-hander, who had season-ending elbow surgery on Tuesday, has already told the club that he plans on pitching in a Winter League this year. He hasn't appeared in a Major League game since Aug. 19, 2005.

Coming up: The Braves will begin a three-game series against the Marlins on Friday night at Turner Field. They'll send Mark Redman (0-1, 7.94) to the mound to face Dontrelle Willis (2-0, 3.00).

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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