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Braves confident in Laird's ability to handle pitchers

TAMPA, Fla. -- Less than a week after David Ross signed with the Red Sox in November, the Braves signed Gerald Laird, a veteran catcher who possesses many of the same traits that made Ross a popular figure as Atlanta's backup catcher the previous four seasons.

Through the first few weeks of the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have become even more confident in Laird's ability to be a solid defender who can handle the pitching staff and serve as a strong clubhouse presence.

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"I'm really enjoying watching Laird handle the pitching staff," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm glad that he decided to stay here [instead of playing in the World Baseball Classic], because he has done a good job handling those guys and making them work all of their pitches."

Laird's decision not to play for Mexico in the Classic was influenced by his desire to get used to the pitching staff. While catching Mike Minor during Saturday's 2-1 win over the Yankees, Laird forced Minor to work on his breaking pitches and stay away from throwing too many changeups.

"He called a different game than [Brian McCann] would have called," Minor said. "It wasn't a bad situation or anything like that. It was just a little bit different, a little more backwards than I'm used to."

Laird has played in just five games this spring because of a left calf strain he sustained while going into second base during a March 2 game against the Astros. He returned to the lineup to make one plate appearance and play four innings against the Tigers on Thursday night.

During Saturday's win over the Yankees, Laird went hitless in two plate appearances and exited in the middle of the sixth inning. He will serve as Atlanta's starting catcher while Brian McCann misses at least the regular season's first two weeks recovering from right shoulder surgery.

"We are just taking it slow with [Laird]," Gonzalez said. "He felt great today and he felt great the other day. I'm probably going to give him a couple days before we run him back out there again with the calf. But it's good. He's fine."

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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