Bobby Cox, Bryce Harper and the Braves Philharmonic

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — I’ve done a good job so far today not cheering in the press box. Kris Medlen struck a dude out looking. Evan Gattis just thew out a would-be base stealer. Both of those things are usually worth at least a fist-pump from me when watching a game but I’ve been totally cool today. Yay me.

I did have a fun time wandering around this morning, however. I resisted the urge to go all Chris Farley on my favorite Braves players. I asked Jason Heyward what it was like facing Noah Syndergaard yesterday. He said “rough stuff” but then quickly added “first time I saw him,” so as to suggest it was the unfamiliarity as opposed to the great stuff he throws that was the difference. I spoke with Ryan Doumit about the catching contingent in Atlanta:

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The mix between old guys like Gerald Laird, himself on the one hand and the greener types like Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt on the other. For what it’s worth, he thinks Gattis is going to make a great major league catcher based on makeup and all of that.

Alex Wood was fun to talk to as well. We talked about veteran presence, spurred by my question about Tim Hudson being gone and everyone else on the pitching staff being young. His view: what we consider to be a “veteran” for veteran presence purposes these days is very different than most people probably think. It’s about who can give good advice and keep people loose, not about how many miles players have on their odometer. Kris Medlen, Wood said, was only 28, but he’s great for that stuff. There is no sense that the lack of any gray hairs — or in Hudson’s case, no-hairs — is going to be a problem.

Onto the field and a cloudy morning of batting practice and infield drills. The equipment bags were few and far between, but someone with the Braves set this up. I assume for my photo-taking benefit:

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And someone put this in the Braves dugout for my benefit too:

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I asked a Braves employee if, hypothetically, someone were to kidnap Fredi Gonzalez whether Bobby Cox here would be pressed into service. He did not answer. He was probably smart not to. Incentives are kind of a pernicious thing sometimes. They help set unfortunate events into action.

My attention was then turned to the field, where the Braves’ shortstops were taking grounders. Watch, and you’ll something you’ll rarely see over the next couple of years. Andrelton Simmons stone-cold dropping a ball:

No, he wasn’t actually fielding it as much as just farting around, but still. It was jarring.

The Nats showed up around 10AM. The first guy off the bus and out to the dugout and then the field? This guy:

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When he came to bat for the first time today Braves fans booed him. Probably because they think he’s some punk who needs to learn his place and all of that baloney you hear about Harper and Puig and other players like them. The fact that there appears to be zero that this dude does that is, to use the baseball term, horses**t, appears to work hard and have a good attitude is sort of lost on them. I guess that’s what first impressions do, but our first impressions of Harper came several years ago now, when he was painfully young. People need to realize that this is a legit major leaguer and solid guy, by all accounts.

As for the park itself? It’s OK. Not great. Not bad. But OK. It’s smack in the middle of the greater Disney area so I suppose it’s convenient for people who are already here. If you want to come just to see the Braves, however, you have to put up with Disney things whether you like it or not. It’s not like the place is all Disneyfied with Mickey Mouse and stuff, but I was just here in December for both a vacation with the kids and the Winter Meetings so I’m a bit over it. All the way down to the fonts on the signs and the scanners for your Mickey bracelets.

It’s pretty compact. You can park in one place and walk to the ballpark, the back fields and the batting cages. The park itself is pleasant in that it has two full decks, the top one overhanging the bottom, so there are a lot of good seats close to the field:

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In most parks the grass berm, if there is one, is limited to the outfield. Here it wraps all the way around to third base which is a nice touch:

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And finally, the Braves’ Philharmonic — their actual name — played before and during the game. Here they are doing “Little Brown Jug.”

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Later they played “Tequila.” It was quite festive.

As of now it’s the top of the seventh inning and I haven’t cheered or anything. I’ve been on my best behavior.

Joey Votto thinks he can win the Home Run Derby, but hasn’t been invited yet

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Despite having hit at least 20 home runs in eight of his 11 seasons in the majors, Reds first baseman Joey Votto has never participated in a Home Run Derby. Currently, he’s tied for the National League lead in home runs with 20, and he hasn’t been invited to this year’s festivities at Marlins Park.

In the event he is invited, Votto said he thinks he can win it, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto likened himself to Ichiro Suzuki, a player known more for his contact abilities and mastery of the strike zone than power. “Just think of me as the Canadian Ichiro — Japan has theirs and Canada has theirs,” Votto said. “I could pull homers into the seats at will.”

Along with the 20 homers, Votto is currently hitting .306/.419/.601 with 53 RBI, and 52 runs scored in 313 plate appearances.

Teammate Scott Schebler also has 20 home runs at the moment and Adam Duvall, who made it to the semifinals of the Derby last year, has 16. Neither of them have been approached about participating in the Derby, either. Per Rosecrans, in the event each was invited, Duvall said he would consider participating if he wasn’t an All-Star and Schebler would participate regardless. Votto said he would only participate if he made the All-Star team.

There was apparently some miscommunication between Pete Mackanin and Pat Neshek

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The Phillies won their first game since last Thursday, beating the Cardinals 5-1 on Thursday afternoon. Starter Aaron Nola pitched into the eighth inning, but left with one out. Pat Neshek took the mound with a runner on first base and induced an inning-ending double play on a 3-1 count to Tommy Pham.

Given that Neshek only threw five pitches and the Phillies were staked to a four-run lead, it wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable if the sidewinding right-hander came back out to finish the ninth inning as well. But Luis Garcia had that honor, tossing a scoreless final frame to nail down the win in a non-save situation.

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin said he asked Neshek to go back out for the ninth, but Neshek didn’t want to, per Stephen Gross of the Morning Call. Neshek told the media that Mackanin never asked him. There was also a miscommunication on Wednesday. The combination of Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, and Edubray Ramos combined to allow four runs in 2 1/3 innings, helping the Phillies lose 7-6. Neshek never appeared. According to Mackanin, Neshek told him that he wasn’t available to pitch. Neshek said he was told he’d have the day off.

The disconnect between Mackanin and Neshek could speak to a larger divide between the manager and his failing team. The Phillies have underwhelmed across the board due to players like Odubel Herrera (whose head was down and did not see Juan Samuel’s stop sign last night in what became a base running blunder), Maikel Franco, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola (today’s start notwithstanding), and Hector Neris not living up to expectations. The Phillies signed Mackanin to a contract extension last month, but the team has completely fallen apart since then and the latest communications issues certainly don’t reflect well on him. Neither does last night’s travesty of a game.

As for Neshek, he said that going to the Phillies was “the best thing that happened to me in a few years” but also realized, given the state of the team, that it remains very likely he winds up in a new uniform by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. After Thursday’s performance, Neshek is carrying a 0.63 ERA with a 25/4 K/BB ratio in 28 2/3 innings. He very well could be the Phillies’ lone representative at the All-Star Game in Miami next month. That is, if he’s still wearing their uniform. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Nationals have shown interest in Neshek.