ATLANTA — Gerald Laird is not letting anything interfere with his time getting to know the Braves’ pitchers.
Laird said he turned down an invitation to represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic because he needs to work with Atlanta’s pitchers the full spring training. He even reported for informal workouts with the pitchers this week at Turner Field.
Laird, whose mother is half-Mexican, signed a two-year, $3 million deal with Atlanta in November to be Brian McCann’s backup. Laird is expected to open the season as the starter while McCann recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
The Braves expect McCann to miss about the first two weeks of the season. Laird, who started 51 games for Detroit last season, wants to make sure he’s prepared for any length of time he’s asked to be the starter.
“I feel like I can bring a lot when the starter goes down,” Laird, 33, said earlier this week during his first day at Turner Field. “I feel like I can fill in for a couple weeks, a month, whatever it takes. I knew the situation. When (McCann) comes back he’s going to definitely help the ballclub. I can do whatever is needed to do. I can play every day, once a week or whenever they tell me to play.”
Laird said the spring training games will be crucial to the process of learning how to work with the Braves’ pitchers.
“It takes a little bit. Catching in the bullpen only helps so much,” he said. “That’s why when they asked me to play a little with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, I decided not to do it. If I was an outfielder, I might have done it.”
Braves general manager Frank Wren said team doctors likely will hold McCann out of action at the start of the season even if the six-time All-Star is hitting and throwing well in spring training.