By DICK SCANLON
The Associated Press
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Eager for a fresh start and armed with a new rotation, the Atlanta Braves started spring training with an air of confidence and optimism, especially for a team coming off a season of 93 losses.
“Hopefully this is not a rebuild,” said left fielder Matt Kemp, an early arrival on the day of the first organized workout for pitchers and catchers. “I want to win baseball games. I feel we can go out there and win, especially with these veteran guys we’re bringing in.”
Kemp, who came in a trade from San Diego at the end of July, was not around for the dismal start that doomed Atlanta to a last-place finish. The Braves had a winning record after the All-Star break.
The Braves signed the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, 42-year-old R.A. Dickey and 30-year-old Jaime Garcia to fortify their pitching staff, and traded for veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips on Sunday.
Manager Brian Snitker is hoping the Braves’ strong finish can carry over.
“It’s not going to hurt. Knowing what we’re capable of is going to be huge,” he said. “I told the guys this morning — we’re not here to get better, we’re here to win. Why shouldn’t we be?”
The three new right-handers, who combined for 92 starts last season, were brought in to give the Braves a chance to contend.
“We knew we needed some veteran guys we could get the ball to,” Snitker said. “It was the thing we really didn’t have last year because of injuries and trades and what not. We wanted guys we could bring in and give some time to the young arms that we have in the organization.”
Colon is the active major league career leader with 233 wins. Dickey, the former Cy Young Award winner, and Garcia figure to join Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz in the Braves’ rotation.
“If we all play up to our pedigree, it could be a special year,” Dickey said. “I’m not making any predictions, but being low on the totem pole sometimes is not a bad place to be at the beginning of things.
“As we get into the spring, we’ll see what all these names coming together will mean. But for right now it’s the same thing that makes spring fun every year, and that’s the hope that we can be really good,” he said.
Catcher Tyler Flowers, who has been around for only one of Atlanta’s three straight losing seasons, will spend the next six weeks learning how to handle the veteran pitchers, and Dickey’s knuckleball in particular.
“We’ve seen what they’ve done in the past and hopefully they can continue to duplicate those kind of numbers and success for us,” Flowers said. “But right now it’s time to just get to work and see what happens. You can’t really look at that big picture at this point. We haven’t really been on the field yet.”
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