If this had been a year or two ago, Braves pitcher Mike Minor might have shaken him off when a veteran catcher flashed the sign for a curveball or slider in some of the situations where Gerald Laird called for those pitches Saturday.
But Minor has matured and developed the confidence to make adjustments. Surely it also helps that his rotation spot is secure this spring, and he’s getting ready for the season rather than battling for a job.
The left-hander pitched four scoreless innings Saturday in a 2-1 Grapefruit League win against the Yankees, allowing three hits and two walks and working around a couple of fielding errors. Minor said Laird mixed in more pitches.
“We only threw maybe five change-ups,” Minor said. “He (called for) more sliders and curveballs than I usually throw, especially for the beginning of spring training. Spent the day just really working on that, and trying to work out of jams and attacking hitters.”
The Yankees had two base runners in each of the first three innings, and Jayson Nix led off the fourth with a two-base error on a pop-up that should’ve been caught by first baseman Chris Johnson or second baseman Dan Uggla.
Minor got out of trouble after giving up leadoff singles in the first and second innings and a one-out single in the third. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, in his first game since October ankle surgery, singled on Minor’s first pitch.
“I don’t think I had a clean inning,” Minor said. “But it was good just to work out of things. Had a couple of balls just land in no-man’s land, kind of just bumped heads out there. But I also had Uggs pick me up on one play, the double play.”
After Ichiro Suzuki singled with one out in the third inning, he stole second, and a distracted Minor walked Eduardo Nunez. Uggla leaped to catch Juan Rivera’s soft liner and threw to second for an inning-ending double play.
“I’m really enjoying so far in spring training watching Laird handle the pitching staff,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I’m glad that he decided to stay (Laird turned down an invitation to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic) because he’s done a good job handling those guys, making them work their pitches — (Julio) Teheran and Minor.”
Laird strained a calf muscle last week and played in only one of the past five games before Saturday. Gonzalez said he probably would rest him the next couple of days as a precaution.
“I’ve been ready to go; they’ve just been giving me some days off,” Laird said. “It’s just about wanting be ready to go for the season, since I’m going to come out of the gate playing quite a bit. As long as I catch everyone and get my reps this spring, I’ll be fine. I know what to do.”
The Braves signed him to a two-year contract after David Ross went to Boston as a free agent.
“That (veteran presence) was one of the characteristics we were trying to get from a backup guy,” Gonzalez said. “A guy who could catch and throw, handle a pitching staff, good clubhouse presence. He’s been all those things.”
Respect for Rivera: Laird played nine of the past 10 seasons in the American League and has a brother who spent five years in the Yankees organization. So Laird has a good perspective on Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who Saturday announced he’ll retire after the 2013 season.
“The most amazing part is he’s been so great for so long with just one pitch,” Laird said of Rivera’s cut fastball. “You know the pitch that’s coming, and you still can’t hit it.”
Rivera, 43, made his spring training debut with a perfect fifth inning against the Braves, getting Uggla to pop out before striking out Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, each looking.
Rivera has majors-record 608 saves and stunning 0.998 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning pitched). He also has a record 42 postseason saves and recorded two saves and a win in three appearances in the 1999 World Series defeat of the Braves.
“One thing you can say about him and Jeter,” said Laird, whose brother Brandon is a corner infielder who reached the majors with the Yankees in 2011. “In one of, if not the biggest market in sports, you never hear anything bad about them. Him and Jeter have just done it the right way.”
Etc.: Tyler Pastornicky tripled and scored on Uggla’s two-out single in the seventh. Pastornicky has seven hits in his past 14 at-bats and ranks among National League leaders in hits (12) and average (.419). Barring injuries, the infielder isn’t expected to make the Opening Day roster. … Bench candidate Jordan Schafer led off the ninth with a ground-rule double, his second such double in five days at Steinbrenner Field. He scored on Jordan Parraz’s sacrifice fly. … Tim Hudson starts Sunday (1:05 p.m.) against the Marlins at Champion Stadium.