Notes: Slimmer Bennett surprises Cox
Armed with sinker, righty to compete for spot in rotation or 'pen
ATLANTA -- Jeff Bennett arrived in Braves camp intent to impress and earn a spot in the starting rotation. But first, he had to reintroduce himself to manager Bobby Cox.
When Bennett produced two solid starts after a late September promotion last season, Cox provided some encouraging praise. But on Thursday afternoon, as Braves pitchers and catchers were reporting to Spring Training, the veteran skipper was among the many who didn't recognize the 27-year-old right-hander, who lost approximately 15 pounds during the offseason.
"I had no clue who he was," Cox said in reference to Bennett, who lost weight and added hair to his previously clean-shaven head during the winter.
When he saw Bennett, the always-thin Tim Hudson asked, "You trying to look like me or something?"
Bennett is definitely not the same guy he was when he went back to his native Tennessee during last year's International League All-Star break. In the seven months that have since elapsed, an improved diet and running program have allowed him to lose more than 50 pounds. He estimates he weighed 265 pounds last July and currently weighs about 210.
With the weight loss, Bennett has found more flexibility in his delivery. But another big reason he has had so much success since moving to a starting role with Triple-A Richmond late last year is the development of a sinker.
In eight starts (including playoffs) for Richmond, Bennett was 4-1 with a 1.74 ERA. This earned him his first career Major League start on Sept. 20, and he responded by limiting the Brewers to one run in 5 2/3 innings and getting the win.
"Once he added that sinker, it allowed him to get outs earlier and allowed him to pitch to the entire lineup," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "It changed the ways he pitches."
Bennett's success continued during the Venezuelan Winter League. In nine starts, he went 3-3 with a 3.09 ERA -- a number that becomes more impressive after learning he allowed 10 earned runs over 7 2/3 innings in his final two starts.
Bennett will compete for one of the rotation's final spots or a bullpen job as a long reliever.
"The way he threw last year, you have to consider him," Cox said.
Ohman happy to be a Brave: Will Ohman has no harsh words for the Cubs or the city of Chicago. But understandably, the left-handed reliever is excited about the fact that he no longer has to call Wrigley Field his home park.
Ohman, who was acquired from the Cubs in December, has a 6.63 ERA in 101 career appearances at Wrigley Field. In 119 career appearances away from the famous park, he has posted a 2.32 ERA and limited opponents to a .192 batting average.
"I never felt [not confident at Wrigley Field]," Ohman said. "I don't know if snake-bit is the right term, but it just seemed like it was consistently happening there. It was very strange.
"This is a good chance to get a fresh start and contribute to a winner. I had a feeling something was going to happen this winter. But I was definitely excited to find out that I was coming to such a great organization to play for Bobby Cox. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who has something bad to say about the Braves' organization."
Ohman is targeted to be Atlanta's primary left-handed reliever. Fellow southpaws Royce Ring and Jeff Ridgway, who have also been acquired via trade over the past seven months, are also competing for bullpen spots.
Clubhouse chatter: After casual conversation provided the revelation that he could serve as the emergency catcher this year, Matt Diaz talked to Javy Lopez about the times last year when he would catch some of Hudson's bullpen sessions. Hudson's wide array of hard breaking pitches can make things rather difficult for catchers.
Lopez got a sense of this at Turner Field earlier this month. But the veteran catcher, who is coming to camp as a non-roster invitee, was most impressed with the biting movement Peter Moylan creates with his sidearm delivery.
"If you can catch him, you can catch anybody," Lopez said of Moylan, who is targeted to serve as closer Rafael Soriano's top setup man.
Moss returns: After watching him throw at Turner Field the past few weeks, the Braves signed Damian Moss to a Minor League contract. The 31-year-old Australian southpaw won 12 games during his 2002 rookie season with Atlanta and has since battled numerous problems. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2004.
The Braves may choose to use him as an extra during some Grapefruit League games.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.