Notes: No decision yet on left fielder
Langerhans, Wilson, Diaz in three-way battle for playing time
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With just two weeks remaining before the start of the regular season, Braves manager Bobby Cox still hasn't indicated how he plans to split time in left field among Ryan Langerhans, Craig Wilson and Matt Diaz.
"It's in good hands," Cox said, when asked about his left-field plans before the Braves beat the Indians, 6-0, at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex on Monday afternoon.
With Wilson destined to continue battling arthritis in his right shoulder, Cox may once again find himself utilizing a platoon with the left-handed-hitting Langerhans and the right-handed-hitting Diaz. The two shared the position after last year's All-Star break.
But Wilson certainly hasn't been ruled out of the mix. While playing left field on Saturday and again on Monday, Wilson hasn't been forced to use his arm to make a play. But while throwing the ball back to the infield, he hasn't shown that his arm would be a definite liability.
Diaz's only current ailment surrounds his pride, which has been shaken by the .216 (8-for-37) batting average he's compiled in Grapefruit League action. After diving to catch a ball against the Reds on Sunday afternoon, he left the game for precautionary reasons.
After evaluating his left shoulder on Monday morning, the Braves confirmed that he didn't suffer a significant injury. He could return to action on Wednesday.
"I'm sure it looked awkward," Diaz said. "But you've watched me for a year now. I do a lot of things that look awkward."
It's his lack of defensive grace that will limit the playing time of Diaz, who hit .327 with seven homers in 297 at-bats last year. He batted .385 against right-handers and .296 against left-handers.
Langerhans, who is by far the best defensive player of three left-field candidates, hit .308 in 39 at-bats against left-handed pitchers last year and just .232 in 276 at-bats against right-handers.
With Langerhans' recent struggles against right-handers, a strict platoon with Diaz may not be the best option. As for the right-handed Wilson, he's a career .296 hitter against left-handers and .253 against right-handers.
Langerhans' struggles last year were a product of his showing too much indecision at the plate. He has looked more aggressive while hitting .378 (14-for-37) this spring.
"He's hitting about .400 isn't he?" Cox said. "Looks good to me. He's hitting the ball hard. He's hit a hard .400."
James overcomes control problems: When Chuck James surrendered a double, hit a batter and issued two walks before recording an out in Monday's second inning, it looked like he was bound for trouble. But in the end, he managed to limit the Indians to four hits over five scoreless innings.
"I definitely was reminded why we have a pitching coach," James said. "I think we were working on something every inning, just trying to get where I didn't feel goofy throwing."
James, who threw just 42 of his 77 pitches for strikes, survived the third inning with the help of a two-out sliding catch by center fielder Willie Harris. Two innings later, the young southpaw escaped with runners left on first and second.
"I think the biggest thing was a lack of adrenaline because you know the games don't count," James said. "I'm trying to compensate for it, so I'm overthrowing, which throws off my mechanics a little bit."
Through 14 Grapefruit League innings, James has allowed four earned runs, issued six walks and surrendered 16 hits.
Rock solid relievers: When the regular season begins, Bob Wickman will most likely be the one ending games. But on Monday against the Indians, he began a streak of perfection that the Braves hope to see on a regular basis this season.
After Wickman tossed a perfect sixth inning against his former team, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez came on to provide further perfection in the seventh and eighth innings. In the regular season, Soriano and Gonzalez will serve as Wickman's primary setup men.
"The bullpen was just outstanding," said Cox, who also saw Chad Paronto register two strikeouts in a perfect ninth.
Soriano's performance, which included two strikeouts, was similar to the other impressive ones he's provided this month. As for Gonzalez, he'd indicated earlier this weekend that he was getting ready to round into the successful form that he's shown throughout his career.
Offensive standouts: Cox has joked that he can run about as fast as his All-Star catcher Brian McCann. Thus, it wasn't surprising to see McCann receive some ribbing after he drilled a stand-up RBI triple in the sixth inning on Monday.
"Wasn't it fun watching him round second?" Cox said of McCann, whose three-bagger hit off the top of the right-center-field wall and then shot back toward the infield.
Two innings later, Scott Thorman continued his recent offensive surge with a two-run homer, his first long ball of the exhibition season. With eight hits in his past 24 at-bats, the Braves first baseman has raised his spring batting average to .265 (13-for-49).
"It took me a while to get my swing thawed out," said Thorman, who still calls his native Canada his offseason home.
Injury news: Andruw Jones' sore right shoulder should be healthy enough for him to return to action on Wednesday. As for Chipper Jones, he'd like to play in Wednesday night's game against the Nationals. But Cox contends he'll wait until his third baseman feels absolutely no discomfort in his sore right oblique muscle.
Utility infielders Willy Aybar and Chris Woodward remain questionable for the start of the regular season. Aybar's sore right hand has kept him out since March 9, and Woodward's right calf, which had kept him out until Saturday, is still giving him some minimal discomfort.
As for Pete Orr, who is battling Aybar and Woodward for a roster spot, he was prepared to play on Monday. But Cox opted to heed precaution with the gritty utility man, who fouled a ball off his right shin on Sunday.
Back-field assignment: To keep himself on regular rest, Lance Cormier will start Tuesday's Minor League game against Detroit's Triple-A team. Also scheduled to pitch an inning in the game is Phil Stockman, who has seen a sore back and visa problems prevent him from appearing in a game.
Cox is looking forward to getting a look at Stockman, who in an injury-plagued 2006 season obviously provided an impression strong enough to earn strong consideration for a spot in Atlanta's bullpen. In 33 1/3 innings with Triple-A Richmond last year, the lanky Australian allowed just three earned runs, registered 41 strikeouts and issued 10 walks.
"[Stockman] was the No. 1 guy coming into camp to make the team," Cox said.
Coming up: The Braves will take a break from action on Tuesday, returning to action on Wednesday night when they travel to Viera to play the Nationals. Mark Redman will oppose Tim Redding. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 ET.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.