Simmons game-ready after World Baseball Classic
Leadoff man homered twice, doubled on first day back with Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andrelton Simmons returned to Braves camp on Wednesday feeling confident that his World Baseball Classic experience prepared him for the intense settings he'll be presented with once the regular season arrives.
"There are still a few things I think I can work on," Simmons said. "But I feel game ready right now. So I should be good."
Simmons certainly appeared ready for the start of the season in his first game since he flew to Taiwan for the start of the Classic on Feb. 23. The 23-year-old hit a pair of home runs and doubled in Wednesday's 18-9 win over the Pirates at Champion Stadium.
"It's a nice start," Simmons said. "It's the way you would want to start. Hopefully I'm not wasting my home runs. Hopefully I still have a couple more. I'm seeing the ball good. Hopefully it continues. I still have some stuff to work on, but I feel pretty good right now."
While helping the Netherlands' Cinderella run to Monday's semifinal loss to the Dominican Republic, Simmons familiarized himself with the leadoff role he'll handle for the Braves this year. He hit .333 (10-for-30) with three doubles, two home runs and a .382 on-base percentage.
After Wednesday's game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was convinced Simmons completed all of his necessary preseason preparations while competing in the Classic.
"The biggest concern was coming back healthy," Gonzalez said. "But it wasn't like he was on vacation. He's getting his at-bats and getting his work in. He's in great shape. So that's a good thing. He's ready to go."
Drawing two walks in the Classic, Simmons provided a reminder that he does not take the patient approach of a prototypical leadoff hitter.
The Braves have assigned Simmons the leadoff role essentially by default. With no other logical choices, they simply want him to maintain his aggressive approach and put the ball in play as consistently as he did while hitting .289 with a .335 on-base percentage and 21 strikeouts in 182 plate appearances last year.
"I feel comfortable in that spot," Simmons said. "I pretty much did the same thing. I might have taken a couple more pitches early in the game. But once I got that strike, it's play ball again. I've got to hit."
Among the Braves who compiled at least 100 plate appearances last year, Martin Prado (10 percent) and Chipper Jones (11.4 percent) were the only players who struck out less frequently than Simmons (11.5 percent).
Simmons' Classic experience lasted longer than most envisioned. The Netherlands surprised some by advancing to Tokyo for the second round and then claimed a pair of wins over Cuba to earn a trip to San Francisco for this week's championship round.
"With people doubting the Netherlands so much, it was great to prove we have a pretty good team and we're capable of competing with the higher-ranked teams," Simmons said. "I didn't expect it to be that fun and I didn't expect the team to be that good. But I guess we worked well together."
Simmons helped secure his team's berth in the championship round with a game-tying, three-run homer in the eighth inning of a win over Cuba. Braves general manager Frank Wren and Gonzalez both said the shot into the left-field seats proved the young shortstop has the knack to deliver in clutch situations.
"I knew I tied the game as soon as I hit it," Simmons said. "When I was rounding third base and saw how excited everybody was, they transferred their energy to me. It was insane."
Simmons said the wins over Cuba were enriched by Victor Mesa's comments after his Cuba team lost the first matchup against the Netherlands on March 8.
"I don't think they're a very good team, to be honest," Mesa said through a translator.
Simmons said Mesa continued to incite former Braves outfielder Andruw Jones and some of the other Netherlands players when the two teams met three days later.
"With the Cubans, it got personal in the second game," Simmons said. "It got really personal. Their manager just ignited us. He was saying some stuff during the game. I don't know exactly what he said. But it wasn't pretty. Everybody was trying to beat him pretty much, not Cuba. Everybody was trying to shut him up."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.