Odds and ends: Simmons returns; Signs pointing toward Hudson for Opening Day

After spending the past month enjoying a great run through the World Baseball Classic with his Netherlands teammates, Andrelton Simmons returned to Braves camp in time to play shortstop and bat leadoff in Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Pirates at Champion Stadium.

The Netherlands Cinderella run through the Classic ended with Monday night’s semifinal loss to the Dominican Republic in San Francisco.  Simmons returned to the Orlando area on Tuesday and rejoined the Braves on Wednesday with a smile on his face.

“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 familiarized himself with the leadoff role while hitting .333 (10-for-30) with three doubles, two home runs and a .382 on-base percentage during the Classic.  His two walks during this span provided the reminder that he does not take the patient approach of a prototypical leadoff hitter.  <p>

“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.”  <p>

It’s no secret that the Braves have essentially given Simmons the leadoff role by default.  They want him to maintain his aggressive approach and put the ball in play as consistently as he did during last year’s rookie season.

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).

Opening Day starter: The Braves have not announced whether Tim Hudson or Kris Medlen will start the April 1 Opening Day game against the Phillies at Turner Field.  But it is starting to become more apparent that Hudson will get the nod.

Hudson will be scheduled to pitch seven innings on Thursday night and four or five  innings when he makes his final start of the exhibition season on Tuesday.  This would put him in position to make that Opening Day start with the one extra day of rest that Roger McDowell has given his starting pitchers leading into the past few seasons.

The Braves have not announced which pitchers will start the opposite ends of the split-squad games on Saturday.  Medlen could return on regular rest to start that game or start Sunday’s game.

If Medlen starts one of the split-squad games, he could make his final appearance of the exhibition season when the Braves conclude their Grapefruit League season next Thursday (April 28).  This would put him in line to enter the second game of the regular season on April 3 with one extra day of rest.

So while nothing is official, my best guess for the rotation leading into the season is Hudson (April 1 vs. Phillies) Medlen (April 3 vs. Phillies) Mike Minor (April 4 vs. Phillies) Julio Teheran (April 5 vs. Cubs) Paul Maholm (April 6 vs. Cubs).

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell could opt to break up their left-handers (Minor and Maholm) by starting one of them in the second game of the season.  But based on the current setup of the rotation, it appears Minor will go in the series finale against and Maholm will face his former Cubs teammates in his first start of the season.

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