Results tagged ‘ Braves ’

Beachy wins fifth spot

The Braves have optioned Mike Minor to Triple-A Gwinnett and informed him that Brandon Beachy will begin the season as their fifth starter.   Minor was informed of the decision Thursday morning. <p> 

“We just feel Brandon gives us a better chance to win right now,”  Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “It was a tough decision to make.”

Beachy began receiving congratulatory messages from his teammates shortly after arriving at the clubhouse Thursday morning.   

“Obviously I’m happy about it,” Beachy said.  “I’m excited about the opportunity.  Hopefully we can a few wins and I can be a big contributor to help us reach our goal.”   <p> 

Minor, the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has compiled just 175 innings in pro ball.  The 23-year-old left-hander has tremendous upside, but could seemingly benefit from having a chance to spend more time refining his curveball and changeup.

“We just told him to go down and stay ready because you never know when you’re going to be needed,” Wren said.

Minor said he was simply happy a decision had been made.  Last week, he seemed to be preparing himself to the possibility he would begin the year in the Minors.

“It’s going to be a good,” Minor said. “I just wanted an answer and today I got it. Now I can focus on getting ready for the season at Triple-A. It’s going to be good for me to work on my curveball and hopefully go back up when I have all three of my pitches going and be able to spot them up.”   <p>    

Beachy, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008,  has made a meteoric rise after beginning last year in Double-A Mississippi’s bullpen.  He made three strong starts for Atlanta at the end of last year and has shown great command during Spring Training.

“To be in this situation to break with the team, it’s awesome,” Beachy said.  <p>  

Uggla and Gonzalez gear up for Fish

Welcome back to Disney for the resumption of the Grapefruit League schedule.  After enjoying their only offday during Spring Training, the Braves will return to action this afternoon to play the most important game Disney has ever hosted in March. 

Forget about that Domincan Republic-Venezuela game in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.  This afternoon’s matchup against the Marlins is much bigger for former Fish Dan Uggla and Fredi Gonzalez. 

In fact the Braves called a closed door team meeting this morning and sources have said Uggla went all Chris Brown on some bathroom mirrors after this video was shown.

Truthfully, these Marlins-Braves matchups will truly mean a little more once the season arrives.  In fact, today’s game appears to be a sidebar to the other events unfolding here today.

Luis Salazar returned to camp this morning for the first time since March 9, when he was hit with a foul ball and suffered injuries that cause him to lose his left eye last week.  Per his Twitter account (@LV_Ware) Minor League outfielder L.V. Ware said, “Just seen Luis Salazar & he is good spirits.” 

Salazar is scheduled to talk to us around 10 a.m. It’s remarkable that he is able to do all of this just two weeks after enduring a traumatic experience that could have ended in a much more tragic manner.  

Check MLB.com and braves.com later this morning for a report.  You can also follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman.

There will also be some attention pointed in the direction of Tommy Hanson, who is scheduled to throw six innings against a group of Braves Minor Leaguers this morning.  Because Hanson’s back was a little sore, the Braves pushed this start back two days.  No big deal, but it will be interesting to see what the big redhead says after this outing. 

With the end of the exhibition season one week away, there are still some questions to be answered.  It’s still not clear who will win the last couple spots on the bench?  I’ll stick with Ed Lucas and Brooks Conrad as my guesses. 

Once Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor make their scheduled starts this weekend, there might be more clarity about which will be named the fifth starter.  But for now, I’m sticking with Beachy.  If you want to see my argument against Minor go back to a number of different blogs posted throughout Spring Training.  The short of it is, he needs more time.

The Braves also need to fill the final spot in their bullpen and as time has passed it has seemed less likely that Scott Proctor will fill it.  Cristhian Martinez has emerged as a favorite because he can work multiple innings and serve as the “swing guy” in the pen.  But Jairo Ascencio, formerly known as Luis Valdez, has been making multiple-inning appearances and looking like the more impressive option. 

Before I wrap up this morning, I have to ask how many of you would have provided the same response I did when my wife was telling me the “special” numbers she had chosen for last night’s Mega Millions drawing. 

Of course if they were so “special”, I wouldn’t be composing this blog and getting ready to watch the Braves and Mets play today. Sorry it’s just become habit to write that.  It’s still the Marlins this afternoon. 

Anyhow, when she asked me to guess which numbers she had selected, I correctly guessed “1″ because she was born in January.  Then after I guessed wrong with a couple numbers, she said “29″ and I responded with “John Smoltz?”

After going silent for a few minutes, she said, “I can’t believe you would say that? Do you not remember we got married January 29?”

It didn’t work when I attempted to save myself by saying, “Funny you should mention that.  I was watching old footage of Smoltzie the other day and every time I saw his jersey number, I thought about our anniversary date.”   

Roster battles still being waged

Welcome to the final full week of Grapefruit League action.  Or as those who came to camp hoping to win a roster spot might say, welcome to the one week that truly matters during Spring Training. 

The past month has certainly been important to both Chipper Jones, who has gained confidence in his knee, and Nate McLouth who has simply proven that he does once again have confidence in himself.

The early weeks of the exhibition season have also proven beneficial to Wilkin Ramirez, the extremely athletic 25-year-old outfielder who went from being a respected prospect in the Tigers organization to a player that they were willing to part with for a little cash. 

Those who have only had a chance to evaluate Ramirez based on what they’ve seen in the box scores this year are understandably excited about the 25-year-old outfielder.  But is there really any reason to put much difference in the .310 batting average he’s compiled and the .207 mark Matt Young has recorded.

Both players have compiled 29 at-bats.  Ramirez has just been fortunate to tally three more hits during this short span.

Most of you were already well aware of the fact that there is no reason to put stock in exhibition season stats.  With this being said, I do recognize that the Braves would have certainly liked to have have seen Joe Mather tally more than the four hits he has compiled in his first 36 at-bats.

But because he’s already on the 40-man roster and out of options, I still feel it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be on the roster.  

In the exhibition season-setting, you have little control over which pitchers the batters face.  Once the regular season begins, Mather will be in a position to draw most of his at-bats against the left-handed pitchers that have been much friendlier to him than right-handed pitchers in the past.

I’m also still thinking Brooks Conrad will get one of the final available bench spots.  The Braves need his bat off the bench and they can get by with using Mather in center field if necessary. 

Conrad is beloved in the clubhouse and respected by members of upper management.  If there was legitimately a better alternative, it would be much easier to send Conrad to Gwinnett to begin the season.

But even with Ramirez impressing with his great athleticism and having the ability to serve as  legit backup option in center, I still expect Conrad to get the nod simply based on the fact he proved productive in the role last year. 

Meanwhile Ramirez combined to hit .234 for three different Minor League clubs last year.  This is not to say he doesn’t have tremendous upside and could possibly be in the Majors within the first couple of months.

But Ramriez seems to be in a position where he could benefit from a little more time in the Minors.  When the Braves acquired him last year, scouts labeled him as an extremely talented player who has had trouble hitting the breaking ball. 

While I’m still thinking Conrad will get one of the two final bench spots, I really don’t know whether it will be Ed Lucas or Diory Hernandez who gets the other one. 

Last week, I thought they might go with Lucas and I will stick with that belief because he could be used in the outfield if necessary.  This becomes even more important with the assumption that Conrad will be on the roster instead of Ramirez or Matt Young.

I’ll take a closer look at the final available pitching spots over the next couple of days.  But if pressed for a guess right now, I’ll stick with Brandon Beachy winning the fifth spot.  

My reasoning for Beachy hasn’t changed. The Braves paid Mike Minor a big bonus and his upside is tremendous.  Thus with just 134 career Minor League innings under his belt, the Braves need to maximize their investment by giving Minor another month or two in the Minors to work on his secondary pitches. 

Some of you will say the Braves need a left-hander in their rotation to start the season.  That’s fine, but I think it’s more important to do whatever necessary to increase the odds that you will get the most you can from Minor. 

As for that final bullpen spot, I think Cristhian Martinez is the clear favorite.  Scott Proctor struggled Thursday night and simply isn’t able to provide as much as Martinez, whose value rests in his ability to serve as both a middle man and long reliever.

The Braves will likely trade to Proctor over the next week.  If they are unable to move him, they could release him by March 28 and only have to pay a fraction of his one-year, $750,000 contract.  

 

 

Chipper remains hot and Heyward exits in pain-free fashion

Chipper Jones drilled his third homer of the exhibition season and Jason Heyward gave pretty good indication his back is sound when he turned on a Todd Coffey pitch and deposited in the Braves bullpen beyond the right field wall. 

With Freddie Freeman adding his first homer, Thursday was a good night for all of the Braves not named Scott Proctor, who is certainly no longer a favorite to win the final spot available in the bullpen. 

While allowing five earned runs and three hits in just two-thirds of an inning Thursday, the veteran right-handed reliever struggled to command his breaking ball and gave further reason to believe Cristhian Martinez will end up winning that last available spot in the bullpen. 

The Braves signed Proctor to a one-year, $750,000 contract in November.  But because he was  still arbitration-eligible when he signed, they could release him within the next few days and only pay a portion of his salary.

Before we look at post-game comments made by Jones and Heyward, I figure some of you might want to know why right-handed reliever Stephen Marek was among the eight players cut from Major League camp Thursday. 

Marek allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings this exhibition season.  He impressed the Braves coaches but also showed some room for improvement while issuing five walks. 

” During a Major League season, you will need pitching,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You don’t end with the same 12 (pitchers) you leave Spring Training with.  For me, I’d feel comfortable with him pitching in a Major League game right now.  He’s a big piece of this organization and I think we’ll see him in the Major Leagues.” 

Heyward returned to the lineup Thursday after missing five games because of back discomfort.  A Braves doctor looked at an MRI from 2009 and informed the 21-year-old outfielder he needs to stretch more frequently to make up for the fact he has less cartilege between his discs than the normal human being. 

He also has more muscles than the average human being. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much.

Anyhow, Heyward didn’t feel any discomfort during Thursday’s game and seemed to be at full strength when he smacked Coffey’s changeup into the Braves pen.

“I know I’m not as loose as I’m used to being,” said Heyward, who had missed the previous five games with back discomfort.  “But it didn’t bother me.  I know it’s still there.  I’m not 100 percent, but I’m heading in the right direction. ”

I know that we’ve all reported that Jones had his left ACL repaired last August.  But the way he’s been playing the past couple of weeks, I’m thinking he underwent some kind of surgical procedure that made him feel younger.  

Jones highlighted Thursday’s two-hit performance with his third homer of the exhibition season –  a fourth-inning leadoff shot to dead center.   He has nine hits, including four doubles and two homers, in his past 15 at-bats. 

But whether he was playing with a surgically-repaired knee or just one knee, we kind of figured Chipper could come down here and hit the likes of Yunesky Maya.

More impressive Thursday night was the mobility he showed with his defense.  He charged Mike Morse’s slow roller, barehanded it and made a strong throw to end the third inning. Later he showed quick reflexes when he pushed off his surgically-repaired left knee and snared Jesus Flores’ seventh-inning liner. 

“I’m not even thinking about the knee because it’s not an issue,” Jones said. “I have no pain in the knee whatsoever.  I would love to really open up and go from first to home on a double while I’m down here.  I feel like I turned a corner about 2 1/2 weeks ago with my knee.  I’m just really excited to get this season started, right now…right now.” 

   

My prediction: Conrad and Lucas will be on OD roster

Welcome back to Disney, where Tim Hudson will finally introduce himself to the home mound against the Mets, who have become familiar with the Braves this year.  This marks the fourth time these clubs have met and we’re just 15 days into the exhibition season. 
 
After tonight’s game, I’m going to head back to Atlanta to spend a couple days reintroducing myself to my wife and kids.  Before heading out, I figured I’d stir some debate by projecting which position players might fill the final available roster spots.  

With the assumption that Joe Mather, Eric Hinske and David Ross are all assured spots on the Opending Day roster, the Braves seemingly have to fill just two of the 13 spots reserved for position players. 

Brooks Conrad, Matt Young, Diory Hernandez, Ed Lucas and possibly Jordan Schafer seem to be the top five candidates fighting for this spot.  Before going any further, I’ll say that my position hasn’t changed with Schafer.  I still think it’s in his best interest and the club’s best interest that he goes to the Minors and plays on an everyday basis for at least a couple of months. 

Also, there is obviously a need to have a backup for Alex Gonzalez.  With Hernandez and Lucas standing as the only candidates capable of playing shortstop,  I think one of them is assured of being on the Opening Day roster.

For whatever it’s worth, Lucas and Hernandez have both hit around .400 through 20 at-bats this exhibition season.  .

Lucas was drafted as a shortstop out of Dartmouth in 2004 and started becoming more of a utility player the next year.  The versatile 28-year-old player has played every position (except catcher) at least once in his professional career and he’s actually spent the most time at third base (361).  He has played just 115 games at short. 

Hernandez has played shortstop in 449 of the 655 games he’s played professionally.  He has played 77 games at third base and has made just one appearance as an outfielder.

Given the lack of upper-level shortstop depth the Braves have had the past couple years, not a whole lot should be made of the fact that Hernandez has been the one who has continued to play shorstop on a regular basis.  

Just because I think Lucas has the potential to provide more with his bat, I’m going to predict he wins this battle against Hernandez. 

The battle between Conrad and Young might have been even more interesting had Young been a right-handed hitter. 

The Braves really like Young and he would stand as the legit backup centerfielder they don’t currently possess.  But the club really doesn’t need another left-handed bat on the bench and if necessary, Mather could play center. 

Thus, I’m going to say the switch-hitting Conrad gets that last roster spot.  He has recently attempted to make himself more marketable by taking grounder at first base.  He actually played the position during last Wednesday’s “B” game against the Cards. 

Obviously adding the ability to play first base to his resume isn’t going to get Conrad the job.  Instead, he’ll end up getting this role based on the fact that he’s already proven capable of handling it in impressive fashion.  

Forget about the defensive miscues he made when forced to serve as an everyday player and remember how many times Conrad’s bat proved clutch coming off the bench last year. 

    

Encouraging news for Salazar and Kawakami

There was some encouraging news coming out of Braves camp Friday morning as GM Frank Wren revealed Luis Salazar is communicating with his family and already talking about returning to work. 

There was also some relief when Kenshin Kawakami revealed that he exchanged email messages with his family in Japan.  Through his translator, he indicated that all of his family members are safe.  

While Kawakami’s family lives on the southwestern coast of Japan, former Braves reliever Takashi Saito’s hometown is located near the northeast coast, in proximity to the area that was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami this morning. 

MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reported Saito has contacted his wife and children. But as of late Friday morning, he still hadn’t contacted his parents.

Kawakami made the trip to Tampa this morning to make his scheduled Grapefruit League season debut.   He is scheduled to pitch two innings. 

The Braves announced Anthony Varvaro will pitch in place of Eric O’Flaherty today.  It’s unknown why O’Flaherty didn’t make the trip. 

After his club returns to the Orlando area tonight, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is going to attempt to visit Salazar.   Braves president John Schuerholz visited the injured Minor League manager this morning.  

“He’s doing much better,” Wren said. “He’s visiting with his family and he’s eager to get back to work.”   <p>

The Braves aren’t ready to reveal when Salazar might return to his role as Class A-Advanced Lynchburg’s manager.  Wren and his staff are just encouraged that doctors have told them that they don’t see why he couldn’t handle the role once he gets healthy.  

Since being struck with a foul ball that knocked him unconscious before he hit the rubberized floor of the dugout Wednesday, Salazar has undergone at least two surgeries.  One attempted to repair some of the facial fractures he suffered and the other, performed yesterday, focused on repairing his left eye. 

There has been some fear Salazar will not regain vision in his left eye.  But it doesn’t appear doctors will actually know the full extent of the damage until after performing another surgical procedure on the eye this weekend.

“They’re still evaluating the eye and they’re going to have another surgery this weekend,” Wren said. “We won’t have any other comment until after that surgery.  But he is making good progress.”  <p> 
 

McCann returns to camp

Here are a couple of tidbits to devour before the Braves and Cardinals play this afternoon: 

Brian McCann was anything but his usual self when he arrived at Champion Stadium this morning.  He was obviously relieved that he had the opportunity to interact with Luis Salazar at the Orlando Regional Medical Center last night.  

But at the same time McCann was still shaken up about hitting the foul ball that provided a near fatal blow to Salazar Wednesday afternoon.  Click here to read more about McCann’s thoughts about this situation. 

There were no updates on Salazar’s condition Thursday.  It appears he incurred significant damage to his left eye.  The significance will be revealed within the next couple of days.  

MLB.com’s Greg Johns reported Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has left camp and flown to Florida with his wife Vivian, who is Salazar’s daughter.

As Braves general manager Frank Wren said, it was tough to focus on yesterday’s game after Salazar got hit.  But this morning, a handful of scouts were raving about what they saw from Arodys Vizcaino.  

The Disney scoreboard clocked one of  Vizcaino’s fastball at 101 mph and a couple of scouts agreed with that reading.

When one of these scouts was told an American League scout had the young right-hander topped out at 97 mph, he responded by saying, “he did throw a couple of fastballs that were 97 mph.” 

Over the past two weeks, I’ve heard at least two people say they believe Vizcaino will end up being a closer.  With his live fastball and the potential he has with his curveball, he could seemingly be very intimidating in this role. 

Earlier this week when I mentioned Vizcaino needed to find a little more consistency with his breaking ball, a fan told me I needed to check my reports or at least update them. 

When I asked one evaluator, he described Vizcaino’s curveball as filthy. Two others have shared my belief that his arm action is slower with his curveball than it is with his fastball.

Regardless of which of these assessments you share, this kid has plenty of time to become even more impressive than he has been during his first Major League camp.  He won’t even turn 21 until November. 

With this being said, don’t be surprised if Vizcaino and Brett Oberholtzer are among the players cut from big league camp this afternoon.  This is the time of year, where clubs need to make sure they have enough available innings for their Major Leaguers and high-level Minor Leaguers. 

  

Kimbrel gets back on track

Like many of the other members of the “A-List” Yankees, Cameron Diaz didn’t make an appearance at Disney this afternoon.  But a couple blasts from the past — Tom Glavine and Craig Kimbrel’s smile  — were spotted on the grounds at one point today. 

Looking back on this afternoon’s 5-4 loss to the Yankees, the most encouraging development was obviously the perfect ninth inning tossed by Kimbrel.  Yes, it was against three Minor Leagers and no, it wasn’t exactly picture-perfect dominance. 

But this was the kind of clean outing Kimbrel needed to gain some of the confidence he was unable to gather in his first three appearances.  Also in the process of the blanking the Yankees, the young reliever might have gained a feel for his curveball, which he struggled to command in his first three outings. 

Kimbrel threw just two curveballs and they came in succession to start Doug Bernier’s at-bat.  But it was obvious the young hurler was encouraged when he described the first pitch breaker to Bernier as “probably the best curveball that I’ve thrown all Spring.” 

Kimbrel’s fastball touched 96 and after missing the strike zone with his first three pitches, he found adequate command and finished the outing in clean fashion.

As long as he starts to consistently command his curveball, Kimbrel should be fine.  Jonny Venters is likely capable to handle the closer’s role. 

But to be at their best, the Braves need Kimbrel to take care of their late innings with the  dominant form he had last year. 

Jair Jurrjens certainly wasn’t impressive while allowing four earned runs and six hits (four in a span of six batters) in four innings today. But he and Fredi Gonzalez believe he might have been predictable with either his delivery or pattern of pitches. 

The Yankees recorded four stolen base attempts in Jurrjens’ four innings.   Jurrjens said he might have become too predictable by only throwing offspeed pitches with a 1-1 count.

Whatever the case, Jurrjens has plenty of time to make necessary changes, whether mechanical or strategical, to protect against the running game.  But he might need to make some changes to whatever has caused him to allowed nine hits and six earned runs in the seven innings that have encompassed his past two starts. 

Jurrjens said he the ball felt better coming out of his hand Tuesday and the radar gun seemed to confirm with readings that rested around 90-91 and topped out at 93 mph. 

There shouldn’t be much concern about Jurrjens.  When he needed to win a roster spot before the 2008 season, he was sensational in the exhibition season.  But about six months before he ended the 2009 season with the NL’s third-best ERA (2.60),  I remember seeing him get hit around the yard in a simulated game by a couple of 19-year-old kids named Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.

That’s all for today.  See ya tomorrow.     

Fredi sends Huddy to the mound to face his former Fish

Welcome back as Tim Hudson resumes his tour of Florida.  After making his debut on the Gulf Coast last week, Hudson has positioned himself just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean to start against the Marlins this afternoon. 

Of course, Hudson is essentially just a part of today’s undercard.  There’s a lot more attention being placed on Fredi Gonzalez, who will be matching up against the Marlins for the first time since the club fired him in June. 

But with Gonzalez saying he has no hard feelings toward the Marlins, today’s most interesting angle might center around the exhibition season debut of Julio Teheran, the highly-touted 20-year-old right-hander who ranks as MLB.com’s 10th-best overall prospect.

Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez is among the many who have been amazed at the command that Teheran is showing at such a young age. 

As mentioned a couple weeks ago, Perez says Teheran and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer are the two pitchers that have impressed him the most in camp.

It’s no surprise that he would pick these two hurlers, known for their pinpoint control. The man will always be able to say that he sat behind the plate more than any other catcher when Greg Maddux was standing on the mound.

Arodys Vizcaino, who tossed a scoreless ninth in yesterday’s win over the Nationals, has also made a good impression during the early portion of this Grapefruit League season.

Entering camp, it seemed Diory Hernandez was a lock to begin the season as one of the utility infielders.  But Ed Lucas has at least kept things interesting while recording six hits (all singles) in his first 13 at-bats.  Hernandez has been equally impressive, with five hits, including two doubles and a triple, in his first 11 at-bats.  <p> 

Lucas is at second base and Hernandez at short for this afternoon’s game.  This battle might come down to who proves more valuable from a defensive standpoint, especially at the shortstop position.

Check braves.com later to read about Teheran’s outing and Fredi’s thoughts about managing against the Marlins.  Former Brave and current Marlin Wes Helms said he felt getting fired last summer was the “best thing that could have happened” to Gonzalez. 

BRAVES LINEUP
Prado 5
McLouth 8
Heyward 9
McCann 2
Hinske 7
Freeman 3
Lucas 4
Hernandez 6
Hudson 1 

  

 

Odds and ends from Viera

With the rain clouds currently in the distance here at Space Coast Stadium, Jason Heyward is preparing to prove he’s no longer bothered by the left groin discomfort that sidelined him the last three games. 

In addition, Chipper Jones is prepping to clear his next hurdle by playing third base for a second straight day.  When the Braves travel to Jupiter tomorrow to play the Marlins, Jones will rest his surgically-repaired left knee.

After Tommy Hanson completes his scheduled three innings against the Nationals this afternoon, Arodys Vizcaino will throw at least one inning.  The 20-year-old right-hander’s fastball was clocked around 95-97 mph as he tossed two scoreless innings against the Red Sox last Wednesday. 

It’s remarkable that Vizcaino is registering this kind of velocity when just last summer he seemed destined for Tommy John surgery. 

Earlier this week, a National League scout said he feels Vizcaino will be a reliever at the Major League level.  It remains to be seen whether this proves to be a sound projection. 

But for now, the Braves will simply continue to count themselves lucky to have Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran at the same time. 

Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said Teheran will likely pitch in Monday afternoon’s game against the Marlins.  The 20-year-old right-hander, who is rated MLB.com’s top pitching prospect, has seemingly overcome the back spasms that bothered him last week.

While Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino get most of the attention, multiple coaches and members of management has spent the past couple weeks saying, “Don’t forget about Brett Oberholtzer.”

Oberholtzer really impressed with the control he showed while tossing a pair of scoreless innings against the Nationals Friday. 

During September’s Instructional League, Nationals phenom Bryce Harper victimized Delgado with an opposite-field homer that traveled an estimated 400-plus feet. 

One scout who watched Friday’s game said the left-handed Oberholtzer made Harper “look stupid” while striking him out. 

TODAY’S LINEUP

Prado 7
Schafer 8
Chipper 5
Uggla 4
Heyward 9
Gonzalez 6
Freeman 3
Ross 2
Hanson 1 

 

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