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In the one department most clubs are worrying about the most. Atlanta is worrying the least: starting pitching. The only four Braves to report on the first day camps opened, March 19, were starters—Clary, Glavine, Lilliquist and Pete Smith—and they all threw exceptionally well. But their enthusiasm may work against them in this minicamp. "Fastball pitchers are very excitable," said Dal Canton last week. "I've already had to warn several of them to take it easy."
For now, the Braves are resisting the temptation to put Avery in the rotation. Because he worked out all spring in Atlanta's minor league camp, the 19-year-old Avery could go a full nine innings the first week of the regular season. "I really think every pitcher needs a full year at Triple A," says Dal Canton. "Even a pitcher as good as he is." In 36 minor league starts, Avery is 19-8 with a 1.94 ERA, 243 strikeouts and only 73 walks in 237 innings.
The man who could get hurt the most by the lockout is Nixon. A good April would take him off the hook—and if you judge a manager by his record, Nixon is on a big hook indeed. In his last four years as a manager, two with the Reds in '82 and '83, and two with the Braves, Nixon has presided over four last-place finishes. What's more, there is no shortage of candidates to replace him. In the Atlanta organization are four former big league managers: Bobby Wine, Frank Howard, Jimy Williams and Pat Corrales—not to mention Cox.
"I can't worry about failing," says Nixon. "My biggest concern is not Russ Nixon. It's the Atlanta Braves. We're about to become a very good baseball team, and I want to see this thing through."
A good start would also be important for the health of the franchise. From 1983 through '88, attendance in Atlanta plummeted from 2,119,935 to 848,089, and with the decreasing crowds has come increasing cynicism. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently invited its readers to submit slogans for the 1990 Braves, and some were less than flattering. Among the entries were:
•Braves Baseball—Anything for a Laugh
•Go Braves—And Take the Falcons with You
•Mathematical Elimination Fever—Catch It
•It Beats Getting Tattooed with a Jack-hammer, Unless It's a Doubleheader
•Atlanta Braves—Still in the Major Leagues