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Braves catcher Laird ready for whatever role required


   He’s a 10-year veteran catcher who played in the past two World Series, hit .282 last season with Detroit, and threw out 42 percent of would-be base stealers three years ago to lead the American League.

   So we know Gerald Laird can still play.

   But he hit .232 or lower with an on-base percentage of .306 or lower for three consecutive seasons through 2011.

   So we know why he’s a backup.

   And when Detroit catcher Alex Avila was hurt in June, Laird filled in ably, starting 10 of 11 games and hitting .306 with a .375 OBP.

   So we know the 33-year-old was particularly well-suited for the Braves, who could be without starting catcher Brian McCann for at least the first couple of weeks of the 2013 season. McCann is in the middle of an estimated six-month rehab from October shoulder surgery.

  “That’s why teams looked to sign me early, because I feel like I can bring a lot when their starter goes down,” said Laird, who signed a two-year, $3 million free-agent contract Nov. 15, just five days after the Braves lost free agent David Ross to Boston.

  “I feel like I can fill in for a couple of weeks, a month, whatever it takes. I knew the situation,” said Laird, 33. “Like I told [Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez], whatever you want me to do – I can play every day, I can play once a week, twice a week, whatever you want me to do. Obviously when [McCann] comes back, we’re going to be even stronger.”

  Last year the right-handed-hitter had his best offensive season in four years, hitting two home runs and posting a .337 OBP and .710 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 191 plate appearances. The Tigers won seven of the 10 games Laird started in the June period when he filled in for Avila, and Laird hit .364 while starting six out of 12 games in a September stretch of the pennant race.

   His only disappointment was seeing his percentage of runners caught stealing drop to a career-low 19 percent (10-of-52) last season, three years after he led the American League by throwing out 30 of 88 (42 percent) who tried to steal. He threw out 20 percent in 2011, but only had 16 chances that year.

   “I was always in the mid-to-high 30s and a couple of years I was in the 40s,” he said. “And then the last couple of years, not playing every day, I was in the 20s. Which I was really disappointed in myself. I just feel like it’s about getting used to not playing every day, losing the timing of being out there every day, because it’s different when you’re playing once or twice a week. Backing Yadier [Molina in 2011 with St. Louis], that’s only once a week because he’s obviously the best in the game. So it was definitely a transition for me.”

    Ross got a two-year, $6.2 million contract from the Red Sox that far exceeded what the Braves were willing to pay the popular veteran, who’ll be 36 in March. Laird got a contract that surpassed what the Tigers were interested in paying him, after he made $1 million each of the past two seasons in one-year contracts with St. Louis and Detroit.

  Based on the number of starts he makes with the Braves, Laird could earn up to a $250,000 in bonuses in 2013 and up to $500,000 in 2014.

   He's a .244 career hitter with a .303 OBP, 37 homers and 215 RBIs in 698 games, including a career-best .296 average and .805 OPS in 78 games with the Rangers in 2006. He hit .225 with four homers in a career-high 477 plate appearances with the Tigers in 2009, and Laird’s playing time was reduced to 299 plate appearances in 2010 and that same total (299) over the past two seasons combined.

  Even though he spent nine of his 10 major-league seasons in the AL with Texas and Detroit, he said interleague play enabled him to see plenty of NL hitters and that Atlanta was a good place for him to relocate.

  “I told my parents when I signed here, this was my favorite team growing up as a kid,” said Laird, born and raised south of Los Angeles in Orange County. “I grew up in Southern California, but every day, 4:05 p.m. Pacific Time, I remember going home to watch the Brave game. Mom would say you can watch the Brave game if you do your homework.

  “I remember coming here [with the Cardinals] a couple of years ago and they were having the Braves old-timers game, and I remember seeing, like, Sid Bream and all the old guys I watched as a kid, [Mark] Lemke and [Jeff] Blauser and those guys. I was always a huge Braves fan. Huge. Now I get to play here. I’m looking forward to it.”

  Laird and his wife and two children, ages 6 and 2, live in Scottsdale, Ariz., and he flew to Atlanta last week to work with Braves pitchers in the team’s early pitching camp, and join the team’s Country Caravan for one stop. He turned down an invitation to play in the World Baseball Classic in March for Mexico (his mother is of Mexican descent) because he said it was important to work with Braves pitchers all through spring training and not miss any time during camp.

  “I’m looking forward to it, coming back to the National League and a new start over here, and we’ve got a good ballclub,” said Laird, who was excited about the team when he signed, but more so after they signed B.J. Upton in November and traded for his brother Justin last week. “I’m going to go home and basically hang out with the kids for a week and pack my car, then I’m headed out to Florida [Feb. 6], get there early and get familiar with everything, catch some guys and get ready to play.

  “Hopefully I can help the young guys as much as I can. I know they’ve got good arms here; I’ve faced them. I’m just glad I get to catch this bullpen instead of facing them.”

   McCann thought that adding an experienced, defensive-minded veteran to replace Ross was important.

  “The catching position entails so much, and I think having a veteran guy that’s going to back you up is huge,” McCann said. “When you play once a week, to know the pitching staff and know the league -- I think it’s huge to have someone in that role who’s been there and done that. Gerald Laird has been in the league 10-plus years.”

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  • President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday aimed at moving forward on his campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's plan to curb global warming. The order seeks to suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. As part of the roll-back, Trump will initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The regulation, which was the former president's signature effort to curb carbon emissions, has been the subject of long-running legal challenges by Republican-led states and those who profit from burning oil, coal and gas. Just as former President Barack Obama's climate efforts were often stymied by legal challenges, environmental groups are promising to fight Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda in court. Trump, who has called global warming a 'hoax' invented by the Chinese, has repeatedly criticized the power-plant rule and others as an attack on American workers and the struggling U.S. coal industry. The contents of the order were outlined to reporters in a sometimes tense briefing with a senior White House official, whom aides insisted speak without attribution despite President Trump's criticism of the use of unnamed sources in the news media. The official at one point appeared to break with mainstream climate science, denying familiarity with widely publicized concerns about the potential adverse economic impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather. In addition to pulling back from the Clean Power Plan, the administration will also lift a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The Obama administration had imposed a three-year moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change. Trump accused his predecessor of waging a 'war on coal' and boasted in a speech to Congress that he has made 'a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations,' including some that threaten 'the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.' The order will also chip away at other regulations, including scrapping language on the 'social cost' of greenhouse gases. It will initiate a review of efforts to reduce the emission of methane in oil and natural gas production as well as a Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule, to determine whether those reflect the president's policy priorities. It will also rescind Obama-era executive orders and memoranda, including one that addressed climate change and national security and one that sought to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. The administration is still in discussion about whether it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Trump's order could make it more difficult, though not impossible, for the U.S. to achieve its carbon reduction goals. The president's promises to boost coal jobs run counter to market forces, such as U.S. utilities converting coal-fired power plants to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, alarmed environmental groups and scientists earlier this month when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The statement is at odds with mainstream scientific consensus and Pruitt's own agency. The overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed studies and climate scientists agree the planet is warming, mostly due to man-made sources, including carbon dioxide, methane, halocarbons and nitrogen oxide. The power-plant rule Trump is set to address in his order has been on hold since last year as a federal appeals court considers a challenge by coal-friendly states and corporations who call the plan an unconstitutional power grab. Opponents say the plan will kill coal-mining jobs and drive up electricity costs. The Obama administration, some Democratic-led states and environmental groups countered that it would spur thousands of clean-energy jobs and help the U.S. meet ambitious goals to reduce carbon pollution set by the international agreement signed in Paris. Trump's order on coal-fired power plants follows an executive order he signed last month mandating a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution. The order instructs the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review a rule that redefined 'waters of the United States' protected under the Clean Water Act to include smaller creeks and wetlands. While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data shows that U.S. mines have been shedding jobs for decades under presidents from both parties as a result of increasing automation and competition from natural gas, which has become more abundant through hydraulic fracturing. Another factor is the plummeting cost of solar panels and wind turbines, which now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal. According to an Energy Department analysis released in January, coal mining now accounts for fewer than 75,000 U.S. jobs. By contrast, renewable energy — including wind, solar and biofuels — now accounts for more than 650,000 U.S. jobs. The Trump administration's plans drew praise from business groups and condemnation from environmental groups. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue praised the president for taking 'bold steps to make regulatory relief and energy security a top priority.' 'These executive actions are a welcome departure from the previous administration's strategy of making energy more expensive through costly, job-killing regulations that choked our economy,' he said. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy accused the Trump administration of wanting 'us to travel back to when smokestacks damaged our health and polluted our air, instead of taking every opportunity to support clean jobs of the future.' 'This is not just dangerous; it's embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and U.S. leadership,' she said in a statement. ___ Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker contributed to this report. Follow Daly and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC and https://twitter.com/colvinj ___ This story corrects the number of coal mining jobs in the U.S. to 75,000, not 70,000.
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  • A woman was paying for parking in Midtown Sunday afternoon when a man slashed her throat and grabbed her handbag, Atlanta police said. Marla Franks was at a pay station at Juniper and 5th streets when the man tried to take her purse off her shoulder, according to an Atlanta police incident report. She resisted and held onto the bag. “I will hurt you,” police said the man told Franks. She continued holding her purse. 'The man then took a knife and cut her throat about 5 to 6 inches,' Officer Stephanie Brown told Channel 2 Action News. He grabbed the purse and took off running, according to the police report. Fernando Bispo, who witnessed the attack, told police he ran after the man and got him to drop the handbag. Bispo stopped when the man turned the knife on him.  Another witness told police she saw a man jump the back fence of Kindred Hospital and offered to help him when he fell. She later learned about the robbery victim, according to the report. Police have not made any arrests in the incident. Bispo wasn’t injured in the encounter.  Franks had to get 17 stitches but was expected to recover. In other news:
  • Two men have been charged with murder in an October shooting outside a Pappadeaux in Marietta that began with a piece of costume jewelry and ended with a dead husband. Cobb police investigators filed the paperwork on Thursday against Dylan Marquis Ledbetter and Demarious Greene, both of whom were already in custody. The men are connected to violent crimes throughout Cobb and Cherokee counties. Ledbetter is also wanted in Florida on an attempted murder charge. Sentenced: Cobb man paid Filipino girls to perform online sex acts The Cobb murder charges stem from an Oct. 7 shooting. Cynthia and Anthony Welch were heading to their car after a birthday dinner at the Windy Hill Road restaurant when they were stopped in the parking lot. Cynthia Welch previously explained that a man shot her husband of 25 years and snatched the $5 costume necklace off her neck before shooting her and running away. The warrant doesn’t specify who police think pulled the trigger. Cobb man indicted in double murder of his mother and Buckhead teacher  Ledbetter was 22 when he was indicted in January for allegedly trying to run over officers with a car. A week after the Pappadeaux slaying, cops were trying to stop Ledbetter because the car he was driving matched the description of a vehicle connected to the shooting. Officers shot Ledbetter in his arm and leg as they said he sped toward them. Lab results in the Pappadeaux shooting were recently returned from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, and Cobb police were able to file charges in the case. Man facing death in Craigslist slaying of Marietta couple appears in court  Ledbetter has been in jail since Oct. 18. Two days before that, 21-year-old Green was booked into Cherokee County jail on charges of robbery, aggravated assault and other counts. Those Cherokee charges are from an Oct. 12 incident when the men allegedly stole a man’s necklace at gunpoint outside the Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta. Like Cobb County News Now on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.  Ledbetter has also been accused of a similar necklace-snatching crime in Sandy Springs. A woman told police she was holding her 1 year old and just getting home when a man snatched a gold chain off of her and the child. The men are awaiting indictment on the Pappadeaux charges. Authorities have not discussed how they will handle the pending charges in other jurisdictions.