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Cox impressed with Kotsay

Cox impressed with Kotsay

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Though the stat sheet will tell you that Mark Kotsay is hitting .243, manager Bobby Cox will tell you how impressed he's been with the way his new center fielder has looked at the plate.

"Every time he goes up there, he hits the ball hard," Cox said of Kotsay, who went hitless in Wednesday's 8-7 loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. "He's really swinging good."

Preparing for his 11th big league season and having the comfort of playing for the ever-supportive Cox, Kotsay has had no reason to be concerned about where his batting average rests at the end of the Grapefruit League season.

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Instead, his primary concern is the same one that he had when he entered camp -- a determination to prove that his back is healthy. Nearly six weeks later, he's convinced both Cox and himself.

"I have no issues at this point," Kotsay said. "That gives me peace of mind to be able to come to the field and get my work in, knowing that I haven't taken steps backward."

When the Braves acquired Kotsay in a January trade with the A's, many wondered if he was physically capable of regaining the successful form he had earlier in his career. After having back surgery in March 2007, he played in a career-low 56 games and hit just .214.

At the beginning of camp, the Braves were careful not to send Kotsay on any long road trips that might cause him to put his back in an uncomfortable position for a prolonged period. But the 32-year-old outfielder made the 2 1/2-hour trek to Jupiter, Fla., for this past weekend's series against the Cardinals without any complications.

As long as Kotsay can stay healthy, the Braves are confident they will fill Andruw Jones' significant void with a solid defender. It's safe to say that Cox has been happy with what Kotsay has shown with his range and glove in center.

"His arm is accurate as [can be], and he's caught everything out there," Cox said. "He's looked really good."

Fortunately for Kotsay, he has a manager who looks beyond the numbers. The veteran outfielder wasn't afforded that same luxury in 2000, when a subpar Spring Training with the Marlins led him to temporarily lose his starting job to Brant Brown.

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Although Jordan Schafer has enjoyed an impressive first big league camp, the Braves aren't even thinking about using anyone other than Kotsay as their regular center fielder.

Nor has Kotsay even felt the slightest bit pressured to put up impressive Grapefruit League statistics. Just 37 at-bats into the exhibition season, he's doing exactly what he wanted to do.

"I'm not looking up at the average," he said. "I don't even know what I'm hitting. My concern was to stay healthy and feel like I was having good at-bats. If you're taking good at-bats and hitting the ball all over the place, you can't hang your head, because it's part of the game.

"The good thing about this organization is that they're baseball people here, and they understand that. They give you a little more leeway, I think, with those types of things, as opposed to just saying, 'His OPS is bad, or his on-base [percentage] isn't there.' If [you are] taking good at-bats for four or five days and there aren't any results there, they don't turn the page on you."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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