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Mann With the Golden Gun : Minor leagues: Culver City catcher thinks arm, not bat will earn him spot on Atlanta Braves’ roster

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atlanta catcher Kelly Mann was double-checking the guest list before a game against Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium when Braves Manager Bobby Cox walked by the rookie in the team’s locker room.

“Got any extra seats, Kelly?” Cox asked Mann, who had been called up from the minors five days before the game. “I need two.”

Mann replied: “Sorry. I’m using all of mine.”

Despite playing for a team that was 23 1/2 games out of first place, Mann had 30 requests for tickets and no cancellations.

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Cox didn’t feel slighted, because he knew Mann was playing in front of his family and friends for only the second time in his career.

Mann, who lives in Culver City, made his first appearance at Dodger Stadium last September and got a hit off pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

“It was great,” said Mann, who grew up rooting for Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Steve Yeager and Rick Monday. “I went one for three and threw out a baserunner. I’ve played my best games against the Dodgers.”

Mann also had a single and a double last season against the Dodgers in Atlanta before an agitated Orel Hershiser welcomed the rookie to the majors with an inside fastball. He left the game with a bruised elbow. In eight games, he finished with five hits in 24 at-bats.

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Mann, however, didn’t play during the recent two-game series, the last one in Los Angeles this season. In a pregame meeting, Cox explained that the Braves would use veterans to try to extend their five-game winning streak, but he would do his best to get the rookies into the lineup.

“He said he would try to get us in, but it would be hard to get playing time because the team was on a roll,” said Mann, who hasn’t batted since being promoted on Sept. 1. “I’m just glad to be here. I’ll wait until my time comes.”

After five seasons in the minors, Mann will have a good shot at making the Braves’ roster next season. Despite batting under .200 for the Richmond Braves, Mann was one of the top catchers in the International League (triple-A), throwing out 64% of the runners attempting to steal.

“I went through a really bad slump,” Mann said. “But I showed everyone what I could do defensively, and that’s why I’m here in the majors.”

Quick turnaround: As reported earlier, former Harbor College standout John Ingram gave up a home run to the first batter he faced in the minor leagues. It turned out to be the only home run he would give up.

Ingram, a left-handed reliever, had 0-1 record and four saves for Batavia, N.Y. (the Philadelphia Phillies’ single-A team) in the New York-Penn League. He lowered his earned-run average from 15.00 to 2.18.

“I was nervous and stuff that first game,” Ingram said. “I haven’t been touched since then.”

Ingram earned an invitation to play at Veteran’s Stadium in the Young Timers’ exhibition prior to the start of the Phillies-Pittsburgh Pirates game. He will leave today to participate for five weeks in Floria Instructional League at the Phillies’ training camp in Clearwater, Fla.

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Then he will return home.

“How well I work and push myself this winter will determine my success next season,” Ingram said.

Learning tricks of the trade: Former Cal State Dominguez Hills pitcher Rick Davis discovered that he can’t fool batters with his knuckle-curveball as easily at the higher levels.

Davis thought that he had a good season despite a 10-9 record and a 3.04 ERA for the San Diego Padres’ single-A affiliate in Riverside.

Last season, Davis was selected right-handed pitcher of the year in the Northwest League.

“It has to do with being in a tougher league,” said Davis, who had 122 strikeouts and an unprecedent 44 walks. “You have to look for ways to get outs other than strikeouts. You have to depend on your fielders more because everyone can hit the ball at this level.”

Davis, who has been hampered by a sore shoulder, will work out with Padres trainer Dick Dent and might play winter ball in Mexico.

Next season, he hopes to advance to the double-A level.

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“Every team needs pitching,” Davis said, confidently. “The Padres got a lot of young guys, but they still need more pitching.”


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