Chen struggles in Panama loss

Journeyman starter knocked around by Braves in exhibition

Panama's starter, Bruce Chen, struggled, but Braves manager Bobby Cox thought he looked "confident." (AP)

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When he was considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Braves organization, Bruce Chen didn't create the same kind of buzz that surrounds Tommy Hanson every time he steps on the mound.

While helping the Braves claim an 11-2 win over Panama in a World Baseball Classic exhibition game on Tuesday afternoon at Champion Stadium, Hanson further proved why he's considered one of the game's top pitching prospects.

In the first of its three pre-Classic exhibition games, Panama was introduced to the live right arm of Hanson, who allowed one unearned run and two hits in three innings. Each of his three strikeouts came during the first inning.

"I thought he looked really good today," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's fun to watch."

While Hanson stole the early spotlight, Minor League outfielder Jason Heyward showed why he's also considered one of the game's top prospects when he drilled a two-run eighth-inning homer off Panama's Manuel Campos.

Baseball America recently ranked Hanson as the game's fourth-best prospect, and the 19-year-old Heyward was positioned directly behind him in the fifth spot.

Coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery, Chen was charged with four runs and four hits in 1 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old left-hander exited during the middle of a four-run second inning that was capped by Greg Norton's RBI double.

Chen, who pitched in Atlanta from 1998-2000, is scheduled to start on Saturday, when Panama opens the Classic against Puerto Rico. He impressed Cox with his new three-quarter-arm delivery.

"He might do something again," Cox said. "He looked confident out there on the mound. I thought he looked good."

Hanson needed just seven pitches to strike out the first two batters that he faced. After surrendering a two-out single to Angel Chavez, he ended the inning by getting Carlos Lee to look at a fastball on the outside corner.

While facing the Astros in his Grapefruit League debut last week, Hanson also got Lee to look at a called third strike.

Concepcion Rodgriguez, an outfielder in the Braves' farm system, began the third inning with a single off Hanson and later scored when Kelly Johnson made an errant throw while attempting to turn what would have been an inning-ending double play.

Chen, who signed a Minor League contract with the Royals last week, exited after surrendering a second-inning RBI single to Omar Infante. This prompted the entry of Yeliar Castro, a 21-year-old Braves Minor League pitcher, who was charged with one run and two hits in 2 1/3 innings.

"It was good for some of the guys to get out there and see this kind of pitching," Panama catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "We need to get conditioned for the Classic, and these games will help."

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