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Kimbrel, Medlen candidates to join Team USA

ATLANTA -- When this year's World Baseball Classic begins, Braves legends Dale Murphy and Greg Maddux will be part of a Team USA contingent that could also include Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen.

Team USA manager Joe Torre has contacted both Kimbrel and Medlen to express his interest in having them be part of his pitching staff for this international competition that will take place in March. The rosters for all of the competing countries will be announced later this month.

While Kimbrel and Medlen are both expected to compete, Braves right fielder Jason Heyward informed Team USA officials that he will respectfully decline the opportunity this year. Coming off the most impressive season of his young career, Heyward wants to remain focused on the upcoming campaign by staying with the Braves through Spring Training.

There is a chance that Freddie Freeman, Heyward's good friend, could take advantage of the chance to play with either Team USA or Team Canada. Both of Freeman's parents were born in Canada.

Team USA will begin training in Phoenix on March 4 and then participate in first-round play at Arizona's Chase Field from March 7-10. This arrangement would allow the participating Braves players to be available for the first nine games of the exhibition season in Florida.

Their return to the Braves' camp in Florida will depend on how Team USA fares.

Team USA would participate in second-round play at Marlins Park from March 12-16. If the team advances, it would be in position to participate in the semifinals and finals at San Francisco's AT&T Park from March 17-19.

Murphy will serve as Team USA's first-base coach, and Maddux will be the club's pitching coach.

"That's really all Joe has talked about," Murphy said. "He goes, 'Look, this is something we want to win, this is really not an exhibition.' We want guys that want to be there and we want guys that want to win it."

Murphy said Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell recently sent him a playful text that said, "How many more of my pitchers are you going to take?"

While the Braves are interested to know how any of their participating pitchers will spend their time with their World Baseball Classic clubs, they certainly are not too surprised to learn that Torre wants both Medlen and Kimbrel on his pitching staff.

Medlen established himself as one of the game's top starting pitchers while posting a 0.97 ERA and limiting opponents to a .191 batting average in the 12 starts he made after transitioning from reliever to starting pitcher this year.

Through his first two full years at the Major League level, Kimbrel has arguably established himself as the game's top closer. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 1.01 ERA and struck out 116 of the 231 batters that he faced this past season.

Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen