Bobby Cox tips his hat to the crowd during a spring training game in 2012. (File Photo)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Former Atlanta manager Bobby Cox returned Tuesday night to skipper the Braves’ top prospects in a 4-3 rain-shortened exhibition loss to the major league club.
Cox wore a uniform for the first time since retiring in 2010 with the fourth-most victories (2,504) in baseball history. He smiled, took off his cap and waved to acknowledge a pregame standing ovation.
The crowd of 10,568 set an attendance record at 4-year-old Coolray Field, home of the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves.
“That was very nice of them,” Cox said. “I’m glad they all came out and I think they all had fun.”
Michael Bourn, Martin Prado and Brian McCann each drove in a run in the fifth inning to help the big leaguers rally for the victory.
The minor leaguers took a 3-1 lead in the fifth against Cristhian Martinez, who was arrested early Monday morning in Gwinnett County on charges of drunk driving. Martinez allowed two runs, two hits and one walk in one inning.
Atlanta, which opens the season at the New York Mets on Thursday, responded with three runs in the bottom half. Bourn doubled in a run, Prado had a run-scoring triple and McCann delivered an RBI double.
Dan Uggla hit his seventh homer of the spring in the second, tying it at 1. Uggla sent a pitch from Sean Gilmartin deep over a left-field retaining wall.
Minor leaguer J.R. Graham gave up three runs and four hits in one inning.
“We threw some great arms out there,” the 70-year-old Cox said. “Those one-inning stints were outstanding. Gilmartin looked really good, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to with the pitching, especially. There are some good position guys as well, but the pitching for me tonight, I didn’t know it was going to be that good.”
Eric O’Flaherty earned his first save of the spring by pitching a scoreless seventh, and the 2-hour game was called.
Bourn was the only player in the game with two hits.
Atlanta starter Mike Minor allowed one run and one hit in three innings. He struck out four and walked one.
After the left the game, Minor threw two more simulated innings in the bullpen to prepare for his first start of 2012 on Sunday at New York.
Livan Hernandez, making his Braves debut after getting released last Thursday by Houston, pitched a scoreless fourth with two strikeouts. Hernandez has been a starter for all but one of his 474 career games in 16 seasons, but he will work out of the bullpen for Atlanta.
“That’s what we’re going to use him for,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Give him a couple of innings here and there, and if we need a spot starter, he’s done it for so long. It gives us a nice little weapon to have down there. He’s such a great teammate that he’s going to fit in fine.”
Uggla’s homer was the only hit that Gilmartin allowed in two innings. Gilmartin struck out two and walked none.
NOTES: Atlanta 3B Chipper Jones reported no problems with his surgically repaired left knee after taking batting practice before the game. Jones, who is on the 15-day disabled list following arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, estimated he took “50 to 60” swings. “I was staying inside the ball and hitting to all fields and had no pain,” he said. “So that’s the most important thing.” Jones took about 20 grounders to keep his fielding sharp, but the balls were hit right at him to keep him from trying to move laterally. Jones, who turns 40 later this month, still hopes to return for Atlanta’s home opener April 13 against Milwaukee ... RHP Chad Durbin signed a one-year contract with Atlanta before the game. Durbin went 2-2 with a 5.53 ERA in 56 appearances last year with Cleveland. In 15 1-3 innings this spring with Washington, the right-hander had a 2.35 ERA, struck out 15 and walked three, but opponents hit .333 against him. To make room, the Braves reassigned left-hander Yohan Flande to Triple-A Gwinnett.