Notes: Braves face decisions
Right-handed bench player, bullpen issues still loom
VIERA, Fla. -- As Braves manager Bobby Cox reminisces about his long career, he can think of only one instance in which he took pride in cutting a player. It happened back in the early 1970s, and the kid was somebody who liked to start clubhouse fights more than he liked to pitch.
Every year he's been a manager since then, he's had to regrettably tell some players that there isn't a roster spot available for them. Unfortunately for James Jurries, he'll spend the next two days wondering if his terrific spring will prove to be enough for him to avoid this tough-luck revelation.
"It's about the hardest thing there is to do," said Cox, who is entering his 24th season as a Major League manager.
After the Braves concluded their Grapefruit League schedule with a 7-5 win over the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium on Thursday afternoon, Cox and his players headed back to Atlanta, where the final roster decisions will be made this weekend.
As it stands now, it appears Cox has two decisions to make. He must choose whether to keep Brian Jordan or Jurries to serve as a right-handed bench player who can play first base and the outfield. And he must decide whether Blaine Boyer is healthy enough to fill the final bullpen spot.
Cox plans to discuss these issues during a meeting with his coaching staff before Friday night's game against the White Sox at Turner Field. The final decisions will be announced after Saturday afternoon's exhibition season finale against the defending World Series champions.
Unfortunately for Jurries, who hit a team-best .457 (21-for-46) in Grapefruit League play, there's a chance he'll be the odd man out in the competition against Jordan and Matt Diaz, who hit .359 with a team-high 64 at-bats in Florida. Diaz has shown improved defensive skills in the outfield and hit .370 in 54 at-bats against left-handed pitchers with Kansas City last year.
As for Jordan, he's continued to prove that his surgically repaired left knee is healthy. With a triple on Thursday, he left Florida with a .351 batting average. In addition, the 39-year-old veteran outfielder heads back to Atlanta having proven he can play first base when needed.
"Diaz, Jordan and Jurries have all had great springs," Cox said.
Although he has played some outfield during his Minor League career, Jurries simply played first base this spring. His countless hours of extra work helped him significantly improve defensively.
But because he has an option remaining and doesn't have the veteran experience of the more versatile Jordan, Jurries may have to start this season back at Triple-A Richmond. He hit .284 with 21 homers there last year. Against left-handed pitchers, he hit .261 (24-for-92) with five homers.
Although he sprained his left knee while sliding into second base on Wednesday, Jurries continued to make a late impression by hitting the ball solidly in both of his Thursday afternoon at-bats. He doubled in the sixth inning and ended his impressive stay in Florida with a ninth-inning single into the left-center-field gap.
As for Boyer, he recorded just one out before reaching his 20-pitch limit against the Mets on Wednesday. But his right shoulder appears to have regained all its strength, and Cox was pleased with what he had seen from the right-handed reliever in his previous two appearances.
"He had no problems with his arm at all," Cox said of Boyer, who was bothered by shoulder inflammation at the beginning of camp. "He's just [upset] because he didn't pitch real good."
If the Braves opt to give Boyer more time, Cox may decide to start the season with journeyman Ken Ray in the bullpen. The 31-year-old Ray, who has recorded five strikeouts in five scoreless Grapefruit League innings, has played for 15 different teams, including three independent ones, since 1993.
Smoltz holding true: John Smoltz entered Spring Training determined to pace himself throughout the season. After allowing two runs -- one earned -- and registering six strikeouts in five innings on Thursday, he went back to Atlanta satisfied that he's so far stuck to his plan.
"Everything that I wanted to accomplish, everything I set out to do from an attitude mindset-wise, stayed consistent throughout," said Smoltz, who allowed just five earned runs and recorded 22 strikeouts while issuing just two walks in 23 Grapefruit League innings.
Smoltz enters the season excited about the consistency he's had with his changeup and determined to prevent the late-season shoulder fatigue he had at the end of last year. He'll still be registering a healthy number of strikeouts with his patented sinker and slider. But he vows that he will be much smarter about knowing when it's best to exit a start.
"I'm going to go into the year not trying to accomplish anything," Smoltz said. "I'm not trying to win all my games. I'm not trying to do anything other than go out there and play catch and pitch and keep the team in it as long as possible."
After watching Smoltz throw 52 of his 67 pitches for strikes on Thursday, Cox rated the veteran hurler's performance over the past six weeks as a perfect "10."
"He was awesome," Cox said. "Whatever he did, I hope he keeps doing it."
Reitsma ready to go: Chris Reitsma threw a pain-free bullpen session on Thursday and was even more confident that his left hamstring won't prevent him from being on the Opening Day roster.
"I'm pleasantly surprised with the way I felt today," Reitsma said. "A big weight has been lifted off my mind."
Reitsma grew concerned after feeling some discomfort while pitching against the Yankees on Monday night. But it was determined he had simply broken scar tissue in his left hamstring. The right-handed closer will make his final spring appearance in Saturday's game.
Braves bits: After starting 1-for-22, Marcus Giles had four hits in his final five at-bats to raise his Grapefruit League batting average to .193. ... Left-handed reliever Macay McBride will begin the season on the disabled list because he missed almost all of March with a strained left forearm. But he's throwing pain-free and will stay with the big-league team to continue his rehab. ... John Thomson felt better playing catch on Thursday and will throw a side session on Friday. If he doesn't experience further discomfort in his right elbow, he'll pitch in a Minor League game on Sunday.
Coming up: The Braves will host the White Sox at Turner Field at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday night. Horacio Ramirez will make his final exhibition season start.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.