First win is one to savor

Associated Press
Philadelphia's Aaron Rowand (left) is congratulated by teammates after scoring on a bases-loaded walk against Atlanta on Tuesday night.

ATLANTA - Mike Gonzalez pumped his fist and hopped off the mound after Pat Burrell whiffed at strike three.


Clearly, this is where Gonzalez feels most comfortable, pitching the final inning with the game on the line.

Gonzalez picked up with first win with Atlanta on Monday night, working a perfect top of the ninth - capped by the strikeout of Burrell - before Andruw Jones hit a three-run homer in the bottom half for a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"It was definitely awesome," said Gonzalez, who went 24 of 24 in save chances as Pittsburgh's closer last season. "Remember, I did that all of last year."

Acquired by the Braves during the offseason, Gonzalez was relegated to a setup role for incumbent closer Bob Wickman. The left-hander insisted that he wouldn't have a problem making the adjustment, but it turned out to be tougher than he expected.

"When you've thrown in the ninth, it's hard to get the same intense feeling pitching in the seventh or eighth," Gonzalez conceded. "It's different when you're out there to shut the door."

For at least the next two weeks, Gonzalez will likely be shutting the door in the Braves' bullpen while Wickman is on the disabled list with a sore back. The Braves can also turn to Rafael Soriano, another hard thrower acquired in a winter trade.

"It's not something that you want to happen," Gonzalez said, referring to Wickman's injury. "I've just got to take advantage of every opportunity I get. It's nothing new for me."

Gonzalez also had an injury scare, undergoing an MRI for soreness in his elbow. It turned out to be nothing serious, but he's had to build up his arm strength after scuttling workouts for about three weeks.

"I'm pain-free," he insisted. "I'm just working on getting stronger."



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