Originally created 07/03/97

Braves notes



NEW YORK - As expected, when Bobby Cox announced his All-Star pitchers and reserves Wednesday, there were seven Braves on the team.

Besides Kenny Lofton, elected by fans as the starting center fielder, shortstop Jeff Blauser, third baseman Chipper Jones, catcher Javy Lopez and pitchers Greg Maddux, Denny Neagle and Tom Glavine were selected.

It is Lopez's first trip to an All-Star game and he was excited after Cox pulled him aside in the clubhouse Wednesday morning and told him he was going to Cleveland.

"Hello." Smile. "All-Star." Lopez said. "I'm not going to feel like I'm an All-Star. I'm going to feel like someone invited to an All-Star game."

Lopez, hitting .301 with 13 homers and 39 RBI, was concerned about his chances when he heard Cox was only going to take two catchers. He figured, correctly as it turned out, that the Dodgers' Mike Piazza would be elected by fans and the Mets' Todd Hundley would be the backup.

But Cox decided to go with three catchers and told Lopez Wednesday that he deserved to be an All-Star last year also, when he hit .283 with 12 homers and 38 RBI in the first half.

"I was looking around and seeing who had better numbers and didn't see anybody other than Piazza and Hundley," Lopez said. "I said, `Here we go again.' "

Mark Wohlers was 0-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 18 saves in the first half last year and Cox named him to the All-Star team for the first time. This year the big right-hander is 2-3 with a 2.29 ERA and 18 saves in 19 opportunities and he isn't an All-Star.

"Yeah, I'm disappointed," Wohlers admitted. "But it was a win-win situation. If you go, it's something nice to put on a resume, if not it's nice to spend three days with my wife and baby."

When fans voted Lofton as the center fielder, he became only the second player ever selected to start an All-Star game in different leagues in consecutive years. With the Indians last year, he was elected the American League's starting center fielder and was 2-for-3 with a pair of steals against the National League.

The first was Manny Trillo, who started as a Phillie in 1982 and as an Indian in 1983.

"It's kind of cool," Lofton said. "It's nice to be recognized by people who are looking at both leagues. It's nice to come over this year and get as many votes as I did."

Reliever Mike Bielecki wasn't named to the All-Star team, but he'll be going to Cleveland anyway. He has been invited to play the drums at the gala dinner Monday night with other aspiring musician/big leaguers like Montreal's Jeff Juden, California's Mark Langston and Cleveland's Jack McDowell.

"I'm going to give it a shot," Bielecki said. "If it's rock and roll I'll be able to follow along. I think it will be fun."

After the break, the Braves will have to address their bullpen problems. Three relievers - Joe Borowski, Paul Byrd and Brad Clontz - have earned run averages over 4.00 and Cox has lost confidence in them. The result is that the other three relievers - Wohlers, Mike Bielecki and Alan Embree - will be overworked in the second half unless the Braves make some changes.

Bielecki has already been used more than Cox would like, appearing in 37 games, and recently his effectiveness has dropped off when he's worked more than one inning.

There doesn't appear to be an immediate solution at Class AAA Richmond, though right-hander Kevin Millwood is 3-0 with an 0.91 ERA in four starts since being promoted from Class AA Greenville. The Braves might promote him soon if his success continues, but he won't solve all their problems.

The answer is a trade. The club needs two new relievers and the two most likely candidates to depart are Borowski and Clontz, against whom the league is hitting .287 and .272 respectively. There are relievers available, including Yankees' left-hander Kenny Rogers, who pitched well in the first game of the series, and Toronto right-hander Mike Timlin.