Originally created 07/13/97

Braves send relievers down



ATLANTA - The door to the home clubhouse at Turner Field remained closed long after the last pitch of Saturday afternoon's game.

It took 20 minutes for the Braves to gut their bullpen.

Shaking up an ineffective relief corps, the Braves demoted relievers Brad Clontz, Paul Byrd and Joe Borowski to Class AAA Richmond (Va.) following Saturday afternoon's 7-4 victory over the Mets and called up pitchers Mike Cather, Chad Fox and Kevin Millwood.

In addition, the Braves placed catcher Javy Lopez on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 6 with a fractured left thumb and recalled catcher Tim Spehr from Richmond.

"It's kind of a fix-it program," manager Bobby Cox said. "We just thought we needed to make some changes. It's something we needed to address."

Considering the bullpen's recent work, the starting pitchers may greet the new arrivals at the door this afternoon with fruit baskets.

"The message I got personally was, `You're not doing the job up here,"' closer Mark Wohlers said. "Sometimes those are the bare facts you've got to realize."

The changes were forced on the Braves by a stretch of inconsistent performances by the relievers. Clontz was particularly disappointing with a 4.11 ERA in 36 games, including 15 walks in 35 innings, matching Greg Maddux's total in 97Š fewer innings.

"Since the middle of last year it's been ups and downs like a roller coaster," Clontz said. "I think they're trying to get me kick-started. I've got to understand they're trying to do it for my own good and get me going in a positive direction. I think I'm going to make it a short trip."

Byrd, acquired from the Mets for Greg McMichael last November in a trade the Braves now rue, had a 4.88 ERA in 23 games. To get him more work, the Braves plan for the right-hander to start Tuesday's game with Richmond and remain in the rotation.

"I was surprised, but at the same time, they had to do something," Byrd said. "The bullpen has been falling apart for the last two weeks. They can't afford to keep throwing me out there."

Cox had lost confidence in Borowski, who had given up 27 hits and 16 walks in 24 innings. The right-hander had not made an appearance since July 6 and was not being used in close games.

"It's unusual to have this number of changes made at once, but it provides three guys with an opportunity to get back on track," general manager John Schuerholz said. "We needed to try and fix it a different way."

Cather, 26, started the season at Class AA Greenville (S.C.), where he was 5-2 with a 4.34 ERA in 22 games, then had no record and a 1.73 ERA in 13 appearances with Richmond. Originally in the Rangers organization, the side-arming right-hander, signed as a free agent in February 1996, had 51 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 631/3 innings at Greenville and Richmond.

Fox, 26, obtained from the Reds in the Mike Kelly deal in January 1996, was 1-0 with a 3.70 ERA in 13 games at Richmond. The right-hander has a dominating fastball, striking out 25 and issuing 14 walks in 241/3 innings.

Millwood, 22, will make a start against the Cubs in a July 22 doubleheader in Chicago and will work from the bullpen until then. He's a hard thrower who posted a 5-0 record and 1.73 ERA in six starts at Richmond following a promotion from Greenville.

"(The three pitchers) are on a roll, doing very positively and we think they can continue that here," Schuerholz said.

Spehr, 31, was signed June 10 to replace Dave Valle, who retired unexpectedly. A five-year veteran with the Royals and Expos, he hit .245 with three homers and eight RBI in 16 games at Richmond. He probably won't remain with the Braves for long. Lopez is eligible to come off the disabled list July 21 and he should be ready to play.

To make room for Spehr on the 40-man roster, the Braves transferred left-hander Pedro Borbon, on the 15-day disabled list following last year's elbow surgery, to the 60-day disabled list.