LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tommy Greene was among the early arrivals Friday morning as pitchers and catchers reported to the Braves' new spring training complex at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
The veteran right-hander, signed as a free agent and invited to camp as a nonroster player, says he's learning how to throw again following July's rotator cuff surgery.
"I've got to do things right mechanically to give my arm a chance to do what it's capable of doing," he said. "I've done things wrong with it that hurt and you compensate and before you know it you're in bad habits and they're tough to break. I'm teaching myself how to throw right again."
DIFFERENT THIS TIME:
Reliever Alan Embree joined the club last spring with only a few days remaining in camp, coming over in the Kenny Lofton trade with the Indians, and remembered feeling odd entering the clubhouse for the first time. Things are much different this time around.
"I feel more at home now," he said. "I've got friends here now. When I got here it was like, `Hey guys, I'm your new player', and they said, `And you are?' But it did feel weird driving down the highway and not pulling into Winter Haven."
Manager Bobby Cox spent most of Friday morning in meetings with minor-league managers and coaches, then held a meeting with his own coaching staff. From the minor league coaches, he received scouting reports on pitchers he's never seen, like Bruce Chen and Odaliz Perez, then he set up the schedule for pitchers and catchers for this morning's first workout.
"It's a little unique with the quality of the younger pitchers we've brought in and the veteran name guys," Cox said. "Almost everybody knows Dennis Martinez and Tommy Greene. But (Brian) Edmondson might be better than all of them and nobody knows him and that's the difference."
Chen and Perez are two of the hottest pitching prospects in the game, and Cox said he's looking forward to seeing them work.
"I've heard so much about them, I'm anxious," he said. "I haven't seen Chen or Perez actually pitch."
LOOKING FOR A FIFTH:
While acknowledging that veteran right-hander Dennis Martinez is the leading candidate to be the fifth starter, Cox also indicated he would look at Paul Byrd and some of the young kids, primarily Chen, as possible starters.
"If, for some reason, today (Chen) had to be in our rotation, it wouldn't scare me," Cox said. "He's got great makeup. There are other guys who might be a little shaky."
Obviously, the Braves hope promoting Chen from Class A Macon, where he was 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA last year, to the majors doesn't become necessary. They would prefer that he start the season at Class AA Greenville and get three months of experience before joining the big club.
Cox also said he needs to find one or two relievers.
"There's a lot of room yet," he said. "There are openings. We've got to look for a fifth starter and I like to think there's a spot or two open in the bullpen."
Unable to complete a trade for second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, the Braves may turn their attention to Reds' second baseman Bret Boone. Although he's considered one of the game's best defensive infielders, Boone has hit .223 and .233 the past two years after batting .267 with 15 homers and 68 RBI in 1995.
It's Boone's swing that has scared off teams. Since hitting .320 with 12 homers and 68 RBI in 1994, his first full season in the majors, he's lengthened his swing and his strikeouts have soared. He struck out 74 times in '94 and his totals have increased each year since then, from 84 in '95, to 100 in '96 to 101 strikeouts last season.
Still, if the Braves are interested in Boone, it indicates they are not satisfied with the prospect of a Tony Graffanino-Keith Lockhart platoon at second base.
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