CHICAGO -- One of the problems a 3-6 road trip produced was a lack of work for several relievers, particularly closer John Rocker.
The left-hander worked in only three games, a total of three innings, and he acknowledged the difficulty of remaining sharp without regular appearances.
"It's tough," he said. "You've got to work extra hard to make sure you get enough work in (on the side). You work on hitting spots and throwing your breaking pitches, but it's nothing like game situations."
Through the first 36 games, manager Bobby Cox has been unable to get Rocker regular work. He's appeared in consecutive games only three times and has a pair of five-day breaks.
"You want to pitch," Rocker said. "You've just got to try and keep yourself sharp any way you can."
The left-hander made his first appearance since Tuesday in Sunday afternoon's 8-5 victory, pitching a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts.
"The ball was riding up on me a little bit, which isn't necessarily bad," Rocker said. "And, of course, my breaking ball didn't feel all that good. I felt a lot better in San Francisco as far as working spots, but it was good enough to get the job done."
LONG HAUL: Starting with the series against the Cubs, the Braves will play 20 straight games before another day off, meaning Odalis Perez will take three or four regular turns in the rotation. That's good news for the rookie left-hander because he's had trouble adjusting to making an occasional start.
"Pitching every five days will be good for me," he said. "I'll be more comfortable."
Perez has made two starts this season with extra rest and hasn't been sharp. He faced the Giants last week on nine days rest and didn't last four innings, taking a no-decision in a 9-8 win in 12 innings.
"I'll be pitching regularly for my next three starts and that will be much better for me," he said.
BREAKING ROUTINE: After watching Otis Nixon collect just three hits in 20 at-bats in the first eight games of the trip, Cox decided to give him a day off Sunday and start Gerald Williams in left field. He also shifted Walt Weiss from his No. 8 spot in the lineup to leadoff for the first time this season and hit Williams eighth.
"Every ground ball (Nixon) hits is never left or right of the position player, it's always right at them where they can throw him out," Cox said.
Nixon, who matched his career-high by hitting .297 last season, is off to a painfully slow start. He has only 10 hits in his last 62 at-bats and his average stands at .181.
"It was perfect timing to juggle the lineup," he said. "Bobby wanted to shake it up and it worked."
BLISTERED: John Hudek developed a blister on the second finger of his pitching hand in San Francisco, then saw it open during Friday's appearance. The result is he'll take a couple of days off to allow a layer of skin to cover the wound, then start throwing again.
If Hudek is unavailable for longer than two days, the Braves may recall right-hander Russ Springer from his rehab assignment at Class AAA Richmond. Springer's 30-day assignment ends this week, meaning the Braves have to recall him and activate him or keep him on the disabled list.
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