Originally created 06/27/99

Braves notebook: Lefty Perez will stay in rotation



ATLANTA -- Yes, Odalis Perez is struggling, his 5.42 ERA the highest among the starters and a loser of five of nine decisions, including his last three straight.

But the Braves have no plans to shift him out of the rotation to the bullpen or Class AAA Richmond.

"He's learning up here, learning in a very difficult situation," manager Bobby Cox said. "But he's more than holding his own."

If the Braves had another starter they felt was Perez's equal, perhaps they would make a change. But they don't feel Class AAA Richmond left-hander Bruce Chen is ready to be the fifth starter, so they prefer Perez deal with the difficulties most rookies pitchers endure rather than make a change.

"He's doing some on-the-job training right now," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said, "but there's no question about his talent and his stuff."

Cox says the left-hander, who turned 21 three weeks ago, has "three above-average pitches." Perez's problem isn't the velocity or movement of his pitches, it's location. His command has been inconsistent, evidenced by the 39 walks he's issued in 74 2/3 innings, though it's not the free passes that bother Cox and Mazzone so much as the occasional mistake with the wrong pitch.

"He falls in love with one pitch and (doesn't use) the other ones and he gets in trouble every once in awhile," Cox said.

Perez's performance in Friday night's 10-2 loss to the Mets offered a perfect example of his recent troubles. He rolled through five innings, his only mistake a poorly located changeup to Benny Agbayani in the second inning, which went for a home run, then couldn't last the sixth.

"He hung a changeup in the first inning and two breaking balls in the sixth, but in between he threw dominant-type pitches," Mazzone said. "It's just a matter of being a little more consistent with location. Each game he learns from success and failures."

WALKING WOUNDED:

Javy Lopez went on the disabled list Wednesday with a sprained right knee, and trainers can't say for certain he'll be ready when he's eligible to be activated July 6. He'll remain behind in Atlanta when the club heads for Montreal Monday to be fitted with a knee brace that he'll wear for support when he plays.

"I can't honestly answer that question," he said when asked about being ready in nine days. "It feels the same as the first day. I can walk and jump, but I don't know if I can squat and pivot with that."

Simon postponed the MRI of his sore left knee Saturday for a second time and won't have it done until the team returns from its Montreal-New York trip. Club orthopedist Dr. Joe Chandler examined him Saturday and OK'd him to continue playing.

Bill Zack, who covers the Braves for The Augusta Chronicle, is based in Atlanta and can be reached at bzack30143@aol.com