Originally created 07/25/99

Braves notebook: Hudek's future with Braves cloudy following demotion



PHILADELPHIA -- Reliever John Hudek, designated for assignment Saturday when John Smoltz was activated from the disabled list, shook hands around the clubhouse and headed back to Atlanta.

He has until Tuesday to decide whether to accept the assignment to Class AAA Richmond or reject it, forcing the club to trade or release him.

"If I was scared that no one would pick me up, then I'd accept it," said Hudek, who was 0-1 with a 6.48 ERA in 15 games with the Braves. "But I don't see that's a problem. Every club right now needs pitching. They all need relief."

Hudek said he hasn't made a decision yet, but certainly he seemed to be leaning toward rejecting the assignment and catching on with another team. The right-hander probably won't have any trouble finding a job.

Though his numbers weren't good with the Braves, he showed flashes of his former domination, striking out 18 in 16 2/3 innings, though he also allowed 21 hits and 11 walks.

"The opportunities to throw here were few," he said. "The few occasions I got I didn't take full advantage of. I'm very disappointed. You always want to be on a winning club, but you also want to contribute to a winning club. I'm very competitive and I didn't do what I wanted to do."

If Hudek rejects the assignment, the Braves will have nothing to show for the Mark Wohlers deal besides a negative cash flow.

Hudek, acquired from the Reds in exchange for Wohlers on April 6, will be paid $800,000 by Cincinnati, while Atlanta will eat Wohlers' $5.2 million salary and $800,000 buyout.

Manager Bobby Cox decided to let Hudek go because he felt rookie left-hander Micah Bowie would be more valuable working out of the bullpen or as a spot starter.

With 12 games in 11 days on this trip, followed by three games against the Brewers in Atlanta before a day off, pitching is at a premium right now.

Smoltz compounds the problem because Cox didn't figure he'd work more than five or six innings Saturday night, which left more innings for the bullpen to shoulder. As it stands now, either Kevin Millwood or Bruce Chen, who worked the second game of Friday night's doubleheader, will have to come back on three days rest to face Milwaukee Tuesday night.

If Millwood has recovered from a blister on his right hand that knocked him out of Friday's first game after six innings, he'll pitch Tuesday. If not, then Chen will get the call and Millwood will work Wednesday night.

"I'm not going to miss my next start," Millwood said. "If I have to come back a day early then that's what I'll do. I don't see it as a big problem."

The blister hampered his slider, which is his second-best weapon behind his fastball. It became too painful to throw it and Cox was fearful he'd begin altering his mechanics to compensate.

"I could still throw good ones, but it was kind of painful," Millwood said. "I can't go out and say, I won't throw any sliders."

BOONE RETURNS:

How happy was second baseman Bret Boone to return to the lineup in Friday's second game after sitting out the previous three games?

He launched the first pitch he saw over the right field wall for his 12th homer. Still, he's not ready to say he's feeling comfortable at the plate.

"A lot of the battle when I struggle is me fighting myself," he said. "I expect a lot out of myself and when I don't play well I'm my own worst enemy. Sometimes it's detrimental. I've got to learn not to be so hard on myself."

Boone is hitting .212 this month with four homers and five RBI and has only 27 hits in his last 144 at-bats (.188).

CHIPPER IS BACK:

Chipper Jones was back in the lineup Saturday night after sitting out the doubleheader with a bad bruise on his right arm.

His arm wasn't feeling that much better, but he was so antsy to play he convinced Cox he could make throws from third base and swing a bat.

"It's mind over matter," Jones said. "I can't sit around and watch, period."

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