Originally created 02/20/00

Ligtenberg impressive in spring training



KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Kerry Ligtenberg took another step Saturday toward showing he can reclaim his job as the Atlanta Braves' closer while John Rocker is suspended.

The 28-year-old right-hander had the hitters flailing away at the plate during batting practice, even though he is restricted to fastballs to lessen the strain on his elbow.

"It was like he was throwing 200 mph," non-roster invitee Bobby Bonilla said. "He was throwing hard, trust me."

Ligtenberg, who missed all of last season after elbow surgery, felt no pain in his arm or shoulder after Friday's initial stint on the mound. His control has been good, allaying a common concern for pitchers who undergo elbow surgery.

"I still have a ways to go, but I'm positive about things," he said. "I felt like I had something on the ball."

Ligtenberg is anxious to try out his slider, but the Braves won't give him clearance until he is examined by Dr. Joe Chandler on Wednesday. For now, his fastball is good enough.

"He was throwing cheese, man," catcher Javy Lopez said. "The last time I saw him, he was tossing the ball from 10 feet away. I caught him today and he was totally different."

Ligtenberg had 30 saves in 1998, becoming the first rookie in 12 years to reach that figure. Rocker took over the job last year and had 38 saves, but he is suspended until May 1 for disparaging comments about gays, minorities and foreigners.

Notes: Andres Galarraga had another good day in his comeback from cancer. Working on an outer field, the Big Cat took 50 swings against a minor-league coach and showed off the defensive skills that earned his nickname. The next major step for Galarraga is likely to come on Wednesday, when he plans to step in the batting cage against regular pitching. The Braves are anxious to see how his back holds up after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to cure his disease. "The more I swing, the more positive I am," said Galarraga, who hit 44 homers for the Braves in 1998 but missed all of last season. "I feel good." ... Odalis Perez, who sustained a season-ending elbow injury in July, is likely to miss the first three months of this season while recuperating. Only recently did he begin some light tossing. "I feel frustrated to be going through this," the 21-year-old left-hander said. "At my age, you don't expect to have an injury like this. But now, I've got to go on." ... The Braves agreed to one-year contracts with five players: pitchers Winston Abreu, Jason Marquis, Jimmy Osting and Luis Rivera, as well as outfielder Junior Brignac. Twelve players have yet to come to terms.