Originally created 04/02/00

Joyner is adjusting to role as a reserve



ATLANTA -- Wally Joyner has grown accustomed to starting at first base during his 15-year career that includes stints in California, Kansas City and San Diego.

So it would understandable if the 37-year old would feel uncomfortable playing as a reserve.

Joyner seemed to accept that role happily on Saturday, belting a two-run homer in the third inning to give the Braves the lead for good as they closed the exhibition season with a 6-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians in front of 32,857 fans at Turner Field.

In the final exhibition game of the season before Monday's opener against Colorado, Braves manager Bobby Cox used seven pitchers and allowed 24 players to see action before making cuts for the team's 25-man opening day roster.

Steve Sisco cracked a three-run homer in the sixth to give the Braves a 5-2 lead. Trenidad Hubbard scored in the eighth to make it 6-3 before closer John Rocker entered the game in the ninth to a standing ovation.

In his first game at Turner Field since his controversial remarks regarding gays, foreigners and minorities, the fiery left-hander closed the door on Cleveland to pick up the save.

Kevin Millwood started, working the first two innings and allowing a solo homer to David Justice in the second inning. Newly acquired John Burkett also worked two innings, facing just six batters while striking out three in his first outing in an Atlanta uniform.

"John will start out for us in the bullpen," Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "But he's got a chance when we go to five-man rotation to be that fifth starter."

The biggest surprise of the day seemed to be Joyner, who finished with two hits and showed a national television audience he's back from a nagging collarbone injury he suffered last season that saw the former all-star hit a career low .248 while in San Diego.

"This (playing as a reserve) is something different for me," said Joyner, who was acquired in a deal last December that sent Joyner along with Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras to San Diego for Ryan Klesko, Bret Boone and Jason Shiell. "But I'm ready to do that."

Last year, Joyner collided with Pittsburgh's Abraham Nunez while fielding a ground ball early in the season. The collision broke Joyner's collarbone, and even though he played in 110 games, the injury forced him to go back and forth from the disabled list.

"(Last season) was very difficult," he said. "I played a lot, not knowing what the injury was, and I think I began to doubt myself as to whether I could still play or not."

Joyner credits much of his comeback to Braves hitting coach Merv Rettenmund, who worked with Joyner in San Diego before taking over as Atlanta's hitting coach when Don Baylor was named the manager of the Cubs.

"The last 10 days have been pretty good," Joyner said. "I've got a lot of work to make up but I'm comfortable working with Merv. I've worked well with him in the past."

Joyner may spend a good bit of time filling in as a pinch hitter or serving as Andres Galarraga's backup at first-base.

"He's got a lot of time left," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "If he stays in shape, we feel like he's definitely got another year or two. I'm just glad he's on our side."

Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.