PHOENIX - It was an easy call for Braves manager Bobby Cox. In desperate need of some effective arms in the bullpen, he issued a call for help Thursday.
Out went Marc Valdes and Chris Seelbach. In came Matt Whiteside and Damian Moss, a pair of pitchers with impressive numbers at Class AAA Richmond.
"They were throwing great and were highly recommended," Cox said. "They should be able to mix right in."
In dumping Valdes and Seelbach, the Braves sent a powerful message to the relief corps: Do the job or risk losing it.
Valdes, who departed with a 9.00 ERA, will try to find the sink on his sinker at Richmond. Seelbach, who appeared in only three games, will have to clear waivers before moving on. If he's not claimed, he can become a free agent.
In promoting Whiteside and Moss, the team chose Richmond's two hottest pitchers and delivered a message to struggling fifth starter Odalis Perez. Moss, who's also left-handed, was 1-0 with a 0.41 ERA in four starts, allowing 12 hits and striking out 30 in 22 innings. If Perez doesn't get his act together, Moss can step into the rotation, while Perez moves to the bullpen.
This is the first trip to the big leagues for the 24-year-old Moss, a native of Australia who spent last season at Richmond, posting a 9-6 record and 3.14 ERA. The complaint against him is he doesn't throw enough strikes. He had 123 strikeouts and 106 walks in 160ä innings last year, numbers that didn't earn him even a September callup. But he seems to have solved his control problems in his four starts this season. He walked just seven of the 83 hitters he faced and allowed one earned run.
"The biggest thing was getting ahead in the count and throwing first-pitch strikes," said Moss, who hopped an 8 a.m. flight from Richmond and arrived in Phoenix about noon. "That gives me a chance to throw everything, instead of eliminating my curve and slider."
Whiteside, 33, got a long look in spring training, but still didn't make the staff, despite Cox's carrying an extra reliever. He has appeared in 271 games in the majors with the Rangers, Phillies and Padres, compiling an 18-14 record and 5.01 ERA.
From the first day of spring training, when pitching coach Leo Mazzone suggested a small adjustment in his delivery that helped him keep his fastball and slider on the outer half of the plate, Whiteside has thrown well. He was surprised to be among the final spring training cuts, but put up outstanding numbers at Richmond and waited for a call.
"I didn't think it was a surprise to get called up," said Whiteside, who didn't allow a run and struck out nine in 10 innings at Richmond. "I've been throwing the ball consistently well from the first day of spring training."
For a bullpen that has posted a 5.22 ERA in the first 22 games, the two new faces are a welcome relief.
Reach Bill Zack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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