Originally created 03/06/02

Braves notebook

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- John Burkett still can't understand why the Braves didn't want him back, but he's happy pitching for a new team in the other league.

The righthander, who signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Red Sox after the Braves refused to give him two years and $8 million this winter, figures to be the No. 2 starter behind three-time Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez.

The Braves chose to sign 19-game loser Albie Lopez for $4 million to replace Burkett.

"My understanding was they only had $4 million to spend and if I didn't want it, they'd give it to someone else," Burkett said Tuesday before the Red Sox beat the Braves 4-2 at City of Palms Park. "I would have been flexible. I would have deferred money, but I wanted two years."

Burkett says the team's front office wanted him back, but corporate bean counters refused to move on the budget.

"I believe those guys wanted me to stay," he said. "I believe it was out of their hands; it was higher up. It's pretty funny they were talking about a budget with someone like me."

The Braves believe Lopez, who's seven years younger than Burkett, can replace his 219 1/3 innings and 12 wins. Burkett, who exchanged greetings with general manager John Schuerholz and chatted with his former teammates before the game, says he understands the team's motives.

"I understand that's how baseball is," he said. "I love the guys there and I loved the time I had there. It would have been nice to stay, but I've been on a lot of teams, so I'm somewhat used to it."

Burkett pitched three hitless innings in his Red Sox debut, and is scheduled to start again Thursday against the Orioles.

Besides Burkett, the Braves saw several familiar faces. Former Atlanta shortstop Rey Sanchez was signed by the Red Sox last week to play second, second baseman Quilvio Veras is in camp, and outfielder Bobby Bonilla, who retired last week, was spotted in the clubhouse. ...

Chipper Jones has never been much of a March hitter, and he's following a familiar script this spring. With three more fruitless at-bats Tuesday, he's 1 for 9 with just one RBI.

But on a positive note, he hit the ball hard against Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez, smashing a one-hopper at first baseman Brian Daubach in the first inning.

"If I can do it off Pedro, I must be making progress," said Jones, who batted .162 last spring. "I'm not all that disappointed. I'm putting the ball in play." ...

Catcher Eddie Perez threw out Rickey Henderson, baseball's all-time stolen base king, in the third inning.

"He's the best stealer ever, and that makes me feel good," said Perez, who has missed most of the last two seasons following rotator cuff surgery. "They're finding out that I'm back. I want to show this team that I'm ready." ...

ETC: B.J. Surhoff extended his hit streak to four straight singles, dating back to Monday's game, with a pair of hits. ...

Andruw Jones struck out three times, upping his spring total to five whiffs in 12 at-bats. ...

The Braves have welcomed back former Class AAA Richmond pitching coach Bill Fischer, who left the organization last year to become the Devil Rays' pitching coach. Fischer will scout near his Iowa home and analyze high school and college pitchers prior to the June draft.

"He's back and we're glad to have him," general manager John Schuerholz said.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.


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