MIAMI - The first crack is showing in the big league's best bullpen.
Atlanta's Kevin Gryboski, who gave up just two earned runs in his first 19 appearances, has been scored on in five of his last 13 games, allowing six earned runs in 9 1/3 innings. That's boosted his ERA to 2.27, though the league is batting just .236 against him.
Gryboski blames a flaw in his delivery that is causing his sinker to flatten out and stray over the middle of the plate.
"I'm opening my front side too much and leaving stuff over the plate, when I haven't in the past," he said.
Pitching coach Leo Mazzone spotted it last week. The adjustment is so minor, Gryboski has been forced to remind himself to stay closed as he starts his windup. Often, he has forgotten as he has focused on the hitter.
"It's so minor, you don't realize you're doing it," he said. "But when I realize what I'm doing, I've got to correct it. Right now, I'm just struggling mechanically."
Even with Gryboski struggling to regain his form, manager Bobby Cox has options in the bullpen. His top three relievers are well rested: Mike Remlinger has had three days off, Chris Hammond two, and closer John Smoltz hasn't worked since Saturday.
The bullpen continues to lead all major league bullpens with a 2.24 ERA.
INJURY UPDATE: Javy Lopez threw lightly and swung a bat Tuesday to test his strained right shoulder. He played catch and his swings were tentative, but he reported improvement in his shoulder.
"It's still a little sore, but it feels better," he said.
The team probably won't make a decision whether to place Lopez on the disabled list until it returns home Friday.
"I'm not going to say I'm 100 percent sure I won't go on the DL, but I'm sure going to try and avoid it," he said.
READY TO PITCH: Barring a setback, reliever Darren Holmes will be activated from the disabled list Friday. The likely candidate to return to Class AAA Richmond to make room for Holmes on the roster is rookie reliever Tim Spooneybarger.
Holmes threw from a bullpen mound Tuesday and reported no problems with his right thumb.
Spooneybarger, who earned his first big league save Sunday, and pitched two scoreless innings in Monday's 2-1 loss to the Marlins, has given up three earned runs on six hits in 8 1/3 innings since being called up from Richmond on June 27.
"I'm a lot more focused now," Spooneybarger said. "I feel like I'm pitching to prove something now."
TWO-SPORT STAR: Near the end of early batting practice Tuesday afternoon, one of the clubhouse attendants brought out a football, and Mark DeRosa's eyes lit up. The former Penn quarterback showed off his arm, but more impressively, he boomed several punts, left-footed.
"I've always kicked left-footed and thrown right-handed," he said, shrugging. "I don't know why."
At the receiving end of several DeRosa passes was Chipper Jones, who ended the session with a one-handed grab on a fly pattern.
"Chipper ran some crisp routes out there," DeRosa said. "I can see why he had a full ride to Miami."
SHORT HOPS: Because of Thursday's day off, pitcher Jason Marquis' turn will be skipped. He'll be available in the bullpen until his spot in the rotation comes up again. ... Vinny Castilla has put together three eight-game hitting streaks, two in May and one in July, yet he's batting .245 and he's knocked in just two runs this month. In the first three months, he drove in 45 runs. ... Chipper Jones has just 17 hits in his last 76 at-bats (.224), but headed into Tuesday's game with five hits in 11 at-bats on the trip.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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