ATLANTA - In keeping with annual tradition, Greg Maddux was absent from Camp Leo on Monday.
The year's opening workouts for Atlanta Braves pitchers, run by pitching coach Leo Mazzone, started with 22 pitchers and a handful of catchers at Turner Field. The only things missing were the "Hi, my name is ..." tags that should be mandatory equipment until everyone gets to know each other.
"I know I don't know hardly anyone around here," left-hander Mike Hampton said. "Until I actually put the uniform on, I'm a little in awe of being here."
These are confusing times for the Braves. General Manager John Schuerholz made tough choices over the winter, letting Tom Glavine sign with the New York Mets and trading Kevin Millwood to Philadelphia a year before he could have left as a free agent.
The result is like fitting together a jigsaw puzzle.
Glavine, Millwood, and Damian Moss - who combined for 48 wins last season - have been replaced by Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and Paul Byrd. Four bullpen spots are open for the taking.
"There's some big shoes to fill around here," said Byrd, who won 17 games with the Kansas City Royals last year. "Even though we've got four new guys in the rotation and that's scary, I think we've got four No. 1 or No. 2 starters."
Monday's turnout was the largest group of pitchers Mazzone has tutoredsince he started the early throwing program in 1991. "I didn't approach it any differently," Mazzone said. "We exchange new ideas, we go over mechanics, and we try to get in shape."
The two biggest questions center on Hampton and Byrd. After a 22-win season with the Astros in 1999, Hampton became the richest free agent pitcher in history. He flopped in Denver.
"I had to show mental toughness in Colorado and I didn't do it," he said. "I wasn't successful there and it's nobody's fault but my own. I can't take away 15 losses last year. I feel very fortunate the Braves showed interest in me and believed in me. It sets my mind at ease that they feel I still have it."
It's ironic that Byrd, who the Braves couldn't get rid of fast enough in 1998, will return to the rotation
"We hugged," Byrd said of his first meeting with Mazzone. "We had a moment there. I have to show Leo I've improved. He remembers a guy who couldn't throw strikes that well. I'm just hoping to show him the new Paul Byrd."
But in the aftermath of this winter, Mazzone will need more than a moment to rebuild his depleted pitching staff.
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