Originally created 02/26/03

Braves notebook



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Center fielder Andruw Jones, a perennial Gold Glove winner, would rather play shortstop.

OK, that's not entirely true. But he begged manager Bobby Cox to play short last spring and Cox finally acquiesced, allowing him to move to the infield in a spring game against the Cleveland Indians.

In his next life, Jones will return as a shortstop. In the meantime, he's setting the standard for outfield play, winning five straight Gold Gloves.

He was charged with just three errors in 412 chances last season and it's generally acknowledged by scouts and the game's insiders that only Minnesota's Torii Hunter rivals him as baseball's best center fielder.

But don't think he's spending his spring working on his shortstop skills. Jones, who makes playing center field look so easy he gives the impression that he doesn't work at it, is brushing up on the fundamentals again.

"You've got to work at seeing the ball off the bat and staying in balance while you run so your head doesn't bob," he said. "You go three months without it and you've got to make little adjustments. You've got to get your body used to doing it again on a regular basis."

IMPRESSED: Cox didn't want his catchers to feel neglected, so he left his office early Tuesday morning to watch them work on their throws to second base. He came away with high praise for newcomer Johnny Estrada, who returned to full duty after sitting out a couple of workouts after being hit in his left knee by Greg Maddux.

"He was really a stand-out guy," Cox said. "Quick and strong and accurate."

Cox said he plans to give all three of his catchers - Javy Lopez, Henry Blanco and Estrada - a lot of playing time this spring.

STARTER BY TRADE: Horacio Ramirez is two years removed from elbow ligament replacement surgery and Cox isn't surprised the left-hander is throwing harder than before the procedure.

"That happens all the time," he said. "They're stronger and they know it's not going to pop again."

Ramirez, who is contending for the fifth starter's job, probably won't go to the bullpen if he loses the battle to Jason Marquis.

"We'll do what it takes to win, but (Ramirez) is a starter in my mind," Cox said.

Cox said Ramirez's lack of experience would not be a factor in his decision.

FINAL TOUCHES: In preparation for Thursday's exhibition opener, pitchers and infielders worked on fundamentals the past two days. Tuesday's drills centered on pickoffs and rundowns, and Cox came away pleased with what he saw.

"They're ready for a game," he said.

QUOTABLE: Gary Sheffield on commissioner Bud Selig's edict that uniform pant legs can no longer extend to the top of the spikes: "Yeah, the game might speed up if we pull up our pants."