Originally created 02/26/03

Marquis doesn't consider fifth starter a battle



KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Apparently, someone forgot to tell Jason Marquis there's a battle for the final spot in the Atlanta Braves rotation.

Marquis isn't thrilled that manager Bobby Cox declared the job open, going out of his way to praise young left-handers Jung Bong, Horacio Ramirez and Andy Pratt.

"I never knew I was fighting for a job to begin with," Marquis said Tuesday. "I know I had a bad two months, but I didn't think it would justify this."

The 24-year-old right-hander slumped badly in the second half last season, going 2-5 with a 6.97 ERA in 10 starts after the All-Star break. Overall, he was 8-9 with a 5.04 ERA.

"If they can't see my ability, so be it," Marquis said. "I'm just going to go pitch. If they don't like it, it's out of my hands. I can't worry about anyone but myself."

In a telling sign, Ramirez will start the first Grapefruit League game on Friday.

Marquis was late getting started this spring because of shoulder problems, and he's yet to throw to hitters in batting practice. He did draw praise from Cox for the way he threw in the bullpen Monday.

Marquis is scheduled to make his first appearance in a spring training game next Monday, following Russ Ortiz to the mound.

"Things are coming along," Marquis said. "You're not going to come straight into camp throwing cheese. That's what spring training is for. But I'm making good progress."

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FRANCOEUR'S PROGRESS: Nineteen-year-old Jeff Francoeur was invited to the major-league camp so the Braves could get a look at one of their top prospects.

So far, he's fitting right in.

Manager Bobby Cox raves about the 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder, who starred in both football and baseball at Parkview High School in suburban Atlanta.

He received a football scholarship from Clemson, but decided to play baseball after the Braves picked him in the first round of last year's June draft.

Francoeur batted .327 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 38 games for Atlanta's rookie-league team in Danville. That earned him an invitation to his first big-league camp.

"This is neat," Francoeur said. "It's everything I thought it would be. I'm glad to get a chance to learn from the best in the game."

His status with the team is clear by the number on the back (70) and his locker status (he's sharing a stall with another non-roster invitee, pitcher Bubba Nelson).

Francoeur will get a couple of weeks with the big leaguers, then be shipped back to the minor-league camp. He'll likely start the season with Class A Rome.

"I'm just happy to be here," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. It's good to learn from these guys, see what it's like to play up here."

Cox is impressed with the young prospect and plans to give him a good look in the first few exhibition games.

"Early on, he's going to get some playing time," the manager said. "He fits right in already. He's got a great, great makeup, that kid. He could be a success in a lot of things."

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ESTRADA RETURNS: Catcher Johnny Estrada was back behind the plate on Tuesday, four days after being hit by a pitch in batting practice.

Estrada, acquired during the offseason for Kevin Millwood, took part in throwing drills with the other catchers. Manager Bobby Cox was impressed.

"He had a great day throwing," Cox said. "He's really a standout guy. He has quick feet, and his arm is strong and accurate."

Estrada had trouble squatting after getting plunked on the left knee by Greg Maddux last Friday, causing a nasty bruise and severe swelling.

After taking it easy for three days, Estrada felt the knee was good enough to give it a test.

"Everything felt pretty good," he said. "There's still some soreness, but it's not going to keep me from doing anything."

Estrada is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Richmond unless Cox decides to keep three catchers, an unlikely scenario. Javy Lopez and Henry Blanco are the top two catchers.

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THIS AND THAT: The Braves have eight unsigned players in camp after agreeing to terms Monday with RHP Kevin Gryboski and four prospects. ... The team worked on pickoff plays for about an hour at the start of Tuesday's workout. "I think they're ready for a game," Cox said. ... Pitching coach Leo Mazzone pranced around the clubhouse touting his newest possession, an autographed picture from Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham. Mazzone is a huge fan of the Fighting Irish and usually wears a Notre Dame T-shirt under his uniform.

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QUOTABLE: OF Gary Sheffield, scoffing at new uniform guidelines that are supposed to prevent players such as himself from tucking their pants into their shoes: "It might speed up the game if I pull up my pants."