Originally created 03/06/03

Braves' rookie overcomes nerves against Yankees



TAMPA, Fla. - Several years ago Odalis Perez opened the Atlanta Braves' eyes and won a job on the pitching staff with a dominant spring performance against the New York Yankees.

On Wednesday, Horacio Ramirez also opened some eyes. The 23-year-old rookie faced a Yankees' lineup that will probably be the one that manager Joe Torre sets against the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day.

In his second start, Ramirez pitched three shutout innings in a 12-2 win and allowed four hits, including a double misplayed by right fielder Gary Sheffield and Alfonso Soriano's infield hit.

"At first, I was a little intimidated because they were the Yankees and they have all that aura," Ramirez said. "But that went away when I started to get loose."

Ramirez retired the Yankees in order in the first, then yielded Bernie Williams' soft single to open the second. Ramirez regrouped and induced Japanese product Hideki Matsui to roll into a double play. He then coaxed Derek Jeter to tap out to second baseman Mark DeRosa with two runners on to end the third.

"I was a little disappointed that I fell behind in the count a lot," Ramirez said. "That's something I really have to work on, getting that first-pitch strike."

Ramirez was harder on himself than the Yankees were on him. He buried veteran third baseman Robin Ventura with a pair of sliders and a third-strike fastball to end the second, one of his two strikeouts, and didn't walk anyone.

"He's a pitcher," manager Bobby Cox said. "He can drop any type of pitch on you in any count. He can spot it in and out; he can do a lot of stuff."

CHIPPER RETURNS: Chipper Jones made his first appearance in the lineup Wednesday, insisting his sprained left thumb had completely healed. He convinced Cox before the team left Disney and the manager reluctantly agreed he could play.

"(Cox) was pitching for (Thursday)," Jones said. "I said, 'Look, I'm ready.' I'm not going to (mislead) him if I'm not ready. I get bored not playing. I'd much rather make the trip and get in the swing of things."

Said Cox: "My first inclination was to say no, but he told me he has no pain."

Jones injured his thumb making a diving catch against Georgia Tech on Feb. 27. He couldn't grip a bat until Tuesday and while the time off didn't hurt his left-handed swing, his right-handed stroke needs some work.

Yankees left-hander David Wells ate him up inside, forcing two weak grounders, then Jones doubled against righty Jorge DePaula.

"It was about what I expected," Jones said. "I feel great left-handed; my swing is right there. It's going to take some at-bats to get my right-handed swing rectified. And it better happen fast."

INJURY REPORT: Cox said shortstop Rafael Furcal, who sprained his left ankle Sunday against the Montreal Expos, might be ready to play today against the Florida Marlins at Disney. But second baseman Marcus Giles, who sprained his ankle stepping on a base Monday, might need another day or two.

MAKING A CASE: Trey Hodges, who is battling for the fifth starter's job, added two more shutout innings to his spring resume. He didn't allow a hit and struck out two. The 24-year-old right-hander has pitched four innings in two games, yielded one hit and one walk, and struck out five.

"We kind of compare him to John Burkett," Cox said. "He knows where the ball is going and that's a huge part of pitching. You'd rather have velocity and control, but who has both? Very few pitchers. Pitchers like Hodges make their fastball look faster then it is. That's the art of pitching, deception."

Hodges featured a heavy sinker, which he used to force two grounders, and he located it effectively. More important, he kept pace with Ramirez in the battle to join the rotation.

"The guy just keeps getting them out," Cox said.