LAKE BUENA VISTA,Fla.- Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles' sore right ankle concerns the Braves more than they're willing to admit.
Giles, who missed nearly six weeks last season with a badly sprained ankle, tweaked the same ankle stepping on second base Monday against the Houston Astros.
"I would be concerned if he continues to have a problem," manager Bobby Cox said. "As an infielder, to have a sore ankle is difficult. We're hoping he's going to be fine."
Giles hasn't played since Tuesday and is concerned the injury might hamper him all season.
"I may have to play with some pain the whole year," he said. "I don't think it's anything I can't handle. I don't think it's going to be unbearable."
Giles describes it as a sharp pain pinching the outside of his ankle. Head trainer Jeff Porter described the ankle problem as "chronic."
Considering the severity of Giles' ankle sprain last year, Porter said his problems this spring are "not that surprising."
"There are aftereffects to that sort of injury," he said.
Giles said he didn't experience any pain in his ankle this winter.
, "But then again I wasn't running bases and doing all that stuff," he said.
MIND MADE UP? Cox sounds like a manager who's already made up his mind about his fifth starting pitcher when he talks about rookie Horacio Ramirez but swears no decision has been made.
Ramirez, Jason Marquis, Jung Bong, Trey Hodges and Andy Pratt are all battling for the final spot.
"Honest to God, we don't know who we're going to go with in that spot," Cox said. "Jason is starting to throw well, and Hodges is leading the team in strikeouts. But Ramirez is pretty impressive. He's got a chance to keep you in games right now. He's pretty polished in areas of knowing how to pitch."
The battle for jobs in the bullpen is equally tense.
Joe Dawley, a 31-year-old right-hander who has bounced around the minors and independent leagues since 1993, has caught Cox's eye by giving up just one hit in two appearances.
"He looks as good as anybody," Cox said. "He comes back and looks like (Hall of Famer) Tom Seaver half the time. The guy is really good."
Derrick Lewis, who underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery nearly two years ago, has retired all 12 hitters he's faced this spring. He breezed through two innings in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Florida Marlins; lefty Mike Venafro hasn't allowed a hit in three innings.
Left-hander Chris Haney didn't strengthen his case for a bullpen job when he got the first two Marlins in the eighth, then yielded five straight hits and four runs.
SHORT HOPS:Former Braves reliever Tim Spooneybarger, dealt to the Marlins in the Mike Hampton deal, backed up his harsh comments about his former club, particularly pitching coach Leo Mazzone, with two innings of perfect relief Thursday. He set down the Braves in order twice, striking out three, including Vinny Castilla and Matt Franco. Spooneybarger and Mazzone got together before the game and talked briefly without incident.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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