Originally created 03/30/03

Braves finalize opening roster

ATLANTA - Reporters gathered around Horacio Ramirez, who stood at attention and smiled as his dreams officially came true Saturday.

Two lockers to his right, a downtrodden Donzell Washington packed stacks of batting gloves and wristbands into a box as the occasional clubhouse attendant came by to shake his hand, offer a hug and wish him luck.

Such is the contrast on the last day of spring training: a.k.a. cut day.

Those on the fringe of making the major-league squad can hardly sit still - Ramirez, who will start Wednesday's game against Montreal in place of the injured Mike Hampton, said he hadn't slept well in the past week - and when your fate is finally delivered, you're all smiles.

Or you pack your gear and make reservations for the minors.

Five Braves learned how the latter feels.

McDonald, fellow outfielder Bo Porter and infielder Jesse Garcia were reassigned after Saturday's 2-1 exhibition loss to Boston, and catcher Johnny Estrada and infielder Mike Hessman were optioned to Class AAA Richmond.

"In the back of my mind, I thought it might happen, but it hadn't sunk in," said a quiet Estrada, who was traded from Philadelphia for Kevin Millwood and hit .258 in 31 at-bats this spring. "Now, it's sinking in. There's nothing I can do about it. I have an option left, so I'll do the best I can until my number is called.

"I knew the only way I could make the club is if they traded somebody to open up a spot for me. That didn't happen. But I think the future is still bright."

Even more so for Ramirez.

After he tied the Grapefruit League lead for wins this spring with four, Ramirez was one of 12 pitchers Cox will keep in Atlanta. And because Hampton is injured, Ramirez will make his first major league start in just four days.

"When we started spring training, we thought we might go with 11 pitchers," Cox said. "But right now, it's mandatory we go with 12 and see how it turns out."

That's fine by Ramirez.

"It feels good to accomplish something I've always wanted to do," Ramirez said. "I've always felt like I could pitch at this level. The easy part is over. Now, it's the hard part."

Aside from their announcement that the club would keep 12 pitchers - middle reliever Joe Dawley likely is filling Hampton's spot - the Braves didn't offer many surprises on cut day.

Thanks to solid springs, where they batted .283 and .320 respectively, Atlanta purchased the contracts of Julio Franco and Darren Bragg from Class AAA Richmond, and Cox announced Jason Marquis would begin the season in the starting rotation.

Now, infielder Mark DeRosa is finished with the formalities. He's just ready to play Monday's season-opener against Montreal.

"Everybody is going to be fired up, and they'll probably be here early," DeRosa said. "Opening Day speaks for itself."

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216. or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com


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