ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - If second baseman Marcus Giles, shortstop Rafael Furcal, catcher Javy Lopez and right fielder Gary Sheffield hold onto their All-Star voting leads, the Braves could send as many as six players to the midsummer classic.
Pitchers Russ Ortiz and John Smoltz are also expected to be selected, giving Atlanta its largest All-Star contingent since six players went to the 1998 game.
Ortiz, who took his 10th win in Sunday's 2-0 victory over the Devil Rays, has never been an All-Star. Only one other pitcher in the league has more wins, and Dusty Baker, his former manager with the Giants, is picking the pitchers.
"I think now I have a lot better shot than I did before today," Ortiz said. "But I don't ever say I deserve something. If it were to happen, that would be something very exciting. To share that with (Dusty) would be very special. Obviously, it's definitely something I want to experience."
Ortiz credited Lopez's game-calling Sunday with keeping him in a good rhythm. And he attributed his improved command and effectiveness to keeping his ears open around pitching coach Leo Mazzone and fellow pitchers Greg Maddux and Smoltz.
"I hoped when I came here I could learn a lot about pitching," Ortiz said. "Just hearing (Mazzone, Maddux, and Smoltz) talk about pitching, about why certain guys throw certain pitches, or why certain pitches are not the right pitches to throw has really helped me develop into a better pitcher. I've been able to get a better grasp of it."
BYRD WATCHING: Paul Byrd was on a Sunday morning flight to Atlanta and will drive to Birmingham, Ala., today to be examined by noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. The righthander will undergo an MRI in which dye is injected into his elbow to see if he has a ligament tear. If he does, he will likely miss the next 12-18 months following ligament replacement surgery.
Byrd, who is being paid $3 million this year and has a $7 million player option for 2004, passed a physical before signing with the Braves last winter. After experiencing pain in his elbow in March, he underwent surgery in April to remove bone chips.
"We knew in spring training that removing the bone spurs might not be the answer," head trainer Jeff Porter said. "But that was not the wrong thing to do."
An MRI of Byrd's elbow in spring training did not reveal a tear. Porter said that was not unusual, that many times an MRI does not show a tear, particularly in veteran pitchers.
Byrd, who pitched two innings of a simulated game last week, indicated he felt significant pain during a bullpen session Saturday.
MY PAL VINNY: Vinny Castilla was not in Sunday afternoon's lineup, a move manager Bobby Cox was ruing after watching the third baseman hit the ball hard twice in Saturday night's loss, lining out to the shortstop and hitting his 12th home run.
"I told him Friday that he'd have Sunday off," Cox said.
Mark DeRosa, who played second base Saturday, replaced Castilla.
The home run was the first hit of the trip for Castilla, who is batting .183 this month.
"I haven't gotten hot yet," he said. "I usually hit about the same in the two halves, but I'm going to make an exception this year and get hot in the second half."
Castilla says he has been struggling at the plate because he's been pulling off the ball. Hitting coach Terry Pendleton is in his second year of suggesting to Castilla that he hit the ball to right field more often, advice the third baseman has put to use only occasionally.
"I'm chasing bad pitches," Castilla said. "I know I can do better than that."
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