ATLANTA - It's on a day like this, with another reliever headed for the disabled list, that the Atlanta Braves can show the depth of their bullpen.
The Braves, who added right-hander Joe Dawley from Class AAA Richmond on Thursday to replace Kevin Gryboski, who was placed on the disabled list, have four of the six relievers who started the season on the disabled list.
"It's kind of fun trying to piece the game together and seeing what you have out there," manager Bobby Cox said.
More than one piece was missing Thursday night.
Left-hander Kent Mercker flew home to Dublin, Ohio, to be with his wife, Julie, who underwent a surgical procedure. Mercker hoped to meet the team in Pittsburgh today, but he might not arrive until Saturday or Sunday.
Gryboski, who walked one and hit two batters during the seventh inning Wednesday night, is sidelined with what head trainer Jeff Porter described as shoulder tendinitis. Gryboski, who has been bothered by shoulder pain for six weeks, will get an MRI today to determine whether he has a tear in his rotator cuff.
"I thought rest would do it, but obviously that's not the answer," said Gryboski, who has appeared in nine games this month. "I tried to get through it, but I feel I'm hurting the team because I'm not 100 percent. It's not the real me out there."
Gryboski said his shoulder pain prevented him from throwing his slider and split-finger. And during Wednesday's game, he couldn't throw a fastball without experiencing a sharp pain in his shoulder.
"I was inventing stuff to throw to (Mike) Piazza," he said.
Gryboski joins John Smoltz, Darren Holmes and former USC Aiken pitcher Roberto Hernandez on the disabled list, leaving Ray King, Mercker and the rest of the bullpen to hold things together until the relievers return.
"We'll just have to go out and score more runs and make the late innings a non-issue," left fielder Chipper Jones said.
With a 15-game division lead, the Braves are not concerned about who pitches the eighth and ninth innings during the next two or three weeks. What concerns them is getting Smoltz back by September and having the other relievers ready for the postseason.
"We'll be fine," Cox said. "We have plenty of time to get ready."
CHANGE OF PLANS: Cox planned to rest second baseman Marcus Giles on Thursday, but when shortstop Rafael Furcal was scratched 20 minutes before the game, he was forced to shift Mark DeRosa to shortstop and pencil Giles into the lineup.
Cox did give first baseman Robert Fick the night off, replacing him with rookie Mike Hessman, who made his first major league start.
"I hope to give everybody a night off occasionally the rest of the way," Cox said.
"I'm more excited than anything else," said Hessman, whose first hit in the big leagues was a home run Tuesday night. "I've been pretty relaxed when I go up there."
Hessman, 25, can play third and first and feels comfortable at both positions. After producing batting averages of .247 or lower in six minor league seasons, he blossomed last year at Richmond, hitting .262 with 26 home runs and 77 RBI. He also struck out 107 times in 484 at-bats, which represented an improvement over his previous five seasons, when he averaged 155 whiffs.
"I've worked on having a game plan and an approach at the plate, instead of hacking at everything that comes up there," Hessman said.
AROUND THE DIAMOND: Gary Sheffield entered Thursday's game needing one stolen base to become the 17th player in major league history with 300 home runs and 200 steals. ... Cox is 16 wins shy of overtaking Casey Stengel for ninth place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,906 victories. ... Darren Bragg was joking before Thursday's game that he needed to be in the lineup against Mets left-hander Al Leiter. The left-handed-hitting outfielder had a point. Bragg is a career .375 hitter (3-for-8) against Leiter, and is 3-for-4 against him this season. ... Robert Fick has struggled at the plate lately, a 10-for-his-last-70 stretch dropping his average to .276. ... Andruw Jones' average has also gone south, thanks to a 13-for-74 stretch, but he's continued to knock in runs, with 38 RBI in his past 41 games.