LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., - Breaking with tradition, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox announced his starting rotation Saturday, naming 21-game winner Russ Ortiz his Opening Day starter against the Mets on April 6.
Mike Hampton will follow Ortiz to the mound the next day, newcomer John Thomson will start the series finale against the Mets, and Horacio Ramirez will open a weekend series against the Cubs on April 9.
"I didn't expect it," said Ortiz, who will make his first Opening Day start. "To be able to start Opening Day is special. It will be exciting for me."
Ortiz won 18 games with the Giants in 1999 and 17 games in 2001, but was never chosen by manager Dusty Baker to open the season. Cox had no such qualms.
"He's very deserving of opening day," Cox said. "It's no big deal, but why not? I think all pitchers consider it an honor."
Ortiz's opponent in the opener will be former Braves left-hander Tom Glavine, who lost four times to his old club last season.
Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz have started 13 of the last 14 openers for the Braves.
Cox also announced that 24-year-old right-hander Roman Colon will start Wednesday afternoon's exhibition game against the University of Georgia.
Colon, who was 11-3 with a 3.36 ERA at Class AA Greenville last year, will be followed to the mound by right-handers Blaine Boyer and Brett Evert, and left-hander Sam McConnell.
Thomson will start Thursday's Grapefruit League opener against the Dodgers.
JUST A TEST: Kevin Gryboski put his sore right shoulder to the test Saturday afternoon, making 30 pitches in a five-minute bullpen session that left him feeling far more positive than he was just three days ago.
"It felt really good, the best it's felt all spring," said the reliever. "With all the treatment and rehab, I came into today feeling optimistic and everything went well."
Gryboski, who has a partial tear in his labrum, followed doctor's orders and did not turn up the velocity in his first workout off a mound this spring.
Paul Byrd followed Gryboski to the mound and offered more evidence that his comeback from elbow ligament replacement surgery is ahead of schedule.
The right-hander threw at peak velocity and though he wasn't happy with his command, he felt no pain in his elbow.
If his comeback continues smoothly, the Braves expect him to start a rehab assignment in the minors in April.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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