Originally created 03/17/04

Wright close to starting job



VERO BEACH, Fla. - Bobby Cox won't confirm that he's chosen a fifth starter, but it has become clear that Jaret Wright will open the season in the rotation.

Wright is the only candidate who is following the starters' schedule by increasing his innings every five days. The right-hander, scheduled to work four innings Tuesday, pitched three innings before the game against the Dodgers was rained out, while the other three candidates - Trey Hodges, Jung Bong and Andy Pratt - are following a reliever's schedule, pitching no more than two innings at a time.

Wright, whose last start in the big leagues was in 2002 with the Indians, has been the leading candidate since camp opened. Cox was impressed with the work he did out of the bullpen in September and promised him a shot at the rotation, right shoulder permitting.

"Of my three starts, that was probably the one where my arm felt the best," said Wright, who worked three scoreless innings and allowed three hits and two walks. "As far as getting stuff done, I think it happened today."

Wright, who has made 96 starts in the majors, needs to prove that his surgically-repaired shoulder can handle the workload. He took another step in that direction against the Dodgers, his fastball topping out at 97 mph.

"So far, I've done everything I can to prove that point," said Wright, who had shoulder surgery in 2000 and 2001. "I don't think there have been any red flags."

Cox sounded like a manager who has reached a decision regarding his fifth starter.

"Wright looked terrific," Cox said. "He had really good location, a good sinker, and he threw a couple of really good breaking balls. He's got a really good mound presence. It looks like he's on a mission."

POSSIBLE MOVES: Wilson Betemit probably won't make the team as a backup infielder, but he's impressed Cox and the coaches with his sure hands at third base and an improved bat.

The former shortstop, regarded as the team's top prospect several years ago, came into camp behind several other infield prospects, but has moved up the pecking order by proving he can handle third base.

"I told him how much better he's gotten defensively," said third base coach Fredi Gonzalez, who was Betemit's Class AAA Richmond manager in 2002.

"He moves like he's been there for 20 years. He's unbelievable."

He'll probably start at Richmond again, but if third baseman Mark DeRosa is hurt, Betemit is a possible replacement.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.