Braves count on Boyer's return

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While Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano have gotten most of the attention, the Atlanta Braves are also counting on a more familiar name to bolster their bullpen.

Blaine Boyer, who missed nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, has been throwing off the mound at spring training with no problems.

Boyer was one of the Braves' most effective relievers in 2005 as a rookie, going 4-2 with a 3.76 ERA in 45 games. But his shoulder began hurting late in the season, and he wasn't able to pitch in the playoffs. The pain returned at spring training last year, and Boyer wound up needing surgery after two ineffective games at the start of the season (he retired only two hitters, giving up four hits and three runs).

Now, after sitting out the rest of the year, Boyer is poised to reclaim a spot in an improved bullpen.

- Another closely watched pitcher is Kyle Davies, the early leader for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Regarded as one of the Braves' top prospects, Davies is coming off a horrible season that was interrupted by surgery for a torn groin. He was 3-7 with an 8.38 ERA - and the numbers were even worse after he returned in September.

The 23-year-old Davies was on the mound Monday, trying to prove that he's gotten over his surgery and can be an effective member of the rotation.

YANKEES: Steve Swindal returned to work and apologized for becoming a distraction.

He wouldn't speculate whether his arrest last week for driving under the influence would alter his role as George Steinbrenner's designated successor.

"I know I let a lot of people down, and I promise to do better and put this behind me," he said, standing in front of a photograph of Billy Martin in the Legends Field press box.

RANGERS: Closer Eric Gagne threw off a mound for the first time at spring training, completing a 37-pitch session with no complications. Gagne had as many surgeries (two) as relief appearances last season.

CUBS: Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano said he expects to sign a one-year contract before today's scheduled arbitration hearing.

BLUE JAYS: Manager John Gibbons agreed to a one-year, $650,000 contract extension.

COURTS: Hall of Fame baseball player George Kell, 84, was cited over the weekend for a hit-and-run after a three-car accident in Jonesboro, Ark. No one was hurt.


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