Young Andrus eager to impress in brief visit

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus, in the Atlanta Braves' major league camp Sunday for the split-squad game against Detroit, provided a reminder of the team's wealth of middle infield prospects.

"I'm a young guy and I'm glad for the chance," Andrus said. "Just to be here is really exciting, and if I get an at-bat I'm happy, too."

Andrus came in the Braves' 4-3 win in the sixth inning. He grounded out in the seventh inning but showed his speed as he almost beat out shortstop Brent Dlugach's throw to first.

Andrus impressed manager Bobby Cox with his play in the field. Andrus combined with second baseman Jonathan Schuerholz for a ninth-inning double play to preserve the win.

"He's smooth, isn't he," said Cox. "And he can hit."

Andrus, 18, was rated the fourth-best prospect in the South Atlantic League after he spent the 2006 season at Class A Rome.

Andrus hit.265 and ranked among the Braves' minor league leaders with 25 doubles and 23 stolen bases. The native of Venezuela is projected by scouts to be a lock to eventually start in the major leagues.

"They think he's going to be a heck of a line-drive hitter, and a (high) average hitter," Cox said. "Even when we first signed him, he could hit."

Andrus attracted a lot of attention when he took his turn in batting practice. He says he's not bothered by the high expectations.

"I never have pressure," he said. "The pressure is from yourself. Enjoy the game. That's what I do."

Andrus (6-0, 198) says he gained about 10 pounds in the offseason.

"I feel in shape," he said. "I can still run. I have a little more power."

He probably will open this season at high Class A Myrtle Beach and hopes to move up to Double-A Mississippi before the end of the season.

"I feel really good," he said. "I've worked hard on my baserunning and my fielding. If you do the little things, you get an opportunity."

The big question is if Andrus will have an opportunity with the Braves.

The Braves are loaded with prospects at shortstop, including Tony Pena Jr., Yunel Escobar and Brent Lillibridge, who was acquired with reliever Mike Gonzalez in the Jan. 19 trade that sent first baseman Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh.

Starting shortstop Edgar Renteria is signed through 2008. The Braves signed veteran Chris Woodward to be a top backup middle infielder, perhaps making it more difficult for Pena to make the team.

Pena, 25, is out of options and would be placed on waivers and possibly claimed by another team if he doesn't make Atlanta's opening day roster.

Pena started at shortstop in the Braves' split-squad 6-5 win over Cincinnati in Sarasota Sunday. Pena was 2-for-3 with a double, lifting his batting average to.303. Escobar played behind Pena and was 1-for-1. Escobar is hitting.452 in 15 games.

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DIAZ HURTS SHOULDER: Left fielder Matt Diaz left the game in Sarasota after hurting his left shoulder while diving for a ball. The injury was not thought to be serious.

Diaz, who hit.327 last season, again is competing with Ryan Langerhans and Craig Wilson for playing time.

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BUDDY BALL: There probably isn't an opening on the Braves' pitching staff, but Buddy Carlyle is doing his best to make a strong impression.

Carlyle, a right-hander who signed with Atlanta as a minor league free agent in December, started against the Reds Sunday and gave up only four hits in four scoreless innings. He had four strikeouts and walked one batter.

Carlyle, 29, has pitched 10 scoreless innings this spring, giving up eight hits.

Carlyle has pitched in 21 major league games with San Diego and Los Angeles, including 10 games in relief for the Dodgers in 2005. He spent last season at Florida's Triple-A Albuquerque team, where he was 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA.

"You watch and he always hits the glove," Cox said.

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