Lopez returns to roster for Braves

Catcher strikes out as pinch hitter in eighth, may start Game 2 tonight

LCS notebook

Baseball

October 17, 2001|By Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck | By Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Once resigned to continuing through the playoffs without his regular catcher, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox added Javy Lopez to the roster yesterday for the National League Championship Series. Infielder Wes Helms was removed to create room.

Lopez missed the final six games of the regular season and the entire Division Series because of a sprained left ankle suffered in a collision with New York Mets' Robin Ventura on Sept. 30. Paul Bako, claimed off waivers last year, has been starting in Lopez's absence.

The decision to activate Lopez was made after his ankle responded well to Monday's workout, which Cox described as "very treacherous."

"He didn't have any more pain from what he went through yesterday," Cox said. "I don't think he can catch nine innings today or maybe not tomorrow, but certainly by Friday or Saturday he would be good to go for nine. And he can pinch hit without any pain at all. He's throwing great and he could squat lower today than he did yesterday."

Soon after almost dismissing the possibility that Lopez could start tonight, Cox leaned in the other direction. Asked if he might attempt to use Lopez in Game 2, he said, "We certainly might. We might even start him. We'll wait and see. I'm just not sure."

Even if healthy, Lopez wouldn't have kept Bako out of yesterday's lineup, even though he did pinch hit for Bako in the eighth inning and remained in the game. Bako, who's been in five organizations since Cincinnati drafted him in 1993, served as Greg Maddux's personal catcher, the same role once filled by the Orioles' Fernando Lunar.

Season of change

It's a wonder fans in Atlanta even recognize their team, given all the changes since Opening Day.

The Braves have a different first baseman, second baseman, shortstop and catcher. They have a former starter as their closer. But they walked onto the field at Bank One Ballpark yesterday as division champions for the 10th consecutive postseason.

"The book's not finished, but we've had a ton of different chapters," said John Smoltz, who left the rotation after coming off the disabled list for a second time on July 22 and has converted 10 of 11 save chances.

"It's been one of those years where, to a man, if they all had to take a lie detector, there are times where I guarantee we didn't think we could be here. You lose confidence in players, confidence in yourself. We struggled all year. We never caught fire for any stretch of time. We always felt like just when we were cooked, we did something to surprise everybody, to reinstate confidence."

The Braves' 88 wins in the regular season were the fewest among playoff teams, but they swept Houston in the Division Series with Julio Franco (signed out of Mexico) at first, rookie Marcus Giles at second, trade-deadline acquisition Rey Sanchez at short and Bako behind the plate.

"I can honestly say that if I was managing this team this year, there was no way I could have the patience that [Cox] had and just be able to deal with what he dealt with all year," Smoltz said. "There were a lot of frustrating moments."

No pressure for Batista

Credit Arizona pitcher Miguel Batista for being thick-skinned and not taking it personally when comparisons to Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson cast him in an unfavorable light. Half of the Diamondbacks' postseason rotation is viewed as unbeatable, the rest as underwhelming.

"You're talking about the two most dominating pitchers in this league with a power fastball. They are dominating. They are outstanding," said Batista, tonight's Game 2 starter.

"I like when people look at them so they give us more room to be free of some of those things that will make other guys feel pressure."

Boone looks to rebound

The Division Series didn't smile on American League RBI leader Bret Boone, who managed just a couple of singles in 21 at-bats against the Cleveland Indians, but manager Lou Piniella isn't worried.

"He just had a bad series against Cleveland," Piniella said. "And he had such a great season that sometimes people don't expect a player who has had a great season to struggle, but it happens. It can happen to anybody. ... But he can bounce right back and get hot again, and we're hoping he does, because we need his bat productive in the lineup."

Guillen may be activated

Mariners shortstop Carlos Guillen, who recently was stricken with tuberculosis, is expected to be added to the Seattle roster for the second round. He worked out yesterday and a decision was pending on his status last night.

"He looked good," Piniella said. "He hit off [Brett] Tomko early, and he took regular BP, ran the bases, fielded the position at shortstop."

Mark McLemore played well in his place during the Division Series, but Piniella said that Guillen would start some games against the Yankees if he is activated.

"I would think so, yes," Piniella said. "Not every game, but we can use him from time to time."

Torre stays with rally cap

Yankees manager Joe Torre continues to wear the cap he unveiled when his club arrived in Oakland down two games in the Division Series. The hat bears the motto of Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra - "It's never over until it's over" - and a patch from the New York Port Authority Police.

"The hat is here," Torre said. "It's not the most attractive thing, but neither is my hairline. So, it's sort of a push."

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