Notes: Escobar gets start in debut
Infield prospect replaces Jones at third base
CHICAGO -- When Yunel Escobar defected from Cuba three years ago, he began a journey to the Major Leagues that he didn't necessarily know would include a brief stop in Ft. Wayne, Ind.
But by the time Escobar arrived at Wrigley Field on Saturday morning, his bright smile provided indication that he didn't care where he'd just been. The fact was he was where he wanted to be and just about an hour away from making his Major League debut for the Braves.
"It's a dream to be here," said Escobar, who started Saturday's game against the Cubs at third base in place of the injured Chipper Jones.
When the Braves placed Jones on the 15-day disabled list on Friday, it wasn't hard for them to determine that Escobar would be the player who would fill the open roster spot. The bigger challenge proved to be getting him to Chicago in time for Saturday's noon CT start.
Because he doesn't have a green card, Escobar was unable to travel with Triple-A Richmond to play in Ottawa this weekend. Thus he was sent to Chattanooga to spend the next few days with Double-A Mississippi. But shortly after arriving, he learned that he was coming to the big leagues.
Escobar's flight from Chattanooga to Chicago on Friday night was diverted to Ft. Wayne because of weather. After spending the night in Indiana, he boarded an early Saturday flight and got to Wrigley Field about 90 minutes before the first pitch. He had enough time to take a few grounders and hit a few balls over the ivy-covered outfield wall.
"I'm prepared for everything," said the 24-year-old Escobar, a natural shortstop who will spend at least the next week serving as the Braves starting third baseman.
While manager Bobby Cox wouldn't specifically say Escobar will play third until Jones, who is eligible for activation on Friday, returns, he certainly provided indication that he will.
"He's going to play a lot," Cox said of Escobar, who was hitting .333 with two homers and 29 RBIs in 180 at-bats with Richmond.
Escobar, who was the club's second-round selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, didn't take long to make his presence known. His first-inning single off Cubs starter Rich Hill allowed him the distinction of becoming the latest Major Leaguer to record a hit in his first career at-bat.
"I'm excited to watch him play," Cox said. "He's a pretty exciting player."
Cormier ready to go: When it was determined that John Smoltz should give his sore shoulder an additional two days of rest, it provided Lance Cormier the opportunity to make his season debut Sunday on regular rest. His final Minor League rehab start came Tuesday, when he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings against Rochester, and he wasn't scheduled to pitch again until this upcoming Tuesday.
"It didn't matter to me when I pitched," Cormier said. "I'm just happy to get a chance to pitch and I'm ready to go."
Cormier, who has missed the start of the season with a right triceps strain that he suffered in his final Grapefruit League start, impressed the Braves by going 2-1 with a 3.25 ERA in five September starts last year.
"You really don't know what to expect the first start coming off of rehab," Cox said. "But if he's over the plate, he's going to be tough."
Johnson, Renteria ailing: Over the course of the past week, Kelly Johnson has continued to play with a bad cold that was beginning to cause some blockage in his left ear. He was given a chance to rest on Saturday. But Edgar Renteria, who was starting to feel some of the same symptoms, was kept in the lineup.
Johnson said some of the pressure that was in his ear had subsided. One of the Cubs doctors came to the Braves clubhouse on Saturday morning to drain some of the fluids that had been building.
Game time changes: With their strong start, the Braves have drawn plenty of interest across the country. On Friday, they learned their June 24 game against the Tigers at Turner Field will now be ESPN's Sunday Night Game of the Week. Thus the game time has been moved from 1:05 p.m. ET to 8:05 p.m. ET.
The June 10 game against the Cubs at Turner Field will also be ESPN's Sunday Night Game of the Week, meaning it also now will start at 8:05 p.m. ET. The June 16 game at Cleveland and June 23 game against the Tigers will start at 3:55 p.m., to allow FOX to carry them as part of the Saturday Game of Week package.
Coming up: The Braves will continue their three-game series against the Cubs on Sunday afternoon at 2:20 p.m. ET. They'll send Cormier (2007 debut) to the mound to face Sean Marshall (0-2, 2.70).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.