Soriano brings veteran presence to 'pen
Relievers Smoltz, Gonzalez on way back from injury as well
MILWAUKEE -- Braves manager Bobby Cox has said over the past few weeks that he's enjoyed mixing and matching a group of inexperienced relievers who have surprisingly produced solid statistics.
But it's safe to assume Cox will be able to navigate through the latter innings of games with a little less stress over the next few days and weeks. Closer Rafael Soriano returned to the bullpen on Wednesday and John Smoltz is hoping to add his arm to the mix by the time the Braves return home on Monday.
During the next two weeks, the Braves might also be adding Mike Gonzalez to their bullpen. The veteran lefty, who is coming back from elbow ligament reconstruction surgery, is scheduled to throw for Double-A Mississippi on Thursday and again on Saturday. Smoltz is scheduled to test his shoulder on Thursday for Class A Rome and could choose to do the same again on Saturday. As for Soriano, who had been out since April 6, he was activated from the disabled list on Wednesday. He assumed the roster spot of Matt Diaz, who was disabled with a left knee injury he suffered on Tuesday.
Because Soriano threw a lot during Thursday's side session, Cox wasn't sure if he'd use the right-handed reliever immediately. But attempting to avoid the disaster that hit during Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the Brewers, the manager didn't want to enter a second straight game thinking his bullpen was short-handed.
Cox's decision not to pinch-hit for Tim Hudson in the top of Tuesday's eighth inning proved disastrous when the Brewers tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with a run and then won the game with a ninth-inning run against Jeff Bennett.
Had Smoltz and Soriano both been available, it's easy to assume Hudson wouldn't have been sent to the plate in the eighth after having already thrown 103 pitches. As for Gonzalez, he might have entered the eighth inning to face left-handed Prince Fielder, who got the eighth-inning rally started with a two-out single.
"Having [Soriano] back is like having a breath of fresh air," Bennett said. "When we get all of these guys back, it will be nice."
While the eighth-inning gamble to send Hudson to the mound proved detrimental, Bennett also played a large role in the loss. Before allowing Mike Cameron's game-winning sacrifice fly, the right-handed reliever allowed Bill Hall to steal third base uncontested.
Without providing specifics, Bennett said that he and pitching coach Roger McDowell discussed how he might have provided some more deception to hold Hall closer to the base. There was some indication that he didn't get the signal for a pickoff play that was called from the bench.
"Next time out, it definitely won't happen," Bennett said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.