Venters, Chavez off to hot starts in bullpen
Cox pleased with club's relief corps depth in early going
ATLANTA -- The Braves may never again have a bullpen that proves to be as statistically impressive as the 2002 group that posted a 2.60 ERA. But with Jonny Venters and Jesse Chavez enjoying recent success, manager Bobby Cox believes this might be the deepest 'pen he has had.
"They give us confidence, because they've done it," Cox said. "It gives them confidence, too. We're pretty darn strong out there."
With Chavez and Venters providing early confidence, Cox feels more comfortable utilizing each of his middle relievers at any point of the game. If these two hurlers prolong their recent success and Kris Medlen continues to be a valuable and versatile asset, Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty should gain the rest they lacked last year, when the totaled the second- and fifth-highest appearance totals in the Majors.
When Jo-Jo Reyes went on the disabled list last week, Venters was promoted to fill the final relief spot. But while allowing just one hit and registering four strikeouts in five innings since his promotion, the 25-year-old lefty hasn't looked like the run-of-the-mill "seventh member" of the bullpen.
While working two perfect innings against the Phillies in Wednesday night's loss, Venters ended the sixth by getting Chase Utley to look at a third strike, then opened the seventh by getting Ryan Howard to take an ugly swing at a third strike.
"He's not afraid out there at all," Cox said. "His sinker gets talked about by everyone."
When Chavez posted a 12.60 ERA in 10 Grapefruit League appearances, there was reason to wonder why Brian McCann said the right-hander was one of the toughest relievers he faced last year. But while allowing just one hit and recording five strikeouts in his past 3 1/3 innings, the former Pirate has regained his successful form.
"He's the same guy that I saw last year," McCann said of Chavez. "He can really be valuable for us this year."
Smoltz, Glavine to play golf for charity
ATLANTA -- Tom Glavine has already called asking to be spotted a few strokes. Open to obliging his good friend's request, John Smoltz will travel to the New York City area early Friday morning ready to show a television audience why he was always able to win the friendly rounds of golf that he shared with Glavine and Greg Maddux.
Smoltz and Glavine have agreed to participate in Golf Channel's newest original series, "Donald J. Trump's Fabulous World of Golf." The two former Braves pitchers will compete at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Friday morning.
Golf Channel will air the 18-hole event on May 17 at 9 p.m. ET. Smoltz and Glavine will be competing for money that will be donated to their favorite charity.
"I told [Glavine], I have everything to lose and nothing to gain," Smoltz said. "He has everything to gain."
Smoltz, who will participate in a U.S. Open qualifier in May, said that he would be willing to give Glavine three strokes per side. But at the same time, he said he was not aware of the guidelines set by Trump, who will emcee the event.
After completing his broadcast duties during the Braves-Phillies game played at Turner Field on Thursday night, Smoltz planned to go home and get just a couple hours of sleep. He and Glavine are scheduled to fly out of Atlanta at 7:30 a.m.
Cox recalls triple play with Yankees
ATLANTA -- It has been 41 years since Braves manager Bobby Cox served as the Yankees' third baseman. But before Thursday afternoon, he held the distinction of being involved in the most recent triple play turned by the storied organization.
When Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Nick Johnson combined to turned a triple play during Thursday's 4-2 loss to the A's in Oakland, it marked the first time the Yanks had completed a triple play since Dooley Womack, Cox and Mickey Mantle turned one June 3, 1968.
"It was a bases-loaded line drive to Womack, the pitcher," Cox said, reminiscing about the triple play turned during that day's 4-3 loss to the Twins. "He fired to me at third and we got the guy at first somehow. Everybody always talks about that because it was 42 years ago. I guess it was just a matter of time before somebody did it again."
As he was preparing for Thursday night's game against the Phillies, Cox learned that Kurt Suzuki's grounder to Rodriguez had erased the unique distinction that he held for parts of six different decades.
"It was pretty special to be part of a triple play," Cox said. "It doesn't happen very often. But that's obvious. It took 42 more years to do it again."
After slow start, Freeman heating up
ATLANTA -- When Freddie Freeman got off to a slow start for Triple-A Gwinnett, his good friend Jason Heyward said it would only be a matter of time before the highly regarded first-base prospect got his bat going.
Heyward's prediction seems to be proving true. Freeman halted his early-season funk with a two-hit game Wednesday night, then erupted with a pair of homers in a four-hit performance against Norfolk on Thursday afternoon.
With six hits in his past eight at-bats, Freeman has improved his batting average from .176 to .254 (15-for-59). His power display Thursday tripled the homer total that he had compiled during the first 14 games of the season.
Freeman, who is targeted to serve as Atlanta's first baseman by the start of the 2011 season, played just 41 injury-plagued games after being promoted to Double-A Mississippi last year. But the Braves were impressed enough during Spring Training to assign the 20-year-old first baseman to begin the year at the Triple-A level.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.