06/07/06 8:30 PM ET
Notes: Ray closing in on closer role
Recent results have Cox leaning to 31-year-old righty
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
First, it was the locker.
"I'm in the circle now," Ray said, referring to the new position of his locker in the clubhouse. "I didn't know what happened. I just saw some boxes, and then they moved my locker over here."
And now it's likely to be his role out of the bullpen.
In Tuesday night's win, Ray came in with a two-run lead to pitch the ninth inning, and he shut down the Nationals in convincing fashion. Ray recorded three straight outs, including two strikeouts, to pick up his third save of the season.
The performance only strengthened Ray's stronghold on permanently laying claim to the closing role out of the bullpen. With Chris Reitsma's struggles this season, Atlanta has been in need of someone to consistently be able to protect a ninth-inning lead.
And Ray seems to be the man poised and capable of the job.
Asked if he was ready to propel Ray into the closer role, manager Bobby Cox hinted toward an affirmative answer.
"Yeah, I think so," Cox said. "Kenny's pitched great all year, only two bad outings. Shoot, he's got an ERA of about 2.00."
It's actually 2.20 if anyone's checking. But take away those two bad outings and Ray has been nearly perfect, allowing only one earned run in 28 innings. He has also held opponents to a meager .192 batting average.
Ray's consistency has been something Reitsma has been desperately searching for all season. His 7.20 ERA and four blown saves only begin to scratch the surface on what has been a season of control struggles and of enduring the frustrations of the fans.
Reitsma has heard the grumbles and said he knew that his tenure as the team's closer could be coming to an end. Therefore, it wasn't a surprise to him when Cox chose Ray to finish off Tuesday's much-needed win over Washington.
"I understand that I haven't been pitching well and the team's the most important thing," Reitsma said. "Whenever the phone rings, I'll be ready anytime after the sixth inning."
Cox said that he believes Ray has the tools to be successful in the closer role, with a changeup and slider that have consistently been right on target. And the 31-year-old Ray has been quick to embrace the role just as he embraced his call back to the Major Leagues after a six-year hiatus that included multiple shoulder surgeries and Minor League stints.
"The feeling's different," Ray admitted. "The feeling just going into the ninth inning, having the game on your shoulders is a pretty good feeling. I like it."
McCann mending: Brian McCann served as the designated hitter for Class A Rome on Tuesday and Wednesday in order to test the strength of his left ankle, which he sprained on May 20.
McCann was able to test his ankle on the basepaths three times, as he had two hits and a walk during the two games. But while he is eligible to come off the disabled list on June 8, it is unlikely that the 22-year-old catcher will be healthy enough to play in Thursday's opener against Houston.
"We don't know -- maybe Friday, Saturday. We'll see," Cox said before Wednesday's game. "There's probably some hesitation there. He's due off on Thursday, but we may give him a few more days just to make sure."
Because the Braves would have to send someone back to the Minors to make room for McCann on their 25-man roster, they are going to be patient and make sure McCann is ready for full-time duty before reactivating him.
"He's got to do quite a bit because we don't want to make a mistake and have him catch one night and not the next," Cox said.
James joins Richmond: Chuck James, who suffered a strained right hamstring on May 5, was activated from the 15-day disabled list before Wednesday's game. James, who had a 2.38 ERA in seven appearances for Atlanta earlier this season, was then optioned to Triple-A Richmond.
Coming up: Atlanta will head out of town after Wednesday's game to begin a four-game series in Houston. John Thomson (2-5, 4.65) will take the mound against the Astros' Andy Pettitte (4-7, 6.03) in the series opener on Thursday night at 8:05 ET.
Jenifer Langosch is an associate report for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.