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07/19/07 8:26 PM ET

Notes: Franco excited to be back

Veteran first baseman still has a lot to offer the Braves

ATLANTA -- When the Mets designated him for assignment last week, Julio Franco knew he was either destined to return to Atlanta or face the fact that he wouldn't realize his goal of playing until he's 50 years-old.

"If it wouldn't have been Atlanta, I would have gone home because I know this is one organization that I can trust to know what I'm capable of doing and how to use me," said Franco, who signed with the Braves on Wednesday and immediately found himself as their starting first baseman in Thursday night's series opener against the Cardinals at Turner Field.

While it remains to be seen where Franco will be when he celebrates his first half century on this Earth next year, there's a good chance he'll celebrate his 49th birthday next month while playing in a Major League game. That assumption couldn't have been made if he'd remained with the Mets, who gave him a total of just 50 at-bats -- 17 since the beginning of June -- this year.

"He may have still had something left in New York," Cox said. "Who knows? He never got to play."

In other words, Cox isn't concerned with the fact that Franco hit just .200 with the Mets this year or that he has just four extra-base hits in his past 114 at-bats (dating back to Aug. 1). Instead, his ever-confident approach has led him to believe the veteran first baseman can contribute like he did during his previous tour in Atlanta, where from 2001-2005, he hit .292 and proved to be a reliable defensive asset.

"It's nice to see his smiling face in that clubhouse," Cox said. "He looks good. He loves the game of baseball and he has fun with it. Plus he's a winner. He was a big cog in our wheel during the years that he was here."

With their pinch-hitters batting .216 and their first basemen hitting a Major League-worst .205, the Braves saw little risk in giving Franco the prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary ($380,00) this season. He'll be used as a primary pinch-hitter and also get plenty of starts at first base against left-handed starters. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will continue to play the position against right-handed starters.

"I don't expect anything," Franco said. "I expect that Bobby knows that I'm useful and whenever he needs me, I'll be ready."

When asked if the knowledge he's gained in New York's clubhouse could prove to be a benefit in games the Braves play against the Mets, who held a 2 1/2 game advantage over Atlanta entering Thursday, Franco smiled.

"We'll see," Franco said. "This is what I'll say, I watch games and I learn every day about all aspects of the game."

After seeing his career resurrected by the Braves, who plucked him out of the Mexican League late during the 2001 season, Franco helped the Braves win five of their unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles. Now he believes he can help them regain the magic of that streak that his Mets ended last year.

"I'm very happy to be here," Franco said. "It's like family. I think we've got a great opportunity."

Davies demoted: To make room on the 25-man roster for Franco, the Braves optioned Kyle Davies to Triple-A Richmond. After Davies didn't record an out in Monday's start against the Reds, Cox said the young hurler's inconsistencies weren't a product of mechanical flaws.

"He's just got to be more consistent," Cox said of Davies, who was 1-5 with a 7.31 ERA in his past seven starts. "He's got everything going for him. He's a sharp kid. He's got all the pitches. He's a great athlete."

Davies, once considered the club's top pitching prospect, may benefit from the opportunity to cure his ills away from the pressure of a big-league setting. Several of his teammates and Cox have said he just needs to regain his confidence.

"We think the world of him," Cox said. "He's got to find a way to get it going. He can be a 15-game winner."

Since making his Major League debut on May 20, 2005, Davies is 14-21 with a 6.15 ERA. The only Major League pitcher with at least 40 starts during that span and a worse ERA is Mark Redman, who compiled some of his 6.24 ERA while toiling with the Braves earlier this year.

Ledezma returns: Having replaced the passport and visa that were destroyed in a washing machine last week in Venezuela, Wil Ledezma returned to Atlanta on Thursday and rejoined the Braves. His return provides Cox with a left-hander in his bullpen. But he has allowed at least one run in four of his past seven appearances.

With Ledezma back, Jose Ascanio was optioned to Double-A Mississippi. While registering six strikeouts and surrendering one earned run in six innings with Atlanta, the hard-throwing 22 year-old right-hander impressed Cox.

"He's going to be real good," said Cox, who like the rest of the Braves is hoping Ascanio doesn't suffer from some of the back problems that have plagued him in previous years.

Cox's humor: When asked if it can now be assumed Jo-Jo Reyes will remain a part of the starting rotation, Cox humorously replied, "Yeah, until we get [Sandy] Koufax to come out of retirement."

Lerew undergoes Tommy John: Anthony Lerew, who made three starts for the Braves in May, underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday. The elbow ligament replacement procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews.

Lerew, who had a 1.37 ERA in five starts with Triple-A Richmond this year, hadn't pitched since losing to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 19.

Coming up: The Braves will continue their four-game series against the Cardinals on Friday night at 7:35 p.m. ET. They'll send Chuck James (8-7, 3.73) to the mound to oppose Adam Wainwright (8-7, 4.36).

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.