Braves Notes: Thomson Gives Bullpen Needed Rest

Friday's win over the New York Mets pushed the Atlanta Braves to 3-1 on the young season. Editor Bill Shanks and correspondent Skip Seda have more on the victory in the home opener.

Before Friday's home opener against the New York Mets, Braves starter John Thomson knew he needed to pitch a good game to get the victory. But even more important was the need for him to pitch long into the game.

"I needed to go out there and at least go seven, and that's what I did," Thomson said after notching his first victory of the season. "We played 12 innings (actually 13) the other night, so that kind of runs us down. There are a lot of games left, so we're going to need those guys (in the bullpen) to come in and get our starters out of some jams."

The Atlanta bullpen had pitched 17.1 of the first 30 innings played this season, so Thomson needed to give some of his teammates a rest. He did just that by pitching the best game by an Atlanta starter so far in the four games played this season, allowing only one run (solo homer by Mets' catcher Mike Piazza) on eight hits, no walks, and five strikeouts over seven innings as the Braves won their third in a row to improve to 3-1 on the year.

"Thomson's location was about as good as I've ever seen it," Manager Bobby Cox said. "His breaking ball…and he threw a couple of change ups in there with his breaking ball. He's throwing the cutter in on lefties quite a bit, and his control has just been outstanding."

The Braves' number four-starter got some help from his teammates early on with two runs in the first inning. That early lead gave Thomson the confidence to take control of the game.

"When they went out and got the first couple of runs, then my job was to go out in the next inning and put up a zero," Thomson said. "That's always been what I've thought about - when we score, to put a zero up in the next inning, no matter if we're winning or we're losing. That's kind of what I was thinking about. It's something that I learned back in 1998 from Darryl Kile, when he was with Colorado. He looked at it as nine one-inning games, to look at it and say, 'if I beat the other team in this inning, we're going to win.'"

After going 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA after the All-Star Break last season, Thomson wanted to start this season off strong. His performance Friday night looked as if he's doing just that, pitching as if he's in midseason form.

"It actually kind of did feel like it," Thomson admitted. "Leo (Mazzone) had said in spring training when we were talking that I had looked further along this year than I did last year at this same point in time. I don't know what to attribute that too, but I'll take it."

Colon delivers middle relief

Right-hander Roman Colon continues to answer the question of which Atlanta reliever will step up and help build the bridge between the Atlanta starters and closer Dan Kolb. Colon pitched his third straight scoreless inning Friday night, allowing only one hit and striking out one batter.

"Yea I was pretty excited," Colon said of his home debut Friday night. "Every time I get the opportunity I'm going to try to get my job done. That's why I think they've got me here.

Colon consistently hits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and his assortment of breaking stuff continues to have batters fooled. He believes his stuff is pretty good right now.

"Everything is looking good so far," he said. Let's see if we can keep it up until the end. I think I will."

Atlanta's bullpen has been exceptional in the first four games of the season, allowing only three earned runs on 14 hits in 17.1 innings of work. Kolb believes this bullpen will be a strength, and that the relievers are settling into specific roles in the bullpen.

"Honestly, after what I saw in Florida and what I saw tonight out of Colon, I think everybody's pretty comfortable with what they're doing," Kolb said. "I think Colon showed tonight that when Reits (Chris Reitsma) needs a break, he can step in there and do the job. Everybody else is adapting to everything just fine. I don't think there's going to be any problems with that at all."

Friday's game also impressed Manager Bobby Cox, who knew his team had been stretched out a bit in the bullpen the last three games.

"It was just a tremendous pitching performance by all three of our pitchers, especially Thomson on a day when our bullpen was just about as ragged as it could be," said the Braves skipper. "They were out there too many times in the three game series with Florida. We needed exactly seven innings tonight and we got it from Thomson. Roman Colon did a great job, and of course Kolb has got three saves already. That's a lot - three out of four. All three of our wins, in fact, he's saved them."

Franco delivers big pinch-hit

One of the questions of this year's Braves team is the bench. But Julio Franco helped the cause Friday night with a big pinch-hit RBI single that gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead.

"Huge, huge run - believe me," said Bobby Cox. "That's as big a run as we got all night. Then he came back and made a great defensive play."

Franco did stay in the game to play first base and made a diving catch in the top half of the 8th inning. He says that's just part of the responsibility of someone coming off the bench late in a game.

"There are two phases to the game," Franco says, "You hit and you put yourself in a situation like that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But after that, you can't let it go to your head. Then you've got to go and play defense. After I got the hit, I sure did want to go out there and make an error. Today it was good. I hit, and then I dove for it to make a great play."

Hudson pleased with first Atlanta victory

A day after his first victory in an Atlanta uniform, right-hander Tim Hudson was still smiling about his performance in his debut.

"It was exciting," Hudson said. "You know, obviously when you start the season my first time with the Braves it was exciting to go out there and put the first one behind me with a win."

Hudson went only five innings in his debut, but the Atlanta offense and bullpen saved the game for him. He said there was a lot of contact from his family in the Columbus, Georgia - Phenix City, Alabama area after his first win.

"I had a lot of messages on my phone," he said. "My friends and my family called the house. It's cool. They're going to be able to come up and watch me pitch."

They'll be able to do that next Tuesday night when Hudson makes his first start in Atlanta against the Washington Nationals.

Ramirez ready for first start

Tonight the Braves will send left-hander Horacio Ramirez to the mound. It will be his first regular season start since having left shoulder surgery last fall.

"I'm ready to go," Ramirez said after Friday's game. "It's been a while since I've started a game up here. I've put in a lot of hard work this offseason and this spring, and I'm ready to start. I feel great. My arm feels awesome."

Ramirez seemed to prove in spring training that his arm was sound, posting a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings pitched. The success gave him tremendous confidence coming into the regular season.

"Everything went well for me. I was throwing the ball well and my arm was feeling good. I got out of there alive. You've got to be smart and aggressive. You've got to know when to push and pull back. Unfortunately, I've had my share of injuries, so I know how to do that."

Since Ramirez has already come back from Tommy John surgery in 2001, he does know the routine of returning from a major injury. That experience has helped him bounce back from the latest surgical procedure.

"I'm very confident," he admits. "The thing I'm happy about is my pitches. I've never really lost a feel for my pitches. The only pitch I lost a feel for was my changeup, and I got that back in my last two starts when I started throwing that a little more often. I got some confidence with it."

Ramirez also has a bit of pressure on him from the other starters. The Braves have gotten three straight solid performances from Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, and John Thomson. Ramirez wants to continue the solid pitching from the Atlanta rotation.

"I don't want to mess things up," Ramirez said with a smile. "I want to go out there and do what they've done the last few night before - just keep the team in the ballgame and hopefully win. I'll get ground balls, let the team do their job, and not try to be Superman out there."

One thing Ramirez will do is let his defense work for him. So far, the defense has been very solid, and he hopes that continues tonight.

"I'm a ground ball pitcher, so I just let them do their job," Ramirez concludes. "They've always been good for me, so I just pitch it so we get ground balls so we can get it over quick."

Bill Shanks has a new book out later this month on the Braves scouting and player development philosophies called Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. He can be reached at .

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