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Braves' bullpen taxed again in loss to Giants

The SportsXchange

Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez found a silver lining in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants: "We got into their bullpen a little bit."

Well, yes. Left-hander Barry Zito was finally knocked out of the game after facing two batters in the ninth, and manager Bruce Bochy used three relievers to get three outs.

But the Giants got into the Braves' bullpen, too, thanks to right-hander Tommy Hanson's short outing, and that's a bigger dent since the Braves are carrying one fewer arm there to accommodate the temporary six-man starting rotation. Even if Gonzalez had to use only two relievers to cover 3.2 innings.

Thank heavens for left-hander Luis Avilan's ability to go 2 2/3 innings. One of three lefties in the bullpen (Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty are the others), he was unavailable Friday. And naturally, right-hander Cristhian Martinez, who's usually the guy who has to trudge to the mound for multiple mop-up innings, made an appearance. At least this one was only for an inning.

Unless something miraculous happens in Hanson's next start, he will not be part of the rotation in September.

But right-hander Ben Sheets may be better suited to move to the bullpen. He doesn't have the over-powering fastball he once had -- if he doesn't locate it, it's ineffective -- but he has that booming curve ball. Moreover, he has pitching smarts. He has only three experiences at relieving in the majors, all of them in All-Star games. But he's up for anything, and his pitching isn't tedious, as Hanson's can be.

After starting 3-0 for the Braves in July, Sheets is 1-4 in August, lasting only 4 1/3 innings in Friday's 5-3 loss to the Giants. The bullpen covered 3 2/3 scoreless innings for a second consecutive night: Martinez again, 1 2/3; Venters, 1; and right-hander Chad Durbin, 1.
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