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Notes: Visa problem delays Soriano

Notes: Visa problem delays Soriano

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves pitchers and catchers reported to camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex on Thursday, manager Bobby Cox had the opportunity to welcome many of his players.

But he'll have to wait until next week before introducing himself to Rafael Soriano, who wasn't able to get to the United States from the Dominican Republic because of visa problems.

Cox indicated that Soriano will join his new Braves teammates in camp next week. The right-handed reliever, who was acquired from the Mariners in December, isn't expected to receive his visa for another six or seven days.

"He's going to be tardy," said Cox, while providing no indication that he's concerned about Soriano's absence.

While Cox is anxious to get a look at his newly acquired right-handed reliever, he doesn't believe missing a few days of camp will affect Soriano's preparation or performance.

"He pitched in the winter league," Cox said. "He's fine. A guy like that, you don't worry about at all because he has pitched and has his program going."

During his eight appearances in the Dominican Winter League, Soriano was 0-2 with an 8.59 ERA. These numbers aren't indicative of the tremendous capabilities he showed in Seattle. In 53 appearances for the Mariners last year, Soriano posted a 2.25 ERA and limited opponents to a .204 batting average.

Soriano's struggles this past winter were likely the effects of the Vladimir Guerrero line drive that hit him in the head on Aug. 29. Soriano missed the rest of the regular season and obviously still had some cobwebs when he took the mound again in the Dominican.

Most of the damage Soriano incurred this winter came in his first couple of appearances.

"I've heard nothing but good stuff about him," Cox said in relation to the reports Braves scouts have provided.

The offseason acquisitions of Soriano and left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez have bolstered the Braves' hopes of regaining the National League East title. They'll combine with Bob Wickman to provide Cox with three potential closers in his bullpen.

Fifth starter spot up for grabs: Cox says he's going into camp with an open mind about the fifth spot in his starting rotation. Although he has the most experience among the three legitimate candidates, Kyle Davies certainly isn't guaranteed the role.

While going 2-1 with a 3.25 ERA in five September starts, Lance Cormier made himself a definite candidate for the fifth spot. His strongest performance came on Sept. 3, when he limited a potent Phillies lineup to one run and three hits in seven innings.

"He had some nice games," Cox said.

During Spring Training last year, Davies was drawing glowing compliments from Cox and his Braves teammates. But after tearing his right groin on May 15, Davies was never able to regain his successful form.

After a 3 1/2-month layoff, Davies didn't regain confidence in his ability to push off the rubber with his right leg. As a result, he was 1-4 with an alarming 13.06 ERA in five September starts.

"It was tough for me," Davies said. "Every time I went out there I felt great. I was wondering, 'How is this happening?' instead of worrying about what I needed to fix."

If both Davies and Cormier struggle over the next few weeks, Matt Harrison, a 21-year-old left-hander, could emerge as the competition's surprise winner. While pitching at both Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi last year, Harrison compiled 158 2/3 innings, notched 114 strikeouts and issued just 33 walks.

"Our guys have been raving about him," Cox said.

Welcome to the team: Along with being a dominant reliever, Gonzalez came to the Braves with the reputation of being a clubhouse favorite. He provided some indication of this on Thursday, when he walked around and introduced himself to his new teammates.

"I'm glad he's on our team now," Matt Diaz said after shaking hands with Gonzalez. "He had no trouble striking me out last year."

For the record, Diaz struck out only once in the two at-bats he had against Gonzalez. But the southpaw reliever did record seven strikeouts while completing three perfect innings in three separate appearances against the Braves this past August.

"He's just filthy," Diaz said of his new teammate.

Braves bits: After meeting with a group of Major League umpires on Thursday, Cox said they primarily discussed some minor rule changes that simply erase the gray areas of some rules that have been around for close to a century. ... Braves pitchers and catchers may hold their first two workouts amid chilly conditions. Forecasts say that temperatures may not exceed 45 degrees on Friday and Saturday mornings.

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

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