No clear leader for last rotation spot

No clear leader for last rotation spot

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox awoke Friday morning, he was still smiling about the dominance Lance Cormier had shown Thursday night against the Yankees.

But Cormier's latest successful outing was just the first of many events that have Cox feeling even better about the starting rotation that he'll utilize while Mike Hampton recovers from his strained left oblique muscle injury.

Cox's Friday began with him watching Kyle Davies toss five scoreless innings in a Minor League intrasquad game. It ended with him being pleased with the stuff Mark Redman showed while allowing the Cardinals three earned runs and five hits in four innings.

While Redman's statistics in Friday night's 6-6, 10-inning tie against the defending World Series champions might not have been eye-popping, they were impressive, given the fact that just eight days ago, he was searching for an employer.

"He looked very good," Cox said of Redman, who recorded three of his four strikeouts in the first inning. "We've got to feel extremely fortunate to have gotten him."

Cox's praise for Redman came just one night after Cormier completed five scoreless innings against a top-flight Yankees lineup.

It also came just hours after Cox and pitching coach Roger McDowell had been impressed by Davies' ability to allow just two hits and show improved control in the intrasquad game.

"Obviously, it's in a structured situation, intrasquad game, but I thought he was better," McDowell said. "He was getting through his pitches a little bit better. I know he was behind some hitters. But the ball was coming out of his hand unforced."

After watching Davies issue five walks and surrender seven hits during his past two Grapefruit League starts, Cox told McDowell that he believed the young right-hander would be better off not raising his hands above his head during his windup.

Thus, in attempt to quiet a delivery that had at times seemed rushed, McDowell instructed Davies to keep his hands below his chin during his windup. It may still take a few weeks for the 23-year-old right-hander to gain comfort in the adjustment. But while not issuing any walks in the intrasquad game, he at least showed he's making quick progress.

"It's allowing him to control his delivery, which in turn will hopefully allow him to control his pitches on a more frequent basis," McDowell said.

Other than Jon Mark Owings' solo homer and a Chris Woodward single, Davies was nearly perfect against the group of Minor Leaguers that included James Jurries and Gregor Blanco. Cox said his right-hander registered at least five strikeouts.

"He's not rushing at the plate anymore," Cox said. "It's a lot better. I think he found something."

With Redman, who has allowed four earned runs and completed seven innings in his first two Grapefruit League starts, the Braves have seemingly found someone they can definitely rely upon during Hampton's absence which will extend at least into mid-May.

When Hampton was injured, there was a possibility that Davies and Cormier would fill the final two rotation spots. But with Redman's presence, it looks like one of them will begin the season at Triple-A Richmond.

However, even with Cormier having completed 12 consecutive scoreless innings in Grapefruit League action, Cox isn't ready to announce his fifth starter. Instead, he's just happy to still have depth in Hampton's absence.

"We're getting six ready," Cox said. "You should always get six ready if you can."

Cormier has registered 13 strikeouts and issued just one walk in 14 innings. This control seems to make him the favorite. But before making anything definite, the Braves are just hoping that Davies continues to realize better results with his new delivery.

"I don't want to say it's early because as each day goes by it gets later," McDowell said. "There's still time left for the cream to rise to the top."

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