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Braves finalize opening day roster
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ATLANTA The Braves finalized their 25-man roster on Saturday, optioning pitcher Buddy Carlyle to Triple-A Richmond and handing Jeff Bennett the final spot in the bullpen.

Bennett went into spring training hoping to make the team as a starter, but wasn’t complaining about his role as a long reliever.

"I’m pretty excited to be making the team," he said. "You know the routine that you have to do. The main thing is being ready for the game. And it doesn’t take that much to stay fresh when you’re not throwing in a game. That’s what I had to learn last year. I’m glad I did."

Bennett, who missed all of 2006 recovering from major elbow surgery, spent most of last season at Richmond. He started six games and relieved in 30 others, going 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA and one save.

Called up by the Braves late in the season, he went 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA in three appearances — two of them starts — and impressed the team with his ability keep the ball down in the strike zone. The 27-year-old right-hander also went on a strict diet and training regimen last summer, losing more than 50 pounds.

"The long guy’s got to be in physical shape as well as mental shape," Bennett said. "Physically, I wasn’t in shape last year until the end of the season."

The 30-year-old Carlyle made 20 starts a year ago after the Braves went through several pitchers in a desperate search to fill out their rotation. He was 8-7 with a 5.21 ERA.

This spring, Carlyle was 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in six appearances. Bennett also got into six games, going 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA.

"Obviously you want to be here, but what are you going to do?" Carlyle said. "I’m pretty numb to these things in baseball now, I’ve been playing so long. It’s doesn’t bother me any more. It’s definitely not the first time. Hopefully it’s the last."

Carlyle got to the majors with San Diego in 1999, picking up his first big league win as a 22-year-old rookie. It would take him eight years to get the second one; he spent two seasons in Japan and also had stints with Kansas City, the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Florida before signing with the Braves.

"This is probably the only place I’ve played in a very long time that felt like home," Carlyle said. "You can get optioned with a chance to come back here. I’d rather do that than go somewhere else. I want to be here."

The Braves will go into Sunday’s season opener at Washington with a 12-man pitching staff that includes starters Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Jair Jurrjens and Mike Hampton. John Smoltz and Chuck James were placed on the disabled list, retroactive to March 21.

Atlanta is hopeful that Smoltz, who has a sore shoulder, will be able to make his first start next weekend against the New York Mets.

The bullpen includes closer Rafael Soriano, right-handers Peter Moylan, Manny Acosta, Chris Resop, Blaine Boyer and Bennett, and lefties Will Ohman and Royce Ring.

The Braves kept three catchers — starter Brian McCann, Corky Miller and Brayan Pena — knowing that Pena also can play first, third and the outfield.

Newcomer Ruben Gotay and Martin Prado will back up a starting infield that includes first baseman Mark Teixiera, second baseman Kelly Johnson, shortstop Yunel Escobar and third baseman Chipper Jones. Matt Diaz, Mark Kotsay and Jeff Francoeur will start in the outfield, where speedy rookie Gregor Blanco is the lone backup.

Gotay arrived in Atlanta before Saturday’s final exhibition game against Cleveland. He was claimed off waivers the previous day from the New York Mets.

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