KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Four days into spring training, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox already has spotted a possible surprise.
Matt DeSalvo, a right-hander who started six games for the New York Yankees last season without much success, caught Cox’s eye with an impressive array of pitches during his early sessions on the mound.
DeSalvo’s smallish stature (generously listed as 6 feet and 180 pounds) and a rather odd windup, which begins with him raising his hands high above his head, only adds to the intrigue.
"You should see his change-up," Cox raved. "And he averages like 92 mph with his splitter and fastball. He’s got all kinds of pitches."
Of course, DeSalvo has yet to get command of those pitches, which was apparent from his work with the Yankees: 1-3 with 6.18 ERA in seven games overall. He allowed 34 hits and walked 18 in 27Ã innings.
Moving on as a six-year minor leaguer, the 27-year-old DeSalvo signed with Braves and was invited to camp as a non-roster player. He could contend for a spot in the bullpen.
"He didn’t get much of a shot with the Yankees," Cox said. "But everybody out there was trying to get him as a six-year free agent."
New Braves center fielder Mark Kotsay looks as though he’s fully recovered from back surgery that limited him to only 56 games with Oakland last season.
Kotsay got in plenty of swings during the first three days of camp, taking advantage of a rule that allows players coming off major injuries to get on the field early with the pitchers and catchers. In fact, Kotsay was working so hard that Cox ordered him to take Monday off.
"I’m already worried that he’s done too much too soon," the manager said. "But he says he feels great."
Kotsay certainly has some big shoes to fill. He’s taking over in center for perennial Gold Glover Andruw Jones, who held down the job for a decade but signed a lucrative free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Eligible for free agency himself after this season, Kotsay is essentially a one-year stopgap for the Braves, who wanted someone to bridge the gap from Jones to some promising youngsters who aren’t likely to be ready until 2009.
Mike Hampton has brought back a curve he used earlier in his career, hoping it will help his comeback from two major elbow surgeries.
"It’s just a little something extra," he said. "Hey, if (Tom) Glavine can throw inside, I can throw curves."