Notes: Furcal heating up

Notes: Furcal heating up

ATLANTA -- It's taken nearly the entire season for shortstop Rafael Furcal to feel close to 100 percent.

Now that his right shoulder and left knee no longer throb with pain, Furcal announced himself ready for the second half of the season.

"I'm very happy, because I'm doing what I need to do," Furcal said before the Braves' 8-4 loss to the Brewers on Sunday. "My shoulder was hurting me from Spring Training to two weeks ago. The knee I hurt on a ground ball up the middle at Florida [June 29], and sometimes you feel it's not going to work out for you."

The 28-year-old Dominican homered, doubled and singled three times for his first career five-hit game, a 5-for-5 effort that improved his average to .397 over his last 63 at-bats. That's a nice recovery from a 17-game stretch that ended June 27 in which he hit .138 and watched his season average drop to .220 -- 63 points below his career average.

"Sometimes it's hard to know if you should keep playing or sit out and get healthy," said Furcal, who leads the National League with 29 stolen bases.

First two after break set: Manager Bobby Cox wants left-hander Horacio Ramirez and right-hander John Smoltz to start the first two games of the second half.

The Braves open a four-game series Thursday at New York, and the Mets likely will start Kris Benson, Tom Glavine, Victor Zambrano and Pedro Martinez. Cox doesn't know how he will structure the rotation after Ramirez (8-5) and Smoltz (9-5).

Tim Hudson (6-5) and Mike Hampton (4-1) are likely to come off the disabled after the All-Star break, and Cox will choose among three right-handers -- Jorge Sosa and two rookies, Kyle Davies and Roman Colon. Sometime at the end of the month, injured starter John Thomson plans to retake his spot in the rotation.

Aches and pains: Brian Jordan, who went on the disabled list Thursday with an inflamed left knee, took the first in a series of three shots the day before to reduce swelling. The 38-year-old outfielder hopes to rejoin the 25-man roster later this month.

Tough way to start: In his second stint with Atlanta, top prospect Andy Marte watched his average drop thanks to a couple of stellar defensive plays against him.

Brady Clark jumped to rob him of Marte first career homer in the third. Clark made a great play as his glove appeared to go over the wall in left-center before he pulled back the ball for the final out.

Carlos Lee took away Marte's potential RBI double in the eighth by making a running catch as he collided with the left-field wall.

Making his 12th career start at third base, Marte committed his first error when he booted Rickie Weeks' hard grounder in the fifth, an error that contributed a run to the Brewers' three-run inning as Milwaukee took a 5-4 lead. In the seventh, the 21-year-old Dominican native committed a throwing error that allowed Bill Hall to reach.

On deck: Ramirez (8-5, 4.65 ERA) is coming off his first career shutout, a three-hitter on Thursday in a 6-0 victory over the Cubs on Thursday. He will get the ball when Atlanta faces New York's Kris Benson (6-3, 3.65) at Shea Stadium on Thursday night to open the second half.

George Henry is a contributor for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.