Notes: Ray gets an earful

Notes: Ray gets an earful

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Ken Ray returned to the visitor's clubhouse at AT&T Park on Thursday afternoon, awaiting him was a cell phone filled with 16 messages from family members and old acquaintances.

Making his first Major League appearance in seven years Thursday, Ray's first assignment was to retire Barry Bonds. Four pitches later, the 31 year-old right-handed Braves reliever had recorded a strikeout and given many friends from yesteryear a reason to wonder if this was truly him.

"A lot of them had no idea I was even with Atlanta until they flipped on the television and were watching just because of Bonds chasing the home run record," Ray said. "Some of them called me just to see if it was me."

Ray, who was promoted from Triple-A Richmond early Thursday morning, was making his National League debut. In doing so, he was playing for his 16th different team and in his 14th different league. Needless to say, it's been quite a journey since he was selected by the Royals out of suburban Atlanta's Roswell High School in the 1993 draft.

Through his various Minor League stops, which included stints in three different independent leagues, his family remained supportive. Thus he was filled with emotion after listening to the messages left by people such as his grandmother.

"A couple of them I listened to were kind of heartfelt," Ray said. "I get kind of choked up listening to some of them, because a lot of my family members have stuck with me through a lot of the hard times."

After making 13 appearances for the Royals in 1999, he began having arm problems. He had shoulder surgery during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. When he finally got most of his strength back in 2003, a lack of velocity forced him to develop the changeup that could keep him in Atlanta for an extended period.

With that pitch and a fastball that is regularly clocked in the mid-90s, Braves manager Bobby Cox believes the right-hander will be very successful against left-handed hitters. Last year at Triple-A Richmond, he limited them to a .216 batting average. Right-handers batted .315 against him. "He's got one of the dirtiest changeups I've ever caught," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who gave the changeup sign for each of the four pitches that were delivered to Bonds.

When a tired Ray returned to his hotel Thursday evening, he wasn't thinking as much about Bonds as he was the fact that he was wearing a Braves uniform. It's the one that his favorite players from yesteryear were wearing when, as a kid, he'd go to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"It was a bonus to be able to face Barry Bonds and do what I did," Ray said. "But really to do it in this uniform means the most to me."

Thomson ready to start: John Thomson looks forward to be the starting pitcher in Monday night's home opener against the Phillies. But he doesn't like that his return to the starting rotation was necessitated because Horacio Ramirez strained his left hamstring Wednesday.

"I'd like to be back in the rotation, but not because somebody got hurt," said Thomson, who was moved to the bullpen last weekend. "I don't like that. I'd rather have [Ramirez] healthy."

Thomson hasn't been bothered by the elbow discomfort that plagued him the final week of camp. He threw six innings in a March 23 start against the Indians and because of that should be able to give the Braves at least five innings.

Left-handed relievers: Macay McBride threw a 40-pitch side session Friday and may face live hitters in a rehab assignment next week. Before that, the Braves want to make sure he's regained all his shoulder strength. He's no longer bothered by the strained left forearm that he began feeling after a March 6 assignment.

The news isn't as promising for fellow left-handed reliever John Foster, who felt some discomfort in his elbow while throwing in Atlanta earlier this week. It's highly likely that he'll need season-ending surgery.

Home opener festivities: Platinum-selling recording artist Edwin McCain will sing the national anthem before Monday night's home opener against the Phillies. All fans who attend will receive a 40th anniversary pin presented by Home Depot.

Throughout this season, the Braves will celebrate their first 40 years in Atlanta. Many of the members of the 1966 team will be present for Wednesday night's game against the Phillies, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their first game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The Braves will wear commemorative jerseys that evening, and through a raffle, fans will have a chance to win those jerseys after the game.

Coming up: Tim Hudson will look to rebound when he opposes Jamey Wright and the Giants on Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park. Hudson allowed five earned runs and lasted just four innings on Opening Day against the Dodgers.

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