Notes: What a relief in Atlanta

Notes: What a relief in Atlanta

CLEVELAND -- Mike Gonzalez has been absent for more than a month, and still the Braves have one of the National League's most effective bullpens.

When the Braves acquired Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano during the offseason, there was definitely reason to believe that the NL's best bullpen would exist in Atlanta. What wasn't known was the fact that middle relievers such as Peter Moylan, Tyler Yates and Macay McBride would give this relief corps reliable depth.

"They've been terrific," Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "They're giving us opportunities [to win]."

Entering Sunday's series finale against the Indians at Jacobs Field, the Braves bullpen's 3.64 ERA ranked third in the NL. More importantly, the relief corps has been downright stingy when the game has been on the line.

In close and late situations (any at-bat in the seventh inning or later, in which the team batting is either leading by one run, tied or has the potential tying run on base, at bat or on deck), the Braves' pitching staff has limited opponents to an NL-best .197 batting average. The 2.70 ERA the bullpen has posted in that situation ranks as the Senior Circuit's fourth-best mark.

"I think the one constant that has been so good this year has been our bullpen," Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur said.

When it was learned late last month that Gonzalez would need to undergo season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, there was reason to wonder if this would have a deleterious effect on the bullpen. But the 2.72 ERA the relievers have posted in their first 53 innings this month is an indication that everything is just fine.

Closer Bob Wickman and primary setup man Soriano are the main reasons why the Braves have converted 21 of their first 27 save opportunities this year. But it's guys like Yates, McBride and Moylan who have ensured that this relief corps' strength isn't simply relegated to the back end.

Yates has surrendered just three earned runs in his past 18 innings. McBride, who is currently the only left-handed reliever, has issued just two walks in the 9 1/3 innings he's pitched since returning from a Minor League demotion that was prompted by his early-season control problems.

As for Moylan, who got rave reviews from Braves manager Bobby Cox for the perfect ninth he completed in Saturday's 6-2 win over the Indians, he's registered 13 strikeouts and allowed just two earned runs in the 11 2/3 innings that he's worked in June.

"We're having fun out there," Moylan said. "We're a pretty tight bunch and everybody pulls for each other."

Cox lobbies for Renteria: After watching Edgar Renteria match a career-best five-hit performance in Saturday's win, Cox said there's no reason to believe his shortstop won't be making a second straight trip to the All-Star Game.

"For me, you've got to take him," Cox said. "I don't know when he'd go if he doesn't go this year."

With Jose Reyes, J.J. Hardy, Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins, the NL is loaded with talented shortstops. But Renteria's numbers certainly provide indication that he'll soon be reuniting with former manager Tony La Russa, who will serve as the NL's manager at next month's All-Star Game in San Francisco.

Renteria leads NL shortstops with a .329 batting average and a .919 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He also ranks fourth in homers (10) and third in RBIs (35).

When asked who he believes should be the NL's starting shortstop, Renteria said, "It's a tough one to pick."

Chipper set for return to third: When the Braves return home on Monday, Chipper Jones will no longer have the luxury of just serving as the designated hitter. Since coming off the disabled list on Wednesday, Jones has assumed that role.

Jones, who recorded his 2,000th career hit in Sunday's second inning, missed nearly a full month because of bruised hands, which he suffered in a May 11 collision at PNC Park. He's hopeful he doesn't aggravate the injuries while making diving plays at third base. Jones hasn't played defensively since May 23.

Braves bits: Many of the Braves wore blue wristbands on Sunday afternoon to commemorate Father's Day and show their support for the fight against prostrate cancer. ... Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said that Justin Verlander may not start on Friday night at Turner Field. If Kenny Rogers, who has been on the DL all year with an injured left shoulder, says he's ready, he'll go against John Smoltz in the series opener. ... With large crowds expected for this week's series against the Red Sox, the Braves are giving fans the option of parking at Lakewood Amphitheater and taking a shuttle to Turner Field. ... The cost to park and take the shuttle to and from the stadium will be $5.

Coming up: The Braves will open their three-game Interleague series against the Red Sox on Monday night at 7:05 ET. They'll send Chuck James (5-6, 4.16 ERA) to the mound to face Curt Schilling (6-3, 3.80).

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