Notes: Soriano's suspension reduced

Notes: Soriano's suspension reduced

HOUSTON -- When Major League Baseball announced that it had reduced Rafael Soriano's suspension and fine, Soriano wasn't exactly enthusiastic. But then again, the Braves' closer was appreciative that he'll have at least one more opportunity to pitch this season.

Late Friday afternoon, John McHale Jr., who serves as MLB's executive vice president of administration, announced that Soriano's suspension had been reduced from four games to two. In addition, the Braves' closer learned that his $1,500 fine had been reduced to $1,000.

"They've got to do whatever they have to do," Soriano said. "I don't have control over that. ... I didn't do nothing. I tried to go inside and I hit the guy and that's it."

Soriano's suspension, which came after he hit Florida's Dan Uggla in the left shoulder with a ninth-inning pitch on Sept. 17, began during Friday night's series opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. He'll be available to pitch Sunday's regular-season finale.

"We were hoping it would get down to zero [games]," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We didn't think it warranted all of that. But getting something down from four games to two is pretty good."

It was also nice that MLB waited until Friday before ruling on the appeal hearing that was held in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon. The Braves weren't officially eliminated from the postseason until losing Thursday's series finale against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Over the course of the past six weeks, Soriano has regained his early-season dominant form and shown why he'll enter Spring Training as the leading candidate to serve as the Braves' closer. In his past 17 appearances dating back to Aug. 14, the veteran right-hander has completed 19 1/3 innings, surrendered just one earned run, limited opponents to a .121 batting average, registered 24 strikeouts and issued just one walk.

Ironically, the only run he surrendered during this span came courtesy of Uggla's ninth-inning homer on Sept. 19. It came just two days after the Marlins second baseman was hit with the pitch that led Soriano to be suspended for the first time in his career.

During this two-game suspension, Soriano will be permitted to be in uniform and participate in pregame activities. Once the game begins, he will not be permitted in the clubhouse. He says that he'll be watching the games from the stands.

No rest for Francoeur: During Friday's series opener, Cox gave Andruw Jones and Brian McCann a chance to rest. He'd planned to do the same for Jeff Francoeur until the 23-year-old right fielder convinced him that he wanted to start every game for a second consecutive season.

"When you've come this far through 159 games, it's something that you want to do," said Francoeur, who, including Friday, has started 324 consecutive games dating back to Oct. 1, 2005.

Even though the Braves and Astros have been eliminated from postseason contention, Minute Maid Park is sold out for the entire three-game series. Much of this weekend's attention will be focused toward Craig Biggio, who is retiring at the end of this year and ending his 20-season career that has been played solely with the Astros.

When Biggio retires, John Smoltz will be the longest tenured player who has spent his entire Major League career with one organization. Smoltz made his Atlanta debut one month after Biggio debuted with Houston.

The Astros will allow Biggio to start Saturday night's game as their catcher. His first four seasons were spent behind the plate. In addition, they've painted his No. 7 on the hill located in center field.

"That was nice of them to put my number out there this weekend," Francoeur joked.

Records, achievements in sight: Entering this weekend, Chipper Jones' National League-best .339 batting average ranked slightly better than Colorado's Matt Holliday's .338 mark. Both are vying for their first career batting title.

Francoeur's NL-best 19 outfield assists leave him one shy of the Atlanta record achieved by Andruw Jones back in 1998.

But truthfully, more important to Francoeur than matching this mark would be the opportunity to play at least one more game alongside Jones, who is heading toward the free-agent market this winter and possibly playing his final weekend with the Braves.

"I'd definitely like to get to play with Andruw one more time," Francoeur said. "Who knows what's going to happen this offseason. But early indications are that it's not the greatest of possibilities that he's coming back."

Carlyle likely for Sunday: With Chuck James' left arm providing him some discomfot, Cox says he'll likely start Buddy Carlyle for Sunday's season finale. Carlyle hasn't pitched since hyperextending his right elbow during a Sept. 15 relief appearance. The 29-year-old right-hander says he's healthy and energized after the lengthy layoff.

Coming up: The Braves will continue their three-game series against the Astros on Saturday evening at 7:05 p.m. ET. They'll send Jeff Bennett (2-0, 2.57 ERA) to the mound to oppose Brandon Backe (2-1, 4.37).

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