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Soriano's return remains uncertain

Soriano's return uncertain

ARLINGTON -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox said Tuesday that he thought Rafael Soriano will be activated from the disabled list on Saturday, he might have been doing some wishful thinking.

As has been the case with Soriano for most of the past month, thoughts about his potential return to the Braves bullpen can change on a daily basis.

Although Soriano did venture into the outfield to play catch during batting practice at Rangers Ballpark on Wednesday afternoon, he still hasn't tested his right elbow with a bullpen session, and Cox isn't sure exactly when this test might occur.

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"I don't know when he wants to throw," said Cox, who has every reason to be frustrated with the fact that the right-handed reliever has had a sore elbow for nearly four months and it's never been determined what is causing the discomfort.

With Soriano, the Braves are just waiting for him to determine he's once again ready to test the elbow by throwing off the mound. The 28-year-old hasn't pitched since June 5, and he began his second disabled list stint of the season on Saturday.

Because Soriano's elbow has been a problem dating back to the beginning of Spring Training, he could remain a question mark the rest of the season. But the Braves are hoping that Mike Gonzalez will prove to be a reliable figure the rest of the season.

Gonzalez, who is coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, was activated from the disabled list on Wednesday and immediately deemed ready to begin pitching in a variety of relief roles. While the veteran left-hander could eventually become the Braves closer, Cox may want to ease him into that role.

To make room on the 25-man roster for Gonzalez, the Braves optioned Phil Stockman to Triple-A Richmond. During three different stints in the Majors this season, Stockman has compiled just six appearances and allowed just two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

After being optioned to Richmond on June 2 and then recalled to the Atlanta roster two days later, Stockman made just three appearances, during which he worked three scoreless innings, allowed one hit and issued two walks.

There was some thought Jeff Ridgway would be optioned back to Richmond instead of Stockman. But Ridgway, who has allowed three hits and a run in the 3 2/3 innings he's completed since his promotion last week, entered Wednesday's game as one of four left-handed relievers in the Braves bullpen.

"It's the most we've ever had here," Cox said.

Gonzalez and Will Ohman are both viewed as relievers who are capable of retiring both right-handed and left-handed batters with consistent success. Royce Ring has been used as a left-handed specialist all season. As for Ridgway, he doesn't have a statistical strength. While at Richmond, right-handed hitters batted .333 against him and left-handers hit .293.

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

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