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Thursday, June 15
Rocker throws six balls, then gets yanked

PITTSBURGH -- John Rocker returned to the Atlanta Braves. His control didn't.

The oft-volatile reliever, exiled to the minor leagues earlier this month amid concerns about his control on and off the field, rejoined the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday following a three-outing stay in the minors.

John Rocker
John Rocker has brought his fastball back to the Braves.

It was almost as if he hadn't gone away. He didn't throw a strike among his six pitches before being lifted with the bases loaded and the Braves up 8-4 over Pittsburgh in the eighth inning.

Rocker snapped angrily at catcher Fernando Lunar's return throw after home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called ball three on John Vander Wal, then walked him on the next pitch, which wasn't close. Rocker then threw two more balls to Pat Meares before manager Bobby Cox lifted him.

Kerry Ligtenberg came on to get the final four outs and preserve Greg Maddux's ninth victory.

Rocker spoke briefly but cordially to reporters before the game, but declined to talk after the game, although several teammates did.

"We can do it with him, or we can do it without him," said Chipper Jones, who hit a two-run go-ahead homer. "It's his choice what happens. We can't go out there and throw strikes for him."

Brian Jordan, who called Rocker "a cancer" on the club before Rocker's June 5 demotion, was conciliatory.

"I think he's trying too hard," Jordan said. "I'm sure there's some pressure on him and he's trying too hard to do well. He's going to work on it. It's no different than a hitter being in a slump. Get a couple of hits, and you're out of it. He'll have a good game and he'll be out of it."

At Richmond, Rocker made three appearances, striking out six in two scoreless innings before allowing two hits and a run in one inning Tuesday night. The left-hander had one save.

By his own count, Rocker threw 41 of his 55 pitches for strikes at Richmond, convincing him his control problems were over. Prior to be being sent down following two precarious outings against the Yankees, Rocker walked 25 in 18 1-3 innings, a streak of wildness that temporarily cost him his job as the Braves' closer. He had 38 saves last season, one short of Mark Wohlers' 1996 club record.

Before Rocker was sent down, Braves pitcher Terry Mulholland noticed he wasn't transferring his weight smoothly from his back foot to his front foot as he delivered the ball to the plate.

"I had to refine that a little bit," Rocker said before breaking off the brief pre-game interview to get treatment on his arm. He did say he wanted to help "win some" games for the Braves, using the Spanish word for games.

Rocker arrived at Three Rivers Stadium at 3:40 p.m., declined politely to talk to several TV reporters gathered outside and entered a clubhouse that wasn't opened to the media until about an hour later than normal.

During that time, he met privately with Cox, who declined to discuss the session. However, the topics of discussion were obvious -- namely, Rocker's prior problems in throwing strikes and his run-in with the reporter whose offseason story detailing Rocker's disparaging remarks toward gays and minorities led to the pitcher's two-week suspension at the start of the season.

The reception Rocker received from his teammates, some of whom were critical of him following his angry outburst against the Sports Illustrated reporter on June 4, was difficult to judge. He had no interaction with any teammates during the 75 minutes reporters were in the clubhouse, spending most of that time in the trainer's room.

The Braves summoned Rocker after right-hander Rudy Seanez developed tightness in his right forearm while pitching Tuesday. The Braves' bullpen was already shorthanded with right-hander Greg McMichael on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.

The Braves insisted Rocker's demotion was the result of his pitching and not because of his volatile relationship with the media, and his quick recall would seem to support that.

"He got his stuff back, he threw strikes and he dominated, he really did," Cox said. After the game, Cox said he wouldn't hesitate to use Rocker, if needed, on Thursday.

Asked if Rocker had also adjusted his often confrontational attitude toward reporters during his brief stop in the minors, Cox said, "He doesn't know if he should talk or not. He really doesn't."

Rocker was asked only about his pitching during his short interview, and it was clear that was all he would discuss. But the Braves clearly knew Rocker, and the excess baggage he hauls with him to every city, were back. For better or for worse.

As Trenidad Hubbard walked through a runway leading to the field, he smiled and said, "Just another day in the life of the Braves. What's going to be next?"


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 ESPN's Peter Gammons looks at the return of John Rocker.
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 Richmond Braves GM Bruce Baldwin talks about Rocker's performance down on the farm.
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 Richmond Braves GM Bruce Baldwin discusses Rocker's return to the big leagues.
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 Controversy over Rocker has had little effect on manager Bobby Cox.
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 Tom Glavine's opinion: It's all up to Rocker to change.
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