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Closer missed Dodgers' first 35 games

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers closer Eric Gagne was activated from the disabled list Saturday night and pitched against the Braves after he appealed his two-game suspension for heckling an umpire.

The first two batters he faced -- Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones -- homered in the ninth inning of Atlanta's 5-1 victory.

"I wasn't nervous -- maybe anxious," said Gagne, who missed the first 35 games because of a sprained right elbow. "It was my mechanics. I felt great. I hadn't pitched in a game in six or seven months. It was great to face major-league hitters again, and I got my feet wet. I'm just going to have to step it up now."

Aside from J.D. Drew's RBI single in the sixth, the only thing the Dodger Stadium crowd of 49,112 had to cheer about was the season debut of Gagne, who lumbered in from the bullpen to the strains of "Welcome to the Jungle" on the public address system.

But those cheers quickly died down when Chipper Jones drove a 3-1 pitch over the center field fence and Andruw Jones hit an 0-2 delivery to left-center. Gagne had allowed just 13 homers in 247 innings during his previous three seasons as the Dodgers closer. He struck out his last three batters after giving up the two homers and a single by Julio Franco.

"It was an appropriate enough situation to have him pitch," pitching coach Jim Colborn said. "I don't think he was in his best rhythm and form until later in the inning. I look at the quality of the pitches, not so much the results. And he threw some good pitches there towards the end."

Gagne, who owns the major-league record of 84 consecutive saves, landed on the disabled list for the first time in his seven-year major-league career when he hurt his elbow while compensating for a knee injury sustained during spring training. It was the same elbow that underwent ligament replacement surgery in 1997.

On April 6 at San Francisco, Gagne was ejected by umpire Bill Hohn for complaining from the dugout about balls and strikes. He was given a two-game suspension 23 days later, pending his return to the 25-man roster.

Gagne was disciplined for breaking baseball rule 3.17, which states that "players on the disabled list ... may not take part in any activity during the game such as warming up a pitcher, bench jockeying, etc." He had been told not to be in uniform on the bench or in the bullpen during games while on the DL.

Gagne, 29, won the NL Cy Young Award in 2003 with a club-record 55 saves and 1.20 ERA. He agreed to a two-year, $19 million contract in the offseason after recording 152 saves and averaging 122 strikeouts during his first three seasons as a closer.

His record streak ended last July.

In three rehab appearances with Triple-A Las Vegas, Gagne retired all 12 batters he faced and struck out seven.

The defending NL West champion Dodgers hardly missed a beat without their closer. Right-hander Yhency Brazoban recorded his first 11 career saves in 12 opportunities with a 1.88 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 appearances.

"He's going to be a great closer. He's got everything," Gagne said. "The one thing I tried to help him with is just make sure that he stays aggressive and makes sure he pitches like every pitch is like his last pitch. And it's really helped him."

To make room for Gagne on the roster, the Dodgers optioned right-handed Steve Schmoll to Las Vegas. Schmoll was 1-0 with a 4.96 ERA in 16 appearances.