Braves find much-needed fifth starter

Updated: March 26, 2004, 3:31 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- The Chicago Cubs traded pitchers Juan Cruz and Steve Smyth to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday for minor league left-hander Andy Pratt and infielder Richard Lewis.

Trades spring up: Four on move
Astros trade for Lamb: Houston acquired third baseman Mike Lamb from the Yankees for minor league right-hander Juan DeLeon.

Hours after he was dealt, Lamb doubled in his first at-bat with Houston and made a good fielding play on his first chance at third base, helping the Astros beat the Dodgers 7-2 Thursday night.

Lamb was going to compete for the Yankees' third base job until they traded for reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, who shifted from shortstop.

Lamb, who arrived in a trade from Texas in February, hit .292 with one homer and two RBIs in 11 spring training games. He's now favored to earn the last available backup infield spot with the Astros, who released veteran John Valentin on Thursday.
DeLeon, 22, went 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA in 39 1-3 innings over 26 games for the Astros' Class-A club in Lexington, Ky. He will be assigned to the Yankees' Class-A team in Tampa.
-- Associated Press

Swap of relievers: Montreal traded reliever Randy Choate to Arizona for reliever John Patterson, the second time in three months Choate has been traded.

The Expos acquired him in December from the Yankees along with first baseman Nick Johnson and outfielder Juan Rivera for pitcher Javier Vazquez.

Patterson, 26, returns to the team that drafted him in 1996. The Expos selected the right-hander in the first round, but lost him when he was declared a free agent due to a technicality. He then signed with Arizona.

Patterson split last season between Triple-A Tucson and Arizona, going 1-4 with a 6.05 ERA in 16 appearances for the Diamondbacks. Choate, 28, pitched in only five games for the Yankees last season. He had a 2.25 ERA in seven appearances this spring.
-- Associated Press

The Cubs cut ties with Cruz three seasons after the right-hander made an impressive debut in Chicago, going 3-1 with a 3.22 ERA in 11 starts in 2001.

He fell to 3-11 with a 3.98 ERA the next season, pitching mainly out of the bullpen, and was 2-7 last year with a 6.05 ERA.

"It's not something that I went into the spring shopping Cruz at all. It wasn't like I felt I had to move him. He's been such a good prospect for us," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.

"When he first came up with us a couple years ago, he had the great September. He hasn't been quite as consistent ever since. Some of that was probably attributed to the back-and-forth role of the 'pen-start, the 'pen-start last year. Sometimes guys will blossom when they get a change of scenery. Hopefully, it will be a good trade for both."

The Braves liked Cruz's potential.

"The kind of arm [Cruz] has is hard to come by," general manager John Schuerholz said. "We can use him out of the bullpen or in the starting rotation. I feel a lot better about our pitching staff because this is a quality guy."

Smyth was 6-11 with a 5.23 ERA last year for Triple-A Iowa. He has a career record of 36-32 with a 4.11 ERA in 97 minor league starts.

Pratt was in the running for the fifth starter's job in Atlanta and could fill that role early in the season for the Cubs while Mark Prior sits out with inflammation in his right Achilles tendon.

Pratt led the International League in strikeouts last season with 161 and was 7-10 in 27 starts with a 3.40 for Triple-A Richmond. He made five appearances this spring, giving up one earned run in eight innings. He struck out eight and walked six.

"I'm sure I'll beat myself into the ground about what I could have done, but I thought I did my best to make it here," Pratt said. "The Braves gave me a good opportunity and I'm hoping for the same thing in Chicago."

Hendry said there's a good chance Pratt will start the season in the majors.

"He's got to come in and get acclimated in a hurry. That would be our hope," Hendry said.

Mike Remlinger has been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

"With Rem out and Prior starting on the DL, we're certainly hopeful he can come in there and at least fill a bullpen spot for us on Opening Day."

Lewis hit .239 with 32 extra-base hits and 47 RBIs in 129 games last year at Double-A Greenville. He was the 40th overall selection in the 2001 draft.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press