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Notes: Ram-ming speed
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04/03/2004  2:23 PM ET
Notes: Ram-ming speed
Mendoza's return a shot in the arm for bullpen

ATLANTA -- Ramiro Mendoza has something to prove to Red Sox nation. If last night is any indication, he's on the way to doing so.

The box score said the veteran right-hander pitched only one inning and certainly wasn't spectacular (1 ER, 2 H) against hitters who will probably be starting the year in cities other than Atlanta. But the work he gave the Red Sox in that one inning was a positive step forward.

His return to health has been a long time coming but should be worth the wait to the Sox bullpen.

Mendoza suffered all of Spring Training with an abdominal strain and didn't even pitch until Boston's March 25 game against Minnesota. Last night was his fourth appearance of the Spring and even though he allowed a run and two hits amongst the five batters he faced, manager Terry Francona felt the quality of the at-bats proved his pitcher had the edge.

One hit barely left the infield and the other didn't even reach third base. The other three batters pounded pitches into the ground for fielder's choices.

"When guys are beating out balls that are bounced, that's good," said Francona. "That means he's pitching effectively."

Mendoza has allowed five hits and four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched this spring.

    Ramiro Mendoza   /   P
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 195
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
redsox.com

His return will add versatility to the pen, as he can both start and go long relief. Throughout his career, the 31-year-old righty has filled in effectively where needed but has been much more effective as a reliever. In relief, he has recorded a 34-20 record with 16 saves and a 3.66 ERA. But the later it gets in the season, the better he gets, as after Aug. 1, Mendoza's career record is 17-9 with five saves and a 3.51 ERA.

Last season, however, was a disappointment as tendinitis in his right knee slowed Mendoza all season and kept him out of the postseason.

Francona believes a return to form is in the offing, but will not rush his pitcher back.

"He's on track," said Francona. "The one thing he can't do yet is give us length. He could go two, three, depending on how many pitches he throws."

Coming attraction: Francona revealed the probable starting lineup when the team takes the field for real Sunday night at Camden Yards:

Johnny Damon CF
Bill Mueller 3B
Manny Ramirez LF
David Ortiz DH
Kevin Millar 1B
Gabe Kapler RF
Jason Varitek C
Mark Bellhorn 2B
Pokey Reese SS
Pedro Martinez P

Man-ny power: Manny Ramirez is heating up, right on time for Opening Day.

Ramirez, who heading into Saturday's game was hitting .304 with a team-high seven doubles and 16 RBIs, went 2-for-2 with four RBIs, Friday night, including his first homer of the spring, a first-inning, three-run blast off Mike Hampton.

The Sox left fielder is a career .323 hitter during the season's first month, with 56 career homers and 205 career RBIs.

In Saturday's game, he was 0-for-1 in two at-bats and was hastily removed for a pinch-runner after getting plunked in the shoulder by a John Thomson pitch in the third inning.

Lowe down: Derek Lowe capped off a superb spring with his 3 2/3 innings of two-run, two-hit ball against the Braves on Friday night. In seven starts this spring, Lowe allowed only seven earned runs in 29 innings (a 2.17 ERA) and held opponents to a miserly .183 batting average.

That winning preseason: If you believe that how you practice is how you play, then the Sox are in good position for a postseason berth. Heading into Saturday's game, the team was 17-11. Since 1978, the Red Sox have made the playoffs six of the last eight years they compiled a .500 record in Spring Training.

Matt-inee idol Actor Matthew Modine, who is starring as Honus Wagner in the television movie "The Winning Season," threw out the first pitch.

Rooting interest: Final Four Fever ran rampant throughout Atlanta this weekend. The impact even extended as far as the Red Sox clubhouse as Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek went to Georgia Tech, while Scott Williamson attended Oklahoma State, Tech's opponent.

Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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