ATLANTA -- About the only time most people seem to notice the bullpen is when it doesn't get the job done.
That's part of the reason that the Braves' bullpen has gone largely unnoticed in 2010.
With an ERA of 2.96, second-lowest in all of baseball -- only San Diego's 2.81 is lower -- and the lowest batting average against (.218), and fewest hits allowed (369), Atlanta's relief corps has not only survived a multitude of changes forced by injury, they've thrived, without missing a beat.
For example, as Eric O'Flaherty, a key left-handed arm, recovers from dizziness and possible other after-effects of mononucleosis, which first shelved him for a month during July and August, the Braves have called upon Michael Dunn to fill his role.
Dunn has posted a 1.00 ERA in 23 games this season. He's retired 17 of 23 first batters faced and has allowed only three of 13 inherited runners to score. That's a miniscule 23 percent. In September, Dunn has made 12 appearances, covering 9 2/3 innings, allowing only two runs and eight hits, while striking out 16 and walking five.
Surprised? Braves manager Bobby Cox isn't.
"Mike made the All-Star team in the International League as the left-handed relief pitcher," said Cox. "He's done very well."
Fireballer Craig Kimbrel has made the loss to injury of key right-handed setup man Takashi Saito easier to handle.
Kimbrel has recorded 38 strikeouts in 20 Major League innings, and hasn't allowed a run in his last 15 2/3 innings, dating back to June 7. Over his last 10 appearances, all shutouts, he has surrendered four hits, while recording six multi-strikeout appearances, three times striking out the side.
The 'pen may cause a problem should the Braves make it to the postseason, however, as with Saito and O'Flaherty both possibly ready to return, Cox will have to decide who to keep on the roster.
Cox grateful for tributes from across Majors
ATLANTA -- Before the start of Bobby Cox Weekend at Turner Field -- complete with a No. 6 painted onto the center-field grass in tribute -- and Friday's series opener with the Phillies, the Braves' manager took time to reflect on the many gifts that had come his way during his farewell tour, better known as the 2010 season.
With gifts from 28 of the 30 teams already received -- only the Braves were left and they will honor him before Saturday afternoon's game -- Cox expressed his gratitude in front of a playoff-sized throng of reporters.
"They were all great gestures," he said. "I appreciate them all the same."
Cox couldn't say the same about all of the farewell days, as he admitted that one day hit him harder emotionally than the others.
That was Aug. 22 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the emotion of the day had nothing to do with him. That day was all about Cubs manager Lou Piniella.
"Lou had announced his retirement that Sunday morning and that was going to be his last game, and they were doing a little presentation," Cox said. "He wanted to come to the plate with the lineup card and he got a great standing ovation. Tears were in his and my eyes, because that was the last time he was putting [the uniform] on. That one was a little rough.
"It was great. I was proud to be there with my friend, Lou. But they've all been so great. Kind of fun, really."
What hasn't been and won't be fun is finding room for everything.
For that, he'll be counting on the help of his wife, Pam.
"I don't have a house big enough for all the stuff," he said. "It's really neat. We're going to go through everything and see where we can put it."
Once they decide, which will be at the conclusion of the Braves' season, which Cox hopes includes the postseason, he'll find time to properly thank the 28 participating teams. Only the Marlins decided not to honor Cox.
"I do write thank you notes," he said.
Lee appreciates Cubs' assistance
ATLANTA -- If the Braves clinch the National League Wild Card berth, they may want to send a portion of their playoff share to the Cubs.
The Braves acquired the valuable Omar Infante and left-handed reliever Will Ohman from the Cubs while simply having to exchange Jose Ascanio before the 2008 season. When Atlanta needed a first baseman six weeks ago, Chicago provided Derrek Lee in exchange for two Minor League pitchers.
And of course, the Cubs spent this week taking three of four from the Padres, who consequently entered Friday with just three games left to play, trailing the Braves by two games in the Wild Card standings.
"Before the series, I sent them some texts telling them that if they didn't play good, they're in trouble," Lee said. "They had a great series. That was awesome."
Lee said he received some texts from former Cubs teammates Thursday night. According to the veteran first baseman, they essentially said, "Now it's up to you; we did our part."
Hudson's next start Sunday or in NLDS
ATLANTA -- If the Braves clinch the National League Wild Card entry before the end of Saturday's play, Tim Hudson said he will likely skip Sunday's scheduled start and prepare to start either Game 1 or 2 of the NL Division Series.
"Getting some extra rest is pretty important at this time of year," Hudson said.
If Hudson needs to pitch Sunday afternoon's regular-season finale against the Phillies, he would still be in line to start Game 2 of the NLDS on regular rest. That game is scheduled to be played Oct. 8.
The Braves haven't revealed whether they would start Hudson or Derek Lowe in Game 1. Lowe has enhanced his candidacy while going 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his past five starts.
With the format of the seven-day NLDS, the Braves may need to carry four starters. Jair Jurrjens completed another relatively pain-free bullpen session Friday. But the club will have to evaluate the strength of his injured right knee before deciding whether it should put him on the Division Series roster.
Braves president John Schuerholz celebrated his 70th birthday Friday. ... Wednesday's win over the Marlins gave Bobby Cox his 15th 90-win season. John McGraw (16) and Joe McCarthy (15) are the only other Major League managers to have as many such seasons. ... Andres Galarraga attended Friday's series opener and will be among the many former Braves who are scheduled to be present for Saturday afternoon's "Bobby Cox Tribute." Fans attending Saturday's game should plan on being seated by 3 p.m. ET. The pregame festivities are expected to begin around that time.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.