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Braves trade for Wickman

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Braves acquire veteran Wickman as closer

By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer

July 20, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) -- Sensing a playoff surge, the Atlanta Braves traded for proven closer Bob Wickman, sending a minor leaguer to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday to address a lingering weakness.

The 37-year-old Wickman has been successful on 15 of 18 save chances this season, and tied for the AL lead last year with 45 saves. To get him, Atlanta traded Class A catcher Max Ramirez.

"We had a need to bolster our bullpen," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said.

The Braves have won 14 straight division titles, but their chances looked to be in doubt when they were 33-46. Since then, Atlanta has won 12 of 16 to get back into wild-card contention, five games behind Cincinnati.

Atlanta's seven-game winning streak ended Wednesday night at St. Louis. The Braves were off Thursday, and play a weekend series in Philadelphia.

Wickman earned his 15th save Wednesday to help the Indians end a five-game losing streak. The right-hander is 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in 29 games.

Cleveland has been a disappointment this season and fallen far back in the AL Central and wild-card races.

Atlanta relievers have a 4.73 ERA and have blown 17 of 37 save opportunities. Chris Reitsma, out for the season following elbow surgery, Jorge Sosa and Kenny Ray have been used as the closer.

Ray, who has five saves in eight chances, had perhaps the most success, but no reliever fared well enough to hold the job.

The Braves also struggled to close games last year, when former closer John Smoltz made his return to the starting rotation.

Wickman has been a reliable closer despite often allowing baserunners.

It was no different Wednesday when he gave up a two-out double to Orlando Cabrera before striking out Vladimir Guerrero in a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels.

Wickman, in his seventh season with the Indians, is the club's career saves leader with 138. He has a lifetime record of 60-55 with a 3.64 ERA and 229 saves in 14 seasons.

Last year, Wickman converted 45 of 50 save opportunities and made his second All-Star appearance. It was Wickman's first full season after having elbow surgery that caused him to miss the 2003 season and the first half of 2004.

Wickman chose to sign a one-year, $5 million contract in December after the Indians were unsuccessful in signing B.J. Ryan or Trevor Hoffman.

The Braves are well-stocked at catcher. Brian McCann, at 22, made the NL All-Star team this year and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, playing at Double-A Mississippi, is regarded as a top prospect.

The 21-year-old Ramirez was hitting .285 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 80 games at Class A Rome. He was picked for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.

Wickman joined the Indians in 2000, coming over in a seven-player deal that sent Richie Sexson to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Hard-throwing rookie Fausto Carmona appears to be the favorite to take over the closer role for the Indians, who expected to be contenders after winning 93 games last season.

Wickman was the most obvious trade candidate for the Indians, who entered Thursday 21 games back in the AL Central. He could have vetoed the trade because he has more than 10 years in the league and at least five with the same team.

Associated Press Writer Joe Milicia in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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