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Braves trade Ramirez

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Atlanta Braves swapped a starting pitcher for bullpen help Thursday, sending oft-injured lefty Horacio Ramirez to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Rafael Soriano.
    Ramirez went 5-5 with a 4.48 ERA in 14 starts this year, making three trips to the disabled list. But he’s shown promise in the past when healthy, winning 12 games as a rookie in 2003 and surpassing 200 innings two years later.
    Soriano, who recovered from major elbow surgery in August 2004, was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA and two saves in 53 appearances last season. He missed the final month with a concussion after he was hit on the side of his head by Vladimir Guerrero’s line drive.
    The right-hander probably will serve as a setup man for Braves closer Bob Wickman, who will be 38 next season.
    ‘‘One of our primary objectives this offseason was to bolster our bullpen,’’ Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said. ‘‘In 2006 Rafael established himself as a very reliable pitcher and we obviously feel that we have improved our pitching staff with his addition.’’
    Ramirez also was hit in the head by a liner last season, off the bat of Lance Berkman, which caused him to miss a start. A sprained middle finger sidelined Ramirez for most of the final two months.
    ‘‘Our goal coming to the winter meetings was to get help in our starting rotation and that’s what we did today,’’ Mariners GM Bill Bavasi said. ‘‘Horacio is a young, left-handed starter who makes us better immediately.’’
    The 27-year-old Ramirez is 30-22 in four major league seasons with a 4.13 ERA.
    Atlanta still has depth in a rotation that includes John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, Chuck James and Kyle Davies or Lance Cormier.
    ‘‘They got a good starter, we think, in Horacio,’’ Braves manager Bobby Cox said, adding that Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell thinks Ramirez can win 15-20 games. ‘‘He’s sincere about that. Horacio has always had those capabilities. Unfortunately, last year, he had the hamstring and finger problems. But he’s fine, healthy and should pitch great.’’
    Soriano, who turns 27 this month, had 65 strikeouts and 21 walks in 60 innings last season. He limited opponents to a .204 batting average.
    ‘‘Our needs, right now, were in the bullpen. And we think we got one of the best guys in baseball,’’ Cox said. ‘‘To have a five-year career in the American League and come out with a 2.8 ERA, that’s saying something. Everybody I’ve run into in the lobbies from other organizations, they didn’t lust after this guy, but they like him a lot.’’
    Soriano has a career record of 4-8 with a 2.89 ERA and four saves. The Braves might consider grooming him to become a closer — or converting him to a starter down the road.
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