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Down on the farm: M-Braves Wellman back after implosion, suspension

The Mississippi Braves are closing in on the first-half championship in the South Division of the Class AA Southern League, but that seems to have become secondary.

That will happen when your manager's theatrics are shown over and over on everything from YouTube to ESPN to the ABC World News.

Phillip Wellman rejoined Mississippi on Thursday after being suspended for three games by the Atlanta Braves for his wild tantrum in Chattanooga on June 1. The Southern League also fined the manager.

As most have seen by now, Wellman put on quite a show after being ejected, pulling up the third and second base bags and sneaking up behind the pitching mound to lob the resin back toward the home plate umpire like it was a grenade. As he departed the field, the 45-year-old blew kisses to the crowd.

Wellman, who managed for four seasons in Chattanooga for the Cincinnati Reds, has long been known in the Southern League for his outbursts. But this went much further than usual.

"Stuff like that used to happen a lot in the minors," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "But you can't do that anymore. Not when they can catch you on TV and play it over and over."

This is Wellman's first year as Mississippi's manager, but he was a coach the previous two seasons.

"He's knows he went too far and feels bad about what's happened," said Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who had Wellman as his hitting coach in 2005 at Mississippi and has spoken to him on the phone several times. "He really helped me and I thought this was hilarious the first time I saw it. It showed how he really backs his players. But then it became a joke and made him look bad."

Mississippi (39-22) was 2-1 without Wellman and led the South Division by five games with eight to play going into the weekend.

Atlanta's AA team, which moved from Greenville, S.C., to Mississippi in 2005, hasn't made the Southern League playoffs since 2000.

The last SL title by the Braves came in 1997.

Wellman will no longer talk about the incident.

"Once again, my mother is so proud of me, and my wife and kids are creeping around in disguise," Wellman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the next day.

Richmond (AAA)

Manny Acosta was 5-1 with six saves and a 1.07 ERA in 21 relief appearances. Fellow right-handed reliever Buddy Hernandez was 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA in 20 games. He had two saves. ... Shortstop Brent Lillibridge had five hits in his first 25 at-bats with a homer and four RBIs after being promoted from Mississippi. Acquired from Pittsburgh in the Adam LaRoche trade, Lillibridge hit .275 in the Southern League. ... First baseman Graham Koonce had seven homers and 21 RBIs in 23 games after a trade with the Kansas City organization.

Mississippi (AA)

Second baseman J.C. Holt had three hits in each of his first two games after returning to Mississippi from Richmond. He was sent down to make room for Martin Prado despite hitting .292 in 13 AAA games. The former LSU standout was hitting .377 at Mississippi before moving up to Richmond. ... LHP Jo-Jo Reyes improved to 7-1 with his sixth consecutive win and lowered his ERA to 3.80, pitching six scoreless innings against West Tennessee. ... Outfielder Carl Loadenthal used a 13-game hitting streak to raise his average to .328 going into the weekend. ... Catcher Clint Sammons hit his second homer and improved his average to .247.

Myrtle Beach (A)

Right-hander Moises Hernandez improved to 9-2 with his sixth consecutive victory and lowered his ERA to 3.09. He was the only Pelican selected to play in the Carolina-California All-Star Game on June 19 in Stockton, Calif. ... First baseman Isaiah Ka'aihue was 14-for-26 with three homers and 13 RBIs during a seven-game spree. He had a franchise-record 24 homers over two seasons, including 11 this year. ... Outfielder Matt Young was hitting over .300 since coming off the disabled list. ... Right-hander Jairo Cuevas won for the first time after eight losses.

Rome (A)

Tommy Hanson allowed just one hit, but it was a homer as he fell to 2-4 with a 1-0 loss at Columbus. He struck out 12 and walked two in seven innings while lowering his ERA to 2.35. The right-hander leads the South Atlanta League with 81 strikeouts in 65 innings and opponents are bating just .179. ... Hanson, who has allowed two runs or less in 10 of 12 starts, was named to the South team for the SAL All-Star Game on June 19 at Rome. He will be joined by outfielder Concepcion Rodriguez. Rome manager Randy Ingle will serve as a coach, as will Rome's Bobby Moore. ... Tim Gustafson won for the first time since April 11, limiting Columbus to two earned runs over five innings in a 5-3 victory. The right-hander from Parkview and Georgia Tech was 2-4 with a 4.48 ERA. He had gone nine starts without a win.

Catching up with ... Matt Handley

Matt Handley wasn't drafted after completing his career at Georgia State, but the San Diego Padres signed the left-hander from Greater Atlanta Christian as a free agent last July.

So far, it looks like a smart move.

Handley, who turned 24 on Thursday, pitched well last season and is building on that this year with even more impressive numbers.

With Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne - both Class A teams - Handley was 1-0 with a 0.56 ERA in 13 relief appearances going into the weekend. He had allowed just four hits in 16 innings, striking out 16 and walking 10.

There always seems to be a place for a lefty reliever and Handley has certainly adjusted well to the role.

Last season in rookie ball and short-season Class A, he was 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in 22 games and had 36 strikeouts to eight walks in 30 innings. Opponents batted just .179.