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Rasmus trying to play catch-up with brother

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cory Rasmus is just a year younger than brother Colby, and both of the former Little League stars were first-round draft choices.

But while Colby has already put in four full seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder with St. Louis and Toronto, Cory is still trying to pitch above Class AA.

On Atlanta's 40-man roster for the first time and fully healthy, this could be the season that the right-hander has his real breakthrough.

The 25-year-old finally got to put on a major league uniform like his oldest brother, even if only for spring training. He was optioned to Class AAA Gwinnett after five Grapefruit League relief outings, but it was still a significant step.

"I was a little nervous. A little anxious," said Rasmus of his first appearance against the New York Yankees in late February.

That was the case even though the Columbus native had to deal with plenty of pressure when he was just 11 years old.

"I played in the Little League World Series, with I don't know how many people watching, and that was a big deal at the time," said Rasmus, a member of the 1999 United States champion Phenix City Nationals team that was managed by father Tony and brother Colby.

"To finally make it here after all I've been through, you can't help being a little nervous. It was a long time coming. If I hadn't had the setbacks, I think it would have happened a lot earlier."

Ramus missed most of what should have been his second and third minor league seasons after shoulder surgery. Then collarbone surgery in 2011 set him back again.

Finally healthy, Rasmus began living up to his potential last season. He flourished in the bullpen at Class AA Mississippi, posting seven saves in 50 appearances and striking out 62 in 58 innings.

That was more what the Braves expected when they made Rasmus the 38th overall pick in the 2006 draft -- 10 spots behind where Colby had been taken the previous year by the Cardinals.

"He had some lost years there with injuries, but he took a big step forward last season," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "He had a tough time. Injuries were a consistent theme. You see it with a number of guys. Unfortunately, you don't see most of them make it back and get on the roster like he has. He's now put himself in position to bid for the big leagues."

It looked like March 8 might be an opportunity for a Rasmus reunion, with the Blue Jays playing the Braves at Champion Stadium. But Colby, bothered by a sore shoulder, didn't make the trip and Cory, tentatively scheduled to pitch, didn't get into the game anyway.

"His career has obviously gone better than mine, but I'd never wish him anything except the best," Cory said. "I hope I can play against him someday and show I'm at the same level."

Rasmus pitched just three times in the Gulf Coast League after signing before his right shoulder betrayed him. Rehab didn't work and he had surgery in May of the next year to tighten the capsule and shave the rotator cuff.

He didn't pitch again until late in 2008, when he worked just 5 innings. Then he had more problems in 2011. Surgery on his broken collarbone was needed to create more room in the AC joint of his shoulder.

"Last season, I finally felt good again," Ramus said.

The pitcher needs to keep moving up to stay ahead of 23-year-old brother Casey, a catcher in the St. Louis organization.

"I had some bad luck, but I feel it made me stronger mentally," he said. "I think I can pitch at the highest level. I just have to prove it."