Outlook: Still young, Upton has upside, high ceiling

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Upton brothers had reason to be satisfied when they exited Sunday afternoon's split-squad game against the Astros at Osceola County Stadium.

Justin Upton drew a walk and flied out to center field in the only other plate appearance he recorded while playing four pain-free innings during the 7-4 loss to the Astros. This was the first spring game of the season for Upton, who was bothered by a sore right side last week.

B.J. Upton recorded his first hit of the spring with a double in the third inning off Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who was previously in the Braves organization. Upton's double cut through the windy conditions and nearly cleared the left-center-field wall.

Wood's competitive fire impresses Braves

Outlook: Wood could become front-end starter in 2014

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca served as the manager for a split-squad club that battled the Tigers to a scoreless 10-inning tie on Sunday afternoon at Champion Stadium, he watched Alex Wood cruise through his first start of the Grapefruit League season with the same determination that he showed during last year's successful rookie season.

"He's such a good competitor," Tosca said. "I don't care if it's the first game of Spring Training or a postseason game, he's going to give you everything he's got, and that is good to see."

Unlike last season, when he came to his first big league Spring Training less than a year removed from his successful career at the University of Georgia, Wood knows he's virtually assured to begin this season on Atlanta's roster.

But it certainly did not look like he was taking anything for granted as he recorded a pair of strikeouts and pumped a couple of fastballs that registered 94 mph on the stadium's radar gun.

"I'm coming in here trying to win a job, plain and simple," Wood said. "Nothing has been given to me, and they haven't told me anything."

While producing a 3.13 ERA in 31 appearances (11 starts) last year, Wood impressed the Braves with the kind of composure he showed on Sunday after putting two on with one out in both of the innings he pitched. After surrendering consecutive one-out singles in the first inning, Wood got Torii Hunter to ground into an inning-ending double play. The top of the second inning concluded with Bryan Holaday lining into a double play.

"It seems like he steps his game up, the tougher the situation he gets himself into," Tosca said. "He doesn't panic. He competes and his stuff is good enough to get them out."

Wood, who posted a 0.90 ERA in five August starts last year, is essentially competing with Freddy Garcia for the fifth spot in Atlanta's rotation.

The Braves have the option of putting Wood in the bullpen at the beginning of the season. This would help moderate his workload since he'll be limited to 170-180 innings during what will be his second full professional season.

But as things currently stand, it appears the Braves plan to begin the season with Wood in the starting rotation.

"I always try to be realistic with my goals," Wood said. "I think it's a pretty realistic goal for me to break camp in the rotation with this team."

Freeman getting in the spring groove

Outlook: Freeman strong option at first with more pop

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- During one of the final workouts leading up to last week's Grapefruit League season opener, Freddie Freeman took a round of batting practice, and then somewhat playfully told Braves hitting coach Greg Walker, "I'm starting to feel really good."

The early results of the Grapefruit League season have verified Freeman's revelation. With two hits in three at-bats in Sunday afternoon's 10-inning scoreless tie against the Tigers, the Braves first baseman raised his batting average to .500 (5-for-10).

While the small sample size provides meaningless results, the sound that Freeman's bat has created the past few days has provided clear indication that he's feeling quite comfortable at the plate. During Friday night's game against the Astros, he laced a double into the right-center-field gap against Peter Moylan, and he also nearly dented Matt Albers' head with a sharp liner that glanced off the pitcher's glove.

Freeman added another double against the Nationals on Saturday and then made solid contact with both of the singles he recorded on Sunday.

"You'd almost like to put him in deep freeze and open him up in April," Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca said. "He's going to kill somebody out there."

Worth noting

Jonny Venters will be cleared to begin throwing off a mound with limited effort on Wednesday. As he attempts to return from his second Tommy John surgery, Venters is hoping to join Atlanta's bullpen in late May or early June.

• After issuing 11 walks within a span of four innings during Saturday's 16-15 loss to the Nationals, the Braves saw the two split-squad teams they used in Sunday's games against the Astros and Tigers combine to issue just seven free passes.