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02/21/11 5:31 PM EST

Proctor has different feel this spring

Braves reliever appears fully recovered from elbow surgery

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Based on their previous experience together, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has assured Scott Proctor that he won't watch any of his bullpen sessions. But if he eventually chooses to do so, the skipper might quickly recognize why the veteran reliever is once again feeling upbeat heading into a season.

After enduring a frustrating 2010 season that proved it can take longer than one year to return from Tommy John surgery, Proctor heeded the advice of former Braves closer Billy Wagner and began throwing a football in the offseason.

"I was concerned," Proctor said. "Having repaired your elbow twice, you don't know if that added stress will be good for it. But I'll tell you what: The first time I picked up a baseball, it felt really, really good."

Gonzalez has been happy with the reports he's gained from those who have watched Proctor throw during the first week of Spring Training. The updates are much more promising than those he received in 2009, when Proctor spent just a short time in Marlins camp before feeling the elbow discomfort that led to Tommy John surgery.

The Braves signed Proctor in November 2009, hoping he might be ready to pitch the final four or five months of the 2010 season. But by the time last season concluded, the 34-year-old reliever's Major League contributions consisted of six September appearances.

When he arrived in Atlanta late last year, Proctor didn't possess the velocity he had displayed when he was proving successful for the Yankees and Dodgers in 2006 and '07. But based on the reaction he has received from coaches in this year's camp, he's confident his fastball had regained some life.

"The crazy thing is I really felt good in September," Proctor said. "But then when talking to [Triple-A Gwinnett's pitching coach] Marty Reed and some of the guys, they are telling me I look even more free," Proctor said. "That's weird to me, because I really felt good at the end of last year. But that just tells you how much better it is this year."

Proctor, Cristhian Martinez, Cory Gearrin and Stephen Marek appear to be the top candidates to fill the one open bullpen spot.

Unlike the other aforementioned pitchers, Proctor isn't on the 40-man roster. But none of the other candidates for the one spot can say that they gained the experience afforded Proctor when he made 83 appearances for the Yankees in 2006, and then matched that total one year later pitching for the Yankees and Dodgers.

"I like the makeup of the kid," Gonzalez said. "I like the character. I like his history."

Braves on verge of unveiling spring rotation

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez isn't ready to announce his Opening Day starter. But he might provide at least a clue Tuesday, when he plans to reveal his rotation for the upcoming Grapefruit League season.

After Monday's workout at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, Gonzalez planned to map out his rotation with pitching coach Roger McDowell. The Braves will open the Grapefruit League season Saturday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Coming off an impressive 17-win comeback season, Tim Hudson appears to be the favorite to be named the Opening Day starter. But while going perfect last September and proving strong in both of his postseason starts, Derek Lowe kept himself positioned for what would be his third straight Opening Day start for the Braves.

Heading into the exhibition season, the only question surrounding the starting rotation focuses on the fifth spot. Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are the favorites to win the job, and Rodrigo Lopez is in camp to provide insurance.

With the plan to allow his starting pitchers to work two innings in their first exhibition start and an additional inning each subsequent start, Gonzalez will be able to use each of his starters during the early portion of the Grapefruit League season.

Toward the end of March, he may need to have a couple of the hurlers get their innings in Minor League games.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.