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03/13/12 5:26 PM ET

Experience paying major dividends for Minor

Left-hander's strong spring has him in contention for rotation

JUPITER, Fla. -- At this time last year, Mike Minor didn't know what was coming.

The young left-hander was lost, stuck in a battle for the fifth spot in the team's starting rotation -- a battle he would eventually lose to Brandon Beachy.

"I just really didn't know where I was going, and I was kind of wishy-washy," Minor said.

Now, the 24-year-old has turned the tables, and it's the batters who are the ones kept guessing when he's on the mound. Unlike last Spring Training, Minor has shown he belongs in the Majors this season, as he has not allowed an earned run in nine innings after Tuesday's four-inning stint against the Marlins.

"This year, I feel like I have more of a path of where I'm headed and what [the Braves] have in store for me," Minor said.

Minor called Tuesday's start his "best outing" of the spring, as he struck out four over his four frames.

And all of a sudden, Minor's Spring Training success has him in a different position than he was in last year. Once battling with Beachy for a spot in the rotation, Minor is now expected to begin the regular season as part of Atlanta's starting staff, with Beachy alongside him.

"[Minor and Beachy] know what to expect," pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "Coming into camp, they knew the preparation that's needed and what they need to continue to work on in order to pitch effectively at the Major League level."

Minor learned a lot last year. With just nine Major League appearances under his belt entering 2011, he spent part of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett and made 15 starts for the Braves, posting a 4.14 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP.

This season, the 6-foot-4 southpaw expects to produce better numbers, and the Braves expect the same.

"Last year was only my second big league camp," Minor said. "I was fighting for a spot and I was still getting to know a lot of the guys. I had hardly been to any of the parks, and I had hardly thrown to any of the teams either. It was just a whole new experience last year, and this year is more comforting to be out there, and I feel like I know my teammates better."

That added comfort has contributed to Minor becoming Atlanta's most impressive starting pitcher this spring. And it couldn't come at a better time, as ace Tim Hudson is expected to miss the first month of the season with a back injury.

"We see the young man maturing right in front of our eyes, really," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Minor. "He showed us that he's progressing in the right direction."

But none of that means Minor is necessarily guaranteed a spot in Atlanta's starting rotation. Even with his impressive performance this spring, the Braves' coaches want to keep him hungry.

"He's still battling," McDowell said. "He's still battling for a spot. We have seven pitchers that we're getting ready to start the season as starters. We'll see who comes out of the mix."

Anthony Chiang is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.