02/24/2013 6:25 PM ET
Venters struggles with command against Pirates
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Given what he had done the previous two seasons, it was odd to see Jonny Venters surrender a home run in his first appearance of the 2012 spring season. Now, the Braves reliever can only hope it was not the start of a trend.
Venters' latest Grapefruit League debut was tarnished when he allowed a two-run homer to Clint Barmes in the fifth inning of Sunday's 9-2 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field. Barmes' shot over the left-field wall came on a 2-2, four-seam fastball that was up and not far enough inside.
Before Barmes' homer, Venters surrendered a double to Gaby Sanchez. The left-handed reliever allowed three hits in his one-inning appearance. He felt his troubles were a result of his inability to command his primary pitch -- the sinking two-seam fastball.
"It was the first outing, and I left some pitches up," Venters said. "But my arm felt good, and my mechanics felt good. I'm obviously not happy with the results. But from a feel standpoint, I feel good about it."
After allowing Mark DeRosa to homer off him in last year's spring debut against the Nationals, Venters did not give up another home run in his final six appearances of the Grapefruit League season. But his arm started to tire after April, and he surrendered six home runs while posting a 6.08 ERA in 31 appearances from May 1-July 4.
Venters had allowed just three home runs while posting a 1.80 ERA in the 173 appearances he made before this rough stretch. When he arrived at Spring Training this year, he admitted that his arm had never felt right during last year's spring season. In the 26 appearances he made after spending two weeks on the disabled list in July, Venters posted a 1.71 ERA and did not allow a home run.
"I definitely feel like my arm has a little more life in it [than it did last year]," Venters said. "I feel good. Warming up was really good. First time in a game is always a little different feeling. I'm positive about it. I really feel good mechanically and physically. I've just got to get the sinker down."
Prospects Teheran, Gilmartin strong in spring debut
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Julio Teheran is the prohibitive favorite to begin the season as the fifth starter in Atlanta's rotation. But the ever-steady Sean Gilmartin will spend the next month attempting to show the Braves he could fill that role if Teheran stumbles.
Making their Grapefruit League season debuts in Sunday's 9-2 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field, Teheran and Gilmartin both completed two scoreless innings. They will both be scheduled to throw three innings when they resume their battle for the fifth spot on Friday night against the Astros.
After Teheran blanked the Pirates through the first two innings, Gilmartin surrendered just one hit -- Clint Barmes' one-out, third-inning single -- as he worked the third and fourth innings. The 22-year-old left-hander used his changeup to record a pair of strikeouts and did not issue a walk.
"He commands three or four pitches to both sides of the plate," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He does a lot of good stuff. There is not a lot of surprise there."
Gilmartin combined to go 6-10 with a 3.84 ERA in 26 starts with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year. A product of Florida State University, he was the team's first-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
"Towards the end of last year, my fastball command was a little bit erratic, and I was kind of up in the zone," Gilmartin said. "This year, getting ready for Spring Training, my main thought process was the ability to command the fastball and locate it at the bottom part of the zone."
Teheran issued a first-inning walk to Russell Martin and hit Gaby Sanchez with a pitch at the end of a 10-pitch plate appearance in the second inning. Those were the only blemishes on the line for the 22-year-old right-hander, who created optimism with the success he produced this offseason in the Dominican Winter League.
"His stuff wasn't like I saw it in the Dominican last time," Gonzalez said. "But he got through it. Most of the time you got to go out and pitch without your best stuff. He threw some good breaking balls. His four-seam was up. But his two-seam had some bite to it."
Heyward, B.J. Upton each record first hit of spring
BRADENTON, Fla. -- It did not take Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton long to avoid the possibility of experiencing a frustrating drought at the beginning of spring.
Heyward hit his first home run of the Grapefruit League season and Upton recorded his first hit in a Braves uniform during Sunday's 9-2 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field.
"It feels good to get it out of the way," Upton said. "It's just Spring Training., but it's good to know you can do it."
Upton, who signed a franchise-record five-year, $75.25 million contract in November, accounted for two of his team's seven hits. His first hit was a two-out, fourth-inning double to left field against Jonathan Sanchez. The veteran center fielder capped his two-hit performance with a sixth-inning single against Mark Melancon.
Heyward showed his great power by leading off the sixth inning with a laser shot that nearly reached the tall green wall located at least 20 feet beyond the center field fence. The 23-year-old right fielder also walked and recorded his first stolen base in the first inning.
"To do that, you've got to do some things right, especially to straightaway center field," Heyward said. "The biggest thing for me this year is adjustments and how quick I can make them."
Heyward went hitless in two at-bats during Friday's spring opener against the Tigers and then did not play in Saturday's game against the Yankees.
"In game one, I felt my timing was a little off," Heyward said. "So yesterday on the day off, I worked on my timing a little more. I tried to get a little more comfortable with it."
• Jordan Schafer improved his bid to win one of the final roster spots with two hits, including a double, in Sunday's loss.
• Right-handed reliever David Carpenter's bid to win a bullpen spot got off to an inauspicious start, as he allowed four hits and five earned runs while recording just two outs on Sunday.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.