03/23/2013 7:25 PM ET
Braves not ready to anoint Gattis as backup catcher
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Evan Gattis has spent the past few weeks displaying his tremendous potential and proving to be better than serviceable as a catcher, he has seemingly given the Braves no choice but to begin this upcoming season with him as their backup catcher.
But with one week remaining in the spring season, the Braves are not ready to announce Gattis has won his battle with veteran Minor League catcher Matt Pagnozzi to be on the Opening Day roster.
"It's too early," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There is still a competition out there. I think Pagnozzi is doing a great job. He deserves an opportunity to be in the competition."
Gattis' second-inning home run in Saturday's win over the Astros was his third in a span of four at-bats dating back to his two-homer performance in Friday's win over the Phillies. The 26-year-old rookie catcher has hit .388 (19-for-49) with five home runs and a .796 slugging percentage in 21 Grapefruit League games.
Pagnozzi has hit .348 (8-for-23) with no home runs and a .478 slugging percentage while getting about half the amount of playing time Gattis has gained during the spring season.
While Pagnozzi is the better defensive option, Gattis has given the Braves confidence that he can handle the catching duties and serve as a significantly better option from the offensive perspective.
If Gattis gets the nod, the Braves could be tempted to get his bat in the lineup on a consistent basis by having him essentially share the catching duties with Gerald Laird until Brian McCann returns from right shoulder surgery. McCann will miss at least the first three weeks of the regular season and possibly all of April.
"I don't think we have any discomfort at all with [Gattis'] catching ability," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "It's one of those decisions where you want to make sure you're doing what is best for the kid and the organization. You look at those threefold. One, is it going to hinder his development coming along? As an organization, are we hurting an asset long term? For the team, does this help us now?"
McCann won't play in rehab games before April 16
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren said Brian McCann will not be cleared to begin his Minor League rehab assignment before April 16, the six-month anniversary of right shoulder surgery performed on the six-time All-Star catcher.
While this timetable creates reason to believe McCann could remain out of Atlanta's lineup until at least the final days of April, Wren said it is too early to set a definitive timetable for a return.
"He's progressing fine," Wren said. "I don't think he's behind or ahead [of schedule]. I just think it is progressing as you would expect. As you get closer and get the shoulder strengthened, the improvement can happen very quickly."
McCann has taken batting practice over the past couple of weeks without any problem. But he is still in the early stages of the throwing portion of his rehab program. He has completed sets of long-toss exercises at 120 feet and was cleared on Saturday to throw the ball back to the pitcher during a bullpen session.
"It's just a matter of how quickly the shoulder strengthens, responds and gets resilient," Wren said. "It's not just one day being strong. It's bouncing back the next day and being resilient and able to take the grind."
If McCann continues to make progress, he could begin participating in simulated game situations during the middle of this upcoming week. To prevent potentially damaging contact, he will not handle the catching duties or run any further than first base while participating in these games on the Minor League side over the next couple of weeks.
McCann will accompany the Braves when they return to Atlanta on Thursday and then return to the club's Spring Training complex the next week to continue working amid these simulated settings. He will build strength in his legs by catching bullpens and eventually gain clearance to begin making aggressive throws to the bases.
"As we ramp him up, it's going to be based on how it's responding and how it's coming back," Wren said. "There is no way to know. Every guy is different."
McCann will not be cleared to begin handling catching duties in games before April 16. He will be evaluated on a daily basis to determine how many Minor League games he will need to play before being cleared to return to Atlanta's lineup.
"If he's getting a lot of at-bats and the last thing is getting behind the plate to catch, that is not going to take that long," Wren said. " These are not things you plan too far in advance, because you have to allow the rehab schedule to dictate how he feels."
McCann is preparing for what will likely be the most important season of his career. While it seems highly doubtful that he returns to the Braves, the 29-year-old veteran will enter the free-agent market at the end of the year with a chance to gain a nice payday from an American League team that could utilize him as a catcher and designated hitter.
Expanded repertoire has Teheran thriving
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has not bothered to look at the eye-opening stats Julio Teheran has produced during the Grapefruit League season. He has seen all that he has needed to see as Teheran has spent the past month showing why he was one of baseball's top overall prospects before he compiled a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
"He's been terrific," Gonzalez said. "He goes out there and mixes his pitches. He's got four quality Major League pitches. A couple of years ago, he had just one and barely one because he couldn't even command the fastball."
Teheran looked liked one of the game's top young pitchers as he recorded 10 strikeouts and held the Astros hitless over six scoreless innings during Saturday afternoon's 3-2 win at Champion Stadium. His strikeout total in this one game matched the number he compiled while surrendering 22 hits and allowing 17 earned runs in 16 1/3 Grapefruit League innings last year.
Teheran's struggles last year were a product of the fact that he was essentially a one-pitch pitcher who routinely attempted to overthrow his four-seam fastball. Feeding off the confidence he gained in the Dominican Winter League, he now complements his heater with a sinking two-seam fastball, a plus changeup and two similar breaking pitches -- a curveball and a slider.
Armed with this expanded repertoire, Teheran has looked entirely different this year. In 26 innings, he has surrendered seven hits, allowed three earned runs, recorded 35 strikeouts and issued nine walks.
"Everything is better and I'm working to get better every day," Teheran said. "I feel more confidence with my two-seamer and my slider. I feel like I can throw all my pitches in any count."
Teheran will make one more start during the spring season and then prepare for his role as Atlanta's fifth starter. He will make his regular-season debut on April 6 or 7, depending on whether Tim Hudson needs an extra day of rest before his second start.
• Craig Kimbrel surrendered a wind-aided two-run home run to Rick Ankiel in the ninth inning of Saturday's win over the Astros. Kimbrel has allowed at least one run in four of his past six Grapefruit League appearances and allowed the decisive run in Team USA's loss to the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. But Gonzalez said he is not worried about his dominant closer.
• Edward Salcedo hit two home runs in the split-squad 10-5 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., on Saturday. Salcedo has been a disappointment both offensively and defensively since gaining the largest bonus the Braves have ever given an international signee in 2010. If he continues to struggle with the glove at third base, he could be moved to the outfield.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.