5/24/2013 7:52 P.M. ET
Grueling stretch may prompt seven-man bullpen
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- When the Braves opened a three-game series against the Mets on Friday night, they began a stretch in which they are scheduled to play on 20 consecutive days. This arrangement has led manager Fredi Gonzalez to believe he might need to go back to a seven-man bullpen soon.
The Braves utilized a six-man bullpen while proving perfect during the six-game homestand that concluded on Wednesday. Gonzalez said he wants to continue using this arrangement through at least Tuesday, when the Braves conclude a two-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
While in Toronto, the Braves will have the luxury of using a designated hitter. This will allow Gonzalez to put Evan Gattis in his lineup for both games. Brian McCann or Gattis will serve as the DH when the other is catching during this two-day stretch in the American League city.
If the Braves go back to a seven-man bullpen, they will have a tough roster decision. Because Jordan Schafer and Ramiro Pena are both out of Minor League options, they certainly will not be taken off the 25-man roster.
Other options that have been speculated include attempting to trade Gerald Laird or Reed Johnson. But the Braves are well aware of the value Laird and Johnson bring as strong veteran presences on their bench and in the clubhouse.
There was a time when the Braves at least had to consider sending Gattis to Triple-A Gwinnett to catch on a daily basis. But while hitting three more home runs, including two game-winners, during the recent homestand, Gattis likely solidified his spot on Atlanta's roster.
"Before he gets sent down, I'll go down," Gonzalez said.
Walden throws, could return to 'pen next week
NEW YORK -- Jordan Walden completed a pain-free bullpen session at Citi Field on Friday afternoon. This marked the first time the Braves reliever threw off a mound since being placed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation last week.
If Walden does not experience any setbacks over the next few days, he could begin a Minor League rehab assignment that could position him to rejoin Atlanta's injury-depleted bullpen at some point next week.
"Everything feels good," Walden said. "I've got to see how I feel tomorrow."
With Eric O'Flaherty lost for the remainder of the season after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Walden could eventually team with Luis Avilan to serve as closer Craig Kimbrel's top setup men.
When Walden completed consecutive scoreless appearances against the Nationals on April 29 and May 2, his ERA stood at 1.54 through his first 11 appearances of the season. But as his shoulder started to bother him, the former Angels closer allowed five runs and totaled 1 1/3 innings in the three appearances that followed.
• Bench coach Carlos Tosca handled the third-base coaching duties on Friday in place of Brian Snitker, who has recently experienced some leg numbness caused by a back ailment. Snitker was evaluated in Atlanta on Friday and will rejoin the team on Saturday. Bullpen coach Eddie Perez will miss Saturday's game while attending his daughter's high school graduation in Atlanta.
• Right-handed reliever Luis Ayala has been sent to the club's Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in an attempt to regain some of the arm strength he has lost since going on the disabled list in early May because of an anxiety disorder.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.