3/3/2014 6:10 P.M. ET
It's Majors or retirement for veteran righty Garcia
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Instead of simply attempting to prepare for the upcoming season like he did during most of the Spring Trainings he has experienced during his long career, Freddy Garcia realizes he is potentially competing for his career every time he steps on the mound during this year's Grapefruit League season.
Garcia's bid to earn an Opening Day spot in Atlanta's bullpen or starting rotation has improved, as he has not allowed an opponent to reach base through the first five innings he has completed during the Grapefruit League season. The 37-year-old right-hander worked three perfect innings in Monday's 6-2 loss to the Mets.
"This year is different," Garcia said. "I need to pitch good if I'm going to make the team."
The Minor League contract Garcia signed with the Braves in January includes a clause that allows him to opt out of the contract if he has not been assured a Major League roster spot by March 25.
Garcia is willing to be used as a starter or a reliever. But he said he would retire before returning to the Minor League level like he did last year when the Orioles took him off their 40-man roster in June. He returned to the Majors shortly after being traded to the Braves in late August and ended up starting Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
"I just don't want to go back to the Minors," Garcia said. "I did it last year for however many months and it's not fun."
In rare jam, Kimbrel escapes with Heyward's help
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Instead of producing another of his ho-hum perfect innings filled with strikeouts, Craig Kimbrel took advantage of the opportunity to escape a bases-loaded threat he created during the fifth inning of Monday's 6-2 loss to the Mets at Champion Stadium.
Making his second appearance of the Grapefruit League season, Kimbrel surrendered a clean single, hit a batter and bobbled a comebacker to load the bases before he recorded his first out. The Braves' closer righted himself with a strikeout, and he then watched Jason Heyward's strong arm produce an inning-ending double play that prevented the Mets from scoring.
A charging Heyward caught Juan Lagares' fly ball in right field before firing a perfect strike that denied Zach Lutz's attempt to score from third base.
"It's not how you want to draw it up, but it's still early," Kimbrel said. "My arm still feels really good. That's the most important thing. I've still got a lot of things to work on. I was just happy I was able to get through that inning."
Kimbrel appreciates the chance to make normal preparations during this year's Spring Training. After speeding up his preparations to prepare for the World Baseball Classic last year, he admitted feeling a little uncomfortable during the early weeks of the regular season.
"I felt a little rushed last year," Kimbrel said. "This year is a little more laid back. I can fine-tune some things a little smoother, not have to jump on it as quick."
All goes normal for Graham in return to hill
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez sported a smile as he neared the mound to remove J.R. Graham during the sixth inning of Friday night's game against the Astros.
Instead of reacting to the fact Graham had just allowed three hits within a span of five batters, Gonzalez was simply happy to see that the highly regarded right-handed pitching prospect had returned to the mound for the first time since right shoulder soreness sidelined him in May.
"It felt great," Graham said. "There was nothing to hang my head about. I thought I made some good pitches out there and some not-so-good pitches. It's going to happen. It's the first time I've been out there in nine months. It was awesome to get back out there."
Pitching in a game for the first time since May 13, Graham surrendered a leadoff single and a pair of doubles. While he is not yet generating maximum effort, the hard-throwing right-hander threw at least one fastball that registered 95 mph.
"I hadn't seen a batter in almost nine or 10 months," Graham said. "I felt a little rusty out there. But I felt like my mound presence or anything hadn't changed. So I felt normal."
Graham is scheduled to pitch during Tuesday afternoon's game against the Nationals. While he will likely not break camp on the Major League roster, there is certainly a chance he finds a spot in Atlanta's bullpen at some point this season.
Minor to throw off mound; Floyd to throw live BP
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Before traveling to Clearwater for Wednesday afternoon's game, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell will have a chance to get a better feel for where Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd stand in their attempts to regain the strength necessary to join Atlanta's starting rotation.
While Minor will spend a portion of Wednesday morning throwing off a mound for the first time since he experienced left shoulder discomfort during the early days of Spring Training, Floyd will throw live batting practice for the first time since he underwent Tommy John surgery in May.
Minor's shoulder discomfort was a result of the month-long stretch of inactivity he had after undergoing a Dec. 31 surgical procedure that removed scar tissue from his urethra. The 26-year-old left-hander said his shoulder has not bothered him for at least 10 days. He is still aiming to join Atlanta's rotation in early April.
"I don't see it being a problem," Minor said. "I'll keep on progressing."
As he has spent the past couple of weeks completing bullpen sessions, Floyd has impressed many members of the Braves organization, including former manager Bobby Cox. If he remains on course, the veteran right-hander could be ready to join Atlanta's rotation in May.
The Braves are also looking forward to the chance to watch Jonny Venters and Luis Vasquez on Wednesday morning. Venters will throw off the mound for the first time since undergoing a second Tommy John surgery in May. He is aiming to join Atlanta's bullpen in late May or early June.
Vasquez was projected as a favorite to win an Opening Day spot in Atlanta's bullpen before he strained a lat muscle while pitching in the Dominican Winter League in January. The hard-throwing sidearm reliever is aiming to throw a five-minute side session and five-minute live batting-practice session on Wednesday.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.