3/15/2014 6:40 P.M. ET
Final bullpen spots up in air due to injuries
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy seemingly destined to undergo season-ending elbow surgery, the Braves have obviously been forced to alter their rotation plans. But these injuries have also made it harder to project who might fill the final available spots in the bullpen.
After getting another look at a few of the bullpen candidates during Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Cardinals, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he is planning to begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff. This means there would be room for eight relievers as the club goes through the season's first 10 games with a four-man starting rotation.
Closer Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro are the locks to begin the year in Atlanta's bullpen. The top right-handed candidates to fill the available spots are the hard-throwing Juan Jaime, Luis Vasquez and Gus Schlosser.
Ryan Buchter, Atahualpa Severino and Ian Thomas stand as the top left-handed candidates. Buchter, the only member of this trio on the 40-man roster, has made four consecutive scoreless appearances since struggling through the early portion of the exhibition season.
But it is apparent Gonzalez is still concerned about Buchter's inconsistent command, which was once again displayed as he hit a batter and issued a walk with two outs in Saturday's eighth inning.
"We want to see four, five or six of those [good] outings in a row," Gonzalez said. "Everybody is going to throw a couple walks in here and there. But it can't be every other outing. It can't be every two outings. There has to be more consistency. Nine out of 10 times when that door flies open, you need to know what you're going to get."
Jaime has surrendered one hit and one earned run in the 5 1/3 innings he has completed during the Grapefruit League season. The 26-year-old right-hander has also showed decent command. Two of the three walks he has issued were registered during his second appearance.
As Vasquez struggled through his season debut on Sunday against the Mets, he displayed the rust that had developed while he was sidelined during the early weeks of camp with a right lat strain. But the hard-throwing right-hander has since completed two scoreless appearances. The side-arm reliever's fastball touched 94 mph during Saturday's ninth inning.
Schlosser's candidacy is intriguing, because the Braves now have a greater need for him to be prepared to serve as a starting pitcher. There is a chance he could begin the season in Triple-A Gwinnett's rotation. But there's also a chance he could be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster if the Braves feel the need to carry a long reliever as they go through the season's first 10 games with a four-man rotation that will consist of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale.
Braves proceed with caution as Minor recovers
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Minor is ready to accelerate his preparations as he aims to join Atlanta's starting rotation by the end of the regular season's second week. But given what they have experienced with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy this week, the Braves are maintaining a cautious approach with Minor.
With Medlen and Beachy now staring at the likelihood of undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Braves will not subject Minor to a potential injury by rushing him through a process that was delayed when he reported to Spring Training feeling the effects of the month-long stretch of inactivity he experienced after undergoing a urinary tract procedure on Dec. 31.
Instead, the Braves have allowed Minor to spend the past few weeks making up for the time he lost in January. The 26-year-old southpaw has experienced nothing more than normal muscle soreness as he has spent the past 10 days completing his first four bullpen sessions of the year. His left shoulder, which was cranky during the early days of camp, has not provided any problems over the past three weeks.
"I've gotten better and better," Minor said. "The whole time was one of those things where I felt good, but I was getting sore after every [bullpen session] that I threw. It was like soreness everywhere [throughout my body]. The more and more I have thrown, the less and less it gets and the faster the healing time is."
Minor is scheduled to throw his first live batting practice on Monday. The Braves will then evaluate him to determine how many more times he might repeat this exercise before being cleared to start in a Grapefruit League game.
The schedule allows the Braves to utilize a four-man starting rotation through the regular season's first 10 games. If Minor or the recently-signed Ervin Santana make a Grapefruit League start by March 23, they would have time to make the normal progression leading up to April 12, which is the first day Atlanta will need to add a fifth member to its rotation.
Infielder Greene may begin season in Atlanta
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With Tyler Pastornicky's surgically-repaired left knee still not strong enough for him to play in Grapefruit League games, Tyler Greene has emerged as a favorite to open the season on Atlanta's roster.
Greene has not necessarily opened any eyes, as he has batted .167 (4-for-24) during the Grapefruit League season. But unless the Braves make the surprising decision to let Elmer Reyes jump from the Class A Advanced level to the Majors, Greene appears to be the most likely candidate to begin the season teaming with Ramiro Pena as Atlanta's backup infielders.
"You've got to have guys with versatility and a guy who you can move all over the field," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "Ramiro gives us a lot of versatility. Pastornicky is still not on the field. He's getting closer. But you're going to need a couple of guys that can move around and do a couple of different things in the infield.
"That's why we brought [Greene] in, in the first place. He has that versatility, and he has played up here and has some experience. He could be a guy who figures in that mix as we get down to the last week."
Greene has played each of the infield positions and made an occasional outfield appearance while playing 288 Major League games since making his debut in 2009. The 30-year-old utility man could at least serve as a short-term solution until Pastornicky proves healthy enough to join Atlanta's roster.
When Pastornicky tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in August, he was aiming to be ready Opening Day. But up until a week ago, the 24-year-old infielder was still experiencing swelling around his left knee after taking ground balls or completing conditioning drills. He is hoping to appear in a Grapefruit League game within the next week.
• Gavin Floyd took another step toward returning from Tommy John surgery as he completed a 10-minute live batting practice session on Saturday morning. The Braves are hoping Floyd could join Atlanta's rotation during the first half of May.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.