3/25/2014 5:41 P.M. ET
Johnson could hit cleanup, with B.J. Upton in two-hole
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKELAND , Fla. -- Since the beginning of the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have made it apparent they were planning to bat B.J. Upton in the lineup's second spot this year. But it wasn't until recently that manager Fredi Gonzalez started to provide indication he is leaning toward using Chris Johnson as his cleanup hitter.
"I like Chris Johnson there," Gonzalez said. "He gives you good at-bats. He's a guy who is not going to change his approach. He's a guy who is going to put the ball in play and use the whole field. It seems like he comes up with some big at-bats."
On his way to ranking second in the National League with a .321 batting average last year, Johnson batted .336 with runners in scoring position. The one potential downside to positioning the third baseman in the four-hole stems from the fact that he grounded into double plays in 20 of 102 (19.6 percent) double-play situations.
If Johnson does bat cleanup, he will bat behind Jason Heyward, Upton and Freddie Freeman. While Justin Upton would bat fifth, Gonzalez hasn't determined which order he would place Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis in the next two spots. However it shapes up, Andrelton Simmons would bat eighth.
As B.J. Upton has spent the past few weeks hitting the ball the opposite way and connecting on many of the fastballs that got past him en route to a .185 average and .268 on-base percentage last year, he has given indication he could prove to be much more consistent this year. He had a .346 on-base percentage in the 725 games he played from 2007-11.
Newly acquired Harang in line to pitch home opener
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Aaron Harang will be introduced to many of his new Braves teammates on Wednesday. Less than two weeks later, the veteran hurler will likely start Atlanta's home opener.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez spent some time on Tuesday morning revealing his rotation plans, which were altered on Monday when Harang signed a one-year deal just a few hours after being released by the Indians.
Harang will be scheduled to pitch six innings as the Braves wrap up the Florida portion of their spring schedule on Thursday afternoon against the Tigers in Lakeland. This will put the 35-year-old right-hander in line to make his season debut against the Brewers on April 3. Harang's second regular-season start would come during Atlanta's April 8 home opener against the Mets.
The Braves will send Opening Day starter Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Harang to the mound during next week's three-game series in Milwaukee. Gonzalez is not ready to announce whether David Hale or Gus Schlosser will fill the final spot in the four-man rotation Atlanta will utilize at the beginning of the season.
But Gonzalez indicated that Hale and Schlosser will both begin the year at the Major League level. One will serve as a starting pitcher and the other will provide some much-needed depth to Atlanta's bullpen.
"We've got to let that play out to see how it best suits our club," Gonzalez said. "Obviously, David is a little bit ahead, because we've seen him [make two Major League starts]."
Hale currently has the advantage courtesy of the success he had after completing his first two career starts for Atlanta in September. But Schlosser, who has never pitched above the Double-A level, has spent the past couple of weeks proving he could be an asset in the rotation or the bullpen.
Reliever Gearrin suffers right elbow sprain
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Less than a week before Opening Day, another elbow injury has forced the Braves to once again alter their pitching plans.
Right-handed reliever Cory Gearrin's bid to be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster likely ended when he was forced to exit Tuesday's game against the Tigers with a sprained right elbow.
"It was just a little bit tender," Gearrin said. "This close to the end of camp, I didn't really want to do anything crazy. … The last two [pitches] I threw, I knew it was definitely feeling a little bit tender. I didn't want to keep trying to pitch through it."
While Gearrin's likely absence will not cause the Braves to scramble like they did when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy suffered season-ending elbow injuries less than 24 hours apart earlier this month, there is nonetheless a need for Atlanta to determine who will fill its final bullpen spots.
Gearrin's candidacy to begin the season with the Braves was strengthened by the fact that he is out of options and the club does not currently have many attractive options to fill the remaining bullpen spots.
Craig Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro stand as the only relievers who are currently guaranteed spots in eight-man bullpen the Braves plan to use as they go through the early portion of the regular season with a four-man starting rotation.
David Hale or Gus Schlosser -- whichever one does not begin the season in the rotation -- will fill one of the three available spots. Left-handed reliever Ian Thomas stands as the next-best bet to begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen. Thomas strengthened his bid as he completed his fourth consecutive scoreless appearance during Tuesday's game against the Tigers.
The Braves could fill the last spot with a player who has already been sent to Minor League camp. Left-handed reliever Ryan Buchter, who is already on the 40-man roster, might be the best candidate from this group. Buchter's command plagued him during the Grapefruit League season, but he was more impressive than Luis Vasquez and Juan Jaime.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.