3/26/2014 5:45 P.M. ET
Pena's repaired shoulder passing spring tests
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Ramiro Pena arrived at Spring Training, he was concerned about the stability of his surgically repaired right shoulder and the potential consequences of not having had the chance to continue his annual tradition of playing in the Mexican Winter League.
But six weeks later, Pena appears set to provide the same value he brought to the Braves' bench before he injured his shoulder in June. The backup infielder has hit .364 (16-for-44) with 10 extra-base hits -- nine doubles and a triple -- in 17 Grapefruit League games.
Equally important is the fact that Pena has steadily gained the confidence that he has the arm strength necessary to make throws from each of the infield positions. He served as a valuable late-inning replacement for third baseman Chris Johnson last year.
"I wasn't sure how my shoulder was going to react," Pena said. "I was feeling good doing rehab, but it's not the same as playing regular games. I wasn't sure how I was going to respond at game time. It's been good so far. It's getting better."
The Braves have also been happy with the progress made by Tyler Pastornicky, who is expected to open the season teaming with Pena as Atlanta's two backup infielders. Pastornicky recorded two hits and three RBIs and played the entirety of Wednesday's win over the Marlins without his surgically repaired left knee proving bothersome.
"He looks good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'll check with him to see how his legs are. This was the first time he's played [nine innings], and he ran the bases a lot. But during the game, he said he felt great. So that's a good sign."
Braves still weighing last spot in rotation, bullpen
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With just one more Grapefruit League game remaining, the Braves have a good feel for who will be on their Opening Day roster. But they will wait at least one more day to determine who will claim the final spot in their bullpen and whether Gus Schlosser or David Hale will begin the season in the starting rotation.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has said Schlosser and Hale will both begin the season at the Major League level. Whichever of the two doesn't gain a rotation spot will be placed in the bullpen.
Hale's advantage comes courtesy of the two strong starts he made for Atlanta after receiving a belated September promotion last year. But the right-hander has at least kept this competition alive while posting a 6.62 ERA in five Grapefruit League starts.
Schlosser has been much more impressive, as he has produced a 2.03 ERA in the 13 1/3 innings that have encompassed his five appearances during the exhibition season. The 6-foot-4 right-handed sidearmer has never pitched above the Double-A level. But over the past few weeks, he has given the Braves reason to believe he is ready to pitch in the Majors.
While Schlosser might begin the season in the rotation or in a long relief role, there is a chance he could eventually earn the right to serve as one of Atlanta's key middle relievers at some point this season. Many scouts and talent evaluators believe he best profiles as a reliever.
As the Braves go through a portion of the season's first two weeks with a four-man rotation, they will carry eight relievers. Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro, Ian Thomas and either Schlosser or Hale are expected to fill seven of those slots.
The last slot could be filled by a player who is acquired via trade, free agency or the waiver wire process. If the Braves go with an internal candidate, they will likely go with a player who has already been sent to Minor League camp. Left-hander Ryan Buchter, who is already on the 40-man roster, seems to be the most likely member of this group.
Well-traveled Harang joins Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Introducing himself to his new Braves teammates on Wednesday morning was nothing new for Aaron Harang. The veteran right-handed pitcher has now been a part of six different organizations over the past calendar year.
"I'm just excited to get the season going," said Harang, who signed a one-year contract with the pitching-hungry Braves a few hours after being released by the Indians on Monday.
Harang will begin the season as a starting pitcher and then likely assume the long-relief role by the end of April, as long as Mike Minor, Ervin Santana and Gavin Floyd all stay on track to join Atlanta's rotation at different points over the next few weeks.
"I haven't even thought about that," Harang said. "I just plan on starting and we'll go from there. You can't focus on that kind of stuff. You've just got to go out and prepare for each game and do your job when you get out there on the mound."
While Harang would prefer to be used as a starting pitcher, he is not in a position where he can be picky about any available role at the Major League level. When there was not a spot for him in the Dodgers' rotation entering last season, he was traded to the Rockies, who then dealt him to the Mariners a week later before he had a chance to make an appearance with them in the Major or Minor Leagues.
Harang allowed six earned runs or more in six of the 26 starts he made before being released by the Mariners on Aug. 31. But the 35-year-old gained some encouragement as he posted a 3.52 ERA in the four September starts he made for the Mets.
The Braves accounted for this September success when they determined Harang was a better option than Freddy Garcia, who was released on Monday. In addition, the club was encouraged by the reports provided by scouts who saw Harang display a livelier fastball while posting a 2.00 ERA in the nine Cactus League innings he completed for the Indians.
According to FanGraphs.com, Harang's average fastball velocity last year was 89.4 mph. The Braves saw his fastball registered between 91-93 mph this year.
"This is probably the best I've felt throughout a whole spring as far as how my body feels," Harang said. "Physically, I feel really good. I feel like I was throwing the ball well in spring and I feel ready to go in the season."
Harang will attempt to complete six innings when the Braves conclude the Grapefruit League season on Thursday afternoon against the Tigers. He will make his regular-season debut on April 2 in Milwaukee, and then be in line to start Atlanta's home opener on April 8.
Rare Florida chill gives Teheran glimpse of April
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves right-hander Julio Teheran's last start of the exhibition season provided him a chance to at least get a feel for the less-friendly climates he could experience while pitching in New York, Philadelphia and Washington during the early portion of the regular season.
After allowing two earned runs and notching nine strikeouts over six innings in Wednesday's 9-2 win over the Marlins, Teheran admitted he was initially affected by the temperature, which was announced as 57 degrees at the start of the game.
"I know it's going to be cold [in April]," Teheran said after Wednesday's 100-pitch outing. "I was just trying to get used to it. I was just trying to focus more on the game and not worry about the weather."
Fortunately for Teheran, he will make his first career Opening Day start on Monday in Milwaukee under Miller Park's retractable roof. The 23-year-old right-hander posted a 1.80 ERA as he completed 25 innings in six Grapefruit League starts.
"I'm happy with what I did during Spring Training," Teheran said. "I hope to go out there [during the regular season] and do the same thing."
• Ernesto Mejia was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after Wednesday's game. Mejia hit .314 with two home runs in 14 games during the exhibition season. The powerful first baseman's limited agility and lack of versatility has seemingly kept clubs from showing much trade interest in him over the past couple of years. But there has been some speculation that he could eventually end up playing in Japan or Korea.
• Cory Gearrin is expected to begin the season on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow. Gearrin will be further evaluated by Braves doctors in Atlanta.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.