Frank Wren thinks Braves can bridge rotation gap

Medlen and Beachy expected to miss significant time

March 16, 2014 

Braves Phillies Spring Baseball

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Brandon Beachy delivers against the Philadelphia Phillies in a spring exhibition baseball game in Clearwater, Fla., Monday, March 10, 2014. Beachy left early because of tightness around his right elbow. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

KATHY WILLENS — AP

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the Braves await word on the extent of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy's elbow ligament damage -- both are scheduled to visit Dr. James Andrews on Monday -- they turned their attention Saturday to moving forward with what they've got.

Braves general manager Frank Wren said the Braves are unlikely to make another move at this point, despite knowing now that both Medlen and Beachy are expected to miss significant time and possibly the rest of the season.

"You add, if there's something that's better than what you have," Wren said. "And right now I don't see that out there."

The Braves spent $14.1 million to sign Ervin Santana for a one-year contract, going about $10 million over their projected payroll of $100 million after they watched Medlen walk off the mound clutching his right arm. After revealing five days later that Beachy could face season-ending surgery, too, the Braves believe they have what they need to get through the first two weeks of the season, a stretch when they'll be their thinnest.

They'll likely go with some combination of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale to start the season, using off days to manage the four-man rotation.

Wren said Santana, who threw his first live batting practice Friday, should be ready to work into the rotation about the time the Braves need a fifth starter April 12. Wren said Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd should return a week or two after that.

Minor was late starting his throwing program after Dec. 31 urinary-tract surgery and experienced some shoulder soreness when he started throwing last month. Minor is building his arm strength. He has thrown four bullpen sessions and expects to throw his first live batting practice either Monday or Tuesday.

Minor said he has experienced only the typical soreness of getting into game shape this time around. "I've gotten better and better," he said. Minor said he thinks he could be ready by around that April 12 mark, though the Braves likely will give him another week or two to guard against rushing him back.

Floyd, meanwhile, projects to return in early May from his Tommy John surgery. Floyd threw his fourth session of live batting practice Saturday, a 40-pitch outing. His recovery continues to go smoothly as he works through live batting practice to the next step of getting into minor league game action.

Gus Schlosser continues to impress, and as injuries have mounted the stakes keep getting higher for him. Given injuries to Medlen and Beachy, the Braves gave Schlosser, whom Wren characterized as their "next line of defense," his first spring training start Saturday against the Cardinals.

Schlosser responded with four solid innings in a 6-2 loss. He allowed three runs (two earned) in the third inning, but his own throwing error compounded a jam that started with an infield hit and pitcher Joe Kelly swinging away on a ball he had squared up to bunt. Schlosser gave up four singles, walked none and struck out five, while throwing 40 of his 57 pitches for strikes.

"He slid into a spot which we didn't anticipate, but we do think he has the stuff, he has the makeup," Wren said. "He's established himself as a guy we can trust. Now he's going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do out here."

Schlosser figures to open the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, but if one of the Braves' four healthy starters falters or gets injured, they could turn to him. They also might need him in long relief.

"I tried to show them what I can do and pitch my game to the best I can and not try to do something out of my comfort zone," said Schlosser, who has a 1.93 ERA over 9 1/3 innings this spring. "I think I did that. I think maybe I opened some eyes, and we'll see what happens."

The Braves got another look at some of the top candidates for the final bullpen spots Saturday, and the picture is still unclear with a little more than two weeks to go before opening day.

Ryan Buchter, a contender for a left-hand specialist role, hit a batter and walked another in a scoreless eighth, showing some of the command problems he avoided for three consecutive scoreless outings. Left-hander Ian Thomas gave up two runs on a walk and two hits in his one inning.

"As a major league manager or pitching coach, when that bullpen door opens, you want to know what's coming in," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We're seeing some decent outings and then back to a base on balls or a hit batter, people on base. But we want to see four, five or six of those outings in a row."

That's not to say he's ruling anybody out either. Gonzalez said he wants these relievers to use the competition to get better, if not for opening day, then later on this season.

Gonzalez plans to carry 12 pitchers for the first couple of weeks of the season. And with only four starters, that leaves eight spots in the bullpen. Only Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro are virtual locks at this point, leaving three spots up for grabs.

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