The Braves wrapped up their second week of exhibition play on Saturday with a “W”, bringing their Grapefruit League record to 5 of 8.
This week’s scores (3/2-3/9, SS is split squad):
Blue Jays (SS)
Slowly the roster picture is coming into focus for Manager Fredi Gonzalez and mastermind GM Frank Wren. There are, however, some interesting story lines that have yet to meet their conclusion.
Both Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson have proven to be serviceable at the hot corner and both potential third basemen have stepped it up with their offense. Francisco is hitting .333 this spring while Johnson is hitting .345. A big surprise has been Francisco’s focus on using the entire field. His opposite field homer this week may give him the edge on offense by a slight margin. While their numbers are comparable at the dish, Francisco appears to be slightly more sound than Johnson on defense. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johnson and Francisco splitting time at 3B, if for no other reason than the fact that neither has been able to pull significantly ahead in the third base competition thus far.
Joey Terdoslavich, Tyler Pastornicky and Jordan Schafer are really making a case for a spot on the bench. All three have shown the kind of versatility at the plate that a manager needs in a bench bat. Joey Terdoslavich had a down year in the minors, hitting a mere .240, but his .481 this Spring may give him a fighting chance to make Fredi’s Opening Day roster. Schafer, the former–and current–Brave, is showing signs that his offensive collapse in his final year in Atlanta and with the Houston Astros may be behind him. Schafer hit .167 in his final games with the Braves, after overcoming a wrist injury that banished him from the big leagues for 2 years. His .281 this Spring is precisely what Frank Wren was hoping for when he signed the center fielder this offseason.
Minor league catcher/left fielder Evan Gattis has not disappointed so far this spring. His much-praised bat has been everything everyone expected it to be and his defense behind the plate has been better than advertised. Gattis reminds of another up-and-coming catcher in the American League, Jesus Montero. Montero’s bat was what first impressed the Yankees and then the Mariners, but once in the big leagues, his defense turned out to be much better than advertised. The Braves want to take advantage of Gattis’ bat and were willing to wait for his defense to solidify, but if the last week is any indication, Gattis is ready to be the backup to Gerald Laird behind the plate for Opening Day. Gattis’ .423 average is second only to the .481 avg of Joey Terdoslavich, and Gattis leads all Braves hitters with a 1.218 OPS (on-base% + slugging%).
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While we’re on the topic of catching, Brian McCann took batting practice yesterday, his first on-field BP with his teammates since offseason shoulder surgery. Mac won’t be ready for Opening Day, but the Braves are confident that Laird can handle the pitching staff in his stead.
A scary moment happened early in the week when Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch off the back of his neck, just below the edge of his batting helmet. Uggla was hit by a pitch during the 2012 season, suffering a concussion. After being hit this week, he was given a concussion test and it was negative. The pitch may have done more damage to the ball than himself. That trip to first base was one of a few this week. Uggla does seem to be turning it around at the plate. That is a good sign given the horrendous start to his spring. He remains just over the Mendoza line with a batting average of .212.
Pitching should be ahead of hitting at this point in the spring. And handful of Braves’ hurlers already appear ready for Opening Day, but a few others may be glad it’s still a few weeks away. Kris Medlen joined veteran starters Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm in the ‘not sharp’ category. The trio has struggled with their command thus far. None of this is of great concern, though, given that we’re only two weeks into exhibition play. All three have the big league experience to be on track by the time the regular season begins. Young Mike Minor is the one pitcher from last year’s rotation who has been solid this Spring. Minor has 1 win in 3 games (9 innings pitched) and is holding a 2.00 ERA. In his latest outing against the Yankees, Minor pitched 4 shutout innings.
The best pitching stories this Spring come from the lesser-known Braves who have spent the majority of their time in the minors. Cory Gearrin has quietly made the case that he deserves a spot in the bullpen. In 5 innings pitched, Gearrin has 6 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed a run. This will prove important given the uncertainty surrounding Jordan Walden who apparently has a bulging disc in his back and has been treated for that with an epidural steroid injection. And the best news in pitching is that Julio Teheran has developed a nasty sinker to round out his repertoire. In 9 innings pitched, Teheran has 12 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA. Teheran may finally be the pitcher the Braves hoped he would be when he was called up last season. Teheran’s maturity will make for a formidable rotation before and after Brandon Beachy’s return from Tommy John surgery midseason.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.