LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Based on their previous experience together, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has assured Scott Proctor that he won't watch any of his bullpen sessions. But if he eventually chooses to do so, the skipper might quickly recognize why the veteran reliever is once again feeling upbeat heading into a season.
After enduring a frustrating 2010 season that proved it can take longer than one year to return from Tommy John surgery, Proctor heeded the advice of former Braves closer Billy Wagner and began throwing a football in the offseason.
"I was concerned," Proctor said. "Having repaired your elbow twice, you don't know if that added stress will be good for it. But I'll tell you what: The first time I picked up a baseball, it felt really, really good."
Gonzalez has been happy with the reports he's gained from those who have watched Proctor throw during the first week of Spring Training. The updates are much more promising than those he received in 2009, when Proctor spent just a short time in Marlins camp before feeling the elbow discomfort that led to Tommy John surgery.
The Braves signed Proctor in November 2009, hoping he might be ready to pitch the final four or five months of the 2010 season. But by the time last season concluded, the 34-year-old reliever's Major League contributions consisted of six September appearances.
When he arrived in Atlanta late last year, Proctor didn't possess the velocity he had displayed when he was proving successful for the Yankees and Dodgers in 2006 and '07. But based on the reaction he has received from coaches in this year's camp, he's confident his fastball had regained some life.
"The crazy thing is I really felt good in September," Proctor said. "But then when talking to [Triple-A Gwinnett's pitching coach] Marty Reed and some of the guys, they are telling me I look even more free," Proctor said. "That's weird to me, because I really felt good at the end of last year. But that just tells you how much better it is this year."
Proctor, Cristhian Martinez, Cory Gearrin and Stephen Marek appear to be the top candidates to fill the one open bullpen spot.
Unlike the other aforementioned pitchers, Proctor isn't on the 40-man roster. But none of the other candidates for the one spot can say that they gained the experience afforded Proctor when he made 83 appearances for the Yankees in 2006, and then matched that total one year later pitching for the Yankees and Dodgers.
"I like the makeup of the kid," Gonzalez said. "I like the character. I like his history."