LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When asked about Ryan Buchter earlier this week, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez pointed out that the left-hander's inconsistent command has been the primary reason he has not reached the big league level since joining the professional ranks in 2005.
After watching Buchter issue a walk that led to the one run he allowed in Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Tigers, Gonzalez playfully suggested the southpaw might force him to pick up a bad habit.
"If he keeps doing that a couple more times, I'm going to have to pick up smoking or something," Gonzalez said in jest. "At least he looked good against left-handers. That was a plus side."
In other words, Buchter lived up to his billing as a pitcher who gives left-handed hitters fits and frustrates managers with his tendency to give opponents free baserunners.
While producing a 2.76 ERA in 62 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett last season, Buchter recorded 103 strikeouts and issued 51 walks. The 27-year-old reliever's candidacy for a spot in Atlanta's bullpen was strengthened as he limited left-handed hitters to a .124 (11-for-89) batting average and a .286 on-base percentage.
Buchter stands as the most likely internal candidate if the Braves opt to open the season with a left-handed specialist in their bullpen. But the club is expected to keep its options open by spending the next month scouring the trade market in search of a southpaw who could fill the role.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.