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Varvaro out to prove he deserves spot in bullpen

Varvaro out to prove he deserves spot in bullpen

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Braves know what they're going to get from Anthony Varvaro. And they like what they have. Varvaro, a 29-year-old right-hander, is out of options and perhaps on the bubble for one of the last bullpen jobs in Atlanta, but manager Fredi Gonzalez likes the way he competes.

"He's one of those guys that you feel comfortable with. I don't have to see much from him," Gonzalez said. "He just needs to go out and get his innings in and see what happens. For me, he's not on a tryout. I've seen enough and feel comfortable with what he can do."

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That must be reassuring to Varvaro, who has worked to a 12.46 ERA in his first four relief appearances this spring. Varvaro, a Staten Island native, was originally drafted by Seattle in 2005 and didn't make it to the Majors until 2010. And in his first three cracks in the Majors, he never really got a chance to stick.

Varvaro worked in 20 games or fewer in each of his first three big league seasons, but he finally broke through with a 2.82 ERA in 62 appearances last season. Now, even though he's struggled in Spring Training, Varvaro knows -- and so do the Braves -- that he's an established Major League arm.

"I don't really know if it was ever really a question of if. It's kind of like, 'If I got an opportunity, would I take advantage of it?'" said Varvaro of experiencing sustained success in the Majors. "That's what I did last year. I guess you do get a little more confident with that. Take it and run with it, hopefully. I guess I feel a lot more comfortable being out there. You kind of have that feeling that you belong."

But in the big leagues -- and in countless other professions -- it's not always that simple. Varvaro knows it's a numbers game, and he knows that Atlanta could opt to keep another arm for the Opening Day roster. And if that happened, he could wind up as a trade chip or a waiver claim.

Varvaro, who pitched his college ball at St. John's, said he can't really afford to think about that potential development right now. Thinking about the future can be counterproductive for a big league player, and Varvaro just wants to worry about the things he can control in Spring Training.

"Being out of options and having had success previously, you know that somebody could take a shot," he said. "Ultimately, this is the team I'm playing for. The Braves are across my chest. I want to be here. I love these guys. We had a great run last year and we're looking to do better things moving forward. But if they have other plans, someone might have different plans for me on their club."

And that, after seven years in the Minor Leagues, has to be reassuring.

Varvaro struggled in Seattle's organization until the Braves claimed him off waivers in 2011, and he immediately set about repaying their confidence. Varvaro pitched to a 2.90 ERA for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011, and then he improved on that performance with a 2.23 mark in 33 games in '12.

Those bookend seasons presaged his 2013 success in Atlanta, and Gonzalez surely took notice. Now, with three weeks to make up his mind, Gonzalez is keeping his eyes on Varvaro.

"Who knows? It's so early," Gonzalez said of the roster crunch. "If we had to break Spring Training today or tomorrow to start the season, I'd count on him. He'd be one of the guys in the bullpen."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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