Final bullpen spots up in air due to injuries

Final bullpen spots up in air due to injuries

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy seemingly destined to undergo season-ending elbow surgery, the Braves have obviously been forced to alter their rotation plans. But these injuries have also made it harder to project who might fill the final available spots in the bullpen.

After getting another look at a few of the bullpen candidates during Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Cardinals, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he is planning to begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff. This means there would be room for eight relievers as the club goes through the season's first 10 games with a four-man starting rotation.

Closer Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro are the locks to begin the year in Atlanta's bullpen. The top right-handed candidates to fill the available spots are the hard-throwing Juan Jaime, Luis Vasquez and Gus Schlosser.

Ryan Buchter, Atahualpa Severino and Ian Thomas stand as the top left-handed candidates. Buchter, the only member of this trio on the 40-man roster, has made four consecutive scoreless appearances since struggling through the early portion of the exhibition season.

But it is apparent Gonzalez is still concerned about Buchter's inconsistent command, which was once again displayed as he hit a batter and issued a walk with two outs in Saturday's eighth inning.

"We want to see four, five or six of those [good] outings in a row," Gonzalez said. "Everybody is going to throw a couple walks in here and there. But it can't be every other outing. It can't be every two outings. There has to be more consistency. Nine out of 10 times when that door flies open, you need to know what you're going to get."

Jaime has surrendered one hit and one earned run in the 5 1/3 innings he has completed during the Grapefruit League season. The 26-year-old right-hander has also showed decent command. Two of the three walks he has issued were registered during his second appearance.

As Vasquez struggled through his season debut on Sunday against the Mets, he displayed the rust that had developed while he was sidelined during the early weeks of camp with a right lat strain. But the hard-throwing right-hander has since completed two scoreless appearances. The side-arm reliever's fastball touched 94 mph during Saturday's ninth inning.

Schlosser's candidacy is intriguing, because the Braves now have a greater need for him to be prepared to serve as a starting pitcher. There is a chance he could begin the season in Triple-A Gwinnett's rotation. But there's also a chance he could be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster if the Braves feel the need to carry a long reliever as they go through the season's first 10 games with a four-man rotation that will consist of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale.

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