Braves’ bullpen and bench decisions coming down to final week

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Braves’ bullpen and bench decisions coming down to final week

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Reliever Arodys Vizcaino’s good health and strong performance this spring has been one of the more encouraging developments in the view of Braves manager Brian Snitker, who is still finalizing some other spots in the bullpen as well as the bench. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

LAKELAND, Fla. – The final spots in the Braves bullpen and possibly a bench job or two were still not finalized as the team entered the final week of spring training games, with Braves manager Brian Snitker noting that 25-man roster decisions and moves could be made right until just before opening day, which is April 3.

“Couple of decisions (remaining), but I think we’re closing in on it,” Snitker said before Friday’s Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. “Obviously we’ve got to have something by probably Tuesday, because we’re leaving Wednesday. But there’s still a couple of decisions to be had. I think that the guys will come from the mix that’s here, it’s just a matter of what direction we want to go in.”

Then again. …

“Anything can happen in the next few days, too, as guys (from other teams) start doing the same thing,” Snitker said, implying that the Braves could make a move to acquire a player in the last week of spring training, as they did when they signed outfielder Drew Stubbs to a minor league deal March 30, 2016.

“As guys become available, it’s not to say that (the roster situation) wouldn’t change Wednesday or Thursday, quite honestly,” Snitker said. “Or Friday, Saturday — right up to Monday.”

The Braves have six spring-training games left in Florida, breaking camp after a March 29 game against the Mets. They play an exhibition game against the Yankees on March 31 to open their new home stadium, SunTrust Park, then open the regular season against the Mets at Citi Field.

The Braves are expected to go with an eight-man bullpen, of which at least five seem like certainties: Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez and left-hander Ian Krol. Mauricio Cabrera was a certainty before this week, when he reported elbow soreness after his most recent outing. He’s listed as day-to-day, for now.

Josh Collmenter has emerged as another near-lock for a spot as the long reliever who can make spot starts if needed.

Depending on Cabrera’s health, that would be five or six spots filled and a handful of candidates for two remaining jobs: right-handers Chaz Roe and Blaine Boyer and lefties Eric O’Flaherty, Paco Rodriguez and Kevin Chapman. Rodriguez has options and could start out at Triple-A after missing the entire 2016 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.

Veterans O’Flaherty, who has pitched well all spring, and Boyer, who has pitched well in recent weeks, are on minor league contracts and will need to be added to the 40-man roster if they make the team. O’Flaherty presumably will make it, but Boyer could be an odd man out since Roe and Chapman are on the roster and out of minor-league options, meaning they could not be sent down without going through waivers.

Snitker said “two or three” relievers had pitched well enough recently to ease any concerns over early spring performance.

Vizcaino has been one of the most encouraging developments, throwing again in the high-90 mph range with good command and no health issues after missing most of the second half of last season with oblique and shoulder strains.

“I just keep talking about Viz,” Snitker said. “He’s throwing the ball really well. It’s like he’s free and loose, to me. There’s not any trepidation anymore as to how it might feel or that type thing. To me, it’s like he’s loading that thing up and turning it loose, and feeling good about things. … (That is) huge.

“And Jose Ramirez is throwing the ball pretty well. And Krol. Collmenter. Guys like that. O’Flaherty’s throwing the ball real well. This Chapman guy that we got, he looked pretty good the other day. So there’s still guys we want to see a little more of and whatnot. De La’s (Jose De La Cruz) had a good spring, he’s throwing the ball well. There’s still discussions and things to have before we’re locked in.”

Not just in the bullpen, but the bench, too. It’s been expected the Braves would have catcher Kurt Suzuki and infielder-outfielders Jace Peterson and Chase d’Arnaud on the bench, in which case only one spot would be left. Non-roster invitee Emilio Bonifacio has played well enough to make himself a favorite for that job.

However, the Braves could instead make a move to add hitter with more power than Peterson, d’Arnaud or Bonifacio, none of whom is much of a home-run threat whatsoever.

“The bench thing hasn’t been completely (decided),” Snitker said. “We’re still talking, getting everybody’s opinion and all that. … We’ll evaluate it and decide something with guys in camp. But like I say, that could change. It could change all year long, when you get right down to it.”

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