LAKELAND, Fla. – The Braves optioned outfielder Jose Constanza and infielder Tyler Pastornicky to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, making official what had been apparent for weeks: outfielder Jordan Schafer and utility infielder Ramiro Pena will be on the opening day roster.
Reliever David Carpenter was also optioned to Gwinnett, leaving 31 on the camp roster. As of Tuesday morning, that left the only remaining decisions for the Braves at backup catcher – Evan Gattis appears the likely choice over Matt Pagnozzi – and one bullpen spot, with candidates Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro out of minor-league options.
But after reliever Jonny Venters left Tuesday’s game against Detroit with a sprained left elbow, another bullpen spot became vacant for the opening-day roster. Assuming Venters starts the season on the 15-day disabled list, both Martinez and Varvaro could make the team. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Wirfin Obispo would be a third candidate.
Two days after being sent to minor-league camp, Obispo was brought back for Tuesday’s game and pitched one inning with one hit and two strikeouts, giving him five scoreless innings with two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.
Schafer, too, is out of minor-league options and would have probably been claimed by an outfield-needy team if the Braves had tried to send him down. He and Reed Johnson will be the Braves’ backup outfielders to start the season.
Any chance Constanza had of making the team over Schafer was probably diminished when Constanza missed the first month of spring training because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic. Although with Schafer out of options, it’s unclear if it would’ve really mattered.
Gonzalez reiterated what team officials have said about Schafer: He can run and play strong defense at all outfield positions. He hit .241 (15-for-58) with three extra-base hits, a .323 OBP and four stolen bases in 25 spring games before Tuesday; Constanza hit .231 (8-for-32) with one extra-base hit, a .231 OBP and one stolen base.
Pena was signed as a utility infielder in the offseason after Paul Janish had shoulder surgery, because the Braves knew Janish would need at least six months to recover. Janish could be ready to play in early April and will go to Triple-A Gwinnett and play shortstop when he’s ready.
Pastornicky was the 2012 starting shortstop as a rookie but lost his job after struggling for the first two months of the season. He impressed everyone in camp with his work this spring. Playing second base and shortstop, he batted .375 (21-for-56) with a .444 OBP and six extra-base hits including two homers.
But with the defensively strong Pena under contract there was no room for Pastornicky on the roster. Pena hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 6-5 win against Detroit.
“(Pastornicky) had an unbelievable spring training,” said Gonzalez, who talked with him for a while Tuesday morning after telling him he’d been sent down. “He’s not being swept under the rug. I said we’ve got a plan for him. I said, ‘Trust us. Trust the organization.’ This guy’s a valuable piece, a big piece for us.
“What we start with in April might be different come May or June. Sometimes it’s out of our hands, you’ve got to look at depth issues and contract issues.”
Gonzalez added that having Pastornicky on the bench getting a few pinch-hit at-bats per week at the big-league level wouldn’t be helpful at this point. He’ll go to Gwinnett and play second base and some shortstop, possibly some outfield, then play mostly second base after Janish is ready.
“We’ve been impressed,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said of Pastornicky’s spring. “I think he’s going to be a good big-league player. I don’t know exactly what the role’s going to be. At the very minimum it’s going to be a super-utility that plays all over and has offensive ability.
“There are super-utilities that can play all over, but you really don’t want to play them because they don’t give you offense. Whereas he’s going to be one of those super-utilities that you’re looking for a spot and looking to give guys days off so you can get him in the lineup. So it’s a big difference.”