NORTH PORT, Fla. – After a clunky spring debut in which he looked rusty, Bryce Elder spoke with confidence but not cockiness. In his usual soft tone, he expressed assurances that Sunday’s outing was only the beginning.

“I think the goal of spring training is to be as good as you can be on March 28,” Elder said. “I think if you’re super crisp and clean right now, great. But it’s also about being good at the start of the season — not being good Feb. 25.”

On March 28, the Braves open the regular season in Philadelphia. Elder is one of the men competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, which is one of the few position battles in Braves camp this spring.

Elder on Sunday allowed two runs over 1 1/3 innings versus the Red Sox at CoolToday Park. He gave up four hits and issued one walk. He struck out one batter.

“I thought the secondary stuff, even though it wasn’t in the zone, was kind of crisp,” Elder said. “But just didn’t have any heater command and got behind a lot. I thought the action on the heater was good, just couldn’t command it.”

Added manager Brian Snitker after the Braves’ 5-4 loss to Boston: “He wasn’t bad, at all. (The objective) is always, with these first outings, to get them through it. And everything is fine, he feels good.”

This is why spring training exists. In addition to allowing pitchers to safely ramp up, it gives them an opportunity to become sharper. There’s a long way to go before the Braves break camp, but an even longer time until October and November, Elder said. The point: He has time.

And Sunday’s spring game provided a different atmosphere.

“I can sit there and command a bullpen fastball over and over again, but when a hitter is in the box, whether you realize it or not, you’re putting more on it, or trying to put more on it,” Elder said. “I think a lot of it is just get back to trusting, moving down the line and the command will come. It’s not anything that I’m worried about. I think it’s just a matter of repetition and doing it with a hitter in the box, and get it in there.”

Elder will surely need to round into form to win a job. He was an All-Star last season, but roster spots are earned over and over again. Elder knows this.

Last season provides some nice context. In his first spring start, Elder surrendered four earned runs over 1 2/3 innings in Tampa versus the Yankees. He served up a home run. A few weeks later, the Braves optioned him.

They recalled him after Max Fried suffered an injury on Opening Day. Elder made the All-Star team and spent the entire season in the majors.

And as he goes through his third spring training, he’s armed with the experience of the last two.

“It’s very helpful,” Elder said. “Before, I’d come in, guns blazing, trying to just strike everybody out. And I think now, it’s more of a process. Obviously, I want to have good outings but understand that, like, now, I can go in, focus on heater command. When I command my heater, it gives me a chance. I think that’s the biggest goal. I got three or four weeks to get it dialed in, ready to go, and that starts (Monday).”

Braves regulars debut

Of the Braves’ starters, only Michael Harris II and Jarred Kelenic went to Port Charlotte on Saturday. Those two were not in Sunday’s lineup, but the rest of the regulars played.

They all had two at-bats – everyone except catcher Sean Murphy, who only took one. But Murphy caught three innings and stayed in to catch after his first at-bat. He’s healthy.

Early in the game, Austin Riley had a stellar defensive play: He went toward the third-base line and made a sliding stop, then fired to first for the out. In the bottom of the fourth inning, he launched a solo homer.

In that fourth inning, Jordan Luplow, who is a non-roster invitee, hit a two-run double. Luplow is fighting for a bench spot on the roster.

Fried Day

On the game notes for Sunday, the Braves also listed a probable starting pitcher for Monday.

It’s Max Fried, their ace. He’ll make his spring debut against the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. at CoolToday Park.

Sale’s Braves debut

After Sunday’s game, Snitker said Chris Sale, Atlanta’s big offseason acquisition, will make his Braves debut on Tuesday in Bradenton versus the Pirates.

Murphy will catch Sale. The left-hander has said he feels great physically.

Vines throws two innings

Darius Vines, one of Atlanta’s depth starters, threw two scoreless innings on Sunday. He allowed one hit and walked three batters, but kept everyone from crossing home.

“The little sucker, he just pitches,” Snitker said. “He competes and pitches and changes speeds, the whole thing. He did a solid job for us last year in some spot starts. He’s kind of a guy that I’ve liked ever since he’s been here, really. Just enjoy the person. The guys that stick around like that, they keep pitching and they learn to pitch. He’s a good depth piece.”