LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – One outfielder made the Braves’ opening-day roster only 48 hours after joining the team on a minor-league contract, and one pitcher made it despite having only 18 games of experience above the Single-A level and none in Triple-A.
In finalizing their 25-man roster Saturday, the Braves, who open the season Monday against the Nationals at Turner Field, again demonstrated they’re not bound to conventional thinking and not averse to absorbing a “sunk cost” if they think it makes them better.
Outfielder Drew Stubbs, who signed a minor league contract Wednesday night and flew from Arizona to join the Braves on Thursday, was named to the opening-day roster after the Braves designated for assignment the contracts of veterans Michael Bourn, who’s owed $14 million, and Emilio Bonifacio.
Right-hander John Gant, 23, who’s never pitched above the Double-A level but impressed all spring with his funky delivery and “Vulcan” change-up, was named to the bullpen.
The Braves will carry an extra (eighth) reliever for the first six games of the season until they need a fifth starter. Jhoulys Chacin will begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett and join the Braves’ rotation on April 12 in the seventh game of the season, the first time they need a fifth starter due to off days in the early schedule.
Williams Perez got the No. 4 starter job over Chacin, not because of performance but because Chacin was a non-roster invitee. That meant Chacin could be sent to Triple-A and brought back any time, while Perez would’ve had to be optioned to Triple-A and couldn’t return until April 14, 10 days after the option took effect Monday.
With Perez not pitching until the fifth game, he and Chacin will only be two days apart in their first starts.
Julio Teheran starts opening day, followed by Bud Norris and Matt Wisler. Perez won’t start until the fifth game April 10, because Teheran can start Game 4 on regular rest due to two off days in the schedule Tuesday and Thursday.
Even with an eight-man bullpen the Braves still have just one lefty, Eric O’Flaherty, and he’s only been in camp a week after the former Braves veteran was reacquired from the Pirates in a trade for cash. They had six other lefty candidates at the beginning of camp, but all were released, traded or sent to the minors after failing to impress.
The Braves placed four lefties on disabled list Saturday, including three on the 15-day DL: Manny Banuelos, who’s had recurring soreness in his surgically repaired elbow, and Jesse Biddle and Andrew McKirahan, who’ll miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.
Paco Rodriguez, another TJ rehab guy, went on the 60-day DL, which opened a spot on the 40-man roster. Biddle and McKirahan can also go on the 60-day DL later to open spots.
The Braves picked up Stubbs after he exercised an opt-out with the Rangers when he wasn’t going to make their roster.
“I’ve never seen a situation like that before,” said Stubbs, who made the Braves’ roster after only six plate appearances in two games (0-for-5, walk, reached base twice on errors). “But various situations call for unique circumstances. …
“That tells me that they had an idea what I was and what they were looking for, and me coming in just for a couple days, they were confirmed with their feelings and their thoughts. The situation I was in was unfortunate, kind of being in limbo. I know I’m a major league player that can help major league teams win, and I’m just happy that it worked out.”
Stubbs, who was 12-for-40 (.300) with two homers and three stolen bases for the Rangers, was a fit for the Braves because they wanted a right-handed hitter to back up center fielder Ender Inciarte. Bourn is a left-handed hitter.
Gonzalez envisions using Stubbs against some left-handers and whenever else he wants to rest Inciarte, who played a career-high 132 games last year in his second major league season.
“It’s hard to take your heart away from it, but at the end of the day it’s what’s a better fit for our team and what’s the best fit for Inciarte,” Gonzalez said. “Here’s a guy who hasn’t played 162 games, and the games he’s played he’s played (home games for Arizona) were indoors, in the air conditioning. Now we’re going to have to spell him (occasionally). Is it easier to spell him when you go up to Stubbs and say, hey, you’ve got (Giants lefty Madison) Bumgarner, in the Wednesday 12 o’clock game when you want to give him a day off, than it is to go to Bourn.”
Gonzalez believes he played second baseman Jace Peterson too much last season, large part because of reluctance to use backup Pedro Ciriaco, who hit .209 in 47 at-bats vs. lefties. He wanted to avoid a similar situation with Inciarte.
“I think having Stubbs helps Inciarte,” Gonzalez said, “and keeps me from running somebody into the ground. And it’s a perfect fit, it really is. (Stubbs) can defend, he can run, he can throw.”
BRAVES 25-MAN ROSTER
Starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Matt Wisler, Williams Perez.
Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Arodys Vizcaino, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando, Dan Winkler, Jose Ramirez, John Gant, left-hander Eric O’Flaherty.
Infielders: Freddie Freeman, Jace Peterson, Erick Aybar, Adonis Garcia, Gordon Beckham, Kelly Johnson.
Outfielders: Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Hector Olivera, Jeff Francoeur, Drew Stubbs.
Catchers: A.J. Pierzynski, Tyler Flowers.
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