The Braves optioned pitchers Lucas Sims, Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler to Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday, further narrowing the competition for the final spots on the pitching staff.
None of the moves was surprising, given recent struggles by Sims and Wisler and the recent signing of Anibal Sanchez, who can start or relieve and is expected to fill in till starter Luiz Gohara returns from the disabled list as soon as late April.
Blair, 25, had the best spring of the three optioned former top prospects, posting a decent 4.15 ERA in five games (one start), but he allowed 10 hits and five walks in 8 2/3 innings. That was far better than either Sims and Wisler, who stumbled badly at the worst possible time, just as the Braves were getting down to discussing final roster moves.
Sims, 23, had a 10.13 ERA in six games (two starts) this spring and allowed 18 hits, 15 earned runs, four homers, 10 walks and three hit batters in 13 1/3 innings. In his last two outings, the former first-round draft pick from Brookwood High School gave up nine hits, 12 runs (10 earned runs) and five walks in six innings, including four walks in three innings in an eight-run outing Thursday against the Cardinals.
Wisler, 25, had an 8.10 ERA in six games (three starts), with all 12 runs allowed coming in his past three outings, including one of the worst spring performances in recent memory Friday against the Tigers. In that game he failed to retire any of seven batters he faced, giving up six consecutive hits and a walk. He was charged with seven runs, all earned.
The Braves will open the season with a four-man rotation and an eight-man bullpen, not needing a fifth starter until April 10.
Sanchez signed a minor league deal just over a week ago and pitched reasonably well in two starts -- well enough for the Braves to feel comfortable releasing Scott Kazmir after Kazmir left Saturday’s game with “arm fatigue” after pitching just one inning.
If Sanchez opens the season in the bullpen (Braves won’t need a fifth starter until April 10), likely candidates for the final bullpen spot would include lefty Rex Brothers or Shane Carle, a former starter who can pitch multiple innings.
Six bullpen spots seem certain: Arodyz Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, lefties A.J. Minter and Sam Freeman, sidearmer Peter Moylan and Dan Winkler, who must spend about two weeks on the major league roster to fulfill Rule 5 Draft requirement.
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