LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Utility man Emilio Bonifacio and left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty, a pair of non-roster invitees to Braves spring training, were told Tuesday they have made the opening-day roster. Paco Rodriguez was told quite the opposite.
Lefty reliver Rodriguez was released by the Braves, who also optioned right-hander Matt Wisler to Triple-A Gwinnett and reassigned right-hander Joel De La Cruz to minor league camp.
Given the strong spring performances by Bonifacio and O’Flaherty, the only surprise among the moves was the release of Rodriguez, an experienced reliever acquired from the Dodgers as part of the three-team July 2015 trade that brought outfielder Hector Olivera to the Braves from Los Angeles.
Rodriguez, was not out of minor league options and could have been sent to Triple-A and kept there in case the Braves needed him at some point this season. But Rodriguez, who didn’t pitch for 21 months between his initial elbow injury in May 2015 — had Tommy John surgery in September 2015 — until his Braves spring-training debut March 2, had not shown enough this spring to convince the Braves that he was ready or motivated to contribute.
“Paco wasn’t going to make our team, and we wanted to free up the roster spot,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “We wish him all the best going forward.”
Bonifacio and O’Flaherty received their good news from general manager John Coppolella and manager Brian Snitker in separate meetings in Snitker’s office.
“They both had great camps,” Snitker said. “O’s throwing the ball really well. Boni’s had a good camp. They’re two great guys, so that’s one of them things where you like bringing somebody in your office for that. That was good.”
The addition of O’Flaherty and subtraction of Rodriguez presumably left three relievers competing for two remaining spots: lefty Kevin Chapman and right-handers Chaz Roe and David Hernandez, who signed a minor league contract Sunday after he was granted his release by the Giants.
The Braves are expected to keep an eight-man bullpen (rather than seven) and six spots seem set with Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, long reliever Josh Collmenter and lefties O’Flaherty and Ian Krol. Mauricio Cabrera (sore elbow) and Rule 5 pick Armando Rivero (sore shoulder) are expected to begin the season on the disabled list.
If they keep eight relievers, the Braves would have a four-man bench that seems set with Bonifacio, catcher Kurt Suzuki and infielders Jace Peterson and Chase d’Arnaud, although the Braves could always make a late trade or signing if a better option becomes available on the waiver wire or via trade.
Rodriguez, who’ll turn 26 in April, had a 2.53 ERA in 124 appearances over parts of four seasons with the Dodgers, and held lefty hitters to a .174 average (29-for-167) and puny .478 OPS. He pitched in 18 games in 2015 during April and May, then went on the disabled list and was traded to the Braves.
Rodriguez chose last year to stay home in Miami and work with his own trainers rather than follow a typical program of staying in Atlanta and working with Braves trainers and physical therapists. That didn’t seem to sit particularly well with the Braves, but he showed up healthy this spring and posted a 2.25 ERA in four appearances, allowing four hits, one run and one walk with two strikeouts in four innings.
But if the lefty had made a good overall impression in camp, the Braves would have kept him or traded him.
Rodriguez made fewer appearances than all other Braves relievers who were in camp all spring and considered to be candidates for roster spots, and the fact that Rodriguez was released said something for his trade value: The Braves aren’t known for releasing a player if they could get anything in return.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.