Garcia pitches well, but rotation spot not assured

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The injury-plagued Braves plan to add newcomer Ervin Santana to their rotation in the second week of April and could have Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd in the rotation by late April, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday.

That would be several weeks sooner than initially expected for Floyd, whose recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery last May has gone very well so far.

The one question Gonzalez wasn’t prepared to answer: Will Freddy Garcia be in the season-opening rotation? The 37-year-old bounced back from a couple of rough starts to pitch 5-1/3 solid innings Sunday in a 4-1 win against the Mets, allowing two hits and one unearned run with one walk and four strikeouts.

After the Braves lost starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to season-ending Tommy John surgeries, it’s been widely assumed Garcia would have one of the four spots in an otherwise youthful rotation (the Braves will go with four starters until they add Santana as early as April 9).

“We’ll see,” Gonzalez said after Sunday’s game. “We still have four or five more days. I wouldn’t assume anything. His performance today was good, though.”

Julio Teheran will start opening day March 31 at Milwaukee, but Gonzalez hasn’t made any other assignments. Second-year left-hander Alex Wood and rookie David Hale seem certain to have two of the other three spots, and the only in-house candidate for the fourth spot besides Garcia is sidearmer Gus Schlosser, who has pitched well this spring but has no major league experience.

Unless the Braves would actually start the season with a four-man rotation – Teheran, Wood, Hale, Schlosser — that has a combined total of 47 starts (including 34 by Teheran), then Garcia will make the team or the Braves will add a starter via trade, waiver wire, or perhaps an “opt-out” free agent.

If they don’t add Garcia to the major league roster by Tuesday, the former ace turned finesse-pitching journeyman can elect to become a free agent, per stipulation in the minor league free-agent contract he signed in January. He’s made it clear he wouldn’t accept a minor league assignment, and Garcia believes he can help the Braves.

“I’ve got experience. If I’m healthy I can pitch every five days, throw a lot of innings,” he said. “If they need me down in the bullpen, I’ll go to the bullpen. And I’ll be support for the young guys. It’s a long season, and they need guys with experience.”

He has a 4.76 ERA in five spring starts, and all nine earned runs came in consecutive starts March 8-13. His wife went into labor just before his March 8 start, and he said afterward he tried to hurry through that outing so he could drive to Miami and be with her (he gave up six hits, six runs and four walks in 2-2/3 innings that day against the Marlins).

He got extra rest before Sunday’s start and said he felt refreshed.

“If they want to keep me here, they keep me,” he said. “If not, that’s something that’s not in my hands. I do my job. Now it’s a decision they have to make. If I don’t make the team, what can I do? I tried to do the best I can this spring training.”

Five pitchers on DL: The Braves placed five pitchers on the 15-day disabled list: Medlen, Beachy, Floyd, Minor, and reliever Jonny Venters, who's recovering from his second Tommy John surgery and aiming for a June return. None of the moves was surprising.

Minor had shoulder tendinitis at the beginning of camp and hasn’t thrown in a game. He’s scheduled to start Saturday’s exhibition against Braves prospects in Rome, then will probably make four starts in minor league games before he joins the Braves rotation after April 20, Gonzalez said.

Floyd is now expected back before the 12-month point in his Tommy John rehab. Gonzalez said he and Minor would be on similar schedules, with Floyd scheduled to make his first start in a minor league spring-training game Friday.

Santana is set for his second Grapefruit League start Tuesday against the Tigers. He will likely be DL’d retroactively to start the season. Up to nine days of a 15-day DL stint can revert to spring training, but only to the day after a player last appeared in a major league spring game. If the Braves want Santana to pitch on April 9 instead of waiting until they first need a fifth starter April 12, they could have him pitch in a minor league game Tuesday.