New faces everywhere as Braves spring training begins

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez walked behind each row of pitchers as they stretched in the sun Saturday morning, his arms draped over a baseball bat held against his back. In many cases, introductions were in order.

“These are the times when I do most of my talking, when they’re stretching,” Gonzalez said before the first official spring-training workout for Braves pitchers and catchers. “I’ll go up and down the line and introduce myself.”

That’ll take longer than usual this spring, since 17 of 33 pitchers in Braves camp are new to the organization, along with four of 10 catchers. The newbie count includes 16 among the 31 healthy pitchers (two pitchers in camp, Shae Simmons and newcomer Daniel Winkler, are recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery).

Not that Gonzalez will mind. He’s happy to be back, glad to have survived a disappointing, 83-loss season and ready for a fresh start with a revamped team with a lot of talent, albeit much of it a year or two away from being major league-ready. He appeared relaxed before the first workout on a back field at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex.

“I’m excited,” Gonzalez said. “Non-baseball people, which is the majority of the people in the world, think Jan. 1 is the first day of the year. But I think baseball people say the first day of the year is (when) pitchers and catchers (report), and I’m really excited about being out here.”

No one is picking the Braves to make the playoffs, much less to win a division title in what should be a tougher National League East. Many observers have predicted the Braves will lost at least 90 games. But in the clubhouse, returners and newcomers alike say they don’t see it that way.

“I’ve been on teams that were expected to lose 100 games, and we won a division,” veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski said, “and I’ve been on teams that were expected to win 100 games and we lost 100. Every year is different. All it takes is for some guys to have good years and some other teams not to live up to what the media says, and things can work out.”

Most pitchers in camp think they have a shot at making the opening-day roster. Many do, including four candidates for the fifth-starter spot: veterans Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez and prospects Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos, all new to the organization.

Gonzalez was asked how he’d get enough innings for all those pitchers when Grapefruit League games begin March 4, particularly for pitchers competing for jobs.

Not a problem, he said.

“For the very beginning anyway. We’ve got a split-squad four days into our (spring training schedule),” Gonzalez said, referring to March 7 split-squad games against the Tigers and Mets. “That gobbles up 17, 18 innings. And then we’ve got, I think, six or seven days later another split squad (day). So the first couple of weeks it really doesn’t concern us.”

Braves starters typically go two innings apiece in their first spring starts, then increase it by one inning in each of their next four or five. Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell have discussed how to get work for pitchers competing for spots after starters begin to pitch more innings.

After the first two weeks, “It gets a little challenging maybe for some of the younger guys that we have in camp,” Gonzakez said. “Because we want to take a look at some of the other guys that we’ve brought in. But if it comes to that, then you pick up the phone and maybe try to schedule a ‘B’ game someplace.”

Gonzalez said some rotation certainties — he mentioned Julio Teheran and Alex Wood — might pitch in a minor league game at some point so he could see others pitch who are competing for jobs.

“If it comes to that, I’m not really interested to see Teheran pitch in the big-league game,” Gonzalez said. “We need to see some of the other four guys that are battling for (the fifth) spot. I think Teheran will make the club. (He smiled.) I think Woody will make the club. We could make some arrangements and have them pitch back here at camp if I want to see Banuelos pitch or I want to see Wandy pitch. I want to see Stults pitch, I want to see Foltynewicz.”