LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Braves dropped three relievers from their spring-training roster Monday, optioning right-hander Chris Withrow to Triple-A Gwinnett and lefty Matt Marksberry to Double-A Mississippi, and reassigning lefty Hunter Cervenka to minor league camp.
The moves left 46 on the camp roster including three lefty relievers: veterans Ian Krol and Alex Torres and Rule 5 Draft pick Evan Rutckyj, who must be kept on the major league roster all season or be offered back to the Yankees at half of the $50,000 claiming price paid when the Braves took him.
The timing of the Withrow move was a bit of a surprise, as it was assumed the Braves would either have the former Dodgers reliever in their opening-day bullpen or keep him in big-league camp until the final roster cuts.
But he hasn’t regained his velocity yet after missing the 2015 season recovering from elbow and back surgeries, and the Braves knew he wasn’t going to make their team out of spring training and determined he’d be better served getting more work in minor league camp.
“I feel fine,” Withrow said. “I guess I was a little bit … I don’t know. They said keep getting my work in and help out over the course of the season. That’s the only way I can look at it. Go down and keep working and be ready when the phone rings again.”
He allowed four hits, one run and three walks with two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings over three appearances. That included a rough one Sunday against the Astros, hen he gave up a hit and two walks and recorded one out. That was after giving up three hits and a run in one inning in his previous appearance Tuesday.
“He hasn’t pitched in 18 months, something like that,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Withrow, who actually last pitched in the majors on May 20, 2014. “So we felt like that was best for him right now.”
The Braves have trimmed 17 players from their once-crowded spring training clubhouse in a span of three days, as they pare their roster in order to start focusing on the players who have the best chance of going north with the team to open the regular season in three weeks.
With starters going more innings at this point, there were no longer enough innings to go around for all the relievers in camp.
Marksberry, 25, had an 8.10 ERA in four appearances, almost all the damage coming Sunday against the Astros he gave up two hits, three runs and a walk and recorded only one out.
Cervenka, 26, signed as a six-year minor league free agent this winter and pitched in three spring games, allowing one run on two hits including a homer, with one walk and one strikeout in 2 2/3 innings.
Withrow, who’ll turn 27 on April 1, missed the 2015 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery in June 2014 and back surgery in December 2014. Before the injuries he was impressive in parts of two seasons with the Dodgers, posting a 2.73 ERA in 46 relief appearances with 71 strikeouts in 56 innings.
The right-hander came from the Dodgers along with third baseman Juan Uribe in a May 27 trade for infielder Alberto Callaspo and pitchers Juan Uribe, Eric Stults and Ian Thomas.
“I know for sure, we’re going to see Withrow during the course of the summer at any point,” Gonzalez said. “Because he’s got some experience at the back end of the bullpen. He’s healthy. He’s throwing the ball well. But we felt like, get him down there and make sure he’s fine, and then see where we’re at.”
Withrow had originally hoped to return to pitch the final month of the 2015 season, but had a setback in his elbow-surgery rehab that scrubbed that plan. He threw in some Instructional League games in October and reported to the Braves’ spring training camp a month early in mid-January to begin throwing every day.