Garcia’s rotation spot not assured, Fredi G says

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 get by 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. Left-hander Alex Wood and rookie David Hale seem like certainties, and the only in-house candidate for the fourth spot besides Garcia appears to be 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 soft-tossing journeyman can elect to become a free agent, per stipulation in the minor league free-agent contract he signed in January.

“If they want to keep me here, they keep me,” Garcia 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.”

He has a 4.76 ERA in five starts, and all nine earned runs he allowed came in consecutive starts March 8-13. His wife went into labor shortly before his March 8 start, and he said afterward that he was just trying 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 that game against the Marlins)

Five 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.

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

Gonzalez said Floyd and Minor would be on similar schedules, with Floyd to make his first start in a minor league game Friday.

B.J. pleased with progress: After getting off track as a hitter in recent years when he became too pull-conscious, B.J. Upton said Friday he was most pleased by the fact he's hit balls the other way this spring, to right or up the middle.

He did that in a big way Sunday, driving a ball to the right-field warning track for a triple in the first inning, then adding a single to center in the third. His brother Justin hit a solo homer.

“I think the majority of my hits have been up the middle or to right field, and that’s a good sign,” said B.J. Upton, batting .294 (15-for-51) with three extra-base hits, four stolen bases and a .357 on-base percentage in 17 games.

Walden nursing hamstring: Jordan Walden has been nursing a sore left hamstring and hasn't pitched in a game since March 15, but the hard-throwing reliever did some running Saturday and threw a side session in the bullpen Sunday without incident.