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Atlanta Braves Enter Spring Training with Some Questions About Pitching Staff and Health of Brian McCann

February 11th, 2013 at 3:52 PM
By Cody Fields

Pitchers and catchers from the Atlanta Braves reported to their first day of spring training in Lake Buena Vista, Florida

The Braves have their rotation nearly set. With Brandon Beachy out until at least late June with Tommy John surgery, the rotation currently features Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. Julio Teheran seems to be the front-runner for the fifth spot after Randall Delgado was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last month in the Justin Upton deal. however, the prospects of Sean Gilmartin or J.R. Graham could fill that spot if Teheran struggles in spring training.

Tommy Hanson is also gone from the 2012 rotation, as he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels this offseason for Jordan Walden

"It has been an exciting offseason," Tim Hudson told braves.com. "We brought in a lot of talent. We felt like we had a really good team last year and I feel like we've improved in a number of areas. I'm excited. This is reporting day, and I don't remember seeing this many guys on reporting day."

Walden's addition to the Majors' best bullpen will make a late Atlanta lead nearly insurmountable. The hard-throwing righty joins lefties Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty in setting up Craig Kimbrel. After saving 32 games in 2011, Walden struck out 48 batters in 39 innings last season.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez plans on strategically using what amounts to three setup men in the late innings.

''The other team knew that we had those two lefties in the seventh and eighth,'' Gonzalez said to Yahoo! Sports. ''Now with the chance of Walden, we can split those lefties up and make it more difficult for the other team to counter us with the two lefties in back-to-back innings.''

The biggest question mark in the group reporting today is catcher Brian McCann, who is coming off an uncharacteristic Brian McCann-type season and offseason shoulder surgery. McCann has already been cleared to begin throwing and hitting, but he will likely be kept out of games until he is cleared to slide and dive. That may not happen until mid-April, potentially causing McCann to miss the first two weeks of the season.

''I wouldn't put it past Mac to be ready for opening day,'' Gonzalez said. ''He's talked about doing it and he feels good and he could do it. I think the only thing is how spring training goes.''

Enter Gerald Laird, who was signed to replace David Ross after he bolted for the Boston Red Sox. Laird is coming off a career-best year with the Detroit Tiger in which he hit .282 in 63 games while backing up Alex Avila. Laird has played in each of the last two World Series – last year in a losing effort with the Tigers and in 2011 as a member of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Despite the question marks entering the 2013 season for the Braves, Gonzalez believes this team could eclipse the 94 wins it compiled in 2012.

''I'm really excited about the team, more excited than I've ever been really about a team going into spring training,'' Gonzalez said.

Tags: Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, Brian McCann, MLB, Tim Hudson

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