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David O'Brien

Rough day for Braves bullpen candidate Gearrin

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JUPITER, Fla. – It was a rough afternoon for Braves relief candidate Cory Gearrin, who was charged with five hits and six runs (five earned) while recording just one out in the seven-run sixth inning of Thursday’s 11-0 loss to the Cardinals.

He gave up a one-out single before first baseman Ernesto Mejia made an errant throw to second base on a fielder’s choice. Gearrin gave up hits to the next four batters, including Xavier Scrubbs’ double that drove in the third, fourth and fifth runs of the inning and ended the sidearmer’s outing.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he didn’t think the Braves would’ve turned a double play if Mejia had made a good throw, but that they would’ve at least gotten one out there.

He added, “You know what? The good ones get out of the inning and help themselves and the club along the way, not put a big number up (on the scoreboard).”

Gearrin allowed six total hits and three runs in 7-1/3 innings in six appearances before Thursday, for a 3.68 ERA and .200 opponents’ average, with two walks and seven strikeouts. He’s competing for one of the final spots in the bullpen and is out of minor-league options, meaning he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers.

The only certainties for opening-day bullpen spots appear to be closer Craig Kimbrel, left-hander Luis Avilan, and right-handers Jordan Walden, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro, who is also out of options. That would leave two spots, and the health of the starting rotation will likely affect how those are filled.

Would-be opening day starter Kris Medlen is expected to have season-ending Tommy John surgery, and fellow starters Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor are questionable for at least the first week or two of the season. The Braves will likely avoid rushing newly signed starter Ervin Santana into the rotation until perhaps the second week of the season.

Gavin Floyd is completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery and expected back in May.

That means that Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia, who came into camp competing for one rotation spot, are both penciled in to join opening-day starter Julio Teheran in the rotation to begin the season. Garcia has struggled in his past two starts including Thursday (four innings, six hits, three earned runs).

As things stand now, the rotation for at least the first week would include rookie David Hale, who could move to the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter after the Braves get a couple of their other starters back.

The Braves could pick a second left-hander from a group of four who’ve impressed this spring: Ryan Buchter, Ian Thomas, Daniel Rodriguez and Atahualpo Severino. Of that foursome, only Buchter is on the 40-man roster.

Among the other right-handers in the mix are Juan Jaime and sidearmers Luis Vasquez, who has pitched in only two games after missing a few weeks of camp for visa issues and a lat strain, and Gus Schlosser, who has five strikeouts and two hits allowed in 5-1/3 scoreless innings.

Because the Braves have off days in the schedule April 3 after a three-game opening series at Milwaukee and April 7 after a three-game series at Washington, they can go with only four starters without having any pitch on short rest until April 12 against the Nationals, the 11th game of the season.

Santana is expected back before then, but it’s not known when Minor or Beachy will be. Beachy had tests on his arm this week but the Braves haven’t provided an update, other than to say on Tuesday that they didn’t think his was a serious injury.

However, anytime there’s an injury near the elbow for a pitcher still trying to come back from two elbow surgeries in a 15-month span, as Beachy is, there is always some concern and no way to know when Beachy might be fully recovered and injury-free.

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