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David O'Brien

Ervin Santana makes Braves debut Thursday

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Eight days after signing Ervin Santana, the Braves will start him against the Mets on Thursday in his spring debut, and Braves fans can  watch the 1:05 p.m. game live on MLB Network.

The Braves signed the the former All-Star to a one-year, $14.1 million free-agent contract after elbow injuries last week to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. Medlen had season-ending Tommy John surgery Tuesday, and Beachy was to decide whether to have surgery after getting another opinion this week from a specialist in Los Angeles.

If Medlen had gotten hurt a couple of days later, they probably would’ve been too late to sign Santana, who was considering offers from the Blue Jays and Orioles before the Braves joined the bidding and lured him to the National League for the first time in his career.

Santana, 31, was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 211 innings last season for the Kansas City Royals, and tied for fourth in the American League with 23 quality starts (six innings or more and three earned runs or fewer allowed). He declined their $14.1 million qualifying offer, didn’t get the lucrative multi-year offers he expected, and was the best pitcher still without a team when spring training began.

Since Santana hadn’t faced hitters this spring, the Braves wanted him to throw in the bullpen and then throw batting practice a couple of times before penciling him in for his first Grapefruit League game. He’s scheduled to pitch two innings, like other Braves starters typically do in their spring debuts.

The plan is to have him ready to keep pitching in Grapefruit League and minor league games to build arm strength before he joins the Braves rotation on or before Feb. 12, the first time they’ll need a fifth starter. The Braves want to make sure not to rush Santana.

“I don’t think it’s worth it to take a chance, to cut some days or some starts (in his build-up process),” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Because of off days in the early schedule, the Braves can get by with four starters for the first 10 games without having any go on short rest. They’ll go with Julio Teheran, second-year left-hander Alex Wood, 37-year-old Freddy Garcia and rookie David Hale to begin the season, with Santana, incumbent lefty Mike Minor and veteran Gavin Floyd all waiting in the wings.

Minor fell behind the other starters when he couldn’t work out or throw in January following Dec. 31 urinary-tract surgery, then developed soreness in his throwing shoulder when he ramped up his activities in the first week of camp. Floyd is in the final stages of his rehab from May 2013 Tommy John surgery.

Minor and Floyd will each continue to throw batting-practice sessions for another week before Gonzalez said both would likely pitch in minor league games in Florida at the end of the month, when the Braves head north to face their prospects in a March 29 game at Rome and open the season March 31 at Milwaukee.

Minor is tentatively scheduled to join the Braves’ rotation at some point in late April and Floyd in early May.

Gonzalez was asked Wednesday if he’d be comfortable starting the season with the starting foursome of Teheran, Wood, Garcia and Hale.

“Yeah, I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “And it gives you a nice comfort (knowing) it’s going to get better. Michael’s coming right along. You’ve got Gavin right behind him. So all of a sudden, a month into it you’ve got yourself a nice little rotation.”

If the Braves have a plan as to which two starters they would replace, they aren’t giving any hints at this point.

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