LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Pitching plans announced by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez pointed toward Derek Lowe as a likely opening-day starter, but Gonzalez cautioned not to make assumptions.
Jair Jurrjens starts the Grapefruit League opener Saturday against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and fifth-starter candidates Rodrigo Lopez, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy will pitch two innings apiece in Sunday’s spring home opener against the Mets.
Lowe is scheduled to start Monday and Tommy Hanson on Tuesday (both games against Houston), followed by Tim Hudson on Wednesday against Boston. Gonzalez said the Braves would use that same order for the first 15 days of Grapefruit League games.
“This is not the rotation [order for the regular season], because a lot of things can happen between now and the beginning of the year,” Gonzalez said. “You can always tinker. So that’s why I’m not naming the opening day starter, or number 2, or 3….”
If Lowe pitches every fifth day and the Braves keep the rotation in the same order after their only scheduled spring-training team day off March 22, it would put Lowe on course to start opening day March 31 against the Nationals in Washington.
Lowe started and won on opening day each of his first two seasons with the Braves. He gave up five runs in six innings of a 16-5 rout against the Chicago Cubs to open the 2010 season, and pitched eight scoreless innings (two hits) at Philadelphia in the 2009 opener.
The veteran right-hander was 16-12 with a 4.00 ERA in 2010, including 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts.
Hudson started the 2006 and 2008 openers for the Braves and got no decisions. He gave up five runs in four innings of a Braves win against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2006 opener, and allowed two runs in seven innings of a loss at Washington in the ’08 opener.
If the rotation holds, the Braves would start Lowe, Hanson and Hudson in the opening series at Washington. In their careers against the Nationals, Lowe is 8-7 with a 3.64 ERA, Hanson is 2-1 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts, and Hudson is a superb 10-2 with a 1.91 ERA.
By pitching the three No. 5 starter candidates in the same game Sunday, three of that rotation spot’s later turns would fall on the Braves’ three scheduled split-squad dates. That works well because two of the three candidates could start split-squad games on those days, and the third could get innings in either game.