DUNEDIN, Fla. — Don’t be surprised if Jason Heyward becomes one of the world’s largest center fielders at times during the 2012 season.
The Braves started Heyward in center instead of right field Saturday, the second time he started a game in center this spring. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves wanted to have the 6-foot-5, 235-pound left-hander play some center in case they decide to have him be their backup to Michael Bourn, instead of carrying Luis Durango or Jose Constanza to serve as backup.
Gonzalez said they might use Heyward in center even if Constanza is on the roster.
“Unless something happens before we break camp, we don’t really have a true [backup] center fielder,” Gonzalez said. “I think Heyward may be better than Constanza if [Constanza] makes the team. I think Durango could do it, but if he doesn’t make the team then I think Heyward is your next choice. If [Jordan] Parraza makes the team, he’s more of a corner [outfield] guy. So it just gives us options and looking ahead, if something happens you feel comfortable Jason could do it.”
Wilson nearing return
Jack Wilson could be back in the Braves lineup as soon as Sunday and will be on the team’s 25-man opening day roster, general manager Frank Wren said.
A strained calf sidelined the utility infielder for the the first month of spring training, but Wilson has played extensively in minor league games the past few days without incident. He had three hits in five or six at-bats in a game on Saturday, Gonzalez said (rehabbing players can hit every inning in minor league spring-training games in order to get more at-bats quickly).
Gonzalez said Wilson played shortstop, second and third base Friday and Saturday and “was bouncing around like the old Jack Wilson.”
The veteran player will meet Sunday morning with Gonzalez to see if Wilson is ready to play in that day’s major league game or play one more minor league game. Either way, he’s expected to play plenty for the big-league club in the last week of games after Monday’s off day in the schedule.
The Braves want the former standout shortstop on the opening day roster to give them an experienced backup behind either Tyler Pastornicky or Andrelton Simmons, two rookies with no big-league experience who are fighting for the starting job.
Venters’ soreness not concern
Jonny Venters hasn’t pitched in a week because of soreness in the biceps/triceps area of his pitching arm, but the Braves said the vaunted lefty reliever’s condition wasn’t a concern and that he felt fine during a long-toss session Friday.
“Your typical spring training soreness,” Wren said. “He should be good to go in a day or so.”
Wren and Gonzalez said it Venters had similar soreness at midseason last year and was fine after resting four or five days. He said Venters would pitch in one or two more Grapefruit League games after Monday.