LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Tyler Pastornicky won the shortstop battle and Randall Delgado was named the fifth starter Monday as the Braves finalized their 25-man roster before breaking camp and heading north.
None of the final moves was unexpected, including left-hander Yohan Flande getting the final bullpen spot over Cory Gearrin and outfielder Jose Constanza the final bench job over a few other candidates including outfielders Jordan Parraz and Luis Durango and utility infielder Drew Sutton.
Delgado and No. 1 Braves prospect Julio Teheran struggled in their competition for the fifth-starter spot, but Delgado pitched better in his major league opportunities last season and had a 7.89 ERA to Teheran’s 9.37 this spring. Teheran and Gearrin were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves think they’ll need Delgado for only three or four starts before Tim Hudson (recovering from back surgery) comes off the disabled list in the last week of April or first week of May.
Cannon-armed Defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons gave Pastornicky a run for the shortstop job, despite Simmons having no experience above the Class-A level. After hitting well at the outset of camp, Simmons looked overmatched at times offensively in recent weeks and missed the last four games with a strained side.
Pastornicky overcame a woeful start and went 10-for-28 (.357) in his last 11 games with four walks in his last two. He finished with a .221 average and .267 on-base percentage, while Simmons hit .186 with a .271 on-base percentage.
“We’ll let him play,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Pastornicky, who has a little over one full season in the high minors but no major league experience. “We’re comfortable until he makes us uncomfortable, but right now we’re moving forward.”
Pastornicky had the shortstop job to lose entering spring training, and for a while it looked like he might lose it to Simmons.
“I have been feeling a lot better the last couple of weeks,” Pastornicky said. “My confidence level’s there. The guys on the team have helped me a lot. The coaching staff has been real supportive and it’s been awesome getting that. I’m kind of proud of myself for turning it around, getting off to a run start and being able to kind of find myself. I’m going to try to continue to build on that.”
Flande edged out Gearrin for the only bullpen spot available after the Braves signed veteran Livan Hernandez as a long reliever and spot starter. Gonzalez liked the flexibility that having another lefty in the ‘pen, since lefties Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venter are seventh- and eighth-inning setup men.
Constanza was already on the 40-man roster, while Parraz, Durango and Sutton were non-roster invitees. The Braves weren’t going to add one of those players to the roster for what might be two weeks or less before third baseman Chipper Jones comes off the 15-day disabled list.
The Braves seem comfortable with right fielder Jason Heyward moving to center field as a backup for a game or two and won’t feel compelled to carry a player all season just to serve as a backup to center fielder Michael Bourn. If Bourn needed to miss significant time, the Braves could make a move to bring up another center fielder.
Gonzalez said having Constanza would give him some speed off the bench and a potential pinch-hitter to lead off in, say, the seventh inning if he doesn’t want to use his top pinch-hitter Eric Hinske or Matt Diaz in that situation.
After the trade for third baseman Juan Francisco on Sunday, there was one fewer long-term roster spot for the bench candidates. Francisco will serve as primary backup to the Jones, who will be 40 this month and is expected to get plenty of days as the Braves try to keep him healthy in his last season before retirement.
The Braves will begin the season with Jones on the DL along with relievers Anthony Vavaro (pectoral strain), Arodys Vizcaino (elbow surgery) and lefty Robert Fish (elbow tendinitis). Vizcaino will miss the entire season.
Non-roster reliever Peter Moylan will stay in Florida to continue rehabbing his surgically repaired right shoulder.
Non-roster players reassigned to minor league camp included catchers J.C. Boscan and Jose Yepez, infielders Simmons, Sutton, and Josh Wilson, and outfielders Durango and Parraz. The Braves haven’t said yet whether Simmons will skip Double-A and start the season at Triple-A, but that’s the move many expect.
There are 26 left on the roster including Tim Hudson, who will go on the 15-day DL before the roster becomes official Tuesday.