Braves sign Eric Stults and Jesus Flores

Atlanta will have several pitchers fighting it out for the fifth starter's job this spring.

The Braves remain busy bringing in players for spring training. Thursday they signed starting pitcher Eric Stults and catcher Jesus Flores to minor league contracts with invitations to big league camp.

Stults will battle with Wandy Rodriguez, Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz for the fifth starter’s role in the Atlanta starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang is also a longshot candidate.

The Braves also expect reliever James Russell to get a look as a starting pitcher as well.

For the last two-and-a-half seasons, Stults has been in the San Diego Padres rotation. He was 27-33 with the Padres in 83 games (79 starts) with a 3.87 earned run average. Last season Stults was 8-17 with a 4.30 ERA in 32 starts, with 197 hits allowed in 176 innings pitched, 45 walks and 111 strikeouts.

Stults was particularly strong in the final two months of last season, as he posted a 2.74 ERA in 11 starts, with 65 hits allowed in 65.2 innings.

The 35-year-old veteran started his career in the Dodgers’ organization. He pitched parts of four seasons in Los Angeles before pitching in Japan during the 2010 season. Then Stults returned to MLB with the Rockies in 2011. He then pitched briefly with the White Sox in 2012 before moving to San Diego.

Stults may be the favorite now to win the fifth starter’s job considering his 45 starts the last two seasons. Rodriguez must prove he’s healthy, while Foltynewicz has to show he’s ready for the big leagues. Banuelos will still have a chance, although the Braves would prefer for him to start in Triple-A to build up his arm strength after being limited last year by the Yankees in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Flores will join A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck as veterans in camp to compete for a backup job to young Christian Bethancourt. Pierzynski is considering the overwhelming favorite, and it’s not out of the question for the Braves to carry three catchers to start the season.

Flores was in Triple-A last season with Omaha in the Royals system. The 30-year-old hit .248 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 150 plate appearances. Flores was last in the big leagues in 2012 with the Nationals. He was with the Nationals for parts of five seasons, from 2007-2009 and then in 2011 and 2012.

Flores has hit .241 in his 937 major league at bats with 23 home runs and127 RBI. His best season was in 2008, when as the main catcher for the Nationals Flores hit .256 with eight home runs and 59 RBI.

It’s likely Flores or Buck could also be the main catcher in Triple-A Gwinnett, where Jose Yepez and Braeden Schlehuber will also battle for a job.

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