Fifth starter's competition to be fierce

Wandy Rodriguez will have his chance to win the fifth starter's job for the Braves.

The Braves know the top four starters in the rotation for 2015. Julio Teheran will be the ace, followed by Alex Wood, Shelby Miller and Mike Minor. But who will win the fifth starter's job?

Atlanta has made a number of additions this winter and could have as many as six pitchers battle it out for the last spot in the rotation. There is some concern about Wood and Minor, who ended last season battling arm issues. So that's another reason the Braves have added a number of options, just in case there is a need for more than one starting pitcher.

Here are the candidates for the competition to make the Atlanta rotation:

Eric Stults - LHP - 35 years old
The newest signee may be the favorite. Stults did very well late last season for the Padres. He was 5-4 with a 2.74 ERA in August and September, including a win over the Braves on August 1 (one unearned run in 6.1 innings). Stults has gotten his most extensive work as a starter in the last two seasons. His numbers away from spacious Petco Park are not great, but the Braves are intrigued by his ability to be an innings-eater like Aaron Harang was last year.

Wandy Rodriguez - LHP - 35 years old
Is Rodriguez healthy? That's the first question that must be answered. The Pirates grew frustrated with him last season when a right knee inflammation cost him three weeks. Rodriguez had a 6.75 ERA in six starts for Pittsburgh before he was released in May. In 2013, Rodriguez had a forearm strain and pitched in only 62.2 innings. From 2008 through 2012 Rodriguez had a sub-4.00 ERA, and he pitched well for the woeful Houston Astros when they were starting over. If healthy, he's a legit candidate. But it all comes down to that.

Manny Banuelos - LHP - 24 years old
Give the Yankees credit. They limited Banuelos to 76.1 innings last year as he returned from Tommy John surgery. They could have put him on the fast track, but instead eased him back into a regular routine. Since he was treated carefully, the Braves will likely want to see how Banuelos can do if he gets regular innings in Triple-A. But don't count Banuelos out from making a strong impression and winning the job.

Chien-Ming Wang - RHP - 35 years old
Signed to a minor league deal early in the offseason, Wang has pitched only 27 games (22 starts) in the big leagues during this decade. The days of him being one of the Yankees' top starters is a distant memory. Wang was 13-8 between Charlotte and Louisville in the International League last season in 28 starts. Does he have anything left in the tank, or is he now just a minor league Triple-A starter?

Mike Foltynewicz - RHP - 23 years old
The centerpiece of the deal with the Astros, "Folty" will get a shot but is perhaps more likely to start in Triple-A now with Stults on board. Now could Folty make an impression and stick? Absolutely. But the Braves might want to see him get more starts in Triple-A first, as he continues to work on his command and secondary pitches. The Braves would not be afraid to go with Foltynewicz if he pitches the best of the candidates, but he would have to have a great camp to beat the veterans and prove he is, in fact, ready.

James Russell - LHP - 29 years old
Russell has made only six starts out of 338 big league appearances, but the Braves would like to see what he can do. Remember, Russell is not your typical lefty reliever, as he struggles against left-handed hitters. The Braves may also be trying to increase his value by tempting other teams to make an offer if he does well in March.

SUMMARY

Stults is the likely favorite, considering how well he did in August and September last year. Rodriguez could make it interesting if he is healthy. The Braves want to test Foltynewicz and he might well tempt them if he does well. Wang would have to really shine and outpitch all the other candidates. Banuelos is likely headed to Triple-A, but the Braves would love for him to give them a reason to keep him in Atlanta. And Russell is a bit of a project, as the Braves would like to see him in this role.

The Braves also have to hope Minor or Wood are healthy, and that's why they'll have six pitchers battling it out in March. You can never have too much pitching. The Braves found that out last March with the injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. So that's why they want these six to fight it out in spring training to give them as many options as possible. The losers of the competition will provide depth, either in the Atlanta bullpen or the Gwinnett rotation, when help is needed during the season.


Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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