Pitching rotation showing depth

Bill Shanks has some notes from spring training with almost two weeks to go.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL

Talk about a perfect scenario playing out for the Atlanta Braves. In the battle for the last two spots in the rotation, every pitcher that is in the competition is doing well. This will give the Braves plenty of options for the last two weeks of spring training.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez hinted late last week that Wandy Rodriguez would have the fourth spot in the rotation, replacing Mike Minor for the month of April as he returns from a shoulder issue. Rodriguez pitched five hitless innings Friday against the Marlins and has a spring earned run average of 0.69.

Lefty Eric Stults pitched well Saturday against the Nationals. His ERA is 2.57 this month. Stults was considered the frontrunner for a spot in the rotation. But others are making it a difficult decision. Chien-Ming Wang pitched 4.2 scoreless innings Saturday against the Cardinals. Wang’s ERA is 2.70.

Cody Martin had not allowed an earned run in eight innings. Martin could be a starter after a solid season last year in Triple-A Gwinnett.

Wednesday Mike Foltynewicz impressed against the Yankees. His ERA is a bit higher, but the Braves are being tempted by Foltynewicz’s tremendous stuff. And while Manny Banuelos is looked at now as more of an option for the bullpen if he makes the roster out of camp, he has to be considered as a rotation candidate down the road.

There have been rumors teams have called the Braves about Rodriguez. He had success several years ago in Houston, and if he stays healthy Rodriguez could be a nice bottom-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Should the Braves take advantage of his value and trade him now, before he perhaps breaks down physically? That is a dilemma.

Of course, they could hold onto Rodriguez and hope he pitches well for a couple of months and then trade him for a better prospect in late July, as long as the Braves are not in contention. Rodriguez has not had a full season since 2012, so there is concern that at age 36 he might have trouble staying healthy.

Teams might also call about Stults and Wang. But here is where it gets interesting. If Minor does return in late April or early May, there would only be a need for one new starter. So do the Braves let Rodriguez pitch in April and if he does well then trade him? If he has a couple of good starts, Rodriguez could get the Braves a pretty good prospect back in a deal.

And then there’s the dilemma, albeit a good one, with Foltynewicz. The Braves want him in the rotation at some point this season. But if he’s in to start the year and Minor comes back, you don’t want to have to send Foltynewicz down to Triple-A, especially if he is doing well. So that might make the Braves start him in Gwinnett and then bring him up when there is a full-time opening.

Either way, there is a good chance one of these veteran starters will be traded at some point, especially if Foltynewicz, Martin and Banuelos do well.

Of course, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Alex Wood have to stay healthy for this depth to stick. But for the Braves to have this many options for the rotation, considering how well everyone is pitching, is a tremendous asset as they form the opening day roster.

NOTES: The bullpen looks good, with Craig Kimbrel, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson leading the way. Josh Outman is going to be the lefty specialist and it seems Michael Kohn (1.42 ERA) has an edge. Martin or Banuelos could figure into the end of the bullpen picture, as Luis Avilan and James Russell try to hang onto their jobs…

Jace Peterson is going to be the second baseman. He’s hitting .351 and really playing well defensively. It sounds like Peterson will follow Eric Young in the lineup, with Nick Markakis hitting third if his recovery from neck surgery continues to go well. Freddie Freeman would then bat cleanup, with a host of possibilities for the fifth through eighth spots in the order…

The Braves are relieved that catcher Christian Bethancourt has had a good spring. The rookie is taking over for Evan Gattis, and so far Bethancourt has played very well.


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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