Odds and ends: Vasquez arrives, injury updates and a potential lineup issue
As Joey Terdoslavich spoke to Justin Upton during batting practice on Monday morning, he glowingly spoke of Luis Vasquez, much like many many of the scouts who saw the Braves right-handed reliever spend his offseason pitching in the Dominican Winter League.
“He’s 88-91 (mph) from down here and then all of the sudden he’s 95-97 from the same spot,” Terdoslavich said while simulating a sidearm motion. “He also sometimes throws (with a three-quarter delivery) He’s nasty.”
Because he also spent a portion of the past few months competing in the DWL, Terdoslavich is one of the few in Braves camp who has actually had a chance to see Vasquez pitch.
After resolving a visa issue that prevented him from traveling from the D.R. to the United States, Vasquez reported to Atlanta’s Spring Training complex on Monday morning. But because he recently suffered a mild lat strain, the 27-year-old right-hander will be evaluated by the club’s medical staff before he is permitted to begin throwing.
Vasquez is one of the more intriguing players in Braves camp this year. Shortly after the Braves signed him as a Minor League free agent on Nov. 3, scouts began buzzing about the plus fastball he was producing with this sidearm delivery that he began utilizing two years ago.
Somewhere in the midst of producing a 7.47 ERA in the 43 appearances he combined to make for the Dodgers at the Double-A and Triple-A Minor League levels, Vasquez discarded his traditional overhand delivery and began developing this sidearm motion that resuscitated his career and ultimately allowed him to come to Spring Training with a chance to begin the upcoming season in Atlanta’s bullpen.
While it appears Vasquez could begin pitching again within the next few days, Tyler Pastornicky is anxiously looking forward to meet with Braves orthopedist Dr. Marvin Royster this weekend. Royster will evaluate Pastornicky’s surgically-repaired left knee and then give the backup infielder a better sense of how much he might be limited over the next few weeks.
Floyd cleared to throw breaking balls: Gavin Floyd took another step in his rehab process when he was cleared to begin throwing curveballs during what proved to be a pain-free bullpen session on Monday.
Echoing what many other managers have said about many other pitchers who are nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, Gonzalez said, “If you didn’t know that he was coming off Tommy John stuff, then you would think ‘boy this guy is really ready to start the season.'”
The Braves certainly have reason to be encouraged by the pain-free progress made by Floyd, who is hoping to join Atlanta’s rotation in May. But given how successful Brandon Beachy’s 12-month rehab process proved to be for all but the final two weeks, it seems smarter to temper the excitement right now.
Lineup plan: As expected, Gonzalez plans to construct the top of the lineup the same way he did when Jason Heyward was healthy during last season’s final two months. Heyward will sit in the leadoff spot and be followed in order by Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis.
By using Gattis in the cleanup spot, Gonzalez will have to jumble his lineup for that game or two a week in which Gattis is getting a break from his role as the club’s primary catcher.
The Giants (Buster Posey) and Indians (Carlos Santana) were the only two clubs who had a catcher tally at least 200 plate appearances in the cleanup spot last year. Some of those plate appearances notched by Posey and Santana came while they were being utilized at first base or as the designated hitter.
With Freeman’s presence, the Braves obviously don’t have the luxury of routinely keeping Gattis in the lineup by putting him at first base. And it certainly wouldn’t make much sense to give him a chance to rest his legs by having him play left field on those days he is not catching.
So approximately once every five games, the middle of the Braves lineup could assume a different look. Gonzalez said he might put Freeman in the cleanup spot when Gattis is not in the lineup. Doing so, would likely drop Justin Upton to the third spot and create the need to move either Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson or B.J. Upton (if he proves to be much improved) to the second spot on those days.
If one of these guys proves to be effective in the two hole, this might be one of those “potential problems” that in hindsight will be described as over-analyzed. Or maybe, Dan Uggla proves to be the Dan Uggla of yesteryear and gives Gonzalez the confidence to man the cleanup spot on those days Gattis is resting.
In other words, if B.J. and Uggla both prove to be productive, having to jumble the cleanup spot once or twice a week won’t seem to be a problem. But I think it goes without saying that this specific “if” scenario would solve potential problems that are deemed much more substantial than this one.