2013 Outlook: Venters' high K rate hints at big year

LAKELAND, Fla. -- After nearly going through Spring Training without any of their players suffering a significant injury, the Braves are approaching the start of the regular season with uncertainty surrounding reliever Jonny Venters, who exited Tuesday's 6-5 win against the Tigers with a left elbow sprain.

Venters surrendered two hits and issued two walks while recording just one out before signaling for manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant trainer Jim Lovell to come to the mound. After a brief evaluation, Venters was sent to the clubhouse.

"He called us out and said it didn't feel right, which is good on his part," Gonzalez said. "At that point, there was no point in messing with it."

Venters was on the disabled list in July with a left elbow impingement, and he encountered multiple setbacks after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in 2005. He experienced some discomfort over the course of the past month and the Braves shut him down for 10 days after he issued four walks in one inning against the Cardinals on March 13.

Venters completed one inning in a Minor League game on Saturday in pain-free fashion, but this latest setback created the likelihood that he will begin this season on the disabled list. The Braves will provide more information after re-evaluating him on Wednesday.

"I can't assume anything," Gonzalez said when asked how much time Venters could miss.

With Venters sidelined and right-handed reliever Jordan Walden on track to be ready for the start of the season, it appears Atlanta's Opening Day roster will include Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro, a pair of right-handed relievers who are out of options.

Wirfin Obispo, a right-handed reliever who was reassigned to Minor League camp on Sunday, could possibly take one of those spots, Gonzalez said. Obispo recorded two strikeouts in a scoreless inning against the Tigers on Tuesday. He has surrendered one hit in five scoreless Grapefruit League innings.

Venters has made 230 appearances since he made his Major League debut on April 17, 2010. The only pitcher with more appearances since the start of the 2010 season is Cincinnati's Sean Marshall (231).

The heavy workload appeared to take a toll on Venters, as he compiled a 4.45 ERA and surrendered six home runs in his first 40 appearances last year. In the 164 appearances Venters made during the 2010 and '11 seasons, he posted a 1.59 ERA, surrendered three home runs and held opponents to a .300 on-base percentage.

After missing two weeks in July last year, Venters looked more like he had the previous two seasons. He compiled a 1.71 ERA, did not allow a home run and limited opponents to a .292 on-base percentage in his final 26 appearances.

Pastornicky among latest round of roster cuts

WSH@ATL: Pastornicky's quick snag retires Bernadina

LAKELAND, Fla. -- One year after beginning the season as Atlanta's starting shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky will return to the Minor League level with the assignment to improve his versatility and continue developing the offensive skills he showed over the past few weeks.

Pastornicky's impressive run through this year's Grapefruit League season came to a close on Tuesday morning when the Braves optioned him, outfielder Jose Constanza and right-handed reliever David Carpenter to Triple-A Gwinnett.

"[Pastornicky] is not going down and being forgotten," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've got a plan for him. I told Tyler to trust that this organization is going to do the right thing for him. This guy is a valuable piece for us. He's had an unbelievable Spring Training for us. This guy is a big piece for us. What we start with in April may be different in May or June."

Pastornicky hit .375 (21-for-56) with four doubles and a home run in 26 Grapefruit League games. While defensive concerns seem to erase the likelihood of Pastornicky serving as an everyday shortstop at the big league level, his athleticism and offensive skills could lead him to serving as a valuable utility player.

Pastornicky will serve as Triple-A Gwinnett's starting shortstop until Paul Janish returns in early April from offseason shoulder surgery. Once Janish is cleared to play, Pastornicky will play second base and spend some time as a shortstop and outfielder.

"He needs to play," Gonzalez said.

As the Braves prepare to enter this season, one of their top concerns centers around Dan Uggla, who is coming off the worst season of his career. If Uggla struggles through the first couple months of this season, Atlanta would at least have to think about benching him in favor of Ramiro Pena or Pastornicky.

Constanza missed a month of Spring Training because of visa issues and ended up recording three hits in just 13 Grapefruit League at-bats. His bid to earn an Opening Day roster spot was hurt by his extended absence and the fact that Jordan Schafer -- his chief competition for the fifth-outfielder's spot -- is out of Minor League options.

Carpenter allowed 14 runs and 15 hits in 9 1/3 innings. The hard-throwing right-hander is still developing his skills as a pitcher. He served as a catcher until the Cardinals converted him into a pitcher in 2008.

Gattis, Pagnozzi vying for final spot on roster

ATL@PHI: Gattis goes deep in the fifth inning

LAKELAND, Fla. -- When the Braves announced Jose Constanza was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday morning, they essentially guaranteed Jordan Schafer will begin the season as their fifth outfielder.

Four of the five available bench spots on the Opening Day roster will be filled by Schafer, outfielder Reed Johnson, infielder Ramiro Pena and either Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco, who will begin the season platooning at third base.

The last spot will go to either Evan Gattis, who is ranked the club's No. 16 prospect by MLB.com, or Matt Pagnozzi, both of whom are bidding to serve as the backup catcher until Brian McCann returns from offseason right shoulder surgery.

"Everybody on the team is pretty much set," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Now the battle is, 'Who do you take behind the plate to complement [Gerald] Laird?'"

Gattis appears to be the overwhelming favorite, as he has hit .358 (19-for-53) with five doubles and five home runs in 22 Grapefruit League games. Pagnozzi has hit .310 (9-for-29) with a double and a triple while playing in 14 games.

If the Braves want to simply go with the better defensive option and allow Gattis to play in an everyday role at Triple-A Gwinnett, they could make the surprising decision to go with Pagnozzi.

But with McCann slated to miss most of April, the Braves could gain more value from Gattis' potent bat by allowing him to share the catcher's position with Laird, who has cautiously returned from a left calf strain he suffered on March 2. Laird returned to the lineup on Tuesday for the first time since March 16.

Gattis mishandled a couple of low pitches Mike Minor threw in the first inning of Monday's loss to the Mets, but over the past month, the powerful catcher has decreased many of the concerns surrounding his defensive ability behind the plate.

Worth noting

• Laird took another step toward being ready for the start of the season when he was behind the plate for the first five innings of Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Tigers. He is scheduled to play again against the Nationals on Wednesday. This will be the first time he has caught on back-to-back days since March 12-13.

• Tim Hudson allowed one run and four hits in four innings during Tuesday's win over the Tigers. The outing was his final tune-up before Monday's Opening Day start against the Phillies. Hudson has become more encouraged with the arm strength he has had in his past two starts.

• McCann recorded a sacrifice fly and flew out to center field while serving as a designated hitter in Triple-A Gwinnett's Minor League game on Tuesday. It was the first game appearance for McCann, who is recovering from offseason right shoulder surgery. He will not be allowed to begin catching in a Minor League rehab game before April 16.