ATL@MIL: Thomas induces groundout in MLB debut

ATLANTA -- The Braves were comfortable using Ian Thomas in two high-leverage relief situations over the past week. But when forced to create a roster spot for Gavin Floyd on Sunday, they opted to take advantage of a chance to give Thomas an opportunity to further his development while serving as a starting pitcher for Triple-A Gwinnett.

With Floyd set to make a spot start for Ervin Santana on Tuesday, the Braves are in position to spend most of this upcoming week working with six relievers, as opposed to the customary seven, in their bullpen. Thomas' demotion leaves Luis Avilan as Atlanta's only left-handed reliever.

"The way our bullpen is now, you need a legit long guy," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. [David Hale] gives us that. You feel [right-handed reliever Jordan Walden] can get left-handed hitters out. He's done it in the past and he's been really, really good at it. [Avilan] has been our guy."

While Avilan served as one of Atlanta's primary setup men last year, he has not been nearly as effective this season. His struggles led the Braves to give Thomas a chance to pitch in three tight situations this past week. Thomas retired the only batter he faced -- left-handed hitter Roger Bernadina -- to earn his first career win in last Sunday's 10-inning win over the Reds. Given a chance to keep Thursday's game tied in the seventh inning, Thomas surrendered two consecutive bloop singles and was saddled with a loss. He then walked the first two batters he faced after entering Friday's seventh inning with the Braves trailing the Giants by a run.

Thomas earned an Opening Day roster spot after coming to Spring Training as a rather obscure non-roster invitee who was just two years removed from beginning a fourth consecutive season in an independent league. The 27-year-old left-hander allowed three earned runs and seven hits while working 6 1/3 innings in 10 relief appearances with Atlanta.

"The right way to look at it is we [sent down] the guy who needs the most work, [Thomas] being that guy," Gonzalez said.

While serving as a starter at Gwinnett, Thomas will attempt to develop a slider and refine the curveball and changeup that currently serve as his primary offspeed pitches. The plan is for him to add to his repertoire with the hope he will be more versatile as a reliever if he gets a chance to return to the Major League level.

Floyd to start in place of Santana on Tuesday

Gavin Floyd will make his season debut on Tuesday vs. the Cards.

ATLANTA -- Braves right-hander Gavin Floyd's season debut will come on Tuesday night against the Cardinals as he makes a spot start in place of right-hander Ervin Santana, who has a bruise on his right hand near his thumb.

The Braves will not place Santana on the disabled list and expect him to make his next scheduled start next weekend during the Cubs series.

"You know how we always talked about, 'It'll take care of itself''?" Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's going to take care of itself for a week or five or six days, but then we're going to have to make a decision the next time around. We're not going to go with a six-man [rotation] the rest of the way, but for now, it took care of itself."

Santana suffered the injury while batting against Reds starter Homer Bailey, who jammed Santana with an inside pitch on April 25. His thumb started swelling again near the end of his most recent start against the Marlins on Thursday at Marlins Park.

"I could barely hold the ball, so that's why they made the decision to skip one start," Santana said. "I'll be fine. I'll be fine for the next one. I'm just getting treatment, and it's getting better."

Santana's skipped start paves the way for Floyd, whose role was in flux as Atlanta planned to activate him from the disabled list on Sunday. Left-handed reliever Ian Thomas was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Floyd.

The Braves are not sure what is next for Floyd, who appears headed for a bullpen role that includes occasional starts. Given the success Atlanta's rotation has had so far this season, Floyd knew his return presented a complicated situation.

However, as the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery nears, Floyd is OK with taking his return one day at a time, and that begins with Tuesday's start.

"There's no expectation," Floyd said. "They told me today that I'm going to be starting Tuesday, and I'm excited about that. I'm excited to get back out there and pitch again and have a second chance to pitch. Just focusing on that, and after that, whatever happens will be dealt with."

Simmons out of lineup, but not injured

SF@ATL: Crawford makes a great play to end the game

ATLANTA -- When Ramiro Pena's name appeared at shortstop and batting eighth in Sunday's lineup, there was concern Andrelton Simmons was injured. However, the Gold Glove Award winner was simply given the day off on Sunday.

"It's not an injury," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's available to play today if we need him."

Simmons slid headfirst into first base on his game-ending groundout to shortstop in Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the Giants. National outfielder Bryce Harper suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb when he slid into a base headfirst on April 25.

Harper will be out until at least early July after undergoing surgery on April 29.

Simmons played in 157 games last year and has only missed two this year when he sat out from April 10-11 after jamming his right wrist during a home-plate collision with Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud on April 9 at Turner Field.