Camargo cleared to participate in activities

Braves taking cautious approach with 3B; 5th starter spot up for grabs

March 19th, 2018

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Johan Camargo was cleared to begin swinging a bat and participating in other baseball activities on Monday. Now, the Braves are just hopeful he makes the strides necessary to be healthy enough to serve as their third baseman on Opening Day.

Camargo has been sidelined since exiting a March 13 game with what was termed a stiff back. There's still a chance he could be cleared to begin playing in games again by the end of the week. But the Braves will continue to take a cautious approach with this injury, which is located near the right oblique muscle.

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"Everything went really well, but you just want to err on the side of caution," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "At some point, you've got to make a decision and get them away from what they've been doing. We're just going to keep day-to-daying it and see where we're at, but [the medical staff] likes where he is."

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The Braves have to remain prepared for the possibility Camargo won't be ready for the the March 29 regular season opener against the Phillies. But for now, the hope is he will return to the lineup either this weekend or for the March 26 exhibition game against the Yankees at SunTrust Park.

Even if Camargo avoids the disabled list, his injury could lead the Braves to carry an extra backup infielder during the first couple weeks of the regular season. The Braves do not need to carry five starting pitchers before April 10. This provides the option to carry an extra position player -- either a backup outfielder or backup infielder -- through the season's first 10 games.

Charlie Culberson is the only backup infielder currently projected to be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster. If Snitker chooses to carry an additional infielder, he could go with Rio Ruiz, who can play third base, or versatile non-roster invitee Christian Colon.

Ruiz's presence on the 40-man roster could give him the advantage. But the former prospect has also created some encouragement with some of his most recent plate appearances. The corner infielder recorded an RBI single during Monday's 6-0 win over the Blue Jays and is now 6-for-17 with two strikeouts over his past seven games. He was 7-for-38 with 15 strikeouts before this stretch.

"Rio just keeps getting better," Snitker said. "He keeps improving. He's a hard-working kid. He's very dedicated and very diligent with his work. He's a young kid that keeps working and keeps getting better."

Rotation battle

Scott Kazmir stood as the favorite to take Luiz Gohara's spot in the rotation until the Braves signed Anibal Sanchez to a Minor League contract on Friday. There might not be a clear-cut favorite right now, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Sanchez get the nod.

Snitker said Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy and Sean Newcomb will fill the first four spots in the rotation. Because he is on a Minor League contract, Sanchez could make a start or two for Gwinnett before the Braves opt to use a fifth starter. Kazmir, who is drawing a $16 million salary this year, would have to agree to spend time in the Minors.

Kazmir missed Sunday's scheduled start against the Astros because of a bruised left jaw he suffered while playing catch in the outfield grass on Friday. But the veteran lefty, who missed all of last season after suffering a hip injury, was healthy enough to start against the Tigers' Triple-A team on Monday.

Gohara is expected to be sidelined until at least May with a left ankle sprain. Until he was injured, Kazmir was not considered a strong candidate for a rotation spot. The fact he wasn't overly impressive over the past couple weeks led to the signing of Sanchez, who was released by the Twins last week.

Folty's schedule

Because all players in the Braves organization have a scheduled off-day on Tuesday, Foltynewicz will alter his schedule by waiting until Wednesday to pitch against Minor Leaguers. He will then pitch just a few innings against the Tigers on Sunday to get back in line to make his regular season debut against the Phillies on March 30.