Braves to finalize bullpen, bench this week

March 26th, 2017
David Hernandez signed a Minors deal Sunday. The veteran righty had a 3.84 ERA out of the 'pen for the Phillies last year, and will compete for a spot in the Braves 'pen in the final week of camp. (AP)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Though the Braves have a good idea about how most of their Opening Day roster will look, they do not expect to finalize their decisions until they get a better feel for which potential bullpen or bench options might become available at some point this week.

The latest player to join Atlanta's potential roster mix is right-handed reliever , who signed a Minor League deal on Sunday and will report to big league camp on Monday. Hernandez essentially serves as insurance if the Braves don't choose to keep , another veteran righty who is out of options.

The Braves will take a majority of their current spring roster to Atlanta for Friday's exhibition game against the Yankees at SunTrust Park and possibly wait until rosters are due on Sunday to announce their final decisions, including whether to stick with their plan to utilize an eight-man bullpen and four-man bench.

"We're still talking about that," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's just about what makes our club the best."

While their might be some lingering discussion, the Braves will likely go with an eight-man bullpen unless they are able to acquire a quality pinch hitter who would provide value to the extra bench spot that would open if the team opted to carry just seven relievers.

The Braves haven't ruled out the possibility of carrying either Matt Tuiasosopo or Mel Rojas Jr., a pair of veterans who have never formally been added to big league camp at any point this year. But both remain roster longshots, as Atlanta's general manager John Coppolella continues to look at potential external options, which could be acquired via trade or the free agent market, which will expand as teams make their final roster decisions this week.

"I think everybody is a factor," Snitker said, when asked specifically about Tuiasosopo and Rojas. "It depends on how we go with the bullpen. These guys are all in play, the way I look at it."

Hernandez posted a 3.84 ERA and recorded 80 strikeouts over 72 2/3 innings (70 appearances) for the Phillies last year. The 31-year-old veteran asked the Giants for his release after he learned he would not be on San Francisco's Opening Day roster.

While Hernandez will get a fair evaluation this week, it still appears Roe would have the slight edge to gain what would likely be the final bullpen spot given to a right-handed pitcher. Roe struggled during the early part of the Grapefruit League season, but his slider has become sharper with the increased work he has recently received.

If Hernandez doesn't make Atlanta's Opening Day roster, he could continue providing insurance while pitching for Triple-A Gwinnett.

Another interesting bullpen battle is being waged between left-handers Paco Rodriguez and , who was claimed off waivers from the Astros while he was pitching for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Chapman has allowed just one run over four innings since joining the Braves, but he hasn't historically been as effective against left-handed hitters as Rodriguez, who has also allowed just one run over the four innings he's completed since returning to the mound this year for the first time since his left elbow began bothering him in May 2015.