Gant becoming potential rotation candidate

March 25th, 2016
In 8 1/3 innings over four Grapefruit League relief appearances, John Gant has allowed one run. (AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- During the 10 days that have passed since Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said "everybody is a candidate" for his starting rotation, Mike Foltynewicz has established himself as the favorite to win the fifth spot and John Gant has at least remained in the mix much longer than expected.

When the Braves played split-squad games on Friday, they saw Gant toss four scoreless and hitless innings during a rain-shortened game that as was eventually canceled against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. This was the first Grapefruit League start for the right-hander, whose surprising success has positioned him to provide Atlanta some insurance in the event that they need to alter their plans for the back end of either the rotation or bullpen.

"I put that in the back of my mind," Gant said. "I just take things day-by-day, and when I get my chance pitch, I'm going to do the best I can. I'm not thinking about anything. I'm just trying to perform and do the best that I can."

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Gant certainly made the most of his latest audition Friday, as he recorded 10 groundouts and one strikeout (of Miguel Cabrera). The 23-year-old possesses an impressive changeup and a unique delivery, within which he taps his left foot in front of the rubber before raising his left leg again to throw a pitch.

"It just happened one day and never stopped," Gant said. "I don't know if I did it in a bullpen or a game or what. It just felt comfortable and I kept doing it."

The Braves could provide a similar answer in response to the surprising success they've seen from Gant, who was acquired in the July trade that sent Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to the Mets. Gant has never been a highly touted prospect, but he posted a 1.99 ERA in the seven starts he made for Double-A Mississippi after last year's trade. Gant has also caught the attention of opposing scouts who have followed the Braves over the past few weeks.

When the Braves entered Spring Training, it appeared Williams Perez and Manny Banuelos were the favorites to land the two open spots in Atlanta's rotation. But since then, non-roster invitee Jhoulys Chacin has positioned himself for one of those vacancies, and Banuelos has proven that it might be best for him to strengthen his bothersome elbow as a member of Triple-A Gwinnett's rotation.

Two weeks ago, it was assumed Foltynewicz would need some additional time to regain the strength he lost while recovering from the blood clot that sidelined him in September. But the former top prospect has since displayed his tremendous potential, and in the process, he has given the Braves reason to consider him a legitimate rotation candidate.

If Foltynewicz were to gain a rotation spot, he wouldn't make his first regular season start until April 12 -- the first date the Braves would need a fifth starter. This gives him time to make three more preparatory starts. But if Foltynewicz were to have a setback during this span, the club would have the option of turning to Gant, whose candidacy for a bullpen spot could be hampered by the organization's desire to allow him to continue serving as a starter, whether with Atlanta or Gwinnett.

"I think pitching is pitching," Gant said. "You just go out and throw baseballs. That's how I'm looking at it."