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Braves weighing impact of 8-man bullpen

Extra arm would help club protect out-of-options relievers
MLB.com @mlbbowman

TAMPA, Fla. -- After the twists and turns that Spring Training will inevitably bring, the Braves will determine whether to stick with the plan to begin the season with an eight-man bullpen -- which would leave them short-handed on an already-suspect bench.

With the offseason additions of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia, the Braves should have more stability in the rotation, but they still don't have a legit ace who can be counted on to consistently work into the seventh inning. Consequently, they still seem to be leaning toward enhancing the bullpen depth with an extra arm.

TAMPA, Fla. -- After the twists and turns that Spring Training will inevitably bring, the Braves will determine whether to stick with the plan to begin the season with an eight-man bullpen -- which would leave them short-handed on an already-suspect bench.

With the offseason additions of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia, the Braves should have more stability in the rotation, but they still don't have a legit ace who can be counted on to consistently work into the seventh inning. Consequently, they still seem to be leaning toward enhancing the bullpen depth with an extra arm.

Going with an eight-man bullpen would also provide some protection, as the Braves enter the season with three potentially valuable relievers -- Chaz Roe, Ian Krol and Jose Ramirez -- out of options. Carrying an extra arm could give Atlanta flexibility to avoid exposing one of these relievers to a waivers if the bullpen is taxed and a roster spot is needed for a fresh arm.

"Nothing is set in stone," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We're going to look at all of our options to determine what is best for the team in 2017."

The option of an eight-man bullpen was more attractive when the Braves were counting on Sean Rodriguez's versatility to essentially eliminate the need for a five-man bench. Rodriguez -- who is likely out for the season after shoulder surgery resulting from car accident in January -- was projected to begin the season as Atlanta's primary second baseman. Because he can play every infield and outfield position, there would have been more comfort utilizing a four-man bench, which might not have included a traditional backup outfielder.

If the Braves go with an extra bullpen arm, their four-man bench could consist of backup catcher Kurt Suzuki, Jace Peterson, Chase d'Arnaud and either Emilio Bonifacio or Micah Johnson. The versatility possessed by Peterson and d'Arnaud could prove beneficial, but manager Brian Snitker would face a greater challenge when making in-game decisions with a short bench.

As things stand, closer Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Mauricio Cabrera, Ramirez, Krol and long reliever Josh Collmenter are the closest things to locks to begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen.

One of the other two spots could be given to Paco Rodriguez, who would serve as the left-handed specialist. He hasn't pitched in nearly two years as he attempts to return from Tommy John surgery, but he has not had any setbacks in Spring Training. He is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut within the next week.

If Rodriguez struggles, there is a chance the Braves could opt to carry Eric O'Flaherty, who is feeling healthy after being burdened by elbow injuries and discomfort over the past four seasons.

Non-roster invitee Blaine Boyer and Roe could compete for the last spot in an eight-man bullpen. Armando Rivero was selected from the Cubs' organization in the Rule 5 Draft, but his bid to earn a spot has been tarnished by the lingering shoulder discomfort since pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves