LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves provided a clearer picture of their potential Opening Day bullpen on Monday when they made the surprising decision to option Chris Withrow to Triple-A Gwinnett.Withrow was believed to be one of the few Braves relievers who could be considered a lock to be
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves provided a clearer picture of their potential Opening Day bullpen on Monday when they made the surprising decision to option Chris Withrow to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Withrow was believed to be one of the few Braves relievers who could be considered a lock to be on the Opening Day roster. Thus, it was easy to understand why he was visibly not happy with the surprise he got on Monday morning, when he learned he was among the latest roster cuts. The other moves involved left-handed relievers Matt Marksberry, who was optioned to Double-A Mississippi, and Hunter Cervenka, who was reassigned to Minor League camp.
"I'll just go down, start getting more work in, stay healthy and hope I get another opportunity during the course of the season," Withrow said. "That's the only way to look at it."
Withrow has been healthy this year, but he did not help his cause as he allowed four hits and issued two walks while completing just 1 1/3 innings over his past two appearances. The veteran reliever posted a 2.76 ERA while totaling 46 appearances for the Dodgers during the 2013 and '14 seasons.
Ultimately, the makeup of the Braves' bullpen on Opening Day will be influenced by the health of Jason Grilli, who was scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Monday. If Grilli makes a successful recovery from a ruptured left Achilles tendon, he will join Arodys Vizcaino and Jim Johnson at the back end of Atlanta's bullpen.
If Grilli is not ready, then the Braves will have five bullpen spots to fill before the end of camp. One of them could be filled by either Carlos Torres, Ryan Weber or Williams Perez -- a trio of hurlers who could fill the long relief role that would provide insurance for Atlanta's suspect starting rotation.
As things currently stand, two of the open bullpen spots could be filled by non-roster invitee Alexi Ogando and the hard-throwing Jose Ramirez, who is the only Braves player out of options. Ramirez opened some eyes when he struck out Jose Altuve and George Springer with the bases loaded in Sunday's loss to the Astros. But the two walks he issued in the inning that followed provided a reminder of his long battle to consistently throw strikes.
Marksberry will have a chance to gain some of the development he lost last year when he progressed from the Class A Advanced level to the Majors within a span of a month without ever pitching at Double-A. His placement with Mississippi leaves Ian Krol and non-roster invitee Alex Torres as the top left-handed relief candidates remaining in camp.
It does not appear that Atlanta will opt to carry Rule 5 Draft selection Evan Rutckyj, another left-handed reliever who needs to gain more consistency with his curveball. But there's still a chance the Braves could choose to carry right-handed reliever Daniel Winkler, who missed most of last season after being selected in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft.
While the Braves would need to carry Rutckyj throughout the season, they would only be required to keep Winkler on their Major League roster through the first week of June.
As Ramirez has completed five scoreless innings during the early part of the Grapefruit League season, he might have influenced the decision made on Withrow, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and back surgery.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.