LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Danny Santana's frustrating conclusion to the 2017 season led the Braves to remove him from their 40-man roster this past offseason. But the switch-hitting outfielder has come to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, and his stellar play has made him a strong candidate to
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Danny Santana's frustrating conclusion to the 2017 season led the Braves to remove him from their 40-man roster this past offseason. But the switch-hitting outfielder has come to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, and his stellar play has made him a strong candidate to win one of the available bench spots.
Santana strengthened his bid as he homered and recorded a hit all four at-bats he tallied during Monday afternoon's 7-5 win over the Pirates at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex. The 27-year-old has gone 10-for-21 with two doubles and a homer through his first eight games of the exhibition season.
"He's a good outfielder and he's got a little thunder in his bat," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's got skills."
Acquired by the Braves after being designated for assignment by the Twins one month into last season, Santana got off to a slow start, but then hit .286 (20-for-70) with a .500 slugging percentage over a 33-game span that concluded on July 7, when he was placed on the disabled list with a leg infection.
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Santana returned after the All-Star break, but then proceeded to hit .161 with a .286 slugging percentage over a 27-game span that concluded on Aug. 17, when he suffered what ended up being a season-ending left quadriceps strain.
The Braves will likely utilize a four-man bench most of this season. Two of those spots are currently reserved for backup catcher Kurt Suzuki and versatile infielder Charlie Culberson, who is out of options. If Atlanta opens the season with a left-field platoon, another bench spot could be earmarked for either Lane Adams or Preston Tucker.
Left-handed slugger Ryan Schimpf joined the bench battle when he was acquired from the Rays on Monday. But the Braves made that deal with the comfort of knowing Schimpf could begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett and be promoted when necessary.
The Braves may acquire another outfielder or versatile utility man before the end of camp. But for now, Santana's ability to switch hit and play both the infield and outfield seemingly position him to be considered the top candidate for the final bench spot.
Luiz Gohara completed his first live batting practice session of the year in pain-free fashion on Monday morning. Gohara was slowed during the first two weeks of camp with a strained left groin. But the big left-hander still seemingly has enough time to be ready by April 11, when the Braves would first need to have five starters in their rotation.
"I know we can get by without [a fifth starter] until then," Snitker said.
Gohara will throw at least one more batting practice before being cleared to make his first start of the exhibition season.
Ronald Acuna Jr. might spend the next few days playing with the bruise that formed near the top of his left gluteus muscle after he was hit by a Trevor Williams pitch during Monday's fifth inning. Acuna was replaced by a pinch runner and was briefly evaluated by the Braves' medical staff, which deemed him day to day.
Acuna is scheduled to play in Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., and there seemed to be a good chance he'll still make the trip as long as he's not too sore when he wakes up on Tuesday morning. The 20-year-old outfielder recorded a third-inning RBI single on Monday to give him nine hits in his past 12 at-bats.
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"We'll just let him keep going and keep running him out there," Snitker said. "I like playing him, because he's fun to watch."
Getting his work in
Brandon McCarthy felt fortunate to limit the Pirates to just one run on three hits over 3 2/3 innings. He exited Monday's start frustrated by how often he fell behind in the count and with the consistency of his slider.
Starling Marte took advantage of one mistake slider and drilled a solo homer that dented the scoreboard in left-center field. The blast accounted for the only run McCarthy has allowed through his first 6 2/3 innings this year.
"Marte almost hit my car with it, so that's a lesson that [the slider] has to get better," McCarthy said. "Everything is just refining. But [the slider] is the pitch I'm really working on and trying to really establish."
Sean Newcomb will make his third start of the spring in his bid for a rotation spot when the Braves travel to play the Blue Jays on Tuesday at 1:07 p.m. ET. Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson headline the group of position players slated to make the trip to Dunedin. The game will be broadcast live on Gameday Audio.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.