LAKELAND, Fla. -- Scott Kazmir came to Spring Training considered a longshot to be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster, and Matt Wisler exited last season doubting both himself and the likelihood he'd ever again seriously factor into the Braves' plans.
But with Luiz Gohara likely sidelined through at least the end of April with a sprained left ankle, these two hurlers seemingly stand as the Braves' top internal choices to fill what might be the final rotation spot.
Wisler has created some recent encouragement, but his small margin for error was tested as he struggled through the third inning of Sunday afternoon's 6-3 loss to the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. This outing appeared to strengthen Kazmir's status as the top internal option to fill a rotation spot until Gohara returns.
"I think there's still an open competition," Wisler said. "I've still got two or three outings left. I've got to improve upon what I did today and build off the good starts I had."
While Wisler will remain a candidate, Kazmir looks in good position to be placed in the rotation and quite possibly take the Opening Day roster spot currently earmarked for fellow left-handed starter Sean Newcomb.
The Braves will not need to carry five starting pitchers until they play their 11th game of the season on April 10. Thus, if Newcomb and Kazmir are slated to fill the two open rotation spots, one of them could be asked to make a start or two for Triple-A Gwinnett before being added to Atlanta's roster.
Because Newcomb has Minor League options remaining, he seems to be the most likely candidate within this potential scenario to open the season with Gwinnett. This would mean Kazmir would open the season in the rotation's fourth spot.
"We'll keep our options open and see how it all plays out," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
If it had all played out according to the Braves' plans, Newcomb and Gohara would have filled the two rotation spots that were open at the start of camp. Despite being set back a couple weeks by a strained left groin, Gohara was in line to fill one of the rotation spots until Friday, when he suffered the ankle sprain.
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With Gohara not expected to resume his normal presason preparations for at least two more weeks, the Braves are evaluating all of their options. But for now, their only firm rotation plans do not expand beyond the plan for it to include Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy, who recorded 10 strikeouts as he completed five scoreless innings during a simulated game against a group of Braves Minor Leaguers on Sunday morning.
Starting in place of Gohara on Sunday, Wisler allowed four runs and five hits over three innings. He surrendered Victor Martinez's solo homer in the second inning and did not record an out in the third before Jose Cabrera drilled a three-run double.
Wisler was once again happy with his slider, a pitch that had helped him enter this start against the Tigers without having allowed a run through his first seven Grapefruit League innings. But he fell behind in the count too frequently and had to rely too heavily on his fastball.
"The slider was really the only thing that was working," Wisler said. "My fastball command was terrible."