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Braves option Bethancourt, call up Lavarnway

BOSTON -- Christian Bethancourt lost his role as the Braves' starting catcher less than two weeks into this season. Now, the once highly-regarded prospect will need to reintroduce himself to life at the Minor League level.

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The Braves optioned Bethancourt to Triple-A Gwinnett before Monday night's game against the Red Sox. Veteran backup catcher Ryan Lavarnway was promoted from Gwinnett to fill the void on Atlanta's roster. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the decision was finalized and explained to Bethancourt during the team's flight to Boston on Sunday.

"Like anybody else, I'm sure he's disappointed," Gonzalez said.

The Braves have no specific time frame in mind for when Bethancourt could return to the Majors, though Gonzalez believes the 23-year-old might only need a few weeks if he shows improvement with Gwinnett.

"We think the world of him," Gonzalez said. "He's still in our plans in the future. He's a force catching. I think he's a Major League catcher. But right now, he's not getting very much playing time, and we need him to play a little bit more. He's not the first guy to go down and come back up and have a stellar career, and he won't be the last guy."

Because of his rocket arm, Bethancourt has long been lauded as a defensively sound catcher, but the Braves have grown concerned about his glovework and pitch-calling skills.

"I think he just needs to work on catching," Gonzalez said. "It's hard to work those things out here at the big league level and try to produce."

Bethancourt has batted .208 with one home run and a .528 OPS in 29 games this season. The 23-year-old rookie has been charged with six passed balls in 236 1/3 innings this year and 11 passed balls in 496 2/3 innings overall, dating back to June 28 -- his 2014 season debut.

Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal has been charged with a Major League-high 18 passed balls (978 innings) since the start of 2014. If Bethancourt had maintained his current pace over this same workload, he would have been charged with 21 passed balls.

"I was surprised, obviously. I feel bad," starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "You never want to see somebody struggle or have to go up and down. We've all done it, but it stinks for the person, for Bett. He did a lot. He's a good kid. He's got a lot of talent. Hopefully he'll go down and figure it out and get back here quickly."

Pierzynski will continue to serve as Atlanta's primary catcher, while Lavarnway will fill the backup role.

Lavarnway signed a Minor League contract with the Braves after he hit .107 in 28 at-bats with the Orioles and was released earlier this season. The 27-year-old catcher batted .299 in 77 at-bats for the 2013 World Series champion Red Sox, but he has totaled just 19 games at the Major League level since 2014.

Lavarnway and Pierzynski played alongside each other on the 2014 Boston squad.

"AJ and I played with each other for a little bit last year," Lavarnway said. "He was terrific for me to work with. What you see is what you get. I appreciate that. So I'm looking forward to it."

While playing 12 games for Triple-A Gwinnett over the past few weeks, Lavarnway has batted .268 with two home runs and an .851 OPS.

"Realistically, I was just hoping to get some consistent at-bats and really get back to having success at the plate and kind of seeing what happens. [The promotion] was a surprise to me," Lavarnway said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for
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