LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Preston Tucker spent much of the past two years regretting his decision to play through the discomfort he felt before undergoing right shoulder surgery near the end of the 2016 season.But as he makes a bid for a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster, the
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Preston Tucker spent much of the past two years regretting his decision to play through the discomfort he felt before undergoing right shoulder surgery near the end of the 2016 season.
But as he makes a bid for a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster, the left-handed slugger seems to have regained the strength he possessed when he hit 13 homers over 300 at-bats for the 2015 Astros.
Tucker solidified his roster bid as he doubled and homered during the Braves' 5-3 win over the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex. The 27-year-old outfielder has batted .364 (12-for-33) with four doubles, a homer and just one strikeout during the Grapefruit League season.
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"This was the best offseason I think I've ever had," Tucker said. "I wasn't up [with Houston] in September, so I had the whole offseason to get stronger. This is the best my body has ever felt."
Tucker is certainly in a much different position than he was a year ago, when he wasn't cleared to begin swinging a bat until a week before the start of Spring Training. The Tampa native hit 24 homers while playing all of last season with Triple-A Fresno, but never felt totally comfortable and he knew he'd become expendable to the world champion Astros.
When the Braves acquired Tucker in December, it was initially thought he could platoon in left field with Lane Adams, at least until Ronald Acuna Jr. was brought to the Majors. Adams' struggles have lessened the likelihood of this specific platoon being utilized, but Tucker has seemingly enhanced the possibility he could see regular time in Atlanta's lineup.
"He's swinging that bat really good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He gives you a good at-bat and he has the ability to put the bat on the ball. He hits it hard too. That's a good thing."
Snitker said he's not ready to announce his Opening Day starter, but the assumption remains that Julio Teheran will draw the honor for a fifth consecutive year. It's what the right-handed pitcher does following that regular-season opener that will determine his potential value to the organization moving forward.
Teheran wasn't particularly sharp Wednesday, as he hit a pair of batters, surrendered six hits and issued a walk. But he still managed to limit the Phillies to two runs over five innings. The first of those runs came courtesy of Pedro Florimon's leadoff homer in the second.
"It was OK," Snitker said. "He had to work, but he did all right."
Teheran's fastball registered at 86 mph a few times during the first inning, but he topped out at 89 mph and seemed to gain arm strength as the afternoon progressed. His shaky command was partly a product of his two-seamer moving more than normal.
Teheran retired just 12 of the 21 batters he faced, but minimized damage with the assistance of a pickoff in the first inning, a double-play groundout in the fifth and a Danny Santana throw that denied Cesar Hernandez's bid to advance from first to third base with nobody out, also in the first.
"Every day is a chance to get better and today I felt pretty good," Teheran said. "I got in trouble and had to work from the stretch. That's something we want to see before we get to the regular season. I battled and made my pitches to get outs."
When Johan Camargo arrived at the ballpark before Wednesday's game, he wasn't feeling any worse than he had when he exited Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays with back stiffness. But Snitker said he'll likely take the cautious route by keeping Camargo out of games until March 21.
Camargo doesn't seem to be in danger of missing the start of the regular season, but his current absence highlights the lack of infield depth the Braves have. Charlie Culberson has the versatility to play every infield position, but as of now he is the only backup infielder projected to be on the Opening Day roster.
With Camargo sidelined, the Braves will get extra looks at Rio Ruiz, who can handle both corner-infield positions, and non-roster invitee Christian Colon, who can play each of the infield spots.
Ruiz's presence on the 40-man roster provides him an advantage, but he has gone 9-for-44 with one homer and 17 strikeouts. Colon has gone 9-for-25 with a homer and a double, but the Braves would need to create a roster spot if they chose to carry him at the start of the season.
Ezequiel Carrera introduced himself to his new Braves teammates on Wednesday morning and began preparing to compete for an Opening Day roster spot. The 30-year-old outfielder signed a Minor League contract on Tuesday, two days after being released by the Blue Jays.
"I just want to take full advantage of my opportunity here," Carrera said through an interpreter. "I figured there would be other teams that were interested, but once it happened to be the Braves, I was really excited."
With Acuna likely to remain at Triple-A Gwinnett until at least April 13, the Braves need to determine who will man left field during the early portion of the season. The candidates are Tucker, Carrera, Adams and Santana.
Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound when the Braves host the Tigers Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET, live on Gameday Audio. Foltynewicz has allowed three hits and totaled nine scoreless innings through his first three starts. Freddie Freeman, Acuna and Ender Inciarte are expected to be in Atlanta's lineup.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.