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Beachy hopes frustration firmly in the past

ATLANTA -- Right-hander Brandon Beachy has the utmost respect for Dr. James Andrews and all that the noted surgeon has done for him over the past 20 months. But after undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2012 season and another cleanup procedure after making a frustrating, pain-filled comeback attempt last year, it's safe to say he has seen enough of Andrews' clinic in Pensacola, Fla.

"I met somebody from the Pensacola area, and it's sad that I immediately had such a negative point of view toward that place," Beachy, 27, said with a smirk.

Beachy's attempt to return from Tommy John surgery at the standard 12-month mark was cut short in June because of inflammation in the elbow. He made his much-anticipated return to the rotation one month later but was limited to just five starts before the inflammation proved debilitating enough to sideline him and ultimately necessitate a less-intrusive procedure in September, during which Andrews removed a bone spur and some other loose fragments from around the elbow.

Following the surgery, Beachy was encouraged by the fact that Andrews felt he'd be at full strength by the start of Spring Training. A little less than three weeks from the day Braves pitchers and catchers report, it appears this was a sound projection.

"This is exactly as I would have hoped to feel at this point," Beachy said.

Beachy, Craig Kimbrel and top pitching prospect Lucas Sims were among the small group of pitchers who were at Turner Field on Monday to participate in the first day of the club's voluntary early throwing program.

As Beachy throws off a mound during this early camp and during the early portion of Spring Training, he will not be under any limitations prescribed by Andrews or members of the Braves' medical staff, but he understands the importance of avoiding the urge to try to impress or do too much too soon.

"I'm going to be a little smarter than I have been in the past, with not worrying about velocity the first couple of outings and things like that," Beachy said. "But I'm going to be on the same schedule as everybody else."

As they attempt to win a second straight National League East title, the Braves are planning to enter the 2014 season with a rotation that consists of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Beachy. The most obvious questions surrounding this quintet center on Wood's inexperience and Beachy's health.

Attempting to add depth and gain insurance, the Braves signed veteran starter Gavin Floyd to a one-year, incentive-laden contract and brought back Freddy Garcia with a Minor League deal.

When the Braves acquired Floyd in December, they said the progress he had made with his rehab gave them confidence that he will be ready to return in May, 12 months after he underwent an elbow-reconstruction procedure that addressed tears to his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon.

Beachy's rehab created a similar sense of confidence until inflammation began developing around the elbow approximately two weeks before he attempted to rejoin the rotation.

It is often said that every pitcher reacts differently when coming back from Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately for Beachy, he endured some of the same frustration encountered by John Smoltz, who in 2001 also made just five starts in his return from the procedure.

Smoltz's setback led him to a 3 1/2-year stint as a reliever. Less weathered -- and younger -- than Smoltz was at that point of his career, Beachy hopes the cleanup procedure was all he needed to give him a chance to quickly regain the successful form he displayed while producing a Major League-leading 2.00 ERA through the final start he made in 2012.

"I feel normal, and I want to contribute," Beachy said. "That's what I told you guys most of last season. It just didn't work out that way. But that's what I want to do. I want to contribute to a staff that is already positioned to be one of the best in the National League. I just want to help."

As he paces himself over the next few weeks and during the early portion of the Grapefruit League schedule, Beachy will have a chance to gain more confidence. But he realizes that he will need to make a few regular-season starts before he can truly distance himself from the unavoidable doubts created as he routinely encountered frustration last year.

"There's always going to be something there in the way back part of the mind until I go out there in April and get a few starts under my belt," Beachy said. "But every day that I come out here to throw and don't feel anything, it just eases that a little bit. Right now, it is progressing exactly how I hoped."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for

Atlanta Braves, Brandon Beachy