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For Garcia, it's make the Braves or go home

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Freddy Garcia spent most of this winter hoping for the chance to return to a Braves organization that brought him out of the Minor Leagues late last season and gave him a chance to make an unexpected postseason start.

But Garcia did not agree to return until late January, when the Braves gave him an opt-out clause in a Minor League deal. This clause will allow the 37-year-old pitcher the ability to terminate this contract if he is not guaranteed a Major League roster spot by March 25.

"I told my agent, 'If I don't make the team, I'm going home,'" Garcia said. "I'm not going back to the Minor Leagues, like last year. I did it last year. But if I don't make the team, I'll go home and spend time with the family."

With this clause in place, Garcia seems destined to gain a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster, unless he struggles throughout Spring Training and the Grapefruit League season.

If the Braves decide to put Garcia in their starting rotation to begin the year, Alex Wood could be utilized as a left-handed reliever during the season's early months. This would give the club a chance to moderate the workload of Wood, who will be on an innings limit as he progresses through his first full Major League season.

While Garcia's preference would be to serve as a starter, he said he would not object to beginning the year in the bullpen.

"I don't mind," Garcia said. "If I make the team, it's good. If I can help the team out of the bullpen, I'll be in the bullpen. I just want to pitch. I just feel like I'm not ready to go home yet."

After beginning last season in Baltimore's rotation, Garcia was sent to Triple-A Norfolk near the end of June. Two months later, the Braves acquired him in a trade and sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett for the final week of the International League season.

When Major League rosters expanded in September, Garcia joined Atlanta's pitching staff and quickly gained a spot in the rotation. His late-season success earned him a chance to square off against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

After allowing two runs in six innings, Garcia was in line for the win until David Carpenter allowed Juan Uribe to hit a decisive go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.

"I really wanted to come back," Garcia said. "I've got an opportunity here."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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