LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Matt Wisler understands why he has gone from being a promising prospect to a forgotten asset over the past couple of seasons. But during his first two Grapefruit League starts, the right-hander has put himself back in the mix for a spot on Atlanta's Opening
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Matt Wisler understands why he has gone from being a promising prospect to a forgotten asset over the past couple of seasons. But during his first two Grapefruit League starts, the right-hander has put himself back in the mix for a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.
"I'm just trying to prove to myself I can be a good quality pitcher no matter what I'm doing," Wisler said. "Obviously, I need to trust myself and have the team trust me again that I can get outs in the big leagues."
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Wisler surrendered one hit and faced the minimum in three scoreless innings during Thursday's 6-2 split-squad loss to the Nationals at Champion Stadium. The right-hander has regained a feel for his slider, which has once again proved to be an asset as he has held opponents scoreless through his first five spring innings.
"Obviously, the slider is a big pitch for me," Wisler said. "Coming up through the Minors, that was my go-to pitch. When I'm dominant is when my slider is dominant. It just gives me confidence that I have that in my back pocket whenever I need it."
Wisler became one of the Braves' top pitching prospects when he was acquired in the trade the sent Craig Kimbrel to the Padres before the 2015 season. He joined Atlanta's rotation midway through that season and was a mainstay until things started to crumble two months into the '16 season.
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After spending most of last year serving as a starter for Triple-A Gwinnett or Atlanta's long reliever, he spent this offseason trying to regain his confidence and a feel for the slider.
"Last year, I really drifted or got underneath it and it would spin a lot," Wisler said. "This year, I'm allowing myself to stay back and allow myself to get on top and out in front of it again."
Having fallen behind many of the Braves' pitching prospects on the depth chart, Wisler knows he is fighting an uphill battle in his bid to make the Opening Day roster. There's a chance he could briefly fill a rotation spot. But it appears his best chance to once again be part of Atlanta's pitching staff could come via a bullpen role.
"The only thing I can do is take care of myself," Wisler said. "We've got a lot of talented arms here and a lot of good guys. So, it's obviously tough competition. There are some guys in front of me and there should be. So I'm just trying to battle back and see what I can produce and show I can still be a quality big league pitcher."
While Wisler started the home game, Sean Newcomb started the 5-2 win the other Braves' split-squad team claimed over the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. Back-to-back homers from Nicholas Castellanos and Victor Martinez accounted for the only hits and runs surrendered by Newcomb over two innings.
High praise from Andruw
Count Andruw Jones among those who believe Cristian Pache might be the best defensive outfielder in the Braves' organization. This might be hard to believe, considering Ender Inciarte has won two consecutive Gold Glove Awards.
But the 19-year-old Pache has certainly made a strong impression during his first big league camp. He has never played above the Class A level, but he seems to have the potential to make a quick rise that could resemble the one Ronald Acuna Jr. made last year.
"He's very, very comfortable out there [in the outfield]," Jones said. "It's ridiculous. It's kind of scary."
Pache ranks as the Braves' 10th-best prospect and narrowly missed gaining a spot on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects List. The young outfielder has produced a weak .358 slugging percentage and gone homerless through the first 750 plate appearances of his professional career. But having added about 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason, he has shown some recent signs of power potential.
Rule 5 Draft pick Anyelo Gomez solidified his bid for a roster spot as he notched a pair of strikeouts while completing a perfect seventh during the win over the Tigers. Gomez has allowed one hit and recorded four strikeouts over three scoreless innings.
Luiz Gohara recovered well from his 40-pitch bullpen session Wednesday afternoon. If Gohara gets through his next scheduled bullpen Saturday, he'll likely be cleared to throw live batting practice and move toward his first Grapefruit League start.
Gohara came to camp as a favorite to win one of the available rotation spots, but he is about two weeks behind schedule because of a left groin strain suffered while running. The Braves will not need to have five starters until April 11, so there's a chance the rookie southpaw could end up missing just one turn during the regular season.
Freddie Freeman will be in the lineup when the Braves play the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., on Friday (1:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio). Scheduled to make his second spring start, veteran lefty Scott Kazmir is a dark-horse candidate for one of the final rotation spots.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.