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Braves tab Perez to start Grapefruit opener

Righty -- followed by Blair, Newcomb, Sims -- first to audition for rotation spot
MLB.com @mlbbowman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Grapefruit League season will give the Braves a chance to determine how close some of their top starting-pitching prospects are to being ready to rise to the Major League level. But it will also determine who will fill the two opening spots in Atlanta's rotation.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell will keep an open mind as they spend the next month watching games and determining whether it would be better to fill those spots with youth or experienced veterans who are attempting to rebound.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Grapefruit League season will give the Braves a chance to determine how close some of their top starting-pitching prospects are to being ready to rise to the Major League level. But it will also determine who will fill the two opening spots in Atlanta's rotation.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell will keep an open mind as they spend the next month watching games and determining whether it would be better to fill those spots with youth or experienced veterans who are attempting to rebound.

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"There's a lot of good competition," said Gonzalez, who will send Williams Perez to the mound to start Tuesday afternoon's Grapefruit League season opener against the Orioles at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex.

The Braves know that Julio Teheran will likely make his third consecutive Opening Day start and that he will likely be followed by Bud Norris and Matt Wisler. But they could go a few different routes while filling the final two spots.

Perez and Manny Banuelos are candidates for those vacancies who tasted some success pitching for Atlanta last year. The Braves will also keep an open mind as they watch Aaron Blair, who appears to be the one prospect who has at least an outside chance of making the leap to the Majors to begin the season.

As the Braves attempt to enrich their future and gain a better feel for what they'll have in the future, they may give starts to Blair, Sean Newcomb, Tyrell Jenkins and Lucas Sims at some point during the regular season. They also want to maintain some flexibility for Mike Foltynewicz, who is a couple of weeks behind with his preseason preparations because of the blood clot that sidelined him in September.

But as the Braves come off a 67-win season that was significantly influenced by the growing pains of their young pitchers, they might be tempted to go with the experience offered by Kyle Kendrick or Jhoulys Chacin, veterans who signed Minor League contracts this offseason.

"There's still a lot of Spring Training to go and a lot of innings these guys need to complete to be ready," Gonzalez said.

After Perez starts Tuesday's opener, the Braves will get a look at some of their top prospects. Blair will start Wednesday's game against the Orioles in Sarasota. Newcomb is slated to throw the first two innings of Thursday's home game against the Tigers. Sims will get the start during Friday's game against the Phillies in Clearwater.

While Blair will get another start when the Braves travel to Dunedin, Fla., on Monday to face the Blue Jays, Sims and Newcomb might be used as relievers during the second turn through the rotation.

Teheran will face a group of Braves Minor Leaguers on Friday and then make his first Grapefruit League start on March 9 against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla. Norris will make his first start on Saturday, and Wisler's first start against big leaguers will come on March 8 against the Mets.

Banuelos, who had a bone chip removed from his left elbow in September, will not make a start until the latter part of the Grapefruit season's second week. But because the Braves will not need a fifth starter until April 12, the young southpaw still could begin the season as one of Atlanta's five starting pitchers.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves