Minor's absence opens opportunities for Stults

Southpaw's shoulder to be evaluated next week

Minor's absence opens opportunities for Stults

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Though Braves officials are maintaining hope that Mike Minor needs just a few weeks of rest, they are well aware of the fact that the three months of rest he received this past offseason did not prevent his left shoulder from becoming an issue yet again this week.

Thus, instead of simply waiting a couple more weeks to see if the shoulder discomfort persists, the Braves are planning for Dr. James Andrews to evaluate Minor's shoulder early next week. The hope is that the evaluation will provide a clearer understanding about what has caused the 27-year-old southpaw's shoulder to prove so problematic over the past year.

The offseason concerns the Braves had about Minor's shoulder started to evaporate as he pitched effectively and in a pain-free manner during the early days of Spring Training. But their initial fears were realized on Tuesday, when Minor felt some tightness around his shoulder as he completed a bullpen session and threw live batting practice.

Although the Braves have not yet conceded that Minor will begin a second straight season on the disabled list, they are certainly prepared for this likelihood. Even if the pitcher receives an encouraging diagnosis from Dr. Andrews, he will likely not have enough time to be ready to pitch during the early part of April.

Minor missed nearly all of Spring Training last year because of shoulder discomfort that lingered after he made his season debut in May. After posting a 4.77 ERA over 25 starts, the veteran pitcher conceded that he had battled discomfort throughout the season.

Multiple MRI exams performed last year did not show any structural damage around the shoulder. Thus, the Braves are now wondering if the discomfort is being caused by an undetected back ailment.

With Minor likely sidelined at least through the first couple weeks of the regular season, Eric Stults now seemingly has a greater chance of being part of Atlanta's Opening Day roster. The veteran left-hander came to camp knowing that he would be battling Wandy Rodriguez and top pitching prospect Mike Foltynewicz for the fifth spot in the rotation.

But now it appears two members of this trio will be a part of Atlanta's rotation to start the upcoming season.

While Rodriguez proved unimpressive in his Grapefruit League season debut on Wednesday, Stults began his audition in much more encouraging fashion, tossing two scoreless innings in the Braves' 6-4 win over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

"I've got to think competition. I'm trying to earn a spot on this team," Stults said. "We've got a lot of good pitchers going for spots on this roster. It's just going out and competing, but also getting my work in. I need to work on the things I need to do, but also try to get the results to hopefully get me a job on this team."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.