Banuelos could continue to start down the stretch

Banuelos could continue to start down the stretch

WASHINGTON -- Manny Banuelos had legitimate reason to be concerned when he experienced some left elbow discomfort near the end of July. But a little more than a month later, the rookie southpaw finds himself with a chance to collect valuable innings that could benefit him as he bids to become a mainstay in Atlanta's rotation.

"I'm really happy to be here and I'm very excited to get experience," Banuelos said. "That's what everybody wants to get here. I just want to compete and help my team win."

Banuelos made a strong first impression as he displayed an effective changeup and impressive composure while posting a 2.61 ERA through the first four starts he made after making his Major League debut on July 2. But the 24-year-old left-hander was shut down when an MRI exam performed on July 29 showed a bone chip in his troublesome left elbow.

Given that his elbow had either sidelined or limited him in each of the past three seasons, Banuelos initially feared for the worst. But after a couple weeks' rest, he began a rehab process that proved successful enough for him to rejoin Atlanta's rotation earlier this week.

"It kind of scared me the last time I got some tightness," Banuelos said. "But they told me, 'We just want to rest you and give you some time.' ... It's gotten better."

Because he had made just a pair of two-inning rehab stints, Banuelos was limited to 52 pitches as he allowed three earned runs during Tuesday's rusty 2 2/3-inning stint against the Marlins. When he starts Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Nationals, he will be permitted to throw approximately 70-75 pitches.

"I'm OK with that, my arm feels pretty good," Banuelos said.

Banuelos missed all of the 2013 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he totaled just 76 innings while pitching in the Yankees' Minor League system last year. The Braves had planned to limit him to somewhere between 120-130 innings this year.

Having already compiled 109 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett and Atlanta, Banuelos could make at least three more starts this season and still be within that target total. But instead of making a definite plan, the Braves will simply allow him to steadily regain his arm strength and then evaluate him after each of his next few outings.

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