Banuelos begins quest for rotation job

Coming off elbow surgery, lefty says arm is ready for action

Banuelos begins quest for rotation job

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Manny Banuelos has dealt with enough frustration over the past four seasons to be guarded when a reporter asks him, "When was the last time you felt this good during Spring Training?"

"I've got to wait to tell you after I pitch in a game," Banuelos said.

Banuelos will have an opportunity to feel a little extra adrenaline and improve his bid for a rotation spot when he makes his Grapefruit League debut during Saturday night's 6:05 ET game against the Nationals. The 24-year-old southpaw will be making his first appearance since four bone chips were removed from his elbow in September.

"My arm is ready," said Banuelos, who is the club's No. 9 prospect. "We'll see what happens tomorrow."

As long as Banuelos remains healthy, there is seemingly a good chance that he will win one of the two open spots in Atlanta's starting rotation. He will have plenty of time to make all of his necessary preparations, because the Braves will not need to use a fifth starter until April 12.

Once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees' system, Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and remained sidelined through '13. The young lefty was limited to just 74 1/3 innings in '14 and then pitched well enough last year to get his first promotion to the Majors in early July. Banuelos surrendered one earned run or less in three of the four starts he made for Atlanta before he began experiencing the discomfort that eventually led to the surgical procedure performed in September.

"Since the first week of Spring Training, the ball has been coming out of my hand well and I haven't felt anything with my arm," Banuelos said.

With the possibility that the Braves could add Aaron Blair, Tyrell Jenkins or Mike Foltynewicz at some point within the first half of this season, there is seemingly reason for the Braves to at least think about filling their final two rotation spots with Banuelos and Williams Perez, who are already on the 40-man roster.

But the Braves could also opt to fill at least one of those two spots with Kyle Kendrick or Jhoulys Chacin, a pair of veterans who are in camp as non-roster invitees. Chacin improved his bid as he tossed three scoreless innings during a 4-3 split-squad loss to the Cardinals on Friday. Kendrick's candidacy took a beating as he surrendered nine hits (four doubles) and retired just five of the 16 batters he faced in a 9-2 defeat to the Phillies.

Kendrick has allowed 14 hits and nine earned runs over the 3 2/3 innings in his first two starts. After he exited Friday's game, Perez notched three strikeouts over two scoreless innings.

Odds and ends

Though Dian Toscano has never been considered anything more than a potential backup outfielder, he gained plenty of attention last year because of the fact that he missed an entire season due to the struggles he had to gain clearance to enter the United States. The Cuban outfielder is in Minor League camp, but his existence was verified when he went 1-for-4 with a single and two strikeouts after being called over to play in Friday's split-squad game against the Phillies.

Catcher Tyler Flowers and third baseman Rio Ruiz were both late scratches from Friday's lineup against the Phillies. Flowers, who has been battling a sore hamstring, homered off Jason Grilli as he took some at-bats in a simulated game on Friday morning. Flowers was scratched about 15 minutes before Ruiz, who had been planning to play for the first time since turning his left ankle during Wednesday's game against the Astros.

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