Gonzalez to mix and match relievers

Manager learned valuable lesson when he lost Kimbrel

Gonzalez to mix and match relievers

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez hopes to have Jason Grilli, who is coming back from an Achilles injury he suffered last July, available out of the bullpen when the regular season opens.

Grilli, who threw in a simulated game Monday, is confident he'll be ready.

Even if Grilli is, he might not automatically go to the same reliever in the ninth inning as he did when he had Craig Kimbrel, Gonzalez said before Tuesday's 10-6 loss to the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. It could be Grilli, as it was at the start of 2015. It could be Jim Johnson. It could be Arodys Vizcaino.

"Mix and match. Absolutely," Gonzalez said. "I learned last year. If the matchup comes up in the seventh inning and there are two or three guys who the scouting report says can't hit velocity? Maybe we'll use Vizcaino against those guys. It might be an important inning.

"It's a nice thing to be able to do when you have that necessity. We [traded] Kimbrel, so you have to figure out who's going to pitch what important inning. We didn't used to do that. But now that Kimbrel's gone, it's like, 'You know what? We've got to figure this out. That ninth inning isn't automatic anymore. It's, 'Let's figure out who's best in the seventh or eighth, because that might be the game.'"

It's a method Gonzalez was forced to use last year after Grilli went on the disabled list. Vizcaino had already been suspended 80 games for violating MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. And Johnson was traded to the Dodgers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Vizcaino had nine saves after being reinstated. Johnson became a free agent at the end of the season and re-signed with the Braves. And Grilli's rehab appears to be coming along nicely and he is expected to make his first Grapefruit League appearance Thursday.

Johnson has a 4.50 ERA this spring and opponents are hitting .375 against him, but Gonzalez isn't concerned.

"He's pitched himself into shape," said Gonzalez. "He knows what he's doing. I don't even worry about him. The only thing you worry about with him is, is the ball sinking or not? For me, the last couple outings he's had, you're starting to see that. And that takes a little bit of time going out there."

Vizcaino struck out six of the first 12 batters he faced this spring. In Tuesday's game against the Tigers, Vizcaino walked one and induced three groundouts in a scoreless fifth inning. So it's possible Gonzalez could have decisions to make in the late innings this season.

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