Braves not ready to include Chacin in opening plans

Braves not ready to include Chacin in opening plans

VIERA, Fla. -- There has been reason to assume Jhoulys Chacin will fill one of the two vacancies in Atlanta's starting rotation. But as Chacin struggled through the early portion of Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Nationals, he showed why the Braves are not ready to commit to placing him on their Opening Day roster.

Chacin certainly didn't strengthen his bid, as he allowed 10 hits while completing five innings. Just two of the five runs surrendered were deemed earned, and the veteran pitcher allowed just two hits after the third inning. But the damage incurred during the first three innings provided the Braves further reason not to make any definitive decisions regarding their rotation.

"You've got to go about it day by day," Chacin said. "You can't think about that, because when you go out and pitch, you have to focus on your game. You can't worry about whatever else happens."

As things currently stand, Chacin, Mike Foltynewicz and Williams Perez appear to be the top options to fill the final two spots in Atlanta's rotation. Manny Banuelos fell out of this mix last week, and John Gant's recent emergence has simply set him up to serve as insurance in the event that Foltynewicz is not ready by April 12, when the Braves will first need to use a fifth starter.

Though Perez appears to currently be the odd man out in this three-man battle, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said again on Sunday that he would be comfortable putting Perez in the rotation if necessary.

So as the Braves move forward, they may need to assess whether it makes sense to begin the season with Chacin or Perez as their fourth starter. At the same time, they will continue to assess the progress made by Foltynewicz, who has progressed much faster than expected after spending most of this offseason attempting to regain the strength he lost after being sidelined by a blood clot in September.

The Minor League deal Chacin signed this winter provides him a $950,000 guarantee if he is ever placed on Atlanta's active roster. It should also be noted that the Braves do not need to necessarily make an immediate decision, because Chacin does not have an opt-out date until June. Thus there is a chance he could begin this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

"There's a lot of stuff we've got to talk about, but performance weighs heavy," Gonzalez said.

Chacin has made the decision more intriguing as he has allowed 22 hits in 11 1/3 innings over his past three starts. But the former Rockies hurler has at least provided some signs that he's distanced himself from the right shoulder issues that affected him the past two seasons.

During Sunday's outing, Chacin surrendered three consecutive one-out hits to Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Chacin allowed three more straight hits to open Washington's three-run fourth inning, and he was fortunate in more ways than one when he halted this streak by catching Wilson Ramos' liner in front of his face.

Had first baseman Nick Swisher held on to the throw Chacin made to first base, the Braves would have recorded a double play that might have kept the Nationals scoreless in the third. But when accounting for this misfortune, it must be remembered that the veteran pitcher did not fool too many of the hitters he faced in any of the first three frames.

"The way I asses it is he threw the ball over the plate and he threw strikes," Gonzalez said. "He's a contact-type pitcher. Some of the hits and runs he gave up were a product of tough plays."

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