SARASOTA, Fla. -- As the Braves have spent many hours discussing John Gant's bid for an Opening Day roster spot, they have questioned whether to leap him from Double-A to the Majors. And if they do, would he be better served prepping for a rotation spot while getting his feet wet as a versatile reliever?
"You wouldn't believe the number of conversations we've had about young John Gant, and all of those questions have been brought up," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There's been a lot of conversation about him. We keep running him out there, and he keeps making the conversations more and more interesting."
Gant's roster candidacy became even more intriguing as he allowed three earned runs over the final three innings of Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. The young right-hander with the funky delivery recorded four strikeouts through his first two innings and then encountered immediate trouble when he surrendered four consecutive hits, including a home run and two doubles, with one out in the eighth.
Before surrendering the three eighth-inning runs, Gant, the Braves' No. 22 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, had surrendered just one run over his previous 12 1/3 innings (including the four scoreless innings he tossed before rain halted a March 25 game against the Tigers). Four of his strikeout victims Thursday were established Major Leaguers -- Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez and J.J. Hardy.
"I like what I saw earlier in the game against those tough lefties," Gonzalez said. "It makes you want to think if we've got one left-hander in the bullpen and he could do that maybe one time through the lineup against some left-handers, maybe you could feel comfortable. That will be part of the equation when we sit down and discuss his future."
Gant has been utilized almost exclusively as a starter throughout his pro career, which has become more promising since he was acquired by the Braves via the July trade that sent Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to the Mets. The 23-year-old right-hander posted a 1.99 ERA over the seven starts he made for Double-A Mississippi following the trade.
The Braves certainly value Gant's potential as a future starter, but they have some prospect depth in that department, and more importantly, they have some current needs to fill in their big league pitching staff.
It appears the Braves are leaning toward filling their final two rotation spots with Jhoulys Chacin and Williams Perez. This could set up the opportunity to Gant to spend a short time in the bullpen, at least until Mike Foltynewicz is ready to join Atlanta's starting rotation. Foltynewicz's return could then create the option to move Perez to the long-relief role and allow Gant to foster his development while working as a starter with Triple-A Gwinnett.
"We always try to protect and err on the side of caution," Gonzalez said. "But I think where we're at now, I would throw all of that out the window and say, 'Go get him.' We've got some depth within the organization. We can take a risk, but nothing has been decided."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.