Braves cautiously optimistic about Vizcaino

Reliever looks to remain healthy, secure bullpen role

Braves cautiously optimistic about Vizcaino

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Arodys Vizcaino has totaled 101 big league appearances since he debuted in 2011 as a hotshot 20-year-old Braves reliever who seemingly had a very bright future. This six-year span has been tarnished by a long recovery from Tommy John surgery and the shoulder discomfort that plagued him last year, after he had established himself as Atlanta's closer.

While the Braves are hopeful Vizcaino will remain healthy enough to serve as an asset at the back end of the bullpen this year, they are obviously cognizant of his health history. But the 26-year-old right-hander did at least provide some early encouragement as he popped his fastball and slider with ease during a bullpen session completed Saturday afternoon.

"I liked what I saw today," manager Brian Snitker said. "He was turning it loose pretty good. He stayed behind the ball good. It's just about getting him back in a routine and a groove. If we get him back to where it was the day I got here, that would be really good for our bullpen."

When Snitker was named Atlanta's interim manager in May last year, Vizcaino was in the midst of possibly warranting some consideration for an All-Star selection. He effectively served as Atlanta's closer during the final two months of the 2015 season and then posted a 1.52 ERA while recording 34 strikeouts and seven walks through last year's first 23 2/3 innings.

But everything began to unravel for Vizcaino in early June. He wasn't necessarily feeling shoulder discomfort, but fatigue showed as his velocity dipped and he suddenly became a late-inning liability. Over the 12 1/3 innings completed from June 7-July 6, he surrendered 13 hits, issued 14 walks and recorded 13 strikeouts.

Vizcaino was placed on the disabled list after the All-Star break with an oblique strain and returned to the disabled list with shoulder discomfort in August, after he allowed seven earned runs within a span of three appearances.

After missing most of August and all of the season's final month, Vizcaino gained encouragement when he began throwing again on Dec. 14. He hasn't had any setbacks, but his history creates reason for the Braves to be nothing more than cautiously optimistic about his ability to remain healthy throughout the upcoming season.

"This year, I feel a lot better than I did last year," Vizcaino said. "I'm more comfortable and all of my pitches are working better. My body feels good. So, hopefully, I'll be healthy this year."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.