The makeup of the Braves bullpen is starting to come into focus, with contenders Matt Marksberry and Chris Withrow being optioned to the minors in the latest round of spring training moves.
The left-handed Marksberry was sent to Double-A Mississippi, while Withrow joins Triple-A Gwinnett. Lefty Hunter Cervenka was also reassigned to minor league camp.
With Andrew McKirahan out for the season and needing Tommy John surgery, Marksberry was the most experienced lefty option returning from 2015. He began the season in Mississippi, but injuries and trades forced him to Atlanta where he had a 5.01 ERA in 23 1/3 innings.
He allowed just one earned run over his final 13 appearances, but was met with a number of lefty challengers in camp, including veterans Ian Krol and Alex Torres and Rule 5 pick Evan Rutckyj. The 25-year-old wasn’t helped by posting an 8.10 ERA this spring, topped by giving up three earned runs on two hits Sunday against the Astros.
Withrow — acquired from the Dodgers in the May 2015 trade that centered around Juan Uribe — was expected to fight for a relief role after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last season, making this move a mild surprise. He had a 3.86 ERA in 2 1/3 innings this spring, and over his last two outings, allowed four hits in 1 1/3 with two strikeouts and two walks.
Marksberry and Withrow are out of the equation — for now — but it doesn’t completely clear up what Atlanta will do beyond Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino.
Rutckyj (0.00 ERA in 2 2/3 innings this spring) and Torres (0.00 ERA in 3 2/3) have been strong, while the other left-handed option, Krol, has struggled with a 10.12 ERA in 2 2/3.
Carrying Rutckyj, especially if there’s intrigue with his strikeout potential — he fanned 365 in 377 frames in the minors — is a necessity as a Rule 5 pick. But how many lefties are the Braves willing to keep around, and has Atlanta seen enough to warrant retaining Rutckyj? The same goes with righty Daniel Winkler, another past Rule 5 selection that has a 4.50 ERA in four spring innings.
Then there’s righties Jose Ramirez, who has impressed with five strikeouts in five innings, Alexi Ogando (3.00 ERA in three innings), and Ryan Weber, a former starter who could fill the long-relief role are also in mix.