ATLANTA -- There would have likely been a lot of concern had the Braves entered last year knowing Jonny Venters would be sidelined for the season's first two months. But that was before they knew Luis Avilan was quite capable of being the versatile and dependable left-handed reliever much like Venters has been over the past few years.
With Venters sidelined until at least late May with a left elbow sprain, Avilan will take on a more enhanced role within the Braves' bullpen. The 23-year-old southpaw has earned the opportunity while compiling a 1.88 ERA and limiting opponents to a .206 batting average in his first 33 career appearances.
"It's not good news that Jonny is out for a little bit," Avilan said. "Hopefully when he comes back, he's going to be the same Jonny. But if I have to do that job, I'm going to do my best."
Avilan's Major League debut came when he entered a July 14 game against the Mets with two runners on and two outs in the sixth inning. He struck out left-handed slugger Ike Davis to kill that threat and help the Braves move closer to the comeback victory they claimed that evening.
While utilizing Avilan in a variety of situations, the Braves quickly realized he could be more than simply a left-handed specialist. He has been lethal on lefties, limiting them to a .167 (9-for-54) batting average and .250 on-base percentage. But he has also been effective against right-handers, allowing them a .232 (19-for-82) batting average and .284 on-base percentage.
"Last year, we got him in there and he got both righties and lefties out," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's a nice luxury to have, because you can run him back out there for multiple innings. It's a nice piece to have, especially a left-handed piece. Avilan primarily throws a hard 94-mph two-seam fastball that he developed after spending the first month of last year on Double-A Mississippi's disabled list with a sore left elbow. Veteran pitching coach Mike Alvarez suggested the development of the sinking fastball would help the left-hander prepare to serve as a reliever at the big league level.
Gonzalez will be lenient with third-base platoon
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has utilized a strict platoon at third base through the regular season's first four games. Juan Francisco has started the two games played against a right-handed starting pitcher and Chris Johnson has started the two games played against a left-handed starter.
But Gonzalez plans to be lenient with the platoon if faced with a stretch when his team opposes more than a few right-handed or left-handed starting pitchers in consecutive games.
"If all of the sudden we go through a stretch where we see five or six right-handers, or vice versa, we'll get somebody some at-bats," Gonzalez said. "You don't want a guy sitting there for seven or eight days and not playing."
Beginning with Friday's series opener against the Cubs, the Braves were scheduled to oppose right-handed starting pitchers in four consecutive games. There is a good chance the right-handed Johnson will get a chance to stay fresh by starting at least one of those games.
Johnson has compiled unorthodox splits during his career. He has batted .284 with a .778 OPS in 897 at-bats against right-handed pitchers and .254 with a .663 OPS in 338 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
• Evan Gattis was back in the Braves' lineup as the starting catcher for Friday's series opener against the Cubs. Gonzalez has alternated his catchers every other game through the early portion of the season. He will continue to do so on Saturday when veteran Gerald Laird will be behind the plate to catch rookie Julio Teheran.
• J.R. Graham and Alex Wood are going to garner a lot of attention while serving in Double-A Mississippi's starting rotation at the start of the season. But the Braves are also intrigued by Aaron Northcraft, who struck out eight and allowed two hits in six scoreless innings during Mississippi's Opening Day win over Mobile on Thursday night.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.