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Braves open spring training as confident NL East champions

By DICK SCANLON

Associated Press

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Atlanta Braves pitchers and catchers had their first organized workout Saturday, officially ending a relatively quiet winter for the team that won the NL East.

It may have been a little too quiet for some critics, considering the aggressive roster moves made by their division rivals. But All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman begs to differ.

"Pretty much everyone came back, and we added Josh Donaldson and B-Mac (Brian McCann)," Freeman said. "I feel we have a 90-win team that got better, so I think we're going to be very good this year."

Darren O'Day was the other major winter acquisition, adding veteran depth to a bullpen that was tested last season as the Braves won the division by eight games and qualified for the postseason for the first time in five years.

"We've kind of gotten to the point where there's not a lot of holes, maybe one starter, and we'll take the best eight (relievers) with us north," said Brian Snitker, who won the NL Manager of the Year award. "We used 33 pitchers last year. Ten guys made their debuts. We've got a long time to be down here and to sort things out. But you've got to like the depth and what we have."

The first priority will be finding a fifth starter behind Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman.

Mike Soroka, a 21-year-old right-hander who went 2-1 in five starts before shoulder pain ended his rookie season in June, is one of the leading candidates to fill the No. 5 spot.

"It's the moment I've been thinking about for months now, I guess since we made the decision to shut it down last year," said Soroka, who will not be limited this spring. "I'm coming in ready to compete for a spot and make the team better. I know it's kind of a marathon, not a 100-meter race."

All of the starters are 28 or younger.

"Whoever has the ball that day is the ace. I truly believe everybody on this team feels that way," said Gausman, who went 5-3 in 10 starts after being traded from Baltimore. "It's good, healthy competition between all of us, and seeing these young guys motivates us, too."

O'Day joins a bullpen that includes seven pitchers who appeared in at least 35 games for the Braves last year, plus veteran left-hander Jonny Venters, who pitched in 28 games after being acquired in late July.

"We don't need to look anywhere else to fill the eight bullpen spots," Snitker said. "You start with eight healthy guys to take north and try to put your best foot forward, but things happen and you're going to need a bunch of `em."

In spite of all the noise made by their division foes, Freeman defends the Braves' decision not to add a starter.

"We're good," he said. "You've already got four starters and then you've got dynamic young guys for the fifth spot. I'm sure some of those will go into the bullpen because that's a big part of the game now."

NOTES: SS Dansby Swanson, who had surgery on his left wrist in November, is in camp. "He's obviously going to be behind a little bit," Snitker said, "but I think he's going to have plenty of time." . . . The first full-squad workout it scheduled for Thursday . . . The Braves will play their first exhibition game Feb. 23 at Port St. Lucie against the New York Mets.

Updated February 16, 2019

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