Bradenton native Tyler Pastornicky works on defense in bid to earn Braves' bench spot

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMarch 3, 2013 

KISSIMMEE -- To get a chance to show he can be a good bat on the Braves' bench, Tyler Pastornicky is going to have to show he can be solid defensively somewhere on the field.

His ability to play second base and in the outfield figures to go a long way in determining whether Pastornicky, 23, starts the season in Atlanta.

"I think that's something that everyone knows (is) I can hit, I've just got to go out there and be consistent with it," said Pastornicky, a Bradenton native and alum of IMG Academy. "A big part (of spring) is becoming more consistent defensively and play every position they need and play them at a high level. Make the routine plays at a whole bunch of different positions and try to make myself valuable that way."

That's Pastornicky's best way to make the big-league club to start this season. He won the shortstop job last spring but was sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett after struggling through May. He was behind Andrelton Simmons by the time he made it back to Atlanta.

Pastornicky's bat came to life against the Phillies on Thursday with two hits and four RBI, including a three-run home run. That gave him five RBI in 12 at-bats, tied for seventh in the Grapefruit League before Friday's games.

But Pastornicky has been shaky in the field at times.

"I am still working on defense and still trying to get better there as I move around position-wise," he said. "But I am feeling good at the plate swinging the bat."

The Braves can't expect much power from Pastornicky but he could be an asset on the bench if he can hit consistently. He showed some promise at the plate early last season for the Braves before his production nosedived.

Pastornicky attributed his struggled in part to pressing after making the big leagues at 22 years old.

"It's something you've got to get used to it and go out there and play your game," he said. "I think I did an all right job. I think I could have done a little bit better in certain aspects, but it's a learning process. You grow from it, you learn from it, and next time you get a shot you have got to go out there and perform."

Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said Pastornicky's defense has been "fine" at second base. He said his potential as a hitter is why the team is giving Pastornicky a chance to show he can play somewhere other than shortstop.

"He is an offensive guy," Gonzalez said. "We would be remiss not to try him at different positions. He's athletic enough to do it. He's a guy that can swing a bat and steal a base and the more positions he can play the more it benefits us and benefits him."

Pastornicky's chances of making Atlanta's regular-season roster took a hit when the team signed free agent Ramiro Pena to serve as a utility infielder at least until Paul Janish recovers from shoulder surgery. The expected Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco at third base also would mean one less bench spot.

Pastornicky said he feels more comfortable this spring compared to 2012 because "you don't question yourself" after he showed he can play in the majors. But he acknowledged feeling a bit anxious about his chances of making the roster.

"It's tough," he said. "Of course you wonder. You try not to. You try to just have fun and go out and play the game. Everything will play itself out whether it's here or somewhere else."

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