Spring training | Lakewood Ranch's Gus Schlosser eyes rotation slot for Atlanta Braves

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 27, 2014 

Braves Spring Baseball

This is a 2014 photo of pitcher Gus Schlosser of the Atlanta Braves baseball team. This image reflects the Braves active roster as of, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, when this image was taken. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


LAKE BUENA VISTA -- It was early Wednesday morning, and the Atlanta Braves' home clubhouse at Champions Stadium was nearly empty.

Except for Gus Schlosser.

He sat in his locker checking his cellphone, his No. 73 jersey hung up and waiting to be worn.

It has been quite a spring for the Lakewood Ranch High alum, and it could be quite a year. Despite not throwing a pitch in a regular-season game above Double-A, Schlosser, 25, is in the mix not only to make the Braves' 25-man roster, but the starting rotation.

But if Schlosser is nervous or tense, or feeling as if every pitch he makes during the final days of spring training can either make or break his future, he certainly isn't showing it.

"It's been a good spring, and it's been better to stick around longer than I did last year," said Schlosser, a non-roster invitee to big-league camp for the second time. "I've been pitching pretty well, so it's been pretty good."

It's not common for a guy who spent all of last year in Double-A (Schlosser posted a 2.39 ERA in 25 games in Mississippi and was named the team's pitcher of the year) to come in and start for a team fresh off 96 wins and a division title.

But it has been a spring of bad breaks for Atlanta, which rode a stellar rotation to 11 division titles, 14 playoff appearances, five pennants and a world championship from 1991-2005.

Kris Medlen (a team-best 15 wins last year) and Brandon Beachy, two intended members of the rotation, are done for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Mike Minor, whose 32 starts matched Medlen for the team lead, hasn't pitched all spring because of shoulder soreness.

And Paul Maholm (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Tim Hudson (San Francisco Giants), who teamed for 47 starts last year, signed elsewhere.

The Braves signed veterans Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to fill the holes, Julio Teheran will start Opening Day, and Minor and Gavin Floyd, recovering from Tommy John surgery himself, are expected to return later in the season.

But the door is open for Schlosser, competing with another rookie, David Hale, for the fourth spot in the rotation.

"You never want to see guys hurt. Personally, you hang around with them enough to get close to them," Schlosser said. "You never want to see that happen. But if the opportunity comes, you have to take it any way you can. If it happens, it happens. If not, you just deal with whatever happens."

Asked what the Braves have told him about his shot to make the rotation or land a bullpen role: "I'm still here. They haven't sent me down yet. That's all I know."

The side-arming Schlosser has given the Braves good reason to keep him, appearing in five games, including two starts, with a 2.03 earned-run average and 13 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.

"He's been the talk of the coaching staff," manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters earlier in the spring.

Schlosser, who played for State College of Florida, has had little trouble climbing the Braves' organizational chain since he was taken in the 17th round in 2011 out of Florida Southern. He has begun each season a level higher than the one before and has a 2.79 ERA and 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 335 1/3 professional innings.

"They always gives us stuff to work on, things we could do to get better, understanding it's a long process, it's a long season," he said. "We go from February to September; the big leagues go to October. If you just focus every day on trying to get better at one thing and understand that over the course of your career, you're going to be a lot better for it. That's all I try and do, and it's worked for the past two years."

Now he has a chance to head north with the Braves, who open the season March 31 in Milwaukee against the Brewers.

Schlosser, however, refuses to look too far into the future, whatever it may be.

"I just to try and focus on every day. Every day, I have something to do," he said. "(Tuesday) was a bullpen. (Wednesday) it's just get ready to throw. I just focus on my day-to-day tasks, and you don't really think about that other stuff."

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