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Braves pitcher Santana nearly ready; Minor, Floyd not far behind

Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana

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Mike Minor

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Gavin Floyd

MILWAUKEE — The Braves’ high-level minor league affiliates will have a little extra star power in their season openers this week, with rehabbing major league pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd scheduled to start those games for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.

Minor, who missed time at the beginning of spring training with shoulder tendinitis, is set to pitch three innings in Mississippi’s opener at home today against Mobile. Floyd, who is in the final stages of rehab from Tommy John elbow surgery in May, is set to pitch three innings or 45 pitches for Gwinnett in its opener today at Durham.

Meanwhile, Braves pitcher Ervin Santana is scheduled to pitch five or six innings for Gwinnett on Friday in what might be his last build-up start before the former All-Star joins the rotation April 9. The Braves had said that April 12 was the targeted date, the first day they would need a fifth starter, but Santana is now tentatively set to start April 9 against the Mets in the Braves’ second home game. Manager Fredi Gonzalez stressed that that could change.

If Santana doesn’t start for the Braves on April 9, he would make one more start for Gwinnett that day at Norfolk, then join the Braves rotation April 14 or April 15 at Philadelphia. But for now, it looks as if the right-hander is more likely to debut for the Braves on April 9 at Turner Field.

Santana signed a one-year, $14.1 million free-agent contract with the Braves on March 12, when they scrambled to get the best pitcher available to plug the hole at the top of their rotation after Kris Medlen blew out his elbow on March 9. Medlen and another of the Braves’ top projected starters, Brandon Beachy, who was injured March 10, both had season-ending Tommy John surgery.

For Floyd, today will be his first professional game since he tore the ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon in his right elbow on April 27 while with the White Sox. He signed a one-year, $4 million free-agent contract with the Braves in December, which includes up to $4.5 million in additional incentives.

Initially the Braves and Floyd indicated he was aiming for a return to the major leagues in late May, but his rehab has been without setbacks and he pitched in a minor league spring training game last week. The Braves have Floyd and Minor tentatively scheduled to join the rotation soon after April 20.

Floyd, 30, has a 70-70 record and 4.48 ERA in parts of 10 seasons with the Phillies and White Sox, including a career-best 17-8 record and 3.84 ERA in 206-1/3 innings with the White Sox in 2008.

Minor’s shoulder tendinitis cropped up in the first week of camp when he ramped up his activities after missing all of January following Dec. 31 urinary-tract surgery. He couldn’t work out at all in January, when he normally would have been in his pre-camp throwing program.

The left-hander thought early in camp that he still might be ready to pitch by the time the Braves needed a fifth starter on April 12, but it took Minor longer than he expected to get to the point where the Braves were ready to have him pitch in games. He didn’t pitch in a game until Saturday’s exhibition against Braves prospects at Rome.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’ve felt good for a while now, but it’s a process. I didn’t think it was going to take this long.”

All it took was the day-after soreness he felt Sunday to remind him why the Braves have been careful with his build-up. It was typical soreness, he said, but came after throwing just 1-1/3 scoreless innings (his scheduled two-inning stint was shortened by a rain delay). Nothing else replicates game intensity, even if the game is just an exhibition against prospects.

After today, the next rehab game for Minor and Floyd will be the same game — they are scheduled to pitch four innings apiece for Gwinnett in an April 8 game at Norfolk. After that, they might get two more starts apiece before joining the major league rotation.

The Braves began the season with a patchwork four-man rotation of Julio Teheran and Alex Wood — the only two who’d been expected to be in the original rotation — plus well-traveled journeyman Aaron Harang, a late-spring addition, and rookie David Hale, who has pitched in two major league games.