KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Blaine Boyer is trying to avoid feeling the pressure as the competition for the final spots in Atlanta’s bullpen enters the final week.
Boyer, who is out of options, is competing for a spot behind closer Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan, Manny Acosta and Will Ohman. Among other bullpen candidates, Tyler Yates, Chris Resop and Royce Ring also are out of options.
Boyer has a 2.25 ERA with 11 strikeouts and only two walks in 12 innings. He said he’s trying not to put pressure on himself as the Braves are only one week from their March 30 season-opening game at Washington.
"Everybody has been talking about the bullpen situation and pressure because we have a pretty heated battle going, and sometimes you catch yourself thinking about it," said Boyer, 26. "Obviously, that’s your goal but when I’m on the mound I can’t feel that pressure."
Boyer was 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 43 games in 2005, but his 2006 season was cut short by shoulder surgery. He started the 2007 season on the disabled list after suffering an oblique injury in spring training.
Boyer spent most of last season at Triple-A Richmond, where he started 12 of 21 games.
"We wanted him to start so he could throw all his pitches," said manager Bobby Cox. "Now when he comes in for an inning, it’s not just a fastball. It’s a breaking ball and changeup. It’s helped. It was a smart decision."
John Smoltz, who missed his scheduled start Friday because of tightness in his right shoulder, plans to throw on the side as early as today. He has not been ruled out of making his scheduled start the second game of the season in the March 31 home opener.
Cox said Smoltz was smiling Sunday morning, an indication he was feeling good.
"That’s a good sign, I think," Cox said.
Cox said if Smoltz feels good, he may pitch in a "B" game this week, opening the way for Jeff Bennett to start in a major league game. Bennett filled in for Smoltz on Friday and could make the team as a starter or long reliever.
The team placed left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez (elbow) and infielder Omar Infante (left hand) on the 15-day disabled list and right-hander Anthony Lerew (elbow) on the 60-day disabled list on Saturday.
Gonzalez could return by June. Infante was hit on his hand while playing in the Venezuelan winter league and could miss the first month. Lerew had Tommy John surgery last July.
The roster is down to 34, and general manager Frank Wren said the Braves could make a trade before the season opens.
It’s possible the team could trade one of the relievers who are out of options.
"We’re starting to really zero in on the last few roster spots," Wren said Sunday. "It gives Bobby the ability to play some people a little more so we can zero in on our final cuts.
"We’re also talking with some people around baseball about possible trades that could help us set our final roster."
Save for Acosta
Acosta retired all five Houston batters he faced to earn the save in Sunday’s 4-2 win. He struck out Carlos Lee to end the eighth.
"Manny did a pretty good job," Cox said. "Lee, you don’t strike him out like that."
Acosta lowered his spring ERA to 2.00.