KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Manager Bobby Cox knows who will be in his starting rotation on opening day.
He also knows Billy Wagner will be his closer.
After that, he has more pieces of the puzzle to work out.
There are likely six spots available in the Braves’ bullpen to bridge the gap between Wagner and the starters.
Cox isn’t complaining, but when each audition turns out well, Cox has to start wondering who gets to stay in Atlanta in April and who goes back to the minors.
The Braves pitching paced the way to a 6-3 win over the Florida Marlins on Tuesday.
Florida starter Josh Johnson was given a 3-0 lead, but allowed four earned runs and five hits to go with three walks in three innings. Johnson’s spring ERA is 6.75, but he said he is working on some adjustments and trying to add some new pitches.
“I’m just trying to work on some things right now,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to see what works and what doesn’t. ... I feel fine and just need to find some consistency with what works and what doesn’t.”
Braves starter Jair Jurrjens went three innings in his longest stint of the spring. He allowed three runs and five hits. Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Brandon Hicks each had two hits for Atlanta.
Chris Coghlan had a triple and a single for the Marlins.
The Braves’ bullpen was stellar on Tuesday against Florida.
Wagner struck out two in an inning, but Takashi Saito, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel also pitched scoreless innings.
Combine them with veteran pitchers Jesse Chavez, Jo-Jo Reyes, Manny Acosta, and Scott Proctor, and Cox has some hard decisions to make as spring training goes past the halfway mark.
“Our guys can’t pitch any better than they have,” Cox said. “They all have things that stand out. There’s no doubt in my mind that they can all pitch up here.”
Venters might be left out, but he’s earned praise from Cox all spring.
“He has that super slider. He’ll be up here soon,” Cox said.
Most of the candidates for the set-up role have experience.
O’Flaherty pitched in 78 games for the Braves last season after spending most of his career in Seattle. Moylan pitched in 87 games for the Braves in 2009. Chavez pitched in 73 games for the Pirates and Proctor was a key to the Yankees bullpen throughout most of the past decade. Kimbrel and Venters are considered keys to the future of the Braves staff and Cox said he isn’t sure if they won’t be around on opening day.
“Whoever makes it is going to put up some good numbers,” Cox said.
Wagner said it doesn’t matter who gets him the ball in the ninth inning.
“Those guys who go six, seven, eight (inning) don’t get much respect, but that where games are won and lost,” Wagner said.
“With me being a closer, I am not the most important part of the team. I am only in for an inning. Somebody else has to get us through the first eight. If I get 40 saves, there’s a good chance the Braves are going to the playoffs. Somebody has to get the ball to me and we have a lot of guys who can do that.”