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Gustafson could fill G-Braves opening
Parkview grad pitching strong with Mississippi

Tim Gustafson's season couldn't have started much worse. The ending, though, could be nearly perfect.

The Gwinnett Braves will have an opening in their starting pitching rotation soon. The Parkview graduate may be the one to fill it.

Gustafson, who has made just five starts for Class AA Mississippi, won't let himself look past his next Southern League outing tonight at home against West Tenn. Not with all the ups and mostly downs he's had in his minor league career.

But things may finally have started to break right for the injury-plagued right-hander.

"It would be the next level and it is home," Gustafson said when asked about the possibility of finishing the season with the Class AAA G-Braves. "It would be great if it happened."

Finishing the season as an International League starter would have seemed completely impossible just a few weeks ago. But Gustafson pitched 72/3 innings and allowed only one run on five hits in his last start against Chattanooga, throwing 106 pitches.

The former Georgia Tech pitcher has a 3.00 ERA as a starter with Mississippi and is striking out nearly a batter per inning. Not bad for someone who began the season on the disabled list and made stops at Rome and Myrtle Beach in Class A before getting to Mississippi, where he first 13 appearances were out of the bullpen.

It's about time that something went right for Gustafson, who has suffered one disappointment after another since being taken by Atlanta in the ninth round of the 2006 draft.

Gustafson, 24, had reconstructive elbow surgery late in 2007 and missed all last season after a setback during his rehab. This season, he had something else to battle through.

Gustafson noticed that he didn't feel right when he got to spring training and it eventually turned out that he had shingles. Worse yet, he was affected on his right side, meaning that it was painful to do a lot less than pitch with his right arm.

"At least it wasn't something with my elbow again," Gustafson said. "But with everything that had happened, I wondered 'What can go wrong next'?"

Gustafson was able to navigate the long road back, though, and wishes that the season wasn't almost over.

Maybe it isn't. Mississippi won't make the playoffs, but it looks like Gwinnett will.

"I just want to keep pitching," Gustafson said.