KISSIMMEE, Fla. Tim Gustafson has learned patience. He's had to the last few years.
The former Parkview and Georgia Tech pitcher has had to bide his time far more than he'd hoped since being drafted by Atlanta in 2006 and passing up his senior season with the Yellow Jackets.
Gustafson missed almost all of the 2008 season after reconstructive elbow surgery and got a late start a year ago after a painful bout with shingles.
The right-hander hoped to make up for that missed time by pitching in the Mexican Pacific League this winter. But instead of speeding up his timetable to make it back home to Gwinnett County, it may have actually delayed it.
Because of the extra work, Atlanta had Gustafson return late to spring training and he will start the season back in Class AA with Mississippi.
"I just have to make the best of it," he said. "That's all you can do."
"With his injury history and all the innings he pitched in Mexico, we wanted him to take it slow this spring," Braves director of player development Kurt Kemp said. "He's a little behind right now, but he'll catch up."
Gustafson, 25, pitched well as a starter late last season with Mississippi and again for Navojoa in Mexico. But he'll likely work out of the bullpen at first in the Southern League as he builds up innings.
"We still look at him as a potential starter," Kemp said. "He just won't be ready to go deep into the game at first."
Patience, patience. Gustafson has had to call on it a lot, especially during his rehab from elbow surgery.
"That was long and frustrating at times," said Gustafson, who was hurt in late July during his first season at Class A Rome.
Gustafson made seven starts last season for Mississippi, where he was 2-3 with a 3.79 ERA overall in 20 games. But his most impressive work was in Mexico.
The ace of the Novojoa staff, Gustafson was 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA before returning home in early December.
"I enjoyed starting late last season and in Mexico," Gustafson said. "I really don't care that much whether I start or relieve. Both have their perks. Right now, I think it is undecided what I'll do."
Making it to Gwinnett at some point this season would likely reunite Gustafson with former Parkview teammate and college rival Clint Sammons, who caught at Georgia before being drafted by the Braves. They won state championships in both football and baseball in high school, with Gustafson catching Sammons' passes on the gridiron.
"It would be great to play at Gwinnett," Gustafson said. "It's AAA and close to home. But my real goal is to get to Atlanta. That's what everyone wants."