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G-Braves bullpen still uncertain

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Manny Acosta was optioned to Gwinnett by Atlanta on Saturday, but the G-Braves' bullpen makeup for the start of the season has nearly as many questions as answers.

Craig Kimbrel, in line to take over closing duties from Luis Valdez, is making a bid for a spot in Atlanta and he is just one of a half-dozen candidates still in the bullpen mix with the Braves going into the final weekend of spring training.

With Kimbrel's situation undecided and Valdez stuck in the Dominican Republic because of visa problems, the present Gwinnett bullpen is headed by Mariano Gomez and Acosta.

Gomez, who was a spring-training invitee with Atlanta, was sent to the G-Braves during the first round of cuts 10 days ago. The left-hander was 8-4 with a 1.99 ERA and eight saves in 47 games for Gwinnett last year.

Acosta appeared in 36 games for Atlanta and 18 with the G-Braves in 2009. The right-hander was 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA for the Braves and 1-3 with a 2.63 ERA and two saves for Gwinnett.

Acosta, 28, pitched six times with Atlanta this spring and Gomez, 27, was in five games. Accosta was 0-2 with a 5.14 ERA, while Gomez was 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA.

Kimbrel, 21, is considered Atlanta's closer of the future. He appeared in two games at the end of last season and had 18 saves while jumping from Class A to Class AAA. Most impressively, he struck out 103 in 60 innings.

The Alabama native has pitched six times with the Braves this season, posting a win and a save while not giving up a run. He has allowed just two hits in six innings, but walked six to go with his 10 strikeouts.

Proctor likely

Gwinnett bound

Although the Gwinnett bullpen is expected to be younger than a year ago, the G-Braves are likely to have a veteran major leaguer at the start of the season.

Scott Proctor, who missed the past two seasons after twice undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery, appears a long shot to open the season with Atlanta despite an encouraging spring.

Proctor, 33, appeared in 83 games in 2006 for the Yankees and the same number for New York and the Los Angeles Dodgers the next year before getting hurt.

The right-hander has pitched three times for Atlanta this spring and has looked good in two of the outings. On Friday against Detroit, his velocity was up to 94 mph.

Hernandez sidelined until May

Diory Hernandez is taking batting practice, but he isn't expected to be ready to play until May. The infielder injured his left shoulder sliding during a Dominican Winter League game and had to have surgery to tighten the capsule.

The injury likely means that Brandon Hicks will be Gwinnett's regular shortstop at the start of the season. He played at Class AA Mississippi a year ago and has showed off his defensive skill during spring games with Atlanta.

Hernandez hit .319 in 54 games with the G-Braves last season, but just .141 in 33 games while up with the Braves.

With Hernandez sidelined, the battle for the final backup infield spot in Atlanta is between Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston.

Atlanta signed Luis Bolivar as a minor league free agent this winter to give the organization infield depth at Gwinnett.