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G-Braves ready to get started

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage won’t be on hand when the G-Braves open their exhibition season today against Syracuse at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.

Hitting coach Jamie Dismuke and Marty Reed, the team’s new pitching coach, also will be missing.

The trio is getting extended major league time this spring and they are needed for one more day as Atlanta has split-squad games, with one group staying at Champion Stadium to face the Mets and another going to Lakeland to play the Tigers.

G-BRAVES AT A GLANCE

• Manager: Dave Brundage

• Coaches: Jamie Dismuke, Marty Reed

• Opening game: April 7 vs. Durham at Coolray Field, 7 p.m.

• 2010 record: 72-71, second in International League’s South Division

• Top returnees: First baseman Barbaro Canizares, who took the IL batting title with .341 average, and right-hander Todd Redmond, who won nine games each of the past two seasons and pitched a no-hitter last year against Louisville.

• Top newcomer: Outfielder Jose Constanza hit .319 with 34 stolen bases last season for Columbus and made the IL all-star team.

• Prospect to watch: Julio Teheran, 20, combined on a no-hitter last season in Mississippi and was 9-8 with a 2.59 ERA and 159 strikeouts in Class A and AA.

• Name change: Luis Valdez, who led the IL with 27 saves for Gwinnett in 2009, is now Jairo Asencio

• Exhibition schedule: Today vs. Syracuse; Sunday at Round Rock; Monday vs. Toledo, Tuesday vs. Round Rock; Thursday at Toledo; Friday at Syracuse; March 26 vs.Toledo; March 27 at Round Rock; March 29 vs. Syracuse; April 1 at Toledo; April 2 at Syracuse

The extra couple of weeks assisting Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has actually helped Brundage and his staff to get more familiar with most of the players who will be on the G-Braves roster come opening night against Durham at Coolray Field on April 7.

Brundage even got to sit in with Atlanta officials when decisions were made prior to Thursday’s second-round of cuts by the Braves.

“I thought it was very interesting,” Brundage said. “I got a pretty good idea how our club might eventually settle in. There are not a lot of big league spots open. We’ll get the swing guys who are vying for jobs and I think I have a better idea of what everybody is thinking right now.”

Mike Minor, in a three-way competition to be Atlanta’s fifth starter, will be loaned to the G-Braves to start against Syracuse on a back field behind Champion Stadium today while veteran Rodrigo Lopez faces a New York Mets split squad in the main ballpark.

Brandon Beachy, the other candidate, will make his start at Lakeland against Detroit. The winner of the fifth spot will start April 6 in Milwaukee. One of the losers will be the G-Braves’ starter in the International League opener against Durham on April 7.

“Any way you size it up, pitching is going to be one of our strengths,” Brundage said.

The G-Braves rotation likely will feature Lopez — the third candidate for the fifth spot — as well as Minor or Beachy. All have pitched well for the Braves this spring, but Minor has been the best so far. The left-hander has a 0.90 ERA, having given up just one run and seven hits over 10 innings in three Grapefruit League appearances.

The Gwinnett rotation also will have Todd Redmond, who won nine games each of the past two seasons and pitched a no-hitter at Louisville last year. Also likely due sometime during the year is 20-year-old Julio Teheran, considered Atlanta’s top prospect.

But the G-Braves’ relief pitching could be even better than the rotation.

“There is some great competition in the bullpen, not only at the big league level but how it will play out for our team,” Brundage said.

One of the relievers likely headed to Gwinnett is the former Luis Valdez, now Jairo Asencio. The native of the Dominican Republic didn’t pitch last season because of visa issues related to issues about his real name, but led the International League with 27 saves for the G-Braves in 2009.

While pitching should be Gwinnett’s forte, the team also should have some pop and speed offensively.

Cuban veteran Barbaro Canizares led the International League with a .341 average and will return to the cleanup spot in the lineup. At the top of the order, newcomer Jose Constanza is a table setter. The outfielder was named to the IL all-star team a year ago after hitting .319 and stealing 34 bases.

In addition to Atlanta rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman, the biggest loss from last season for the G-Braves will be veteran infielder Wes Timmons, a two-time AAA All-Star Game participant like Canizares. Timmons, who left the Braves as a minor league free agent, is making a strong bid to land his first major league spot with Oakland.

The G-Braves missed the playoffs last season with a 72-71 record after claiming the wild-card spot in their first year while going 81-63.

“I’m looking forward to getting with them on Sunday and seeing how the team is starting to shape up,” Brundage said.