March 22, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Darin Ruf (18) slides safely into home plate as Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis (68) misses the ball during the second inning at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It looks like Evan Gattis will start the season as the Braves' backup catcher. The 26-year-old is hitting just too well to be kept off the roster.
Gattis, who has played just 49 games above Class A, hit two homers and was 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the Braves' 7-6 loss to Philadelphia in Clearwater on Friday.
The right-handed hitter is batting .391 with four homers and 13 RBI, nearly assuring a spot on the team at least until Brian McCann returns from shoulder surgery in mid-April or later.
Gerald Laird, who is 2-for-20 this spring, will open the season as the regular catcher, with Gattis likely to spell him.
Gattis has shown himself to be adequate behind the plate. It is in the batter's box, though, where his real value lies.
Gattis, who took several years off from baseball after high school, homered in back-to-back innings against the Phillies, the second blast a two-run shot off veteran reliever Chad Durbin in the sixth inning.
But the Phillies snapped the Braves' five-game Grapefruit League winning streak with a pair of late homers off Daniel Rodriguez. Erik Kratz went deep as the Phillies tied the game in the eighth inning and then Darin Ruf won it with a walk-off homer in the ninth.
B.J. Upton hit a home run for the Braves, Jose Constanza had three hits and Jordan Schafer walked his first three times up.
Maholm has tune-up for Phillies
Paul Maholm will start the second game of the season for the Braves and it looks like the left-hander is ready for the challenge of that assignment on April 3 against Philadelphia.
Maholm worked six innings against the same Phillies on Friday and stuck out five in his next-to-last spring tune-up as his Grapefruit League ERA fell to 1.78.
Philadelphia scored four runs off Maholm, but all were unearned. That means that he hasn't allowed an earned run over 20 innings in his past four starts.
Maholm allowed seven hits and two walks while throwing 96 pitches. He has struggled just once this spring, giving up five runs in 2 innings against the Phillies on Feb. 28.
Maholm will start the second game of the season because Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wants to split right-handers Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen. Hudson will start the opener on April 1.
Third base battle a draw
Chris Johnson was 2-for-3 with a RBI against the Phillies as he raised his average to .383. With Juan Francisco batting .362, Gonzalez has decided to let them share third base in a semi-platoon system.
"Both of those guys are playing such great baseball," the manager said. "Right now, I think it would be unfair to choose one as a starter."
The right-handed hitting Johnson, who has also seen time at first base, has three homers and 12 RBIs this spring. Francisco, who bats left-handed, is hitting .352 with five homers and 11 RBIs.
Venters ready to return
Jonny Venters, who hasn't been in a game since walking four against Miami on March 13, is scheduled to pitch an inning today in the Braves' split-squad game against Houston at Champion Stadium.
"I wasn't very sharp in that last one, so we decided to back off a little bit," Venters said.
But the left-hander was encouraged after throwing bullpen sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.
Venters has pitched in six games this spring, so he isn't in danger of not having enough innings to start the season.