.ATLANTA (AP) — Kung Fu Panda has made the opening day roster for the Atlanta Braves.
The team made a flurry of moves Saturday to complete its 26-man group, most notably promoting nonroster infielder Pablo Sandoval to the big league roster.
The 34-year-old Sandoval is a two-time All-Star and 2012 World Series MVP looking to revive his career in a bench role with the Braves. The portly switch-hitter earned his spot with a strong spring, hitting .429 with four RBIs in 35 at-bats.
“Pablo speaks for himself, just the way he comes in, his professionalism, what he adds in clubhouse, the presence has, the respect he has from everybody,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And he can still hit. He's kind of what you're looking for. He’s a guy who can sit around and stay ready.”
The Braves, who open the season Thursday at Philadelphia, also selected the contracts of two other nonroster players: infielder Ehire Adrianza and reliever Nate Jones.
Former All-Stars Jake Lamb and Jason Kipnis were released, beaten out by Sandoval for a spot on a bench that will carry only four players. The team will go with 14 pitchers to start the season.
In addition, the team optioned infielder Johan Camargo and catcher William Contreras to the alternate training site, outrighted outfielder Abraham Almonte to the alternate site, designated outfielder Phillip Ervin for assignment and placed pitcher Touki Toussaint on the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder strain.
Sandoval, whose contract will be upgraded to a one-year, $1 million deal, hit .214 in 84 at-bats with the Braves and San Francisco Giants in 2020. He was added to Atlanta's postseason roster, going hitless in four plate appearances as the Braves came within one game of reaching the World Series.
The Braves hope Sandoval can return to the form he showed in 2019, when he hit .268 with 14 homers for the Giants.
Adrianza claimed another opening on Atlanta's bench by hitting .412 in spring training, with two homers and a team-high 12 RBIs through Friday's game.
The versatile, 31-year-old Venezuelan, who previously played with San Francisco and Minnesota, will primarily provide depth at shortstop behind Dansby Swanson. Adrianza also has played the other infield positions as well as the outfield during his career.
Adrianza and Sandoval played their way onto the team with their performances this spring. They'll be part of a bench that also includes outfielder Ender Inciarte and catcher Alex Jackson.
“You tell guys they're competing for a job, and they did,” Snitker said. “They won a job. It would have been hard to deny either of those guys.”
Jones is another nonroster player who impressed the Braves this spring. The 35-year-old right-hander allowed only one run through seven appearances covering 7 1-3 innings, surrendering three hits with one walk.
Jones played eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox before moving last season to Cincinnati, where he went 0-1 with a 6.27 ERA in 21 appearances.
The Braves will begin with only four starters on their pitching staff after optioning Bryse Wilson to the alternate training site for what is expected to be about a two-week stay.
Max Fried will go on opening day, with Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson and Drew Smyly filling out the rotation. The bullpen will include probable closer Will Smith, Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, Josh Tomlin, Grant Dayton, Huascar Ynoa, Sean Newcomb and Jones.
The Braves won’t use a fifth starter on their first pass through the rotation. Wilson will likely make his first start on April 13 after beating out Kyle Wright for the fifth starter spot.
Former ace Mike Soroka will rejoin the rotation at some point, but he will start the season on the injured list as the team takes no chances in his recovery from a torn Achilles.
The Braves went with Jackson as the backup catcher behind Travis d'Arnaud, preferring to give Contreras a chance to get into a regular routine at the alternate training site before the minor-league season begins.
But Atlanta clearly views the 23-year-old Contreras as the catcher of the future — perhaps as soon as next season.
“He needs to play,” Snitker said “We see him as an everyday guy. He had a really good spring and he keeps getting better.”
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