LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Luis Avilan arrived for Spring Training feeling a little more refreshed than he has the past few years. For the first time in his professional career, the Braves left-handed reliever's preseason preparations did not include pitching in winter ball.
"It feels a little bit different," Avilan said. "I pitched a lot the last couple of years. This Spring Training, I feel like I'm 100 percent ready. I rested and took a lot of days off. I feel fine."
Avilan certainly earned the opportunity to take some time off this past winter. The 24-year-old reliever posted a 1.52 ERA in a career-high 75 appearances last season. His 106 career appearances stand as the National League's 10th-highest total dating back to his Major League debut on July 14, 2012.
When Atlanta lost Eric O'Flaherty to a season-ending elbow injury last May, Avilan proved more than capable of serving as a reliable left-handed setup man. The 1.48 ERA he has compiled since Aug. 1, 2012, ranks first among all left-handed relievers who have made at least 60 appearances during this span.
"I'm so proud about my job last year," Avilan said. "I'll keep working to do the same this year."
Floyd encouraged, but taking things slowly
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Gavin Floyd hopes to join Atlanta's starting rotation at some point in May. But as the veteran right-hander attempts to return from reconstructive elbow surgery, he is also cognizant of the fact that a premature return could lead to a premature end to his career.
"I wish I could be ready Opening Day," Floyd said. "But there's a longevity issue that I think the Braves are trying to protect and I'm trying to protect as well. I want this surgery and rehab to be a success. I feel great. My arm speed and everything is good. It's just about getting endurance. You've just got to take it one day at a time."
After Floyd underwent surgery in May to repair tears to his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon, the White Sox announced his recovery time could be anywhere from 14-19 months. But when the Braves reviewed medical reports and analyzed the progress he had made this winter, they gained the sense he could return in May, after just 12 months of recovery.
In an attempt to add depth and insurance to their starting rotation, the Braves took a gamble by signing Floyd to an incentive-laden one-year deal that includes a guarantee of $4 million. This decision was influenced by financial constraints and the desire to gain a short-term fix that would not block some of their young talented pitching prospects from a rotation spot within the next couple of years.
Whether Floyd will be ready in May remains to be seen. But the 31-year-old pitcher has been encouraged by his progress. He threw a 75-pitch bullpen session that included 15 changeups in front of Atlanta's coaching staff at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex on Thursday morning.
This marked the third time Floyd has thrown changeups off the mound. He has been cleared to begin mixing in some breaking balls when he throws another bullpen session on Sunday.
"How your arm responds each time after you throw is a barometer to how it progresses," Floyd said. "There's a set protocol, and each time you throw, it's like a checkpoint. Today was a checkpoint. I've got breaking balls on Sunday, which is really cool. I spun a couple the other day and I was like, 'I don't know what this is going to feel like.'"
For Garcia, it's make the Braves or go home
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Freddy Garcia spent most of this winter hoping for the chance to return to a Braves organization that brought him out of the Minor Leagues late last season and gave him a chance to make an unexpected postseason start.
But Garcia did not agree to return until late January, when the Braves gave him an opt-out clause in a Minor League deal. This clause will allow the 37-year-old pitcher the ability to terminate this contract if he is not guaranteed a Major League roster spot by March 25.
"I told my agent, 'If I don't make the team, I'm going home,'" Garcia said. "I'm not going back to the Minor Leagues, like last year. I did it last year. But if I don't make the team, I'll go home and spend time with the family."
With this clause in place, Garcia seems destined to gain a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster, unless he struggles throughout Spring Training and the Grapefruit League season.
If the Braves decide to put Garcia in their starting rotation to begin the year, Alex Wood could be utilized as a left-handed reliever during the season's early months. This would give the club a chance to moderate the workload of Wood, who will be on an innings limit as he progresses through his first full Major League season.
While Garcia's preference would be to serve as a starter, he said he would not object to beginning the year in the bullpen.
"I don't mind," Garcia said. "If I make the team, it's good. If I can help the team out of the bullpen, I'll be in the bullpen. I just want to pitch. I just feel like I'm not ready to go home yet."
After beginning last season in Baltimore's rotation, Garcia was sent to Triple-A Norfolk near the end of June. Two months later, the Braves acquired him in a trade and sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett for the final week of the International League season.
When Major League rosters expanded in September, Garcia joined Atlanta's pitching staff and quickly gained a spot in the rotation. His late-season success earned him a chance to square off against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
After allowing two runs in six innings, Garcia was in line for the win until David Carpenter allowed Juan Uribe to hit a decisive go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.
"I really wanted to come back," Garcia said. "I've got an opportunity here."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.