2013 Outlook: Walden to be part of sturdy bullpen

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jordan Walden struggled with his command and looked rusty while making his first appearance in nearly a month in Wednesday's 18-9 win over the Pirates at Champion Stadium. But the Braves right-handed reliever completed his one-inning stint without any discomfort in his previously ailing back.

Walden's only previous appearance came on Feb. 23. The Braves medical staff diagnosed his ailment as a bulging disk and gave him an epidural injection two weeks ago.

"I was a little rusty, but I think everything will be fine," Walden said. "Ever since I got that epidural shot, I haven't even felt it. I'm feeling good now. I've just got to get my command and everything with pitching back on track."

After issuing two walks, Walden uncorked a wild pitch that helped put Michael McKenry in position to score on a two-out infield single that came with the benefit of a questionable call at first base.

Walden's fastball, which has averaged more than 96 mph each of the past three seasons, sat between 92-94 mph and touched 96.

"I saw a guy if I hadn't known he hadn't pitched all spring, I wouldn't have even thought about it," manager Fredi Gonzalez said when asked if Walden looked rusty.

Despite the regular season being less than two weeks away, Gonzalez is not ruling out the possibility of Walden having enough time to be on the Opening Day roster. If he needs extra time, his bullpen spot will likely be filled by Anthony Varvaro, who is out of options.

Minor hoping to avoid repeat performance

ATL@NYY: Minor blanks Yanks over four solid innings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Minor's pitching line might not have been quite as ugly as the one Kris Medlen produced while allowing 14 hits and nine runs in Monday's win over the Phillies. But Minor certainly would like to avoid any repeat performances of the start he had for the Braves in Wednesday's 18-9 win over the Pirates at Champion Stadium.

Minor struggled with his command and found little comfort with the two-seam fastball he attempted to develop while allowing five runs and 10 hits in only four innings. He recorded three of his five strikeouts against outfielder Starling Marte and benefited from two Pirates being tagged out at the plate.

"It was one of those things where we threw a lot of first-pitch fastballs again and we didn't throw many offspeed pitches or go inside to righties," Minor said. "Those things will be different during the season."

Minor estimated he only shook off two pitches called by rookie catcher Evan Gattis, who is still familiarizing himself with opposing hitters. Had this been a regular-season game, the pitcher and catcher would have looked at scouting reports and developed a plan to utilize during the game.

Minor minimized the damage to one run after allowing three straight singles to begin the second inning. He was not as fortunate in the third, as he issued two walks and five hits, including Andrew McCutchen's two-run homer, in Pittsburgh's four-run inning.

"I just saw a guy who missed his command a little bit," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I saw a guy that was not as sharp as he was before. But nothing to worry about."

Minor had worked 12 consecutive scoreless innings before allowing the Cardinals to score four fifth-inning runs on March 14. The 25-year-old left-hander has allowed nine runs in his past five innings. He will likely make two more appearances before the start of the regular season.

Freeman displaying immense potential this spring

PIT@ATL: Freeman goes 4-for-4 with four RBIs

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Since becoming the Braves hitting coach last year, Greg Walker has marveled at Freddie Freeman's offensive talents. Over the past couple of weeks, Freeman has provided indication that he is moving toward displaying his tremendous potential.

Freeman highlighted a four-hit performance with a pair of two-run home runs in Wednesday's 18-9 win over the Pirates at Champion Stadium. He has hit .373 (22-for-59) this spring with a Grapefruit League-best seven home runs and a .780 slugging percentage.

"This guy might be the most talented natural hitter we have in our lineup," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "In Walker's opinion, as a young hitter, there might not be a better one than that. He's growing and maturing as a hitter. It doesn't surprise me he's putting up those kinds of numbers."

Freeman hit .259 with 23 home runs and a .796 OPS while dealing with limited mobility in his left index finger and a lack of confidence in his eyesight, which began bothering him in early May. With his finger and vision no longer a concern, Freeman is confident he can produce much better numbers this year while serving as Atlanta's cleanup hitter. He will have the luxury of hitting between Justin and B.J. Upton.

Worth noting

• Gonzalez said Jonny Venters is healthy despite the fact the left-handed reliever has not made an appearance since March 13. Venters has made six spring appearances and he issued four walks in 1 1/3 innings during his most recent outing.

• Dan Uggla raised his average from .182 to .207 with a pair of singles on Wednesday. After striking out in 12 of his first 25 spring at-bats, Uggla said he has started to get more comfortable at the plate. But Wednesday marked just his second multi-hit game.

• Left-handed reliever Dusty Hughes was re-assigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday. The Braves have 40 players, including eight non-roster invitees, still in Major League camp.