LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Minor was one of the best pitchers in the Majors during the final three months of the 2012 season. But as he grinded through the first inning of his Grapefruit League debut, he looked more like he had while struggling through the first three months of last season.
Minor was charged with two earned runs and three hits while working the first two innings of the Braves' 9-5 win over the Nationals on Tuesday afternoon at Champion Stadium. The 25-year-old left-hander opened and closed his 28-pitch first inning with strikeouts. But in between, he surrendered three hits and issued two walks.
"His first hitter he nailed the glove with every pitch," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Then the next hitter he walks the guy on four straight pitches."
After issuing a four-pitch walk to Danny Espinosa, Minor allowed Bryce Harper to bounce a double over first baseman Freddie Freeman's head. One out later, Ian Desmond and Chris Marrero extended Minor's first-inning woes with consecutive singles.
With Minor on a 40-pitch limit, the Braves were prepared to lift him during the second inning. But the southpaw rebounded with a 10-pitch perfect second inning that included strikeouts of Eury Perez and Espinosa.
Minor's first-inning struggles might have been influenced by a one-hour rain delay that preceded the start of the game. He left the clubhouse before media members were granted access during the game.
"That's the first time out, maybe the delay screwed him up a bit," Gonzalez said. "But I like the way he came back in the second inning and got through it clean."
Minor was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation when he posted a 6.20 ERA through his first 15 starts last year. But he turned things around by posting a 2.21 ERA in his final 12 starts of the year. That was the third-best mark posted by a big league pitcher during that span.
Braves remain cautious with O'Flaherty's back
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eric O'Flaherty's previous battles with a sore back have led the Braves to keep him out of Grapefruit League games until next week. This decision was influenced by the fact that the Grapefruit League season includes one extra week this year because of the World Baseball Classic.
"He's fine," Gonzalez said. "We're just going to be smart with him and use that extra week to make sure he does not get too ready. I'd rather him start a little later than start a little sooner and then back him off."
O'Flaherty has been one of the game's top relievers while posting a 1.31 ERA in the 142 appearances he has made over the past two seasons. His ability to be effective and manage this heavy workload has been aided by the fact the Braves have occasionally given him a few extra days to rest when his back has started to feel tight during the season.
Pena happy to have more opportunities with Braves
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Ramiro Pena arrived for Spring Training the past few years, he had the pleasure of working alongside Derek Jeter. But the former Yankee is now happy to be with the Braves preparing for the added opportunities he will get as a utility player in the National League.
"I think there will be more opportunities to play every day and I think I have a good chance here," said Pena while totaling 180 games and 338 plate appearances with the Yankees over the past four seasons.
The Braves attempted to trade for Pena before acquiring Paul Janish to serve as their shortstop while Andrelton Simmons missed two months last year with a broken bone his right hand. With Janish expected to miss at least the first few weeks of this season while recovering from shoulder surgery, Pena will begin this season as Atlanta's utility infielder.
Because he is out of options and is potentially a slightly better offensive option, Pena will likely remain in that role even after Janish is cleared to begin playing.
"He's not an out," Gonzalez said after Pena recorded two hits in Tuesday's win over the Nationals. "That even adds to his value. He's a guy who can play in the middle of the diamond and when you run him in there he's OK offensively."
Pena, who will play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, has hit just .223 with two homers and a .533 OPS in the big leagues. He hit .258 with a .653 OPS in 101 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre last year.
• Evan Gattis recorded two hits in three at-bats on Tuesday to improve his Grapefruit League batting average to .556 (5-for-9) through his first four games.
• David Carpenter bounced back from a rough season debut to toss a scoreless inning on Tuesday. Carpenter allowed five earned runs and four hits while recording just two outs on Sunday against the Pirates.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.