CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Braves were approaching this season with the hope that their starting rotation would be strengthened by the presence of Kris Medlen and a healthy Brandon Beachy.
But approximately 24 hours after Medlen walked off the mound with a potentially serious elbow injury, Beachy was rudely reminded on Monday that he has not completely recovered from the elbow ailments that have limited him to five Major League starts over the past 20 months.
As Beachy labored through two ugly innings against the Phillies on Monday afternoon, he threw just 14 of his 37 pitches for strikes and saw his fastball top out at 88 miles per hour. Instead of attempting to complete the four innings he was slated to pitch, the Braves right-hander exited and confirmed he has felt some tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle over the past couple of weeks.
"I'm not worried at all about it," Beachy said. "I've seen the doctors, and they've done everything. My ligament is fine. I've got some inflammation in there and it got a little too tight in my bicep. It was just unproductive to keep pushing and fighting through it.
"I'm not scared at all. I didn't come in here feeling 100 percent. This is something I've been dealing with. It had been getting easier the harder I threw and the harder I pushed. Today, it just got a little too tight on me."
Members of the Braves' medical staff have comforted Beachy by telling him the discomfort he has felt should be viewed as normal given what he has experienced the past two years. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2012, Beachy endured a frustration-filled return attempt and was limited to five starts in 2013 because of elbow inflammation.
Beachy was shut down in August, and a month later he underwent a cleanup surgical procedure, during which Dr. James Andrews removed a floating bone chip from his elbow. While the 27-year-old hurler has repeatedly said he has not felt any discomfort since he began throwing in January, he now admits that he has been restricted by the tightness he has felt the past couple of weeks.
"It's tough to describe," Beachy said. "When I went down in 2012, it felt like a stabbing sensation. Last year, it felt full in the joint and it was just shooting out all around. This is not like either of those. It's just kind of a dull tightness and it gets to where I just can't finish anything. I've been throwing through it. That's normal from what I hear. You just get through it. Obviously, I wanted to go four [innings] today. But I'm not worried about it."
Beachy was not ready to confirm whether he will make his next scheduled Spring Training start or project whether he will be ready for the start of the regular season. Monday's two-inning stint came just five days after he had tossed three scoreless innings against the Phillies on this same Bright House Field mound.
"Today, it was obviously worse than it was the last time and the time before, to the point where I didn't think throwing through it was productive to get people out or for my own [good]," Beachy said.
Braves preparing in case Medlen is out awhile
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As Kris Medlen was undergoing an MRI exam on Monday afternoon, the Braves were evaluating all of the options that could cover them in the event that Medlen did indeed suffer a significant right elbow injury that would sideline him for an extended period.
Medlen underwent the exam around noon ET on Monday. The Braves did not reveal whether their doctors will review the results Monday evening or wait until Tuesday morning.
Even if Medlen learns that he will not have to undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time in four years, the Braves realize there is a strong possibility that he exited Sunday's start against the Mets with an ailment that will sideline him for more than a couple of weeks.
Atlanta's rotation plans were further altered when Brandon Beachy exited Monday's start against the Phillies after just two innings because of tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle. The Braves believe Beachy is simply dealing with normal soreness. But there is now a chance he too will not be ready when the regular season begins.
So as things currently stand, the Braves are looking at beginning the season with Medlen, Beachy and Mike Minor on the disabled list. Minor has seemingly overcome the left shoulder discomfort he experienced during the early days of camp. But he's still attempting to make up for lost time when he was forced to remain inactive for a month following a Dec. 31 urinary tract procedure.
If these three aforementioned pitchers are all sidelined, the Braves could begin the season with a rotation that consists of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale. Two early off-days create the opportunity to use a four-man rotation until April 12, which is around the time Minor hopes to join Atlanta's starting rotation.
While it seems unlikely the Braves will end up landing free agent Ervin Santana, multiple sources have indicated the club has at least developed some level of interest in the right-hander, who has already reportedly received three-year offers worth somewhere between $27-33 million from the Twins and Orioles.
Given the financial commitment and the fact they would lose their first-round selection (26th overall) in June's First-Year Player Draft, the Braves have reason to be reluctant to pursue a 31-year-old pitcher who went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA while benefiting from Kansas City's strong defense last year.
But given what has happened over the past two days, all options have to be evaluated.
No challenges for Braves in first replay game
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez did not issue any challenges when his club was given its first opportunity to get a feel for the new expanded replay system during Monday's 8-1 win over the Phillies.
The Braves will have a chance to test the replay system during four more games during the Grapefruit League season.
"I was trying to make up something," Gonzalez said. "At one point, I'm thinking if there is a bang-bang play at first to end the inning, I'm going to go out just to get the mechanics of keeping the team on the field and kind of replay that sort of thing with the umpires. But there was absolutely nothing that was even questionable. At the end of the year, I think we're going to realize how good these umpires are."
Monday's game did provide Gonzalez a chance to at least test the walkie-talkie communication device that will allow him to remain in contact with former Atlanta pitcher Horacio Ramirez, who will be positioned in the clubhouse to monitor controversial calls and quickly alert Gonzalez as to which plays should be challenged.
Ramirez, who was present for Monday's game, will travel throughout the season with the Braves. While his primary duty will be to monitor the replays, he will also serve as a left-handed batting-practice pitcher and assist pitching coach Roger McDowell with various responsibilities.
"[Ramirez] is a tremendous guy, a guy that wants to get into the coaching end a little bit," Gonzalez said. "He can shadow Roger with the pitching a little bit and do that kind of stuff. I think he was a great choice."
• Jason Heyward opened Monday's 8-1 win over the Phillies by sending a Cliff Lee fastball over the chain-link fence that sits at least 40 feet beyond the right-center-field wall at Bright House Field. Two of the three home runs Heyward has hit in his first 27 Grapefruit League at-bats have come against left-handed pitchers.
• With two consecutive scoreless appearances, Ryan Buchter has resuscitated his bid to begin the upcoming season as a left-handed specialist in Atlanta's bullpen. Buchter faced two left-handed hitters -- Domonic Brown and Bobby Abreu -- during Monday's game against the Phillies. Brown struck out and Abreu snuck a single through the infield's right side.
• The Braves acquired Zach Stewart from the White Sox in exchange for cash considerations on Monday. Stewart is targeted to provide depth to Triple-A Gwinnett's pitching staff. The 27-year-old right-hander was described by one National League scout as "a strike-thrower who eats innings."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.