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Touki Toussaint Works To Seize Rotation Spot

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Touki Toussaint (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Touki Toussaint is in a unique position this spring training.

While many prospects are destined for Triple-A no matter how they perform because of service time considerations, the Braves righthander is a legitimate contender to make Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.

The Braves opened camp with their fifth starter spot up for grabs. Mike Soroka and Luiz Gohara were quickly felled by shoulder injuries, thinning the field and increasing Toussaint’s odds of winning the job. All Toussaint, the No. 53 prospect on the BA Top 100, has to do is perform.

So far, his audition has been mixed. After giving up two runs in as many innings in his first spring start, Toussaint allowed five runs before recording an out Thursday in a 7-6 loss to the Tigers.

Toussaint allowed the first six batters to reach base. He hit leadoff batter JaCoby Jones with a curveball to start the game and things spiraled from there, capped by a long, three-run home run by ex-Braves farmhand Dustin Peterson.

"I made some pitches and they hit them. That’s baseball, honestly,” Toussaint said. "They were hitting two-seamers that were down. It happens."

Toussaint, 22, pitched at 90-92 mph instead of his usual fastball average of 94 mph. He walked Brandon Dixon in addition to hitting Jones, and overall needed 31 pitches to complete his one inning of work.

The velocity drop isn’t a concern. It’s only the second week of spring training and most pitchers are still building up. Toussaint’s control, however, has been a longstanding issue.

He appeared to conquer his control demons in the minors last year and raced from Double-A to the majors as a result, but his 25 walks in 32 innings (including the postseason) with Atlanta were indicative of the strides he still needs to make.

"His balls weren’t right where they needed to be,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Looked like they were running back over the plate. Just one of them days.”

In addition to the injuries to Soroka and Gohara, the Braves announced prior to the game that both Kevin Gausman (shoulder) and Mike Foltynewicz (elbow) were also dealing with injuries. If those injuries linger, that will help Toussaint’s case regardless of his spring training performance.

But by the same token, the Braves want to see more as the spring progresses. Toussaint has another three and a half weeks to show he deserves a rotation spot on merit rather than by default, and his ability to do so will determine whether he opens the season with the Braves or Triple-A Gwinnett.

"I saw enough last year I know what the kid is capable of,” Snitker said. "But again, he’s got to go out and prove himself here.”

Toussaint, for his part, isn’t worried.

"I got my work in, that’s all spring training is for,” Toussaint said. "Today was one of those days they got me early. It happens.”

NEWS AND NOTES

— Righthander Ian Anderson, the Braves' No. 2 prospect and No. 24 on the BA Top 100, pitched the seventh inning and gave up two hits and one run with one walk and no strikeouts. He sat 92-93 mph on his fastball, 86-87 mph on his changeup and 77-78 on his curveball in his first career big league spring training appearance.

"First big league camp, first big league inning, so it’s good to see him finish the inning,” Snitker said. "I really like what I’ve seen out of him in sides and all that. The guys (on the minor league side) really think the world of him, as do I, so it was just good to get him out there and participate a little bit.”

— Soroka, the Braves' No. 3 prospect and No. 25 on the BA Top 100, played catch without any issues on Thursday. He missed the final three-plus months of last season with shoulder soreness and earlier this week reported shoulder discomfort that he said was unrelated to his previous ailment. He has no set timetable to return to games.

— Peterson, who was claimed by the Tigers off waivers from the Braves last September, robbed Pedro Florimon of a home run with a leaping catch at the left-field wall in addition to hitting a long home run off of Toussaint. The 24-year-old outfielder made his major league debut with the Braves last season and once ranked as high as their No. 16 prospect.

— Righthander Connor Johnstone, the Braves’ 21st-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2017, pitched a scoreless second inning with a 91-93 mph fastball and an 83-84 mph cutter. He struck out Mikie Mahtook looking with the cutter and went to it repeatedly for his out pitch.

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