LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves have been cautious with Gerald Laird since he suffered a left calf strain on March 2. But serving as the starting catcher for a second straight day during Wednesday's 11-2 loss to the Nationals, Laird grew even more confident that he will be ready for the start of the regular season.
"I'm starting to feel good at the right time," said Laird after hitting a home run in the sixth inning of the lopsided loss.
Along with hitting the home run, Laird also made a strong throw that retired Jayson Werth as he attempted to steal second base in the first inning.
"It was nice to get back out there and just get your timing," Laird said. "The first day you're kind of excited. Then today, I was glad a couple guys ran. It allowed me to do some things. So all around, it was a good day."
Laird has played just eight games since injuring his calf while going into second base during a game against the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. After catching consecutive games on March 12 and 13, he returned to the lineup for two more games over the course of the next five days. But his appearance in Tuesday's win over the Tigers was his first since March 17.
The Braves will utilize Laird and Evan Gattis as their catchers until Brian McCann makes his expected return from right shoulder surgery in late April. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said both could receive equal playing time during this stretch.
Laird wants to catch again during Thursday's game against a split-squad Astros team at Champion Stadium. But Gonzalez said he would talk to the club's medical staff before making that decision.
Making Braves' roster has special meaning for Schafer
VIERA, Fla. -- A lot has changed for Jordan Schafer since he opened the 2009 season as the Braves' starting center fielder and silenced a sold out Opening Day crowd in Philadelphia by hitting a home run in his first career at-bat.
When the Braves host the Phillies in Monday's Opening Day matchup at Turner Field, Schafer will be on the bench with the satisfaction of knowing he has made his way back to the Major League level with his original organization.
"I've always really enjoyed being here," said Schafer, who was drafted by the Braves in 2005. "It's where I've always wanted to be. I was sad the day I got traded. I didn't want to go anywhere. It's part of the business, and I was really excited when I was told I was coming back. I think this team has a chance to do some really good things this year."
When Schafer was traded to the Astros in the July 31, 2011, deal that brought Michael Bourn to Atlanta, he was already far removed from his status as a top prospect. A left wrist injury suffered in his fourth career game derailed his career. He hit rock bottom when he hit .211 with a .598 OPS for the Astros last year.
Despite the fact he is still one year away from being arbitration-eligible, the rebuilding Astros placed Schafer on waivers. The Braves claimed him on Nov. 1 with the belief that he could provide some value with his speed and defense as a backup outfielder.
Schafer will begin this year as one of Atlanta's backup outfielders. But he is well aware of the need to prove his worth to remain with the Braves throughout this season.
"I've been a starter, and it's a big adjustment," Schafer said. "But like I said from the beginning, I'm more than happy to come in and do the little things to try to help us win, whether it's stealing a base, bunting or whatever. It's definitely a little different, but I accept it."
Braves playing wait and see with Venters' elbow
VIERA, Fla. -- Early indications are that Jonny Venters' ailing left elbow is structurally sound. But the Braves are waiting to get a better understanding of how long Venters will be sidelined.
Venters exited Tuesday's game against the Tigers with what the Braves are currently calling a sprained left elbow. Members of their medical staff will continue to evaluate the left-handed reliever to determine what is causing the elbow discomfort.
If Venters' elbow is structurally sound, there is a chance that his discomfort could be the result of a bone chip or bone spur. He spent two weeks on the disabled list last year with what was termed a left elbow impingement.
"I've got my fingers crossed that it isn't anything major," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Regardless of the diagnosis, Venters is expected to begin this year on the disabled list. There is certainly reason to believe that he will be shut down for at least two weeks. After Venters issued four walks in a March 13 game against the Cardinals, the Braves gave him 10 days of rest. He returned to action by completing a pain-free inning during a Minor League game on Saturday. But he was not as fortunate in Tuesday's game against the Tigers, when he issued two walks and allowed two hits while facing five batters before exiting.
• Eric O'Flaherty started Wednesday's game against the Nationals because pitching coach Roger McDowell did not want the left-handed reliever sitting in the brisk air before making his one-inning appearance. O'Flaherty has not allowed a run in the seven innings he has completed since missing the first two weeks of the spring season because of a left groin strain.
• The only remaining question involving the Braves' Opening Day roster involves who will fill the final spot in the bullpen. With Venters destined for the disabled list, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro could both begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen. Both are out of options. Gonzalez said a decision may not come before Saturday.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.