ATLANTA — Some of the Atlanta Braves' most important pitching performances this week will come in the minor leagues.
Mike Minor, Gavin Floyd and Ervin Santana are pitching in minor league games on Thursday and Friday. The three starters are moving closer to joining an Atlanta rotation severely depleted by season-ending elbow injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy this spring.
Minor, returning from a sore shoulder, is pitching for Double-A Mississippi on Thursday. Floyd, whose 2013 season with the White Sox was shortened by elbow surgery, will start Thursday for Triple-A Gwinnett at Durham, N.C.
Santana will start for Gwinnett on Friday in what is expected to be his final minor league game. He had a late start to spring training after signing with Atlanta on March 12.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said Wednesday the three must show they can pitch at least six innings before they can move up to the majors. Santana is expected to reach that standard on Friday. Minor and Floyd could need at least two or three more starts as they hope to build up their necessary innings by late April.
Despite the injuries to Medlen and Beachy, Wren said the team will remain patient with Minor, Floyd and Santana.
"We're not going to rush any of these guys back," Wren said. "They're going to come back when they're ready based on our normal buildup of spring training. We're not going to shorten that. We're really focused on the long haul."
The Braves opened the season with a four-man rotation of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and David Hale. Tehran gave up two runs and Wood allowed only one run as the Braves split their first two games with the Brewers in Milwaukee.
"We were definitely dealt some setbacks during spring training, but we've always had confidence in our young pitchers," Wren said. "We felt like they could help us stay in this and not lose too much ground the first two or three weeks as we wait for some of our veteran guys to get healthy and get settled and in the case of Santana, just get stretched out."
Minor could throw three innings for Mississippi after he was impressive in a rain-shortened exhibition start against a team of the Braves' top minor league players on Saturday. He was scheduled to pitch two innings and was perfect in 1 1/3 innings.
The left-hander underwent urinary tract surgery on Dec. 31 and then had shoulder tendinitis in Florida.
Minor, a 13-game winner in 2013, said he didn't feel more was expected of him because Medlen and Beachy are lost for the season.
"No, I don't feel any added pressure," Minor said. "It's kind of the same thing. I just want to go out and there and win and do my best and hope everything else falls into place."
Assistant general manager Bruce Mano said the emphasis is on good health in the minor league games.
"The main thing is they go out and they get their work and get through it healthy," Mano said before Wednesday's game in Milwaukee. "In Santana's case, obviously, get stretched out a little more to be ready to come back here."