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Braves look to stay hot in home opener

    ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are set to introduce their roster, including an all-new outfield, to their home fans.
    They also can show off a 3-0 record, thanks to their first season-opening sweep in eight years, when they begin a weekend home series against the New York Mets on Friday night.
    Atlanta traded fan favorites Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, among others. Only six active players were on last year's opening day roster.
    The last trade at the end of spring training was a stunner, which sent Kimbrel, the All-Star closer, and free-agent bust Melvin Upton to the Padres.
    Kimbrel's exit provided jarring affirmation that this will be a rebuilding year for the Braves. The sweep of Miami brightened the dour outlook for 2015, if only temporarily.
    Newcomers to the rotation include Shelby Miller, Trevor Cahill and left-hander Eric Stults, who is scheduled to face the Mets' Jonathon Niese.
    Stults, 8-17 with a 4.30 ERA with San Diego in 2014, beat out Wandy Rodriguez for the final spot in Atlanta's rotation. The Braves needed both Stults and Cahill, acquired from Arizona on April 2, with Mike Minor opening the season on the 15-day disabled list with a sore left shoulder.
    Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the 35-year-old Stults "wasn't a surprise at all" after making more than 30 starts in each of the last two years with the Padres.
    "The last couple of years, he was right at 200 innings and another time, 185 innings," Gonzalez said. "He has had a lot of quality starts in those two years."
    Stults had a 3.40 ERA after the All-Star break last season after changing the tempo of his delivery. He credits Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley for the change, which he kept up in spring training.
    "I was too slow or deliberate in my delivery," Stults said. "(Balsley) thought it would give me more deception. As far as velocity, there wasn't anything drastic there. But I do think it created deception.
    "It looked like there was more aggression behind my pitches, which threw the hitters off."
    Free-agent additions Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes have joined Eric Young Jr. and Cameron Maybin in the outfield. Utility infielder Kelly Johnson also can play in the outfield.
    The only holdovers in the lineup are first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, third baseman Chris Johnson and catcher Christian Bethancourt, a part-time starter in 2014.
    Stults isn't the only 30-something newcomer on the roster.
    Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose two-run homer gave the Braves a 2-0 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night, and closer Jason Grilli are 38. Grilli already has two saves.
    Jim Johnson, 31, is a setup reliever who has experience as a closer.
    "We've got two guys in the backend that have done some very special things in their careers," Pierzynski said.
    Grilli hasn't allowed a hit, providing the first signs the bullpen, which was expected to be strong with Kimbrel as the closer, can still be effective.
    "We've got guys down there that can do it," Gonzalez said. "You feel like when you you've got a lead late in the game, you go to those guys every single time you're going to be OK."
    Pierzynski's homer was the first hit by the Braves, who still outscored the Marlins 16-3 in the three games. The Braves added speed to the top of their lineup with Young and rookie second baseman Jace Peterson. They are hoping for more consistent offense with fewer strikeouts.
    The new approach worked in Atlanta's first season-opening sweep since 2007.
    "I feel we have the right mindset on this team to continue the season going forward," Pierzynski said.