LAKELAND, Fla. -- While serving as a starting pitcher during his first two professional seasons, J.R. Graham has established himself as one of Braves' top two pitching prospects.
But as he lit up the Joker Marchant Stadium's radar gun with a 102-mph fastball and showed his aggressive approach in the final two innings of Wednesday's 5-3 win over the Tigers, the 23-year-old right-hander certainly looked like a capable late-inning reliever.
"No comment on that," Graham said while laughing about the 102-mph reading. "That's good. That's awesome. Velocity is just a number. All that matters is getting those last six outs there."
Once again proving the stadium guns are not always accurate, scouts had the pitch that registered the 102-mph reading at 99 mph. Regardless, the high-energy hurler, who wears traditional stirrups over his socks and is ranked the Brave's No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, caught the attention of Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who asked Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, "Where did you get that guy?"
After proving perfect in the eighth inning, Graham was still firing fastballs that registered in the mid-90s during the ninth inning. But with his command not as sharp, he issued a walk and allowed a single before inducing a flyout and double-play grounder to end the game.
"He had a great eighth inning, so we ran him back out there, because we've got to stretch him out for the Minor Leagues or whatever we want to use him as," Gonzalez said. "Like any young kid, ninth inning, it's going to be a little different. He got a little excited, but he kept pitching, which was good to see."
Graham, who experienced some time as a closer at the collegiate level, will likely begin this season in Double-A Mississippi's rotation, but Gonzalez is not ready to completely rule out the possibility of having the hard-throwing right-hander in Atlanta's bullpen.
"We've still got five weeks left," Gonzalez said. "A lot of bad stuff can still happen. Injuries can happen. If he goes out and pitches well, at least we know that he is impressive. I'll keep his name in the hat."