Graham throws two scoreless innings in spring debut

Rule 5 Draft pick feels confident about this season

Graham throws two scoreless innings in spring debut

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Given what's at stake, being a Rule 5 Draft pick can be tough mentally for a player competing for a roster spot in Spring Training.

After all, Rule 5 Draft picks have to stay on the active roster for the entire year or be offered back to their original club. But Twins right-hander J.R. Graham, who was acquired in the Rule 5 Draft from the Braves, said he actually feels relaxed this spring despite the pressure that comes with being in his position.

Graham, a former top prospect who dealt with a right shoulder strain that caused him to miss most of the 2013 season, fared well in his Grapefruit League debut against the Rays on Friday, tossing two scoreless innings while repeatedly hitting 96 mph on the radar gun.

"I haven't put too much pressure on myself," said Graham, who was previously a starter before converting to relief late last season. "I've said it to my family and my friends that it feels easier. There's a big load off my back right now being the Rule 5 guy. I don't know what it is. I just feel like the opportunity I'm getting is making me more relaxed and focused instead of trying to prove I should be here."

Graham, 25, started off a bit shaky with two walks in the seventh, but he was able to get out of the inning with a double play. He fared much better in the eighth, but he did surrender a one-out single to Kevin Kiermaier. He finished with 14 of his 27 pitches going for strikes, but 10 of his 14 pitches in the eighth were strikes.

"I'm sure he was a little amped up being a Rule 5 guy," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "But he's got some velocity. It was good to see him get through two clean innings. It was a good thing for him."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.