Graham to make first MLB start vs. Milwaukee

Twins turn to Rule 5 Draft pick for Saturday's game vs. Brewers

Graham to make first MLB start vs. Milwaukee

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rule 5 Draft pick J.R. Graham is set to make his first Major League start on Saturday against the Brewers, the Twins announced Friday.

The Twins are in need of a starter after playing in a doubleheader on Wednesday in Boston, and they decided to stick with an in-house option. Graham, 25, has posted a 3.10 ERA with 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 1/3 innings in relief this season. He's been stretched out recently, as he threw 33 pitches over three scoreless innings against the Pirates on May 20 and threw 60 pitches in three innings without allowing an earned run against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Twins manager Paul Molitor said he plans to keep Graham at roughly 70-75 pitches on Saturday.

"He's had an interesting couple months," Molitor said. "We had him out there a little bit and then had him shut down a little bit for like 10 days. And his last two outings, he was extended to right about 60 pitches. So he's excited. He's been a starter most of his career so it shouldn't be too foreign even though it's his first one of this level."

Top Prospects: Graham, MIN

Graham was a top prospect as a starting pitcher in the Braves' organization before being moved to the bullpen midway through last season at Double-A. The Twins liked his upside enough to take him in the Rule 5 Draft after the Braves decided not to add him to their 40-man roster.

Graham said his experience as a starter should help, and he plans to attack hitters the same way he has in relief this season.

"It's not much different than coming out of the bullpen," Graham said. "You're just trying to get people out. We'll see how far I can go. When I used to start, I used to look at it as nine one-inning saves."

Graham hasn't pitched often this year, making 14 appearances, but said he's built more confidence, especially after his strong showings against the Pirates and Blue Jays in long relief. He credited pitching coach Neil Allen and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado for helping him adjust to life as a Major Leaguer.

"The confidence has always been there," Graham said. "Things were going a little fast for me at the beginning. But working with Neil and Eddie and the veteran guys around here, I've worked on slowing it down. It's been a big help. I've been confident and the last two outings were a big confidence booster. So I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Nolasco leaves with injury

• Twins right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right ankle impingement on Friday, underwent a CAT scan on his ankle on Monday. It showed the issue is related to a previous ankle injury, and he's scheduled to get a cortisone injection in his ankle to help it heal, according to Twins general manager Terry Ryan.

• Right-hander Ervin Santana, suspended 80 games for the use of a performance-enhancing substance, made his second start in extended Spring Training in Florida on Friday. Santana, who is eligible to return on July 4, threw 45 pitches.

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