02/27/2013 7:48 PM ET
Graham lights up radar gun against Tigers
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
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."
Hudson turns in effective outing during second start
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Braves veteran pitcher Tim Hudson has been around long enough to know there is not much reason to be concerned about how he feels more than a month before the start of the regular season, but it seems safe to say Hudson was not pleased following his three-inning effort in Wednesday's 5-3 win over the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium.
"Obviously the older you get, the tougher it gets," the 37-year-old Hudson said. "It is a process, but you don't want to go out there and give up [a bunch of hits] and back up third even though it's only the spring. You don't want to get embarrassed, but at the same time, you know you're going to be a lot better three weeks from now than you are now."
While limiting the Tigers to two runs and two hits in three innings, Hudson was certainly much more effective than his words might depict. He retired the final seven batters he faced, including the final five with ground-ball outs. Hudson's only damage came in the first inning, when he surrendered a two-out single to Miguel Cabrera and then allowed Prince Fielder to drill a monstrous two-run home run that landed near the back of the batting cages beyond the right-field fence.
"It was just a fastball cutter that caught more plate than I wanted it to and didn't really have as much action as I wanted," Hudson said. "He whacked it and gave it a ride."
When asked what he was not pleased with, Hudson cited his location, curveball, changeup and fastball command. A few minutes later, he added that his arm strength is not near where it will need to be when the regular season starts on April 1.
Due to the World Baseball Classic, this year's exhibition season consists of an extra week. This puts Hudson in line to make five more starts before the regular season starts.
"It's just not coming out like I want it to," Hudson said. "At this point of spring, that's how it is for a lot of guys. Once you get the volume of pitches in and start getting on a regular routine of [bullpen sessions] and outings, it starts coming together a little bit later."
Francisco turns in impressive at-bats
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Braves third baseman Juan Francisco displayed his tremendous power with a three-run home run that sailed over the right-center-field scoreboard during the first inning of Wednesday's 5-3 win over the Tigers. But the pull-happy Francisco's more impressive at-bat might have come in the third inning, when he laced an opposite-field double to left-center field.
"He hit that ball a long way and it went out really, really quick," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You don't see that combination very often. He's been having some good at-bats in the last two or three games that he has played. Not only that, he has also been playing some good games defensively."
The Braves are open to the possibility of entering the season with Francisco and the right-handed-hitting Chris Johnson platooning at third base. But Gonzalez has said both players will have a chance to win the everyday role during Spring Training.
Francisco, who has more upside than Johnson, has recorded four hits in his first 12 at-bats of the Grapefruit League season.
"He's a good hitter," Gonzalez said. "Hopefully he gets a good opportunity to give it a shot and does what he can do."
• The Braves opted not to pitch Jordan Walden in Tuesday's game against the Nationals because of a sore back. Walden will likely throw a bullpen session within the next couple of days and then be used in a game by the end of this week.
• The Braves signed each of their 20 players who have not acquired enough service time to be eligible for arbitration.
• Yohan Flande surrendered a home run to Don Kelly on Wednesday and has now allowed seven earned runs in three innings this year. Last year, Flande allowed one run in 12 1/3 innings and might have gained an Opening Day roster spot if the Braves had not signed Livan Hernandez in late March.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.