4/2/2014 7:25 P.M. ET
Braves want prospect Graham to remain starter
By Jim Hoehn and Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- As pitching prospect J.R. Graham continues his comeback from a shoulder injury sustained early last season, there are no plans to move him into a Minor League relief role.
"We like him as a starter," said Bruce Manno, the Braves assistant general manager and director of player development. "He has started before for us. He had a shoulder issue last summer and rehabbed during the rest of last season and in the offseason. He came to Spring Training healthy and ready to go. Our feeling is we'd like to have him remain as a starter."
The right-hander, tabbed by MLB.com as the Braves' No. 6 prospect entering this season, was limited to just eight starts last season, going 1-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 35 2/3 innings at Double-A Mississippi. He made his final start on May 13 before being shut down with a right shoulder strain.
"Starting pitching is the hardest thing to develop," Manno said. "When a starting pitcher has some struggles in the Minor Leagues, there's a tendency to say, "You know what? He'd probably be better in the bullpen, where you limit the exposure. There's a tendency to move those types of guys a little quicker. We don't really buy into that philosophy. Again, the hardest thing is to develop is a starter, and we like to leave our pitchers in starting positions if we feel that they have the weapons to do it and the physical ability. They can always later on be moved to the 'pen.
"We like him as a starter. He's got the pitches to start, he's got the velocity, and ... until last year when he had the shoulder issue, the durability factor was fine. We're just anxious to get him going again and see how this all plays out as we go through this season. But he's in the rotation at Mississippi and he's going to be one of our starters there. Our hope is to develop him as a starting pitcher."
Dominant Kimbrel off to strong start in 2014
MILWAUKEE -- Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who led the National League with a career-high 50 saves last season, was pleased with his first outing of the season, striking out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning to save Atlanta's 5-2 victory over the Brewers on Tuesday night.
"Everybody wants to get off to a good start. If you get off to a rough start, you're kind of digging yourself a hole. But it doesn't mean it's the end of the season," Kimbrel said. "I had a rough start in '11, but the ballclub stuck with me and let me get more confident in myself back then. Obviously I'm more confident with myself now, because I've been at it for a few years than when I was battling for the job. It's definitely a different scenario, different situation."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke marveled at the ease with which Kimbrel carved through the ninth inning Tuesday night, striking out all three batters he faced despite lacking command of his slider.
"He was 96-98 [mph] last night, and we've had guys like that," Roenicke said. "When [Alfredo] Figaro was here, he was 96-98, and why are the swings so different [against Kimbrel]? There's something about the way his ball comes out that happens at the plate and guys can't catch up.
"He got a couple strikeouts on 96 last night. We have some guys that throw 96, but it's a different 96. He's got life on it, he's got good command with it, and it's hard to teach those things. It's just the way it comes out."
Despite 138 saves over the last three seasons, or maybe because of it, Kimbrel said he strives to improve each time out, or at the very least not slide backwards.
"You're always trying to figure out what you can do better, make yourself feel better when you're out there and pitch better," Kimbrel said. "You can feel [bad] and go out there and get three outs and be happy with it, but it's such a long season. You have to be able to get those three outs that day, but you have to figure out what you did wrong, because you may not be able to do that again your next outing. You can go out there and feel [bad] only so many times."
Although it was his first appearance of the season, Kimbrel said he didn't feel any extra pressure.
"The pressure's the same. My job is to go out there in a save situation and do my job," Kimbrel said. "It's the same pressure each and every outing at each and every position. In a situation, you figure out what you need to do and how you need to do it. That just comes with experience."
Reliever Beato claimed off waivers by Braves
CINCINNATI -- Relief pitcher Pedro Beato, who was designated for assignment by the Reds on Sunday, was claimed off waivers by the Braves on Wednesday.
Beato, 27, was one of Cincinnati's final roster cuts at the end of Spring Training. He posted a 3.00 ERA in nine spring games with three runs and 11 hits allowed over nine innings.
The Reds had claimed Beato off waivers from the Red Sox on Oct. 31.
• Although it's just a two-game sample, second baseman Dan Uggla, who struggled through a dismal 2013 season in which he hit just .179 and was left of the playoff roster, is swinging the bat better so far in '14. After going 0-for-4 in the season opener, Uggla had a pair of doubles in Tuesday night's 5-2 victory over the Brewers.
"He's had some great at-bats," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's only got [two] hits. But he's hitting the ball about as well as anybody on this team."
Jim Hoehn is a contributor to MLB.com. Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.