Braves prospect Graham ready to bounce back

ATLANTA — J.R. Graham impressed as a non-roster invitee to spring training last year with the Atlanta Braves and was considered on the fast-track to the majors.

Then the right-hander had his season end in May.

“Friday the 13th,” Graham said, superstitious now if he wasn’t before.

The California native felt something give in his shoulder throwing a warm-up pitch before the third inning at Class AA Mississippi.

“I felt it go,” Graham said of his shoulder. “I thought that it was just a pinched nerve. But I had nothing on the ball when I threw another pitch.”

Suddenly, his career was put on pause.

Although no major structural damage was found, Graham didn’t pitch the rest of the year. He wasn’t ready for game action in the fall instructional league in Florida, either.

Graham, instead, has spent eight months rehabilitating the shoulder. The strength is back, but the uncertainty of what is ahead remains.

“It’s been frustrating, but hopefully it was just a speed bump on the way to the major leagues,” he said.

Graham, who took part in the Braves rookie development camp that ended Saturday at Turner Field, thinks he’ll be ready to go full out when major league spring training begins in mid-February.

“I feel 100 percent,” he said. “There’s no pain when I throw. Everything is normal, except I feel a little stronger after all the rehab.”

The Braves, though, may elect a cautious approach.

“I hope there won’t be any restrictions, but I haven’t talked to anyone about it yet,” said Graham, who turned 24 on Jan. 14.

The fourth-round draft choice in 2011 out of Santa Clara University was the Braves minor league pitcher of the year in 2012, when he went a combined 12-2 with Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Mississippi.

Graham was expected to with Class AAA Gwinnett by midseason last year. Instead, his season didn’t even make it to June.

At least Graham got a new experience this winter. While participating in the Mark Creese performance program outside Boston for a month, he got to throw snowballs as well as baseballs.

“That was the first time I really experienced snow,” Graham said. “That was kind of fun.”