Stepping onto the mound at Trustmark Park on Monday, J.R. Graham was nervous.
The last time the Braves' No. 6 prospect was there, he was lifted in the third inning with shoulder discomfort that turned into a season-ending injury. But after 11 months of rehabbing and rebuilding arm strength, he was back to pitching in a Mississippi uniform again.
As soon as he threw the first pitch -- a called strike to Mobile's Mike Freeman -- the nerves calmed and Graham settled into a groove, sitting down 15 of 16 batters in the Double-A Braves' 4-0 shutout of the Mobile BayBears in the first game of a doubleheader.
"It felt good to be back out there," Graham said.
With three strikeouts and nine ground-ball outs, the 23-year-old right-hander kept his innings quick and his teammates involved -- the way he likes it.
"[Catcher Matt] Kennelly called a good game. My fastball was working, got the curveball when I needed to. … I pitched a helluva game," he said. "Defense really helped me out, a lot of good diving stops ... really good stop by [shortstop] Gustavo Nunez to preserve the no-hitter."
After five hitless innings and one walk allotted to Sean Jamieson in the second, Graham's day was done. Though he wasn't aware of any pitch-count limits, the 2011 Draft pick thought his coaches were just being cautious in his first game back.
Graham made just eight starts last season for Mississippi prior to his injury. He went 1-3, kept Southern League batters to a .283 ERA and did not allow a home run during that span. Following rehab this offseason, Graham received an invite to big league camp, where he allowed two runs on six hits in four innings.
With teammate Barrett Kleinknecht's bat in his hands, Graham slapped a single past shortstop Jamieson and into center field to continue his streak of notching one hit in each of his professional seasons.
Since the Braves didn't score until the sixth inning, Ryne Harper (1-0) picked up the win. The right-hander pitched one hitless inning with two strikeouts.
Mississippi got on the board when Seth Loman was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Kyle Kubitza followed with an RBI groundout and David Rohm smacked a two-run single.
Mobile's Bradin Hagens (0-1) allowed four runs on t wo hits to suffer the loss.