Top Prospects: J.R. Graham, RHP, Braves

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Highly-regarded pitching prospect J.R. Graham and two former first-round selections -- right-handed pitcher Jason Hursh and outfielder Matt Lipka -- were among the players sent to Minor League camp when the Braves made their first round of cuts on Friday morning.

The only 40-man roster members affected by this round of transactions were left-handed pitcher Carlos Perez and right-handed pitchers Aaron Northcraft and Wirfin Obispo. All of these hurlers were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Graham, Hursh and Lipka were among the 13 players re-assigned to Minor League camp. The others included catchers Matt Kennelly and Braeden Schlehuber; infielders Mark Hamilton and Edward Salcedo; right-handed pitchers Shae Simmons, Mark Lamm, Cody Martin, Lay Batista and Yunesky Maya and left-handed pitcher Daniel Rodriguez.

As Graham struggled in his first few Grapefruit League appearances, he shook off some of the rust that developed after a right shoulder strain sidelined him six weeks into last year's regular season. But the right-handed reliever appeared to become more comfortable, as he did not allow a hit or a run in his final two appearances.

Graham has not yet regained the arm strength he showed when his fastball was routinely clocked in the upper 90s before he incurred the shoulder ailment. But he did touch 95 mph a few times during the five appearances he made during this year's spring season.

The Braves have not ruled out the possibility of letting Graham stretch out to serve as a starter. But the 24-year-old hurler is expected to begin this season in Triple-A Gwinnett's bullpen.

"It's really encouraging that my arm is healthy and it was getting better each time out," Graham said. "It's just a matter of maintaining the strength in my shoulder and making sure I'm not doing too much in the weight room and on the field, throwing-wise. Now, it's a matter of just trying to keep everything intact."

Hursh was acquired with the 31st overall selection in June's First-Year Player Draft. Less than a year removed from his successful career at Oklahoma State University, the 22-year-old right-hander allowed two earned runs in the five innings he completed in three Grapefruit League appearances. He will likely begin the season in Double-A Mississippi's rotation.

"He's had half a year in professional baseball and he handled himself well," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Lipka's prospect status has declined since he was selected in the first round of the 2010 Draft. But the Braves have remained patient with the 21-year-old outfielder, who displayed his highly-touted speed while hitting .286 (8-for-28) and stealing three bases in 14 Grapefruit League games. He will likely make the jump to Mississippi's roster to begin the upcoming season.

Hale could provide stability to Braves' rotation

David Hale tossed four innings against the Rays on Friday. (AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- David Hale will not replace the value Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were projected to provide before suffering what appears to be season-ending elbow injuries this week.

But with his strong four-inning performance in Friday's 6-1 win over the Rays, Hale gave the Braves more reason to believe can at least temporarily provide some stability to their injury-depleted starting rotation.

Hale was perfect in three of the four innings he completed against a Rays lineup that included Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and Wil Myers. The 26-year-old right-hander surrendered three hits and his only run in a third inning that might have evolved differently with better defensive support.

Jose Molina opened the third with a single that B.J. Upton allowed to fall in front of him in shallow center field. Molina stole second base when Braves catcher Gerald Laird double-pumped his throw after thinking Cole Figueroa had drawn a walk. One batter later, Ray Olmedo drove Molina home with a single that bounced awkwardly past shortstop Andrelton Simmons before going to center field.

"That was good stuff," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Hale's effort. "[Laird] said his ball was doing a lot of good stuff, moving and diving. He got us some groundballs."

Hale will open the season as part of a four-man rotation that will include Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia. He will be aiming to match some of the success he had last year when he received an unexpected mid-September promotion and then allowed just one run in the 11 innings that encompassed the first two starts of his Major League career.

"It just gives me confidence," Hale said of last year's experience. "I know I can do it. I know what it's like. I know what it's like to be in the clubhouse and going on trips and stuff. It's not going to be new for me if I get that opportunity."

Terdoslavich working to make up for rough start

Joey Terdoslavich homered and posted three RBIs on Friday. (AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After hitting .395 during last year's Grapefruit League season, Joey Terdoslavich dealt with the disappointment of not making Atlanta's Opening Day roster and then spent the next three months proving productive enough to earn a promotion from Triple-A Gwinnett to Atlanta.

Despite spending last year's final three months at the big league level, Terdoslavich finds himself once again fighting for an Opening Day roster spot. The versatile switch-hitter's bid was weakened as he recorded just two hits in his first 22 at-bats during the spring season.

But after making some adjustments with the help of hitting coach Greg Walker, Terdoslavich finally generated some results as he hit a long sixth-inning home run and then added a two-run, eighth-inning single in Friday's 6-1 win over the Rays.

"The last few games, I've started to feel more comfortable," Terdoslavich said. "I got some good pitches to hit and didn't miss them."

While the Braves obviously want to see Terdoslavich prove more consistent over the next two weeks leading up to the regular season, the fact he has hit just .154 (4-for-26) has not completely erased the possibility that he will begin the season with Atlanta. But his chances were decreased with the offseason acquisition of Ryan Doumit, who like Terdoslavich is a switch-hitter who can play both corner outfield positions and first base when necessary.

If the Braves choose to carry an extra reliever while going with a four-man starting rotation through the season's first 10 games, it appears they have just one roster spot available for a position player. Speedy outfielder Jose Constanza stands as the current favorite to win that spot.

Worth noting

• Simmons was fortunate to avoid a significant injury when he was spiked in the right knee as he tagged out Olmedo in Friday's fifth inning. Simmons briefly limped into the outfield grass and then remained in the game to record another plate appearance before exiting.

B.J. Upton has increased his batting average to .273 (9-for-33) while recording hits in seven of his past 20 at-bats.

• Left-handed setup man Luis Avilan has surrendered four hits and issued just one walk while not allowing a run in his first five appearances.