For Mississippi Braves right-hander Jason Hursh, change has done him good. Since moving from the rotation to the bullpen in early July, Hursh has a 2.25 ERA, a win and two saves in nine appearances. He has allowed 11 hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in 12 innings out of the pen. Atlanta’s No. 13-rated prospect (by mlb.com) entering this season, the 2013 first-round pick had been erratic as a starter: 2-6, 5.63 ERA this season after going 11-7, 3.58 at the Double-A level a year ago. Hursh got the W on Tuesday night, working a scoreless frame in a 7-6, 11-inning decision against Montgomery that moved the M-Braves’ record to 21-17 in the second half. They are 2.5 games out of first in the Southern League South. The club ranks ninth in the 10-team league in runs and last in slugging and homers, but pitching may just keep them in the playoff hunt. The staff includes six of Atlanta’s current top 30 prospects: Lucas Sims (No. 8), Murrah High alum Zack Bird (13), Hursh (now 18), Mauricio Cabrera (22), John Gant (24) and Stephen Janas (30). The M-Braves have a solid 3.53 ERA with an SL-best 38 saves and have allowed the fewest home runs in the league. Gant (1-0, 1.59) goes tonight against the Biscuits at Trustmark Park in his second start since coming over from the New York Mets in one of last week’s trades.
Maybe Jason Hursh has started to turn it around. Maybe the Mississippi Braves right-hander will take another step in the right direction tonight at Trustmark Park when he faces Pensacola in the opener of an 11-game homestand. Hursh, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2013 and a highly rated prospect, has had a rough go in his second tour of Double-A ball. Through nine starts, Hursh is 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA. He has worked only 39 2/3 innings, with 25 strikeouts and 21 walks. The Oklahoma State alum went 11-7, 3.58 for the M-Braves in 2014. “(A) little adversity sometimes helps,” Hursh told milb.com recently. Maybe. For sure, Hursh’s last two outings have been solid. He beat Pensacola on May 16, throwing six shutout innings. He went 6 1/3 against Jacksonville last Thursday, allowing 10 hits but just two runs in a no-decision. Hursh, 23, is in a big group of young arms the Braves are counting on to emerge in their rotation over the next couple of years. But he needs to step it up. Refining his off-speed pitches (curveball and changeup) are the keys to his advancement, according to mlb.com’s preseason scouting report. Hursh will take the hill tonight for an M-Braves team that went 6-4 on its road trip and is 24-20 on the season, trailing first-place Biloxi (27-18) by 2½ games in the Southern League South. Mallex Smith continues to ignite the M-Braves’ attack with a .345 average and 15 steals. Eric Garcia is batting .340, Matt Lipka .286. The club, as well as the organization, are still waiting for a breakout from prospect Rio Ruiz (.169). P.S. M-Braves fans know the TeePee doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. For the record, the Pearl ballpark yielded 0.57 homers per game in 2014, the lowest average (by a good margin) among all Double-A and Triple-A stadiums, according to a recent Baseball America feature.
J.R. Graham is back in Mississippi today because of a setback in his career. Jason Hursh arrived in Double-A a little ahead of expectations. The Mississippi Braves — and fans of the club — may be the beneficiaries of this turn of events. Graham is Atlanta’s No. 3-rated prospect (by Baseball America) and fellow right-handed starter Hursh is No. 4. They’ll anchor the rotation for a team that’s gunning to make the Southern League postseason for a second straight year. Graham, 24, a fourth-round pick in 2011 out of Santa Clara, first arrived in Pearl in 2012. After going 9-1 with a 2.63 ERA at Class A Lynchburg to start that season, he went 3-1, 3.18 in nine starts for the M-Braves. He got a long look for the big league staff in the spring of 2013, then returned to Mississippi for some more seasoning. But his season came to an abrupt halt on May 13, when he experienced shoulder pain. He didn’t pitch again. “I feel good,” Graham said at the M-Braves’ media day on Tuesday. “It’s exciting to be back in uniform.” The 5-foot-10 Graham, who blends excellent control with an upper-90s fastball, pronounced himself “100 percent.” He said he was throwing close to his old velocity (98 at times) and had all of his pitches working this spring. “We’re totally thrilled to have J.R. back,” said M-Braves manager Aaron Holbert. “It was nice to see him working on the mound again. … He’s a guy we were really counting on last year.” Hursh, 22, was Atlanta’s first-round pick last June out of Oklahoma State. The 6-foot-3 Texan, who had Tommy John surgery in 2011, has been put on a fast track by the Braves. He was sent to low Class A Rome last summer — skipping rookie and short-season A ball — and fared well: 1-1, 0.67 ERA in nine games. He was invited to Atlanta’s big league camp this spring and pitched well enough to earn a shot at Double-A, again skipping a level, which the Braves don’t often do with their prospects. “I was a little surprised,” Hursh said. “But it’s a good spot to be in. I consider it a privilege to be here, and I think I can compete.” Holbert said there might be a “learning curve” for Hursh early on. “But it’ll be fun to see his progress,” he added.