Unheralded Pruneda Making His Mark For Braves

ATLANTA—Save your catcalls and other lame attempts at humor. Mississippi pitcher Benino Pruneda has heard them all. It's the comments he hears after taking the mound that keeps the hard-throwing reliever coming back for more.

"I know it's not typical to see a guy like me at 5-foot-9 throwing in the mid-90s," Pruneda said. "There's been a couple of players from other teams that have come up to me and said, 'You have a live fastball. It really gets in there pretty quick.' It feels good to hear that from hitters and gives me a lot of confidence."

Pruneda, 22, is coming off an impressive showing in spring training that has Braves officials wondering just how high the righthander's ceiling might be. He has made methodical progress throughout his first four seasons in the professional ranks, which earned him a promotion to Double-A last June. In 45 stints divided between the Carolina and Southern leagues, Pruneda posted a 3.18 ERA while allowing only 55 hits in 65 innings.

The most impressive aspect is his fastball, a pitch that has good movement in addition to its plus velocity. He had fanned 254 batters in 189 innings coming into this season, an average of 12.1 whiffs per nine innings.

Tendinitis in his rotator cuff prevented Pruneda from pitching significant innings during high school. He went to San Jacinto (Texas) JC as an infielder but wound up sitting behind a plethora of draft-and-follow selections and landed in the bullpen. The righty wound up pitching in the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., where he was spotted by Braves scout John Barron and later drafted in the 31st round in 2007.

He has learned to make adjustments, particularly with his offspeed and breaking pitches, yet he says the biggest change centered on his mental approach to the game.

"I've talked to a lot of big leaguers and everyone says the same thing, which is to stay with my approach and my strengths," Pruneda said. "I've come to understand that if I do what I need to do, I'm going to get hitters out. I just need to keep working hard so I can keep moving up."

Wigwam Wisps

• Lefthander Brett DeVall, the Braves' first pick in the 2008 draft, was among those released near the end of spring training. Over his three seasons, DeVall was plagued by recurring elbow and forearm discomfort.

• Righthander Julio Teheran began this season in the rotation at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was the youngest player in the International League at age 20. Teheran received rave reviews during big league camp and could contribute in Atlanta before the end of the campaign.