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Bryce Elder pitches a gem in Gwinnett debut, while Augusta scores 10 unanswered runs in comeback win

The big league Braves were off on Thursday, so the minors had my full attention, and overall it was a solid day for the system as all but one team won its game, including a crazy one that involved 10 unanswered runs and a comeback victory. Here’s everything that happened down on the Braves farm yesterday…

AAA – Gwinnett Stripers (13-14)

W, 3-2 vs. Charlotte

(P) Bryce Elder – 7 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, BB, 7 K, HR

(LF) Preston Tucker – 3 for 4, RBI

(3B) Pat Valaika – 2 for 4, 2B, 2 R

(C) Chadwick Tromp – 1 for 3, 2B, RBI, BB

(RF) Greyson Jenista – 2 for 4

After beginning his 2022 campaign with the big league team, where he posted a respectable 4.74 ERA in four starts with the Braves, prospect Bryce Elder made his Triple-A debut for Gwinnett on Thursday. It looks like the major league experience helped, as Elder pitched the longest outing by a Stripers starter this season, going seven innings and allowing just two runs from three hits; both the earned runs came from a two-run homer in the sixth. Overall, it was an impressive outing for the prospect righty, who managed to keep the ball on the ground; all 10 of his batted-ball outs were groundouts.

The Gwinnett offense struck early yesterday. Delino DeShields led off with a walk before stealing second in the opening frame. Then, a batter later, Preston Tucker knocked DeShields in with a line drive single to right. The Stripers made it 2-0 in the fourth, thanks to another lead-off baserunner. Pat Valaika kicked off the inning with a double and three batters later came around to score when John Nogowski reached on a fielding error.

The aforementioned two-run dinger allowed by Elder made it a tied ballgame in the sixth, but in the eighth the Stripers answered by tacking on that much needed run. With two outs in the inning, Valaika singled and Chadwick Tromp slapped an RBI double to left, putting Gwinnett out in front 3-2. Connor Johnstone worked a perfect ninth, setting down Charlotte in order to preserve the win.

For Tromp, that’s now eight straight games with a hit, and he’s 9 for 18 (.500 AVG) with three homers, two doubles and 10 RBI in his last five. The catcher missed roughly two weeks during the middle of April, but ever since his return he hasn’t stopped hitting. For the second game in a row, prospect Drew Waters wasn’t in the Gwinnett lineup.

AA – Mississippi Braves (10-14)

W, 2-1 vs. Pensacola

(P) Jared Shuster – 5 1/3 IP, 3 H, ER, 6 K

Bullpen – 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, BB, 3 K

(SS) Yariel Gonzalez – 1 for 4, 2B, RBI

(CF) Michael Harris II – 1 for 4, 2B

(1B) Drew Lugbauer – 1 for 4, 2B

(DH) Trey Harris – 1 for 3, RBI

In between the rain that kept trying to spoil this game, we had a bit of a pitcher’s duel last night between Mississippi and Pensacola, as Jared Shuster struck out six in 5 1/3 for the M-Braves and Will Stewart punched out seven in five innings for the Blue Wahoos. Both starters were incredibly efficient, as neither lefty even reached 70 pitches for the night.

The M-Braves offense gave Shuster a first inning lead on Thursday, thanks to a one-out RBI double down the right field line by Yariel Gonzalez that scored Riley Delgado.

Shuster worked with that small lead for essentially his entire outing, but after allowing a one-out double in the sixth, he was replaced by southpaw reliever Hayden Deal – who proceeded to immediately give up an RBI single, scoring the inherited runner and giving Shuster an earned run for the evening. It wasn’t pretty, but Deal finally got out of the inning with just the one run by Pensacola.

The 1-1 tie didn’t last long, thankfully. With rain causing delays, Mississippi’s lineup rallied in the seventh, and following a one-out single by Andrew Moritz, a struggling Trey Harris picked him up by slapping a line drive to center, scoring Mortiz and putting the M-Braves up 2-1. Boy did Trey need that hit.

Relievers Indigo Diaz and Justin Maese teamed up to work the eighth and ninth inning, with Maese working around a two-out single in the finale frame. The M-Braves held on for the win.

It was a slow moving contest last night, as there were nearly two hours worth of delays due to rain and wind. The win on Thursday gives Mississippi five victories in its last six, as the team creeps closer to .500 for the season. For Shuster, it was his changeup that allowed him to pitch so well last night – a pitch that will no doubt take him far as a prospect in the system. Michael Harris extended his on base streak to 24 games when he inside-outed a pitch in the third for a double.

Speaking of the prospect outfielder, Harris did an interesting interview prior to Thursday’s game with the Blue Wahoos. Here are some clips…

A+ – Rome Braves (14-10)

L, 7-4 vs. Greenville

(P) Luis De Avila – (L), 5 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 3 HR

(CF) Cody Milligan – 2 for 5, 2B, 2 RBI, R, SB

(1B) Cade Bunnell – 3 for 4, R

(3B) Justyn-Henry Malloy – 1 for 4, RBI, BB

Thursday was a rough one for Rome’s starter Luis De Avila, who suffered his first poor outing, allowing six runs from eight hits in five innings. And despite that prolific R-Braves offense, the deficit wound up being too much to overcome.

Although, that didn’t stop Rome from at least trying for the comeback. In the fifth, down 4-0, the first four consecutive R-Braves batter reached base as Cade Bunnell hit a lead-off single, Jacob Pearson walked, Willie Carter slapped a base-hit and Cody Milligan inside-outed a line drive to left for a two-run double. Then the next batter, Vaughn Grissom, scored a third run by also putting the ball in play.

But unfortunately, Greenville added on to its 4-3 advantage in the bottom-half of the fifth, thanks to a two-run home run, making it 6-3.

But Rome wasn’t done trying to chip a way. In the seventh, with two outs, third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy slapped a ground ball single to center, scoring Milligan and cutting the Drives lead to just three. However, a Tyler Tolve single in the eighth and a pair of walks in the ninth was all the R-Braves lineup could muster over the final two frames.

While Avila’s previous outing wasn’t great, the 20-year-old lefty has now allowed 11 runs over his last 9 1/3 innings of work, causing his season ERA to jump from a stingy 1.93 to 5.40 these last few weeks. High-A was always going to be a bit of challenge, given he only accrued roughly 50 innings above rookie ball before 2022, but hopefully the kid can get back to whatever was allowing so much success through most of April this year. Rome reliever Justin Yeager continued his scoreless work on Thursday as the 24-year-old has yet to allow a run in 8 1/3 innings so far this season.

A – Augusta GreenJackets (13-11)

W, 10-5 vs. Carolina

(P) Landon Leach – IP, 5 H, 5 ER, BB, K, HR

Bullpen – 8 IP, 3 BB, 10 K

(SS) Cal Conley – 3 for 6, HR, 3B, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R

(RF) Brandol Mezquita – 3 for 6, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R

(C) Adam Zebrowski – 2 for 2, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB

(LF) Brandon Parker – 1 for 5, 3B, 2 RBI

I was able to catch the tail-end of this one last night, and boy was it a crazy one. Augusta found themselves down 5-0 early as starter Landon Leach had a very uncharacteristic rough outing, allowing five runs from five hits in the first. As far as I know, Leach didn’t suffer an injury, but he was given the hook following that opening frame, after just 30 pitches. However, the GreenJackets fought back the entire game.

That five-run deficit was slashed by two in the third, thanks to prospect Cal Conley, who blasted a breaking ball over the right field wall for a two-run dinger.

Then, with two outs in the fifth, Brandol Mezquita nearly homered when he launched a pitch to the left-center wall, scoring Connor Blair to make the score 5-3.

Like a flip of a switch, in the seventh Augusta’s lineup broke out, and by the time the frame ended the GreenJackets were up 7-5 as Mezquita homered, Caleb Durbin drove in a run with an RBI single and Brandon Parker slapped a two-run triple.

And just to be safe, Augusta added three more runs in the eighth, giving them 10 unanswered runs for the night. Conley added a double, and then Mezquita (single) and Adam Zebrowski (double) contributed with hits of their own, followed by a wild pitch that scored Zebrowski.

What’s even more crazy then scoring 10 unanswered runs was the fact that following Leach’s five hits allowed in the first, the GreenJackets bullpen never allowed another hit from Carolina… over the next eight innings! It was nuts. The side-arm style Rob Griswold entered in the eighth and just pumped breaking ball after breaking ball in the strike zone… and the Mudcats just couldn’t hit it, as Griswold racked up five strikeouts in his two hitless frames.

For Mezquita, that’s now 17-straight games in which he has reached base safely, including a four-game hitting streak, allowing him to go 8 for 18 (.444 AVG) with two homers, two doubles and two RBI during the hit streak. The kid is loving full-season ball, after spending the last several seasons at the rookie level. Mezquita is hitting .358 for the year.

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