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Augusta snaps losing streak; Vaughn Grissom tallies 3 hits and steals home

The Braves already clinched a series victory against the Marlins back on Saturday, but it sure would’ve been nice to string a few wins together with another W in its rubber game on Sunday. However, a messy outing for Ian Anderson (4 ER) and a dominant complete-game by Miami’s Sandy Alcantara didn’t allow that to happen yesterday. And despite nearly coming back with a pair of runs in the ninth, Atlanta remains three games under .500 (19-22 record) for the season, as the team continues to play below its expectations.

But there was plenty of wins down on the Braves farm on Sunday! Three of the four affiliates took care of business yesterday, including Low-A Augusta, who snapped a dreadful five-game losing streak. Here’s a recap of all the action…

AAA – Gwinnett (21-21)

L, 10-4 vs. Memphis

(P) Nolan Kingham – IP, H, ER, K, HR

(1B) John Nogowski – 3 for 4, RBI

(3B) Phil Gosselin – 1 for 5, HR, RBI

(SS) Braden Shewmake – 1 for 4, 3B, R, BB

Gwinnett’s win streak died at four on Sunday, thanks to an absolute offensive outburst by Memphis, who scored 10 runs from 16 hits. Former Cardinals prospect, and Redbirds right fielder, Lars Nootbaar, had a performance that’ll likely have St. Louis fans calling for his promotion as he finished yesterday 3 for 5 with a whopping three home runs (including a grand slam) and seven RBI. Trying to stop Nootbaar was difficult enough for the Stripers combined eight pitchers on Sunday, but it didn’t help that five different Memphis batters contributed with multi-hit games, including a 4 for 5 day for left fielder Conner Capel. Yup, it was a rough game for Gwinnett, who should be looking forward to its day off on Monday, before heading to Norfolk on Tuesday.

If there’s any positives to take from Sunday’s defeat, veteran Phil Gosselin continued to swing a hot bat, and he gave the Stripers its first run when he slugged a lead-off home run – his fourth long ball of the year.

The only other XBH by Gwinnett in this one came from prospect Braden Shewmake, who led off the sixth with a triple and later came around to score when Hernan Perez slapped a ground ball single to left. That sixth inning was the Stripers only real rally, as part of a two-run frame that also included an RBI knock by John Nogowski to make it a 9-3 game. Preston Tucker added an RBI in the seventh, with a single, but that was all the runs Gwinnett could muster during the latter portion of the game.

It was a bullpen day, with righty Nolan Kingham earning the start for the Stripers on Sunday, followed by seven relievers. Notable appearances included prospect Victor Vodnik, who once again pitched well, working both the sixth and seventh by allowing no hits and no runs.

AA – Mississippi (18-21)

W, 6-1 vs. Biloxi

(P) Jared Shuster – (W), 6 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 5 K

(CF/LF) Jacob Pearson – 2 for 4, 2 2B, 2 RBI, R

(C) Logan Brown – 2 for 4, 3B, RBI, R

(3B) CJ Alexander – 2 for 5, 2 R, SB

(DH) Riley Delgado – 2 for 4, R, BB

Currently one of the top starting pitchers in Double-A’s Southern League, prospect Jared Shuster put together yet another impressive outing on Sunday, helping lead the M-Braves to a series finale win against Biloxi.

In a game in which everyone got a little excited when hearing the news that prospect Michael Harris II was a late scratch (he ended up entering as a pinch-hitter), the M-Braves jumped on the Shuckers in the second thanks to a hot-hitting CJ Alexander, who following a lead-off walk by Jalen Miller, slapped a single and then was knocked in by Jacob Pearson’s two-run double.

Giving Mississippi a nice 3-0 lead early: later in the third, Trey Harris went the other way with a pitch and drove it to right field for an RBI single (he tried to stretch it into a double… but was thrown out).

Shuster really settled in beginning in the third. The 23-year-old faced the minimum in each of the third and fourth, pitched around a harmless single in the fifth, and then limited the damage as he tired in the sixth by working through a couple of base-hits that cut the M-Braves lead to 4-1. Along with Shuster going deep in the outing, Mississippi’s bats provided some insurance, as Logan Brown knocked in Alexander with an RBI ground ball single in the seventh, giving the team a five-run lead.

All in all, the M-Braves collectively tallied a dozen hits, including a whopping five multi-hit performers – highlighted by Pearson who finished with a pair of doubles in the win. Delgado, one of those five multi-hit contributors, has now hit safely in nine-straight games, and per MiLB.com, his .337 AVG this year ranks third in the Southern League.

And speaking of the Southern League’s rankings, Shuster’s 2.14 ERA in 2022 is the second-lowest mark in the league as he’s reached at least six innings in four of his eight starts so far this season. A promotion to Triple-A should come soon.

On Sunday, the trio of Hayden Deal, Jake Higginbotham and Tyler Ferguson combined to work the final three innings in scoreless fashion, preserving the big lead for the M-Braves.

A+ – Rome (23-16)

W, 9-4 vs. Aberdeen

(P) Royber Salinas – 2.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K

Bullpen – 6.1 IP, 4 H, BB, 9 K

(SS) Vaughn Grissom – 3 for 4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R, BB, SB

(3B) Justyn-Henry Malloy – 2 for 3, HR, 2 RBI, R, BB, SB

(CF) Drew Campbell – 2 for 5, RBI, 2 R, SB

(2B) Cody Milligan – 2 for 5, 2 R

Rome won a huge series against Aberdeen on Sunday, which entering last Tuesday’s opener, was the top team in High-A’s South Atlantic League. This was quite the test for the R-Braves, and the team passed it with flying colors, providing some much needed offense and dominant work by the bullpen to finish off a strong week on the road.

Rome’s offense was clicking from the get-go, as Cody Milligan led off the opening inning with a single and two batters later Vaughn Grissom homered to quickly put the team up 2-0.

R-Braves starter Royber Salinas ran into some trouble in the bottom-half of the first, allowing a lead-off single, a double, a walk and a sac-fly. However, the righty battled and escaped with a 2-1 lead. Although, the IronBirds scored another in the second, despite Salinas striking out the first two batters of the inning. Following those back-to-back punch outs, Aberdeen drew a walk and then an RBI double tied the game at two apiece.

But that R-Braves lineup was there to help. Drew Campbell came up second in the third inning, slapping a one-out single, and then a Grissom base-hit and a walk by Justyn-Henry Malloy loaded the bases. Christian Robinson did his job and knocked in Campbell with a line drive single to center, and just like that Rome had the lead again. And then Grissom did something you don’t see very often: the kid stole home…

But unfortunately, despite plenty of run support from his offense, Salinas just couldn’t find his groove on Sunday. The righty allowed a lead-off double in the bottom of the third, followed by a sac-fly to tie the game again. Then Salinas proceeded to let the next four consecutive Aberdeen batters reach base, thanks to a pair of walks, a hit-by-pitch and an RBI single. At a whopping 76 pitches and just two outs in the third, Salinas’ day was done. Although Jake McSteen got out of the jam with an inning-ending strikeout, followed by absolute brilliance from the R-Braves bullpen, who went on to toss 6.1 scoreless innings to finish the game.

Rome added two runs in the fifth to take a 6-4 lead when Grissom walked and Malloy slugged his fifth home run of the season… and second in two days.

Then in the sixth, the R-Braves offense provided all the insurance it could ever need, scoring three more from an RBI single by Campbell, an RBI double by Grissom and a wild-pitch by the IronBirds that scored Grissom later in the inning. The 9-4 advantage held and Rome won big.

This was a big game by Grissom, who now has four three-hit performances to his name so far in 2022. The 21-year-old prospect is playing well this year, but inconsistency at the plate has sort of allowed him to fly under the radar. Heading into Sunday’s impressive day with the bat, Grissom was hitless in his last 18 tries, going back five games – so the three knocks were huge for the kid’s confidence.

A – Augusta (21-18)

W, 5-4 vs. Charleston

(P) J.J. Niekro – 4.2 IP, 5 H, ER, BB, 6 K

Bullpen – 4.1 IP, 5 H, BB, 5 K

(C) Adam Zebrowski – 1 for 4, HR, 2 RBI

(2B) Caleb Durbin – 1 for 4, 2B, 2 RBI

(DH) Brian Klein – 1 for 4, 2B, R

It wasn’t exactly pretty but Augusta escaped Sunday with a win, snapping a five-game losing streak to Charleston, who’s one of the best teams right now in Low-A.

Starter J.J. Niekro, making his first start of the season after pitching solely out of the GreenJackets bullpen so far, was sharp overall but he ran into some trouble in the first when a pair of singles and a walk resulted in a 1-0 deficit. But in the second, Stephen Paolini got on base with a one-out single, and then Adam Zebrowski put Augusta up with a two-run homer – his fourth of the year.

With Niekro settling in on the mound, the GreenJackets then proceeded to score a run apiece in each of the third and fourth, capped off by an RBI double from Caleb Durbin to go up 4-1.

Niekro faced the minimum in the bottom-half of the fourth, and honestly he was still going strong in the fifth, striking out two with a base-hit allowed in between. But with his pitch count approaching 90, the team opted to turn to the bullpen with two outs in the fifth inning, giving way for Tyler Owens.

The sixth, seventh and eighth innings was pretty uneventful for both teams, as two singles and three walks combined was all each offense could manage during those three frames. But, in the ninth, with the usually-dominant Rob Griswold on the mound for Augusta, the RiverDogs broke out for a big inning, which was aided a bit by a GreenJackets fielding error to begin the frame. In the end, Charleston sent seven batters to the plate in that final inning, resulting in three runs to cut Augusta’s lead to just one. But thankfully, Griswold settled down and induced a pop out to second to end the game, maintaining the GreenJackets slim lead.

Augusta was outhit 10-5 in this one, and other than the Zebrowski homer and Durbin double, there wasn’t much going on with the GreenJackets bats on Sunday. However, I am impressed with Niekro’s debut as a starter. You’ve probably read his name plenty on this site as one of the team’s primary arms out of the bullpen, and he impressed with a scoreless streak of 11.1 innings to begin the campaign. As a former UDFA, the 24-year-old is having a strong year in Low-A, and he’ll enter next week with a 2.53 ERA in 32 overall innings this season.

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