Drew Lugbauer powers M-Braves to comeback win, while Freddy Tarnok throws a gem for Rome

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

-Clint Manry

Yesterday featured a pair of well-deserved promotions as pitchers Nolan Kingham and Bryce Elder each moved up a rung on the minor league ladder. Kingham goes from Mississippi to Gwinnett, while Elder’s new assignment has him going from Rome to Mississippi. Even better, both righties made their debuts Tuesday evening. Here’s a recap of their respective starts yesterday, as well as the rest of the Braves minor league system…

(22-26) Gwinnett Stripers

L, 8-3 vs. Durham

SP, N. Kingham – 3.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR

1B, J. Camargo – 1 for 3, 2B, RBI

RP, J. Biddle – 1 ⅓ IP, 4 K

Welp, Nolan Kingham’s Triple-A debut was far from ideal as the 24-year-old righty couldn’t make it out of the 4th inning last night. In all, Kingham needed a whopping 82 pitches to get through 27 Durham batters, and in that final frame he allowed all six batters faced to reach base, including three doubles and a home run. By the time Thomas Burrows relieved Kingham, the Stripers found themselves down 6-0. It’s just his first outing, so nothing to panic about, but hopefully the Texas product can bounce back in his next start with Gwinnett.

Fast-forward to the 6th and Gwinnett tried to manufacture some offense. Following a lead-off strikeout by Yolmer Sanchez, prospect Drew Waters walked and stole second. Jason Kipnis then walked as well, and two batters later Johan Camargo slapped a two-out single to right scoring Waters. A third walk in the inning by Jonathan Lucroy added a second run and the Stripers were within striking distance, down 6-2. However, facing reliever Jay Flaa, Durham put three-straight batters on base in its half of the frame, extending the lead to 8-2.

A lead-off double by Kipnis in the 8th, followed by an RBI double by a hot-hitting Ryan Goins was all the Gwinnett offense could put together in the final two innings. The loss to the Bulls last night pushed the Stripers 10 games back in the division — the largest deficit for Gwinnett so far this season. 

Following Burrows and Flaa’s work out of the bullpen, Jesse Biddle and Victor Arano combined for 2 ⅓ innings, allowing just one hit and striking out five. Save for Waters and Orlando Arcia, every Stripers batter in the lineup recorded at least one hit on Tuesday. 

(30-19) Mississippi Braves

W, 7-6 vs. Montgomery

SP, B. Elder – 4 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, BB, 5 K

DH, D. Lugbauer – 2 for 4, HR, 3 RBI

1B, G. Jenista – 1 for 2, HR, 2 RBI

As mentioned above, Bryce Elder made his anticipated Double-A debut last night for the M-Braves, but it was the offense that perhaps stole the show as Mississippi came back from a 6-3 deficit in the 5th. 

It was a helluva team effort from the lineup as the M-Braves scored a run in each of the 3rd, 4th and 5th innings, followed by two more in the 6th, to cut Montgomery’s lead to just one. Then in the 8th, following a lead-off single by prospect Braden Shewmake, slugger Drew Lugbauer instantly gave Mississippi a 7-6 lead when he smoked a line drive homer to right. 

Just-activated by Mississippi, Sean McLaughlin worked a sketchy bottom-half of the inning by getting the first two outs, but Brooks Wilson entered and got the M-Braves out of the frame. Wilson returned for the 9th and struck out three Biscuits to preserve the impressive win, giving Mississippi its 30th victory of the season (the first Double-A South team do so in 2021). 

The MVP last night goes to Lugbauer, who not only hit that go-ahead two-run homer in the 8th but also came up with a clutch RBI single in the 6th to put the M-Braves within one. 

Lugbauer, who in the past has been primarily an all-or-nothing type hitter at the plate, is having a career year in terms of contact. The former 11th round pick is now hitting .291 this season, to go with a .900 OPS and six long balls.

Prospects Greyson Jenista and Shea Langeliers also homered in this one, giving Mississippi three altogether.

Also of note, outfielder Justin Dean finished 2 for 5 and tallied his 15th stolen base of the season. Unfortunately, Trey Harris, CJ Alexander and Jefrey Ramos all combined to go 0 for 13 with five strikeouts. After hitting pretty well earlier this month, Ramos seems to again be scuffling at the plate.

Elder definitely didn’t pitch his best game last night but he did a nice job of minimizing the damage and keeping the M-Braves in it. That three-run 1st was really the only stressful inning he encountered, and considering he walked a batter, threw a wild pitch and surrendered four hits during the frame, it’s pretty impressive he escaped with just three earned runs. 

If you exclude the opening inning, Elder allowed one run from three hits and struck out four, a very strong Mississippi debut for the 22-year-old.

Emmanual Ramirez relieved Elder for the 5th and allowed a pair of runs, but once Chris Nunn entered in the 6th the M-Braves bullpen went into its usual shutdown mode. The quartet of Nunn, Kurt Hoekstra, McLaughlin and Wilson allowed just one hit (which came in the 6th) over four innings, struck out six and walked three, which allowed the offense to work its way back in the game. 

(25-22) Rome Braves

W, 6-2 vs. Wilmington 

SP, F. Tarnok – (W), 5 IP, 2 H, BB, 8 K

DH, R. Delgado – 3 for 4, 2B, R

CF, M. Harris – 1 for 4, 2B, RBI, R

A huge six-run inning to start the game and some stingy pitching gave Rome the win in last night’s series opener. The R-Braves offense started off by putting five consecutive batters on base in the 1st, with none other than star prospect Michael Harris delivering the RBI double to go up by one. Two batters later Bryce Ball drew a bases-loaded walk, and next Jesse Franklin popped up a sac-fly. Both Logan Brown and Beau Philip reached base, followed by another sac-fly — this time by Shean Michel — to give the team already half a dozen runs. In all, 11 batters for Rome came to the plate in that 1st inning, tallying five hits and a pair of walks. 

Starter Freddy Tarnok settled in nicely during his outing, and he began the game by facing 12 Wilmington batters before allowing a hit in the 4th. A base-hit two batters later was all the Blue Rocks could muster against Tarnok as he looked strong in his second start of the season, totaling 74 pitches in five innings of work. 

The 6-0 lead perhaps allowed Rome’s offense to become complacent as the lineup only managed three more hits over the next eight innings. Riley Delgado notched his second three-hit night of the season, and though he still hasn’t found his groove at the plate, Ball added two more walks to go with his sac-fly; the big slugger is one of the leaders in walks among High-A hitters. And Cody Milligan, who led off on Tuesday, finished 2 for 5 with a run.

Other than Gabriel Noguera (2 ER), the R-Braves bullpen was lights out. Tyler Ferguson and the dominant Indigo Diaz got the final 11 outs of the game, with seven of those coming via strikeout. Diaz, the no. 817th overall pick (round 27) in the 2019 MLB Draft by Atlanta, now has 47 punch outs in just 22 innings this season — a ridiculous K rate of 19.2 strikeouts per nine. The 22-year-old also sports an 0.82 ERA. 

(21-27) Augusta GreenJackets 

W, 6-5 vs. Columbia 

SP, J. McSteen – (W), 7 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 6 K, HR

1B, B. Horne – 2 for 3, HR, 2 RBI

3B, C. Birdsong – 1 for 4, 2B, 2 RBI

Following a slow start by the GreenJackets offense, Augusta managed to produce six runs from eight hits in innings six thru nine to kick off the team’s series opener at the beautiful SRP Park. 

Perhaps no run was more impressive than Willie Carter’s 6th-inning home run, the GreenJackets second in a row during that frame (after Bryson Horne’s long ball). Check out Carter’s bat flip…

Augusta’s two-run 6th was followed by a four-run 7th as Stephen Paolini singled, Cam Shepherd doubled and Jose Bermudez slapped an RBI base-hit. Two batters later in that same inning, following a steal by Bermudez and an intentional walk of Cade Bunnell, Cody Birdsong and Horne tacked on three more runs when the former hit a two-run double and the latter knocked in Bunnell with an RBI single. 

The trio of Horne, Shepherd and Landon Stephens each finished with two hits last night, and though Bunnell didn’t record a knock, he tallied three walks in the game. Altogether, Augusta recorded 11 hits as a team. 

Righty starter Jake McSteen put together another solid outing on Tuesday, giving him a 1.86 ERA for the season, to go along with 10.2 strikeouts per nine. The 25-year-old McSteen threw 50 of 78 pitches for a strike, and along with his six punch outs, he also induced a ton of weak contact, resulting in 12 batted-ball outs (7 ground outs / 5 flyouts). 

Relievers Gabriel Rodriguez and Benjamin Dum finished up the game by working the final two innings. Rodriguez pitched around some trouble in the 8th and allowed a pair of runs before exiting with two outs, but Dum got the final four outs to notch his second save of the season. 

(1-0) FCL Braves

Suspended in the 5th (tied 0-0 vs. Red Sox)

Once again, five innings was all the Braves and Red Sox could get in yesterday due to lightening, though they’ll resume the game at a later date. 

As you can see, both teams were tied at zero when the game was suspended, so not much happened in this one. Although, Brandol Mezquita doubled for the second day in a row, as well as walked and stole a base. Plus Mahki Backstrom and Joseph Fernando both had one single apiece in two tries at the plate. 

Andy Samuelson — a 12th round pick by Atlanta in 2019 — started the game and pitched three innings and allowed two hits with three walks as he struck out three. At the time of the suspension, reliever Kevin Solano had just worked a hitless 4th inning. 

Maybe… just maybe… the Braves can play a complete game when they next take the field, which is supposed to be Thursday against the Orioles (Black) in Sarasota. Florida, especially in the middle of the day, is not a great place to try and play baseball.

As of early this morning, all but Gwinnett have announced probables for today’s games. Making his second start at the Double-A level, Spencer Strider will take the bump for the M-Braves today. Rome will go with Alan Rangel, and Augusta’s announced starter is Tanner Gordon. 

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