Braves: Drew Waters tallies three hits for Gwinnett, while Bryce Elder tosses gem in second M-Braves start

Monday, July 5, 2021

-Clint Manry

The 4th of July was a great day for Braves baseball as not only did the big league team win an impressive comeback versus the Marlins, but all four full-season affiliates also played during the holiday. Here’s a recap of all the action from Sunday…

(23-30) Gwinnett Stripers

L, 5-4 vs. Durham
  • SP, J. De La Cruz – 0.2 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, K, HR
  • LF, D. Waters – 3 for 4, 2 R, 2 SB
  • SS, R. Goins – 1 for 4, HR, 2 RBI

For the second-straight night the Stripers lost in walk-off fashion, now giving them four consecutive losses to end the week. Against Gwinnett reliever Yoan López in the ninth inning, Durham led off with a double, intentionally walked and then slapped an RBI single to win it. Durham Bulls Athletic Park was absolutely rocking with 10,360 fans in attendance last night. I thought this was a nice point of view for a walk-off clip (even if it’s not our team)…

There wasn’t much to celebrate regarding the Stripers. Prospect Drew Waters tallied three knocks and stole a couple of bags, while Ryan Goins went deep in the first with just his second home run of the season.

Johan Camargo also had a strong game at the plate, finishing 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run. Johan has enjoyed essentially every minute of his time in Triple-A. Despite his current 0 for 15 showing in the majors this season, the 27-year-old has hit .309 overall in the minors, including a current seven-game hitting streak in which he’s hitting .321 with a .902 OPS. Maybe one day it will all click for Camargo in The Show.

Waters will also end his week on a strong note, going 6 for his last 12 (.500 AVG) over the last three games. The 22-year-old prospect is at a double-digit walk-rate right now (10.9%), so there’s no complaints with his patience. However, Waters is also striking out at a 33.2% clip, and that could go down quite a bit. The thumb injury that knocked him out in mid-June just came at a horrible time as I feel like he was on the verge of really breaking out. Since Waters returned from that ailment, he’s slashing just .146/.268/.250 and has struck out 41% of the time.

Righty Jasseel De La Cruz started Sunday’s series finale, and for the second-straight time he threw less than 50 pitches in his outing as he got the hook even before completing the first inning. I haven’t been able to watch Cruz a whole lot this season, but his performance has taken a dramatic turn for the worse now that he’s a regular in Triple-A, which is really where he should be at age-24 now. Of his nine starts for Gwinnett in 2021, Cruz has made it to the fifth inning only twice, and last night’s short outing gives him an average of less than three innings per start over his last five games. That’s just not going to work. Regardless, Cruz heads into his next start with a 7.18 ERA in 31.1 innings for the season.

(32-22) Mississippi Braves

W, 6-2 vs. Montgomery
  • SP, B. Elder – (W), 5 IP, 2 H, ER, 2 BB, 5 K
  • SS, B. Shewmake – 1 for 4, 2B, RBI
  • 2B, W. Rijo – 1 for 3, HR, RBI

The M-Braves were also on the road for Independence Day, but their travels didn’t slow them down as they outhit the Biscuits 9-5 and tallied six XBH in the win, snapping a small two-game losing streak to conclude the week.

Sunday was righty Bryce Elder’s second start in Double-A, and boy did he look sharp in his five-inning outing. The 22-year-old didn’t allow his first hit until the fifth, and for much of the start the Montgomery batters couldn’t time his fastball as he racked up five strikeouts overall. Elder’s command wasn’t spot-on, especially with his breaking ball, but a lot of times it didn’t seem to matter.

In fact, basically all the M-Braves pitching was solid yesterday. Following Elder, Mississippi sent a quartet of relievers to follow, featuring Brooks Wilson, Brandon White, Troy Bacon and Daysbel Hernández. White made one mistake by allowing a monster home run but other than that the bullpen was stingy, allowing just one run from three hits in four innings of work, to go with five strikeouts.

The M-Braves offense got started yesterday with a first-inning homer by Wendell Rijo, who is scorching hot so far this month and has been hitting well really since mid-June. The longball gives him seven for the 2021 season, and the 25-year-old has drastically improved his numbers from where they were back in May. Check out his monthly splits…

  • May – 66 PA, .230 AVG, .583 OPS
  • June – 84 PA, .217 AVG, .801 OPS
  • July – 19 PA, .467 AVG, 1.512

Prospect Braden Shewmake just continues to completely turn his 2021 season around as he has now hit safely in nine-straight games and is slashing .389/.405/.694 with seven XBH in that span. And it’s not just the last nine games, either, for the first-round draft pick has been heating up since back during the first part of June. Shewmake’s sitting at a .205 AVG entering Monday’s off day, so he’s still got a ways to go to get his numbers where they need to be. However, looking at his last 7 day- and 14 day-splits, you can tell this kid is determined to end the year strong. Seemingly every batted-ball from him is barreled.

(29-23) Rome Braves

W, 9-4 vs. Wilmington
  • SP, F. Tarnok – (W) 5 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, BB, 5 K, 3 HR
  • CF, J. Franklin – 3 for 5, HR, 2 RBI
  • LF, A. Moritz – 3 for 4, HR, 2 RBI

Rome had an unusual 1:05 PM first pitch on Sunday versus Wilmington for the series finale, winning easily with 16 hits as a team. The R-Braves have now won 9 of its last 12 and this week they outscored the Blue Rocks 26-14 in the final four games of the series, of which they won all but one.

I’ve been excited about this kid since Day 1, but again… outfielder Jesse Franklin put on a show yesterday. The 22-year-old homered for the third time in his last four games, and with a 3 for 5 finish on Independence Day, Franklin is now 7 for 15 (.466 AVG) so far in July. You may say… so… okay… it’s only been a few days, right? However, this comes after the 2020 draft pick also slashed .338/.412/.757 with 14 XBH (8 HR) in 22 games last month, a huge improvement compared to the dreadful May he had in which he hit just .200 and walked at only a 2.5% clip. Franklin has turned into a machine at the plate, which, with star prospect Michael Harris also in the mix, makes this Rome offense even more dangerous,

Speaking of Harris, it appears he had the day off yesterday. At least I desperately hope it’s just an off day, because I’ve already booked my trip to see him in Rome beginning this coming Thursday.

Starter Freddy Tarnok was mostly fine, save for the three home runs he allowed. Tarnok faced the minimum in the first, and was sharp in the second, following a lead-off long ball. The righty made quick work of Wilmington in the third, but the fourth inning is where the Blue Rocks actually did some damage by putting runners on, and after Tarnok walked a batter, he allowed his second homer of the game and his third earned run. He was nearly perfect in the fifth and final frame, except again… a solo-homer bit him. The 22-year-old Tarnok will enter his fourth start of the year next week carrying a 4.74 ERA in 19 innings, to go with 32 strikeouts and eight walks.

Relievers Zach Daniels and the Indigo Diaz pitched the final four innings of Sunday’s win, all in hitless fashion. The save yesterday gives Diaz five for the season, and the dominant righty hasn’t allowed a run in six relief appearances now, a scoreless stretch of 6.2 straight innings. The 22-year-old sports a 0.82 ERA in 22 total innings in 2021, while carrying a ridiculous K rate of 19.2 strikeouts per nine.

(24-29) Augusta GreenJackets

W, 3-1 vs. Columbia
  • SP, J. McSteen – (W), 6 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 5 K
  • 1B, L. Stephens – 2 for 4, HR, RBI
  • C, R. Rodriguez – 1 for 3, RBI, R

This one was all lefty Jake McSteen as he held Columbia to just five hits in his six-inning start. In fact, McSteen has been a force ever since being moved back down from Single-A Rome. In his four starts with the GreenJackets so far, he’s 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA to go along with 22 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.

There wasn’t much offense from Augusta last night as they only tallied four hits as a team, compared to Columbia’s eight. Fortunately, the Fireflies were only 1 for 11 with RISP, so their failure to take advantage of numerous opportunities allowed the GreenJackets to come away with the win.

The home run by first baseman Landon Stephens in the third gives him five long balls this year as he’s having a strong season at the plate. Stephens is looking more like a platoon-bat given how his contact goes way down when facing right-handed pitchers. However, he has been one of the better hitters in this Augusta lineup so far. It appears shortstop/third baseman Vaughn Grissom is still inactive and on the 7-day IL. Hopefully the GreenJackets will get him back soon.

Augusta took four of six from Columbia in its series. As the only Braves affiliate to host a game on Independence Day, there were 5,306 fans in attendance at SRP Park on Sunday night.

(1-2) FCL Braves

Friday, July 2: L, 7-6 vs. Rays
Saturday, July 3: L, 11-4 vs. Rays

I’ve sort of fell a bit behind on the FCL Braves season as they don’t play everyday… and when they do it’s slap dab in the middle of the day. But the Braves have played two games since we last looked at them, both against the FCL Rays on both Friday and Saturday.

On Friday, Jorge Bautista got the start for the Braves but only faced nine batters (1.1 innings) before getting pulled. The Rays offense scored six unanswered runs and led 6-0 after five, but the Braves made a nice comeback. Although despite scoring two runs in the final frame, the Braves fell just short and lost by one. Outfielders Kadon Morton and Brandol Mezquita led the Braves offense as both combined to finish 3 for 7 on Friday, with the former tallying a pair of RBI to go with two stolen bases, and the latter hitting a double.

Saturday’s loss was a little less dramatic as the Rays scored three runs against Braves starter Reibyn Corona, and then another five runs in the fifth inning off reliever Cesari Moreno. The Braves tried to hang around, putting up a pair of runs in the second thanks to Mason Berne’s two-run home run, but four earned runs from the Braves bullpen just didn’t give the offense much of a chance. Braves catcher Antonio Barranca was the only other batter in the lineup, besides Berne, that notched an XBH in Saturday’s loss. DH Mahki Backstrom finished the game 1 for 4 with a run scored.

The FCL team was off on July 4 but will be back in action today with two games against the Orioles (Black) team.

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