Spencer Strider racks up strikeouts in M-Braves win, while both Rome and Augusta also feature strong pitching

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

-Clint Manry

As the big league team tries to avoid a sweep at the hands of one of the worst clubs in the sport, the action down on the farm continues to excite on a nightly basis. Tuesday had it all, including a absolute dominant performance by one of the system’s newest prospect pitchers, who, in his second outing at the Double-A level, compiled 11 strikeouts. Here’s a recap of last night’s games…

(23-31) Gwinnett Stripers
L, 8-0 vs. Nashville
  • SP, N. Kingham – (L), 4 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, HR
  • C, A. Jackson – 2 for 4
  • LF, J. Lucroy – 2 for 4

Gwinnett dropped its series opener on Tuesday versus Nashville, pushing its losing streak to five in a row. Righty starter Nolan Kingham just didn’t really have it in his second Triple-A outing and the Stripers were abused by Sounds’ second baseman Jamie Westbrook, who went deep twice in the game. Last night’s shutout was the fourth time this season Gwinnett has been blanked, and now seven days into the month, the Stripers still have yet to pick up its first win in July.

It really is unfortunate for the 24-year-old Kingham, who now has back-to-back poor starts with Gwinnett:

  • Start #1 – 3.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR
  • Start #2 – 4 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, HR
  • Total – 7.1 IP, 12 H, 10 ER, 6 BB, 6 K, 3 HR

I didn’t get to catch his outing, but at least from the play log it appears that Kingham had a decent first- and second-innings as he worked around a walk and a hit-by-pitch. However, everything seemed to have unraveled in the third. Hopefully he can get it going soon with Gwinnett, because he was tough as nails with the M-Braves this season.

Both Alex Jackson and Drew Waters doubled in this one… and that essentially wraps up the Stripers’ offense for the day, for those were the only XBH. As a team, Gwinnett tallied seven hits but finished 0 for 3 with RISP as Nashville lefty Ethan Small worked six scoreless innings. Former Brave, righty Patrick Weigel, appeared for the Sounds and worked a perfect seventh inning, so that was pretty cool. What else is pretty cool is that Waters is 7 for 16 (.438 AVG) in his last four games, including four XBH. This might be a hot month for the 22-year-old outfielder, and with Orlando Arcia now contributing in Atlanta, the Stripers need someone to step it up.

The trio of Ty Tice, Thomas Burrows and Conner Johnstone relieved Kingham and each allowed runs in their five combined innings. Johnstone, who’s usually used as the team’s opener on bullpen days, surrendered homer no. 2 from Westbrook (mentioned above), which didn’t really matter as Gwinnett was already down 6-0 at the time.

(33-22) Mississippi Braves
W, 8-1 vs. Pensacola
  • SP, S. Strider – (W), 5.1 IP, 3 H, ER, 3 BB, 11 K
  • 2B, J. Miller – 2 for 4, HR, 3 RBI
  • 1B, G. Jenista – 2 for 3, HR, RBI, BB

At least a couple of times a week, the M-Braves will put together a game such as Tuesday’s in which the team dominates in essentially every aspect: hitting, pitching, defense… you name it. With the win over Pensacola last night, Mississippi and the Blue Wahoos are currently tied for first-place in Double-A’s South division, as well as the lead in overall wins in the eight-team South League.

There’s so much to discuss in this one but I’ll stick to the notables here. First of all, of course, is the pitching performance of 22-year-old righty Spencer Strider, who last night struck out 11 in 5.1 innings. In just his second Double-A start of the year, Strider mowed down the Blue Wahoos by tallying multiple punch outs in four of his frames on Tuesday, including a first- and second-inning in which he struck out five of the six batters he faced. Now this isn’t no push-me-over Pensacola lineup either. In fact, five of the nine starters in the Blue Wahoos’ batting lineup last night were ranked Marlins prospects, according to FanGraphs. Those five were headlined by right fielder and no. 3 hitter JJ Bleday, who’s currently Miami’s fifth-ranked prospect and no. 73 in all of baseball. The fact that Strider dominated this offense… is quite the accomplishment.

The clip directly above is most likely the offensive play of the game… and it came from a player that needed a hit like this desperately. Entering the seventh, the M-Braves were up just 2-1, but by the time the frame ended they were leading 4-1 as both Jalen Miller and Greyson Jenista slugged home runs. Although Jenista’s long ball was more than just a homer, because the 6-foot-4, 210-pound lefty managed to clear the center-field batter’s eye with his blast, an accomplishment very few have ever managed to achieve at Trustmark. Last night’s dinger was Jenista’s seventh of the season, which isn’t too bad, though his two hits last night was just his fifth multi-hit performance of the year as he’s currently at a .195/.323/.406 slash-line.

Tuesday’s M-Braves win also featured another hit for prospect shortstop Braden Shewmake, which, shown by the tweet above, gives him ten consecutive games with a knock. I would love to see Shewmake’s batted-ball data over the last month or so and compare it to his work from May. But anyways, here’s the former first-rounder’s stats during his hitting streak…

41 PA, .400 AVG, 1.090 OPS, 7 XBH, 10 RBI

Drew Lugbauer, who deserves an article of his own by now for his breakout 2021 season, had a pair of hits, and so did lead-off hitter Justin Dean. The M-Braves compiled 11 hits altogether. And here’s a fun fact, provided by MiLB.com’s Chris Harris, Mississippi’s offense has now scored in the first inning in five-straight games after last night.

Oh, and don’t forget about the M-Braves bullpen, who should also be applauded for its dominance on Tuesday. Relievers Chris Nunn, Matt Withrow and Kurt Hoekstra combined for six strikeouts in 3.2 scoreless innings to finish the game. Both Withrow and Hoekstra still sport sub-3.00 ERAs this season.

(30-23) Rome Braves
W, 5-2 vs. Bowling Green
  • SP, A. Rangel – (W), 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 7 K, HR
  • 1B, B. Ball – 1 for 4, HR, RBI
  • DH, R. Delgado – 2 for 4, 2 RBI, R, SB

Led by starter Alan Rangel, who worked a solid six-inning outing for his second-straight win, Rome picked up another game on the division leader last night… who just so happens to be its opponent this week, Bowling Green.

The R-Braves offense got started on Tuesday when slugger Bryce Ball took a 2-0 pitch deep and over the left-center field wall in the fourth. The homer was just Ball’s sixth of the season and only his second hit in his last three games at that point. Hopefully this will get his bat going as he’s down to a .199 AVG in 2021. Ball is still striking out nearly 30% of the time this year.

Last night’s offensive MVP, DH Riley Delgado, provided Rome with another run in the fifth as he knocked in Shean Michel with a single. Delgado, in his third stint at the High-A level, is having a decent 2021, hitting .242 with four XBH in 38 games so far. The former ninth-round pick currently has nearly just as many walks as strikeouts (18 BB / 20 K).

Following that Delgado RBI in the fifth, prospect Michael Harris extended Rome’s lead with an RBI groundout. And then the R-Braves ran away with the game in the seventh by tacking on two more runs, thanks to another RBI by Delgado and a sac-fly by Kevin Josephina. 

Relievers Trey Riley and Kasey Kalich worked the final three frames of the game in scoreless fashion, allowing just one hit and striking out five batters combined. Kalich converted the three-out save for his fifth of 2021.

(25-29) Augusta GreenJackets
W, 3-1 vs. Myrtle Beach
  • SP, T. Gordon – (W), 7 IP, 3 H, ER, 6 K
  • RF, W. Carter – 2 for 3, HR, 2 RBI
  • CF, S. Paolini – 1 for 3, HR, RBI

Augusta continued its 12-game homestand at the beautiful PRC Park, and starter Tanner Gordon provided yet another gem on the mound to help lead the GreenJackets to a win. Gordon pitched around three singles in the first three innings combined, but then set down 12-straight to end his outing, including back-to-back-to-back strikeouts in the seventh. The impressive start gives the former sixth-round pick a 2.39 ERA for the season as he’s been nearly unhittable over his last three outings.

As usual during this 2021 campaign, it was outfielder Willie Carter who got the Augusta offense going last night as he belted his fifth home run of the season. The 24-year-old Carter, taken all the way back in the 34th round in 2019, has undoubtedly been the GreenJackets leader and his consistency at the plate is incredible. Carter is off to a bit of a slow start in July, but through the season’s first two months, you couldn’t ask for better play as he hit .329 in May and .310 in June.

Three batters after Carter’s second-inning blast, center fielder Stephen Paolini gave Augusta a 2-0 lead when he launched his second homer of the season. Paolini, a fifth-round selection in 2019, has had a down year in 2021, currently slashing just .164/.262/.251 in 52 games, but he’s coming around lately as he now has three hits in his last 12 at-bats. The lefty-hitter’s struggles have came primarily against right-handed pitchers this season, for Paolini is hitting .255 versus southpaws but just .121 against same-handed hurlers.

Miguel Pena followed Gordon on the mound and worked the final two frames. Pena allowed just one hit and needed only 24 pitches to get the final six outs to preserve the win. This homestand has been great for Augusta’s pitchers, who, according to MiLB.com, has posted a 2.27 ERA in its seven games at PRC Park. Also… second baseman Braulio Vasquez tallied his 28th stolen base for the GreenJackets last night, the second-most in the league.

(2-2) FCL Braves
PPD vs. Pirates Gold

As usually is the case when you attempt to play baseball in the middle of the day… in Florida, the FCL Braves game on Tuesday was postponed. I really don’t understand why these Florida Coast games have 10 AM and noon start times, given it rains basically everyday in the Sunshine State.

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