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Bats come alive as Gwinnett beats Memphis 5-3

Bats come alive as Gwinnett beats Memphis 5-3

After the bats were quiet during Tuesday’s season-opener, the Stripers offense woke up in its day game versus the Redbirds today, and even more impressive, it came against one of the Cards top prospect pitchers, left-hander Matthew Liberatore (ranked 67th per FanGraphs 2022 Top 100 prospect list).

It was Memphis who actually started the scoring in Wednesday’s contest. Gwinnett starter Touki Toussaint ran into a bit of trouble right out of the gate in the first, allowing back-to-back batters to reach from both a lead-off double and a walk. Touki quickly recovered by inducing a double-play, but he was forced to trade a run for two outs, as the ground ball hit by Luken Baker put the Redbirds up 1-0.

The second inning featured an answer from the Stripers, though. Following a lead-off strikeout by Yariel Gonzalez, prospect shortstop Braden Shewmake blasted a ball he likely won’t forget this season. In the first pitch of the at-bat, Shewmake put a beautiful swing on it and sent it over the right-center wall to tie the game at one apiece.

After pitching around a lead-off walk in the bottom-half of the second, Touki retired the remaining three Memphis batters in 1-2-3 fashion. And in the third, the Stripers took a lead by pushing across three more runs. Following a strikeout by Justin Dean to start the frame, four consecutive Gwinnett batters reached base, as Phil Gosselin doubled, Pat Valaika homered, Travis Demeritte doubled and John Nogowski singled. Just like that, the Stripers led 4-1.

(an absolute no doubter by Valaika…)

Touki seemed to find his groove in Memphis’ half of the third, setting down the trio of Scott Hurst, Brandon Donovan and Nolan Gorman all via strikeout. The Stripers righty also faced the minimum in the fourth, retiring Luken Baker, Ali Sanchez and Corey Spangenberg, via groundout, strikeout and strikeout, respectively. However, in the fifth, Touki appeared to begin tiring, and after a single and back to back walks, Gwinnett manager Matt Tuiasosopo turned to the bullpen. Thomas Burrows ended the threat by striking out Gorman to end the fifth.

Shewmake added another hit in the sixth (his second of three knocks for the day), and Brandon Brennan replaced Burrows for the bottom portion of the frame. Unfortunately for Brennan, though, he hung a breaking ball to the very first batter he faced (Luken Baker), and the result was a solo-homer to cut the Stripers lead to just two.

(yah… this was an absolute bomb by Baker, who slugged 26 homers in Double-A last season)

Brennan wasn’t able to survive the inning, for following Baker’s monster homer, the 30-year-old also allowed two walks and a single, causing Tuiasosopo to once again turn to the ‘pen. Brandon with a “Y” (Brandyn Sittinger) retired Scott Hurst to end the sixth before any more damage occurred.

Gwinnett added one more run in the seventh, when John Nogowski slapped a line drive single and scored Gosselin, although both the eighth and ninth innings were mostly quiet as save for a third hit of the game by Shewmake and a two-out single in the final frame by Memphis’ Hurst, neither team was able to muster up much more offense. Both Bryce Elder and Michael Tonkin took care of those final two frames for the Stripers, with the latter pitcher earning the save.

It was a nice win for the Triple-A club on Wednesday. A solid line (4 2/3 IP, 2 H, ER, 4 BB, 8 K) from Touki was nice to see, even if we know how it usually winds up going when he spends too much time in the majors. For whatever reason, Toussaint just hasn’t been able to figure out the big leagues. Regardless, though, it was certainly a nice outing for the 25-year-old, and I’m always rooting for him. And talk about a performance by Shewmake! I was listening to the latest episode of 455 Is Real (featuring David O’Brien and Eric O’Flaherty as hosts) and O’Brien mentioned Shewmake as future utility-type player due to his size. Sure, he needs to add 15-20 pounds, but the kid can hit. Don’t let Vaughn Grissom make you overlook Shewmake… not just yet.

The Stripers will be back in action on Thursday at 6:45 PM (CT) for Game 3 of its series against Memphis. According to MiLB.com, righty Jackson Stephens will earn the start for Gwinnett. Be sure to check back here for a recap of tomorrow’s game!

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