Kyle Muller appears to have picked up right where he left off from last year. In Triple-A Gwinnett’s 2022 season-opener in Memphis on Tuesday night, the lefty dominated on the mound for much of his outing, striking out seven Redbirds batters and walking two in 4 ⅔ innings.
In what turned out to be a pitcher’s duel between Gwinnett’s Muller and Memphis’ T.J. Zeuch (two guys that stand at least 6-foot-6 on the mound), the Stripers jumped ahead in the third when catcher Chadwick Tromp hit a line drive solo-home run over the left-center field wall.
It was one of Zeuch’s only mistakes on the night, as the former first-round pick later finished his outing with eight strikeouts overall.
The Stripers rallied again in the fourth, when Travis Demeritte slapped a lead-off double, and later Braden Shewmake cued a two-out, ground-ball single to short (his second hit of the night); but following a stolen base by Shewmake, Yariel Gonzalez went down swinging to strand runners on second and third. Gwinnett threatened yet again in the top of the fifth, as Tromp provided another lead-off base-hit to left. However, Tromp was easily thrown out trying to advance to second on a bobbled ball by the Redbirds catcher. Phil Gosselin later drew a two-out walk to chase Zeuch from the game, although reliever James Naile quickly retired Ryan Goins to end the inning.
Muller came out for the fifth having pitched rather efficiently so far, and he began the inning with his seventh punch out of the night, getting prospect catcher Ivan Herrera to go down swinging. An induced flyout off the bat of Conner Capel put Muller in a position to potentially get through the fifth, however, with two outs, the Braves lefty prospect surrendered back to back singles. As a result, Memphis tied the game at one, and Muller got the hook. Righty Nolan Kingham, who pitched in Gwinnett’s starting rotation last season, came on to relieve Muller, and wound up picking off the runner at first to get the Stripers out of the inning.
Kingham worked a clean sixth, and despite another lead-off hit by Gonzalez, Gwinnett couldn’t add any runs in the seventh. With Nick Vincent taking over for Kingham in the bottom-half of the seventh, the Redbirds took a 2-1 lead when Alec Burleson homered off Vincent. The Stripers nearly tied the game in the eighth, though, thanks to another base-hit by Demeritte, a hit-by-pitch by John Nogowski and a walk by Pat Valaika, but with one out Shewmake grounded into a double-play, ending Gwinnett’s threat.
Gonzalez, Tromp and Greyson Jenista all went down in order in the final inning, as the Stripers ended its opener with a one-run loss. As a team Gwinnett out-hit Memphis 7-6, but only managed to go 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
I was able to watch all of Muller’s outing and most of last night’s game overall. It was definitely nice to see the left-handed prospect throwing as well as he did, and man was that breaking ball impressive. At one point in his start, Muller was going to the curve regularly, and he seemed to be commanding it consistently. Unfortunately, on Tuesday he just ran into another great performance by Zeuch, who per FanGraphs, was one of the Cardinals top 30 prospects last year.
The two hits by Shewmake gives the prospect shortstop a nice start to the 2022 campaign. Shewmake – who ranks eighth on my Braves 2022 Offseason Top 35 – is playing his first games at the Triple-A level, after having a bit of a roller coaster-type season with Double-A Mississippi in 2021.
DREW WATERS UPDATE: Unless something crazy is happening, it appears prospect outfielder Drew Waters is likely headed for an IL stint. Waters hasn’t been listed on any Braves affiliated opening day rosters since officially being optioned to Gwinnett back on March 23. If you recall, back during spring training Waters was reportedly dealing with a minor hamstring issue, so perhaps that ailment is still lingering. Just seems weird that there has been absolutely zero updates regarding his condition.
Gwinnett and Memphis will be back it again on Wednesday, with the Stripers likely going with righty Touki Toussaint as the starter. Toussaint, 25-years-old, pitched pretty well for the Braves during Spring Training this year, allowing one run and striking out two in two innings during camp. Touki is coming off a 2021 in which he started ten games for the big league team (4.50 ERA) as well as six starts with the Stripers (3.62 ERA), to go with a handful of appearances out of both bullpens.