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Braves fall in season opener to Pulaski

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Danville Braves

The Danville Braves opened up their 25th season Tuesday night at Legion Field against the Pulaski Yankees. The two rookie affiliates sent out some newly drafted players and top prospects to open up Appalachian League play and the Braves got the summer started with a 4-1 loss.

Nobody wants to start any season with a loss, but Braves’ manager Barrett Kleinknecht was pleased with what he saw in game one of the season.

“I went in there and broke the silence a little bit because all-in-all this is about development,” he said. “If we win, we win. If not, as long as these guys are getting ready to move on to the next level then we’re doing our job.”

The Braves were up against a top five Yankee prospect on the mound in Luis Medina, whose fastball worked around 98 mph most of his outing. The Braves had trouble figuring out his velocity early on, being held without a hit after three innings.

The Braves sent out Dilmer Mejia, who’s been in the organization since being picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He allowed a hit to lead off the ball game, but then retired the next 10 batters into the fourth inning.

A double by Everson Pereira with one out in the top of the fourth broke the streak and then a single by Carlos Tatis allowed Pereira to score the game’s first run after an error by Mejia.

Still without the benefit of a hit, the Braves found their first run in the bottom of the fourth inning after a pair of walks, a wild pitch and then a groundout by Nick Vizcaino to tie the game at 1-1. Hagen Owenby caught a break to start the inning after a foul ball behind first base was dropped and the next pitch Owenby drew a walk.

The score didn’t remain tied for long. The Yankees came right back in the top of the fifth inning and got that run right back. Robert Javier roped an RBI double down the leftfield line inside the bag at third base to bring home the go-ahead run to make it 2-1.

Medina left the game after four innings of work and gave way to Luis Rijo and the Braves were sure glad to see a new face on the mound. Justin Dean led off for Danville and greeted Rijo with a single to right, the first hit of the night for the Braves. Dean was moved to third base, but was squandered there.

The Braves got the bottom of the sixth inning started with back-to-back singles by Owenby and Rodriguez, but again Danville came up empty, stranding Owenby at third base.

Mejia continued to work well on the mound for the Braves. Mejia worked a career-long six innings, striking out eight Yankees in the process before being relieved in the seventh by John Curtis, a 2017 8th round draft pick by the Braves.

“We had two unearned runs out there, but for the first game I was very pleased,” Kleinknecht said.

Curtis started off with two quick strikeouts, but then allowed a walk and a single to put Yankees on first and third with two outs for Ezuquiel Duran, who reached on an error by Luis Mejia, which also allowed an insurance run to score to make it 3-1. Curtis ended the inning on the next pitch, but the two-out rally gave the Yankees a two-run lead going to the bottom of the seventh.

“The pitchers stuck their nose in there and did a good job for us,” Kleinknecht said.

Just like in the sixth inning, the Braves got runners on first and third with just one out after a single by Greg Cullen and Andrew Moritz for 2018 2nd round draft pick Greyson Jenista. Jenista battled Rijo for eight pitches, but the eighth pitch resulted in a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.

The Braves had the tying run on base in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but neither time could come up the key hit, but Kleinknecht isn’t worried about that after one game.

“When you think about it, a lot of these college guys haven’t played in a couple of weeks,” Kleinknecht said. “Our guys haven’t played since maybe before June. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

The Yankees threated to add to the lead in the top of the eighth inning when Juan De Leon doubled to left-center field, but the relay from Jenista, to Mejia, to Rodriguez at the plate to cut down Nelson Gomez to end the threat.

“Those are the little things that we evaluate on,” Kleinknecht said.

The Yankees added an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning before Rijo closed the door on his five innings of relief in the bottom half to finish the game as the winning pitcher.

“Guys were aggressive, had some good at bats, made a couple of mistakes defensively but that’s understood. It’s the first game. Guys are getting their feet underneath them, but all-in-all I was very pleased with what I saw,” Kleinknecht said.

The Braves and Yankees will be back on Legion Field in Danville again tonight at 7 p.m. for the second of three games in the season-opening series.​

Pulaski 4, Danville 1

P – 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 – 4 7 1

D – 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 – 1 7 2

Yankees pitching:

Luis Medina 4IP, 0H, 1R, 0ER, 5BB, 4K

Luis Rijo (WP, 1-0) 5IP, 7H, 1ER, 0BB, 4K

Braves pitching:

Dilmer Mejia (LP, 0-1) 6IP, 4H, 2R, 1ER, 1BB, 8K

John Curtis 2IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 2BB, 3K

Brooks Wilson .2IP, H, ER, BB, K

Connor Simmons .1IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 0K

Yankees hitting:

R. Javier 4-5, RBI; E. Duran 0-4, 2RBI; E. Pereira 1-5, run scored; C. Tatis 1-4; N. Gomez 0-2, 2 walks; S. Torres 0-4; J. De Leon 1-3, run scored; J. Scott 0-3, walk, run scored; D. Barrios 0-3, walk, run scored

Braves hitting:

G. Cullen 1-4, walk; A. Moritz 1-4; G. Jenista 0-4; H. Owenby 1-2, 2 walks, run scored; R. Rodriguez 1-3; R. Estrada 0-1; B. Langehorne 0-3, walk; N. Vizcaino 0-4; L. Mejia 0-4; J. Dean 3-3, walk​

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Chris Doherty is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached a chris.doherty@martinsvillebulletin.com

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