LAWRENCEVILLE — The air temperature at Coolray Field may have still been at 86 degrees by the end of Wednesday’s game between the Gwinnett Braves and Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
But there was plenty of breeze to go around as both teams combined to strikeout 27 times.
Unfortunately for the G-Braves, the visiting IronPigs were able to get their bats on the ball more times between strikeouts — 12 times to be exact, including home runs from Erik Kratz and Ronnie Belliard.
IronPigs 8,G-Braves 0
What happened: Lehigh Valley pounded out 12 hits, including a 3-for-4 night with a home run from Erik Kratz and a 2-for-4 night with a homer and three RBIs from Ronnie Belliard, while IronPigs’ starter Brian Gordon matched his career longest outing by going seven shutout innings with a career-best 11 strikeouts.
Stat of the game: The G-Braves struck out 14 times against Gordon and reliever Michael Schwimer, a new season high for the G-Braves, who fanned 13 times against the Durham Bulls on April 16 in Durham, N.C. Included in Wednesday night’s total was a run of six straight strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings. Gordon struck out the final three hitters he faced and Schwimmer struck out the side in the following inning. Add in the 13 IronPigs struck out by G-Braves pitchers and there were 27 combined punchouts on the evening.
Web gem: Lehigh Valley rightfielder Delwyn Young came sprinting in after playing deep before making a sliding catch on a looper off the bat of Shawn Bowman to end the G-Braves’ fifth inning.
More moves: With the Atlanta Braves having off days today and Monday, and not needing a fifth starting pitcher for a while, left-hander Mike Minor was sent back to the G-Braves after his start against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday at Turner Field. He is expected to make his next start when the G-Braves host the Buffalo Bisons on Sunday at Coolray Field. To replace Minor on the roster, Atlanta recalled utility man Matt Young prior to Wednesday’s game. With Jose Constanza having been out of the lineup since being injured while sliding Saturday in Buffalo, Jeff Fiorentino took Young’s place in the G-Braves’ lineup Wednesday.
Up next: The four-game series with Lehigh Valley concludes with a 7:05 first pitch tonight at Coolray Field. Right-hander Erik Cordier (0-0, 0.00) makes his second start with the G-Braves, while left-hander Ryan Feierabend (3-2, 6.04) gets the start for the IronPigs.
That was plenty of support for Brian Gordon, who threw seven innings of two-hit shutout ball with a career-high 11 strikeouts before giving way to Michael Schwimer over the final two frames in an 8-0 Lehigh Valley victory before 3,479 fans at Coolray Field.
“Sometimes you tip your cap to the other guy,” G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. “(Gordon) threw a hell of a ball game. He did what he was supposed to do with a lead. They scored three runs early on, and we didn’t mount any rallies. … You fall behind with a pitcher who’s throwing strikes and not throwing anything in the middle of the plate, and it’s going to be a long night.”
Lehigh Valley’s night began somewhat early after being set down in order by G-Braves starter Yohan Flande (2-2) in the top of the first.
Josh Barfield drove in two runs as the IronPigs scored two in the second inning and single runs in the third and fifth to take a 4-0 lead.
And they really broke the game open off G-Braves reliever Ben Swaggerty in the sixth as Belliard and Kratz hit back-to-back homers — Belliard’s three-run shot — to extend the lead to 8-0.
That was more than enough for Gordon (4-0), who lowered his season ERA to 0.84 in tying the longest outing of his career.
The 33-year-old right-hander, who also added two hits at the plate, set down 12 straight G-Braves after Jeff Fiorentino led off the game with a double into the right-field corner.
“Tell you what, the guy was tough,” said Fiorentino, the only player in the G-Braves’ starting lineup who didn’t strike out at least once. “The guy’s 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA. That doesn’t happen by accident. That guy’s been throwing well.
“It would’ve been a good idea to get on him early right there and take him out of his groove. But I’ll tell you what, standing out there on second base (and watching him), he made some quality pitches to the two, three and four hitters, and those are some pretty darn good hitters.”
And after Wilkin Castillo interrupted that string with a lead-off single in the bottom of the fifth, Gordon then retired nine more in a row — five by strikeout — before leaving the game after seven innings having faced just two hitters over the minimum and having thrown just 67 pitches.
“He was doing it efficiently,” Brundage said of Gordon. “He was doing it in three pitches. He was giving us fits all night … He kept us off balance and pitched to both sides of the plate.”
It didn’t get much easier for the G-Braves once Schwimer entered the game as the right-hander struck out the side in the eighth after Gordon had done so in the seventh for six straight fans, and then pitched around a one-out error in the ninth to close out the game for Lehigh Valley. Despite the loss, G-Braves pitchers also had their strikeout pitches going, especially the last hurler of the evening, Juan Abreu, who fanned six IronPigs over his three shutout innings out of the bullpen.