LAWRENCEVILLE — Two nights after recording a low for hits on the young season, the Gwinnett Braves were held to another season low in hits in Friday’s series opener against Toledo.
Unlike Wednesday’s game, the G-Braves’ couldn’t quite find a way to win this one, however.
Despite a solid outing by Todd Redmond and two other pitchers, Toledo’s Duane Below was better, combining with reliever Lester Oliveros on a one-hitter as the Mud Hens ended the G-Braves’ three-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory before 6,107 fans at Coolray Field on Friday.
MUD HENS 2, G-BRAVES 1
What happened: Toledo left-hander Duane Below (4-1) threw seven shutout innings and combined with Lester Oliveros on a one-hitter to snap the G-Braves’ three-game winning streak. Brandon Hicks provided Gwinnett’s only offense with his second home run of the season, a solo shot in the second inning that gave the G-Braves a brief 1-0 lead.
Stat of the game: Below and Oliveras were particularly strong early in innings, allowing G-Braves’ leadoff men to reach base just once on Mauro Gomez’s walk in the seventh.
Web gem: With two out in the bottom of the fourth, Stefan Gartrell sent a hard hit ball up the middle but Toledo shortstop Cale Iorg made a diving stop to his left and got the rightfielder by a step at first.
Pivotal moment: After Gomez became the only G-Braves leadoff man to reach in the seventh, Below made sure they wouldn’t take advantage, getting Gartrell to bounce into a force play at second on his high chopper to short before striking out Hicks and inducing another grounder to short from Wilkin Ramirez that turned into another force play at second and ended the inning.
Man in blue: There was a Gwinnett high school graduate on the playing surface of Coolray Field in Friday night’s game, but it wasn’t one of the players. International League umpire Toby Basner, a Lawrenceville resident and Brookwood graduate, was at first base in the opener of the three-game series and was involved in one of the more unusual moments of the game. A pickoff attempt by Redmond got away from Mauro Gomez, but hit Basner, keeping former major leaguer Timo Perez from advancing. This weekend’s series isn’t the first trip back home to Gwinnett County for the 26-year-old Basner, who will be behind the plate for tonight’s second game of the series. He worked behind the plate when Norfolk’s Chris Tillman threw a no-hitter against the G-Braves at Coolray Field on April 28 of last year.
Up next: The G-Braves will send RHP Jacob Thompson (1-3, 7.03 ERA) to the mound for Game 2 today of the series with Toledo, with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. The Mud Hens will counter with LHP Andy Oliver (3-2, 3.19 ERA).
Brandon Hicks’ solo home run in the bottom of the second — his second of the season, which briefly gave the G-Braves a 1-0 lead — was one of the few blemishes on the night for Below (4-1), who also walked two and struck out six in seven solid innings.
“We’ve been on the other side of some 2-1 (games) as well,” G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. “I wrote in my report (that) we came out and swung the bats and hit some balls hard. They were just hard outs in the air. … (Below) did a nice job pitching inside. I thought he pounded that (strike) zone inside and was effective inside, and we didn’t make the adjustments.”
Hicks’ homer, which landed just out of the reach of a leaping Scott Thorman in left in the bottom of the second, was part of a run of five straight G-Braves (19-15) hitters dating back to the first who hit the ball hard — including warning track fly balls from Mauro Gomez, Stefan Gartrell and Shawn Bowman and a liner to left from Wilkin Ramirez.
“It was curve ball or slider that was up,” Hicks said of his homer. “We hit some balls either right to them or that they made a good play on. … He didn’t show his changeup until late. We had a lot of good fastballs to hit early. It was just one of those nights.”
Danny Worth matched Hicks’ bomb with a solo homer of his own to lead off the top of the fourth for Toledo (17-19), and Redmond ran into further trouble by hitting Timo Perez and giving up a bloop single to Ryan Streby.
It looked like the G-Braves’ right-hander might escape without any more damage when he retired Thorman and Ben Guez, but Clete Thomas lined a two-out single to right to bring hope Perez and give the Mud Hens a 2-1 lead.
That was all the Mud Hens would get off Redmond (1-4), who scattered six hits and the two earned runs with five strikeouts in six quality innings, and left-hander Jose Lugo and righty Jaye Chapman added three shutout innings for the G-Braves.
“The pitchers did a nice job of competing (Friday) night,” Brundage said. “They gave us an opportunity to try to win a ball game. Any time you give up two runs on a night like tonight, … it gives us opportunities. … We just couldn’t get anything going offensively or threaten offensively.”
Below was dealing, setting down 10 straight G-Braves following Hicks’ homer and 14 of 15 over the next four innings.
It looked like the G-Braves might have something going when Gomez led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk.
But the 25-year-old lefty struck out Hicks in between inducing fielder’s choice grounders from Gartrell and Ramirez to to hold onto the Toledo lead.
And Oliveros came on for Below and pitched around a one-out walk to Shawn McGill in the eighth to throw two scoreless innings with two strikeouts to record his first save of the season.