Gwinnett Braves pitcher Sean Gilmartin throws Thursday against the Durham Bulls at Coolray Field. (Gwinnett Braves/Makensie Cooper)
LAWRENCEVILLE — The Gwinnett Braves got a well-pitched game by the returning Sean Gilmartin and three relievers Thursday night.
Unfortunately, visiting Durham got an even better game from Merrill Kelly and of its bullpen.
The right-hander and two relievers limited the G-Braves to just four hits and withstood a couple of late rallies to hold on for a 2-1 win before 2,107 fans at Coolray Field.
“Gilmartin, that’s the first time out for us in a while, and he did a nice job,” said G-Braves manager Randy Ready, who saw his team’s modest win streak end at three games. “Kelly had a good game going. … (But) we had the table set (in the last three innings). We just couldn’t cash in. We lacked the one (big) hit.”
In his first outing back in Gwinnett since returning from a disabled list stay, a three-start rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League and one start at Class A Rome, Gilmartin was solid.
The 23-year-old left-hander scattered four hits, but got help from two double-play balls behind him, and struck out one while issuing no walks in five shutout innings.
“It’s always go out there and compete at the level that you’re used to,” Gilmartin said. “So, for me to come out and feel as good as I did (Thursday) night was a big step.
“It always helps when you’re able to get out of tough situations, … especially early against a team like Durham, one of the best-hitting teams in baseball. Everything’s starting to come back together. It’s just a matter of time before it’s where it needs to be.”
However, the G-Braves were having even less luck with Kelly, who faced one over the minimum through the first 5 2/3 innings and set down 15 straight hitters at one point in taking a no-hitter into the sixth.
And Durham got its offense going in the top of the sixth, when Kevin Kiermaier rifled Joe Bisenius’ (3-6) second pitch just inside the first base bag and into the right field corner for a lead-off triple.
Cole Figueroa then sent a chopper to third and wound up reaching on Joe Leonard’s throwing error, as well as bringing home Kiermaier to put the Bulls up 1-0.
One out later, Leslie Anderson lined a double into the same corner to bring home Figueroa and extend Durham’s lead to 2-0.
The G-Braves finally broke up Kelly’s no-hit bid when Jose Constanza sent a liner just off the glove a diving Shelley Duncan and into right field for a single with two outs in the sixth.
And they finally began to break through on the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh.
After Alden Carrithers drew a lead-off walk, Ernesto Mejia’s hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Durham third baseman Vince Belnome and went into the left field corner, allowing Carrithers to scamper home and pull the G-Braves to within 2-1.
A Stefan Gartrell single one out later drove Kelly from the game and put the tying run just 90 feet away, but Brandon Gomes came out of the bullpen and struck out Leonard before getting Matt Pagnozzi to pop out to center to keep Durham in front.
The G-Braves had more chances to pull even in the final two innings, with Constanza coming up with his second hit of the game and then moving into scoring position on a wild pitch in the eighth, and Mejia leading off the bottom of the ninth with a bloop single to right.
But Gomes induced ground outs to short from both Todd Cunningham and Carrithers to escape the eighth, while Josh Lueke pitched around the Mejia single and a two-out walk to Leonard to get Pagnozzi to ground out to third to end the game, and pick up his 15th save of the season.
“We had guys out there,” Ready said. “But 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position — it’s been tough for us. We’ve just got to keep grinding, keep chipping away because the ball’s got to bounce our way sooner or later.”