Phillies prospect Franco blasts G-Braves with 3 RBIs

LAWRENCEVILLE — There are not many Philadelphia Phillies prospects on Lehigh Valley, but the one they have showed why on Thursday.

Top prospect third baseman Maikel Franco smacked around the Gwinnett Braves pitching going 3-for-5 with three RBIs, carrying the IronPigs to a 7-5 win in the first game of the teams’ four-game series.

“He had a heck of a night, that’s for sure,” G-Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Franco.

Franco struggled in the season’s first month, entering Thursday’s game hitting just .172, but raised it 24 points in one game against Gwinnett. And he wasn’t the only IronPig who blasted Gwinnett pitching.

Reid Brignac went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored and Koyie Hill was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Combined the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters were 8-for-14, scored four runs and knocked in six runs.

Lehigh Valley jumped on starter Zach Stewart quickly, scoring a run in the first on a double by four-hole hitter Reid Brignac, one of two first-inning doubles for the IronPigs.

Gwinnett got the run back in the second with an RBI single by Christian Bethancourt to score Todd Cunningham who led the inning off with a double.

Then, things went really bad for Stewart.

The righty allowed four runs off six of his 10 hits including a lead-off single to the pitcher in the third inning, the big hit coming from Maikel Franco who knocked in two with a single. With the bases loaded, Stewart escaped worse trouble when Ronny Cedeno grounded into the IronPigs second double play of the game, but Lehigh Valley led 5-1. Two of this hits in the inning were flares just over the shortstop.

“It was a tough inning for him,” Snitker said. “Two seeing-eye grounders and two broken-bat liners, his line score was a lot worse than what he pitched. That inning has a way of getting you.”

Stewart allowed six runs off of 10 hits in six innings in his second loss of the season.

Cunningham scored his second run of the game in the fourth on a sac fly to left from Mark Hamilton. Cunningham set up the run with a steal of second base. The center fielder ended the game 4-for-4 with two doubles and four runs scored. It was his first four-hit game with the G-Braves and second of his career. In his last 10 games, Cunningham is hitting .371.

“He’s been swinging the bat real well,” Snitker said. “He’s just been real consistent.”

After Cunningham it was Hamilton who kept G-Braves close.

Gwinnett chased Lehigh Valley starter Sean O’Sullivan with one out in the fifth after the right-hander gave up a two-RBI single to Hamilton with the bases loaded. Singles by Joey Terdoslavich and Cunningham and a walk to Edward Salcedo loaded the bases for the Hamilton hit and the G-Braves trimmed the deficit to 6-4. The hit extended Terdoslavich’s hitting streak to 11 games.

Ryan Buchter entered in the seventh for the starter Stewart and the lefty didn’t fare much better, promptly allowing a one-out blast by Franco, the top prospect’s second career Class AAA home run.

Down 7-5 in the ninth, the G-Braves put two runners on for Terdoslavich with one out and just like he did in the top of the first, the switch-hitter grounded into a double play to end the game.

“We came back and had the winning run at the plate,” Snitker said. “We played a good ballgame. That’s the way the game is.”

Along with the offense from Hamilton and Cunningham, Tommy Le Stella had two hits and a walk, easily increasing his on-base streak to 20 straight games and Christian Bethancourt had two RBIs on a 2-for-4 night.

“That big crooked number in the third inning pretty much sunk us,” Snitker said. “Back at them tomorrow.”