An improved Augusta GreenJackets offense delivered clutch hits early and the typically reliable arms came through late. But the two elements never combined at just the right time Saturday night in an 8-6 series-opening loss to the West Virginia Power.
The GreenJackets (12-10, 44-47) posted their highest run total of the homestand, twice bailing out struggling starter Adalberto Mejia with game-tying rallies in the second and third innings.
But once the bullpen stopped the bleeding, the offense failed to respond a third time, snapping the GreenJackets’ five-game home winning streak in front of an announced crowd of 5,328 on the team’s annual military appreciation night.
“We can’t always put pressure on the pitching staff,” manager Lipso Nava said. “It has to be more of a balance. We didn’t have that tonight.”
Mejia (6-6) suffered his worst pounding of the season, giving up eight earned runs on eight hits and a walk. He was pulled with one out in the fifth while the GreenJackets still had a one-run lead, but reliever Derek Law came in with the bases loaded and allowed all three inherited runs to score for a five-run fifth and 8-6 West Virginia lead.
“He had some command issues,” Nava said of Mejia. “Everything was up in the zone, and that kind of hurt him.”
Law settled down and struck out six of the last eight batters he faced, but the GreenJackets failed to make up the difference.
West Virginia relievers Rinku Singh (3-1) and Robbie Kilcrease shutout the home team in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and closer Nathan Kilcrease sealed the win with a two-inning save. He struck out the last four batters he faced to earn his fifth save.
The loss came on a day when Nava mixed up the GreenJackets lineup, giving every day first baseman Ben Thomas and catcher Jeff Arnold the day off.
“It’s a long season, and we just want to get some guys some rest physically and mentally,” Nava said. “It’s the first full season for a lot of these guys, and that can kind of get to you. So we’re just trying to keep them fresh.”
Shawn Payne, normally Augusta’s starting left fielder, got a rest on defense and was instead plugged into the lineup as a designated hitter. The Middle Georgia College product singled in his first at bat to extend his hitting streak to 13 games.
GreenJackets left fielder Brett Krill went 2 for 5 with two runs scored and reached double figures with his hitting streak. Devin Harris, who joined Augusta a game into the current homestand, hit his first home run and third extra base hit with a solo blast in the third inning that hit the left field foul pole.
Harris’ homer answered the two-run shot from West Virginia’s Jose Osuna in the second inning. The two teams were tied at 3 after three innings before the GreenJackets scored three more in the fourth on three West Virginia errors.
Power starter Robby Rowland allowed six runs, three earned, on four hits over three and two-thirds innings and left the game trailing 6-3.
But Augusta gave up the lead quickly when West Virginia tagged Mejia for five runs in the fifth sparked by four consecutive hits to start the inning.
A win would have put the GreenJackets in first place in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division standings but the team instead remained a half game behind the division leaders.
More than half of the teams in the Southern Division now sit within a half game of first place.