Exactly nine hours after he was left off the South Atlantic League’s list of All-Stars, Augusta GreenJackets ace Clayton Blackburn took the mound and shut down the league’s top team.
The 19-year-old right-hander came within one out of a complete-game shutout Tuesday night in a 1-0 win over the Northern Division- leading Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Blackburn (2-2) allowed four hits, walked one and struck out six in his first outing since taking a no-hitter into the seventh in Lexington last week. The San Francisco Giants’ 2011 16th-round pick, was pulled with two outs in the ninth after giving up a single on his 102nd pitch.
“I went out to the mound and told him it was breaking my heart but I had to take him out,” manager Lipso Nava said. “We have pitch counts to follow, and that’s what we’re instructed to do. This is still all about development baseball.”
Blackburn nearly became only the third league pitcher this season to throw a complete-game shutout. Instead he settled for his second win and first at home by extending his scoreless streak to 21⅓ innings.
“I wanted to stay in, but I knew they would take me out if I gave up a runner,” Blackburn said. “I understand. Just like last time I tried to establish the fastball early and mixed in the changeup a little more this game. I’ve got to hand it to them. They’re good hitters, and they hit a lot of balls hard. It just seemed like they were right at our defense.”
Kyle Vazquez relieved Blackburn and got designated hitter Matt Smith to line out with the potential game-tying run at second base to seal the win and snap Augusta’s five-game losing streak.
Augusta leadoff hitter Jesus Galindo scored the only run after he was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the fourth inning.
Greensboro starter Adam Conley (6-2) caught Galindo trying to steal second, but the throw from first to second was dropped by shortstop Terrence Dayleg. Galindo scored on Shawn Payne’s sacrifice fly.
Conley allowed one hit, one walk and struck out eight in six innings.
“He has one of the best arms I’ve seen in this league,” Nava said of Conley. “We couldn’t touch him.”