Slumping GreenJackets must heat up offense

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A struggling Augusta GreenJackets squad returns home tonight to start an eight-game homestand. The message from manager Lipso Nava to his players is clear.

“The starting pitching has been solid and consistent,” he said. “Now it’s time for the offense to turn it up a notch.”

The GreenJackets (9-9, 41-46) enjoyed an off day Monday after losing four or five games in Asheville, N.C. They’ve scored just 17 runs over their past eight road games thanks to a slumping offense.

But the final eight-game homestand of the season starts tonight against the Greenville Drive at Lake Olmstead Stadium, where the GreenJackets have played much better. Augusta has a 23-21 record at home, including 13 wins over the past 20 games.

Clayton Blackburn, ranked ninth in the South Atlantic League with a 2.95 ERA, is 4-0 with a 1.65 ERA at home. The 19-year-old right-hander will take the mound tonight looking for his sixth consecutive win.

“I’ve faced (Greenville) already this season and by this time of the year you get a pretty good feel for how you want to pitch to certain batters,” Blackburn said. “I like to look over the lineup and see how they’ve done over the last 10 games, just to get a feel for how hot or cold they are.”

Greenville, which has won five times in 12 meetings with the GreenJackets this season, will come into Augusta with some momentum after beating first-place Rome three times in a five-game series.

The Drive (9-9, 43-45) have an identical second-half record as Augusta, and the two teams will start the series three games out of first and tied for fourth in the Southern Division standings.

Greenville will send 20-year-old right-hander Luis Diaz to the mound tonight. The 6-foot-3 Venezuelan allowed five runs in five innings in his last outing against Augusta and has allowed at least three runs in eight of his past nine starts.

Greenville, the Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, has a roster that includes 2011 first-round draft pick Blake Swihart at catcher, third-round pick Jordan Weems backing him up and fourth-rounder Noe Ramirez in the starting rotation.

Starting pitcher Madison Younginer, a North Augusta native, remains on Greenville’s inactive roster and is now in his second month on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle.


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