Balanced effort helps lead GreenJackets into contention

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A successful start to their homestand has the Augusta Green­Jackets in a much better position in the South Atlan­tic League’s Southern Division.

Nava  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Nava

Manager Lipso Nava credited a better balanced effort of offense, pitching and defense for the surge, which had the team just a half-game out of first place entering Monday.

“The pitch­ing has been there,” Na­va said. “And now we’re seeing more sparks more often (offensively).”

Augusta won four of the first five games of the homestand, including a sweep of Greenville in a rain-shortened series.

Clutch hitting – which hasn’t been a reliable element of an offense ranked last in the league with a .234 average – came through more than once last week. Devin Harris and Jeff Arnold delivered run-scoring doubles late in a two-run win Wednesday night, and Harris did it again Friday with a two-run double in the first inning of a 3-1 win.

The GreenJackets had their highest offensive output of the homestand Saturday, but lost 8-6 because of shaky pitching. Augusta rebounded Sunday with a 4-3 victory on multiple walks with the bases loaded.

“The offense helped me,” starting pitcher Kyle Crick said after throwing six scoreless innings in Friday’s win. “If I can walk less than two a game, I feel good and I can get the run support.”

STARTING PRIDE: Along with Crick’s strong effort on an extra day’s rest, Clayton Blackburn, Bryce Bandilla and Paul Davis each allowed just one earned run or fewer in their starts.

Davis, who started the season as a reliever, turned in his best outing of the season, allowing one earned run over seven innings. He took a line drive off the back of his ankle in the fourth inning but stayed in the game.

The 22-year-old right-hander is now a reliable part of the starting rotation after turning in seven innings in each of his past two starts.

“I feel like I can do that every single time I throw,” he said. “I’ve always been a starter. I feel really strong right now, and I feel like I’m in the best shape of my baseball-playing life.”

RELIEF: The bullpen has also remained a reliable unit this month, led by closer Cody Hall. The 24-year-old right-hander missed almost three weeks earlier this season with a strained oblique muscle but has bounced back and reclaimed the league lead for saves with 17, including three this homestand.

“There’s nothing else to say about Cody,” Nava said. “He’s been lights out. He’s the ace in our bullpen.”

Hall, Augusta’s lone All-Star representative last month, has converted every save opportunity he’s seen this season, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.39 ERA.

TWO OUT OF TOWN: Thurs­day’s game was postponed because of rain but will not be made up at Lake Olmstead Stadium. The game against the Greenville Drive will be rescheduled as part of a doubleheader when the teams meet in Greenville next month.

Tickets to the rained-out game can be redeemed at the stadium box office for admission to any remaining Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday regular season home game.

SHE DID: Saturday night’s game against West Virginia saw one of the largest crowds at Lake Olmstead Stadium thanks to the team’s annual military appreciation night and postgame fireworks.

An announced paid attendance of 5,328 made for the fifth-largest crowd this season and included hundreds of soldiers from Fort Gordon.

Though the night was filled with staged in-game entertainment, Sgt. Matthew Shelton stole the show with a surprise proposal to his girlfriend, Heather Mueller, on the field just before the top of the fourth inning.

Shelton, who has spent the past six years in the Marines, returned to Augusta in April after a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan.

He received a tearful “yes” from his girlfriend and a standing ovation from hundreds of his fellow soldiers in the stands.

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