On a team with the worst batting average in the South Atlantic League, Augusta GreenJackets left fielder Shawn Payne has held the lone consistent bat this season. He was finally rewarded Monday when the league announced its weekly awards, handing Payne the player of the week honor, while naming Augusta starter Adlaberto Mejia as the pitcher of the week.
Payne recorded two hits in all four of last week’s road games and elevated his team-leading batting average to .319 entering Monday’s play. He has slowly climbed up the starting lineup this season and has settled in as the No. 3 hitter.
“With me, I’m not really a secret anymore in the 3-hole so they’re trying to throw me more offspeed pitches. I’ve got to get ready to hit the fastball when I get it,” he said. “So I’m trying to take advantage of fastball counts, and I wanted to stop being afraid to miss.”
Payne hasn’t missed much lately.
The Middle Georgia product struck out just three times over his past 43 at bats entering Monday’s series-opener at home. He leads the league’s Southern Division in hitting (.319) and on-base percentage (.416) and ranks second in the league with 45 stolen bases in 47 attempts.
PITCHER PERFECT: Mejia, a 19-year-old lefty, delivered eight shutout innings in a road win over Delmarva on Friday night.
Mejia showed his true potential June 24 when he threw six no-hit innings in Savannah, but had lost three times since then. He reclaimed his status as one of Augusta’s top arms last week with a performance that pitching coach Mike Caldwell said was Mejia’s best of the season.
“When he keeps the ball down, gets his groundballs and doesn’t overthrow, that’s when he’s at his best,” Caldwell said. “He’s young. The more trouble he gets in, the more he tries to overthrow. He’s got to learn to keep that ball down, and that’s what he can do.”
Mejia struggled early in the season as a starter and was moved to the bullpen, where he posted a 4-2 record and a 3.17 ERA over the next two months. He was plugged back into the starting rotation in June and has won two of his last three starts.
MORE POWER: The GreenJackets got a boost to the lineup last week with the return of Wes Hodges.
The designated hitter and first baseman returned to action after spending nearly eight weeks on the disabled list.
The 27-year-old Georgia Tech product, who drove in 50 runs two years ago at the Triple-A level, helped fill the void in the GreenJackets lineup left by first baseman Ben Thomas, who was placed on the suspended list for breaking a team rule.
Hodges went 1 for 4 Saturday in his first game back.
STAR APPEARANCE: Former big league pitcher Denny McLain will be a special guest at Lake Olmstead Stadium on Wednesday when the GreenJackets wrap up their current homestand with the Lakewood BlueClaws.
The three-time all-star and two-time Cy Young Award winner will throw out a ceremonial first pitch and be available for autographs during the game. McLain, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season, will be promoting his upcoming reality television show, according to a statement released by the team.