A seven-game road trip that ended Sunday saw several career-best performances from various Augusta GreenJackets. But the individual efforts didn’t do much to turn around a season-long downward spiral.
The GreenJackets lost six of seven games on the road despite getting 6⅔ no-hit innings from starter Clayton Blackburn, a seven-RBI night from backup infielder Garrett Buechele and an improved team-wide hitting effort that erased a 7-1 deficit in a single half inning and produced
18-runs in a two-game span.
“The problem is we haven’t been able to put it all together,” manager Lipso Nava said. “I know I am and I think I speak for all the guys when I say I’m tired of losing.”
The GreenJackets, who have lost five in a row and eight of their past nine, have fallen 17 games out of first place with a 22-33 record. They were mathematically eliminated from a first-half division title on the road trip and need to win 13 of their next 14 games to enter the All-Star break above .500.
The team has the league’s second-worst batting average at .217 – one point above last-place Rome.
OPTIMISTIC: Though the overall results haven’t been positive, the GreenJackets did receive reason to cheer at times over the road trip and will open a three-game homestand tonight with a bit of optimism.
Blackburn, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his last outing, will try to repeat the effort tonight against the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
The 19-year-old right-hander has four consecutive quality starts and said he feels like he has improved each time out.
“I was struggling early with my command but each time out it’s getting better and better,” he said. “For me I always seem to struggle early in the year. This was just a matter of finding my release point.”
Blackburn, who leads the team with 56 strikeouts in 44⅔ innings, has walked only one batter in his past three outings. His no-hit bid in Lexington saw nine strikeouts and only two hits in 6⅔ shutout innings.
“He looked great and it was against one of the better hitting teams in the league,” Nava said. “He’s a young kid, but he knows how to pitch. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
PITCHING PROSPECTS: Tonight’s game sets up well to be a classic pitchers’ duel. Blackburn (1-2, 3.63) will face Greensboro’s Adam Conley (6-1, 2.83). The 22-year-old lefty was the Miami Marlins’ second-round pick a year ago and has won three of his past four starts.
Greensboro (40-17) has a 6½ lead over the rest of the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division and will enter tonight’s game tied with Asheville for the league’s best record.
TICKET ALERT: The GreenJackets will play at home tonight through Thursday before hitting the road for the final time before the All-Star break. The team’s last homestand of the first half will feature a three-game series with Rome starting June 11 and four-game stint with Greenville.
The GreenJackets have already issued a ticket advisory for the June 15 game against the Drive. General admission tickets sold out two weeks in advance and only a limited number of tickets remain in the higher-priced box seats and reserved seating, according to a statement released by the team.
Festivities at the nearly sold-out game will center around the annual Shepeard Community Blood Center Night.