Culberson breaks out of slump with base hit in clutch situation

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Trailing by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Wednesday's game against the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Augusta GreenJackets sent Charlie Culberson to the plate looking for a game-tying run.

Culberson was just looking for a hit.

The 19-year old Calhoun High graduate stepped into the batter's box with a 1-for-34 slump hanging over his head. In two weeks' time, he fell from the opening-day leadoff hitter to No. 8 in the GreenJackets' batting order.

After falling behind 0-2, Culberson ripped a single to right-center field, and the burden almost visibly lifted off his shoulders.

That game-tying run never came. Culberson was forced out on a fielder's choice on the next at-bat, and the home team fell 6-5. But the Plainville, Ga., native had gotten over a mental hurdle.

"It feels good to finally be hitting. Everything's going up from here," Culberson said. "You try not to worry about it. Slumps are going to happen. I'd rather have it happen now than later in the season."

The starting shortstop and 51st overall pick in last year's Major League Baseball Draft has gone 3-for-7 since the hit. It's only brought his batting average up to a modest .073 through the first 16 games of the season, but GreenJackets manager Andy Skeels said he wasn't concerned about the early-season slump.

"Charlie's going to be fine. He's pressing a little too much right now," he said. "He's still very young, but it was good to see him get a base hit."

Culberson hit .286 last year with eight doubles and 16 RBI playing rookie ball in Arizona.

HOT START: GreenJackets starter Nick Noonan , also a 19-year old middle infielder, has jumped out to a strong start in the 2008 season.

The 32nd overall pick in last year's draft entered Saturday's game hitting .317 on the season, with six doubles and six RBI. He's hit safely in 11 consecutive games until an 0-for-3 effort on Thursday ended the streak.

AUTOMATIC: Former Burke County pitcher Jonathan Broxton , now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, hasn't had a bad outing so far in 2008. The right-handed reliever has made seven appearances this season and has only given up one run on five hits. He's 1-0 on the year with a 1.23 earned run average and 12 strikeouts.

INJURY REPORT: Toledo Mudhens pitcher Macay McBride was placed on the disabled list April 6. McBride, who played at Screven County and with the Atlanta Braves, is nursing a left elbow injury. The left-handed starter had pitched in one game this season for Toledo - April 5 against the Durham Bulls. McBride left after only one inning with elbow tenderness.

GOOD WEEK: Former Butler baseball star Keltavious Jones has gotten off to a hot start as a member of the Class A Dayton Dragons. The starting outfielder has a .378 batting average with five multi-hit games and five stolen bases. He wrapped up a three-game, weekday series against the Beloit Snappers batting 8-for-15 with two RBI.

VICK NIXED: A minor league baseball team has dropped plans to hold a Michael Vick promotion.

The Kansas City T-Bones of the Northern League had planned to have a Michael Vick "Welcome to the Neighborhood" night May 28, complete with prison uniforms, spotlights and escape sirens.

Other events promoting caring for animals also were planned.

The former Atlanta Falcons quarterback is serving a 23-month sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary in nearby Leavenworth after pleading guilty to federal charges related to dogfighting.

After receiving complaints about the promotion, the club announced Friday that it will focus only on events that promote animal safety and adoptions.

"We simply wanted to raise awareness for what we think are great causes," T-Bones general manager Rick Muntean said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Billy Byler at (803) 648-1395 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com

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