Augusta stumped by trio of relievers

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Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to avoid it altogether.

In the first three games of their four-game series against the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Augusta GreenJackets offense rocked Savannah's starting pitchers for a combined 17 hits and 12 runs in 14 innings.

In the final game at Lake Olmstead Stadium on Tuesday night, the GreenJackets never got a chance to hit against another "starter;" the Sand Gnats threw three relievers in a 4-0 Savannah win.

Savannah's Brant Rustich, who has made 12 of his 17 appearances this season out of the bullpen, got the start for the Sand Gnats and threw a perfect game through 4w innings.

He combined with fellow relievers Junior Guerra and Jose Bierd to shut out the GreenJackets and avoid a four-game sweep.

"You've got to tip your hat to the guy on the mound," GreenJackets manager Andy Skeels said. "He has a power fastball and a power slider.

"He's got big league stuff. We were definitely overmatched."

The GreenJackets offense, which tallied 23 runs in the first three games against Savannah, managed only four hits in the final game of the homestand.

Their best shot at avoiding the shutout was lost when shortstop Juan Ciriaco struck out with runners at the corners to end the eighth inning.

GreenJackets pitcher Scott Barnes, who made his first start at home, gave up one run on four hits through four innings and struck out five.

Relievers Daniel Turpen, David Mixon, Mitch Lively and Buster Lussier combined to give up three runs over the final five innings.

Mixon gave up two runs in the top of the seventh on Greg Veloz's RBI single and a passed ball that tipped off the glove of catcher Nestor Rojas, allowing Veloz to score.

Lussier surrendered a solo homer to the first batter he faced in the ninth inning. It was Carlos Guzman's eighth homer of the season, and it easily cleared the left field wall.

Rustich (3-4) got the win, and Barnes (0-1) picked up the loss.

The GreenJackets' loss, coupled with the Columbus Catfish's 2-0 win over the Asheville Tourists, cut Augusta's first-place lead to 21/2 games in the South Atlantic League's Southern Division with less than a month left in the season.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.

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