In minor league baseball when the arms are young and the pitch counts are limited, it's essential to have a solid bullpen.
And in most cases, the teams with the late-inning depth can usually find ways to win baseball games.
When Augusta starter Wilfredo Ledezma struggled through two and a third innings, in came the GreenJackets' bullpen, which served as the team's band aid and helped Augusta to a 10-8 victory over Cape Fear in front of 1,937 fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium Thursday night, giving the Jackets their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Ledezma was lifted for Eleuterio Castro, who worked three and a third innings of middle relief and gave the Jackets a chance to extend their winning streak and improve to 4-1 on the current eight-game homestand.
However, the key to the game may have been Mike Rupp's appearance in the seventh inning. With runners on first and second and no outs in the top of the seventh, Rupp yielded a single to load the bases before getting a fielder's choice followed by a double play to close the door on Cape Fear.
Rupp then followed with a scoreless eighth before turning the ball over to B.J. Leach in the ninth, who officially retired the Crocs by working a scoreless ninth to pick up his league-leading sixth save of the season.
"I just go at it everyday and give it my best," said Leach, who lowered his ERA to 4.43 with the scoreless ninth. "But there's going to be days where I won't be able to pitch like that. You have one bad game and your ERA goes way up."
Rupp worked two complete innings, allowing just one hits while striking out two batters.
"He's done a great job of setting up for me," said Leach, who also pitched with Rupp at Lowell last season. "He throws very hard and he's more of a power pitcher whereas I'm not. I've never seen him pitch like that. He's matured so much since last year. He's like a totally different pitcher out there."
As many headlines as the Jacket pitching staff has received lately, Thursday's night victory over Cape Fear (9-10) wouldn't have happened without Augusta's offensive explosion, which produced 10 runs on 11 hits. Meanwhile four players helped the Jackets drive in eight runs during the contest.
Led by Lew Ford's 2-for-5 performance, the centerfielder finished with four RBI, including a bases loaded triple in the third that helped open the game and gave Castro some breathing room.
"I really thought Castro did a good job of keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to win," said Jackets manager Mike Boulanger. "But guys like Rupp, Leach and (Corey) Spencer, even though Spencer didn't show it tonight, have done a good job for us this year."
During the club's three-game winning streak, the Jackets have committed just two errors during that span, a much-needed improvement for a team that had committed 39 errors in its first 19 games.
Augusta will look to extend its winning streak when they meet Cape Fear tonight in Game 2 of the four-game set. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m.
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