Burke County's Jonathan Broxton made his major league debut Friday night in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 7-5 win against the St. Louis Cardinals. Broxton entered in the game in the sixth inning with a one-run lead - and while he blew the save by giving up a run on a sacrifice fly - the right-hander struck out All-Star Albert Pujols, who has struck out just 41 times in 387 at-bats this season.
"They just told me to pitch to my strength. It was exciting," Broxton told reporters. "I had a few jitters in my system, but everything else was fine. The mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches away, but there's a lot more things around it. Whatever it takes to help the big league team win, I'll do it - whether it's getting one batter out or throw a whole inning."
After the game, Dodgers manager Jim Tracy defended his decision to use the 21-year-old rookie in that situation.
"It was quite a test, and he passed," he said. "What are you going to do wait for? A seven- or eight-run lead? You can't find out much then. In situations like this, you find out about ability, about character, about poise. He passed. He handled it extremely well."
FIGURING IT OUT: Right-hander Jarrett Gardner gave up only 12 home runs all of last season for the Augusta GreenJackets, so when he gave up five in his third start of the season for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, it took its toll.
"After that I just couldn't get back on track," said Gardner, who was in town this week with his new team, the Greenville Bombers. "Everything I threw up there, they seemed to hit."
He matched his home run total from last year in his first five starts in high-Class A, and was moved briefly to the bullpen. After three relief appearances, Gardner returned to the rotation and in two starts held his opponents to one run on five hits in 10 innings. But the Boston Red Sox still sent the 24-year-old back to low-Class A and the Bombers.
"I'm not going to lie, it sucked," he said. "Any baseball player is not going to tell you that it's OK for them to get sent back to a level that they've already proven they've been successful at. It was a shock to the pride and ego, and all that stuff, but there's nothing I can do about it."
Gardner went 13-5 with a 2.51 ERA as the GreenJackets' ace last season. He was the South Atlantic League's Pitcher of the Week twice and Pitcher of the Month for May, while also earning a spot on the All-Star team. He even earned a win for Double-A Portland in a spot start.
His first start with the Bombers was similar to most of his starts last year - he picked up the win after allowing one earned run in six innings - but his luck soon ran out. He had lost every start since then through Friday and was 1-8 with a 5.79 ERA with the Bombers.
Homers continue to come at a higher rate than they did last year - he's given up nine so far - but Gardner has given up four runs or fewer in four of those losses. He's been the losing pitcher in games with scores of 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3.
"That's the game of baseball," he said. "You've got to have them both - pitching good and hitting good - to win games."
MORE ALUMNI NEWS: Brandon Moss, the SAL's and GreenJackets most valuable player last season, hit his 13th home run of the season a week ago today, tying his total in 109 games with Augusta last season. Moss added two more homers with high-Class A Sarasota last season, to give him 15 in 132 games in his first full season of pro ball.
Moss also already has 24 doubles, three shy of his total from last year.
"His average is down from what it was last year, but his power numbers are up," said Gardner, who checks Moss' statistics almost daily. "I think that's what (Boston) kind of wanted him to do - develop some more power numbers - and that's what he's doing."
Moss was hitting just .168 going into the final two days of July, bringing his average down to .253.
- Jon Lester, who played in Augusta in 2003, continues to excel in Double-A. The left-hander is 7-4 with a 2.51 ERA - second in the Eastern League to former teammate Jon Papelbon, who is now in Triple-A. He is also second in the league with 125 strikeouts in 107w innings.
- Brian Wilson, the GreenJackets' closer for the first half of this season, has adjusted just fine at Double-A Norwich. Wilson has three saves and a 1.04 ERA in 8w innings.
Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.