By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
On a sultry first full day of summer at Bowen Field, the Bluefield Blue Jays cooled off Greeneville’s bats on Saturday and claimed the first series of the season by beating the Astros 5-0.
Bluefield has been consistent in the run production department, three games into the Appalachian League season. The Blue Jays beat Greeneville by the same score in Thursday’s season opener, and lost 9-5 on Friday.
“I think if you can score five runs in every game you play, and you get the pitching you’re supposed to get, you’ll win a lot of ballgames,” said Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg. “Our defense was good tonight.”
“The pitchers were very good,” he said after the Blue Jays’ hurlers combined for the three-hitter.
Neither Greeneville’s fireball-throwing starter, Jandel Gustave, nor reliever Ryan Connolly with his submarine delivery, could keep the home team off the scoreboard in the first six innings.
Gustave, whose pitches often reached the high 90s, gave up his second hit of the game in the third to Bluefield’s No. 9 batter, Garrett Custons.
Custons got to first on a slow infield roller, stole second, and came home when D.J. Davis yanked a ball deep into center field that as misplayed by Marc Wik and went into the books as a triple.
“I was just sitting for a fastball,” Davis said. “You get that first run, it meant a lot.”
“I was seeing the ball real well tonight. I was seeing the seams, and the way the ball was cutting. I was able to make a big play, and came through for the team.”
Melvin Garcia’s sacrifice fly in the fourth scored Eric Arce for a 2-0 lead. Gustave was done after five innings, ultimately taking the loss although he gave up just four hits and struck out four.
Tom Robson, Bluefield’s 6-foot-4 Canadian starting pitcher, issued back-to-back singles in the first inning but got out of the frame courtesy of a double play. Except for walking a batter in the third, he didn’t allow another base runner, or another hit.
He retired 10 of 11 batters to finish out his four innings.
Davis secured the final out of Robson’s tenure, a hustling snag of a sinking fly ball that delighted the Bluefield fans in the crowd, which was announced as 751.
Davis said, “We weren’t getting too much action out in the outfield. I had my chance, and I grabbed it.”
Robson said, “Usually in the first inning, I’m a bit nervous. ... But I got comfortable in the second and third and fourth inning, and I felt really good, did what I was supposed to do — to give my team a chance to win.”
“We were great, defensively and offensively. I knew if I could limit the amount of runs I would let in, we’d have a chance to win.”
Jairo Labourt pulled relief duty for the Blue Jays for the next four innings. He struck out three batters and allowed one hit, a bloop single to Juan Santana on his fifth pitch, followed by nine straight outs.
Holmberg said that the “piggyback” arrangement, utilizing two starters in a single game, is an effective strategy in the Appy League.
“It’s a good situation with the piggyback,” he said. “Young guys with young arms — no expectations except four to five innings, and 60 pitches.”
“If you do have a bad ballgame, when one guy blows up, you should have the other guy ready to come in.”
The game’s final three runs came in the sixth inning off reliever Connolly, who retired the first two batters he faced. Then Matt Dean and Melvin Garcia singled, and Tim Locastro was hit by a pitch to load the bags.
Custons hit a ball to the second baseman, who lobbed the ball to his shortstop at second base for a forceout that would have ended the inning. It was late, and Dean scored.
Davis then bagged his second hit of the day, a single to center field that drove home the last two runs. His hit dropped in front of outfielder Wik, who was able to shovel the ball into the air at his shoetops but couldn’t quite complete the catch for the final out.
“One play, and all of a sudden, a three-run difference,” Holmberg said.
In the eighth, reliever Sebastian Kessay got hit on his upper shoulder by Dean’s line drive back to the mound. He insisted on staying in, and drew applause when allowed to continue. Gerardo Ramirez tossed a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Bluefield got its ninth inning relief from closer Brady Dragmire, who struck out his first batter, gave up a walk and then finished the game by inducing two groundouts.
Dean was 2 for 4 at bat and Davis was 2 for 5. Mitch May cracked a double to the base of the wall in the first inning. Bluefield’s nine hits came from seven Blue Jays.
“Everybody in the lineup for the most part had pretty good at bats,” Holmberg said. “Offensively, we did a nice job with our run production.”
The Blue Jays will head east for the next three nights, playing 7 p.m. games in Pulaski. Bluefield returns home Wednesday for a three-game homestand with Burlington.
Holmberg said, “We’re off to a 2-1 start, we’re playing real well, pitching real good. Then you move on.”
“I think we’ve been focused on getting in here, and getting settled. ... I think we’ll be anxious to go on the road, and see what another ballpark looks like.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Greeneville..............000 000 000 — 0 3 1
Bluefield..................001 103 00x — 5 9 1
Jandel Gustave, Ryan Connolly (6), Sebastian Kessay (7), Gerardo Ramirez (8) and Ricky Gingras. Tom Robson, Jairo Labourt (5), Brady Dragmire (9) and Garret Custons. WP _ Labourt. LP - Gustave. HR - none.