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Atlanta Braves Minor League Recap: JJ Niekro throws seven shutout innings

JJ Niekro led the way in an Augusta win while Royber Salinas was strong for Rome

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves Photo by Brett Davis/Getty Images

The starting pitching on the Atlanta Braves system proved the strongest performers on the day, with Jared Shuster, Royber Salinas, and JJ Niekro each giving their squads chances to win. CJ Alexander stayed hot at the plate for Mississippi, while down in Augusta the GreenJackets poured on nine extra base hits in a win.

(29-29) Gwinnett Stripers 2, (30-28) Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp 7

Box Score

  • Braden Shewmake, SS: 1-3, BB, .265/.323/.382
  • Greyson Jenista, LF: 2-4, HR .244/.338/.450
  • Preston Tucker, DH: 1-4, .276/.364/.428
  • Bryce Elder, SP: 4.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 5.66 ERA
  • Brandon Brennan, RP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 7.48 ERA

The Stripers pitching staff struggled to keep Jacksonville at bay, allowing 12 hits in a 7-2 loss. The offense did a majority of their work in the third inning, starting with a leadoff home run from Greyson Jenista that cut Jacksonville’s 2-0 lead in half. Delino DeShields then used his speed to manufacture a tying run, reaching on a hit before stealing second, advancing on a Braden Shewmake, and scoring on a passed ball. With Shewmake on second base and only one out Gwinnett had a prime opportunity to take the lead, but despite an infield single from Pat Valaika could not push home anymore runs in the inning. The rest of the night was a struggle for Gwinnett as they didn't have another baserunner until the seventh inning at which point they trailed 5-2. A Preston Tucker double with no outs in the eighth inning put him on and Shewmake at third base, but Gwinnett stranded both runners to seal their final fate.

Bryce Elder struggled in this outing for Gwinnett, as every ball hit against him seemed to find a hole in the defense. Elder was jumped on by the Jumbo Shrimp early as it took seven pitches for them to net two hits and the game’s first out. After a wild pitch brought home the first run Elder allowed an RBI double which scored the second of the inning to put Gwinnett in an early hole. After Gwinnett fought back to tie the game Elder could not hold to this, allowing a triple and an RBI single in the third inning to put Gwinnett behind a run. Elder finally put together a clean frame in the fourth, but after allowing a walk and two singles in the fifth inning he was removed with two outs. RJ Alaniz had struggles of his own in relief of Elder, but was not helped by a defensive miscue in the seventh. A sixth inning home run was the earned run that came in off of Alaniz, then in the seventh an error extended an inning that would have ended the next batter but continued to score two runs and ice the game for Jacksonville.

Next Game: 6/11 @ (30-28) Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp @ 6:35 PM ET

(26-29) Mississippi Braves 2, (32-23) Rocket City Trash Pandas

Box Score

  • Justin Dean, CF: 1-4, .224/.278/.306
  • Riley Delgado, 2B: 2-4, 2B, .309/.392/.381
  • CJ Alexander, 3B: 2-4, HR, 2 RBI, .268/.315/.506
  • Jared Shuster, SP: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3.02 ERA
  • Indigo Diaz, RP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3.48 ERA

Mississippi and Rocket City played a tightly contested battle which ended on an ill-timed base running miscue. The Braves bats were thoroughly dominated in the early stages of this game, not recording a base runner until a leadoff double from Riley Delgado in the fourth inning. Now trailing 2-0 they had a chance to cut into the deficit, but failed to bring home Delgado. CJ Alexander did get them their first run with a leadoff single in the fifth inning, but through eight they had nothing more and trailed 3-1. The Braves came to bat in the ninth with one more opportunity to get themselves in the game, and Justin Dean started the inning off right with a base hit before advancing to second on a wild pitch. With the meat of the order up Mississippi had many chances to extend the rally but two strikeouts quickly had them on the brink of another wasted opportunity. Alexander then came to the plate and quickly got down 0-2 in the count before ripping an RBI single into right field to score Dean. Unfortunately Alexander decided he could make it to second base on the play, which he could not, and he was thrown out to end the game.

Jared Shuster was looking to bounce back from an off start in his last outing, and he put together a solid performance that kept Mississippi’s floundering offense in the game for six innings. Shuster’s first inning was his poorest, as he allowed two hits and an RBI sacrifice fly that had the Braves down a run early on. From there he pitched two clean innings before again allowing two hits and a run in the fourth to double the Mississippi deficit. He finished out the start with two more perfect innings. Tyler Ferguson pitched one inning of relief, and it proved to be an important one as he struggled and allowed a run on two hits and a walk. Indigo Diaz did his job with two strikeouts in a perfect eighth inning.

Next Game: 6/11 @ (32-23) Rocket City Trash Pandas @ 7:35 PM ET

(31-24) Rome Braves 4, (26-26) Wilmington Blue Rocks 1

Box Score

  • Vaughn Grissom, SS: 0-3, HBP, .262/.362/.403
  • Drew Campbell, CF: 1-4, RBI, .269/.325/.328
  • Javier Valdes, C: 1-2, BB, HBP, 2 RBI, .261/.393/.413
  • Royber Salinas, SP: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 4.55 ERA
  • Austin Smith, RP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2.95 ERA

Rome’s offense didn’t really have the best of days, but they nailed their sequencing and dropped a four run inning to win the game. Trailing 1-0 in the third inning a one out error opened the gates for the bats to get going, and two hits later Rome had tied the game on a Drew Campbell single. A hit batter then loaded the bases and Rome took the lead on a walk to Landon Stephens. The biggest hit of the inning came from Javier Valdes, whose two out single drove home two runs and put the Braves well in the lead for the remainder of the game. Rome again loaded the bases on a hit and two walks in the sixth inning, but stranded the bases loaded as the game stayed at 4-1.

The pitching staff were the MVPs of this game, allowing only two hits and holding the Blue Rocks to one run. Royber Salinas was the leader of the group today, giving the Braves six strong innings despite not having his best strikeout stuff working. His only true trouble came in the third inning when they were able to string a walk, stolen base, and hit together to score the game’s lone run. After Salinas completed six it was in the hands of the bullpen, who remained stingy and didn’t allow Wilmington back into the game. Davis Schwab did allow consecutive walks and a wild pitch in the seventh inning, but he got a pop out to end the inning. Dylan Spain and Austin Smith closed the game out with each giving a perfect inning of relief to seal the win. Smith has been an underrated member of Rome’s staff with a 2.95 ERA and 2.36 FIP.

Next Game: 6/11 vs (26-26) Wilmington Blue Rocks @ 6:00 PM ET

(30-25) Augusta GreenJackets 6, (15-40) Columbia Fireflies 2

Box Score

  • Caleb Durbin, SS: 2-5, 2B, RBI, .297/.425/.418
  • Brandol Mezquita, LF: 2-5, 2 2B, RBI, .317/.386/.439
  • Brandon Parker, DH: 3-5, 2B, 3B, RBI, .253/.387/.444
  • JJ Niekro, RP: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2.09 ERA
  • Tyler Owens, RP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4.03 ERA

Despite the final score this game was not as breezy for the GreenJackets as it should have been, especially given their hits advantage of 15-4. Augusta was on it through most of this game, but until late they had little to show for their offensive work. A two run home run from Adam Zebrowski provided the bulk of their final score production from the first eight inning, but they also stranded two runners in scoring position in the inning to waste an early opportunity. This was not the last time they would strand runner like this, as they blew a bases loaded opportunity just one inning later and save the eighth had a hit in every single inning this game. They only broke threw in the sixth however when Kadon Morton tripled with two outs and scored on a base hit from Caleb Durbin. Columbia fought back late to cut the game to 3-2, so Augusta needed to renew the distance between them and put up a big ninth inning. Augusta had four extra base hits in the inning, scoring three insurance runs to seal the game.

JJ Niekro has lived up to the name for Augusta, and with his win today moved to a perfect 5-0 on the season. Niekro was quite short of dominant with only one strikeout, but he managed to have most every ball against him find a glove and pitched seven scoreless innings on just 75 pitches. Over the final four innings of his outing he didn’t allow a single hit, with the only baserunner coming on a fourth inning walk that he quickly stranded. Rob Griswold then made the game much tighter for Augusta, with a two run home run in the eighth inning to cut the lead to one run. He then walked and hit a batter to really make the GreenJackets sweat, but lucked out when a hard line drive went directly to the right fielder to end the inning. Tyler Owens closed out the game in the ninth, allowing a two out walk but nothing else to seal the win.

Next Game: 6/11 @ (15-40) Columbia Fireflies @ 6:05 PM ET