After he began the season with the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Todd Cunningham got his call to the Major Leagues on May 14 and quickly took advantage of the opportunity to play in the big leagues.
He started each of his first five games as the Braves’ left fielder after he had played 30 games in Gwinnett to begin the 2015 season.
“I just kind of walked into a very fortunate situation where I was playing every day in Triple-A, get called up and have a chance to play for the most part,” Cunningham said. “That’s about as smooth of a transition as you can ask for.”
The 26-year-old switch hitter began the 2015 season with a .286 batting average, five doubles, a triple, 11 RBIs and six stolen bases for Gwinnett, but he caught fire once he joined Atlanta.
He had three hits in both of his first two games and batted .600 (9-for-15) during his first four, with three road games against the Miami Marlins before a home contest May 19 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. He posted a .357 batting average through his first 10 games, which included three doubles, five runs scored, two RBIs and a stolen base.
“It’s not like it was a complete fluke, I’ve done that in the past. I had a feeling a couple days before I got called up where I felt like I was about to start clicking,” he said. “It happened at a really good time, getting to step in and play right away and ran into a couple early and just kind of fed off of it through the whole series.”
Cunningham spent the majority of April and early May as either the G-Braves’ No. 3 hitter or leadoff batter so he found pitchers attacked him differently as he batted fifth, sixth or seventh in his first four games with the Braves.
“When I was in Miami, they were going right at me throwing balls over the plate,” he said. “Now I’m starting to see the adjustments start to happen so I’ll have to kind of adjust with the pitchers.”
He also changed defensive positions from the minors to the majors. Cunningham was primarily a center fielder in Gwinnett, but he played left field exclusively during his first 10 games in the majors.
“In Spring Training, I got a chance to kind of bounce around and play a lot so it’s not the first time I’ve taken balls over there, but it definitely is different,” he said. “Center is probably my favorite just because balls stay truer and you can open it up and run for a couple, but as long as I’m on the field I can’t really complain, especially when we’re putting together some wins.”
Cunningham had played eight games with Atlanta in 2013, going 2-for-8, but otherwise spent the past two seasons in Gwinnett. He hit a combined .276 with 41 doubles, seven triples, 10 home runs, 96 RBIs and 39 stolen bases with the G-Braves in 2013-14.
He said he spent his time at Triple-A with the mentality that he was already in the big leagues to help him prepare for his eventual promotion. That has also helped him transition to a new level of competition in the big leagues, he said.
“It’s been fun,” Cunningham said of his time as a big leaguer this season. “I definitely can’t complain.”
Mon: RHP Matt Wisler (2-3, 4.40 ERA) vs. LHP Anthony Vasquez (1-0, 1.69 ERA), 6:35 p.m.
Tues: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (1-4, 4.70 ERA) vs. LHP Joely Rodriguez (2-3, 5.18 ERA), 6:35 p.m.
Wed: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (2-2, 4.05 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Berken (3-2, 4.29 ERA), 6:35 p.m.
Thurs: LHP Manny Banuelos (3-0, 2.64 ERA) vs. RHP Phillippe Aumont (2-1, 1.64 ERA), 6:35 p.m.
The Gwinnett Braves return to Coolray Field for a seven-game homestand that begins with four games against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Gwinnett went 3-4 on its most recent road trip that included series against the Toledo Mud Hens and Columbus Clippers. The Mud Hens took two of three games for the G-Braves, while Gwinnett and Columbus split their four-game series.
Lehigh Valley enters the series vs. Gwinnett on its best roll of the season. A 7-5 home loss Sunday to the Charlotte Knights ended a season-high, six-game winning streak that lifted the IronPigs out of the basement in the International League North Division. They now sit fifth in the six-team division ahead of the Syracuse Chiefs (17-26). The G-Braves remain in the cellar of the IL South, 5.5 games behind division leading Charlotte (24-19).
Pitching: G-Braves’ pitchers have combined for the sixth-lowest ERA on the season with a 3.22 mark and has held opponents to two runs or fewer in each of the team’s last 12 wins. However, the G-Braves have also lost their last 14 games when they give up more than two runs. The club’s eight saves are tied for the second-fewest in the league with Syracuse and one ahead of Toledo, while its 19 home runs allowed are tied for the fourth-fewest. Gwinnett pitchers have walked the third-most batters of any IL team with 159, but their 10 combined wild pitches are the fewest in the league. The G-Braves are also one of six teams with at least 330 strikeouts (331) and sit six strikeouts behind the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, which hold the lead in that department. Individually, Banuelos has risen to ninth among qualified pitchers with a 2.64 ERA (14 ER in 47.2 IP), and he is one of three qualifying pitchers who has yet to suffer a defeat.
The IronPigs’ staff held opponents to one run in four games during the recent winning streak to lower the team ERA to 3.90, which ranks 10th in the 14-team league. Lehigh Valley had limited its opponents to one run twice before that stretch and is the only team in the league yet to record a shutout victory, and it has issued the most walks with 192 (4.26 per game), 32 more than second-place Toledo in that category. The IronPigs’ 286 strikeouts are the second-fewest in the league, five more than Syracuse. Aumont’s 1.64 ERA (8 ER in 44.0 IP) through 10 outings (six starts) is the second-lowest in the league among qualified pitchers, although his 24 walks are tied for the second-most in the league.
Hitting: The G-Braves and IronPigs have identical .259 team batting averages, and they are the two most power deprived squads in the league. Gwinnett’s 13 long balls for the season are one fewer than the 14 homers Lehigh Valley has launched. The G-Braves have scored nine more runs (178) than the IronPigs and stolen 21 more bases (Gwinnett has a league-leading 53). The G-Braves’ 231 strikeouts are the fewest in the league, while Lehigh Valley’s 296 are the fifth fewest.
Gwinnett outfielder Eury Perez continues to lead the league in stolen bases with 22, while second baseman Jose Peraza remains with 14 (tied for fourth). Peraza has yet to steal a base since his return to the lineup Thursday after missing a week, although he did hit his first two home runs of the season at Columbus. Perez also leads the league with 27 runs scored, while infielder Adonis Garcia is fourth in batting average at .338 and outfielder Cedric Hunter is tied for second in doubles with 13.
G-Bites: The G-Braves received a new pitcher in their starting rotation during the road trip. Right-hander Cody Martin (0-1, 2.08 ERA), who won the team’s Most Outstanding Pitcher award after going 7-8 with a 3.52 ERA in 2014, joined the club May 19 from the Atlanta Braves. He went 2-2 with a 4.12 ERA (9 ER in 19.2 IP) in 17 relief appearances to begin the year with Atlanta…The Braves traded right-handed reliever John Cornely (2-2, 4.42 ERA, 1 save, 12 appearances) to the Boston Red Sox on May 20, and he was assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket…Garcia returned to the G-Braves on May 22 after a four-day stay with Atlanta in his first Major League experience (0-1, 1 BB, 2 games), while left-handed reliever Ian Thomas got called up to Atlanta for the second time this season…The G-Braves will close their homestand with three games Friday through Sunday vs. Columbus, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
After making his Major League debut in 2014 as a reliever with the Houston Astros, right-hander Mike Foltynewicz has established himself as a key member of the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation after he began the year as a Gwinnett Brave.
The 23-year-old Foltynewicz came to the Braves’ organization via a five-player trade January 14 in a deal that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros. Foltynewicz did not get a win in his four starts to open the season with the G-Braves (0-3), but he still posted 2.08 ERA (5 ER in 21.2 IP) with an International League-leading 30 strikeouts at the time of his promotion to Atlanta on May 1.
He won both of his first two starts for Atlanta and has gone 2-1 with a 5.32 ERA (13 ER in 22.0 IP) and 23 strikeouts in four starts in his first opportunity to be part of a Major League starting rotation.
“It’s been really fun so far,” Foltynewicz said.
Foltynewicz and G-Braves’ pitching coach Marty Reed had worked on his mechanics during his month in Gwinnett to try to help his timing, and thereby his control. He walked 10 batters in his four starts in Gwinnett and has walked 11 during his time with Atlanta, although he walked one batter and posted his third consecutive start with seven strikeouts in his most recent outing May 19 in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
“The first couple of games weren’t as good as I’d have liked them to be, but the last two I’ve really been pounding the zone,” Foltynewicz said. “In the later innings I kind of get a little amped up and try to throw a little to hard, and that’s when the walks tend to happen.”
Although he pitched in 16 games for Houston in the second half of last season, Foltynewicz said he has still had to make adjustments to find success in the big leagues compared to what had become a dominating routine at Gwinnett.
“Both mentally and out there playing, I’m getting settled in,” he said. “‘Every day it’s getting better. You get the learn the guys and just making friends and getting to work with (pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) every day, too, has been pretty fun.”
Infielder Pedro Ciriaco nearly made the Atlanta Braves’ Opening Day roster out of Spring Training this season, but the April 5 trade that sent right-handed closer Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres for center fielder Cameron Maybin bumped Ciriaco to the Gwinnett Braves.
He instead became the first player from the G-Braves’ Opening Day roster to get promoted to the Atlanta Braves in 2015. After he made several spectacular defensive plays at third base and shortstop to go with a .234 batting average (18-for-77), a double, a home run and seven RBIs, which tied for second-most on the team in April.
Atlanta called up the 29-year-old on May 2, and he has batted .214 (3-for-14) in 10 games with two starts.
“It’s going pretty good,” Ciriaco said of his experience with the Braves this season . “I’ve got the opportunity to be here, and I love it. We’ve got a good ballclub, and you just try to help them win games.”
Two of Ciriaco’s Major League hits this season have been as a pinch hitter (.333 pinch-hitting batting average) and each have gone for extra bases. His first hit of the year was a two-run double off of Washington Nationals’ right-handed starter Doug Fister on May 9 in an 8-6 road loss. He hit an eighth-inning triple in his next appearance May 13 against Cincinnati Reds’ right-handed starter Raisel Iglesias. Ciriaco came around to score the Braves’ only run of the game in a 5-1 defeat at Cincinnati.
Ciriaco has spent parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues with five different teams. He entered 2015 with a .270 career batting average in 188 MLB games. He said he has especially focused on how to be consistent at the big-league level after his latest callup.
“Every time I get a chance to play I try to play good defense…help our pitching staff out and try to win more games,” he said.
Ciriaco’s playing time has been limited in Atlanta compared to Gwinnett, where he played in 20 of Gwinnett’s first 21 games. It has been a change of pace, but it has also made him focus on every chance he gets at the plate or in the field.
“It’s a little bit different, but you just have to adjust and when you get the opportunity to play take advantage that I have here and continue to make things happen every chance I get to play,” he said.
Fri: RHP Matt Wisler (2-3, 4.59 ERA) vs. RHP Jon Moscot (5-0, 2.35 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sat: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (0-4, 5.70 ERA) vs. RHP Dylan Axelrod (1-3, 3.57 ERA), 7:05 p.m.
Sun: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (2-1, 1.96 ERA) vs. RHP Donovan Hand (0-1, 3.06 ERA), 2:05 p.m.
The Gwinnett Braves complete their seven-game homestand with three contests vs. the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The G-Braves dropped three of four games to the Syracuse Chiefs at Coolray Field earlier in the week, although none of the four games were decided by more than three runs. Louisville comes to Gwinnett after losing three of four road games to the Charlotte Knights.
The Bats are 4-7 in their last 11 games dating back to May 3 and are in third place in the four-team International League West Division, 5.5 games behind the division-leading Indianapolis Indians. The G-Braves remain in the cellar of the IL South despite a 3.5-game deficit to co-division leaders Charlotte and the Durham Bulls.
Pitching: Louisville enters the series with the second-highest team earned-run average in the league at 4.41, which is better than only the Toledo Mud Hens’ 4.87 mark. Bats pitchers have given up four or more runs in five of their last six games, and their 224 combined strikeouts are tied for the second-fewest in the league. Moscot, who will start the series opener, leads the league with five wins, and his 2.35 ERA is the seventh-lowest among qualifying pitchers, although he also leads the league with six wild pitches.
The Gwinnett pitching staff has held opponents in six of their last eight games, although the team is 4-4 in those contests. The G-Braves’ team ERA of 3.01 is the fourth-lowest in the league, and their nine home runs allowed are the fewest in the league, two behind the 11 given up by Buffalo Bisons pitchers. Wisler, the reigning IL Pitcher of the Week, will take the mound for Gwinnett in game one after going 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA (2 ER in 13.1 IP), one walk and nine strikeouts in his latest two starts.
Hitting: The G-Braves’ team batting average dropped five points to .264 during their four-game series against Syracuse, but that still ranks as the third-highest in the league. Mycal Jones launched the team’s lone home run of the series. The club sits at the bottom of the league in that department with seven for the year, two behind Buffalo.
Louisville has slugged more than twice as many home runs with 15 through their first 34 games, but the G-Braves have scored more runs than the Bats (136 to 123). Louisville’s .248 team batting average is the fourth-lowest among the IL’s 16 teams. Their 257 combined strikeouts are the sixth-most in the league, while the G-Braves’ 179 are the fewest in the league, 31 fewer than second-place Buffalo in that category.
G-Bites: Infielder Sean Kazmar returned from the disabled list Thursday after the Braves called up outfielder Todd Cunningham. Kazmar entered the Thursday’s game as a pinch runner in the ninth inning…Gwinnett leads the IL with 43 stolen bases, six more than second-place Durham, and have the top two individual base stealers in the league with Eury Perez (18) and Jose Peraza (14), who also leads the league with eight sacrifice hits…Infielder Adonis Garcia’s .347 batting average ranks third in the league among qualifying hitters…Left-handed reliever Donnie Veal is tied for the league lead in holds with five.
Gwinnett will head out Monday on a seven-game road trip that includes three games against Toledo and four against the Columbus Clippers.
Mon: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (0-3, 5.64 ERA) vs. RHP Scott McGregor (2-2, 4.21 ERA)
Tues: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (2-0, 0.47 ERA) vs. RHP Bruce Billings (0-2, 4.01 ERA)
Wed: LHP Manny Banuelos (2-0, 3.06 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Jordan (1-2, 2.88 ERA)
Thurs: LHP Greg Smith (1-1, 1.80 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Hill (2-1, 4.86 ERA)
The Gwinnett Braves begin a seven-game homestand with four contests vs. the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The Chiefs roll into Coolray Field losers of four of their last six games and sit in fifth place in the six-team International League North Division. Most recently, they lost two contests of a three-game road series to the Durham Bulls.
The G-Braves won four of the six games on their road trip and outscored the Lehigh Valley IronPigs 14-2 in their final two games. The trip got Gwinnett back to the .500 mark for the first time since they were 3-3 April 14 but still are in last place in the IL South.
Pitching: The G-Braves’ team earned-run average of 2.96 ranks fourth in the league and is nearly a full run lower than the Chiefs’ 3.91 ERA, which is ninth in the IL. Syracuse has allowed the third-most home runs in the league with 21, as McGregor and Hill have both given up five. The 14 homers Gwinnett has allowed are tied for the fifth-fewest in the league.
However, Syracuse pitchers have displayed more control, as the team ranks fourth in the league in fewest walks with 86, while the 104 free passes Gwinnett pitchers have granted are tied for the sixth-most. Syracuse right-handed reliever Sam Runion leads the league among qualifying relief pitchers with a 0.64 walks-per-9.0-innings ratio (1 BB in 14.0 IP). Meanwhile, fellow right-handed reliever Rich Hill ranks second in the league with a 14.44 strikeouts-per-9.0-innings rate (23 SO in 14.1 IP).
For Gwinnett, left-handed reliever Donnie Veal is part of a three-way tie for the league lead in holds with five. Marimon’s 0.47 ERA (1 ER in 19.0 IP) would lead the league but he has not qualified with enough innings pitched.
Hitting: While the G-Braves still rank at the bottom of the IL with their six home runs, their team batting average is up to .269, which ranks third in the league. Syracuse is hitting a league-worst .233 but is tied for the fourth-most homers in the league with 20.
Gwinnett infielder Adonis Garcia enters the homestand with a 10-game hitting streak during which he has hit .439 (18-for-41) with five doubles and eight RBIs. That has boosted his batting average to .375, the second-highest in the league among qualifying batters, and he leads the team with 18 RBIs for the season. Outfielder Eury Perez continues to hold the top spot on the IL stolen bases leaderboard with 16, but G-Braves’ infielder Jose Peraza has climbed into a tie for second on that list with 12 steals.
Chiefs’ second baseman Ian Stewart is tied for the league-lead in home runs with sixth and is one off the lead in RBIs with 19. He is also tied for third with 14 extra-base hits but has the third-most strikeouts in the league with 36, four behind teammate Jason Martinson’s league-high 40.
G-Bites: The Atlanta Braves made a flurry of roster moves during the road trip that affected the G-Braves’ roster. Veal returned to the Gwinnett roster Friday after clearing waivers when the Braves designated him for assignment Tuesday, and the team activated catcher Jose Yepez from the disabled list. It also called up infielder Daniel Castro from Double-A Mississippi and placed infielders Elmer Reyes and Sean Kazmar on the disabled list.
Gwinnett also had a player receive a weekly award from the IL for the first time this season. The league named right-handed starter Matt Wisler the IL Pitcher of the Week on Monday after he went 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA (2 ER in 13.1 IP) with one walk and nine strikeouts in his last two starts. He is the Braves’ No. 2 ranked prospect according to MLB.com and is 2-3 with a 4.59 ERA (17 ER in 33.1 IP) through six starts this season, overall.
The G-Braves will play four games against the Chiefs to begin the homestand before the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, visit for a three-game series at Coolray Field.
Atlanta Braves Director of Player Development Dave Trembley spent four days last week at Coolray Field to work with the Gwinnett Braves for the first time this season in his position as the man who helps oversee the Braves’ farm system.
Trembley, who managed the Baltimore Orioles from 2007-10 and was a Houston Astros coach in 2013-14, joined the Braves in October. He offered his observations of the G-Braves’ heralded pitching staff that had four hurlers in MLB.com’s Top 30 prospect rankings of the Atlanta system before the Braves called up right-hander and No. 3 prospect Mike Foltynewicz to make his first Major League start on Friday, May 1.
“The Braves have always been successful because they’ve had a stable of good, young arms who have come through their system, and I think that’s what the Braves are doing now. They’re re-stocking their system with pitching.”
Gwinnett still has the Braves’ No. 2 prospect and their top pitching prospect Matt Wisler, a right-hander the club acquired from the San Diego Padres on April 5 as part of the six-player trade that sent right-handed closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. to the Padres.
The G-Braves also feature No. 11 prospect, left-handed starter Manny Banuelos, and right-handed reliever Aaron Kurcz at No. 30.
“You’ve got to have pitching,” Trembley said. “You’ve got to have guys who can give you innings, and that’s been the focal point and starting point. Guys like Foltynewicz give you a guy who you like to think you can pencil in and say ‘Hey, this guy is going to be part of your rotation for a long time.’”
Trembley said he was familiar with how the Braves approached construction of their pitching staffs, as longtime Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone was Baltimore’s pitching coach when Trembley took over the managerial post in 2007.
“I knew very well about (John) Smoltz and (Greg) Maddux,” Trembley said. “We’re in a position now where we’ve acquired some very good young pitchers.”
Atlanta also picked up left-handed starters Ricardo Sanchez and Max Fried in offseason trades. Sanchez, the team’s No. 9 prospect according to MLB.com, came from the Los Angeles Angels in January and started the 2015 season at Class-A Rome. The Braves got Fried from the Padres in a December trade that sent outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego. Fried is ranked as Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect by MLB.com but will miss the entire 2015 season after he underwent “Tommy John” surgery in August.
“The Braves have always been committed to player development and scouting,” Trembley said. “That’s been their trademark going back to the days when (Braves President) John Schuerholz started this (in 1990) with (former manager) Bobby Cox, with (former amateur scouting director) Paul Snyder, with all the guys that have been there for a long time. … There’s a nucleus of people who have been here for an awful long time, and they’ve done it by developing pitching.”
Trembley said he sees many similarities in how the Braves are building their pitching depth with talent at the Triple-A level in Gwinnett.
“What I like here is we have some youth in the starting rotation,” he said. “We have some really up-and-coming, young arms that are here that are learning that in order to be successful in the Major Leagues you have to refine and develop their secondary pitches. I think (Banuelos, Wisler and right-hander Williams Perez) are doing that, and they have very good mentors in (guys like Chien-Ming) Wang.”
“I see this staff learning how to pitch, making the adjustments to pitch at this level and to be in Atlanta,” he said.
Thurs: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (0-1, 6.23 ERA) vs. LHP Mike Belfiore (0-3, 7.05 ERA)
Fri: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (0-3, 2.08 ERA) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (3-0, 3.00 ERA)
Sat: LHP Manny Banuelos (1-0, 4.43 ERA) vs. LHP Kyle Ryan (0-2, 4.43 ERA)
Sun: RHP Williams Perez (2-0, 1.57 ERA) vs. RHP Tim Melville (1-2, 3.80 ERA)
The Gwinnett Braves continue their seven-game homestand with four contests against the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. The Mud Hens enter the series third in the four-team International League West Division after they dropped two of three road games to the Charlotte Knights on the first leg of their road trip. The G-Braves and Mud Hens split their four-game series at Coolray Field in 2014, but Gwinnett took the season series 5-3. Gwinnett has never lost a season series to Toledo, and the only year the G-Braves dropped a home series to the Mud Hens was in 2010 when Toledo won three of four games.
Pitching: While Gwinnett holds a 3.57 ERA and is tied for second in the league with 168 strikeouts, the Mud Hens enter the series with a 4.73 team ERA that ranks 13th in the 14-team league and has the second-most walks with 83 against 125 strikeouts (Gwinnett pitchers have 70 combined walks).
Perez is the only G-Braves pitcher to garner a victory in his last start. His 1.57 ERA is also tied for the ninth-lowest among qualifying starters in the league. Foltynewicz, meanwhile, leads the league with 30 strikeouts through his first four starts of the year.
Farmer leads the Toledo starting rotation in wins (three), ERA (3.00) and strikeouts (28). His strikeout total is also second in the league behind Foltynewicz, and his .173 opponent batting average is the fifth-lowest in the league.
Hitting: Toledo holds the statistical advantage on offense. The Mud Hens have the third-highest team batting average at .267 and have scored the second-most runs (91) in the league, four behind the Pawtucket Red Sox. They are also tied for the league lead in doubles with 40 but have hit five home runs, one more than Gwinnett and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The G-Braves twice tied their season-high hit total with 13 Monday and Wednesday against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Also, outfielder Cedric Hunter launched the team’s first home run of the season at Coolray Field in walk-off fashion to win the series opener Monday, 6-5. The G-Braves are up to sixth in the league with a .256 team batting average and continue to lead the league with 26 stolen bases.
Outfielder Daniel Fields leads Toledo with a .349 batting average that ranks seventh in the league. He leads the league with five triples, and his 11 extra-base hits are good for second. Mud Hens third baseman Jefry Marte is also tied for third in RBIs with 14.
G-Bites: Gwinnett took two of three games from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to begin the homestand…The G-Braves each of the first two games by one run (6-5 and 3-2) before the RailRiders topped them 8-5 Wednesday…Outfielder Todd Cunningham begins the series on a team-best, nine-game hitting streak, and infielder Sean Kazmar is riding an eight-game streak…Outfielder Eury Perez leads the league in stolen bases with 12 after swiping two in the series against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre…Left-handed reliever Donnie Veal leads the league with 10 appearances and five holds, while right-hander Aaron Kurcz is tied for second in the league with five saves.
After the series with Toledo, the G-Braves will have an off day Monday before they begin a six-game road trip that includes three games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre followed by three at Lehigh Valley. They will return home to face the Syracuse Chiefs at 6:35 p.m. Monday, May 11.
Mon: LHP Manny Banuelos (0-1, 3.77 ERA) vs. RHP Jaron Long (0-1, 6.75 ERA)
Tues: RHP Williams Perez (1-0, 1.69 ERA) vs. RHP Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.12 ERA)
Wed: RHP Matt Wisler (0-2, 4.60 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Davies (1-1, 6.75 ERA)
The Gwinnett Braves open a seven-game homestand with three 6:35 p.m. contests against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Railriders have finished fifth in the six-team International League North Division in each of the past two seasons, but they have had Gwinnett’s number. The G-Braves are 4-12 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre since 2012 and have not won any of the eight games between the two clubs at Coolray Field. This will be the G-Braves’ first foray outside of the IL South Division this season. They were 32-46 against non-divisional opponents in 2014.
Pitching: Gwinnett and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre are evenly matched statistically in the pitching department. The G-Braves’ staff enters the series with the league’s sixth-lowest earned-run average at 3.31 (55 ER in 149.1 IP), while the RailRiders sit in seventh with a 3.35 ERA (61 ER in 164.0 IP). The teams are also extremely similar in terms of their pitching staffs’ control. The G-Braves have a 2.39 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (146/61). The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre staff’s rate is 2.55 (153/60).
However, the G-Braves hold the advantage in individual stats. Tuesday’s starter, Perez, boasts the seventh-lowest ERA in the league at 1.69. In the bullpen, left-hander Donnie Veal enters the series tied for the league lead in holds (four) and appearances (nine). Righty Aaron Kurcz is tied for fourth in saves with four.
Batting: The larger differences between the two teams in this series show up in their offensive approaches. The G-Braves use a speed-based game to score runs. The RailRiders’ lineup, meanwhile, produces more power and hardly ever attempts to steal bases.
Gwinnett has a league-low three home runs through 17 games, but it leads the league with 21 stolen bases. Ten of those swipes have come from outfielder Eury Perez, who has been caught twice and was 27-for-31 in steal attempts in 2014 while playing in the Washington Nationals’ and New York Yankees’ organizations. Outfielder Todd Cunningham hit a team-best .429 (12-for-28) with two doubles and a triple during the nine-game road trip and returns to Coolray Field on a seven-game hitting streak.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has eight home runs, which is tied for the seventh-most in the league, but has stolen four bases in eight attempts. RailRiders outfielder Ben Gamel leads the league with a .404 batting average (19-for-47), ranks second with a .472 on-base percentage and sits behind teammate Ramon Flores (.611) for fourth in slugging percentage with a .596 mark. Flores is also tied for second in the league with four home runs.
G-Bites: Gwinnett returns home with a new-look bullpen compared to when it left town April 16. RHP Kanekoa Texeira went on the disabled list along with infielder Sean Kazmar on April 17. That opened a spot for RHP Mitchell Boggs, who the Atlanta Braves signed to a minor-league contract April 20. The Braves also re-signed LHP Greg Smith the next day to join the G-Braves’ corps of relievers. The G-Braves activated catcher Jose Yepez off of the disabled list to fill Kazmar’s roster spot.
RHPs John Cornely and Michael Kohn got the call to Atlanta on Friday, April 24, while RHPs Sugar Ray Marimon and Juan Jaime returned to Gwinnett. Marimon made one appearance for the G-Braves before Atlanta called him up on April 13. Jaime saved 18 games for Gwinnett in 2014 and began the 2015 season with the Braves.
The G-Braves will finish their homestand with a four-game series Thursday-Sunday against the Toledo Mud Hens at Coolray Field.
Wed: LHP Manny Banuelos (0-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Beck (0-0, 5.79 ERA)
Thurs: RHP Williams Perez (0-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. LHP Carlos Rodon (1-0, 1.80 ERA)
The Gwinnett Braves finish their season-opening, eight-game homestand with two games against the International League South Division rival Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Charlotte and Gwinnett have both alternated victories through their first six games and are part of a division-wide tie for first place at 3-3 with the Durham Bulls and Norfolk Tides. The two-game set features 6:35 p.m. contests Wednesday and Thursday at Coolray Field. Both teams will then travel Friday to Charlotte to begin a three-game series at BB&T Ballpark.
Pitching: With two pitchers who were ranked in the top 30 in the Atlanta Braves’ system in the 2015 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Gwinnett will look to continue its early success on the mound. None of the G-Braves’ five starting pitchers has allowed more than two runs in a start through the season’s first six games. The rotation has posted a 2.03 ERA with a combined 30 strikeouts and 16 walks in 26.2 innings but has yet to garner a win, as RHP Chien-Ming Wang is the only starter to last past 5.0 innings. The Gwinnett bullpen, meanwhile, has an equally impressive 2.23 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 14 walks in 32.1 innings. Overall, the G-Braves’ pitching staff is ranked third in the International League with a 2.14 ERA and 58 strikeouts.
Charlotte comes to Gwinnett in the cellar of the International League pitching rankings. The Knights have allowed seven or more runs in each of their three losses and carry an IL-worst 5.17 ERA and seven home runs allowed, three more than any other team. Wednesday’s starter Chris Beck received a no-decision in his first start of the year Friday vs. Norfolk (4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO). Thursday starter Carlos Rodon provided the Knights’ most impressive start of the early season the following day with nine strikeouts (2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2BB) in 5.0 innings during a 4-2 win over the Tides.
Batting: While Gwinnett holds a significant statistical advantage in the pitching department, the opposite is true offensively. The G-Braves’ .224 batting average ranks 11th in the 14-team IL and they are one of two teams (Buffalo) that have yet to hit a home run. Infielder Pedro Ciriaco leads the team with seven hits and four RBIs with a double. Two of the G-Braves’ wins have also come on Ciriaco’s game-winning hits. He singled home the winning run Friday in the 11th inning to beat Durham 5-4 and bounced a grounder off of first base in the 10th inning Monday to score two runs and give Gwinnett a 5-4 victory over Norfolk.
Charlotte leads the league with a .296 team batting average and a .427 slugging percentage that includes five triples. Outfielder Trayce Thompson is second in the league with a .429 batting average and has three runs scored to go with three RBIs. Infielder Tyler Saladino also leads the league with five stolen bases, while outfielder Engel Beltre is tied for the league lead in runs scored with six.
G-Bites: The Atlanta Braves called up right-hander Sugar Ray Marimon from Gwinnett on Monday, and he made his Major League debut the following day. He entered Tuesday’s game against the Miami Marlins with one out in the third inning and the bases loaded. He struck out the first batter he faced, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and got Adeiny Hechavarria to ground out to escape the jam. Marimon pitched a total of 4.0 innings (4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO) after opening the season on the G-Braves roster. He made one appearance with Gwinnett, throwing 3.0 hitless innings with two strikeouts against Durham on Opening Night, Thursday, April 9 … Left-handed reliever Ian Thomas joined Gwinnett from Double-A Mississippi to replace Marimon on the triple-A roster. Thomas pitched 2.1 innings with nothing more than one hit allowed Tuesday vs. Norfolk.