Jenkins impresses in Triple-A debut

Chopper, a giant groundhog mascot, hid in second-deck suites around Coolray Field in Lawrenceville and sprayed kids from above with a plastic water gun. Later those wet kids formed a high-pitched choir as “Let it Go” played over the sound system.

A couple of scenes from Daycare Day on Thursday, Gwinnett’s last home game before the All-Star break. Many of the 4,051 in attendance hadn’t lived a decade, but a kid who barely had lived through two made his Triple-A debut on the mound.

Tyrell Jenkins, 22, pitched seven shutout innings and struck out six in a 1-0 win against the Norfolk Tides.

“I felt like a baby out there against those grown men,” Jenkins said, laughing. “But I’m glad we got the ‘W.’”

The Braves acquired Jenkins with Shelby Miller in November in the trade that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis.

He hadn’t pitched above Single-A in four years with the Cardinals, but he oozed potential as a three-sport athlete in high school (baseball, basketball, football). Baseball America ranked him the Braves’ No. 7 prospect this offseason.

The Braves assigned him to Double-A Mississippi, where he was 5-5 with a 3.00 ERA and allowed three or more earned runs twice in 16 starts.

Jenkins mixed speeds well in his Triple-A debut, touching 94 mph with his four-seamer and dropping as low as 79 and 75 mph with his change-up and curveball. He worked quickly from the wind-up, barely giving the pitch-clock operator time to reset, but slowed down from the stretch and flashed a decent pick-off move.

He held the Tides — who had the International League’s fourth-best average — to seven singles, and three didn’t leave the infield.

“I was telling myself the last two days, ‘Just pitch like you’re still in Double-A, and just throw strikes. Keep the ball down and let my defense work,’” Jenkins said. “Luckily my change-up was working today and my curveball was kind of here and there, but I was lucky to get some soft contact and some big outs.”

Jenkins really faced only two stressful situations — when runners occupied first and second with one out in the fourth and seventh innings.

But he sat down the next two batters in both innings and calmly fist-bumped his catcher, 34-year-old Jose Yepez, on his way to the dugout.

Manager Brian Snitker sang his praise for the kid after the game.

“I heard a lot of really good things (about Jenkins),” Snitker said. “(Double-A manager) Aaron Holbert had texted me, ‘You’re going to love this kid.’ … I really liked what I saw a lot, especially in that seventh inning when he was tired and the game was on the line. That was pretty impressive. … Arm action, the whole secondary pitches were good. He threw strikes. That’s a good-hitting ballclub, too, in our league. They’re really, really good. Thought he did a great job.”

Jenkins likely will stay in Gwinnett, as Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz are up in Atlanta and Cody Martin is now with Oakland.

Snitker said Jenkins would probably start Gwinnett’s first game after the All-Star break and that he shouldn’t be rushed to the bigs.

“He needs to stay here for a while, in my opinion. It’s one outing in Triple-A, his first one,” Snitker said. “As everybody knows, you’re on the board here. (Players are) on (Atlanta’s) radar if they get here. … I think you can get way ahead of yourself if you’re not careful about worrying about the next start or the next game and all that kind of stuff. And hopefully (Jenkins) will build on this.”