G-Braves open season with victory

LAWRENCEVILLE -- As the season opened Thursday night, the Gwinnett offense showed it’s never quite ready to head back to the dugout.

The G-Braves scored seven of their eight runs and got seven of their eight hits with two outs to take a big lead, blow it, and stage a comeback in an 8-6 victory over Charlotte.

After struggling in his first three at bats, Gregor Blanco got the biggest hit for Gwinnett, a sixth-inning single that put the Braves ahead after they once led 4-0. His single followed a two-run double deep to left field by Wes Timmons that tied the game after Gwinnett’s early four-run lead had turned into a two-run deficit.

He said he knew that at-bat was a chance to atone for his earlier difficulties at the plate and wasn't going to let the opportunity pass.

"I knew I was 0-for-3," said Blanco, who finished 2-for-5 and was the only Brave with multiple hits. "I said to myself, ‘You maybe only have one at-bat to change the whole game.' I knew I had to do something to prove to myself that I could start this season on the right foot."

That big inning came off Charlotte reliever Greg Aquino, who came in after starter Lucas Harrell walked two consecutive batters. Aquino gave up the hits to Timmons and Blanco and hit Matt Young with a pitch before striking out Joe Thurston to get out of the inning.

It also came after Harrell had settled down, retiring 15 consecutive Braves after giving up the four early runs. Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage said his hitters' struggles were mostly because of what Harrell did right.

"He did a nice job," Brundage said. "He was probably a couple of pitches away from not getting out of the first inning, and then he almost got through six innings. We came out swinging the bats well, and we had some good at-bats. We hit some balls hard in the middle of the inning, and I felt like we kind of let them off the hook."

Once the G-Braves regained the lead, the bullpen did its job, shutting down the Knights over the final three innings to notch the win.

Jonny Venters gave up hits to the first two hitters he faced in the sixth, with one run scoring, but he retired the final six batters he saw to help Gwinnett maintain its lead.

Cory Gearrin picked up where Venters left off, striking out the side around a single and a walk to continue holding the Charlotte offense in check in the eighth. Two of the three strikeouts came looking, with the first on a curveball that froze Blessed Trinity graduate Tyler Flowers before breaking over the inside corner.

In the ninth, Gwinnett closer Craig Kimbrel came in to finish out the game but made it interesting, hitting C.J. Retherford and walking Alejandro De Aza to open the inning. He threw to third to force out Retherford on a bunt attempt before Thurston made a leaping catch and doubled off De Aza to end the game.

The game stood in stark contrast to last season, when the Braves began the year 1-8 at home after losing their first three. For Brundage, it was a refreshing change.

"Getting the first one out of the way, you get the first-game jitters out of the way," Brundage said. "We felt like we accomplished some things tonight. We got our feet wet, and we're off and running."