Jonathan Keener broke out of a slump while helping the Johnson City Cardinals do likewise Saturday at Cardinal Park.
Keener went 2-for-4 with four RBIs, helping Johnson City snap a six-game losing streak with a 10-5 win against Kingsport.
Keener, a 23-year-old catcher, drove in the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left-center field in the second inning and ignited the Cardinals’ six-run fourth with a two-run single to center. He lined a one-out, RBI single to right field to give the Cardinals (8-7) an 8-5 lead in the seventh.
Keener entered the game 2-for-19 with one RBI on the season, and said he’d put in extra time with manager Joe Kruzel and hitting coach Roberto Espinosa.
“I’d been struggling the past four or five games that I’ve played,” Keener said. “I just kind of worked with Kruzel and Espy before the game and made a couple of adjustments, and it seemed to help.”
Keener spoiled a pretty good pitch — a 2-2 changeup — on the seventh pitch of the at-bat when he hit the two-run single during the decisive fourth. The Cardinals sent 11 batters to the plate during the frame, which included a Mets error, two walks, a hit-batsman and an infield single.
The damage would’ve been worse in the fourth had Kingsport center fielder Victor Cruzado not made a diving catch to rob Ronnierd Garcia and retire the side.
Previous batter Rowan Wick (2-for-4, two RBIs, walk) had capped the inning by singling sharply through the middle to score two runs.
Two-out hits with runners in scoring position had been scarce during Johnson City’s six-game skid.
“If you looked at it from an overall standpoint, their at-bats have been good,” Kruzel said. “The problem was most of the time we’re having a tough time getting the leadoff guy on, and then we’ve got first and second and two outs, and then you don’t get a hit. …
“Today we were fortunate in that one inning to drive some guys in. We kept that line moving.”
Johnson City made some clutch defensive plays, too. Shortstop Kenny Peoples-Walls dove to keep a two-out hit in the infield, which saved a run, and he whirled to make a strong accurate throw after ranging far to his left to strand a runner at third in the third inning.
Garcia’s diving catch at third base robbed Joe Tuschak of a hit and kept Kingsport’s four-run fourth from being even more rewarding.
“We made some plays defensively in tough situations,” Kruzel said. “Kenny Peoples-Walls dived to knock that ball down and didn’t let a run score, and made the play up the middle that would’ve given them another run. Garcia made the diving play. Keener on the swinging bunt. There was some good baseball out there today.”
Brett Wiley was 3-for-4 with a walk and a double. Garcia had a hit, walked twice and scored three runs.
Cruzado and Adrien Abreu were each 2-for-4 for Kingsport (5-10).
Steven Sabatino (1-0) allowed two runs in 22?3 innings of relief for the victory. Brandon Lee allowed four hits in two shutout innings in his Johnson City debut.
Lee just arrived from the Gulf Coast League. Outfielder Brian Vigo also just got to Johnson City. He came from State College, where Johnson City pitcher Jacob Booden was sent.
The Cardinals begin a three-game series at Bluefield tonight at 6.