ELIZABETHTON — Greeneville starting pitcher Elieser Hernandez shut down Elizabethton’s lumber Friday to help tighten the logjam in the Appalachian League West Division.
Hernandez, a right-hander who must have been throwing at least 92-94 mph, struck out six in five shutout innings and Elizabethton’s shaky defense helped the Astros hold off the Twins for a 5-3 victory at Joe O’Brien Field.
The victory pulled Greeneville (27-26) within 31?2 games of the division-leading Twins (31-23). The Kingsport Mets (29-26) are 21?2 back and third-place Johnson City (28-26) is three games out.
“It is the wild, wild West,” Greeneville manager Josh Bonifay said. “I got a feeling it’s all going to come down to those last three days. We play Johnson City (at the end of the season), who’s the other team in this wild, wild race.”
Hernandez (1-0) complemented high velocity with considerable sinking action.
“He was awesome,” Bonifay said. “He attacked the zone very well. Anytime you fill up the zone … with consistent strikes that are low around the knees, hitters have a tough time squaring those balls up.”
The Twins got two hits and three walks against Hernandez.
“I don’t know what his velo numbers were, but I thought he was running it up there pretty good,” Smith said. “He was sinking it and he was throwing pretty hard. He was throwing it by our guys. … We didn’t put too many good swings on that guy.”
The Astros’ Jacob Nottingham started the scoring by leading off the fourth inning with a long solo home run to left-center field.
The Twins outhit Greeneville 9-8 but committed four errors and tallied a wild pitch and passed ball.
Consecutive doubles from Jorge Fernandez and Brian Navarreto got the Twins within 4-1 in the sixth, and Jeremias Pineda and Tanner English each tripled during a two-run seventh that cut Greeneville’s lead to 4-3.
But Elizabethton gift-wrapped Greeneville a final insurance run thanks to two errors and a wild pitch in the eighth. The Astros didn’t get a ball out of the infield in the frame, but Sean McMullen was able to come home on Antonio Nunez’s squeeze bunt to conclude the game’s scoring with one out in the eighth.
“Our gloves stubbed their toe tonight,” Smith said. “We had a chance to make some plays and we didn’t. It cost us. … They put the pressure on us and we didn’t respond very well when we had a chance to make the plays.”
Indeed, two other Greeneville sacrifice bunts also helped generate runs.
“We scrapped a few with sacrifice bunting, safety squeeze, you know, just trying to play the game the right way,” Bonifay said, “and we were able to scrape away a few runs on a few of their mistakes.”
Edwin Medina and Yonathan Mejia were each 2-for-4 for Greeneville. Left-hander Zach Davis worked two-thirds of an inning for his fourth save.
Trey Vavra and Jorge Fernandez were each 2-for-4 for Elizabethton, which hit into tough luck in the seventh. Alex Real lined out to shortstop to start an inning-ending double play with runners at first and second.
“Alex smoked that ball,” Smith said. “You can’t hit a ball any harder than that. If that ball is a foot this way or something, that ball’s in the gap all the way to the wall and we score two.”
Sam Gibbons (3-4) allowed two runs in six innings.
Elizabethton hosts Johnson City today at 6 p.m. Greeneville begins a four-game series at Kingsport.comments powered by Disqus