The Danville Braves took the field Sunday afternoon looking to cap their season-opening six-game homestand with fourth wins. Johnson City, on the other hand, was looking for a second straight victory at Legion Field, and the Cardinals were able to hang on for a 3-2 win over the Braves to take two out of three on the weekend.
Cody Birdsong got the Braves in front with a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, but that lead only lasted a few minutes.
Zach Siepel, making his first professional start after 15 relief appearances in Danville last season, got through two innings clean, but the wheels fell off in the third inning. The first two Cardinals reached with hard-hit singles to put runners on the corners, and then a high fly ball to right field got caught up in the sun and fell between a pair of Danville outfielders, allowing the first run to score. Mateo Gil gave Johnson City the lead with a one-out double, and Chandler Redmond drove in the eventual game-winning run with a two-out double to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
That was all the cushion Johnson City starting pitcher Wilfredo Pereira needed on the bump. Pereira worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs, one of them earned, on four hits, one walk, and three strikeouts.
“I’ve got to give credit to their pitchers. They worked ahead in the count. They established their fastball,” said Danville Manager Anthony Nuñez. “We battled at the plate. We had a couple of guys on bases. It’s part of the game.”
Danville was able to chase Periera in the sixth inning. Michael Mateja led the inning off by reaching on an error. A wild pitch advanced him to second base, and two batters later Willie Carter hit into a fielder’s choice, allowing Mateja to score and cut the led to 3-2. Will Guay came in for the Cardinals and got the final 10 outs, allowing two hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Danville’s pitching wasn’t much different than Johnson City’s. Siepel worked five innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs with four strikeouts for the Braves. Miguel Jerez and Alex Aquino each worked two innings in relief and neither allowed a hit. Jerez struck out five of the six batters he faced.
“That’s just part of the game,” Nuñez said.
The Braves will get their first day off of the new season Monday before playing in Bluefield Tuesday through Thursday, and then in Pulaski from Friday to Sunday.
Danville will head out on their first road trip with a 3-3 record, but will bring confidence with them.
“I enjoyed it. I had fun. The first two games we won. That’s going to happen. We’re going to win. We’re going to lose. That’s part of the development, that’s part of the game, but the most important thing for me, for my coaches is we battle all the time and we never give up,” Nuñez said. “They’ve been doing a good job with that. Even (Saturday) night, we lose 14-9, but we battle for nine innings. It’s the only thing I can ask for.”
Some players had a stellar week to open the new season, and in some cases their pro careers. Others are still finding their swings and getting adjusted to professional pitching. Nuñez said he won’t worry too much about those players and hopes they won’t take a six-game sample and let it negatively impact them.
“This is just the beginning of the season. We have a couple of guys that don’t even have 20 at bats,” he said. “They will be fine.”
The key to that, whether they are at home or on the road like they will be next week, is patience.
“If they have patience… they will be fine at the end of the day,” Nuñez said.
Danville will hit the field against the Bluefield Blue Jays Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The Braves will return home next Monday night at 6:30 p.m. against Bluefield for a quick three-game set.
Johnson City 3, Danville 2
JC – 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 3 6 1
D – 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 – 2 6 0
WP – Pereira (1-0) 5.2IP, 4H, 2R, 1ER, 1BB, 3K
LP – Seipel (0-1) 5IP, 6H, 3ER, 0BB, 4K
S – Guay (1) 3.1IP, 2H, 0R, 1BB, 5K
Johnson City batters: Fuller 1-4, RBI, run; Gil 1-4, RBI, run; V. Garcia 0-4; Redmond 1-3, RBI, 2B, BB; Skeels 1-4; Soler 0-3; Lott 0-3; Del Rio 1-3, run; Baird 1-3
Danville batters: Mateja 0-3, run, reached on error; Philip 0-4; Parker 1-4; Carter 0-3, RBI, BB; De Hoyos 1-4; Birdsong 1-4, solo home run; Vizcaino 1-4; Chapman 2-4; Ju. Morales 0-3
Chris Doherty is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach him at (276)638-8801 ext. 215.