Another big inning by Braves dooms Bulls

Friday night it was five runs in the sixth inning. Saturday at the DBAP the Gwinnett Braves used a six-run fourth to pull away from the Durham Bulls, 8-6.

The win gives the Braves (6-4) a 2-0 lead in the three-game series. Gwinnett is the only team that’s beaten Durham (7-3) this season. The Braves were just as impressive at the plate as the previous night, tuning up the Bulls for 11 hits for the second consecutive game. Rhiner Cruz (1-0) got the win for Gwinnett, while Justin Marks (3-1) took the loss for Durham.

After the game Friday night, Bulls’ manager Jared Sandberg said his team needed to avoid big innings, but the fourth Saturday was Deja vu from 24 hours before.

“We had some chances to get out of that inning,” Sandberg said. “But you tip your caps to them. They worked the at-bats and had the big hits that inning.”

Gwinnett waisted very little time getting on the board, striking in the first on an RBI double from Mel Rojas, Jr. But the Bulls were in good shape heading into the fourth after tying the game at one on a Jake Hager RBI in the bottom of the third. Blake Lalli started the fatal fourth with an RBI double. After a single from Xavier Avery, Ozzie Albies scored a run with a single. The Braves loaded the bases and Jeff Ames walked Matt Tuiasosopo. That was followed by a three-run RBI double by Rio Ruiz, giving Gwinnett a six-run lead. Ruiz’s hit came with two outs on the board.

Sandberg called the appearance by Ames a “gutsy performance.” After the fourth inning, Durham only gave up one more run the rest of the way. Avery hit his first home run of the season for the Braves in the top of the eighth, extending their lead to 8-2.

“I wish I could have that fourth inning back, but that’s kind of the way baseball goes,” Ames said. “I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, kind of battled myself the whole way through, but I was trying to get us a far as possible, that was my main goal.”

The Bulls made the game interesting in the bottom of the ninth, proving they wouldn’t go away easy. Granden Goetzman, who recorded his first hit in the bottom of the third, scored Mike Marjama with a single. With two runners on, Willy Adames hit his first home run of the season, a three-run shot that made it a two-run game. The game ended with little drama, however, as Kevin Chapman struck out Jake Bauers and Casey Gillaspie to end the contest.

“We battled,” Sandberg said. “It comes down to plays here and there. We have to learn from our mistakes, which was what the message was today, and move on.”

It’s the first time in this young season the Bulls have dropped two in a row. With the two consecutive wins, the Braves are now one game behind Durham in the South Division standings, having now won five games in a row. Gwinnett has been very impressive on the road, improving to 5-1 on the season. They even the season series with the Bulls, with each team winning three games.

It’s frustrating, both Ames and Sandberg said, to be two bad innings away from being 9-1 instead of 7-3.

“Of course,” Ames said. “Every guy is in here is strapping up to win. It’s tough, but we have a great group of guys and we’re going to strap it up tomorrow.”

The Bulls and Braves close out the series Sunday at the DBAP. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m.

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV