LAWRENCEVILLE – Winless in his first seven starts with the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, Jonny Venters was forced to sit in the dugout and hope the bullpen could hold on to a four-run lead.
Despite a shaky ninth inning, they did, and Venters and the G-Braves left Gwinnett Stadium on Tuesday with a 4-1 victory over the visiting Norfolk Tides.
"I didn’t know if it would ever happen," said Venters, who threw seven innings and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the eighth inning, when Steve Torrealba hit a leadoff double.
"It was just a little bit of a learning curve," he added. "I was getting swings early and keeping my pitch count down was key."
Not only did Venters keep his pitch count down, but he was effective with every pitch, throwing 53 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
"That was him believing in his sinker and his two-seam fastball," G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. "He’s learning everyday, every outing."
Venters entered the game with an 0-3 record and a 6.39 ERA, and his first win of the year was Gwinnett’s fourth in a row and brought the G-Braves (52-45) within three games of the first-place Tides (54-51).
Gwinnett’s offense provided Venters with an early lead when Clint Sammons singled home Kelly Johnson in the bottom of the third inning. The G-Braves tacked on three insurance runs in the fourth by taking advantage of four Norfork miscues.
After Brian Barton led off the inning with a single, he advanced to second on a pickoff attempt by Tides’ starter David Pauley. Barton came around to score when Pauley mishandled a ground ball hit by Van Pope and overthrew the first baseman.
Two batters later, Chris Burke singled home Pope to give Gwinnett a 3-1 lead. Pope later scored on a Kelly Johnson single. Despite having 11 hits, the four runs were all Gwinnett scored.
"We swung the bats well," Brundage said. "We didn’t have any home runs, triples or doubles, but we manufactured runs and forced them into making errors. We took advantage of their mistakes."
And on defense, Gwinnett made no mistakes. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Pope made several nice plays at third base, Johnson snagged a line drive at second when Norfolk was threatening in the seventh, and Reid Gorecki made a diving catch in center to prevent a lead-off hit in the fifth.
"It makes it so easy when you have guys making plays behind you," said Venters, whose lone blemish on the night came when Torrealba scored on a double play in the eighth.
After waiting seven starts for his first win, Venters didn’t care that he gave up a run. "It’s exciting," he said of his first win. "It just took a little to long to get it."
Gwinnett plays host to Norfolk at 7 tonight.