PENSACOLA, Fla., - The most dingers that Pensacola Blue Wahoos center fielder Brian O'Grady had in his past three seasons of minor league baseball is nine, which he hit last year for High-A Daytona Tortugas.
Already in his first 25 at bats in Double-A, O'Grady has ripped two homers, including a solo shot he lifted high into right field in the seventh inning that capped the scoring to give the Blue Wahoos a 3-1 victory in the series opener against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp in front of 3,646 at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
O'Grady, who has two homer and four RBIs in his first season with Pensacola, said his home run hitting has developed in his professional career. Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the eighth round out of Rutgers in 2014, he ranked among school leaders in almost every offensive category, except home runs.
"In my defense, it is a big park," O'Grady said, smiling. "I didn't hit a ton there. I've developed more as a power hitter in pro ball. As soon as I hit it (tonight), I knew I got it."
O'Grady attributed his success, so far, to playing in the prestigious Arizona Fall League and his workouts in the offseason. He's second on the team in hitting at .280 and has at least one hit in seven of the nine games he has played this year.
"I felt good coming into spring training," O'Grady said. "I was confident in the work I put in in the offseason. The (AFL) was a really good and fun experience for me."
Pensacola manager Pat Kelly has been impressed with O'Grady at the plate and in the field. He pointed out the 24-year-old can play first base, third base and all three outfield positions.
"We've been kind of hiding him in that eight spot (in the batting order)," Kelly said. "He smoked that ball today. That was impressive."
Meanwhile, Pensacola continues to win with its pitching and defense. Blue Wahoos shortstop Blake Trahan and second baseman Josh VanMeter bailed out starter Tyler Mahle with an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
In the second inning, Devin Mesoraco, who is doing at least 20 days of rehabilitation in Pensacola, popped up quickly from behind the plate and fielded a dribbler by Jacksonville third baseman Brian Anderson down the third base line and tagged out Anderson in the batter's box where he stood still.
Then in the eighth inning, Jacksonville left fielder Alex Glenn clobbered what looked like a homer over the right field wall but Pensacola's Aristides Aquino reached up and grabbed it out of the air.
Mahle threw 4.1 perfect innings in the season opener and then 5.0 perfect innings in his second start and entered Monday's game with a 0.71 ERA.
But Monday against Jacksonville, he had a shaky first inning. Mahle walked two and allowed two singles to the Jumbo Shrimp to allow Jacksonville to take a 1-0 lead when Glenn scored on second baseman David Vidal's single that he laced to left field.
After that inning Mahle settled down and only allowed one more hit - a double to Vidal - against the last 14 Jacksonville batters he faced. On the night, Mahle threw five innings, gave up three hits and one run, walked two and struck out seven.
"That first inning he obviously struggled," Kelly said. "He was a little out of whack mechanically."
Pensacola, though, came right back to score two runs in the bottom of the first and go up, 2-1. Blue Wahoos catcher Mesoraco was hit by a pitch and scored when Aquino smashed a grounder down the third base line for an infield single. Gabriel Guerrero then singled on a sharp single off Jacksonville lefty Dillon Peters' leg and was driven in by Angelo Gumbs ground ball that deflected off the glove of Jumbo Shrimp shortstop Alex Yarbrough.
Again Monday, the Pensacola bullpen then took over and did its normal thing. Four pitchers - Jacob Ehret, Brennan Bernardino, Ariel Hernandez and Geoff Broussard - combined to throw four scoreless and hitless innings, while striking out five. Broussard, who was called up from Daytona, earned the save.
Pensacola's bullpen now is 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA and seven-for-seven in save opportunities.
"I'm very pleased," Kelly said about the bullpen's development. "Mez (Mesoraco) has led the way. He's done a lot of work with them in the pen."
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Miami Marlins Double-A affiliate Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp will play the second game of the five-game series at 6:35 Tuesday, April 18 at Blue Wahoos Stadium. The Jumbo Shrimp are starting LHP Matt Tomshaw (1-1, 1.80 ERA) against the Blue Wahoos RHP Luis Castillo (1-0, 1.30 ERA).
The games are broadcast live on the Blue Wahoos flagship station 97.1 The Ticket. Listen for free at bluewahoos.com and by using the TuneIn Radio app on your mobile, desktop or home devices.
Fat Tuesday gives fans a chance to buy individuals tickets to the Winn-Dixie Party Deck for an all-you-can-eat buffet for 90 minutes. This includes a Blue Wahoos cap and unlimited hamburgers, hot dogs and popcorn along with samples from Moe's Southwest Grill and Papa John's.
Blue Wahoos Executive Chef Travis Wilson is serving the Billy Ham and Cheese sandwich for one night only. It's a double-decker grilled cheese sandwich with blackened ham, cheddar, provolone and a roasted chili and garlic mayo. It's served in Port Side Grille with French fries for $9.
BIG FISH Center fielder Brian O'Grady hit his second homer in 25 at bats in his first year in Double-A with the Blue Wahoos…Shortstop Blake Trahan was 2-4 with a single and a double…Right fielder Aristides Aquino was 1-4 and drove in an RBI…Gabriel Guerrero was 2-3 and earned an intentional walk. He now has six multi-hit games in the 11 games he has played.
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are home April 17th - 21st against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at Blue Wahoos Stadium. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are the Double-A Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and a member of the Southern League. Follow the Pensacola Blue Wahoos at BlueWahoos.com, facebook.com/PensacolaBlueWahoos and twitter.com/BlueWahoosBBall.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.