Lawrenceville, GA --- Merrill Kelly no-hit Gwinnett for 5 2/3 innings, then watched his bullpen polish off a 2-1 Durham win at Coolray Field on Thursday night.
Kelly (W, 7-3) rebounded after a dismal second inning last Friday in which he allowed eight runs, and looked like his impressive self once again. After a two-out walk in the opening inning, Kelly retired 15 straight Braves hitters before Jose Constanza singled off the glove of first baseman Shelley Duncan to snap the streak.
The Bulls (77-49) took a 2-0 lead in the sixth against Braves (54-73) reliever Joe Bisenius. Kevin Kiermaier tripled into the right field corner, then scored on an error by third baseman Joe Leonard. One out later, Leslie Anderson blitzed a double down the same corner to score Figueroa for a 2-0 lead. Bisenius relieved Sean Gilmartin, who worked five spotless innings in his first AAA start since mid-June. Gilmartin, the Braves' 1st-rounder in 2011, had been working back to form after a near two-month stint on the disabled list.
Gwinnett got on the board against Kelly in the seventh after a walk and fielding error by Vince Belnome at third. Alden Carrithers scored from first when Belnome couldn't play Ernesto Mejia's grounder on the backhand side. After one out, Stefan Gartrell drilled a single to center, but Mejia was held at third base. Brandon Gomes relieved Kelly to strike out Leonard and induce Matt Pagnozzi into a flyball to center.
Up 2-1 in the last of the eighth, Gomes saw Jose Constanza reach on a single, take second on a wild pitch, then third on a chopper by Todd Cunningham. Gomes retired Carrithers on a shortstop groundball to exit the eighth leading 2-1.
Josh Lueke (S, 15) returned to the Bulls for his first appearance since pitching in all three weekend games for Tampa Bay at the Dodgers. Lueke allowed a weak single to right by Mejia, who was lifted for a pinch-runner. After a sacrifice moved Sean Kazmar to second, Lueke fanned Gartrell, then walked Leonard. Lueke put the game away by winning a nine-pitch battle with Pagnozzi, who grounded to third.
The Bulls lowered their magic number from 8 to 7, pending the outcome of Norfolk's contest in Toledo.
Kelly notched his 12th combined win, tied for second in the Rays minor league system. Kelly worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, one unearned run, fanning six and walking two.
Matt Buschmann (6-1, 2.95) starts Friday night's finale against Cody Martin (2-4, 3.97) at 7:05 PM ET.
Bulls game story brought to you by Strayer University, Bringing Home the Bulls in September.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.