LAWRENCEVILLE, GA - Gwinnett Braves' left-handed starter Manny Banuelos produced one of his most dominant outings in nearly three years Wednesday, but it was not enough to spare the G-Braves (3-4) a 5-3 loss to the Charlotte Knights (4-3) at Coolray Field.
Banuelos struck out seven batters in 5.0 innings with one run allowed on four hits and two walks in the opener of the two-game series with the Knights. He left with the game tied 1-1, but the Gwinnett bullpen faltered, as the Knights scored twice in the seventh on runs charged to right-handed reliever Michael Kohn (L, 0-1).
Charlotte's Leury Garcia started the seventh-inning rally with a one-out single to left field in Kohn's second inning of work. Garcia stole second base and scored on a single to right by Tyler Saladino, who scored on the next play when Carlos Sanchez ripped a single to left.
The Knights tacked on two runs in the ninth against G-Braves' right-hander Kanekoa Texeira. He gave up a hit to Engel Beltre, an intentional walk to Dan Black and a bases-loaded walk to Saladino. A fielder's choice groundout by Sanchez drove in Garcia for the Knights' final run. The G-Braves responded with a run in the bottom of the ninth off of righty Jairo Asencio (S, 3) when Sean Kazmar hit a one-out double and scored as Eury Perez reached on a throwing error by Charlotte third baseman Neftali Soto.
Gwinnett had cut the deficit to 3-2 in the eighth when Jose Peraza scored on a groundout to second base by Todd Cunningham. Peraza, the Atlanta Braves' top-ranked prospect, led off the inning with a double down the left-field line for his first extra-base hit as a G-Brave. He went 2-for-4 for the game with an infield single in the fifth.
As for Banuelos, his strikeout total was his most in a single game since May 13, 2012 when he was pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the New York Yankees' system. He had made 27 starts since that outing and missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing "Tommy John" surgery. Overall, the G-Braves finished the night with 12 strikeouts to tie their season high.
Banuelos' only stumble came in the second inning. Trayce Thompson, who entered the game with a .429 batting average that ranked second in the International League, led off with a single. He then stole second, one of four Charlotte stole bases, and scored on a two-out double by Garcia that hit the base of the left-field wall.
While Gwinnett recorded strikeouts, Charlotte pitchers did their work by way of groundballs. Right-handed starter Chris Beck, left-handed reliever Jarrett Casey (W, 1-0) and Asencio combined to record 16 outs on the ground. They did not record a strikeout until Asencio fanned two in the ninth.
The G-Braves opened with a 1-0 lead against Beck when they scored in the first inning for the first time this season. Leadoff hitter Perez started the rally with a single to right field, stole his team-leading fourth base of the year and crossed home plate when Cedric Hunter also singled to right for his first RBI as a G-Brave.
Perez also singled in the fifth inning as part of a 2-for-5 game. He and Peraza accounted for four of the G-Braves' nine hits and were the only two Gwinnett batters with multiple base knocks.
Gwinnett will have a chance to finish the homestand at the .500 mark with a 6:35 p.m. game against Charlotte on Thursday. Right-hander Williams Perez (0-0, 2.25 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the G-Braves. The Knights will start left-hander Carlos Rodon (1-0, 1.80 ERA), the top-ranked prospect in the White Sox' organization according to Baseball America and MLB.com. Dave Lezotte, filling in for Tony Schiavone, has the play-by-play call on 97.7 FM and WSBRadio.com.
The homestand finale is also a Triple Play Thursday. Fans can purchase a four-pack of tickets with four hot dogs and four soft drinks, all for $40. To purchase tickets, call the Coolray Field Ticket Office at 678-277-0340 or visit GwinnettBraves.com/tickets.
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The Gwinnett Braves are the Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. Follow the G-Braves at GwinnettBraves.com, facebook.com/GwinnettBraves1 and twitter.com/GwinnettBraves. Tickets are on sale now at the Coolray Field Ticket Office, call 678-277-0340 or visit GwinnettBraves.com/tickets.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.