Columbia Fireflies Game Notes at Augusta
We had quite the eventful opener last night. Cruz Noriega pitched the first immaculate inning in franchise history and our pitching staff set a new Fireflies single-game record with 18 strikeouts. More information is below.
Tonight, we will play a pair of games against the Augusta GreenJackets beginning at 5:05 pm at SRP Park in Augusta. RHP Anderson Paulino (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will start game one for Columbia, while Augusta will counter with RHP Darius Vines (0-0, 0.00 ERA). In game two, LHP A.J. Block (0-0, 0.00 ERA) gets the nod for the Fireflies and RHP Tyler Owens starts on the bump for the GreenJackets.
FIREFLIES DROP OPENER, NORIEGA GETS IMMACULATE INNING: The Columbia Fireflies bats stayed stagnant and the Augusta GreenJackets took the season opener at SRP Park 8-1 Wednesday evening. Despite a rough outing, Fireflies pitcher Cruz Noriega provided a jolt of energy in the middle innings for the Fireflies (0-1). The righty worked three frames and fanned six batters, but when he entered the game in the fifth inning, he did something truly special. The Venezuelan pitcher faced Vaughn Grissom, Stephen Paolini and Brandon Parker for the GreenJackets (1-0). Noriega threw nine pitches, all for strikes and wrung up all Augusta hitters for the first immaculate inning in Columbia Fireflies history.
FRANCHISE-RECORD FANS: Last night the Columbia Fireflies pitching staff struck out a franchise-record 18 batters. Previously, the most strikeouts in a single game for the Fireflies was 17, a task that has been accomplished four times and most recently occurred September 2, 2018.
PANDEMIC CREATES HISTORIC STOPPAGE: For the first time since Minor League Baseball was founded in 1901, there was no Minor League Baseball in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today will mark the first Columbia Fireflies game since they played Augusta Monday, September 2, 2019, which was 607 days ago. When the Fireflies return home May 11 to play the Charleston RiverDogs, it will be their first home game in 611 days, or since they capped off the season with a Fireworks Night after playing the Hickory Crawdads August 29, 2019.
DYNAMIC TRIO TO LEAD 2021 SQUAD: The Columbia Fireflies have three top-30 prospects from the Royals' farm according to MLB.com. The are RHP Ben Hernandez, SS Brady McConnell and OF Darryl Collins. Hernandez was picked in the second round of the 2020 draft out of De La Salle Institute. The 18-year-old managed to wring up 67 batters in just 45 innings while maintaining a 1.80 ERA in his final year at De La Salle. He brings a mid-90's fastball to the table and pairs it with one of the top change-ups in the 2020 draft class. Those familiar with SEC baseball will remember McConnell. The former Florida Gator terrorized SEC pitching in 2019, hitting .332 and knocking 15 homers, the most for any shortstop in program history. He also drove in 48 RBI. Collins was named after famed Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry, and his game certainly mirrors the way he plays. As a 15-year-old in his hometown Spijkenisse, Netherlands, Collins had a .418/.510/.532 slash in the country's top professional league. After being signed by Kansas City, he went state-side in 2017 and reached base safely in his first 24 games, rocking a very similar slash in the Arizona Rookie League, .398/.472/.548.
NEW YEAR, NEW ME: A lot has changed since the Fireflies last took the field. The Fireflies are now in the Low-A East League rather than the South Atlantic League, which the club belonged to since moving to Columbia in 2016. The Sand Gnats were a member of the SAL since their inaugural season in 1984. That wasn't the only change that the Fireflies went through in the offseason, the club also changed affiliation. After being affiliated with the Mets since 2016, the team will now be a Kansas City Royals affiliate. The Fireflies announced their 10-year Player Development License that runs through 2030 February 12. The last time a Columbia Minor League team was affiliated with a Major League team from Kansas City was in 1957 when the Gems were affiliated with the Kansas City Athletics.
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