KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Mets looked good and lost in their first three games. Friday night at Hunter Wright Stadium, they were good-looking enough to win.
Slugging away, the K-Mets collected an 8-6 Appalachian League win over the hitherto-unbeaten Bristol Sox.
Kingsport’s 11 hits included a home run, two doubles and two triples.
“We didn’t do anything any different than what we’ve been doing. A couple of balls fell in for us,” said K-Mets manager Frank Fultz. “Our relief pitching was absolutely outstanding tonight. It kept us close and in the game and kept us with that lead.”
Closer Darwin Frias was the poster boy, picking up his first save of the season by retiring the Sox in order in the ninth.
In the previous frame, Kingsport reliever Jonathan Kountis got into a little trouble after he let two Bristol runners on with a plunk and a walk. Both scored to trim the home team’s lead to 7-6 on Jose Ramos’ two-out double to right.
It could’ve been worse. Kingsport right fielder Gregory Pron mishandled the ball just enough to tempt Ramos to stretch the play into a triple. But the cutoff throw from second baseman T.J. Rivera beat Ramos to third, ending the rally.
“It was an aggressive play on Ramos’ part. You’ve got to be aggressive,” said Bristol manager Pete Rose Jr. “He took a chance and they had to make a perfect throw and they did. So you’ve got to tip your hats to them.”
Kingsport starter Brian Valenzuela (1-0) owed his teammates a tip of his own hat.
Valenzuela, a 2008 draft pick, finally collected his first professional win despite a disastrous third inning that saw his team fall behind 4-3 after giving up four runs off three hits and three hit batters — all three of whom scored.
Fultz has known the 21-year-old left-hander from Murietta, Calif., for three years. He was Valenzuela’s pitching coach in the Gulf Coast League in 2009. The pitcher is back in action after a lengthy recovery period following Tommy John surgery.
After Dustin Lawley’s two-RBI double in the bottom of the third put Kingsport back on top, 5-4, Fultz left the southpaw in. In the fifth, Valenzuela was one out away from qualifying for the win when he put a second baserunner on board with a walk.
Fultz told him how close he was to getting pulled. The lefty responded, coaxing Collin Kuhn into a fly ball for the third out.
“I was very happy for him. It’s been a struggle for him. He’s a very good pitcher but he can sometimes be up and down and you saw that tonight,” Fultz said. “Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a new era for him and a lot of wins. He really has a lot of potential.”
So do his teammates. Alexander Sanchez gave Kingsport its first homer of the season with his two-run shot over left in the first inning. Pron went 3-for-4 with a triple, and Chad Zurcher was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Julio Concepcion went 2-for-5 with a seventh-inning triple and leadoff man Tillman Pugh had an RBI single.
Lawley, who finished 2-for-5 with a team-leading three RBIs, gave Kingsport what proved a significant two-run cushion when he plated Concepcion in the seventh with a single off 6-foot-10 left- handed reliever Garrett Johnson.
“I’d never faced one that tall. He’s a good pitcher. He had a lot of movement on his fastball,” said Lawley, a native of Birmingham, Ala.
“Their pitchers are tough. They’ve got a good team. But tonight we got them. We played better than them.”
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