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ROME BRAVES: Despite rough start, Braves still have drive in 2nd half

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It happened to the Rome Braves on Saturday. A scoreless game was broken open by Kannapolis in the top of the fifth by a cavalcade of untimely errors and miscalculations at State Mutual Stadium.

But the sudden shift in the scoreboard didn’t send the Braves scurrying. They went on to record eight of their nine hits in the game over the next five innings, highlighted by Jefrey Ramos hitting two two-run homers in the 6-4 loss.

“They have a drive in them, and that’s what you love to see,” Rome manager Rocket Wheeler said after the game. “They’re not always going to be successful, but you know they’re giving it their best shot.”

And in the constant ebb and flow of the system that is minor league baseball the wins and losses aren’t what get a player to the next level. It’s their skill and development that draws the attention of the Major League team.

Yes, the Rome Braves have struggled a bit since winning the South Atlantic League first half Southern Division title. They won just four of their first 10 games after the All-Star Break, ending with their loss to Kannapolis on Saturday.

That stretch includes losing two of three to division leading Charleston on the road last week. Rome did take the final game of the series from the RiverDogs with an eighth-inning RBI single by Riley Delgado.

Wheeler emphasized that he isn’t expecting his team to relax after their first half success.

“The good thing is, we know we’re in the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “But we still have to play like we’re champions of the first half. We’re going to have good days, and we’re going to have bad days.”

The reality of the minors is successful players usually don’t hang around for very long, and that was evident last week when ace pitcher Bruce Zimmermann was transferred to Double-A Mississippi. New prospects — like position players Hagen Owenby and Marcos Almonte, and left-handed pitcher John Curtis — have filled in the 25-man roster.

Wheeler said they are working to get them more playing time, but he is excited by their potential based on what they’ve done at rookie-level ball. Curtis impressed Saturday night with three innings of no-hit relief.

“It’s the pitcher’s job to go out and execute, and that’s part of the reason we won the first half,” Wheeler said. “They went out and executed.”

The ultimate goal of any player in the minor leagues is to get to the “big show” and play in the Majors, or what Wheeler called “the TV league.”

The Atlanta Braves game was on the television in Wheeler’s office after Saturday’s Rome game. The game saw major contributions from former Rome Braves like Max Fried, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

Ramos, Delgado, Drew Waters and Jean Carlos Encarnacion could be names seen some day at SunTrust Park, and Wheeler is just glad to be a part of the opportunity the players have a chance to enjoy.

“When they get to the point where it’s time for them to be moved, that’s what we do,” Wheeler said. “We get them ready for the next level, and hopefully they get them ready for the next level and eventually play up there on the TV.”