Greeneville spoils E-Twins' opener

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Felipe Paulino had something to play for.
   The second-year pitcher from Venezuela didn't pitch his best ball against Elizabethton last season and he was ready to redeem himself.
   In Monday's Appalachian League opener, Paulino threw seven strikeouts and didn't allow many base runners while earning the Greeneville Astros franchise's first victory, a 3-1 decision, over the Elizabethton Twins at Joe O'Brien Field.
   Greeneville took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on unearned runs and got a solo jack from Ole Sheldon in the ninth for cushion.
   Last season, Paulino had the fastest pitch in the league, but he didn't have much movement. There was a big difference in his arm and performance in the season opener.
   "I remember that guy from last year. He was a lot heavier and out of shape, but he had a power arm touching 98 (miles-per-hour) last year," said Elizabethton manager Ray Smith. "He didn't know where it was going, but he could walk the dog up there. He had the best velocity in the league last year, but he's come a long way."
   Paulino knocked Greeneville Sun photographer Phil Gentry with his first warm-up pitch, which was off the plate. He almost hit him again on the second, but it didn't dictate the rest of his night.
   "I thought he was the same old guy during his first warm-up pitch when he almost killed that photographer," the Twins manager added. "He got a better feel and started spinning some breaking balls for strikes and blew the ball by us. They threw some pretty good arms at us tonight."
   Elizabethton got its lone run in the seventh inning off Astro relief pitcher Marcos Solis, but Enyelbert Soto closed things down with five strikeouts and eight consecutive outs.
   "You can't fault good starting pitching," Greeneville coach Tim Bogar said. "Paulino came out and threw strikes and got ahead of guys. When you're doing that, you are going to win more than you are going to lose. I was happy with our pitching all the way around. We tried to stretch at least an extra inning and luckily Soto came in and shut the door."
   According to Astros pitching coach Jack Billingham, Paulino reached in upwards of 99 and 98 miles-per-hour last season. Paulino believed he stayed consistent around the mid-to-upper nineties on Monday.
   "I feel like I had a satisfactory outing. I was out for five innings and we got the win," said Paulino through Greeneville staff member Omar Roque's translation. "I used the curve ball tonight, but the fast ball was what was working the most. I had good control of it. I was able to hit the corners and that was what helped me get the win."
   Despite the loss, the Elizabethton squad played well.
   Aside from the two runs allowed in the second inning, the team had good pitching and played exceptional defense. Their offense just wasn't on.
   "Our guys battled. They went up there hacking and took their chances, but they got 13 strikeouts against us," said Smith. "It was not a good night for the Twins offense."
   "We pitched the ball pretty good," he said. "We had a little bit of a snafu in the second inning, but otherwise, most of the game, we played some pretty good defense. It was a clean game for an opening night game at this caliber of ball."
   The Astros' second-inning success began when catcher Jose Acosta advanced on an error. A wild pitch put him in position to score when Wallace Torbort cranked out an RBI double.
   Torbort later advanced to third and scored on wild pitches.
   Elizabethton didn't get a hit until the third inning when Landon Burt punched one into shallow right. Johnny Woodard also got a single for the squad in the fifth inning before getting caught in a double play.
   The team got its lone run in the seventh when third-baseman David Winfree walked and designated hitter Jeremy Pickerel showed his power with a deep RBI double.
   Greeneville got consecutive outs from that point forward, and the solo shot from Sheldon, who led the team with two hits, didn't hurt their cause.
   "It's great for the town of Greeneville. These people have waited so long to get professional baseball back," said Bogar. "I'm proud of the way these boys played tonight."
   One bright spot for Elizabethton's defense during the game was Minnesota's top pick Trevor Plouffe.
   Plouffe turned some exciting plays defensively. He was in on seven outs along with two double plays, working alongside Australian second baseman Luke Hughes, who made a few good plays of his own.
   "He's an exciting player," Smith said of Plouffe. "He has a lot of (Boston Red Sox shortstop Omar) Garciaparra mannerisms out there and he really impresses me with his enthusiasm out there. He's full-on offensive oriented when he's hitting it, and when he's out there playing defense, he doesn't care about his previous at bats."
   "It was pretty special. I thought I played well, I saw the ball, but I didn't hit tonight," Plouffe said. "I got lucky and had some balls I could get my glove on. I worked with a good second baseman. We gelled pretty well. Tomorrow, hopefully we can get a 'w' under our belt."
   Chris Marini took the loss after five innings of work for the Twins. His outing was solid against the tough Greeneville ace.
   Frank Mata and Kris Lankford came in relieve for the Twins, with Mata recording three strikeouts and allowing just one hit in three innings in front of the 1,005 in attendance.
   Elizabethton continues play with its first road stretch, against the Bristol White Sox at DeVault Memorial Stadium in Bristol, Va., beginning tonight at 7.
   Bristol fell 11-3 to Pulaski in its opener on Monday, but had solid offense from outfielder Evan Tartaglia (2-for-3).
   The Twins will continue to experiment with the line-up until the team achieves a solid starting core.
   "We'll get settled down a little bit and try everybody," added Smith. "Everybody's going to get a lot of at bats this season. It was just one game. We've got to keep our heads up and come back tomorrow and swing the bats hard."