ROME, GA — Time and time again, the 2016 version of the Rome Braves seem to play well beyond their years. They entered Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the South Atlantic League Championship Series down one game to none after an uncharacteristically-sloppy Game 1 that saw Mike Soroka’s gem go to waste behind four unearned runs. Needing a win before heading north to New Jersey, Touki Toussaint got the call for arguably the biggest start in his life.
As the Rome Braves starters have done all series, Touki delivered.
Toussaint came into the game relatively fresh, having only pitched one inning of relief in the season finale against Augusta since September 1, striking out the side in a perfectly-pitched eighth inning. It showed Tuesday night, as Toussaint was in complete control, showing the command that has improved all season long.
“Touki tonight was phenomenal,” Rome skipper Randy Ingle said. “He hadn’t pitched in about ten days, so we we’re hoping he wasn’t rusty tonight. He wasn’t rusty at all. He was lights out.”
Trailing in the series and preparing for the long trip up north, Toussaint understood the importance of his start.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Toussaint said. “It’s the playoffs, so everybody kicks it up a notch. Yea, I looked at it as we could go down 0-2 or tie it up 1-1. This is all you got, may as well do it right now.”
The 20-year-old righty was on fire pretty much right out of the gate and essentially flawless through six innings. His first inning, he threw 12 pitches, nine of which landed for strikes. Absent was his dominating curve, as he showed his fastball and changeup are equally as dangerous when he is on. His fastball was not only smacking catcher Jonathan Morales’ mitt at 96 miles per hour, it was pounding the zone the entire night, as he struck out two in a quick first inning.
Strike three! @_YoSoy_Touki @TheRomeBraves #ToukiTime #SALChampionship pic.twitter.com/jrWsw69aGe
— Wayniac Nation (@UofDWayne) September 13, 2016
Watching the confidence, poise and command Toussaint displayed Tuesday night makes one forget his early-season struggles. His nasty curve was always an amazing pitch, one recognized as the best in the low minors, but his fastball command and lack of a plus changeup led to a rough April. Heading into May with a 1-3 record and 9.19 ERA, but even more frighteningly a 5.92 walks per nine rate, Touki knew he needed to refocus.
“I had three starts,” Toussaint said of his rough April. “Chuck Hernandez and Dan Meyer said, ‘this is not you’. I made some changes. The delivery is the biggest point, and when I fixed that everything else worked. I am comfortable with all three pitches, I can throw them whenever. But I’ve got to keep working and improving.”
“I give Touki a lot of credit, because he’s done it,” Randy Ingle said. “He’s made the adjustments. I give Dan Meyer our pitching coach kudos as well, because he’s done a great job with him and Touki has bought into it. He’s been going upward ever since. He’s probably had the biggest change of any pitcher on the team this year as far as the improvement.”
Toussaint was simply remarkable in arguably the biggest game of his young career. It was the first time he went eight innings since a June 13 start against the Columbia Fireflies. That night he struck out three and walked none; the only blemish was a solo blast.
Game 2 saw similar results as he needed only 91 pitches — 65 of which were strikes, a remarkable 71 percent — to get through eight strong innings, striking out six and walking none while only allowing a Damek Tomscha solo home run in the seventh. In fact, of Touki’s four hits allowed, Tomscha delivered three, as he one-hit the rest of the lineup. Most impressively, after allowing the seventh-inning homer, Toussaint regrouped and came back firing, striking out the next two batters to end the inning.
The righty certainly had help throughout the evening. He was given an early cushion when the red-hot Austin Riley drilled a shot 405 feet to the scoreboard in left centerfield for a two run blast to give Toussaint a 3-0 lead. All throughout the night, centerfielder Ronald Acuna made spectacular play after spectacular play, diving, leaping or sliding to save Toussaint from a few extra-base hits.
“Our defense is awesome, we got Didder in right, Acuna in center and James in left. They’re awesome. You can throw the ball at them and be like, ‘Alright, somebody’s going to catch it,’” Toussaint said of the fielders behind him. “That one that [Acuna] went back and caught it, turned around and threw it to first? That was pretty impressive.”
“That’s Ronald,” Ingle added. “We saw it in spring training, they saw it last year, and we saw it at the beginning of this year. He makes some highlight film plays out there. He made three of them tonight that a lot of people don’t make. He’s special.”
.@TheRomeBraves home season comes to an end with a 6-1 win to even the #SALChampionship as they thank the fans. pic.twitter.com/CZeHBNAbfL
— Wayniac Nation (@UofDWayne) September 14, 2016
For more on the Rome Braves home finale, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for the full feature by clicking on the link below.