Promising Start for Blackford

RHP Todd Blackford was impressive in his first start of the season as Peoria won a 3-0 shutout in minor league play on Friday night.

Acquired with RHP Angelo Burrows in the Todd Hollandsworth trade to Atlanta last year, the 20-year-old Blackford tossed five shutout innings, allowing five hits and a walk in the Class-A Peoria Chiefs victory at Wisconsin. He struck out six, got out of a bases-loaded jam, and hit two batters.

The Braves' 13th round pick from the 2004 draft made one start with Peoria late last season. In that start, he pitched five shutout innings while allowing three hits and was 5-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 12 starts with the Danville Braves of the rookie Appalachian League.

"I was working my fastball, curveball and changeup pretty well tonight," Blackford told Inside The Ivy after the win Friday. "I got myself into a couple of situations that I shouldn't have been in as far as not really facing a batter and then getting the bases loaded. I was fortunate to end up getting out of a couple of jams. Overall, it was a good outing."

Offensively, third baseman Brandon Taylor had two hits and a stolen base while fifth-year Class-A infielder Robinson Chirinos doubled and scored two runs on Wisconsin errors.

The Chiefs maintained a 1-0 lead until the eighth inning. They took advantage of four errors to get their first win of the young minor league season.

"I was a little anxious pitching with only a one-run lead," Blackford admitted. "You're always a little nervous in the back of your mind, but I had a good feeling that we would score some more runs. I located my fastball pretty well most of the night and was using my curve as my strikeout pitch."

ELSEWHERE ON THE FARM … In Des Moines, top OF prospect Felix Pie collected his first Triple-A hits as Iowa won their first of the year, 5-3, over Albuquerque on Friday. Pie, who missed the second half of last season with a broken ankle, was 2-for-4 atop a lineup that out-hit their opponents, 10-3. Pie served as the cog, scoring two runs and swiping two bases after a 28-game drought without a stolen base dating back to last May.

Buck Coats, who figures to get a good amount of playing time in the outfield this season, hit a home run as part of a two-hit night in right field . Last year in his All-Star season at Double-A, it took Coats 108 games to get his first roundtripper.

Right-hander David Aardsma expects to get a good look as Iowa's closer this year after throwing in the upper 90s and impressing Cubs officials during Spring Training. The Iowa bullpen combined for three near-perfect innings, allowing just one hit as Aardsma worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning in his Iowa debut.

In Birmingham, second baseman Eric Patterson had only one hit to show for his efforts on Friday, but what a big hit it was.

Patterson homered in the top of the 11th inning to give West Tenn a 2-1 win in Double-A action. He had pieced together a 3-for-4 performance in the team's opener the night before, but had been hitless in four at-bats prior to his extra inning shot.

OF Luis Montanez led the way with three of the Jaxx eight hits on the evening.

"We have a lot of talent on this team," Montanez said. "We have a lot of young guys as well as some veteran guys who can swing the bat, so it's a good mix. I don't know all the players on the team too well, but so far I'll say we have a group that can compete in this league."

Right-hander Carlos Marmol was impressive on the hill in six innings. He allowed just one hit and two walks to go with six strikeouts. The Jaxx bullpen surrendered one run and two hits in the final five innings.

"It was a productive night," Montanez said of his team's victory. "It's great to get off to a hot start. I didn't hit the ball too hard myself, but I found some holes and was able to place the ball into the right spot."

In Daytona, right-hander Sean Gallagher's bid for victory ended due a faulty effort by a bullpen that coughed up seven runs in two innings. Gallagher, the Cubs' 2005 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, tossed six shutout innings, allowing five hits and one walk to go with eight strikeouts in a 7-3 Cubs loss to Brevard County.

LHP Carlos Perez's Cubs minor league debut saw him yield four runs on three hits and two walks without recording an out to five batters faced en route to picking up the loss. Pitcher Jonathan Hunton, a 6'9" right-hander who shed 25 pounds in the off-season after a rough go of things at Peoria last year, gave up two runs in relief.

Nic Jackson started Thursday's season opener in left field, but expects to receive a good deal of playing time in the DH spot after various injuries in his once promising professional career. He missed all of last year and was 1-for-5 with a stolen base as the team's DH in Friday's lineup. He picked up his first hit since May of 2004.

"MINOR NEWS" ... First base prospect Brian Dopirak is nursing an ankle injury that he sustained in Thursday's West Tenn opener. Dopirak was out of the Jaxx lineup on Friday after undergoing X-rays in Birmingham. He will fly to Chicago and meet with team doctors to determine the extent of the injury and proper course of action.

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