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Ekstrom notches third win with gem in ABL outing

Ekstrom notches third win with gem in ABL outing

Ekstrom notches third win with gem in ABL outing

All six Australian Baseball League teams were in action this weekend as the 2013 season kicked back into full gear. The Melbourne Aces and Canberra Cavalry split a four-game series, the Adelaide Bite swept the Brisbane Bandits in a three-game set and the Perth Heat held the Sydney Blue Sox to four total runs in completing a four-game sweep of its own.

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Perth received dominant pitching all series long, including its fourth sensational start from righty Mike Ekstrom. The former Major Leaguer improved to 3-0 with a 0.31 ERA after he tossed a complete-game shutout in the Heat's 6-0 win over the Blue Sox. Ekstrom struck out eight to increase his league-leading total to 33. A native of Portland, Ore., Ekstrom has allowed one run on just 13 hits over 29 innings.

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The Heat also received a stellar start from Jack Frawley in a 1-0 victory over the Blue Sox on Friday. Frawley improved to 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA through four outings. A former member of the Astros' system, the right-hander has allowed four runs on 13 hits over 23 innings, and he ranks third in the league with 21 strikeouts.

Orioles prospect Tucker Nathans, Rockies prospect Joey Wong and Brandon Tripp were among the most consistent offensive contributors for Perth, chipping in with five hits apiece. Wong upped his average to .344 to go along with nine RBIs and four steals while Nathans is now batting .333 with six stolen bases. The pair is tied for second in the league with 21 hits.

Tripp ranks fifth in the league with a .364 average, and he has added two home runs and 12 RBIs.

For Sydney, the offense was sparse as the team managed just four runs in 34 innings. White Sox farmhand Joey DeMichele led the team with five hits, including three doubles, and D-backs prospect Keon Broxton collected two RBIs and two stolen bases.

Craig Anderson took the loss Friday, though the veteran pitched well allowing one run on five hits in seven innings. The left-hander has spent nine years in Minors, splitting his time between the Orioles' and Mariners' organizations.

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The Brisbane Bandits were also held to just four runs in their series with the Adelaide Bite, thanks in large part to back-to-back shutouts from a pair of Seattle prospects.

David Holman continued his impressive ABL campaign with a gem in Thursday's opener, a 4-0 Adelaide victory. The left-hander tossed six shutout frames to improve to 2-1 with a 1.25 ERA on the season. Holman has now logged 21 2/3 innings, allowing just three earned runs on 16 hits.

Fellow Mariners left-hander Blake Holovach followed Holman with a shutout of his own on Friday night. A 27th-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Missouri, Holovach yielded just three hits in five innings while notching four strikeouts. After four starts in the ABL, he is 1-2 with a 2.12 ERA.

Dodgers prospect James Baldwin provided much of the Adelaide offense, collecting six RBIs with a pair of home runs in the series. The outfielder is hitting .273, with two homers, 10 RBIs and four stolen bases.

Brisbane received another solid series from leadoff man Joey Rickard, but it simply couldn't find a big hit to bring him home. Rickard was 5-for-13 with two doubles and two RBIs to raise his average to .365, which is fourth-best in the league. The 22-year-old outfielder has also collected two home runs, seven RBIs and five steals thus far in his first stint in the ABL.

The Bandits also continued to find good news in the bullpen in the form of 22-year-old Aussie Rhys Niit. The left-hander tossed 3 2/3 innings of perfect relief, and he is 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA after six outings. Niit has held opponents to a .094 batting average, allowing just three hits over 10 innings while striking out 11.

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After three pitching-dominated affairs to begin the series in Melbourne, the Aces and Cavalry combined for 31 runs on 42 hits in Sunday's finale, which featured a cycle from Canberra's Casey Frawley.

Frawley went 8-for-16 over the course of the series, including a 5-for-6 showing Sunday, upping his average to .400 through 15 games. He ranks first in the league in runs scored (16), RBIs (13) and doubles (6). His cycle was the first in Canberra's history, and just the second in the current incarnation of the ABL.

Canadian-born Blue Jays prospect Michael Crouse also delivered five hits Sunday, including a home run, and finished the series 7-for-15. He continues to showcase all of his tools in the ABL, where he is now hitting .327 with a home run, nine RBIs and seven stolen bases through 14 games.

Two more Blue Jays farmhands, Jon Berti and Shane Opitz also had a big weekend, with Berti going 6-for-15 and Opitz collecting a home run and eight RBIs in four games. Berti, the Canberra leadoff man, is now hitting .340 with 13 runs scored in 15 games.

Melbourne continued to rely on Jared Schlehuber for consistency in the middle of the lineup, as the Royals prospect extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Of the first baseman's five hits in the series, two were home runs, and he finished the weekend with four RBIs. Schlehuber leads the team with a .308 batting average.

Rockies prospect Ryan Casteel homered for the second straight weekend, and he finished the series with six hits to raise his average to .288. The catcher picked up four RBIs in the series and stole his first base of the season.

On the hill, it was another strong start from Rangers prospect Joe Burns that led the Aces to the series-opening victory on Friday night. Burns improved to 2-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.59 after holding the Cavalry to one run on four hits over six innings. The lefty has held hitters to a .202 batting average and continues to rank second in the league in strikeouts. He has fanned 22 over 24 1/3 innings of work while walking just four.

John Hussey earned his first win of the season in the Aces' other victory, a 2-0 shutout in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader. Hussey held the Cavalry to two hits over six innings and finished with a pair of strikeouts. A longtime member of the Padres' system, Hussey made 41 appearances in the Minor Leagues last season, 35 of them coming with the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm.

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Next weekend will see Adelaide return to Melbourne for a four-game set, Canberra hosting Sydney for four and last place Brisbane hosting first place Perth for a four-game series in Queensland.

Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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