Touki Toussaint wants to lead other Haitians to the big leagues. He set quite a compelling example in his debut with the Atlanta Braves.
The 22-year-old Haitian-American broke into the majors with six dazzling innings , leading the first-place Braves to a 9-1 rout of the Miami Marlins in the first game of a doubleheader Monday. Ronald Acuna homered and drove in three runs to make things easier for his fellow rookie.
Looking cool as can be on a sweltering summer day in Atlanta, Toussaint took full advantage of his temporary promotion to serve as the team’s 26th player. He surrendered just two hits and limited the damage from his only serious jam to a single run.
The right-hander hopes word of his success gets back to Haiti, an impoverished Caribbean nation that has no passion for baseball and has never sent a native-born player to the majors.
“To be able to play on this stage, to be able to represent my country, it’s definitely humbling,” Toussaint said. “Hopefully kids see that, go ahead and take a shot at it.”
Toussaint (1-0) was born in Florida but moved to Haiti just a few months later, living there for about eight years. He returned to Florida after his parents split up and gave baseball a try, though it didn’t go well at first.
“I was terrible,” Toussaint recalled. “I had 24 at-bats and struck out like 22 times.”
He walked away from the game for about a year, focusing on soccer, but eventually returned to America’s pastime. He took up pitching at a relatively late age, getting serious during his sophomore year of high school. He quickly blossomed into a top prospect who was picked in the first round by Arizona in 2014.
“You learn something new every single day, so it doesn’t get boring,” Toussaint said. “That’s something I gravitated towards. I love it.”
Toussaint was dealt to the Braves in 2015, one of several trades made by Atlanta to bolster its farm system during a massive rebuilding effort.
That effort is paying off big time for the Braves, who were a single percentage point ahead of idle Philadelphia at the beginning of the day and edged a little further in front leading into Game 2. Toussaint became the third pitching prospect to win his big league debut for Atlanta this season, following Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard.
Toussaint’s proud mother, Kahaso Kiti, cheered from the stands and waited for him afterward outside the clubhouse at SunTrust Park.
“I can’t even tell you how I feel,” she said. “He’s my son. I’ll always be proud of him. That’s my baby.”
Speaking of another Baby Brave, Acuna has quickly established himself as a budding star at age 20. He hit his third leadoff homer of the season and the 16th overall with his opposite-field drive into the Braves’ bullpen in the bottom half of the first off Pablo Lopez (2-3).
Acuna added a two-run double in the sixth, highlighting a five-run outburst that turned the game into a blowout.
But it was Toussaint’s performance that really resonated, especially given all the hardships so many Haitians have experienced. Even those who have moved to the Dominican Republic side of Hispaniola, the Caribbean country where baseball is wildly popular and has produced more than 700 big leaguers, face brutal discrimination that keeps most from pursuing their dreams.
Toussaint wants to make a difference beyond the field.
“He’s adamant about that,” his mother said. “He’s got enough people who know him and know of him down there.”
After breezing through the first, Toussaint ran into trouble. Derek Dietrich walked, J.T. Riddle singled and Issac Galloway tied the game with a run-scoring double that left runners at second and third with no outs.
But Toussaint retired Magneuris Sierra on a liner to left — not deep enough to allow Riddle to tag up and score. Yadiel Rivera struck out, and Lopez took a 3-2 fastball for a called third strike that ended the threat.
“He kept us off balance,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He doesn’t really get the ball to the left side of the plate. He’s a guy you’ve got to see and limit the plate. Just cover one side with him, really. First time seeing him gave us a little trouble.”
Miami 3B Martin Prado is headed back to the DL with yet another injury. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter after straining his left quadriceps sometime in the first two innings.
It wasn’t clear how Prado was hurt, but he’s played only 53 games this season because of recurring hamstring issues. Last year, he was limited to a career-low 37 games because of injuries.
“It didn’t sound too severe,” Mattingly said. “But we’ll see.”
Marlins: RHP Merandy Gonzalez (2-0, 5.71) was called up from Double-A Jacksonville to make his first major league start in Game 2 of the doubleheader, added to the roster as a 26th player. He made seven relief appearances for Miami this season between stints in the minors. RHP Trevor Richards (3-7, 3.98) gets the nod when the NL East rivals meet again on Tuesday.
Braves: RHP Mike Folytnewciz (9-7, 2.98) was going for his third straight win and looking to match a career high with his 10th win in the nightcap. On Tuesday, the Braves will go with RHP Anibal Sanchez (6-3, 2.83) against the Marlins.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
For more AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball