By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns shut out the Pensacola Blue Wahoos 4-0 on Sunday afternoon, and in the process improved to 14-11 to pull even with Mobile for first place in the South Division. The Suns ended April the same way they started it, with a shutout win at home. On Opening Day some 25 days ago, the Suns blanked Huntsville 2-0 behind the pitching of Joey O’Gara.
The starting pitcher for the Suns in the series finale against the Blue Wahoos was a mystery earlier in the week with the fifth starter’s spot vacant due to the suspension of Omar Poveda. Jacksonville gave the ball to Bobby Bramhall on Sunday, and it was the right decision. Bramhall was brilliant in his first start, pitching four innings and allowing just two singles while striking out three Wahoos batters. Bramhall had appeared in four games this season all in relief, and Including Sunday he’s allowed just one run in just over 14 innings of work. Bramhall didn’t figure in the decision, but he set the tone for the day.
In the fourth, the Suns broke the ice against Pensacola starter J.C. Sulbaran when Shawn Bowman doubled to lead off the inning. Taylor Krick followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no one out. Curt Smith drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to right field, with Bowman tagging from third and crashing into Blue Wahoos catcher Brian Peacock who tried to block the plate on the play. The throw beat Bowman, but Peacock dropped the ball as he fell to the ground and the Suns led 1-0. Smith drove in a season-high three runs on the day. With two outs in the fourth, Chris Gutierrez drove in his sixth run of the season with a single to center, with Krick scoring from second to increase the Suns lead to 2-0.
The Suns scored again in the fifth inning to make the score 3-0, when Smith walked with the bases loaded to force in Donnie Webb, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. The base on balls to Smith would be Sulbaran’s last batter of the day.
In the seventh, Jacksonville loaded the bases for the second time of the afternoon when Jake Smolinski singled, Shawn Bowman doubled, and Taylor Krick was hit up high by a pitch from reliever Mark Serrano. Once again, Smith plated a run with a sacrifice fly and the Suns were cruising along with a 4-0 advantage.
Curt Smith finished 1-for-1 with a walk and drove in three of the four Jacksonville runs. He came to the plate with six runners in scoring position during the game, and cashed in a run every time. Jake Smolinski returned to the lineup after missing 11 games with an injury and reached base all four of his trips to the plate. He singled three times and scored a run. Shawn Bowman went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and scored a run. Bowman has four doubles this season after having seven all of last year.
Jacksonville has won seven of the first 10 games from their in-state rivals, and improved to 10-5 against division opponents overall. The Suns record when scoring the game’s first run improved to 13-1, with their only loss coming to Chattanooga April 11th.
Three Suns pitchers combined for the shutout. Pensacola finished with five singles and a double. Bramhall tossed four innings and allowed two hits. Kyle Kaminska earned the win to improve to 3-1 on the season. He pitched three innings allowing four hits and struck out four. A.J. Ramos continued his early season dominance, pitching the eighth and ninth without surrendering a hit. This season Ramos has faced 40 batters in 13 innings of work and allowed just one hit. The losing pitcher was J.C. Sulbaran. He pitched seven innings and allowed three runs to drop to 1-3 on the season.
With four shutouts this season, the Suns are just three away from their total during the 2011 campaign. In the four shutouts, Jacksonville pitchers have allowed a total of 19 hits.
A travel day on Monday for the Suns, who begin a five game series in Birmingham on Tuesday. The Suns have won seven of their first 10 road games of the season. Both teams will start the series with a record of 14-11. Jacksonville will run into a team riding a hot streak. This week the Barons completed a sweep of a five game series against Montgomery, outscoring the Biscuits 39-17 along the way.