By Steve Kolbe
After a 42 minute rain delay, the Jacksonville Suns won their first meeting of the season against the Jackson Generals 4-2 at the Baseball Grounds on Thursday night. Jackson entered the game winners of eight of their last 10 games, and the Generals 37 victories are the most in the Southern League.
The Generals broke the ice in the top of the first inning against Suns starter Omar Poveda. After a lead off single by Denny Almonte and a force out that left Nick Franklin on first base, catcher Jesus Sucre put Jackson on top 1-0 with a RBI single to center field.
The lead lasted for just an inning, with the Suns getting to Generals starting pitcher Taijuan Walker in the home half of the second. After Kyle Skipworth and Paul Gran were retired, Ryan Patterson started a two-out rally with a single. Jose Duarte singled behind him, with Patterson moving to third base and Duarte advancing to second on a throwing error. Designated hitter Curt Smith drove in both base runners with the third straight single in the inning to put the Suns ahead 2-1.
Jacksonville tacked on two more in the third inning against Walker. Chris Gutierrez and Shawn Bowman singled, and Paul Gran walked to load the bases. This season the Suns had been 3-for-9 as a team with the bases loaded, and Ryan Patterson alone was 0-for-5. With two outs, Patterson wasn’t denied this time, driving a single to center field with Gutierrez and Bowman scoring to increase the lead to 4-1.
The Generals scored their final run of the night in the sixth inning, a lead off home run by Joe Dunigan against Poveda to cut the lead to 4-2, but that would be the final run of the night. Dunigan’s solo blast to left field tied him with Denny Almonte for the Generals team lead with nine round trippers. Jackson leads the Southern League with 46 home runs.
The Suns improved their record to 12-19 at the Baseball Grounds, while the Generals are now 17-14 on the road. Jacksonville is 7-27 when allowing the first run of the game, and Jackson is now 27-7 when crossing the plate first.
The bottom third of the Suns batting order accounted for all the offense in the win, going 7-for-10 with four runs batted in and two runs scored. Ryan Patterson went 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Curt Smith and Jose Duarte each finished 2-for-3. Smith drove in two and now has 20 runs batted in this season. Duarte recorded his first multi-hit game of the year. The Suns collected nine hits, all singles.
Suns starter Omar Poveda pitched a season-high seven innings to improve his record to 5-2. He allowed two runs on five hits, and struck out a season-high eight batters. Poveda has won two straight decisions for the first time since April, when he started the season 2-0. Kyle Kaminska and A.J. Ramos combined to pitch two innings of scoreless baseball, with Ramos closing the door in the ninth for his third save of the season.
Generals starter Taijuan Walker was hit in his throwing arm when Donnie Webb, the Suns first batter of the game, sent a hard ground ball back up the middle in the first inning. While that may or may not have factored in the 19-year-old’s early struggles, he tossed his his second-shortest outing of the season, allowing four runs on six hits in just three innings of work. Walker had allowed a total of 16 runs this season, and Thursday’s loss to the Suns was the first time in his 11 starts that he surrendered more than two runs in a game.
Game two of the series is Friday at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05PM. In a match up of left handers, Jose Alvarez (1-2, 4.64) will start for the 11th time this season for the Suns. Danny Hultzen (6-3, 1.44) will take the mound for his 12th start of the season. Hultzen ranks first in the league in ERA at 1.44, and he ranks second in strikeouts with 67.