By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns used the combination of dominant pitching by Jose Alvarez, and the long ball, to blank the Tennessee Smokies 2-0 Friday night at the Baseball Grounds.
With eight shutouts already this season, the Suns have one more than their total from the 2011 campaign. Each of the last three home victories for the Suns have been by shutout (7-0 and 9-0 over the Jackson Generals; 2-0 over the Tennessee Smokies). Seven different pitchers have been on the mound for Jacksonville shutout wins this season, with Graham Taylor involved in two.
The Suns jumped out to an early lead in the first inning against Smokies starter Dae-Eun Rhee. On the second pitch that he saw, Suns leadoff man Donnie Webb hit his fourth home run of the season to give Jacksonville a 1-0 edge. Webb’s blast landed in the last row of seats in right field, and nearly cleared the stands. It was the second straight night that the Suns have hit a home run in the first inning. Webb has now smashed three home runs in his last 11 games in the starting lineup.
A day after Chris Gutierrez had his 16-game hit streak end, he found his power swing in the fifth inning on Friday night. His solo home run to left field increased the Suns lead to 2-0. Gutierrez has hit both of his round trippers in front of the home fans this season.
The two-run advantage was more than enough for Suns starter Jose Alvarez, who rebounded from his shortest outing of the season June 14th at Mississippi (3.1 IP, six runs on eight hits). The last time that Alvarez pitched at the Baseball Grounds on June 8th, he tossed a season-high eight innings and allowed just one run on four hits and deserved a better fate. The Suns were shutout 1-0 by Jackson Generals starter Danny Hultzen on that night.
Alvarez was rewarded for his efforts on Friday against Tennessee, winning for the first time since May 1st to improve to 2-4 on the season. He allowed just two singles over eight innings, walked only one and struck out five. From the fourth inning to the eighth inning, Alvarez retired 14 straight batters. In his last three starts at the Baseball Grounds, Alvarez has surrendered only three runs on 10 hits in 21 innings of work. With Alvarez at the 99 pitch mark (61 for strikes), the Suns summoned A.J. Ramos to pitch the ninth inning, and he slammed the door on the Smokies to ear his fifth save of the season.
Pitching on eight days rest, Tennessee starter Dae-Eun Rhee suffered the loss to drop to 4-3 on the season. He tossed seven innings, giving up two runs on seven hits. Rhee has allowed the second-most runs (55) of any pitcher in the Southern League.
The Suns improved to 27-8 when scoring the first run of the game. Jacksonville has scored at least one run in the first inning 20 times this season, with a record of 16-4 when they cross the plate in the first.
Game three of the series in Saturday night at the Baseball Grounds with the first pitch scheduled for 6:05 p.m. RHP Bryan Evans (2-4, 2.90 ERA) will start his 14th game of the season for the Suns. Evans is third in the Southern League with his 2.90 ERA. For the Smokies, RHP Dallas Beeler (2-5, 4.32 ERA) gets the nod for his 15th start of the season.