By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns used a combination of power and patience at the plate to even their series against the Tennessee Smokies, with a 6-4 win at the Baseball Grounds on Friday night. The Suns improved to 10-9 at home in the second half of the season.
Donnie Webb gave the Suns a 1-0 lead in the second inning, when he launched a solo home run over the right-center field fence off of Smokies starting pitcher Ty’Relle Harris. Webb has hit three of his seven home runs this season against Tennessee pitching, with all three of the round trippers at the Baseball Grounds. Kyle Skipworth and Donnie Webb have accounted for the last seven Suns homers in the last 10 games.
The Suns added another run in the second when Jose Alvarez walked and Danny Pertusati singled to put runners on first and second. Chris Gutierrez then singled to center to drive in Alvarez to increase the lead to 2-0. Suns pitchers have now scored nine runs this season.
Jacksonville doubled the lead in the third inning. Kyle Skipworth singled and went to second on a wild pitch, and that was followed by a walk to Donnie Webb. With two outs, Suns second baseman Alfredo Lopez hit a ground ball to Justin Bour at first, with Skipworth scoring to make the score 3-0. With the bases loaded, Danny Pertusati was hit by a pitch forcing in Webb for a 4-0 Suns advantage.
The Smokies scored twice in the fourth to cut the lead to 4-2. Junior Lake drove in a run with a double, and Juan Apodaca plated a run with a sacrifice fly. Lake has nine hits in the series, including three home runs and four doubles. He has driven in nine runs and scored six times.
Tennessee inched closer in the seventh when Greg Rohan hit a towering solo home run to left field off of Alvarez, and the Suns lead was 4-3. Rohan has hit three of the Smokies nine home runs in the series.
In the home half of the seventh, Smokies relievers Zach Rosscup and Kevin Rhoderick combined to walk five Suns batters, with Josh Schmidt and Alfredo Lopez each forcing in a run with a base on balls to make the score 6-3. The Suns sent eight men to the plate and scored two runs in the inning without the benefit of a hit. The Smokies added a run in the eighth when Lake drove in his second run of the night and the score was 6-4 Suns, but that’s as close as Tennessee would get. The Suns have won six of their last nine home games.
Chris Gutierrez was the only Suns player with two hits in the game. Alfredo Lopez went 0-for-3 but drove in two runs in his Double-A debut. Jose Alvarez reached base twice and scored a run. Josh Schmidt walked to drive in a run in the seventh inning. He has two of the Suns RBI’s by pitchers this season.
Greg Rohan, Juan Apodaca, and Junior Lake each collected two hits for the Smokies. Lake has hit safely in 11 straight games and is 9-for-19 over the last four games. Rohan has hit three home runs in the series against the Suns.
Jose Alvarez (4-5) allowed three runs on six hits in his six innings of work. Two of his four wins this season have been against the Smokies, and Alvarez has given up just three runs in 14 innings in those outings. A.J. Ramos pitched the ninth for his 15th save of the season. Ramos has earned a save in nine of the Suns last 12 victories. Five of his 15 saves this season have been against Tennessee.
The Suns will look to win the series Saturday with the first pitch slated for 6:05 p.m. from the Baseball Grounds. After earning Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors, lefty Graham Taylor (5-8, 4.23) will take the hill for Jacksonville. RHP Nick Struck (11-9, 3.52) will start his 22nd game of the season for Tennessee. Struck leads the league in wins (11) and starts (21), and ranks 7th in ERA (3.52). He is 0-4 against the Jackson Generals and 11-5 against the rest of the league.