KODAK, Tenn. (release) -- Suns right-handed starting pitcher Robert Morey fired six shutout innings, with support from relievers Casey McCarthy and Nick Wittgren, while outfielder Joe Benson drove in both Jacksonville runs with a two-run double in the sixth to power the club to a 2-0 victory over the Tennessee Smokies on Saturday evening at Smokies Stadium.
It was the third straight victory for the Suns, who clinched the series and improved their second half record to 13-9. Tennessee, meanwhile, dropped to a 12-11 record since the midpoint of the season, as well as a 45-47 overall mark in 2014.
Morey (6.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO) earned his first victory of the season after firing his six scoreless frames, scattering six hits while fanning four. The Smokies recorded hits in all but one of those six innings, yet were unable to bring across a tally. Suns relievers Casey McCarthy (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 SO) and Nick Wittgren (1.0 IP, 1 SO) would finish things off, with McCarthy recording his second hold and Wittgren his 13th save of 2014.
Tennessee had their best chance to score in the sixth after placing the first two runners on base. Pinch hitter Jorge Soler doubled into the left-center field alley and RF Pin-Chieh Chen reached base on an infield bunt to place runners at the corners with nobody out to create the threat. Morey, however, was able to retire the next three batters with a pop out, strikeout and flyout to eliminate the potential peril.
Both starting pitchers had matched zeroes frame for frame until the sixth, when the Suns struck for the only runs needed. RF Brent Keys slapped a single to left, and then moved on to second on LF Brady Shoemaker’s free pass before both came home on Benson’s two-run two-bagger down the left field line.
Benson was a thorn in the Smokies’ side for the second straight evening after recording three hits, including a home run in Jackonville’s victory last night. The outfielder over the first three games of the series against the Smokies has hit for a .500 average (5-10) with a homer and four RBI.
Tennessee starting pitcher Johnson (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO) suffered the loss after yielding two earned runs on three hits, adding five strikeouts in 5.1 innings of work. The Smokies bullpen trio of Lendy Castillo (0.2 IP), Jeff Lorick (1.0 IP, 2 H, 1 BB) and P.J. Francescon (2.0 IP, 2 BB, 2 SO) joined forces in support of Johnson to combine for the final 3.2 scoreless frames to maintain the Smokies’ deficit at two.
3B Alex Burg (2-3) was the only Suns batter to collect a multi-hit effort in the victory, while 2B Elliot Soto (2-3, 1 BB) was the only Smokies hitter to record two base knocks. Soto has now reached base in 14 consecutive contests, accumulating a hit in all but two of those tilts, and has posted a .358 average (19-53), adding four doubles and ten RBI in that span while raising his batting average 99 points to .224 from .125 coming into action on June 25.
The two teams are slated to face off again in a Sunday matinee, with first pitch scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at Smokies Stadium. Tennessee is scheduled to give the ball to RHP Eduardo Figueroa (0-0, 4.10), while Jacksonville is set to send LHP Justin Nicolino (8-2, 3.18) to the hill. As part of U.S. Cellular Family FUNday, fans can take advantage of a special ticket package that includes four tickets, four meal vouchers and two Kids Zone wristbands for only $48 dollars.
Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies’ 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.