Kodak Tenn.--(Smokies) Tennessee starting pitcher Matt Loosen fired six shutout frames and struck out seven, while relievers Hunter Cervenka and Armando Rivero helped combine to fan 14 Barons batters and third baseman Kris Bryant blasted his Southern League leading 19th home run as the Smokies snapped their eight-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory over Birmingham Tuesday night at Smokies Stadium.
The win improves Tennessee’s record to 27-31 on the year, and snaps their longest losing skid since the 2009 campaign. The defeat dropped Birmingham to a 26-33 record in 2014, though he did already clinch the series over the Smokies with their 10-5 win on Monday night.
It was the second straight quality start for Loosen (6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 SO) and the fifth in the last nine outings for the Smokies rotation, with the right-hander earning the victory after yielding four hits while fanning seven in six frames. The first three frames were particularly solid for the 25-year-old, punching out two batters in that initial trio of innings.
The bullpen duo of southpaw Hunter Cervenka (2.0 IP, 1 BB, 5 SO) and right-hander Armando Rivero joined forces in support of Loosen, tossing the final three innings of scoreless ball. Cervenka received his fourth hold of the season, while Rivero, who was one of six Smokies named a Southern League All-Star, notched his ninth save in 11 chances.
The three Tennessee hurlers combined to send down 14 batters on strikes, setting a new single-game career-high in 2014. The club’s previous top mark of the campaign was 12, which had been accomplished three times, most recently on May 28 at Huntsville.
Bryant highlighted the one and only rally the Smokies would need in a three-run fourth frame. RF Rubi Silva led off the frame with a bunt single down the first base line, before scoring when Bryant exited stage right with his 19th big fly of the season. Then after DH Anthony Giansanti reached on a single and took second on a base knock, C Taylor Davis drove home Giansanti with his run-scoring base knock to left, giving Tennessee the 3-0 advantage.
The 22-year-old third baseman has now launched homers in five of his last seven contests, and paces the Southern League in ten separate offensive statistics, including all three Triple Crown categories. Bryant is now leading the circuit in batting average (.353), home runs (19), RBI (51), runs (50), hits (73), walks (36), on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.700), extra-base hits (34) and total bases (145).
Bryant (1-2, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB) reached base three times courtesy of a pair of walks, while Silva (2-4, 1 R) and Giansanti (2-3, 1 R) recorded multi-hit efforts for Tennessee. 3B Dan Wagner (2-3) collected two of the Barons’ four total hits in the contest and was the only Birmingham batter to collect that many base knocks.
Birmingham got their best shot at a run in the fifth, with a heads-up defensive play from SS Elliot Soto preserving the shutout. With Barons 2B Dan Wagner at second and two out, 3B Chris Curley slapped a infield single up the middle that was knocked down by Smokies 2B Jeudy Valdez. Soto picked up the deflection as Wagner attempted to score, and fired a strike to home plate, with Davis making the tag to thwart the scoring attempt and end the inning.
The Smokies will attempt to salvage the series in Wednesday afternoon’s finale of the five-game set, with first pitch scheduled for 12:00 p.m. at Smokies Stadium. RHP Joe Gardner (0-0, 0.77) is set to take the hill for Tennessee, while Birmingham is slated to counter with RHP Mike Recchia (2-0, 1.50).