HOOVER, Ala. – Dae-Eun Rhee turned in the most dominant start by a Tennessee hurler this season as the Smokies defeated the Birmingham Barons, 4-1, in Thursday night’s series finale at Regions Park.
In the longest outing by a Smokies starter this season, Rhee (3-1) surrendered just one unearned run on four hits over 7.2 innings of work. He struck out four batters and walked one.
The Smokies (15-20) opened the scoring in the top of the second. With one out, Rebel Ridling walked and went first-to-third on a Matt Cerda single before Nate Samson deposited a two-run double onto the left field warning track to give Tennessee a 2-0 edge.
The Smokies extended their lead to 3-0 in the fourth when Ridling singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and later scored his second run of the contest when catcher Luis Flores ripped an RBI single through the left side of the infield.
Tennessee tacked on an unearned insurance run in the top of the eighth. After Logan Watkins singled up the middle to lead off the frame, he advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt from Barons catcher Luis Sierra. Watkins then scampered to third on a ground out before scoring on a dribbler back to the pitcher off the bat of Justin Bour to extend the Smokies lead to 4-0.
The Barons (19-16) took advantage of a Smokies miscue in the eighth to plate their first run. With one out in the eighth, Kenny Williams Jr. blooped a hustle double to shallow center field. Two batters later, Williams scored from third to make it a 4-1 contest when Tennessee shortstop Junior Lake bobbled a routine grounder off the bat of Jose Castro.
Brian Schlitter replaced Rhee with two outs in the eighth and recorded the final four outs to notch his first save since undergoing Tommy John Surgery last June.
Birmingham starter Cameron Bayne (3-2) suffered the loss, surrendering three runs on five hits over six innings with four walks and one strikeout. Brandon Kloess was solid out of the Birmingham bullpen, yielding just one unearned run on one hit in three innings of work.
The Smokies return home on Friday night to begin a five-game series against the Jackson Generals. Tennessee will send southpaw Brooks Raley (1-1, 3.68 ERA) to the mound in the series opener while Jackson counters with left-hander Danny Hultzen (2-3, 2.35 ERA). The Smokies are 3-7 against Jackson this season with the in-state rivals scheduled to meet 24 times in 2012.
GAME NOTES: Birmingham won three of five games in the first series of the season between the two teams… The Smokies are 5-1 when Dae-Eun Rhee takes the mound this season… Matt Cerda went 1-for-11 in the series, but he drew nine walks and scored four times… Brian Schlitter struck out Erik Morrison looking to end the contest, with his final pitch clocking in at 99 miles per hour according to the radar gun at Regions Park… Nate Samson finished 1-for-4, extending his hitting streak to six games.
ABOUT THE TENNESSEE SMOKIES
The Tennessee Smokies are the minor league Class AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Members of the 10-team Southern League, Smokies baseball has been entertaining families and fans of America’s national pastime in the East Tennessee region for over 100 years. To learn more about the Tennessee Smokies, visit www.smokiesbaseball.com.