Smokies starting pitcher Pierce Johnson was masterful in his return to Tennessee, yielding a lone hit in 7.1 scoreless innings of work and retiring 20 of 23 batters faced, and got plenty of support from a five-run second frame as part of a 7-0 shutout win over the Montgomery Biscuits on Wednesday evening at Smokies stadium.
The win improved the Smokies to a 9-4 record in the second half to maintain their advantage in the North Division standings, and also clinched a series victory over Montgomery. The Biscuits dropped to 6-7 since the midpoint of the year, in addition to a 41-42 overall mark in 2014.
Johnson (7.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO) was stellar in his seven innings of work in his return to the Smokies from the Disabled List, earning his second victory of the year to improve to 2-1. It was a strong finish for the right-hander, retiring each of the final 12 batters faced.
In total, the No. 87 overall prospect and sixth-best Cubs farmhand according to Baseball America before this season had his lone hiccup in the second, when he yielded back-to-back walks to begin the frame. The 23-year-old out of Missouri State would bear down, however, inducing a double play and then a fly out to center to eliminate the threat. Johnson would allow only one baserunner after that point, a single to SS Jake Hager, before Hager was picked off at first base.
Southpaw reliever Andrew McKirahan (1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 SO) would finish the club’s seventh shutout of the year by tossing the final 1.2 innings in his Double-A debut. Montgomery starting pitcher Victor Mateo (5.0 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO) fell to 8-6 on the campaign after relinquishing seven earned runs on ten hits in his five frames.
Johnson and McKirahan got all the run support they would need courtesy of a five-run second frame, bringing ten batters to the plate. DH Charlie Cutler walked, 3B Jonathan Mota singled and C Luis Flores was hit by a pitch to load the bases for LF Kevin Brown, who grounded the first pitch down the first base line into right field, plating both Cutler and Mota. Flores would let come in to score along with Brown when Ha smashed a double up the middle, increasing the advantage to 4-0. SS Elliot Soto’s run-scoring base knock to right would send in Ha to cap the frame’s scoring.
The margin would increase to six, and then seven with single tallies in the third and fifth innings. In the third, it was Brown who began the two-out rally with an infield hit, before coming home on Ha’s double to center to make it 6-0.
C Luis Flores two frames later extended the advantage to seven with his first longball since joining the Smokies this season with a solo blast to left. It was the first roundtripper in a Smokies uniform for the backstop since May 25, 2012 while facing the Mobile BayBears at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.
Brown (3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI) led all batters with his three base hits in the contest, and Ha (2-4, 1 R, 3 RBI) recorded two, in addition to driving in three runs, while Hager (2-4) collected two of the Biscuits’ three knocks for Montgomery. Brown has now tallied multi-hit games in three of his first four games at the Double-A level after being transferred to Tennessee from Single-A Boise on June 29, and is now batting .500 (8-16) with four runs, two extra-base hits and four RBI with the Smokies.
The two teams are scheduled to wrap up their five-game series Thursday evening, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Smokies Stadium. Tennessee is expected to give the ball to RHP Eduardo Figueroa (0-0, 5.51) in the series finale, while Montgomery is slated to send RHP Michael Colla (4-9, 5.64) to the mound.
The Smokies will be celebrating Independence Day a day early with post-game fireworks presented by Pepsi, Coors Light, the Knoxville News Sentinel, WIVK and WVLT. In addition, the club will have a Rally Llama out in front of the stadium beginning at 5:30 p.m., with fans able to pose for pictures.
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.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s post-game press conference below: