(Team release)-- Smokies starting pitcher Joe Gardner sent down 18 of the first 19 batters faced and first baseman Dustin Geiger crushed his seventh home run of the year to lead Tennessee to a 4-1 series finale win over the Birmingham Barons on Wednesday afternoon at Smokies Stadium.
With the triumph, the Smokies upped their record to 28-31 this season, and salvaged a 3-2 series defeat to the Barons. Birmingham, meanwhile, dropped to 26-34 on the year with the defeat.
Gardner (6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO) was stellar in his third outing with the Smokies, totaling just 54 pitches, including 40 strikes through his first six frames, and earned his second victory of 2014 with the Smokies. The lone blemish on the right-hander's resume in that span was a one-out double in the third inning by Barons RF Joe De Pinto, with the next ten batters then sent down before the Barons cut into the Smokies' 3-0 lead in the seventh.
DH Chris Curley led off the frame with a base knock to left and then advanced to second on a wild pitch, before being sent in on 1B Rangel Ravelo's RBI double down the left field line. The two-bagger spelled the end of Gardner's outing, ultimately yielding the lone earned run on just three hits in his 6.2 frames, adding the five punchouts and no free passes.
Tennessee plated their first tally of the afternoon with a run in the third. SS Elliot Soto and LF John Andreoli each drew two-out walks to extend the inning before RF Rubi Silva reached on an error that allowed Soto to come plateward and break the scoreless draw.
The Smokies advantage would increase to three in the subsequent frame thanks to Geiger's longball. After C Charlie Cutler started the fourth with a base on balls, Geiger deposited the 0-1 pitch over the left field wall for his seventh roundtripper of the year, pushing the margin to 3-0.
After the Barons ended Tennessee's shutout thoughts in the seventh, the Smokies answered the score right back in the eighth to cap the scoring. Cutler once again started a rally with a single, and later moved to second on a walk, before coming across when 3B Anthony Giansanti slapped a run-scoring double into the right field corner.
Smokies relievers Jeff Lorick (1.1 IP, 3 SO) and Arodys Vizcaino (1.0 IP) combined for 2.1 perfect innings to finish the job in support of Gardner, with Lorick receiving his fourth hold, while Vizcaino notched his first save of the year. Birmingham starter Mike Recchia (5.0 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO) suffered the loss after relinquishing three runs (two earned) on two hits in his five frames.
Gardner's performance was the second straight strong outing from the Tennessee rotation after right-hander Matt Loosen's six solid frames last night. In their last ten games, Smokies starters have accumulated six quality starts in that span, posting a 2-2 record and 2.64 ERA (18 ER in 61.1 IP).
During the game, the Chicago Cubs announced infielder Kris Bryant had been named the organization's Minor League Player of the Month for the month of May after recording a .407 average (44-108) with 12 homers and 34 RBI in 29 contests. Despite going hitless in three at bats, Bryant continues to pace the Southern League in most offensive categories, including all three Triple Crown statistics.
Tennessee now hits the road for a five-game series against the Jacksonville Suns, the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, with the series opener set for 7:05 p.m. ET at Bragan Field. RHP Joel Pineiro (0-1, 4.43) is anticipated to get the nod for the Smokies, while Jacksonville is expected to counter with RHP Jose Urena (5-3, 4.76).
The club will then return home on Wednesday, June 11 to start a five-game home series with the Mississippi Braves, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m.