by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats mercifully come into their final home series of the first half, taking on the Tennessee Smokies who are the hottest team in the Southern League.
The Mudcats have had several transactions today. Infielder Jose Castro is on the disabled list with a hyperextended left knee while Clayton Shunick — the right-hander out of N.C. State — has been sent down to Bakersfield. Right-hander
Matt Klinker has been sent down from Louisville, while infielder Henry Rodriguez has been promoted from Bakersfield.
Additionally, the rehab assignment of fireballing southpaw Aroldis Chapman continues and he is expected to pitch a late inning tonight.
Pedro Villareal (2-0, 4.91) will go for the Mudcats tonight while lefty Brooks Raley (2-5, 5.10) starts for Tennessee.
Tennessee scores the first five runs and pounds out 13 hits including three homers, rolling to a 9-3 win.
Tennessee takes a 2-0 lead with one out in the first. Ryan Flaherty reaches on a one-out bunt single to third, and then Gardner-Webb alumnus Blake Lalli launches a 1-0 offering onto the Catfish Corner short porch in right.
The Smokies add another run in the second, as Steve Clevenger leads off with a triple to right and scores on Josh Vitters’ sacrifice fly to right.
Tennessee tacks on another in the third. Junior Lake leads off by launching a 2-1 offering high over the wall in right.
The Smokies add another in the fifth, as Lake leads off with a single, takes second on a wild pitch and scores on Rebel Ridling’s single to left.
Justin Freeman relieves Villareal after five, and Vitters greets him by launching a 1-0 offering high over the left-field wall to make it 6-0. The Smokies add another run as Raley draws a one-out walk and later scores on Flaherty’s double to right.
The Mudcats finally get on the board in the sixth, as Denis Phipps reaches on an error to Vitters at third and scores on Neftali Soto’s single to right.
Chapman comes on to start the seventh, getting the three outs on 23 pitches.
He then gets some help in the bottom of the frame, as the Mudcats put up two and chase Raley. The runs score on a fielder’s choice from Jake Kahaulelio and a double to third from Rodriguez on his first Double-A at-bat.
But the Smokies add two more charged to Chapman in the eighth, with the RBI on a Lalli single and a Matt Spencer double.
Raley gets the win, going 6 2/3 innings and allowing three runs — two earned — on seven hits with four strikeouts against one walk.
Lalli homers and singles for three RBI while Vitters homers and doubles for two RBI.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “Of course it will be nice to have a fresh start in a few days. These last few games are important. We want to get our work in, but also get some rest and be ready for that first day. I don’t think anybody is looking beyond these games, but it will be rejuvenating to have that fresh start.”
Tennessee manager Brian Harper: “It’s going to go right down to the wire. We’ve got to keep taking care of business and winning games. We’ve done a good job bouncing back after tough losses. We have a good group of guys who get along good. And we’ve swung the bat real well all along. Raley was just outstanding. It was probably his best outing of the year.”
Raley: “I’ve had some good outings that have unraveled after a bad inning or two, but that didn’t happen tonight. I was just attacking the zone. I got some ground balls off my sinker, and I had some balls hit hard that guys just made plays on.”
What does it all mean?
That Tennessee has a two-game lead on the Jackson Generals with nine to go.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Tennessee leads 7-4.
Mudcats: Lost 3.
Tennessee: Won 1.
Mudcats (Matt Klinker 2-3, 4.24) vs. Tennessee (Nicholas Struck 0-0, 3.00), 7:15 p.m.