May 26, 2016
Jackson Stephens’ family rarely miss his starts, making the five-hour drive from their home in Oxford, Ala., near the Georgia border to Pensacola.
They left the game in good spirits on Wednesday. Their son didn’t walk anybody, plus he improved his record to 4-3 and his ERA dropped to 3.22.
Stephens, coming off of a combined no-hitter against the Jacksonville Suns on May 20, threw another gem. He threw seven scoreless innings allowing five hits and striking out a season-high nine batters for the second time this season. He has now thrown 12 scoreless innings.
Pensacola earned the victory, 5-1, over the Birmingham Barons in the opening game of the five-game series in front of 3,993 fans Wednesday at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
Stephens pumped his fist after getting first baseman Nick Basto to fly out to Donald Lutz in left field to end the seventh inning.
All four of his pitches – a two- and four-seam fastball, curveball and slider – were working for him Wednesday. He said his seven scoreless innings Thursday were similar to his last outing when he pitched five innings without allowing a hit but giving up two walks.
“I’d say they were similar,” said the 21-year-old Stephens. “You’re not going to go out there and throw no hitters all the time. My stuff was there. I was able to get ahead in the pitch count with a lot of early strikes.”
Stephens, who entered the game with opponents hitting .221 off him, limited Birmingham to .192 (5-26) Thursday.
Pensacola manager Pat Kelly also liked what he saw from Stephens, who got ahead of hitters Thursday. Kelly pointed out Stephens threw about 85 pitches in both his five inning outing and Thursday’s seven inning game.
“He’s been throwing bullets but wasting them early in the ball game,” Kelly said. “That’s what he’s got to do.”
Pensacola retook sole possession of first place from the Biloxi Shuckers, who vaulted into the Southern Division lead when they beat the Blue Wahoos April 19. Pensacola is 27-19, while Biloxi is 26-19, after losing to Mobile BayBears, 9-1, Wednesday.
Pensacola’s third baseman Tony Renda doubled to lead off the first inning, went to third on a groundout by center fielder Phillip Ervin and scored on a wild pitch to give the Blue Wahoos a 1-0 lead.
Renda was also involved in the second run scored by the Blue Wahoos, too, in the third inning when he singled to drive in Pensacola catcher Chad Wallach. Renda tried to stretch his single into a double but was thrown out at second base by left fielder Courtney Hawkins.
Kelly was happy with Renda’s aggressiveness against Birmingham starter Tyler Danish, the White Sox No. 11 prospect, who threw a complete game shutout the last time he faced the Blue Wahoos on April 29.
“To scratch out a few runs early was nice,” Kelly admitted. “(Renda) had that big RBI for the second run.”
DH Eric Jagielo hit a two-out blooper to left field in the sixth inning that drove in Kyle Parker, who had singled, to put Pensacola ahead, 3-0.
Dixon got the third straight hit to start the eighth inning to drive in two runs and put Pensacola up, 5-0.
New York Yankee transplants who came over in the Cincinnati Reds trade for closer Ardolis Chapman, Renda and Eric Jagielo led the team at the plate Thursday. Renda hit in his fifth straight game, going 2-4 with a double and one run scored. Meanwhile, Jagielo went 2-4 and drove in the third run off of Birmingham’s Danish.
Jagielo, an All-Star in his previous minor league seasons, is hitting .180 but Kelly expressed confidence in him.
“To me it’s just a relaxation thing,” Kelly said. “When you’re coming to a new organization you want to show everybody what you can do. He looked good tonight.”