JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Nathan Eovaldi hurled six strong innings in his Major League rehab start and the Jacksonville Suns (33-30) won a crucial series opener over the Montgomery Biscuits (34-32) by a score of 8-2 at Bragan Field.
Eovaldi, in what could be his last start with the Suns before the right-hander rejoins the Miami Marlins, held the Biscuits scoreless over his first four innings and limited the only scoring frame against him the fifth. Eovaldi also struck out five batters and did not walk one in front of 5,192 fans at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
"I felt good," Eovaldi said following his outing. "Right from the start I had command of my fastball, and everything felt good. I threw a couple of…back up sliders, but the fastball and changeup were working really good for me tonight."
Eovaldi's outing was bolstered by a strong night from the Suns' lineup. Jacksonville began the scoring in the bottom of the third against Biscuits starter right-hander Jake Thompson (6-6) when Audy Ciriaco launched his fifth home run of the season to left-center, a two-run shot that put the first dent in the night's scoreboard.
"We scuffled our last game in Birmingham, and we needed a big hit to get us going," said Suns manager Andy Barkett. "Audy got the big hit and jump started the offense. It kind of breathed some confidence into the dugout."
The Suns then added another rally later in the frame, as Zack Cox knocked in Jake Marisnick with a sacrifice fly to center field to make it a 3-0 Jacksonville lead.
The Biscuits put together their only rally against Eovaldi in the top of the fifth, plating runs on RBI hits by Robby Price and Mark Thomas. But Eovaldi escaped further trouble and set Montgomery down in order in the top of the sixth to finish his outing.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Barkett said of Eovaldi. "I thought he was crisp, I thought he finished strong. He's a bulldog out there. He's a Major League pitcher."
Meanwhile, Kyle Jensen hit his Southern league-leading 13th home run to push the Suns' lead to 4-2 in the 6th. Jensen, the reigning Southern League Hitter of the Week, finished his night 1-for-3 with the long ball, a walk and a pair of runs scored.
Jake Marisnick added a big, two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning, and J.T. Realmuto and Ciriaco each notched RBI's in the eighth to close out the scoring in the 8-2 victory.
Arquimedes Caminero pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Eovaldi for Jacksonville, striking out five batters in the process.
Game two of the five-game series at Bragan Field is set for Friday beginning at 7:05 p.m. E.T., with the Suns looking to inch closer to first place in the Southern League South division with just four games remaining. Left-hander Adam Conley (5-2, 4.10) is scheduled to make the start for the Suns, opposed by Biscuits righty Victor Mateo (2-6, 6.35).
Suns fans can listen to Friday's game on the Suns Baseball Network, 94.1 WSOS-FM or through jaxsuns.com, MiLB.com or the Suns iPhone or Android app, beginning at 6:50 p.m. E.T. with the UF and Shands Suns Pre-Game Show.
Friday is Report Card Night, Blood Alliance Blood Drive & NAPA Friday Family Fireworks. All K-12 students can bring their Report Card to the Suns Box Office for a free ticket at the same price level as an accompanying adult purchase, courtesy of 96.9 The Eagle.
The Blood Alliance Bloodmobile will be at Bragan Field and the Suns encourage all fans to donate blood. The first 25 donors receive 2 tickets to the game, a hot dog and soda voucher and a special Suns gift. Also check out the hottest rides from your Southern Ford Dealers, which will be on hand. Stay after the game as we light up the skies with the best fireworks show in town, the NAPA Friday Family Fireworks, presented by your NAPA AutoCare center dealers.