PENSACOLA, Fla., - The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are off to its best start in franchise history winning 10 of its last 11 games and sixth game in a row.
They were winning with pitching and defense. The ball club has the lowest ERA in the Southern League at 2.48, which offset the Blue Wahoos hitting below the Mendoza line.
In its past three games, Pensacola has scored 22 runs on 35 hits to improve to 11-3 - the best record in the Southern League. It defeated the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, 8-5, Thursday in front of 4,311 at Blue Wahoos Stadium and have now captured all three of its series to start the season.
Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly isn't surprised the team is winning, especially with its average rising by 34 points to .228.
"Early on good pitching kept us in the ball game," he said. "It's good to see the offense come alive. We're a good ball club. We won that Biloxi series and we hadn't been able to win a series there until then."
Both right fielder Aristides Aquino and first baseman Angelo Gumbs hit bombs to lead the Blue Wahoos offense Thursday.
Gumbs, who went 3-4, scored twice and knocked in two runs, said the team has gelled. An everyday player last season in High-A, he now is coming off the bench and splitting time with Eric Jagielo at first base.
"We have a great group of guys," said Gumbs, who is hitting .364. "Everyone is close in there. We push each other to get better every game."
Pensacola's lineup exploded at the plate in the second inning with Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin's advice earlier this week to be aggressive at the plate apparently ringing in their ears. The team hit for the cycle with a single, two doubles, a triple and home run to score five runs and go up, 5-1.
Aquino punished a pitch to the opposite field for a two-run homer that barely cleared the fence near the right field foul pole. The first Double-A home run for Aquino, the Cincinnati Reds Minor League Player of the Year last season, also drove in left fielder Gabriel Guerrero, who led off the inning with a double.
Leading, 2-1, Gumbs then hit a high pop up in short right field that fell between three Jacksonville defenders for a hit. Blue Wahoos third baseman Taylor Sparks then ripped a grounder into the left field corner for a double that scored Gumbs from first base, giving Pensacola a 3-1 lead. Still with no outs, center fielder Brian O'Grady lifted a high fly ball to right center that bounced off the top of the wall for a triple that drove in Sparks to make it 4-1.
With one out and O'Grady at third, Blue Wahoos shortstop Blake Trahan hit a chopper to Jacksonville second baseman David Vidal who threw home trying to get O'Grady out but he slid to the back of home plate to put Pensacola ahead, 5-1.
Kelly said it was good for power hitters Aquino and Gumbs to club their first homers of the season, so they can relax more at the plate.
"You don't see a lot of home runs drilled to right field like that," Kelly said of Aquino's blast in the second inning. "It's a good sign when he's going the opposite way."
Vidal, who played parts of the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Blue Wahoos, hit his first home run of the season in the second inning to give Jacksonville a 1-0 lead. He also drove in the Jumbo Shrimps' second run with a double in the fourth inning that drove in right fielder John Norwood to pull them within, 5-2.
Jacksonville fought back within one run in the fifth, 5-4, when Alex Glenn blasted a line drive triple into the right center gap getting both shortstop Alex Yarbrough and center fielder Jeremias Pineda.
But in the sixth, Pensacola scored three runs including a two-run homer that Gumbs pulverized to left field to go up 8-4.
Pensacola again made some spectacular defensive plays. The Blue Wahoos turned a double play in the sixth inning when Vidal bunted back to Blue Wahoos' pitcher Deck McGuire who threw him out at first. Gumbs then alertly threw to third base where Pensacola catcher Devin Mesoraco sprinted to cover the bag, and in one move leapt to catch the throw and tagged out Norwood. Trahan followed that by cutting off a sharp grounder headed to center field and throwing off balance to get catcher Cam Maron out to end the sixth inning.
Mesoraco also picked off Jacksonville first baseman Taylor Ard at second in the fifth inning with Jumbo Shrimp pitcher Mike Kickham batting. Sent to Pensacola for 20 days of rehabilitation to recover from surgeries to both hips and his left shoulder, the 2014 All-Star has started to shine behind the plate.
Pensacola's McGuire, a first-round pick in 2010, started the game strong, striking out the side in both the first and second inning, although he did serve up a dinger. He retired the last 11 hitters he faced in his start against the Biloxi Shuckers and struck out the first four Thursday.
McGuire earned his first Blue Wahoos win, throwing six innings, giving up six hits, four runs, two walks and striking out seven.
"He's been through a lot of organizations (five) in a small amount of time," Kelly said. "They were messing with his mechanics. We told him to throw like Deck McGuire throws and don't worry about it."
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Miami Marlins Double-A affiliate Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp will play the finale of the five-game series at 6:35 p.m. Friday, April 21 at Blue Wahoos Stadium. The Jumbo Shrimp are starting RHP Chris Mazza (0-1, 3.75 ERA) against the Blue Wahoos RHP Austin Ross (1-0, 1.29 ERA).
The games are broadcast live on the Blue Wahoos flagship station 97.1 The Ticket. Listen for free at bluewahoos.com and by using the TuneIn Radio app on your mobile, desktop or home devices. Tune into Blab TV to watch all Friday-Sunday home games this season.
BIG FISH First baseman Angelo Gumbs was 3-4 with his first homer in Double-A, single and double, scored twice and had two RBIs…Right fielder Aristides Aquino was 2-4 with his first Double-A homer and had a triple, scored twice and knocked in two…Center fielder Brian O'Grady was 2-3 with a triple, scored twice and earned his 10th walk of the season…Left fielder Gabriel Guerrero was 1-4 with a double and leads the team with a .368 batting average.
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are home April 17th - 21st against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at Blue Wahoos Stadium. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are the Double-A Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and a member of the Southern League. Follow the Pensacola Blue Wahoos at BlueWahoos.com, facebook.com/PensacolaBlueWahoos and twitter.com/BlueWahoosBBall.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.