It took Tyler Skaggs' finest outing -- both on the hill and at the plate -- to earn his first win of the season on Monday afternoon.
The left-hander allowed one unearned run on five hits over a season-high seven innings as the Mobile BayBears edged host Jacksonville, 2-1. Skaggs, MLB.com's No. 19 prospect, struck out seven, walked one and added his first career extra-base hit by doubling and scoring in the third inning.
"My changeup was probably my best pitch today," Skaggs said. "The biggest thing I was concentrating on was keeping the ball down. In my last [full] start [on April 25] I gave up three home runs, which was really an eye-opener for me.
"I was really trying to work down and away, especially with the two-seamer."
Skaggs retired the first six batters he faced before issuing a leadoff walk to Jacksonville catcher Taylor Krick in the third inning. The Suns' first hit came in the fifth, when Ryan Patterson doubled following a fielding error by Mobile third baseman Matt Davidson that allowed Curt Smith to reach.
The 20-year-old Skaggs nearly got out of the jam, inducing two quick groundouts before striking out pinch hitter Donnie Webb, but Webb reached first on a throwing error by BayBears catcher Rossmel Perez, allowing Smith to come home and tie the game at 1-1.
"It was a 1-2 curveball in the dirt -- I guess the ump ruled that the batter had gone around, but he wasn't very loud about it," Skaggs explained. "[Perez] thought it had been called a ball and threw to third trying to pick off the runner, then the third baseman threw to first to get the batter, but it wasn't in time and the guy on third came home."
Skaggs worked out of trouble in both the sixth and seventh innings after giving up leadoff singles to Paul Gran and Patterson, respectively. Jacksonville tried to sacrifice both runners to second, but bunted into force outs both times. Jacksonville added two more singles in the seventh, but Mobile right fielder Brent Clevlen threw out Taylor Krick at home to end the frame. It was the veteran Clevlen's third assist in 17 games in the outfield this season.
Having escaped the jam, Skaggs (1-2) ended his day after 94 pitches -- 64 for strikes -- and was successful at keeping the ball down, notching 12 groundouts along with a pair of flyouts. The California native avenged a tough loss against the Suns on April 20 in which he matched a career high with 12 strikeouts.
Skaggs got the BayBears on the board back in the third inning when he doubled to left on a 1-0 pitch with two outs. Archie Gilbert followed with a ground-rule double to give Mobile a 1-0 lead.
"It was right down the middle," Skaggs said of his double. "I got good wood on it and managed to hit it over the left fielder's head.
"We actually hit pretty much every day in Spring Training, so I'm definitely feeling more comfortable at the plate than I was last year."
After going 1-for-15 with the BayBears in 2011 -- pitchers do not hit in the lower levels, so they were the first 15 at-bats of his pro career -- Skaggs is 4-for-9 with two walks and two RBIs this season.
The BayBears would retake the lead in the eighth as Gilbert drew a leadoff walk. After David Nick sacrificed Gilbert to second, a walk and Marc Krauss single loaded the bases for Mobile. Clevlen sent a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Gilbert, but Krauss was caught in a rundown between first and second, ending the inning.
It turned out to be all the BayBears needed, as Kevin Munson struck out two in a perfect eighth and Evan Marshall earned his fifth save after allowing one hit in the ninth.
Jacksonville reliever Josh Schmidt fell to 1-1, giving up one run on two hits and three walks over two frames. Suns starter Bryan Evans worked five innings, allowing a run on four hits.
Mobile has taken the first two games of the clubs' five-game set in Jacksonville, opening up a two-game lead over the second-place Suns in the Southern League's South Division. The BayBears are 11-6 on the road.