Three Smokies pitchers combined to shut down Lookouts batters, while third baseman Christian Villanueva and first baseman Dustin Geiger each launched two-run homers to lead Tennessee to a 4-0 series-clinching shutout victory over Chattanooga on Sunday afternoon at Smokies Stadium.
Chattanooga' second-half has the appearances of what happened in their first-half finish. Currently the Lookouts have a 1-3 record.
With the win, the Smokies upped their second half record to 3-1 to remain in at least a tie for first place in the early stages of the second half, in addition to a 36-37 overall mark. The Lookouts fell to 1-3 since the midpoint of the year, and a 27-47 tally. Tennessee also clinched the series win by topping Chattanooga in three of the first four contests of the five-game set.
Starter Eduardo Figueroa (5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO), as well as relievers P.J. Francescon (2.0 IP, 1 H) and Frank Batista (2.0 IP, 3 H, 3 SO) combined for the club's fifth shutout victory of the season, with Francescon earning his eighth win of the year, placing him in a tie for the Southern League lead. Lookouts starting pitcher Andres Santiago (5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 SO) shined in his five innings of work, yielding just two hits while retiring 11 straight Smokies at one point, though he did not factor in the decision, while relief man Garrett Gould (2.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER) suffered the loss.
Villanueva's longball in the sixth proved to be all the offense would need, smashing his first homer since returning to Tennessee on June 19. After LF Anthony Giansanti single to left, Villanueva would follow with a two-run blast to deep center, pushing the Smokies to a 2-0 advantage.
The third baseman showed off the leather throughout the afternoon as well, starting a pair of slick double plays in the fifth and sixth innings. In the sixth with a baserunner going on the pitch from second, Villanueva scooped up a groundball and tagged the runner before slinging on to first to complete the 5-3 inning-ending double play. After subsequently homering in the next half frame, the 23-year-old would later gun down a runner at the plate in the eighth inning to preserve the shutout.
In addition to Villanueva's web gems, SS Elliot Soto, 2B Jeudy Valdez and RF Rubi Silva has flashed strong defensive play. Soto made a strong pick on a short hop to retire a batter via a groundout, Valdez made a nice sliding stop to his left on a ground ball as well, and Silva threw out Chattanooga 1B O'Koyea Dickson trying to advance on a fly out to deep right-center field.
Tennessee would add more insurance in the seventh, doubling their lead to four with their second big fly of the day. After Silva led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, Geiger followed with his two-run shot to right field, his tenth of the season and second straight to the opposite field.
C Charlie Cutler (2-3, 1 BB) was the only Smokies hitter to record a multi-hit effort in the win, while 2B Darnell Sweeney (2-4) and C Chris O'Brien (2-4, 1 2B) each tallied a pair of base knocks for the Lookouts. Villanueva's longball in the sixth was his seventh of the season combined between Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, as well as his first with the Smokies since September 2, 2013 at Chattanooga.
With the series already decided, Tennessee will look to win four of five from the Lookouts on Monday evening, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET. The Smokies are set to give the ball to RHP Joe Gardner (1-0, 2.83) in the series finale, while Chattanooga is anticipated to counter with RHP Raydel Sanchez (0-4, 7.11).