Three home runs in the first four innings coupled with a dominant pitching performance from Lewis Thorpe (W, 4-4) were enough for the Chattanooga Lookouts (37-33) to defeat the Biloxi Shuckers (41-30) 12-2 on Thursday night at AT&T Field.
The 22-year old Thorpe labored for two years through Tommy John surgery and a lengthy bout with mononucleosis to make it back for the start of the 2017 campaign.
The Lookouts scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning on three straight singles against Shuckers' RHP Luis Ortiz (L, 1-3).
Tanner English tagged on another run with a leadoff home run in the second, his first of the season.
Jimmy Kerrigan and Brent Rooker got to Ortiz for a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth, hitting back-to-back home runs to give Chattanooga a 6-0 lead.
The night was capped by a bases-clearing double from Chris Paul in the seventh as Chattanooga kicked off the second half with a victory.
Thorpe was sensational from the start for the Lookouts.
The Australian southpaw threw 4 2/3 hitless innings before surrendering his first and only hit to Blake Allemand. He went on to toss seven shutout frames while striking out a career-high 12 batters through seven innings. The southpaw has now struck out 21 batters in his last two starts and leads the Chattanooga pitching staff with 86 punchouts this season.
"We saw his talent before he got hurt and all the different things he had to endure. He's starting to show that," Twins vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "We're trying to bring out that talent we know he has, so this is nice to see for him. Hopefully it gives him a great boost and a shot of confidence and inspires him to keep on going."
"Maybe this is the beginning of the final push that we all hope and believe is possible," Radcliff said. "It's just one performance and just another piece in this long journey. But he's gone through so much that to have something like this can spur a guy on."
Radcliff said the Melbourne native needed some time to find himself last season. With low-90s velocity on his fastball, Thorpe had to establish a mix of his secondary pitches and fine-tune his command in order to be effective.
The Twins continued to use him as a starter in hopes that, despite the time off, Thorpe still possessed the big league-level talent they saw in him when he was signed as an international free agent on July 12, 2012.
He finished 2017 with a 2.93 ERA through 83 innings. He gave up four runs on five hits over six innings in his Double-A debut on Aug. 20. After a solid Spring Training, Minnesota officials gave him the opportunity to start 2018 with the Lookouts, where he's recorded a 4.26 ERA over 14 games.
Thorpe's terrific outing was backed by a strong offensive display as Chris Paul finished the night with three hits and a Lookouts season-high six RBIs while newcomer Kerrigan was a perfect 4-for-4 with two RBIs and four runs scored in his AT&T Field debut.
RHP Omar Bencomo will take the mound for the home team tomorrow night opposite LHP Wade Miley as the Lookouts seek their third consecutive victory.