SEVIERVILLE – The Southern League's best team through the first week of the season took the field Thursday in Game 2 of a five-game series against Chattanooga and picked up right where they left off Wednesday with an 8-4 victory.
The Smokies have shot out of the gates strong this season, compiling the best record so far in the Southern League, which stands at 6-1 after the win Thursday.
The home-half of the first inning saw back-to-back-to-back doubles from Ty Wright, Russ Canzler, and Robinson Chirinos all coming with two outs. That gave the Smokies a 2-0 lead after one. Canzler has a hit in all four of his starts between first base, third and the outfield, and Wright has a hit in five of seven starts.
Jeremy Papelbon made his second start of the season. Looking to bounce back from a shaky performance against Mississippi on April 9, he pitched 4 1/3 innings, and although the Lookouts managed eight hits off him, they were only able to manufacture one run.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Papelbon's night was his seven strikeouts, five more than his previous outing and the most in a start since August, 2007 while at Class-A Peoria. His composure was outstanding and he never faltered when runners reached base. Papelbon's location was also pinpoint, throwing 64 strikes out of 93 total pitches.
After allowing his only run, Papelbon was replaced in the fifth by Alex Maestri (1-0), who inherited a runner in scoring position. Maestri managed to get out of the inning unscathed and preserved a 3-1 Smokies lead en route to picking up his first win of the season in relief.
The story of the night from the offense's standpoint was Chirinos. After going deep for his first home run of the season on Wednesday, the 10-year veteran of the Cubs' farm system blasted a 407-foot shot in the fourth inning Thursday. He finished 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and two RBI. Chirinos has been hot of late. Over the last four games, he is 8-for-15 with two home runs and five RBI.
Starlin Castro came through again in the clutch and drove in two runs as part of a four-run sixth – Tennessee's biggest inning of the night. Castro is batting .364 through the first week and has a hit in all but one of his seven games at short. He is 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
One night after hitting a three-run home run, his first since June of last season, Jake Opitz was called on to pinch-hit with the bases loaded. He fell behind in the count early, but battled back to draw an RBI walk. Opitz is 5-for-11 in limited playing time.