West Tenn starting pitcher Steven Hensley couldn't get his earned run average much lower Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Field, but he did.
Hensley entered with a Southern League-leading 1.53 ERA and exited with a 1.50 after limiting the Lookouts to three hits and a run in seven innings. The 23-year-old right-hander struck out seven as the Diamond Jaxx won yet again, 3-1, before a crowd of 2,887.
The trio of Mauricio Robles, Michael Pineda and Hensley have combined for 20 strikeouts and allowed just two runs in quickly clinching the series.
"They've thrown three good arms at us," Lookouts hitting coach John Valentin said. "Most of the time, good pitching always beats good hitting."
West Tenn is six games over .500 for the first time this season at 29-23, while Chattanooga is nine games under for the first time at 22-31.
The 6-foot-3, 189-pound Hensley is the No. 17 prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization and was a fourth-round pick in 2008 out of Elon University, where he was the career strikeout leader and the highest draft selection in school history. Last year, in his first full professional season, he led Mariners minor-leaguers with 135 strikeouts.
"His stuff isn't as good as the other guys -- he doesn't have the 96 (mph) fastball -- but he's a guy who knows how to pitch," West Tenn manager Tim Laker said.
Lookouts starter Chris Withrow, the No. 2 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, matched Hensley in a game that stayed scoreless until the fifth inning but used up too many pitches in the process. Withrow had thrown 67 pitches to Hensley's 53 through four innings, and that discrepancy grew to 104-78 after six, when Withrow was replaced by Kenley Jansen.
Though he yielded five walks, Withrow trimmed his ERA from 5.94 to 5.60.
"Their first two pitchers came in here and were good, real good, so I wanted to go out there and try and give my team a little boost," Withrow said. "I had that second inning where I got in some trouble and had to dig myself out. It was frustrating at times going out there and walking those guys."
West Tenn had runners at the corners with one out in the fifth, when Lookouts shortstop Dee Gordon bobbled an Alex Liddi grounder, resulting in the game's first run. Hensley took a no-hitter into the fifth but had it end emphatically when Jaime Pedroza homered to right-center to make it 1-1.
"He left one up," Pedroza said, "and I took advantage of it."
The Diamond Jaxx went back up 2-1 in the sixth when Dustin Ackley opened with a double to right-center and scored on Travis Scott's one-out double down the right-field line. They made it 3-1 in the eighth on Leury Bonilla's two-out double to left that scored Ackley from first.
Gordon dropped to 0-for-12 in the series after an 0-for-4 day in which he was called out twice on bunt attempts for running in fair play after the throw to first hit him in the back.
"I don't know, man." Gordon said. "I don't know what to tell you."
Alberto Bastardo (5-3, 3.75) is set to start tonight's 7:15 game for the Lookouts, with Dan Cortes (4-1, 4.82) scheduled for West Tenn.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...