Augusta GreenJackets ace Kevin Pucetas has been nothing short of automatic this season.
The South Atlantic League's top pitcher by ERA, Pucetas continued his stellar campaign Saturday night, helping the GreenJackets avoid being swept at home for the first time since 2004.
Pucetas allowed just four hits in five shutout innings, and Augusta's offense woke up behind him in an 8-2 victory over the Lakewood BlueClaws at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
Following three sub-par performances in the series' first three games, Augusta scored a first-inning run off and jumped out to a 6-0 lead off Lakewood starter Carlos Monasterios.
"That definitely felt better," said Augusta cleanup hitter Brett Pill, who went 3-for-4 with three RBI. "We swung the bats a lot better, and it definitely helps to score in the first inning."
Pucetas worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and became the second pitcher in the SAL to 14 wins. He lowered his league-best ERA to 1.80.
"He has been consistent all year long. He always gives us a chance to win," manager Roberto Kelly said.
The GreenJackets (77-42, 27-22 second half), who were out-hit 40-20 by Lakewood in the first three games, haven't been swept in a four-game home series since April 2004.
Still, the BlueClaws (58-54, 25-22) won the rematch of last year's SAL championship series by the same margin as last September, winning three of four games.
Monasterios, who was received from the Yankees in last year's trade for big-league slugger Bobby Abreu, allowed eight runs - four earned - in 6Q innings to lose his fourth consecutive game.
"Today we played with confidence," Pill said. "We came out a little bit more energized."
Augusta's Emmanuel Burriss went 2-for-4 with a RBI, and Henry Gutierrez had a two-RBI hit in Augusta's three-run third inning.
"It was nice to see the kids swing the bats," Kelly said. "And we cut down on the mistakes in the field."
Augusta continues its eight-game home stand with a four-game series against Delmarva, beginning tonight - the first meeting between the teams.
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.