The elusive 10th victory finally came for Elvin Hernandez.
Continuing on his latest pitching roll, Hernandez cruised through the Macon order for six innings, leaving it to the Augusta bullpen after allowing two runs in the seventh, and improved to 10-3 Monday night in the Jackets' 6-4 win over the Braves at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
"That was real vintage Elvin tonight," said Jackets manager Jay Loviglio. "He's been throwing that way his last three or four outings, and is back to where he was early in the season."
The 19-year-old gave up just five hits in 6 1/ innings, walking none while striking out six Braves. His 10 victories and 102 strikeouts this season is tops in the Pirates organization, and he became the third South Atlantic League pitcher this year to reach the plateau.
"I'm happy to win my 10th," said the Dominican who speaks little English. "I had good location on my fastball and curveball."
Most impressive for Hernandez is his return to early-season form, after he struggled in May and early June.
"I think he went through a little tired arm period, but now he's aggressive again and in command," Loviglio said of Hernandez, whose ERA was 6.25 ERA with a 3-1 record in May. "There was a tight strike zone tonight, and for a guy to be that much in command in this heat is very impressive."
It wasn't quite total redemption for a Jackets bullpen that cost Hernandez a victory on June 26 in Augusta'a 5-4 loss to Savannah. After Jeff Havens took over for Hernandez in the seventh with Augusta leading 6-2, a pair of defensive miscues by the Jackets in the eighth behind the Jackets right-hander put another Hernandez quality outing in jeopardy again.
With five strong innings in his last start, surrendering two runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks, Savannah rallied off relievers Jose Reyes and Havens to steal away No. 10 from Hernandez last Wednesday night.
As was the case for Hernandez last week, Havens deserved better on Monday. Of the two runs charged to the 20-year-old, only one was earned, and he allowed two hits while walking none in 1 innings. Mike Ayers came on with two outs and the Jackets lead cut to 6-4 in the eighth, and retired the only batter he faced in the inning to end the Macon threat.
Joe Maskivish gave up a two-out hit to Derek Foote in the ninth, but closed it out for his eighth save.
"If we can't rely on our bullpen, we're not gonna win games, and I think we can count on them," said Loviglio, who added that the Jackets relievers are still adjusting to new roles that came with the promotion of closer Tim Collie to Lynchburg two weeks ago. "Havens didn't pitch badly tonight, and got hurt by the error, and Ayers showed quality stuff again for us."
The Jackets scored three runs in the fifth off Macon starter and loser Jose Garcia and reliever Charlie Cruz without a hit. Garcia (4-5) walked two Jackets and Macon made two errors in the inning, as the Jackets took a 6-0 lead.
NOTES: Struggling outfielder Charles Rice was optioned to Erie (short season New York-Penn League) on Monday, ending what was a most disappointing stint in Augusta. Rice, Pittsburgh's first-round supplemental selection in the June 1993 draft (compensation from San Francisco for the signing of free agent Barry Bonds), batted .178 in 185 at bats with the Jackets this season, and hit just three homers and drove in 13 runs. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound 20-year-old hit .316 with eight homers and 33 RBI in 70 games at Erie last year, after he opened the season with the Jackets. Infielder Butch Bellenger was also optioned to Erie after playing in just eight games with Augusta. Bellenger was promoted from extended spring training over the SAL all-star break two weeks ago. Infielder Ovidio Frias and outfielder Aaron Edwards were promoted from Erie and joined the club on Monday. Edwards spent part of the 1995 season with the Jackets. Frias went 0-for-4 with a walk in his debut Monday, batting second in the order. . .Sergio Mendez ripped his sixth homer of the year in the fourth inning, a line drive solo shot that cleared the left-center field wall in a hurry. Freddy May, whose nine game hitting streak ended on Monday, switched uniform numbers from 12 to 15.
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