FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats return home for the first time in the second half for yet another series against the first-half South Division Champion Jacksonville Suns.

Mudcats pitcher Brandon Yarbrough
  • Photo by Nikolaus © 2010 Carolina Mudcats
  • Mudcats pitcher Brandon Yarbrough

With the Southern League’s wildly unbalanced schedule these teams will play a whopping 31 times this season. Assuming they don’t somehow hook up in the playoffs.

The opener of the six-game series is going to be another hot one, with temperatures in the mid-90s at game time.

Jacksonville’s manager is Tim Leiper, a former Mudcats infielder and N.C. State assistant coach.

Lefty Travis Webb (2-5) will go for the Mudcats tonight against Tom Koehler (9-1), the winningest pitcher in the Southern League.

Koehler strikes again, getting one of his team’s 12 hits as the Suns win 8-3.

Jacksonville gets the early lead with a couple of runs in the second. Vinny Rottino doubles to left center and then scores on Lee Mitchell’s double down the third-base line.

Koehler helps his own cause in the third when he leads off with a double to left, takes third on a wild pitch and scores on a throwing error from catcher Brandon Yarbrough.

Jacksonville tacks on some more in the fourth, as Matt Dominguez draws a two-out walk and Torres blasts the next pitch off the scoreboard to make it 5-0.

Yarbrough gets the Mudcats on the board with two out in the fourth, stroking a 2-0 pitch down the right-field line onto the short porch that used to be called “Catfish Corner” but is now a big salute to WTVD weatherman Chris Hohmann.

But Jacksonville takes it to 6-1 in the fifth on back-to-back two-out doubles from Brandon Tripp and Rottino.

Things get worse in the sixth in the Mudcats debut of Cincinnati first-round pick Brad Boxberger. The hard-throwing righty gets the first out, then walks three straight and uncorks two wild pitches with Torres scoring a run in the mess.

The Mudcats rally with two out in the bottom of the frame, as Mike Costanzo singles to right and scores on Eric Eymann’s double to the right-field corner. And they add another run in the seventh, as Devin Mesoraco draws a walk from Dan Jennings and moves around on an error and a wild pitch.

The Suns finish their scoring in the ninth off Federico Baez, as Rottino draws a two-out walk and steals second before Mitchell hits an RBI double to left.

Koehler gets into double-figure wins before the All-Star Break, and will face the Mudcats again on Saturday. He allows two runs on six hits in six innings with four strikeouts against one walk.

Mitchell leads the Suns with three hits including a pair of doubles with two RBI. Torres homers and doubles for three RBI, while Rottino doubles twice with an RBI.

Constanzo and Denis Phipps each have two hits while Eymann has the RBI double.

They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “Koehler just has really good control. He has three good pitches and puts it where he needs to. Webb wasn’t bad. He’d obviously want better results. Things didn’t go his way. We had some plays we normally make that we didn’t make tonight.”

Leiper: “(Koehler) is just throwing strikes and setting himself up for success. He’s pounding the strike zone and creating his own luck. He’s getting ahead of hitters, and any time you’re at 0-1 and 0-2 you’re going to have success. We had a real good offensive effort. We found a lot of holes and had quality at-bats throughout the whole game. ”

Koehler: “I don’t know what it is, honestly. I go out there every game and try to keep my team in a position to win. Lucky enough we tend to score a lot of runs when I pitch. We’ve been playing well offensively and defensively and pitching well. You’re going to win games that way.”

What does it all mean?
That the Suns have the Mudcats’ number right now, and Carolina needs to make its own momentum.

Play of the game

Torres’ homer.

Stars of the game

1. Koehler.
2. Torres.
3. Mitchell.

Season series

Jacksonville leads 11-5.

Carolina: Lost 1.
Jacksonville: Won 4.

Carolina: none.
Jacksonville: P Kris Harvey promoted from Jupiter. P Andrew Loomis sent to Jupiter.

On deck
Jacksonville at Mudcats, Tuesday, 7:15 p.m.

Andrew Miller (L, 0-4, 7.59) vs. Scott Carroll (R, 1-3, 2.22)