PORTLAND — Watching players toil in the minor leagues, it’s easy to assume a player’s progression from one level to another.

But it’s not that easy, nor automatic.

L.J. Gagnier looked like a pitcher on the rise in the Detroit organization. But this season has been one of struggles for Gagnier, although that was not the case Friday night.

Gagnier gave up three hits and one run over 5 2/3 innings as the Erie SeaWolves stymied the Sea Dogs 6-2 before 6,421 at Hadlock Field.

Portland managed five hits, all for extra bases. Alex Hassan tripled and doubled; Jeremy Hazelbaker had two doubles; and Ryan Khoury added one double.

Portland lost its third straight and dropped to 20 games below .500 (49-69). Erie improved to 57-61.

Gagnier (4-5) struck out 10 and walked three. He lowered his ERA to 5.08.

But those are not the numbers you would expect from someone who was the 2009 Tigers’ pitcher of the year in Class A Lakeland, and then made the jump to Triple-A last year, and was again the Tigers’ pitcher of the year in Toledo.

But instead of dreams of another year in Triple-A — and maybe the majors — Gagnier was told to report to Double-A Erie to begin the 2011 season.

“That kind of made me second-guess where I stood in the organization,” Gagnier said. “I’m 26 years old. It’s tough mentally.

“You have to throw that stuff out the window, and pitch for yourself and your teammates, and hope the organization re-evaluates at the end of the year.”

With more starts like Friday’s, the Tigers will have to take notice.

He worked his fastball, slider and change-up well, keeping the Sea Dogs off balance.

“He was aggressive in the strike zone and throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes,” Erie catcher Bryan Holaday said. “He was able to stay away from the heart of the plate.”

Portland starter Miguel Gonzalez (0-4) has been a starter and reliever this season, and has pitched well in spurts. He retired all eight batters he faced in a relief outing last week.

To start Friday’s game, Gonzalez retired eight straight batters, four by strikeout.

But six of the next 10 batters got hits, including three straight to begin the fifth, chasing Gonzalez from the game.

“I was just getting tired in the end,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been a while since I started. I tried to work down, but the last inning the ball was a little up.”

The teams will play again at 6 p.m. today, with Portland starting its ace, Alex Wilson (9-4).

NOTES: Reliever Cesar Cabral, who was hit in the head by an errant throw in Wednesday’s game, has gone on the disabled list with concussion-like symptoms. A replacement hasn’t yet been assigned to Portland. … With new Sea Dogs outfielder Ronald Bermudez in center, Jeremy Hazelbaker has moved to right. Hazelbaker made two sterling catches Friday, chasing down a ball against the wall in right-center, and diving after a sprint toward a bloop in shallow right. … Hassan threw out a runner at home in the seventh, trying to score on a fly to left.

In other Eastern League games, Harrisburg beat Trenton 3-2 on Bryce Harper’s two-run walk-off home run. The hype of Harper continues, which should sell a few more tickets in Portland when Harrisburg comes to visit Aug. 22-24. … Binghamton lost to Richmond 6-2, keeping the Mets (49-70) in last place in the East Division, a half-game behind Portland.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases