PORTLAND – With two left-handers keeping the hitters off-balance and the bullpens effective, one play would make the difference Wednesday night at Hadlock Field.
It came in the first inning.
With two outs, Bryce Brentz stepped in to bat with the speedy Jeremy Hazelbaker on second base.
Hazelbaker broke for third base. Third baseman Kelson Brown went to cover and Brentz drilled a grounder where Brown had been, and into left field.
The single scored Hazelbaker and that was enough as the Portland Sea Dogs edged the Altoona Curve 1-0 before a crowd of 4,560.
Drake Britton (4-5) picked up the win with a three-hitter over 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out five, lowering his ERA to 3.71.
Britton lost his command at times and threw 92 pitches. But he won.
“That’s a testament to him,” catcher Matt Spring said. “He battled, using all four pitches (fastball, slider, curve and change-up).”
Brock Huntzinger followed Britton with 1 2/3 innings relief (three strikeouts) and Michael Olmsted shut the door in the final two innings. Using his 97 mph fastball, Olmsted struck out the final four batters, keeping his ERA at 0.00 over 12 innings.
“That’s some kind of power arm with a quality slider,” Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said. “Very impressive.”
Altoona left-handed starter Kris Johnson (1-2) pitched at Hadlock for the first time since he was dealing for the Sea Dogs in 2008-09. He allowed five hits and one walk over six innings, striking out six, dipping his ERA to 2.66.
Johnson’s one problem came when Hazelbaker stood on first with two outs in the first inning. With Brentz up, Hazelbaker stole second (now 29 of 39).
Then Hazelbaker took off for third and Brown covered.
“It was a mistake,” Brown said. “With a righty pull hitter, the No. 4 hitter, up with two outs, I vacated my area.”
Brentz grounded through that vacated area, upping his team-leading RBI total to 63, as Hazelbaker’s quickness proved crucial.
“His speed is definitely a weapon,” Boles said.
Britton and his teammates did the rest from there.
It was the fifth straight solid outing for Britton (allowing a total of four earned runs).
Most impressive for Britton, who has had his clunkers, was he fixed his struggles during the game.
“There were a couple of times where I lost my command, got a little excited,” Britton said. “But I kept my tempo up and once I dialed it back in, I was right back at them.
“There have been times that once I get out of whack, it shifts how my outing goes. But we’ve been working hard on dialing it back in.”
The 95 mph fastball was complimented by a curveball early in the count. Then came the sliders and change-ups.
“Had a real good feel for his breaking ball and some quality change-ups,” Boles said.
NOTES: Altoona will start Gerrit Cole at 6 p.m. Thusday. Cole was the No. 1 overall draft pick last year out of UCLA. Fireworks will follow the game.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: