NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – After missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, Charlie Haeger is thrilled to be back on the mound.
The 29-year-old knuckleballer overcame some early control problems as the Portland Sea Dogs rallied to defeat the New Britain Rock Cats 6-4 in the opener of Friday’s doubleheader before a sellout crowd of 7,194.
New Britain’s Trevor May tossed a two-hitter in the nightcap as the Rock Cats earned a split with a 6-0 victory.
In the first game, homers by Travis Shaw and Matt Spring helped the Sea Dogs erase an early 2-0 deficit.
Shaw’s three-run blast in the top of the third gave the Sea Dogs a 3-2 lead. New Britain answered with a pair in the bottom of the inning, but Spring’s two-run shot in the fourth put Portland ahead to stay. Heiker Meneses provided insurance with an RBI single in the sixth.
The home runs enabled Haeger (1-0) to earn the win even though he struggled to locate his knuckleball early. Haeger, who threw 102 pitches over 52/3 innings, walked three, hit two batters and issued three wild pitches.
“It was tough to throw strikes there and it was tough to get a rhythm for the first couple innings,” Haeger said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. I just started throwing more strikes. The ball was moving the same. I was able to get in the zone a little bit more.”
Haeger limited the damage, giving up two runs in the first and third innings.
“I just think it’s important getting that health back,” Portland Manager Kevin Boles said. “You never know how a guy is going to bounce back, but with his work habits, what he’s done and the example he’s set for the other players, we’re looking forward to watching him compete and keep going because it’s going to fun to watch him.”
The two long balls spoiled Cole DeVries’ rehab start for New Britain. DeVries, who has been on the Major League disabled list since early April with a strained right forearm, took the loss despite only giving up four hits over five innings.
“I thought (DeVries) did a good job working ahead of guys,” Spring said. “He had pretty good fastball command out of the zone. I was lucky. I got an elevated slider from him. I made a good swing, Travis did the same thing.”
The Sea Dogs couldn’t get much going against May (2-1), managing only Xander Bogaerts’ single in the third and Peter Hissey’s single in the third. May walked one and struck out 10.
Portland’s Brandon Workman suffered his first loss, allowing five runs and eight hits over 52/3 innings.
“(May) had three different fastballs,” Boles said. “One is boring in on righties, he had a cut fastball and with two strikeouts, he was able to elevate, had a four-seamer with a little ride to it. And I think the equalizer tonight was the changeup.”
For the Rock Cats, Antoan Richardson had three hits and Jason Christian drove in three runs.
Portland and New Britain already have played 12 times this season with the Sea Dogs holding an 8-4 edge. The Sea Dogs got the split despite managing only six hits in the doubleheader.