AKRON, Ohio – It had been a forgettable road trip for the Portland Sea Dogs.
The team had dropped two straight and six of seven — including three of four against Western Division opponents — and was in need of some positive momentum before returning home for the first time since June 2.
Thanks to some solid pitching from starter Keith Couch and relievers Chris Balcom-Miller and Brock Huntzinger, and another good day at the plate from Xander Bogaerts, Portland got back to its winning ways with a 4-1 victory over the defending Eastern League champion Akron Aeros in front of 4,214 at Canal Park Sunday afternoon.
The Sea Dogs head home with a 32-28 record. They have Monday off before hosting Erie for a doubleheader Tuesday — two seven-inning games starting at 6 p.m.
Akron falls to 31-32.
“The pitching for us was outstanding today,” Portland Manager Kevin Boles said. “I thought Couch gave us an excellent start, especially since he’s primarily been a guy out of our bullpen. To be as efficient as he was and in command of the zone, I thought he did a tremendous job.
“I thought Balcom-Miller showed tremendous life on his pitches today, and Huntzinger closed it out with no drama. He was attacking the zone and was very efficient. I thought the pitching and defense were plus signs for us.”
Couch (4-2), making his first Double-A start after 15 relief appearances, scattered three hits in five innings, giving up one run and one walk with three strikeouts. He lowered his ERA from 4.78 to 4.43.
“I used my two-seam (fastball), which really helped me out,” Couch said. “That was able to set me up to use my off-speed stuff later in the game if I had to.
“I wouldn’t say we were ‘bleeding’ on this trip. There’s always a couple of games where you scuffle through. But we know we’re a good team and we’re going to bounce back, it’s just a matter of when. It’s good to get a win and get out of here and have a good trip home.”
Couch and his counterpart, Will Roberts (4-3), put up dueling zeros through three innings. Roberts retired the first 10 Sea Dogs before issuing a walk to Bogaerts in the top of the fourth.
Michael Almanzar, who went 2 for 3 with two RBI, followed with a single and J.C. Linares drew a full-count walk to load the bases for Tony Thomas. Thomas flew out to left, but it was deep enough to score Bogaerts and give Portland a 1-0 lead.
“Akron has some quality arms,” Boles said. “What you get from this club is that you have to earn it. We tried to stay aggressive on the basepaths and tried to pick our spots.”
Akron’s Adam Abraham got his first RBI of the season with a double in the fifth. But Portland answered in the top of the sixth, a rally once again keyed by Bogaerts.
With one out, Bogaerts drilled a shot off the wall in right field. Despite a terrific throw from right fielder Carlos Moncrief, Bogaerts safely for a triple. He scored three pitches later on Almanzar’s sacrifice fly to center.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit lately, so it’s always good to get a win, especially on the getaway days,” said Bogaerts, who went 2 for 3 with an RBI and three of his team’s four runs. “Hopefully, it carries on to the next series.
“You know the pitches he has were the curveball and the changeup. We saw him good the first time through the order. The second time, we knew what to expect and found our pitches to hit.”
The Sea Dogs tacked on two more runs in the eighth off reliever Trey Haley. Bogaerts had a one-out RBI single, then scored on a single by Almanzar.
“(Bogaerts) has been very consistent throughout the year,” Boles said. “He’s done a great job of managing his strike zone. I think that’s something that we’ve seen quite a bit of improvement on this year. Also, he’s working all fields and he’s taking his walks and not giving in to pitcher’s pitches.”