READING, Pa. — Before Thursday’s season opener, first-year Portland Manager Billy McMillon confessed he didn’t have a strong feel for what kind of Sea Dogs team he had brought north from Florida.
Four games in, and after a 4-3 Eastern League loss Sunday that split the season-opening series versus the Reading Fightin Phils, the former Sea Dogs outfielder still wasn’t sure.
“After a couple more games, a couple more weeks, we’ll probably have a clearer idea of what our team is capable of,” he said. “We had four competitive ballgames here. We happened to win two of them.
“I don’t think this is anything to hang our heads down, these last two losses. One pitch, one swing we could’ve easily won this game and challenged in yesterday’s (Saturday’s) game.”
The prospect-laden Sea Dogs looked like world-beaters the first two nights, getting an Opening Day no-hitter from Henry Owens and a 4-1 win in the follow-up.
They ran into some tough pitching the past two days and head to Trenton with a .500 record – and a share of first place in the Eastern Division, where all six teams split their opening-week assignments.
Reading second baseman Carlos Alonso staked the Phils to a 4-0 lead with a three-run homer off Sea Dogs starter Mike Augliera in the second, and that was enough for Phils right-hander Perci Garner.
Garner scattered five hits over six strong innings and struck out six, using an effective change-up to record a couple of those whiffs. He got designated hitter Stefan Welch to swing through one in the fourth.
“It was a good pitch,” said Welch, who reached base in his other three trips with a walk, single and double. “It was moving pretty good, and pretty tough to pick up.”
Three relievers made the 4-3 lead stand up after Garner departed. Right-hander Ken Giles, the last of those, picked up his second save by striking out the side on 15 pitches in the ninth. The last one, a 101 mph fastball, caught Bo Greenwell looking.
The Sea Dogs scratched away at Garner’s early lead, getting single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings.
Deven Marrero earned an RBI with an infield single in the fourth and Matt Spring had an RBI double in the fourth.
Welch hit a drive off the top of the fence in right-center to open the sixth, but the ball caromed back into playing territory for a double. Welch scored from third on Spring’s sacrifice fly.
The Sea Dogs got runners on in the seventh and eighth, but double-play grounders ended each threat.
The Sea Dogs were limited to seven hits, their lowest total of the series. Mookie Betts, who had hits in his first five at-bats, went 1-for-4 and finished the series 9-for-17 for the league’s second highest batting average (.529).
Despite back-to-back losses McMillon wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s a small sample, but I’ve seen a lot of things to be encouraged about,” he said.
“We’ve had some guys that swung the bat well, we’ve had some guys that pitched well. I think we’re still getting in our groove.”