BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — Aaron Kurcz spent nearly two years away.
In his return, Kurcz went back to striking out Eastern League batters.
Pitching for the first time since July 21, 2012, Kurcz came back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow to strike out three batters in the eighth inning Tuesday night in Binghamton.
With the EL’s hottest offense slowed down for one night, Kurcz combined with two other Sea Dogs relievers to hold the Mets scoreless over the final 52/3 innings of a 5-3, 11-inning victory.
Matt Spring, who had struck out his first four times up, hit a two-run homer with none out in the top of the 11th to decide the game. He lifted the Sea Dogs to their sixth straight victory and a league-best 12-4 record.
Kurcz came in to work between strong efforts by fellow relievers Michael Olmsted and Robby Scott.
The 23-year-old, right-hander got a called third strike on Binghamton clean-up hitter Matt Clark, the first batter he faced, to start the bottom of the eighth inning. After allowing a clean single to center field, Kurcz blew third-strike fastballs past the last two hitters, reaching 96 miles per hour on the scoreboard radar reading.
“He handled it like a pro,” Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper said. “He pitched with confidence. We all saw what we saw.
“It’s pretty obvious that he’s healthy. It’s pretty obvious that he’s strong. It’s pretty obvious he was ready.”
Kurcz, who came to the Boston organization from the Chicago Cubs as compensation for Theo Epstein becoming Chicago’s president of baseball operations, worked just one inning. He threw 15 of 19 pitches for strikes.
“He showcased an explosive fastball, demonstrated by the three strikeouts and six swings and misses,” Kipper said.
Before his injury, Kurcz was leading Eastern League pitchers in strikeouts per inning in 2012 with 72 in 501/3 innings. He was 3-4 with four saves and a 3.04 earned-run average in 29 games with the Sea Dogs.
The big strikeout numbers in 2012 were nothing new for Kurcz.
In 161 innings with four teams over four professional seasons, Kurcz has 214 strikeouts while going 10-9 with 13 saves and a 2.96 ERA.
“We’re very pleased,” Kipper said. “We’re very proud of him.
“I’m sure this was a big step.”
Omlsted and Scott also did their part as the bullpen held the Mets scoreless on four hits while walking three and striking out nine in 52/3 innings.
Binghamton tied the game against starter Mike McCarthy in the fifth before Olmsted took over. Olmsted stranded the go-ahead runner he inherited and struck out three in 12/3 innings.
After Kurcz’s comeback, Robby Scott continued his dominant start to the season.
Scott escaped with runners on third base and the game tied in his first two innings, then got a game-ending strikeout with the potential winning run at the plate.
In five appearances, Scott (2-0) has worked 11 scoreless innings, giving up only five hits and two walks while striking out 12.
EL batting leader Mookie Betts went 2 for 4 with two walks, two stolen bases and two runs scored from the Sea Dogs leadoff spot.
Blake Swihart singled in Betts in the first inning. Deven Marrero’s fourth-inning single scored Shannon Wilkerson, who had led off the inning with a double, and Betts.
Sea Dogs Manager Billy McMillon was ejected in the ninth inning for arguing that Peter Hissey was struck on the foot or leg by his lead-off groundout and that it should have been a dead ball.