AKRON, Ohio — Keury De La Cruz was mired in a 1-for-15 slump prior to the Portland Sea Dogs’ arrival in Akron for a three-game weekend series.
He missed the first two months of the season because of a broken wrist and was working back into form.
Sunday afternoon at Akron’s Canal Park, De La Cruz may have found his stroke.
De La Cruz clubbed tape-measure home runs in his first two at-bats – his first two homers in Double A – to start the Sea Dogs on their way to an 8-0 victory.
The teams played in front of 6,888 fans Sunday, making it the largest attended weekend in Akron history – 22,681 (a 7,560 average).
Portland, the Eastern League’s East Division leader, took 2 of 3 from the RubberDucks and improved to 44-23. Akron fell to 40-30 and dropped to second place in the West, a half-game behind Richmond.
Home runs accounted for six of Portland’s eight runs. Sean Coyle added a three-run blast in a four-run seventh that broke the game open. Meanwhile, Brian Johnson (5-1) pitched six scoreless innings as he lowered his Double-A earned-run average to 1.71.
“We played well today,” Portland Manager Billy McMillon said. “It’s a challenge every game and the guys, they responded well. Seeing (Akron) for the first time this season, they came ready to play. We got some really good starting pitching the last two days, and today we got a couple big home runs from De La Cruz and Coyle.
“I can’t say enough about how the guys were ready to play this weekend.”
The power surge isn’t out of the ordinary for De La Cruz, who hit a total of 20 home runs in 2012 for Class A Greenville and Salem.
“He’s got some pop in that bat,” McMillon said. “I don’t know if it’s him now getting back into it from his injury, but he certainly swung the bat well today.
“We certainly have some guys who can get into a ball, but I wouldn’t classify anyone on our team as a pure power hitter. Part of our philosophy is to drive the ball in play. A double in the gap is as good as a home run. We want our guys to drive the ball.”
De La Cruz’s first home run, with one out in the second inning, hit high on the blue batters’ eye beyond the center-field fence. It was Portland’s first hit and gave the Sea Dogs a 1-0 lead.
On the second home run, Akron pitcher Cody Anderson left a fastball up and in and De La Cruz turned on it and hit it off a tiki bar located at street level above the right-field wall. The blast also scored David Chester, who reached on a fielder’s choice after Blake Swihart led off with a double.
The Sea Dogs sent nine men to the plate in the seventh against two Akron pitchers.
Heiker Meneses led off with a single, stole second, took third on an error and scored on Derrik Gibson’s double down the left-field line. The double extended Gibson’s hitting streak to seven games.
After walking Jonathan Roof, Akron reliever Jordan Cooper was placed by Louis Head. One batter later, Coyle drilled a pitch over the left-field wall for his fifth homer of the year, making it 7-0.
“We really haven’t been hitting many home runs this year,” said Coyle, who went 2 for 4 with two runs and three RBI, raising his average to a team-high .348. “We’ve been scoring runs, definitely, but we’ve been playing a lot more small ball and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Today, we just put some good swings on some balls, and a couple balls left the yard.”
The runs were more than enough support for Johnson and three relievers. Johnson scattered four hits in six innings, walked one and struck out five. He has yet to allow more than two earned runs in any of his eight starts for the Sea Dogs.
“He was tremendous,” McMillon said. “He got into a couple of deep counts as the game went on or else he could have went into the seventh. I really like his tempo out there, his aggressiveness. He challenges hitters and throws a lot of strikes.”