Sure was a lot of talk about a left-handed starter on Wednesday.
But we’re talking from Hadlock Field in Portland, not Fenway Park in Boston.
And the buzz was not about Henry Owens, the former ERA leader in the Eastern League.
The new leader, lefty Brian Johnson, pitched a beauty in a 2-1 win over the Reading Fightin Phils at a sun-splashed Hadlock. Johnson allowed one hit over 71/3 innings.
Noe Ramirez (2-0) picked up the win in relief, as Portland (71-41) needed a two-run double by Heiker Meneses with two outs in the eighth inning to rally past Reading (45-64).
Johnson, 23, did not reach the Double-A Sea Dogs until May and, until Wednesday, had not pitched enough innings to qualify among the league leaders. He’s qualified now, with 92 innings, and tops the league with a 2.05 ERA.
Owens, another lefty and the Red Sox top pitching prospect, is second at 2.60.
Another left-hander once dominated for the Sea Dogs with a 2.61 ERA, back in 2005 … but you’ve heard enough about Jon Lester in recent days.
Whether Owens or Johnson can ever replace Lester is an impossible question to answer.
But Johnson has looked sharp – his second straight one-hit effort. And while Johnson might not throw the gas Lester does, his 88-91 mph fastball is working just fine.
“It’s his deception,” Sea Dog pitching coach Bob Kipper said. “Deception is a byproduct of a really clean and compact delivery. He creates deceptions with all his stuff.”
Johnson’s consistency is no accident.
“In between starts, it’s what I really work on, staying in my delivery and repeating it every time,” Johnson said.
When he began the game by walking leadoff batter Albert Cartwright, Johnson’s displeasure was obvious.
“I was rushing my delivery,” he said. “But I figured it out immediately.”
Cartwright did steal second and score on Kelly Dugan’s line drive single to right.
Johnson retired the next 13 batters he faced, mixing in curves, change-ups and his developing cut fastball.
“He was throwing strikes without any pitch, at any time,” said catcher Blake Swihart.
The cutter had Johnson smiling. “It’s been the best it’s been all year,” he said.
Johnson, who is 9-2, looked in line for the loss as Reading’s Adam Loewen stifled Sea Dogs hitters for six innings. Loewen, 30, is the former Orioles’ first-round pick who pitched parts of three seasons for Baltimore. Arm trouble forced him to become an outfielder, where he reached the majors with Toronto for 14 games in 2011. This year, Loewen returned to the mound, signing with the Phillies.
Portland got to the Phils’ bullpen in the eighth. David Chester and Jonathan Roof singled. Both scored on Meneses’ line drive to left.
“It’s fun to win,” Meneses said among his celebrating teammates in the Sea Dogs clubhouse.
Portland moved one step closer to the playoffs, its magic number now 16.
NOTES: Ramirez lowered his ERA to 1.79, one of the best among league relievers … The announced paid attendance was a sellout at 7,368 … Pitcher Justin Haley was officially added to the Sea Dogs roster as third-string catcher Danny Bethea was placed on the disabled list. Haley, a sixth-round draft pick out of Fresno State in 2012, was 7-4 with a 2.82 in Salem. He is scheduled to start Thursday … Thursday’s game has been moved up one hour to 6 p.m. because there will be fireworks after the game.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: