It was the eighth inning when the Portland Sea Dogs called on left-handed reliever Bobby Poyner, who has been with the team for only a month and a half.

“He’s earned that late-inning role,” Sea Dogs pitching coach Kevin Walker said.

Poyner really had to earn it Monday night at Hadlock Field. Control is normally his forte, but Poyner walked the first two batters. He fielded a bunt and threw out the runner at third. He induced a fielder’s choice at third for the second out, then hit a batter to load the bases.

Poyner went 3-0 on the next batter, Thairo Estrada, but then came back to strike him out as Estrada watched the third strike paint the inside corner.

Poyner rebounded with a 1-2-3 ninth, getting two strikeouts.

Poyner, 24, has evolved into the Sea Dogs’ best reliever since his promotion on June 3 from Class A Salem.

“He’s come up here and pitched extremely well,” Walker said.

The Sea Dogs needed him. Portland started the season with a strong bullpen, but Jamie Callahan and Austin Maddox were promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket (with Maddox making a few cameos in Boston). Ty Buttrey was also promoted briefly, but has since returned.

In 221/3 innings, Poyner has struck out 31 and walked five. His ERA is a gaudy 0.40, and his walks/hits per inning (WHIP) is 0.63.

His best pitch is a fastball, which is around 89-90 mph.

“But it’s very deceptive,” Walker said. “He throws from a lower slot. He has a knack for pitching in the higher part of the strike zone and getting chase swings. It looks good coming out of the hand and it gets above the bats.

“And he’s really good at pitching on both sides of the plate. He doesn’t leave many over the middle.”

Poyner is low-key about his success – he seems low-key about everything. Ask him about his solid showing in Double-A and he offers a “can’t complain.”

Walker smiles. “He really stays even-keeled. His emotions don’t ride the roller coaster up and down.”

But Walker gets excited about Poyner’s performance.

“Early on, we put him in every role possible. We had him go long. He’s really forced our hand, the way he’s been pitching, to use him late in the games,” Walker said. “He’s shown the ability to throw strikes. He’s shown the ability to pitch inside, and throw a good change-up off his fastball.”

Not bad for the fourth pitcher from his college team to be drafted in 2015. Of course, that’s not a knock on Poyner, since he comes from the University of Florida, which annually sends bunches of prospects to the pros. Three of his college teammates are in the Red Sox organization – pitchers Brian Johnson and Maddox, and Sea Dogs infielder Josh Tobias.

In 2015, nine Gators were drafted. Poyner was the seventh to go, and the fourth of six pitchers. The Red Sox grabbed him in the 14th round.

Poyner showed his control in Lowell (22 strikeouts, two walks) and moved on to Class A Greenville in 2016. He dominated, posting a 0.35 ERA, 0.42 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts and no walks in 26 innings while converting 11 of 11 save chances.

He reached Salem by June 1, and the numbers were not as good: 4.99 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 30 strikeouts, 11 walks.

“I had to make some adjustments,” Poyner said. “I changed the grip on my change-up and went through some transitions with how I pitched my fastball.

“That made a big difference going back to Salem this year.”

After a couple hiccups, Poyner went back to dominating. From April 19 to May 29, he allowed one run, striking out 24 and walking two.

Portland beckoned in June.

“You definitely feel a lot closer (to the majors) being in Portland than Salem,” Poyner said. “But it still feels like there is a long road ahead.”

Maybe not so much.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: ClearThe Bases