August 18, 2013

Sea Dogs pitcher achieves rare feat

Keith Couch throws Portland's first nine-inning complete game in more than six years, beating Harrisburg 2-1.

By MICK REINHARD Special to the Press Herald

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Behind a complete-game gem from Keith Couch, the Portland Sea Dogs beat the Harrisburg Senators 2-1 Sunday in front of 3,749 at Metro Bank Park.

MONDAY'S GAME

WHO: Sea Dogs (Chris Hernandez 0-0) vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Deck McGuire 8-9)

WHEN: 7 p.m.

WHERE: Hadlock Field

Couch (10-3) allowed one run on six hits while striking out four to register Portland's first nine-inning complete game since knuckleballer Charlie Zink accomplished the feat on June 19, 2007.

The right-hander became the sixth hurler to notch double-digit victories in the Eastern League this season. He needed just 96 pitches and allowed only three runners past first base.

"He was just real aggressive and very efficient," Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said. "I thought with the efficiency, he was just terrific. The best start we've seen all year."

Harrisburg's Taylor Hill equalled Couch through four scoreless innings in a rematch of starting pitchers from the Futures at Fenway game on July 27.

Portland got on the board in the top of the fifth inning.

An error by Harrisburg shortstop Jason Martinson and consecutive singles by Ryan Dent and Shannon Wilkerson loaded the bases.

After Deven Marrero lined out to shallow right field, Garin Cecchini worked a walk to force home a run, and J.C. Linares followed with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field.

"Cecchini has shown an ability to have strike zone management and he works counts. He didn't try to do too much in that situation," Boles said.

"(With Linares), the swing matched the situation. It looked like he was comfortable and he just drove that ball. Those two guys there really executed the offensive fundamentals with runners in scoring position."

Harrisburg third baseman Carlos Rivero answered with a home run in the bottom of the fifth on a slider that got too much of the plate, according to Couch.

But that was the lone damage the Senators would get off Couch, who induced 13 groundball outs, including the last one against Rivero with the tying run at third base.

Boles credited stellar defense with a groundball pitcher on the mound.

"Our infield was ready to play today," he said. "With the day game, the quick turnaround, I thought our guys played a very nice, clean game."

The spotlight, however, belonged to Couch on an overcast afternoon.

Since being moved into the rotation on June 9, Couch has compiled a 7-1 record with a 2.91 ERA in 13 starts.

He has held opponents to a .254 batting average during that stretch.

When asked what has made the difference as a starter, Couch said, "I think it was more mentally with the change. Because now I know it's my day and I'm ready to go from that day on. Whereas, being a reliever I just didn't know when I was going to pitch and it was hard to get into a routine. But it's something I need to work on."

Boles had nothing but praise for Couch.

"He got his opportunity when we had some movement as some starters went up to Triple-A. He's taken advantage of the situation, and now to have 10 wins is a credit to him and how hard he's worked."

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