June 4, 2011

Dogs' pitcher bucks the odds

Brock Huntzinger comes off the DL and tames a nemesis as Portland wins its second straight game.

By KEN LIPSHEZ Special to the Press Herald

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — The odds were stacked against Portland Sea Dogs starter Brock Huntzinger.

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TODAY'S GAME

WHO: Portland Sea Dogs (TBA) at Altoona Curve (Jared Hughes 3-2)

WHEN: 7 p.m.

WHERE: Blair County Ballpark

The right-hander had started four games against the New Britain Rock Cats with little success. He also was coming off the disabled list after missing two starts because of a blister on his pitching hand.

When the first two Rock Cats rapped base hits, Huntzinger's return took on an ominous tone, but his fortunes changed abruptly. Apparently, so have Portland's.

Huntzinger retired 16 consecutive batters after his inauspicious start, and Will Middlebrooks hit a solo home run Thursday as the Sea Dogs slipped past the Rock Cats 1-0 before a sellout crowd of 7,315 at New Britain Stadium.

Portland (16-36) has won two straight for the first time since late April.

"We had a tough May (6-25) and this is a good way to start June," Manager Kevin Boles said. "Especially (Wednesday) night, being down 8-0 and being able to come back and swing the bats (in an 18-9 win). Now our pitching does a great job."

Huntzinger (3-4), a third-round pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2007, entered the game with an 11.49 ERA against the Rock Cats. On consecutive starts in early May, he was pelted for 14 runs on 16 hits in eight innings.

After Steve Singleton opened the Rock Cats' first with a double and Chris Herrmann followed with a single to put runners at the corners, Huntzinger waltzed through the heart of New Britain's order with two strikeouts and a tapper to first. He zipped through the next four innings without a base runner.

"I told myself I need to turn my season around. I'm going to bear down and make some pitches here," Huntzinger said. "I'm not going to give in.

"It's 90 percent mental. If you believe you can do something, you can."

It took alert defense to bail Huntzinger out in the sixth.

With one out, Singleton snapped the string with a single, but was tossed out trying to extend it to a double by right fielder Chih-Hsien Chiang. Huntzinger then walked Herrmann and threw a wild pitch. Chris Parmelee was walked intentionally and promptly thrown out by catcher Tim Federowicz.

Huntzinger allowed three hits, walked two and struck out seven. He threw 88 pitches.

"He had feel for his off-speed stuff," Boles said. "He had fastball command. He was around the plate the whole time but was down in the zone.

"He gave those six quality innings and that's especially impressive coming off the DL."

Rock Cats starter Steve Hirschfeld (3-3) was equally effective, holding the Sea Dogs scoreless for six innings, but he fell behind Middlebrooks leading off the seventh and paid the price. Middlebrooks slammed the next pitch off the scoreboard beyond the left-field wall.

"He stayed away from me all day but he went 2-0, tried to throw a two-seamer and it ran back over the middle of the plate," Middlebrooks said. "I was looking for a fastball middle in and I got it."

The Sea Dogs' bullpen finished it off, but not without incident. Caleb Clay didn't allow any hits but walked two in 12/3 innings.

Blake Maxwell, just down from Triple-A Pawtucket, walked Herrmann before retiring the side in the eighth. He hit two batters and walked another to load the bases with one out in the ninth, but then struck out Joe Benson for the second out.

"We had our best on the mound and they had their best at the plate," Boles said. "Maxwell ... kept his composure."

Maxwell got his fourth save by striking out Dan Rohlfing.

THE SEA DOGS placed right-hander Michael Lee (right triceps strain) on the disabled list to make room for Huntzinger.

 

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