Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By AARON BRACY Special to the Press Herald
TRENTON, N.J. - As a kid, Mike MacDonald and his Little League teammates used to trek down from Camden to Portland to watch the Sea Dogs.
WHO: Sea Dogs (Stolmy Pimentel 2-4) at Trenton Thunder (David Phelps 0-0)
WHEN: 12:05 p.m.
MacDonald has vivid memories of those trips, back in the days when the Sea Dogs were affiliated with the Marlins and MacDonald idolized Portland catcher and future big-league All-Star Charles Johnson.
So, MacDonald's historic start for the Sea Dogs on Sunday produced added excitement for the veteran of nine minor-league seasons. In his 172nd career pro start, he became the first Maine native to play for the Sea Dogs.
"You grow up going to the Sea Dogs games and being the first guy from the state of Maine is definitely an exciting thing," MacDonald said afterward.
Unfortunately, MacDonald barely had time to experience the excitement as an injured left hamstring cut short his outing after just five batters in Portland's 3-2 win.
Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles and MacDonald downplayed the injury, though neither put a timetable on recovery.
"I was just trying to settle into the rhythm of the game, being the first time out here I wanted to just fill up the plate and unfortunately it wasn't long enough to get into that good rhythm," MacDonald said.
"Those things happen and we'll see what happens and go from there."
With MacDonald watching, Portland's relievers -- led by Chris Balcom-Miller -- pitched 81/3 scoreless innings, and Jeremy Hazelbaker hit a go-ahead RBI single in the ninth to lead Portland to the win.
Balcom-Miller relieved MacDonald and had his best outing since being moved to the bullpen June 19, tossing five scoreless innings of two-hit ball. Aaron Kurcz (3-4) followed with 21/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball, earning the win, but it was Balcom-Miller who set up the victory.
"Balcom-Miller was outstanding," Boles said. "To be able to save the inventory in our bullpen, we needed that. He attacked the zone."
The performance shaved more than two runs off Balcom-Miller's bullpen ERA, dropping it from 7.71 to 5.02 in six appearances (91/3 innings, 8 earned runs). He was 3-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 12 starts before moving to the pen, a role he feels may suit him well.
"I'm trusting my (secondary) pitches, my slider and change-up, a lot more since I moved to the bullpen," said Balcom-Miller, whose strength is his sinker. "I love pitching and whatever gets me (to the big leagues) faster. (The bullpen) could be more my mentality."
Balcom-Miller knew he was the first person up on Sunday, but didn't expect to be entering in the first inning. But MacDonald hobbled off after giving up a two-out single to Zoilo Almonte.
MacDonald, 30, who still holds the University of Maine's all-time strikeouts record (284), attempted to continue but was lifted after a single and double that scored two runs.
"He was out there competing and those things happen," Boles said. "Obviously we feel bad for him."
MacDonald hopes to rebound quickly and show his ability to the Red Sox.
A 15th-round selection in 2004 by the Blue Jays, MacDonald has reached Triple-A in four seasons -- three times with Toronto and once with the Angels.
While he hasn't gotten over that hump, he considers himself lucky.
"I've been pretty fortunate, played multiple years at the Triple-A level," said MacDonald, who was 3-4 with a 3.60 ERA in 13 starts this season with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League before being picked up by Boston.
"You wait for that opportunity and hope at some point in time it comes for you.
"The only thing you can control is going out there and trying to give quality starts and making quality pitches. You let the organization take care of the other end of it."
NOTES: Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1 for 3, extending his hitting streak to nine games. His right elbow was packed with ice afterward, the result of being hit by a pitch in the third inning, but he expects to play today.
Portland improved to 5-16 vs. Trenton this season.
Reynaldo Rodriguez, out since June 24 with a right finger injury, went 2 for 5 in his return to the lineup.
Rodriguez came up slowly, flexing his right hand, after a diving attempt in the third inning, but Boles said he is OK.