It was his first start in Double-A, and it could have gone so wrong for Joe Gunkel.

He gave up six hits and four walks in five innings. But the bottom line: only one run.

Gunkel won his debut as a Sea Dogs starter as Portland beat the Altoona Curve 4-1 on Thursday night at Hadlock Field. Gunkel struck out six.

Portland (18-23) won 2 of 3 against Altoona (23-15), the West Division leader.

Both Jantzen Witte and Tim Roberson collected two hits for the Sea Dogs.

Gunkel, 23, was called up from Salem, where he bounced between starting and relieving, two roles he also performed last year.

“It’s something I’ve dealt with so I’m used to it,” Gunkel said casually.

Pressure doesn’t seem to bother Gunkel, whether it’s his first start at this level or 10 baserunners. That unflappable composure goes back to his college days, when he pitched West Chester University of Pennsylvania to the 2012 NCAA Division II national championship.

Gunkel was named the MVP of the tournament with 18 scoreless innings, including a shutout in the title game.

And now he’s a pro.

“Really no different. It comes down to execution,” Gunkel said.

And with so many runners on base?

“You don’t want to change anything – just keep attacking hitters,” he said.

Gunkel allowed two baserunners in each of the first three innings and escaped.

“I struggled throwing strikes early,” he said. “I was able to settle down and get outs when I needed to. Threw my slider for strikes and that helped a lot.”

When his 88-92 mph fastball was missing the spots, Gunkel could rely on the slider. He threw 21 of them, 16 for strikes.

“There were some times he was inconsistent, but I thought he pitched really well with guys on base,” Sea Dogs pitching coach Kevin Walker said. “The situation doesn’t overwhelm him. He was able to compete even without his best stuff.”

Portland scored in the first inning on a two-out double off the left-field wall by Witte, followed by Oscar Tejeda’s RBI single to center off starter Zack Dobson (2-2).

The Sea Dogs got 10 hits Thursday against a Curve pitching staff that ranks second in the Eastern League.

“They ran some good arms at us but collectively we’re seeing the ball pretty well,” said Witte, who is batting .333, third on the team to Roberson (.365) and Tejeda (.350).

Altoona tied it in the fourth with three hits and a run.

Gunkel allowed a harmless walk in the fifth and retired the next three batters to end his night (92 pitches/59 strikes).

Portland got him the win with a run in the bottom of the fifth. Jonathan Roof led off with a triple and Blake Tekotte singled him in.

The Sea Dogs added two in the sixth (Witte single, Roberson RBI double and Luis Martinez RBI single).

Simon Mercedes and Jorge Marban both pitched two scoreless innings, with Marban getting the save in his Sea Dogs debut.

NOTES: The announced paid attendance was 3,722. … The Reading Phillies come to Portland this weekend. Saturday will feature a 1 p.m. doubleheader, making up for a snowed-out game.


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