Portland starting pitcher Grant Gambrell delivers a pitch against New Hampshire on Thursday at Hadlock Field. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Grant Gambrell made a splash in his Portland Sea Dogs debut last week, throwing five perfect innings to open his first start in Double-A.

On Thursday, the right-hander wasn’t at his best, but in his first start at Hadlock Field he worked in and out of jams while showcasing his complete pitching arsenal.

Gambrell didn’t factor in the decision, a 3-2 win over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats that extended the Sea Dogs’ winning streak to five games in front of 7,368 fans, mostly schoolkids at Hadlock for Education Day.

“It felt good to be in Portland, get my first (start) at home and get that one out of the way,” said the 25-year-old Gambrell. “I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that. Today was a little hit or miss. Any count, any pitch, I feel comfortable with. I’ve just got to execute it.”

In 4 2/3 innings, Gambrell allowed one run on three hits, striking out four while walking three. He fanned the final hitter he faced, Fisher Cats second baseman Leo Jimenez, but left the game with his pitch count at 90.

“He competes, that’s for sure. He didn’t have his best stuff today, and you could tell,” said Sea Dogs Manager Chad Epperson. “He fell behind some hitters, the three walks, that led to kind of a high pitch count. It got him out of there a little earlier than he expected and what we expected. But the guy competed. That’s a good hitting team.”


Portland left fielder Matthew Lugo catches a fly ball against New Hampshire on Thursday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

All of Portland’s runs came via the long ball. Nick Yorke’s solo home run in the fourth inning, his sixth, tied the game at 1-1. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Ceddanne Rafaela hit a two-run homer to center field that gave the Sea Dogs a 3-2 lead. It was Rafaela’s second home run of the season, and first since April 25 at Erie, and came on the 10th pitch of the at bat.

“I thought Rafaela’s at-bat was great. Those are the kind of at bats we’ve been waiting for,” Epperson said. “He fouled some pitches off, and they were tough pitches. He hung in there and he came up with the big blow there. That’s probably his best AB all year.”

This season is a comeback for Gambrell. Entering this season, Gambrell hadn’t pitched in a game since early August 2021, recovering from the removal of a benign tumor in his heel. After five surgeries and a complete season of rehab, Gambrell began this season pitching for High-A Greenville.

“My heel bone was completely hollow, and it had six or seven fractures around it. I was trying to pitch on it for a while, for six months, and I just couldn’t get through it any longer. It was finally time to say something,” Gambrell said.

A third-round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2019 out of Oregon State, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Gambrell was acquired by the Red Sox in the deal that sent outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Royals in 2021. When lefty Shane Drohan was promoted from Portland to Triple-A Worcester last week, Gambrell was called up from Greenville. He got the news from Greenville Drive Manager Iggy Suarez, a former Sea Dogs shortstop, who told Gambrell his next start would be funky.

“I said, ‘I wonder why’ and he said the only reason it’s going to be funky is because it’s going to be in Hartford. It’s not going to be here. Hearing that gave me some chills (about being promoted), and I was ready to go from there,” said Gambrell, a native of Clovis, California.


Ceddanne Rafaela of the Sea Dogs skips as he rounds toward third after hitting a home run on Thursday against New Hampshire. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Gambrell struggled over his first four starts for the Drive this season, allowing 14 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings. Over his last four outings, including two in Greenville prior to his promotion to the Sea Dogs, he allowed just five earned runs over 23 2/3 innings, lowering his season ERA to 4.07. Gambrell struck out 27 in those four May starts. On Thursday, he used a little of everything – a sinking fastball in the low 90s, along with a changeup and curveball – to keep the Fisher Cats off balance.

Of the 10 outs Gambrell recorded on balls put in play, seven came on ground balls.

“A healthy mix,” Gambrell said, describing his pitch repertoire. “Just making sure (hitters) aren’t getting too comfortable in the box. That’s my biggest thing. I want them to feel as suffocated as possible.”

Ryan Miller (1-2) earned the win in relief for the Sea Dogs, while Jacob Webb, Ryan Zeferjahn and Ryan Fernandez combined for three scoreless innings to lock down the win. The five Portland pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts.

Sem Robberse started for New Hampshire and went six innings, allowing all three Portland runs while striking out seven and walking one.

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