By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Greg Harris’ season debut last Sunday wasn’t particularly bad. But it wasn’t necessarily good, either.
In a loss to Palm Beach, the Charlotte Stone Crabs right-hander allowed two runs on five hits over four innings. Afterward, Harris lamented his inability to get his offspeed pitches over the plate. Manager Michael Johns had to cut the starter’s outing short because of an elevated pitch count.
There was nothing for Harris to frown about on Friday, though. And even less of a reason for Johns to pull him early.
The right-hander faced just one batter over the minimum in a 4-0 win over the Tampa Yankees, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out five over six scoreless innings.
“Tonight was way better,” Harris said after the Stone Crabs’ first home win in three tries this season. “I was throwing my pitches for strikes more, mixing it up. I threw low in the zone, in, out — it was a great day for me.”
Tampa never mounted any real threat against Harris, who allowed only four baserunners but never more than one in a single frame.
In the first, Abiatal Avelino’s single was erased with a 5-4-3 double play. In the second, Mike Ford was caught by catcher Nick Ciuffo trying to steal second after his base hit. Billy Fleming never budged from first after his one-out single in the fifth, and Mike O’Neill tested Ciuffo’s arm to poor results after his bunt single in the sixth.
“He had good stuff his last outing, but he didn’t have great command. Tonight he had the stuff and the command,” Johns said of Harris, who threw 50 of his 81 pitches for strikes. “That’s a good hitting team, and he just mismatched them for six innings.”
Riley Unroe put Harris in line for the win in the bottom of the first inning, walking to lead off the game and coming around to score without the benefit of a hit, stealing a base and using two of Yankees starter Gabriel Encinas’ four wild pitches.
Justin Williams hit an RBI single in the third as part of a 4-for-4 night, and Jace Conrad provided insurance with a two-run double off right-hander Jordan Foley in the eighth.
Encinas struggled with his command throughout the night — he walked three and hit one in 5 2/3 innings — but used his plus stuff to avoid huge damage as the Stone Crabs went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.
“We could have broken the game early, but it’s not because the guys aren’t trying and it’s not because they don’t care,” Johns said. “Guys are going to get hits with runners in scoring position. Sometimes it just takes time.”
Even with Charlotte’s struggles with men on base, Tampa couldn’t capitalize, mustering only five hits and taking only one at bat with a runner in scoring position as right-handers Edwin Fierro and Brandon Koch threw three scoreless innings of relief for Charlotte.
“Our defense played well tonight, too,” Johns said. “I feel like, with our pitching, if we make the routine plays, we’re going to have a chance to win most games.”
STONE CRABS 4, YANKEES 0
HITTER OF THE GAME
Justin Williams, Stone Crabs: Went 4-for-4 with four singles and an RBI to increase his hitting streak to five games and raise his season average to .409.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Greg Harris, Stone Crabs: The right-hander was masterful over six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out five as he faced just one batter over the minimum.
First: The Stone Crabs had a run before they had a hit, as Riley Unroe walked and scored on a stolen base and two wild pitches. It proved the only run Charlotte would need in a shutout.
THEY SAID IT
Right-hander Greg Harris: “It’s the first (home win of the season), so it’s fun. It’s a great time. We have a really great group of guys, so this is going to be a fun year.”