STONE CRABS: Offense disappears one night after season-best outburst

Stone Crabs catcher Nick Ciuffo breaks his bat against Fort Myers Miracle pitcher Keaton Steele the second inning Friday. Sun photo by Tom O'Neill

Stone Crabs catcher Nick Ciuffo breaks his bat against Fort Myers Miracle pitcher Keaton Steele on Friday.
Sun photo by Tom O’Neill

By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports

PORT CHARLOTTE — Thursday’s 10-run outburst was supposed to be the awakening of a dormant offense. A harbinger of things to come.

Friday was only one game, but it sure wasn’t a continuation of what the Charlotte Stone Crabs had done the night before against the St. Lucie Mets.

One night after racking up 13 hits — including two triples and four home runs — the Stone Crabs mustered just two in a 5-0 loss to the Fort Myers Miracle.

Both were infield singles, and neither Cade Gotta or Bralin Jackson advanced past first base.

“(Thursday) was fun. We wanted to recreate that same feeling today,” Jackson said. “But hats off to the opposing pitcher. He pitched a great game, and I just tip my cap.”

It looked an awful lot like the last time the teams met, when Fort Myers shut out Charlotte 1-0 and 2-0 last Saturday and Sunday, respectively. In those games, Miracle starters Felix Jorge and Randy Rosario pitched 13 1⁄3 combined scoreless frames, allowing just 10 combined hits.

And if they were good, Keaton Steele was better on Friday. The right-hander allowed just one hit over his seven shutout frames while striking out five and walking three.

Steele wasn’t doing anything special, but his low-90s fastball with late sink was enough to keep the Stone Crabs hitters off-balance and lower his ERA nearly a full run from 3.24 to 2.28 in his first win of 2016.

“We got some pitches to hit,” manager Michael Johns said. “We just didn’t do anything with them.”

It made Charlotte starter Hunter Wood the tough-luck loser, worse than when he was handed a no-decision on Saturday after allowing just one hit while striking out six over seven shutout frames in an extra-innings defeat.

On Friday, the right-hander allowed four runs — two earned — on five hits and a walk while striking out five over 6 2⁄3 innings.

Two unearned runs scored in the fourth on a groundout and sacrifice fly after leadoff man Chris Paul reached on Alec Sole’s fielding error at short. The two earned runs came home after Wood left with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth.

Yoel Espinal relieved Wood and allowed two of the inherited runners to score on Kevin Garcia’s first-pitch single to right. He then gave up a run of his own in the ninth on a solo home run to Logan Wade.

“I saw all these guys five days ago. I should’ve known them better,” Wood said. “Everything felt good. I was really locating the fastball, but I just missed a couple of spots tonight.”

If he hadn’t, Johns said, and if the Stone Crabs had made a few more plays behind him, Wood might have survived the seventh and even pitched into the eighth with fewer than four runs attached to his line.

But as lights-out as Fort Myers pitched, it likely wouldn’t have mattered either way.

“Our team is really streaky. We’re going to get hot real soon, and we’re going to stay hot,” Jackson said. “(Thursday) was a preview of what’s to come.”

It just wasn’t on Friday.

MIRACLE 5, STONE CRABS 0

HITTER OF THE GAME
Logan Wade, Miracle: Provided the loudest hit on a quiet offensive night for both teams, going 1-for-3 with a walk, a solo home run and two runs scored.

PITCHER OF THE GAME
Keaton Steele, Miracle: Was nearly unhittable over his seven innings on the mound, allowing just one infield single while striking out five in his first shutout and win of the season.

KEY INNING
Fourth: An Alec Sole error allowed Fort Myers leadoff man Chris Paul to reach, and it cost Charlotte. Nick Gordon followed with a double and Trey Vavra drove in two unearned runs with a groundout and a sacrifice fly to put the Miracle ahead 2-0.

THEY SAID IT
Manager Michael Johns: “You hope it steamrolls into the next day, but it is baseball and that happens. We play a ton of games, so we just have to be more consistent, really in every part of the game.”

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