By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — If Saturday’s game was a pitcher’s duel, Stephen Gonsalves clearly had it won on paper.
Standing 6-foot-5 and throwing mid-90s heat from the left side, the 21-year-old former fourth-round pick looked every bit the Minnesota Twins No. 6 prospect. And with five wins (tied for second in the Florida State League) and a 1.89 ERA (seventh), the numbers backed up the pedigree.
Chris Pike’s measurables don’t stack up. The right-hander is two years older and five inches shorter, was drafted five rounds later, and entered Saturday’s start with four more losses (five) and an ERA 1.82 points higher (3.71).
But in Charlotte’s 9-2 win over Fort Myers, Pike got the better of his more highly regarded counterpart.
Mixing a fastball that barely creeps into the low-90s with breaking pitches that fluttered in the low-70s, the 23-year-old carved his way through six innings of two-run ball.
Fort Myers loaded the bases in the first without the benefit of a hit, but Pike stranded the error, hit-batsman and walk on base with a grounder back to the mound.
“The game could have completely changed right there,” said Pike, who allowed two runs on five hits over six innings to record his second win of the season. “So to strand them there got me into a rhythm.”
Pike didn’t allow his first hit until Alex Real singled past a diving Andrew Velazquez at shortstop with one out in the fourth, but Velazquez picked his pitcher up by turning an inning-ending 6-3 double play two pitches later.
The right-hander’s only real mistakes came in a span of four pitches to lead off the fifth, when Tanner Witt and Brian Navarreto tagged him for back-to-back solo home runs to left field. But even when the Miracle loaded the bases and threatened for more later in that same frame, Pike snared a Trey Vavra line drive destined for the outfield to record the final out.
Gonsalves’ line didn’t look far worse than Pike’s, but it will go down as one of the worst outings of the season thus far for a pitcher who had allowed no more than one run in six of eight starts entering the night.
The right-hander coughed up a season-high nine hits and three runs (two earned) over his six innings, which included his first set of back-to-back frames with runs allowed this season in the second and third innings.
Nick Ciuffo hit a sacrifice fly and Thomas Milone added RBI single in the second, and Justin Williams contributed a run-scoring groundout in the third.
“That’s a tough matchup when you’re going up against a guy like that. Especially when we’re heavy left-handed,” manager Michael Johns said. “But I thought we had some really good at-bats against him.”
And if Saturday’s started as a pitcher’s duel, it ended as soon as both starters left. Whereas Charlotte relievers Ian Gibaut, Brian Miller and Nick Sawyer worked around four baserunners to throw three scoreless innings of relief, Fort Myers’ Todd Van Steensel was shelled for six runs in his eighth inning.
Williams drove in two more runs with a single, Milone doubled his total with a second RBI base knock and Grant Kay finished it off with a three-run home run, his team-high-tying fourth of the year.
“Hopefully we can take that momentum and carry it into this next game and really get the bats going,” Pike said. “Then I think we can be pretty unstoppable.”
STONE CRABS 9, MIRACLE 2
HITTER OF THE GAME
Justin Williams, Stone Crabs: The right fielder had his best game since returning from the disabled list, going 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Nick Sawyer, Stone Crabs: Making his first home appearance since 2015 Tommy John surgery, the right-hander worked around one walk to strike out three in a scoreless ninth, flashing a mid-90s fastball and sharp low-80s breaking ball.
Eighth: Charlotte sent 11 batters to the plate as it turned a pitcher’s duel into a rout, plating six runs on seven hits, including Grant Kay’s three-run home run.
THEY SAID IT
Manager Michael Johns: “It was a close game, and then all of a sudden we were able to jump on them. It was good to see our offense really capitalize on some situations and kind of get the game out of hand for once.”