By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — For the second game in a row, the Charlotte offense faced a Fort Myers ace and top Twins prospect on the mound.
And for the second game in a row, the Stone Crabs handed that highly regarded pitcher one of their worst starts of the season.
On Sunday, it was 2013 first-round pick Kohl Stewart, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect. And after not allowing more than four runs in any of his first eight starts, the right-hander gave up five as Charlotte wrapped up a three-game sweep with a 5-1 victory over the Miracle.
“I don’t really buy into whether you’re a prospect or not. You’ve got to bring it that day,” Stone Crabs first baseman Grant Kay said. “Both the guys the last two days were pretty good, but I just felt like our lineup right now is really seeing it well and putting together quality at-bats.”
Stewart didn’t get much help from the defense behind him (two of the five runs were unearned due to three Miracle errors), but the damage was done either way. The Stone Crabs tagged him for a season-high eight hits, including four for extra bases, as they inflated his ERA from 2.36 to 2.61.
The bleeding started in the second when Kay singled, moved to third when catcher Brian Olson airmailed a throw into center field on a stolen base attempt and scored on Jace Conrad’s two-out bloop single.
Fort Myers brought the infield in an effort to stop Charlotte scoring a second run in the third after Thomas Milone doubled and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. However, first baseman Alex Real booted Andrew Velazquez’s ground ball and Milone scored on the error.
Velazquez scored on a Justin Williams RBI single that same inning to make it 3-0, and Conrad increased the lead to four in the fourth with his two-out Little League home run, tripling to right-center and scoring when shortstop Engelb Vielma’s relay throw short-hopped the third baseman and flew into the dugout for another error.
Kay added insult to injury in the fifth, celebrating his 23rd birthday by belting his second home run in as many days to give Charlotte its fifth run and himself a team-leading five long balls on the season.
“They helped us a little bit by not playing great defense, and we were able to capitalize on it,” manager Michael Johns said. “That guy had been pitching well this year, Stewart, but Chirinos just kept matching him.”
That would be Stone Crabs starter Yonny Chirinos, who turned in his fourth straight quality start since joining the rotation on May 14. It also was his fifth straight outing of six or more innings with fewer than 84 pitches thrown dating to his last start with Low-A Bowling Green on May 7.
The right-hander scattered four hits over his seven innings, retiring 15 straight batters during a stretch between the second and seventh innings. The only run against him scored in the seventh, when Real hit the first of two back-to-back, one-out singles and scored on Logan Wade’s groundout.
“He just throws strike one, and he gets so much bad contact with his slider because it looks like his fastball,” Johns said of Chirinos, who improved to 4-0. “He just had them in knots.”
STONE CRABS 5, MIRACLE 1
HITTER OF THE GAME
Grant Kay, Stone Crabs: The first baseman celebrated his 23rd birthday in style, going 2-for-3 with his team-leading fifth home run, two runs scored and a stolen base.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Yonny Chirinos, Stone Crabs: The right-hander was remarkably efficient yet again, needing just 76 pitches to cruise through seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball and improve to 4-0.
Eighth: Fort Myers threatened to make it a game in the top half of the frame, loading the bases with two outs on a walk and back-to-back singles from Tanner Witt and Edgar Corcino before Charlotte reliever Jose Alvarado induced a groundout to leave them full.
THEY SAID IT
First baseman Grant Kay: “Everybody on our team seems like they’re clicking. And it’s pretty easy when the pitchers are getting ahead and giving us quality starts.”