By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — When Jonny Venters came out of the bullpen to take the mound for the Stone Crabs in the sixth inning Tuesday, it was a great sign for Charlotte’s parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays.
It was the veteran left-hander’s fourth appearance for the High-A club and first on back-to-back days since August 2012. It meant that Venters, who was once one of the most dominant setup men in baseball before undergoing three Tommy John surgeries in two years, was one step closer to returning to the majors.
But it didn’t lead to anything positive for the Stone Crabs on Tuesday. Venters entered to preserve a tie game and instead allowed Dunedin to plate the go-ahead runs in an eventual 8-5 victory.
The left-hander allowed one of the two Greg Harris runners he inherited to score on a 6-4-3 double play, then gave up a two-out single to L.B. Dantzler and a back-breaking, two-run home run to Ryan McBroom — the same All-Star first baseman who hit the go-ahead three-run home run on Monday.
“That guy has hit two home runs on two sliders, and they have both killed us,” manager Michael Johns said. “But ultimately, the bigger picture is that Venters pitched back-to-back days and felt good.”
Still, it threw a wet blanket over what, until that inning, had been an impressive come-from-behind effort from the Stone Crabs. Even with Harris turning in what equaled the second-worst start of his 2016 season — he gave up five runs on nine hits and two walks through his first five frames — he started the sixth with still a chance to win.
Dunedin struck first in the opening run, scoring a run on a walk, two singles and a passed ball before Harris recorded his first out. Emilio Guerrero, who also homered Monday, drove in a second run with a 4-3 groundout, and Dantzler, who hit the first RBI single, scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.
“Harris could have caved in after that first inning. But instead, he gave us five-plus,” Johns said. “That’s a learning lesson for him. For all the pitchers. You’re going to give up some runs, and it might be in the first inning, but you have to keep pitching.”
Charlotte quickly climbed back into the contest against Blue Jays starter Taylor Cole. In the bottom of the same frame, Justin Williams brought home a run with a groundout and Alec Sole contributed an RBI double to cut the early deficit to 3-2.
When one right-hander struggled, the other seemed to follow suit. When Harris gave up back-to-back leadoff singles in the third and allowed both to score on a D.J. Davis groundout and Dickie Joe Thon single, the Stone Crabs backed their starter up with three runs off Cole in the bottom of the following frame.
Grant Kay hit an RBI double to left-center, Thomas Milone roped an run-scoring triple to right-center and Riley Unroe knotted the contest at five apiece when he brought home Milone with a single to right.
“It was a great comeback,” Johns said. “They just outhit us. We got in a slugfest with them and they won it.”
Harris came back out to attempt to hold the game there in the sixth, but it simply wasn’t his night on Tuesday. The right-hander allowed his career-worst 10th and 11th hits to open the frame before exiting in favor of Venters, who became the second Stone Crabs reliever in as many nights to give up a trio of go-ahead runs.
And where the Charlotte bullpen faltered, Dunedin’s dug in. After giving up a leadoff single Andrew Velazquez in the fifth, Cole, Alonzo Gonzalez, Jose Fernandez and Colton Turner combined to retire the final 14 Stone Crabs they faced.
“Our guys played hard. They battled,” Johns said. “You have losing, but I don’t feel bad about this loss. We played our butts off. We just didn’t come out ahead.”
BLUE JAYS 8, STONE CRABS 5
HITTER OF THE GAME
Ryan McBroom, Blue Jays: The first baseman did it again on Tuesday, going 2-for-5 and hitting the back-breaking, late-inning home run, this one a two-run shot in the sixth off Jonny Venters.
PITCHERS OF THE GAME
Alonzo Gonzalez, Jose Fernandez and Colton Turner, Blue Jays: Combined to finish the game with 3 2/3 innings of no-hit, six-strikeout relief to preserve the victory.
Sixth: Dunedin broke open a tie game with a three-run frame, hitting two leadoff singles to chase Charlotte starter Greg Harris and bringing three runners home on a double play and McBroom’s two-run home run off Venters.
THEY SAID IT
Manager Michael Johns: “You always have to be prepared in case something blows up. But it was a good job by (Harris) getting out of that (first inning) and settle in for the most part. He gave up some hits, but he kept us in the game.”