By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Yes, the Stone Crabs needed a win Monday night.
After falling 2-1 to Palm Beach in the continuation of Sunday’s suspended game, Charlotte had become losers of three straight games since Saturday, scoring exactly one run in each defeat.
But it’s possible that Greg Harris needed a win even more. The right-hander hadn’t won in seven starts dating to May 12, and the Stone Crabs hadn’t won a game in which he pitched since June 2.
So when Harris hopped off the mound after completing a seven-inning, two-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory over the Cardinals, he and his teammates could finally breathe a much-needed sigh of relief.
“That was a good outing for me. I needed it,” Harris said. “It was good getting the win tonight for the team.”
Harris (5-5) allowed four baserunners in the outing — a walk in the first, a two-out double and walk in the second and a single in the fifth — while striking out four. The right-hander retired the final eight batters he faced, needing 98 pitches (60 strikes) to complete his first scoreless start since April 20.
The difference, he said, was in his mechanics. Harris said he and pitching coach Steve “Doc” Watson have been focusing on simplifying his delivery to the point where he was no longer “jumping” toward the plate, and it helped him smooth out his command on Monday.
“That was his best outing of the year,” manager Michael Johns said. “He pitched with the fastball and cutter primarily — 90 percent, probably — and just got a lot of swing and misses, a lot of bad contact. He was awesome.”
The performance came at a crucial juncture for the Stone Crabs, who had lost three of four games to open the second half of the season and used two relievers in a doubleheader Saturday and two more to finish out Sunday’s suspended game on Monday.
Charlotte resumed that game trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the third inning, but quickly tied it on Alec Sole’s run-scoring single off Palm Beach right-hander Blake McKnight.
Knuckleballer Jeff Howell replaced Sunday starter Henry Centeno (three innings, three hits, one unearned run) and gave the Stone Crabs five strong innings of relief, but took the loss after giving up the go-ahead single to Cole Lankford in the fifth.
Charlotte totaled only four baserunners the rest of the way.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first game,” Johns said. “It was just sloppy play, and we’re not driving guys in. And when that happens, every little thing is magnified.”
In Game 2, though, the Stone Crabs finally got the hits in big spots when they needed them. Sole hit a one-out triple off Matt Pearce and scored on a Justin Williams single in the fourth. Catcher Armando Araiza then drove in Williams with a two-out hit.
That put Charlotte up two, and Harris handled the rest.
“I just tried to stay smooth and hit my spots,” Harris said. “And that’s what I did.”
CARDINALS 2, STONE CRABS 1
STONE CRABS 2, CARDINALS 0
HITTER OF THE DAY
Alec Sole, Stone Crabs: He only had one hit in each game, but they were both big ones. In Game 1, he drove in Charlotte’s lone run. In Game 2, he tripled and scored the team’s first.
PITCHER OF THE DAY
Greg Harris, Stone Crabs: Picked up his first win since May 12, throwing seven shutout innings while allowing only two hits and striking out four.
Fourth, Game 2: Charlotte doubled the run total it had produced in each of the previous three games in one inning, scoring two runs on a triple from Sole and RBI singles from Justin Williams and Armando Ariza.
THEY SAID IT
Right-hander Greg Harris: “I felt good. I’ve been working on this stuff with Doc. I just stayed easier with my mechanics and pounded the zone.”