By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — All the Charlotte Stone Crabs needed was for Palm Beach starting pitcher Matt Pearce to leave the game for them to get a win on Thursday night.
Pearce threw a three-hit complete game last time he was in Port Charlotte, and seemed like he was going to replicate that start again up until the seventh inning.
The Stone Crabs were able to chase him out of the game with one out in the seventh inning. Charlotte scored a run in the seventh, and another in the eighth to take a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.
“When you look back at the game, you have to look at the overall body of work,” manager Michael Johns said. “We had opportunities early, but that guys is really good. He’s been giving us fits.”
Andrew Velazquez had a leadoff single on a bunt attempt in the seventh, and moved to third when Cristian Toribio reached on an infield single. Jake Cronenworth had a pinch-hit RBI fielder’s choice to drive in Velazquez for the game-tying run.
They used some small ball again in the eighth to take the lead. Grant Kay began things with a walk, and then stole second base before reaching third on an out. Jonah Heim hit a grounder to the shortstop, who attempted to throw out Kay at home, but was unable to catch the speedy runner.
It was rehab day at Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday, as three members of the Tampa Bay Rays used the Stone Crabs game as a chance to get healthy.
Alex Cobb made his first appearance in a game since being taken off his rehab assignment two weeks ago to fine-tune his mechanics.
“It’s not frustrating,” said Cobb, whose fastball consistently sat at 92 mph. “The process itself – the rehab – is frustrating, but the fact that I had a minor hiccup issue, that’s not frustrating. If that’s the worst thing that happens with my surgery and my rehab then I’ll be very happy.”
As expected, Cobb threw 41 pitches over three innings of work Thursday. He retired each of the first five batters he faced, before allowing a double and an RBI single in consecutive at-bats.
That was the lone run Cobb surrendered, as he allowed three hits, struck out a pair, and didn’t walk any. Of those 41 pitches, 31 were for strikes, and he threw 7-of-12 first-pitch strikes.
“I’m just going out there like I would for a normal game,” Cobb said. “There’s still some sharpening of pitches that’s going to come. I can feel that each time I go out. I feel better and better.”
Cobb was joined in Charlotte by Mikie Mahtook and new teammate Matt Duffy, who was acquired in a trade-deadline deal which sent Matt Moore to the San Francisco Giants.
It was Mahtook’s second game in as many days with the Stone Crabs. He went 1-for-3 on both Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday’s single was a blooper to left, with Thursday’s single coming off a hard-hit ball up the middle. He also drew a walk on Thursday.
“My hand feels awesome; my body feels great,” said Mahtook, who is recovering from a fractured hand. “I’m just trying to see as many pitches as I can, and trying to put good swings on pitches, and try to slow it down. When you’re away from the game that long, things tend to speed up.”
Thursday was Duffy’s Rays organization debut, as he works to come back from an Achilles injury. Playing six innings at shortstop, Duffy went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit single in his second at-bat, but wasn’t tested at all in the field.
On a team with 20-plus strangers, he said it made him more comfortable that there were at least two people he knows of.
“It’s nice to have Mikie and Alex here,” Duffy said. “I don’t know them personally very well, but I’m familiar with them from playing against them. It makes it a little easier. It seems kind of like when I was drafted. Everybody is new. I’m just trying to remember as many names as possible.”
Duffy says he expects to play again in Charlotte on Friday, with a tentative plan to join the Rays on their upcoming road trip. The decision on Mahtook is still day-to-day, and will likely spend a few more games with the Stone Crabs.
The plan for Cobb is still up in the air, and says the timetable is moving slowly, but he is making progressions.