By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Michael Franco was superb in a crucial relief appearance Saturday to help the Charlotte Stone Crabs to a 5-3 victory over the Fort Myers Miracle
Starting pitcher Grayson Garvin allowed five of the first six batters he faced to reach base, as the Miracle jumped out to a 3-0 lead with two outs in the first inning.
Charlotte manager Michael Johns was quick to go to the bullpen as he optioned for Franco, a right-hander who prior to Saturday hadn’t gone longer than 3.1 innings or 60 pitches all season.
Franco (6-4) did his job, and then some, going 4.1 innings, allowing just one hit, but most importantly, giving his team a chance to catch up after the early deficit.
“Our bullpen went eight and a third of no runs which is unbelievable,” Johns said. “We wanted to stretch out Franco today anyway, so it worked out, but we weren’t expecting four and a third out of him. He was outstanding.”
The Stone Crabs offense quickly took Garvin off the hook for a loss, scoring two runs in the first and another in the second before taking the lead for good with a run in the third.
“The two runs in the first inning are huge,” Johns said. “We could not have a shutdown inning there. IT just seems like when we do, we’re not able to win the game.”
Jace Conrad had a 4-for-4 night with a double, three singles, a run batted in and two runs scored. He led off the second with his double, and was driven in by Grant Kay, who was the other Charlotte batter with a multi-hit game going 2-for-4.
Nick Ciuffo picked up his first hit since returning from the disabled list. He reached base three times, with a single, fielder’s choice and a walk. He had an RBI in the first inning, and scored the go-ahead run in the third.
Jose Alvardo also threw a much-needed scoreless relief outing. He held the Miracle to two hits over two innings of work. Diego Castillo had a two-inning save, his third of the year.