By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Charlotte Stone Crab pitchers didn’t allow a baserunner until the sixth inning Thursday night on the way to a 9-4 victory over the Jupiter Hammerheads that completed a sweep of the visitors and left the teams tied atop the Florida State League’s South Division.
Enny Romero and Mike Franco combined to retire the first 17 hitters before a broken-bat blooper to shallow right field by Brian Schales halted the run of perfection..
“Our pitchers were just outstanding,” manager Michael Johns said. “They were great all series, and obviously the offense set the the tone for us early. It was a good night.”
Romero, on a rehab assignment for the Tampa Bay Rays, started Charlotte on the right foot with a pair of strikeouts in a perfect first inning. Franco took to the mound in the second, and proceeded to retire the first 14 batters he faced.
Franco (7-4) allowed only the hit by Schales in five innings that included four strikeouts and no walks. It took that kind of outing from Franco to overshadow the five-run first inning for the Stone Crabs.
Charlotte sent nine batters to the plate in the opening frame for an offensive explosion they had been recently lacking. Oswaldo Arcia another rehabbing Ray, homered in his first two at-bats, driving in a total of three runs.
“It’s nice to not have to play a one or two run game every single night,” Johns said. “It gives you a little breathing room, and guys can relax. It’s goo to play those one-run games, because you have to win those, but it’s also nice to score five runs in the first inning.”
The tone was set by Andrew Velazquez, who had a leadoff stand-up triple to begin the game. Oswaldo followed with his first home run, and Grant Kay had a ground-rule double after that.
Charlotte had 10 hits in the game, with the first five going for extra bases. The Stone Crabs didn’t record a single until the fifth inning.
Jose Alvarado relieved Franco in the seventh, and struck out the first four batters he faced. It was the second night in a row Stone Crab pitchers struck out at least 10 batters. Alex Smith entered the game in the ninth, retired two batters, allowed three hits and a grand slam to Taylor Ard for all of Jupiter’s runs.
Grant Kay was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, as he also scored two runs. Jace Conrad and Cristian Toribio each had two runs batted in.