By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — A baseball manager makes dozens of decision day in and day out.
Most of the decisions likely go unnoticed, but then there are some, like lineup changes, that are hard to miss.
One move Charlotte Stone Crabs skipper Michael Johns made on Wednesday stuck out like a sore thumb to anybody who’s been paying attention to his team’s lineup.
Cristian Toribio, a typical bottom-of-the-order batter for the Stone Crabs, was the cleanup hitter in Wednesday’s 1-0 rain-shortened win over the Jupiter Hammerheads.
“Toribio has been swinging the bat as good as anybody lately,” said Johns, who attributed days off for other players as a key factor in the decision. “He’s controlled at-bats. He’s laid off the offspeed, and he deserved it. He’s been really hot lately. He’s probably the hottest hitter on the team lately.”
Toribio made his manager look like a genius, not only going 3-for-3, but scoring the game’s only run to propel Charlotte to a much-needed win against the Florida State League South Division leaders. It was the second straight game that Toribio scored the only run of the night.
Upon learning the news he’d be batting fourth, the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was thrilled.
“It was really good. I felt some pride,” the third baseman said. “It wouldn’t be possible (to score those two runs) without my teammates.”
It was his first time batting cleanup after spending most of the year hitting seventh or eighth.
Toribio is hitting .313 in the month of August, and .267 over the last 30 days. The three hits on Wednesday extended his hitting streak to five games.
When a team scores only one run in a win, it usually means there was a stellar performance out of the starting pitcher. That was true for Charlotte’s Greg Harris.
The lean right-hander (9-6) picked up where his fellow hurlers left off the previous night, tossing six scoreless innings. Tuesday night, Chase Whitley, working on a rehab assignment for Tampa Bay, and two relievers, blanked the Hammerheads on seven hits over nine innings.
Harris had at least one strikeout in each of the six innings, totaling seven for the night. He allowed three hits and three walks, while only two runners advanced to scoring position, none of which touched third base.
“I think he’s really put in a lot of hard work,” Johns said. “He’s really listened to our pitching coach and the pitching coordinator, and he’s really reinvented himself. His velocity keeps creeping up at a time where everyone else’s velocity in this league usually goes down.”
Harris has really turned things around after a July to forget, where he had a 5.33 earned run average over five appearances. Since the calendar flipped to August, Harris is 3-1 in four appearances with a 1.08 ERA, while holding opposing batters to a .159 average.
He got credit for a shutout when the game was called due to poor playing conditions in the sixth inning after the rain from a heavy thunderstorm flooded the Charlotte Sports Park field.
Although it seems like once the game became official, the Stone Crabs would’ve lobbied for the game to be shortened in order to insure a win, Johns showed empathy for the position his counterpart was in, having known what it’s like to be in his shoes.
“It has to be a collective decision between me and the other manager,” Johns said on the decision to call Wednesday’s game. “If I was down in the game, I’d want some compassion from the other manager, and most of the other managers are the same way. You don’t want to cheat someone out of a win, but if the field is unplayable, you put your players in harms way, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’d have done if we’d played tonight.”