By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — It’s been quite a while since Burch Smith pitched in a stadium for a team during the regular season – 1,373 days to be exact.
The Charlotte Stone Crabs pitcher has had a long journey since injuring the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow after spring training of 2014.
“I’ve worked really hard to get back to here, I feel great, and I’m ready to get back into it,” Smith said Saturday. “It was really exciting. There were a lot of emotions. I was really anxious for today to come. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on everything, and I’ve thought about that moment for a really long time.”
Smith started for the Stone Crabs in the opener of a doubleheader on Saturday, helping them to a 3-0 win before the Cardinals took the second game, 4-1.
“He has really good stuff. You can see why he’s pretty highly touted,” Charlotte manager Michael Johns said. “It’s good to see him healthy and to come out and say he felt good.”
Smith, whose list of injuries are for another story at another time, tossed 3.1 scoreless innings in his Stone Crabs debut. He surrendered just one hit and had four strikeouts in the outing.
Brett Sullivan drove in all three Stone Crabs runs in Game 1. Sullivan’s big shot came on a two-run home run in the fifth inning. It was his fifth homer of the season and upped his runs batted in total to 48.
The catcher also singled in a run in the third inning. That hit plated Jake Cronenworth, who hit his fifth triple of the season earlier in the inning.
“He’s a really good hitter and that was much needed in the first game,” Johns said of Sullivan. “Those were three big, two-out RBI he had.”
Stone Crabs relievers Michael Velasquez and Dalton Moats held it down for Smith after his outing. Velasquez earned the win, going 2.2 innings while allowing just two hits and a walk. Moats recorded his fifth save of the season with a scoreless seventh inning.
Charlotte pitchers allowed just four hits on the game. David Olmedo-Barrera, Sullivan and Cronenworth all had multi-hit games in the win.
Game 2 didn’t go as well for Charlotte, as it fell behind 4-0 early and couldn’t recover.
Starting pitcher Roel Ramirez had a strange outing in the loss. Ramirez’s first five outs were all on strikeouts, but then he lost his command and couldn’t make it out of the third inning.
“It just seems like he’s been losing his command in the second inning. I’m not really sure why,” Johns said. “When he’s in the strike zone, he’s as good as anybody. Hopefully, we can get it ironed out and he can give us some more length.”
Reliever Hunter Adkins also surrendered a pair of runs in his 2.2 innings of relief work. Six different Stone Crabs managed a hit in the loss.
The third game of a four-game series is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. today.