Memorial Day is a day for remembrance of the brave men and women who protected our freedom and allowed this country to become what it is today. And what better way to celebrate our country than by taking a nine-inning vacation with America’s pastime? While the Boston Red Sox were in Fenway, the Portland Sea Dogs were also at home, taking on the Reading Fightin’ Phils. Unfortunately, the Sea Dogs fell short, losing the matching 8-3.
After two scoreless innings, the Portland Sea Dogs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Thanks to a walk and three consecutive singles, the Sea Dogs loaded the bases with one run already on the board. They had a chance to blow the game open after Fighting Phils starter Ranger Suarez walked in the second run. However, the Sea Dogs offense couldn’t capitalize.
The Sea Dogs entered the top of the sixth with a 2-1 lead when the wheels started falling off the wagon. Sea Dogs starter Matthew Kent, who had a great game prior to the fifth inning, allowed two singles and a walk to start the inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, Portland turned to the bullpen. Unfortunately, that was a bad decision.
The first arm out of the pen was former seventh overall pick Trey Ball. Ball, the once-promising starter turned reliever, proceeded to give up a grand slam to Jain Hernandez, making it a 5-2 game. While he didn’t allow any additional runs to cross the plate, the damage was already done.
Portland answered with a Jeremy Rivera solo shot in the bottom of the eighth, but it was too little, too late. The Sea Dogs bullpen allowed three additional late runs, and the offense couldn’t muster up a comeback. In all, it was a disappointing 8-3 loss on an otherwise beautiful Maine day.
Kent’s stat line does not accurately reflect the most dominant performance he had. Entering the game with a strong 2.81 ERA, it’s easy to see why Kent’s ERA was so low. While Kent’s fastball sits in the mid 80’s, his offspeed pitches more than make up for the lack of speed in his fastball.
The Fighting Phils had no answer for the dip on his changeup. The pitch mirrored his fastball perfectly but dropped at the very last second. Likewise, his slider and curve boasted late movement that the Reading offense clearly had a difficult time picking up. All of his eight strikeouts came on swing-and-misses, which shows just how much movement his pitches have.
Kent only walked one batter and showed a strong command of the strike zone all game long. While he did allow a few baserunners, all the hits he allowed were singles. Additionally, most of the singles came on weak contact, where the ball just happened to go where the fielders weren’t. Not much you can do about that.
Kent’s name isn’t on anyone’s radar right now, and that’s mostly due to his velocity issues. In today’s MLB, most teams want a guy that can, at the very least hit the mid- to low-90’s. Kent isn’t that type of guy, but he has the all the other makings of a major league pitcher. His offspeed pitches are good enough to keep hitters guessing, and his fastball is a good 7-10 mph faster than the changeup. If batters sit offspeed, they won’t have time to react to the fastball. He’s still facing an uphill battle to the majors, but players like Koji Uehara have shown you don’t need high velocity to succeed in the majors.
Shortstop Jeremy Rivera provided a bit of pop in an otherwise quiet night for the offense. Serving as the teams leadoff hitter, Rivera drove in the first run of the game in the third inning with a single up the middle. Later in the game, Rivera hit a dinger over the left field fence. For those who have never been to Hadlock Field, the Sea Dogs have a green monster of their own, and Rivera cleared the giant wall.
Rivera’s home run was the only extra-base hit of the night for the Sea Dogs. Portland has struggled all season long to score runs, yet Rivera has been one of the bright spots of the season. He’s still a long way from the majors, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as a non-roster invite to next years Spring Training.
The minor leagues have not been friendly for the former seventh overall pick. Despite his lofty draft pedigree, Ball has never made it past Portland in his minor league career. After a failed run as a starter, Ball has been converted to a reliever, but the results haven’t been much better.
Ball came into the game with the bases loaded in the sixth and gave up a grand slam against the first batter he faced. While he only had one earned run against him, part of a reliever’s job is ensuring the inherited runners don’t score. Ball’s ERA sits around 6.00 on the season, and he cannot consistently beat AA competition. Quite frankly, this is a pick former general manager Ben Cherington wishes he could do again.
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