SHACKLED: Trent Howard and two relievers combined on a four-hitter as the Frederick Keys beat the Salem Red Sox 1-0 on Saturday in front of a season-high crowd of 4,425 at Salem Memorial Ballpark.
MASTER OF HIS CRAFT: Howard isn’t an overpowering lefty – “I’ll tickle 90 if I’m lucky,” he said – but held the Carolina League’s top offensive club to only one hit over six innings.
A seventh round pick by the Orioles last year out of Central Michigan University, Howard was making just his second start at the High Class A level after going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in six appearances at Low-A Delmarva.
“My curveball was better than it’s been all year,” said Howard, who struck out five and walked two. “I’d been having a hard time throwing that for strikes. It’s always had good bite; I just hadn’t had the control there. But it was there today.”
COUCH NO SLOUCH: Howard’s counterpart, Sox right-hander Keith Couch, was nearly as good. The Keys managed just four hits against him through six innings, as Couch struck out five and walked one.
The only mistake he made was throwing back-to-back changeups – and leaving the second one up – in the fifth inning against Keys first baseman Aaron Baker, who clubbed it over the fence in right to produce the game’s only run.
DOWN FOR WHATEVER: Couch’s role with the staff has been fluid since the team added Matt Barnes to the rotation. The Sox are going with six starters during a heavy stretch of games, but Couch also will work out of the bullpen.
“I’ve done both the past three years,” Couch said. “It’s something that doesn’t affect me, and the organization knows that, so they’ll use me both ways. I’ll do anything, as long as I’m pitching.”\
LOOSE ENDS: The Sox squandered a two-on, one-out situation in the seventh and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s one-out double in the eighth…Sox reliever Pete Ruiz continues to deliver. He allowed just one hit over three scoreless innings and now sports a 1.31 ERA…Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4 to lead Salem’s offense…The Sox set a season high for attendance for the second straight night.
ON DECK: The three-game series concludes at 4:05 p.m. today, with Keys RHP Kyle Simon (1-6, 5.05) scheduled to face Sox RHP Brandon Workman (2-1, 3.65). — Aaron McFarling
Online only tidbits:
-This is the second straight night this offense has struggled, but that shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. Salem’s two top hitters are lefties — Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw — who both took last night off before facing a southpaw who was really on his game tonight.
-The Keys entered this series with the worst record in the Carolina League — and still own it — but some new blood is helping the clubhouse vibe. “I definitely feel like there’s a newer energy with this team,” Howard said. “There’s not a whole lot of quit in here, that’s for sure. And we’re starting to get more and more new guys that are helping to revive that.”
-Howard said he normally works in the 87-88 mph range. Still, you don’t see many guys at this level command four pitches the way he did tonight. He said he normally throws a lot of sliders to righties to try to jam them but didn’t even have to go to that pitch much tonight.
-Keys reliever Matt Bywater sports a moustache that was the envy of every aspiring adult film star in attendance.
-Bradley also had a walk in addition to his double. He’s hitting .366.
-Tough night for Shaw, who’s still batting .350 after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He clearly was disgruntled when he was called out on strikes to end the bottom of the eighth. Several Sox players gave second glances to the umpire on pitches ruled to be strikes on the outer half.
-The attendance thing is a good sign. Salem came into this series second to last in the Carolina League in average attendance but has nearly packed this place in games one and two. The weather’s been perfect — something that couldn’t be said for the majority of the home dates before this weekend.