April 26, 2014 at 6:00 AM
4/26 Cup of Coffee: It was a big night on the farm, as 2011 top pick Matt Barnes made his return to the McCoy Stadium mound to lead Pawtucket. Salem won its fourth straight behind a second consecutive sterling performance from Brian Johnson (pictured). Less positive were the results for Portland, who lost despite cranking out 16 hits, and Greenville, whose ninth-inning rally fell short.
After missing the first month of the season with shoulder soreness, Matt Barnes made his much-anticipated 2014 debut for Pawtucket. The early returns were good, as Barnes got the win in a 6-2 victory over the Rochester Red Wings (MIN). The former Connecticut Husky allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits in five innings, walking and striking out two apiece. SoxProspects.com Managing Editor Matt Huegel was in attendance, and reported that Barnes touched 97 mph on the stadium radar gun. Tommy Layne and Drake Britton tossed two scoreless innings apiece to preserve the contest for the PawSox.
The offense was led by a streaking Christian Vazquez, who was 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles, giving him a team-leading nine on the season. In his last six games, the catcher is 8 for 22 with five doubles. Daniel Nava made his first appearance since being optioned to the minors, and went 1 for 2 with two walks and a run scored. Garin Cecchini walked three times, and Corey Brown hit his first home run of the season.
In a slugfest at Hadlock Field, Portland lost 14-10 to the Trenton Thunder (NYY). Coming off a strong outing in which he struck out 11 in 4 2/3 scoreless innings, Miguel Pena was not sharp, giving up eight runs on eight hits, including three home runs. Noe Ramirez allowed a pair of runs in 2 2/3 innings, and Aaron Kurcz gave up three in 2/3 of an inning, taking the loss. Even Michael Olmsted couldn't stop the Trenton bats. After not allowing a run in his first 25 Double-A appearances dating back to 2012, the big right-hander's streak came to an end when the Thunder struck him for an RBI double in the ninth inning. Olmsted's career Double-A ERA now stands at an imperfect 0.26.
The Sea Dogs offense provided what would have been more than enough punch on most nights, reaching base 22 times on the night. Mookie Betts continued his assault of the Eastern League, going 2 for 6 with two runs scored and a stolen base. Henry Ramos was 4 for 5 with a double and two RBI, and Matt Spring went 2 for 5 with a two-run homer. Travis Shaw reached base four times, going 3 for 4 with a walk, and has raised his batting average from .114 to .254 by going 11 for 24 in the past week. The only Portland starter who did not reach base was Deven Marrero, who had previously reached in every game in 2014.
Brian Johnson was fantastic for a second consecutive outing, as Salem shut out the Lynchburg Hillcats (ATL), 10-0. Johnson, who pitched six perfect innings in his previous start, again tossed six scoreless frames on Friday night. The left-hander allowed four hits and struck out eight while walking only one. Kyle Martin finished the shutout, allowing just one hit in three innings, striking out three without walking a batter.
Mario Martinez paced the Salem offense, going 2 for 4 with a second-inning solo homer. Reed Gragnani tripled and drove in three as part of a 2-for-4 night, while Matty Johnson chipped in with two hits and a walk.
Greenville was victimized by a pair of big innings in its 9-8 loss to the Lexington Legends (KC). After cruising through four shutout innings, Lexington reached starter Mario Alcantara for four runs in fifth. With two outs in the inning, Alcantara gave way to Myles Smith, who didn't allow a run until being touched for five ninth-inning scores.
Down 9-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Drive fell just short with a big rally. After Zach Kapstein singled to lead off the inning, Bo Greenwell and Tzu-Wei Lin both walked to load the bases. A base hit by Jantzen Witte scored Kapstein, and Greenwell raced home on a wild pitch. Lexington was able retire the next two Greenville batters, but Tim Roberson came through with a two-out, two-run single to bring the Drive within one. That is where the rally would end, however, as pinch-hitter Jake Romanski grounded into a force out to end the ball game.
Witte had a monster game for Greenville. In addition to his part in the ninth-inning rally, the first baseman hit a pair of solo home runs. Greenwell also went deep for the Drive, his third home run in two games.
Player of the Day: In his past two outings, Brian Johnson has fired 12 scoreless innings, allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out 13. The 23-year-old, taken with the Red Sox second pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, has 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 25 2/3 innings on the young season.
Photo Credit: Brian Johnson by Kelly O'Connor