PORTLAND, Maine — No snow, no ice, no standing water … Not even gray skies greeted fans and players as the Portland Sea Dogs opened their 2009 Eastern League season at home as uncharacteristic April sunshine and warm weather graced Hadlock Field.
“I was telling some of the guys earlier that we were getting spoiled tonight because it’s not going to be like this forever,” said Portland right fielder Bubba Bell.
Unfortunately for Bell and the rest of the Dogs, Connecticut didn’t follow the rest of the storybook script as four pitchers combined to limit Portland to four hits in the Defenders’ 3-0 victory Thursday night.
“Those guys pitched. They worked ahead in the count and really pounded the outside part of the plate,” said Arnie Beyeler the Portland manager of Boston’s Double-A affiliate. “We only had that one bases-loaded situation and that was with two outs. We didn’t get too many people to third base.”
Not that Beyeler didn’t have his own pitching to crow about.
Junichi Tazawa, the 22-year-old righthander signed as an international free agent out of the Japan Industrial League last December, made his American professional debut with a five-inning, four-hit effort that impressed Connecticut manager and former big league catcher Steve Decker.
“I have to tip my hat to their starting pitcher. What a phenomenal pitcher he is,” Decker said. “He was hitting 93 [mph] and throwing 2-0 breaking balls to number eight hitters and 3-1 breaking balls. … He has a bright future ahead of him.”
Tazawa threw 44 of 66 pitches for strikes while notching seven strikeouts against just one walk. He also allowed one run.
“He throws his off-speed stuff behind in the count and his fastball when he’s ahead and behind,” Beyeler said. “He’s got a pretty good feel looking at hitters and reading swings. I think he and [catcher Mark] Wagner worked very well tonight.”
The Defenders got on the scoreboard first, courtesy of a two-out RBI double down the left-field line by Brett Pill in the top of the fourth. He scored Eddy Martinez-Esteve from second after Martinez-Esteve walked and advanced to second on a groundout.
Connecticut doubled its lead in the seventh via a solo home run to dead center by Mike Mooney, who also tripled in his previous at-bat. Mooney’s 420-foot shot cleared the high center field wall easily and quickly.
“I got a fastball, which is the same thing he threw me on the triple,” Mooney said. “I’ve just been feeling comfortable at the plate in spring training and it’s carried over to this first game.”
The Defenders’ pushed their lead to 3-0 in the eighth via Jackson Williams’ leadoff double down the left-field line and Brian Bocock’s RBI single to the same spot with one out.
“We had a chance to score five or six runs, but we were 1-for-6 with guys at third base,” Decker said.
The game featured several outstanding defensive plays, the best of which was Bell’s lunging grab of a hard shot to right just short of the wall in the sixth off Bobby Felmy’s bat.
“I got a good break on it and [center fielder Josh] Reddick did a really good job letting me know exactly where I was and it was high enough for me to be able to turn around and see the wall, and I was able to pull it down,” Bell said. “I was lucky enough to get it before I hit the wall.”
Righty reliever Mike Musgrave got the win with 1¤ innings of relief in which he had three strikeouts.
“His fastball’s been awesome lately and if I had to, I could probably have him go out and play shortstop or center field,” Decker said. “He’s probably my best athlete.”