In the midst of a contentious playoff race, the Aberdeen IronBirds kept pace with first-place Staten Island in the New York-Penn League McNamara Division by defeating the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, 7-6, on Wednesday night. The victory ended a three-game losing streak.
IronBirds fans got a chance to glimpse top prospect Hunter Harvey. The seventh-ranked prospect in the Orioles farm system pitched two innings of shutout baseball without allowing a hit, while fanning three and walking three. Harvey threw 35 pitches, 21 for strikes. He was only expected to throw between 30-40 pitches or pitch for two innings, whichever came first. Harvey has now gone nine innings without surrendering a run in his four starts, striking out nine and walking three between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen.
The 22-year-old got into early trouble with shaky command; he walked three of the first four batters he faced before striking out the next two hitters swinging to end the top of the first. Harvey settled in after that and turned in a much more efficient second inning.
He sandwiched a strikeout in between two flyouts to right field.
"I was a little fired up early," Harvey said. "I just tried to get everything under control and my body felt great, arm felt great."
For Harvey, Wednesday was his first start of the season with the IronBirds (28-21). Before that, the farmhand previously pitched just five innings through three rehabilitation starts in the Gulf Coast League as he works his way back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction, which Harvey underwent July 26, 2016.
"I'm just trying to build confidence," Harvey said. "Just going out there and being able to throw two, three innings and not have pain and help the team out with a couple of innings is big."
The early portion of the game had all the makings of a pitchers' duel, with no runs being put on the board until the bottom of the second inning. IronBirds right fielder T.J. Nichting started the inning off with a ground-ball single that squeaked past Scrappers second baseman Dillon Persinger. Left fielder Jaylen Ferguson followed with an infield hit. After a 4-6-3 double play, Irving Ortega smoked a single into right to bring in the first run of the game for Aberdeen.
The IronBirds added two more runs in the third. The rally began with a gift courtesy of the defense, as Scrappers starter Kirk McCarthy could not field a grounder by Kirvin Moesquit. After Moesquit stole his team-leading 23rd base, Mason McCoy singled him home to double the Aberdeen lead. After the IronBirds designated hitter stole second base, Nichting drove him home to increase the lead to 3-0.
One inning later, the Aberdeen offense opened the floodgates. Eight IronBirds batted in the bottom of the fourth and they scored three runs on four hits along with a walk to take a 6-1 lead. Ortega started the run with a one-out single followed by a double by Jean Carillo to right-center field. After a single by Josh Hart moved Carillo to third, Moesquit brought him home with a sacrifice fly. McCoy walked one batter later and then scored after third baseman Trevor Craport singled and reached second on another Scrappers miscue.
"They were facing some pitchers [that threw] out of the strike zone a little bit," IronBirds manager Kevin Bradshaw said. "We didn't chase, we made them stay in the strike zone, we got some fastballs we could hit and we were able to put some balls in play and go around the bases."
After Harvey departed in the third, righty Scott Burke took over and continued to keep the Scrappers off balance. Over 4 1/3 innings, Burke allowed one run on two hits with four strikeouts and a walk. He ran into some difficulty in the top of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single to Persinger and walking center fielder Clark Scolamiero, who advanced to third on a flyout by Jason Rodriguez. Lefty Zach Matson relieved him and got Mahoning Valley shortstop Tyler Friis to ground into a 6-4-3 double play after three pitches to close out the inning.
True to their name, the Scrappers (28-20) started to work their way back into the game in the late innings, scoring twice in the eighth with both runs being charged to Matson.
Aberdeen added another run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Moesquit that scored Hart (who reached on a one-out triple), making the score 7-3 going to the final inning, and it proved to be an important insurance run. The Scrappers scored three more times in the top of the ninth before James Teague got a groundout to close the game and earn the save.
The teams will meet Thursday at 11:05 a.m. for the finale of the three-game set.