PAWTUCKET --- It’s been more than a month-and-a-half since the Pawtucket Red Sox strung together four wins in a row, but on Wednesday afternoon, they were able to extend their win streak at the expense of the Louisville Bats.
Three-run homers from Xander Bogaerts and Mark Hamilton and a strong start from Clayton Mortensen enabled the defending International League champions to hold off a seventh-inning rally by the Bats and come away with a 6-5 win at McCoy Stadium.
Mortensen, a reliever who was making his third straight start, improved to 2-0 by working a season-high six innings (and throwing just 79 pitches), allowing six hits and a fourth-inning run (on a two-out line single to right by Kristopher Negron), striking out three batters, and walking a pair.
“He’s been effective,” said PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina, who only used Mortensen for four innings in each of his last two starts. “He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get guys out, and he did a great job, (giving us) six solid innings.
Pawtucket, meanwhile, struggled to generate any offense through the first time around its batting order against Louisville starting pitcher Chad Rogers. But when the PawSox (65-59) collected their first hit of the game with two gone in the bottom of the third inning, it was a huge one – Bogaerts’ ninth home run of the season.
With Jeremy Hazelbaker and Jackie Bradley Jr. on base via walks, Bogaerts turned on a 3-1 fastball from Rogers, and despite a breeze blowing toward the plate and knocking down hard-hit fly balls to the outfield, he deposited it deep into the berm in left-center field to give the PawSox a 3-0 lead.
“That’s big-league pop,” said DiSarcina. “That’s raw power. That’s what everyone’s excited about, the ability to hit the ball that far. I think if there was no wind, it would have went off that scoreboard somewhere because I don’t think you can hit a ball better than that. It was like it was shot out of a gun.”
The PawSox didn’t add to their hit total until the sixth, when with one gone, Bogaerts lined a single to center and Jonathan Diaz followed with an infield hit to the left side of the diamond.
Hamilton then crushed a 3-2 offering from Rogers deep into the picnic area in right for his 12th homer of the year and a 6-1 command. Hamilton, who hit a grand slam in the previous night’s game, now has 11 RBIs in the past three games.
Armed with a 6-1 lead, the bullpen took over for Mortenson in the top of the seventh, but did not fare very well. It gave up hits to the first six batters of the inning and watched the Bats (60-66) shrink their five-run deficit to one.
Jose De La Torre, who entered the day having allowed just one run in his last 17 1/3 innings of work, yielded hits to the first five batters, including an RBI double to right from Derrick Robinson, a two-run double down the left-field line by Neftali Soto, and a run-scoring single to center by Felix Perez.
“He looked tired to me,” DiSarcina said of De La Torre. “The ball really wasn’t coming out of his hand. As soon as he let it go, it was either a ball or it was something right down the middle, and (Louisville) was aggressive with him. That was, without a doubt, an aberration for him.”
Pedro Beato then relieved De La Torre, but after he instantly gave up a single to right by Henry Rodriguez, he set down the next three batters to silence the threat. After a scoreless eighth by Brayan Villarreal, closer Anthony Carter worked a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up his 17th save.
After playing five innings behind the dish on Tuesday night in his first rehab game with the PawSox, Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross went seven innings in Wednesday’s contest. He also went hitless in his first two at-bats (with a flyout to left field and a groundout to shortstop) before drawing a walk in his final plate appearance in the sixth.
“I think David was a little sluggish at the beginning, just because this was a noon game after a night game,” expressed DiSarcina. “But he felt good as the game went on. He came out of (the game) alright, and he’s great to have back there.”
Ross, who has been on Boston’s disabled list twice this season (most recently on the 60-day DL on June 18) due to concussions, was continuing a rehab assignment that began on Aug. 10 with Double-A Portland. He appeared in two rehab games with the Sea Dogs last weekend, serving as the designated hitter in the first game and the catcher in the next, and went 1-for-3 with a double, walk, runs batted in, and two runs scored.
DiSarcina repeated what he told the media after Tuesday night’s game about Boston’s plans for Ross. He will take today off, catch nine innings in Friday night’s series finale with the Bats and Saturday night’s series opener with the Buffalo Bisons, and then be reevaluated by team doctors on Sunday in Boston with the hopes of the Red Sox activating him in time for their West Coast trip that begins in San Francisco next Monday night.
Hours before the contest, the PawSox activated Villarreal from the disabled list and placed knuckleballer Charlie Haeger on the temporarily inactive list – just 12 hours after he pitched six solid innings to pick up his third win of the season.
Villarreal, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers on July 30 as part of the Jake Peavy/Jose Iglesias three-team trade that also included the Chicago White Sox, was on the DL at the time of the deal with Triple-A Toledo with a right thumb injury.
Villarreal had spent parts of the past three seasons with the Tigers, going 4-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 73 appearances, striking out 86 batters in 75 innings.
He made his PawSox debut in the eighth with the hosts ahead by a run, and despite giving up singles that put runners at the corners with one out, he was able to get out of the inning unscathed with a strikeout and a groundout. Villarreal’s fastball topped out at 97 mph and impressed his manager, who saw Villarreal in action earlier in the season with the Mud Hens and liked what he saw.
“We faced him when he was in Toledo and we saw that fastball,” said DiSarcina. “It’s an explosive fastball. He has a power arm -- I don’t think he got a chance to throw many sliders -- but he’s what we saw up in Toledo, a very exciting arm.”
EXTRA BASES: The PawSox’s win streak is their best since they won six straight games, all at the expense of Toledo, from June 22-27. ... Hazelbaker, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, stole his 31st base of the season. He is fifth in the I.L. in that category and one of only 10 players in team history to steal 30 or more bases. … Bogaerts extended his hit streak to eight games and is batting .400 (14-for-35) with seven RBIs during that stretch. … Prospect Anthony Ranaudo will make his third Triple-A start for the PawSox in tonight’s 7:05 p.m. game against the Bats and ace pitcher Greg Reynolds, who is tied for second place in the I.L. in victories with 11. Ranaudo is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in his previous two starts. … Tonight is also PawSox Back to School Notebook night, and the first 3,000 youngsters ages 14 and under that enter the stadium will receive a notebook that features Bradley Jr. on the cover.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24