Kyle Hart wasn't the biggest name on the mound in Thursday's Eastern League matchup, but he brought the bigger game.
The 25-year-old left-hander tossed a two-hitter in Double-A Portland's 5-0 win over Erie at Hadlock Field, taking down Detroit's No. 5 prospect Beau Burrows in the second game of a doubleheader. Hart (7-7) retired the final 11 batters he faced to pick up his first win in almost a month.
Video: Portland's Hart records final out
"I don't know how much stock I put into a seven-inning shutout, but I guess it technically counts so that's pretty cool," Hart said. "I don't really think I was doing anything different than I have been. Just trying to get ahead, and once I got ahead and proved I was throwing strikes, just expand the zone a bit in all directions."
Hart got into some early trouble in the top of the first inning, allowing a one-out single to right to No. 10 Detroit prospect Willi Castro and walking eighth-ranked Daz Cameron with one out. The 6-foot-5 southpaw ran the count full on Josh Lester before striking him out looking and inducing a flyout from Tigers No. 12 Isaac Paredes to end the frame.
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"If you really wanted to dial it up and see where I've struggled [this year], it's the first couple innings," Hart said. "When I give up runs in the first couple innings, I give up more than just one or two, I get beat there. If I get the chance to settle in, I feel like I do that really well. Castro getting on put me in the stretch the first time, and I ran away from my mechanics a bit."
After striking out four of the next six batters, Hart gave up a leadoff double to Cameron in the fourth and walked Paredes two batters later, setting up another two-on, one-out situation. Danny Woodrow flew out to left, and after a double steal put runners in scoring position in a 1-0 game, Will Maddox grounded out to second to end the threat.
"[The] walk in the fourth was slightly intentional after I got behind," Hart said. "After that, I feel like I elevated really well -- one of the keys for me is elevating when I'm ahead. With the wind [blowing straight out], I was just trying to attack, get the ball down at the knees early in the count and get my two-seam and changeup going. Any barreled-up fly ball was going to have a chance to go out or hit a gap."
Hart put it on cruise control from there, retiring the side in order in each of the final three innings to secure his first career shutout. He struck out five batters, the third straight start in which he's registered at least that many whiffs, and threw 67 of his 102 pitches for strikes.
The 19th-round pick by the Red Sox in 2016 didn't allow more than two runs in nine of his first 11 starts this season and was 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA through June 16. He was tagged for at least seven runs in three of his next five starts as his ERA jumped to 4.37 in mid-July but has pitched well recently, going 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and 17-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 17 innings in his past three starts to bring his ERA back under 4.00.
"I don't think my rough stretch was a whole lot different than the beginning of the year and now when I've been getting guys out consistently," Hart said. "Good Double-A hitters strung together a few good games off me. I talked to my catcher [Austin Rei] and pitching coach [Paul Abbott], and when I was getting hit, every pitch was at the same level at two sides of the plate, at the knees and thighs going in and out rather than down and up."
Rei delivered the big blow for the Sea Dogs, hitting a two-run homer with two outs in the fifth to extend the lead to 4-0. Top Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis and Johnny Bladel reached base three times apiece and each scored a run.
Burrows (8-8) lasted 3 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out five. It marked the third time in five starts that the 21-year-old right-hander, a first-round pick in 2015, didn't complete four innings, but his presence on the mound alone was on Hart's mind, even if he didn't change the southpaw's strategy.
"He's pretty [darn] good, and it took him beating himself to give us a chance to score [early]," Hart said. "My strategy doesn't really change ... I'm just trying to control their offense, and knowing we might not get a whole lot of offense. In the back of your mind, you know you're going to have to be really good going up against somebody like that."
Portland also won the first game of the twinbill, 9-1, behind a strong pitching performance from Matthew Kent (7-7). The left-hander allowed one run on five hits and one walk while striking out five in six innings.
The Sea Dogs blasted four home runs in the opener. Luke Tendler and Chad De La Guerra each crushed a two-run shot while Chavis and 10th-ranked prospect Josh Ockimey added solo homers. Ockimey smacked an RBI double and Tendler contributed a run-scoring single.