Kevin Hart hurled eight strong innings Friday as the Frederick Keys earned a spot in the Carolina League Finals with a 9-4 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks.
Hart (1-0) allowed an unearned run on five hits, struck out eight and did not walk a batter. Pitching in what he called "the biggest game of my career," the 23-year-old right-hander enjoyed his longest outing of the season.
"I felt good and I felt fresh," said Hart, who pitched an inning of relief on Monday and last started on Aug. 30, when he tossed 4 1/3 innings against Lynchburg. "I hadn't pitched in a while, so I was able to extend myself."
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hart said he felt comfortable from the outset.
"I felt really good in the bullpen," he said. "That doesn't always translate into results, but tonight it did. I wish I always felt this good in the bullpen and then followed it up on the mound like tonight."
The Keys jumped out to a 3-0 lead after three innings. Vito Chiaravalloti opened the scoring with a solo shot in the second. Mario Delgado delivered an RBI double and scored on Chiaravalloti's sacrifice fly in the third, though Delgado's hit caused a scary moment.
His line drive up the middle hit starter Michael Rozier above his left ear. The 21-year-old left-hander immediately went down and stayed down for nearly 30 minutes before leaving on a stretcher. He was taken to a local hospital, where he reportedly was in good condition.
Hart called it "one of the scariest things I've ever seen on the field. As a pitcher, you know it's a possibility, but you try not to think about it."
When Hart went out for the bottom of the third, he admitted he was thinking about Rozier's injury.
"It was in the back of my head, but you just have to try and block it out," he said.
After the delay, the Blue Rocks responded with a run in the third, when Jeff Natale reached on a fielder's choice and scored on shortstop Travis Brown's error.
Frederick came back with a four-run fourth on Jason Fransz's two-run single and Nolan Reimold's two-run homer.
Reimold went 3-for-3 with a walk and three runs scored, Chiaravalloti chipped in two hits and three RBIs and Tripper Johnson was 2-for-5 with an RBI for the Keys, who totaled 15 hits.
Rozier (0-1) allowed three runs on six hits and a walk with one strikeout over 2 1/3 innings.
Jeff Natale went 3-for-4 and Ian Bladergroen blasted a three-run homer in the ninth for the Blue Rocks.