Sometimes a little run support makes all the difference.
In his six starts, George Kontos had allowed 14 runs. Over the course of those games, his Trenton teammates had scored 15. On Monday, the tide turned further in his favor.
Kontos matched a career high with 11 strikeouts in five innings and the Thunder offense collected 17 hits en route to a 9-5 victory over the Erie SeaWolves at Jerry Uht Park.
The 22-year-old right-hander surrendered three runs on five hits and a walk for his first win of the year, improving to 1-3. He divided his strikeouts economically, getting six swings and misses and five called third strikes.
"I worked mostly ahead in the count," Kontos said. "That allowed me to go to my slider, which led to a lot of strikeouts. It also opened up some other options -- fastball and changeup -- later in pitch counts, which I think caught some of their hitters by surprise.
"I feel like I was sharp the whole five innings however," he added. "When they scored, I think they had some terrific at-bats and put good swings on good pitches."
Kontos fell behind early, surrendering a leadoff triple to Freddy Guzman and an RBI single to Daniel Worth before recording an out in the first inning. He composed himself and whiffed the next three hitters.
"In the past, that could have been a big inning," Kontos said. "[Pitching coach] Scott Aldred has been working on my delivery from the stretch. He noticed I was pulling my throwing arm from my glove earlier in the stretch than from the windup. He implemented a slight hip turn, which helps me keep a better balance while following through. The ball stays down, whereas before it would stay up and lead to more hittable off-speed pitches."
Kontos fanned two more in the second, but surrendered two more runs in the third. He struck out the side in a perfect fourth and punctuated his performance by whiffing Daniel Worth and Wilkin Ramirez to end the fifth.
It was the most strikeouts the Northwestern product had delivered since April 17, 2007, when he fanned 11 Clearwater Threshers over 6 1/3 innings while pitching for Class A Advanced Tampa.
"It's about finding a comfort zone and running with it," Kontos said. "I felt mediocre after my bullpen session, but got on the hill and worked myself into a groove by executing my pitches and turning them into outs. And the guys in the bullpen did a terrific job to get us a win."
Trenton reliever Michael Gardner yielded a run on a hit and three walks while striking out four over two frames. Eric Wordekemper whiffed two and gave up an unearned run on three hits in two innings to notch his fifth save in as many chances.
Winners of four straight, the Thunder (20-12) took the lead for good in the second inning.
Jose Tabata doubled and scored on an RBI base hit by Joseph Muich, who crossed home plate later in the frame on Ramiro Pena's groundout to third.
Cody Ehlers cranked a two-run homer, his sixth, to right field in the third and Kevin Russo slugged a solo shot, his second, over the left-field wall in the fourth.
Tabata and Austin Jackson each collected three hits and every starter had a hit and scored once.
Erie starter Jonathan Connolly (0-1) was tagged for six runs -- five earned -- on 13 hits and a walk while fanning two in six innings.
Guzman tripled, walked twice and scored a pair of runs and Ramirez had two RBIs for the SeaWolves (15-15).