MIDLAND If he would have retired two more batters, Murphy Smith would have improved to 4-0 this season.
But the 24-year-old right-hander was plenty content with a no-decision Wednesday night, because he had his best start of the year while helping the Midland RockHounds win 7-1 in a Texas League game against Frisco at Citibank Ballpark.
Smith was lifted for reliever Trey Barham with one out in the eighth inning and the score tied 1-1, and the RockHounds erupted for six runs in the bottom half of the frame.
“Obviously we won the game as it was, so you can’t argue with a manager’s decision like that,” said Smith, who threw 108 pitches in his longest outing of the year. “I’ll stand by that as long as we win.”
RockHounds manager Steve Scarsone, who watched most of the game from the clubhouse after being ejected at the end of the first inning, will stand by Smith as long he continues to pitch like he did Wednesday. The New Hampshire native began the season sharing the fifth starter’s role with Shawn Haviland, but he’s now settling into a more regular role after A.J. Griffin’s recent promotion to the Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, Calif.
Smith, who pitched at least six innings while allowing no more than two runs in three of his first four starts, had his best outing of the season against the South Division-leading RoughRiders (24-15). He allowed one run and five hits — three of which came consecutively with two outs in the fourth — with three strikeouts and two walks in a season-high 7.1 innings.
Smith, who remained 3-0 this year, lowered his ERA to 2.76.
“He did a great job,” said Frisco shortstop Jurickson Profar, who extended his hitting streak to 26 games with a fifth-inning single off Smith. “He was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches, and that helped him.”
Barham was just as good in a relief role for the RockHounds (20-19), who have won two out of three at home after losing six in a row on the road. The 26-year-old left-hander replaced Smith with one runner on base and one out in the eighth and promptly struck out left-handed hitters Brad Hawpe — a 2009 All-Star with the Colorado Rockies — and Chris McGuinness.
Then, after the RockHounds rallied for six runs in the bottom of the eighth, Barham worked a scoreless ninth to record his first win of the season.
“We haven’t really gotten a chance to see Trey pitch on a consistent basis this year. He had a little pain in the arm and we sat him down a little while,” Scarsone said. “But if you were here last year, you saw him do the exact same thing. He’s a tough, tough left-on-lefty, and that’s what’s going to be his niche to continue playing this game a long time.”
RockHounds first baseman Anthony Aliotti broke the 1-1 tie by winning a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Frisco reliever Corey Young. Aliotti came up with one out in the bottom of the eighth, after the RoughRiders intentionally walked Jeremy Barfield to load the bases, and poked a 3-2 curveball through the right side of the infield to score two runs.
“Especially when they intentionally walk the guy in front of you, you kind of get a little more competitive when that turn comes,” Aliotti said. “It’s like, ‘OK, he’s walking him to get to me,’ so I want to get him.”
Young then threw a wild pitch and issued a walk to load the bases again, and Trevor Hurley came in and walked in a run. Conner Crumbliss followed with a bases-clearing double to right-center field.
That eighth-inning outburst made a winner out of the RockHounds, who welcomed an old friend back into the third-base box. Todd Steverson, a roving hitting instructor for the A’s who managed Midland in 2007, took over for Scarsone in the second inning.
Scarsone was ejected following an argument with home-plate umpire Justin Sassaman, who called Michael Choice out on strikes to end the first inning. Choice and Sassaman had a brief exchange before Scarsone intervened and was banished to the clubhouse.
“I know what that box felt like,” Steverson said. “I’ve managed before, so we were all right. We were OK.”
Especially with Smith and Barham on the mound.
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