PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Tommy Phelps’ message to Justus Sheffield, after the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders southpaw loaded the bases after facing just three batters, was simple.
“First thing he came up to me and said, ‘Welcome to Triple-A,’” Sheffield said. “Laughed a little bit. We’re playing a game, so you have to have fun with it, through the bad and the good times.”
Not only did the pitching coach’s message provide Sheffield with a chuckle, but it also gave him an opportunity to settle down.
After all, he was making his Triple-A debut Sunday.
The 21-year-old retired the next three Pawtucket Red Sox he faced to get out of the inning with just a pair of Red Sox crossing home plate — on sacrifice flies off the bat of Jordan Betts and Dan Butler.
But those two runs would haunt the RailRiders, as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre failed to score and fell to the Red Sox 2-0 for the second straight game. Pawtucket (15-12) took the four-game home-and-home series 3-1 after dropping the opener to the RailRiders (13-16).
“I thought he did a great job. Had a little rough first inning, but that was it,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “Give the other team credit. They came out swinging. Put a few hits together, which we’re having trouble doing. It was good-pitched ballgame on both sides.”
Sheffield was able to battle through the 32-pitch first inning and salvage his afternoon.
He pitched 4.2 innings and allowed the two runs on just four hits and four walks while striking out six batters. Sheffield was able to pick up his pace during the middle innings, including a second inning when he struck out the side.
“I thought it went OK,” Sheffield said of his outing. “That first inning, things just happened pretty fast, then I just wanted to settle down and keep the score where it was — at least try to pitch deep in the game. I knew my pitch count was where it was. My pitch count was up in the first inning. But overall, I thought it was good for me to go out there and kind of see Triple-A hitters, Triple-A zone. Things like that.”
And the first inning was an adventure for Sheffield.
Rusney Castillo and Mike Olt both singled to sandwich an Ivan De Jesus Jr. walk to put the RailRiders starter into trouble. Things went awry for Sheffield when he just missed a strikeout of Castillo when his third pitch of the at-bat just missed the plate.
He hung a slider on the next pitch and the Pawtucket designated hitter took advantage.
“I got two quick pitches — strikes — and then I thought I landed that third one, but didn’t get the call. I left a slider hanging,” Sheffield said of the battle with Castillo. “It’s important to get the lead-off guys. That’s where it started, but I don’t think I was nervous at all. Kept my breathing and things like that (in check).”
But there’s plenty of positives for Sheffield to take into his next start — which is scheduled to come when the RailRiders return to PNC Field later this week to face Rochester.
Sheffield tossed a season-high 103 pitches, setting himself up to go as long as he needs to moving forward. Sunday’s debut also gave the left-hander the taste of what it takes to be successful in Triple-A.
“If I had to sum up my outing, I think it was just being able to stay calm, being able to keep the score where it was after the first. My fastball command was good,” Sheffield said. “My pitches started working toward the end. Took me a few innings to get going, but you’ll have those days.”
Sheffield wasn’t the only RailRiders pitcher to find success against the PawSox.
Joe Harvey replaced Sheffield with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning. The right-handed reliever need just one pitch to get Butler to fly out to right to end the frame.
Harvey pitched 2.1 perfect innings while striking out a pair.
J.P. Feyereisen pitched a no-hit eighth, walking and striking out a batter.
“(Harvey) did a great job,” Mitchell said. “Yeah, they all did a great job. Threw the ball really well.”
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bats were quiet again as the RailRiders could only collect four hits and were shut out for the sixth time this season.
Thairo Estrada collected the RailRiders’ only extra-base hit — an eighth-inning double — while Tyler Wade, Adam Lind and Shane Robinson all singled.
“You saw when we’re at home and had a couple of good games. People started getting some knocks and putting things together,” RailRiders catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “I think maybe it’s just we need a change of scenery.”
Fleming, Gomez head to DL
RailRiders infielder Billy Fleming and reliever Anyelo Gomez were placed on the 7-day disabled list prior to Sunday’s game. Fleming is out with a back injury and Gomez needs to get some testing done to determine the cause of the stint.
“Yeah, they have to find out,” Mitchell said of Gomez. “I don’t know exactly what it is, but yeah he went on the DL. It might be the same thing he had before, whatever. I’m not sure. Then Billy’s back locked up on him. He could hardly walk today so he’s going to be out for a while.”
Red Sox 2, RailRiders 0
De Jesus Jr. 2b`3`1`0`0
E: Mazzilli (2); LOB: Red Sox 5, RailRiders 7; 2B: Estrada (1); CS: Lind (1), Castillo (2); SF: Betts, Butler.
RailRiders`000`000`000 — 0
Pawtucket`200`000`000 — 2
Sheffield (L, 0-1)`4.2`4`2`2`4`6
Haley (W, 1-4)`5`3`0`0`2`5
Workman (H, 4)`3`0`0`0`0`3
Poyner (S, 1)`1`1`0`0`0`0
Umpires: Rich Grassa, HP; Shane Livensparger, 1B; Adam Beck, 2B; Skyler Shown, 3B.
Time: 2:47; Attendance: 5,061
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle