Let's cut to the chase first: They do keep score for a reason and Buffalo Bisons pitcher Matt Harvey was a loser Thursday in Coca-Cola Field.
But on this night at least, you have to look much deeper than the scoreboard that showed the Herd dropped a 5-0 decision to the Pawtucket Red Sox in the opener of a four-game series. The parent New York Mets are certainly going to have this Harvey outing circled in their game reports.
With his changeup looking better than it has at any time this season, New York's No. 1 draft choice in 2010 had the International League's top hitting team completely baffled. Harvey retired the first 11 hitters before Ryan Lavarnway's two-out walk in the fourth and 17 of the first 18, carrying a no-hitter through two outs of the sixth.
But leadoff man Pedro Ciriaco looped a first-pitch single to right on a 94-mph fastball to break up that bid. The hit drew appreciative applause from the crowd of 5,214 but it also signaled trouble for Harvey. He walked Josh Kroeger on a full-count pitch and then fell behind Lavarnway, Boston's top catching prospect, with a 3-1 count.
Lavarnway drove the next pitch, a 92-mph fastball on the outside half of the plate, deep to right just over the fence into the party deck for a three-run homer to break things up. Harvey (5-3) had gone only four innings apiece in his last two outings but a chat in recent days with manager Wally Backman and pitching coach Mark Brewer seemed to help.
[The changeup] is a pitch that's going to get you in the big leagues and keep you in the big leagues," Backman said. "It's going to key everything else. He throws pretty hard so when he learns to command that changeup in certain counts, he's going to be a lot better."
Backman, in fact, wanted another changeup to Lavarnway.
"He went to 3-1 and he's got to throw it again," Backman said. "To me, that was the only mistake he made."
"Getting behind him was the last thing I wanted to do," Harvey said. "It just so happened I threw a pitch he could hit."
In the final analysis, Harvey pitched seven innings for just the second time this year, allowed only three hits and struck out 10. He has 74 Ks on the season in 74 1/3 innings against just 35 walks.
Big-league hitters will catch up to 95-mph offerings if there's no other variance in your repertoire and the Bisons have been trying to get Harvey to not be so hesitant to throw his changeup. It worked Thursday.
"I wanted to throw it for a strike, keep the ball down and let the infield do their job," Harvey said. "It was something I wanted to do, mix everything in early in the game."
In the first inning, for instance, Harvey fanned all three men (Ciriaco, Kroeger and Lavarnway) swinging at offspeed pitches of either 84 or 85 mph and that set the tone for his efficiency. Harvey needed just 59 pitches to get through five innings.
Innings 6-7, however, were a different story as he got into deeper counts and needed 44 pitches. He finished at 103 overall, tying his season high, and 79 strikes.
"I feel I could have gone longer than that," Harvery said. "But I got behind a few hitters toward the end."
A trio of Pawtucket pitchers held the Bisons to four hits and got the benefit of four double plays. ... Down-from-Boston Daniel Bard went two hitless innings and struck out the last four me faced. Bard was 5-6, 5.24 in 11 starts this year for the Red Sox and had struggled mightily with his control (37 walks and eight hit batters in 55 innings). ... Mets infielder Ronny Cedeno is scheduled to join the Bisons on rehab for tonight's game (7 p.m., TWC 13, Radio 1520 AM). The Pawsox will be joined by Boston outfielder Cody Ross, the MVP of the 2010 National League Championship Series with San Francisco. ... Dylan Owen (3-3) pitches for Buffalo tonight against Tony Pena Jr. (0-4), son of the Yankees bench coach and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer.
Red Sox 5
The Pitch: Lavarnway's three-run homer to right in sixth breaks up scoreless game. ... Herd's Harvey (5-3) fans 10, loses despite carring no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings. ... Bisons held to four hits.
Fast Fact: Mets' Turner goes 1 for 4 in first rehab appearance with Herd.
Next game: Tonight vs. Pawtucket, 7:05 (fridaynightbash! Pregame happy hour/postgame fireworks)