BY MICK REINHARD

Special to the Press Herald

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Behind a complete-game gem from starting pitcher Keith Couch, the Portland Sea Dogs topped the Harrisburg Senators, 2-1, in front of 3,749 fans at Metro Bank Park.

Couch (10-3) allowed one run on six hits while striking out four to register Portland’s first nine-inning complete game since knuckleballer Charlie Zink accomplished the feat on June 19, 2007.

With the decision, the righthander also became the sixth hurler to notch double-digit victories in the Eastern League this season.

“He was just real aggressive and very efficient,” Sea Dogs’ skipper Kevin Boles said. “I thought with the efficiency, he was just terrific. The best start we’ve seen all year.”

Harrisburg starter Taylor Hill equalled Couch as both teams remained scoreless through four innings in a rematch of starting pitchers from the Futures at Fenway game on July 27.

Portland got on the board in the top of the fifth inning as they used an error by Harrisburg shortstop Jason Martinson and consecutive singles by Ryan Dent and Shannon Wilkerson to load the bases.

After Deven Marrero lined out to shallow right field, Garin Cecchini worked a base on balls to give the Sea Dogs a one-run lead. J.C. Linares followed with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field that increased their advantage to 2-0.

“Cecchini has shown an ability to have strike zone management and he works counts. He didn’t try to do too much in that situation,” Boles said, “(With Linares) The swing matched the situation. It looked like he was comfortable and he just drove that ball. Those two guys there really executed the offensive fundamentals with runners in scoring position.”

Harrisburg third baseman Carlos Rivero answered with a solo home run to cut the lead in half on a slider that just got too much of the plate according to Couch.

But that was the lone damage the Senators would get off the Adelphi University product as he induced 13 groundball outs, including the last one against Rivero with the tying run at third base.

Boles pointed to the stellar defense with a groundball pitcher on the mound, “Our infield was ready to play today. With the day game, the quick turnaround, I thought our guys played a very nice, clean game.”

The spotlight, however, belonged to Couch on this overcast Sunday afternoon.

Since being moved to the starting rotation on June 9, Couch has compiled a 7-1 record with a 2.91 ERA in 13 starts with Portland. He has also held opponents to a .254 batting average during that stretch.

When asked what has made the difference as a starter, Couch admitted, “I think it was more mentally with the change. Because now I know it’s my day and I’m ready to go from that day on. Whereas, being a reliever I just didn’t know when I was going to pitch and it was hard to get into a routine. But it’s something I need to work on.”

Boles had nothing but praise for Couch.

“He got his opportunity when we had some movement as some starters went up to Triple-A. He’s taken advantage of the situation and now to have ten wins is a credit to him and how hard he’s worked.”