As outings go, Thursday night’s wasn’t terrible. Four runs in six innings gives your team a chance to win.

Still, this is Daniel McGrath, the Australian lefty who has emerged as the ace of the Sea Dogs this season and is on pace to claim the Eastern League ERA title.

“Obviously, there’s going to be games like this when I don’t have my best stuff,” McGrath said after the Trenton Thunder took him deep twice on the way to a 7-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 7,368 Thursday night at Hadlock Field. “Trenton, they came in with a plan and they executed well.”

To put McGrath’s performance in perspective, those four earned runs Thursday night were as many as he had allowed in his previous seven starts. He entered the game with a 1.35 earned runs average and saw it balloon all the way up to 1.61.

The pitcher with the next-best ERA in the league is Bowie’s Alex Wells, who also happens to be a lefty from Down Under. He currently sports a 2.40 mark.

McGrath (6-1) breezed through a one-hit first inning but ran into difficulty in the second. He fell behind to Trenton cleanup hitter Chris Gittens, who sent a 3-0 pitch into the pavilion seats in right field for his 22nd home run.

A single and two doubles followed and put Trenton ahead 3-0. The number of times McGrath had allowed three runs in his previous 12 starts?

Zero.

“We haven’t seen anybody have good swings on him in a long time,” Sea Dogs Manager Joe Oliver said. “Obviously, that’s a sign that his pitches are not where they had been.”

After retiring six straight, McGrath gave up another homer, this one just beyond the grasp of a leaping Jarren Duran in right-center, to Kellin Deglan in the fourth, making it 4-0.

Trenton managed two more singles off McGrath before he departed after the sixth, having fanned four and walked none. Max Burt, who had singled, became the ninth runner this season to fall victim to McGrath’s deceptive pickoff move.

“I didn’t walk anyone, but the pitches I was making were over the middle of the plate,” McGrath said. “They weren’t quality pitches.”

Sea Dogs pitching coach Paul Abbott said McGrath adjusted midgame to Trenton’s approach of going the opposite way with his curveball and change-up, both clocked in the 70s. Although McGrath tops out at 87 with his fastball, eventually he found success with hard stuff on the inner half.

“He pitched pretty well,” Abbott said. “If that’s his hiccup, he still gave us a chance and made it through the sixth.”

Of the 95 pitches thrown by McGrath, 60 went for strikes. A 25-year-old in his seventh professional season, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.

In the Red Sox bullpen, 22 pitchers have been used in a season that has included 22 blown saves (in 46 chances, for a worst-in-the-majors 52% conversion rate). Seems like McGrath, who opened this season as a Sea Dogs reliever, has earned a shot.

“It’s something other people can think about but not me,” McGrath said. “For me, it’s more coming to the park everyday and working on myself.”

NOTES: Trenton tacked on three runs in the ninth against reliever Durbin Feltman, who had retired the first two men he faced before allowing four consecutive hits. … Luke Tendler had two of Portland’s five hits. … Nick Green (3-3) struck out four, walked one and allowed four hits in six innings to earn the victory for Trenton. … The fifth and final fireworks show of the season took place after the game. … The sellout crowd was the 13th of the season. … Because McGrath spent the first half of the season as a reliever, he falls just shy of the innings requirement to qualify for the league ERA title, but has two starts remaining.


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