Cole Sturgeon of the Portland Sea Dogs takes the field at the start of the game Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)

Portland Sea Dogs manager Darren Fenster said Cole Sturgeon bats leadoff because he’s a good table setter.

In the first inning Friday night, Sturgeon set the table and served up a meal when he led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run.

“Getting us on top in the bottom of the first was big,” Fenster said Saturday. “We’ve fallen behind early almost every game on our road trip, so to have a lead and then extend our lead was really good, and he was a catalyst of that last night.”

The lead stuck and the Sea Dogs went on to defeat the Binghamton Rumble Ponies 4-2 in the first game of the season at Hadlock Field.

In Saturday’s 3-0 win, Sturgeon again did his job, leading off the game by drilling the second pitch he saw up the middle for a single. He also led off the third with a single.

Sturgeon, who entered the season with 17 career home runs, cleared the fence in back-to-back games this season. He has reached base safely in all eight games, and has multiple hits in four of the last six.

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The left-handed hitting outfielder is hitting .344 and leads the Sea Dogs in hits (11) and doubles (two) and is second to Esteban Quiroz in homers (two) and runs batted in (six).

“I’ve been here for a couple years, so I have a little comfort level, had a good spring training, so just trying to keep it rolling,” Sturgeon said Saturday.

In nine games with the Red Sox during spring training, Sturgeon went 7-for-12 with a homer and six RBIs.

“Just sticking to a routine that worked for me last year, kind of got me going last year,” Sturgeon said. “Just sticking with it day in, day out, whether you get a hit or not, not trying to overthink stuff, just being aggressive.”

He said that he and Sea Dogs hitting coach Lee Mays Jr. have come up with a cage routine that Sturgeon said “gets me right each day.”

Mays said the routine is focused more about warming up his swing and creating consistency than it is on the mechanics of Sturgeon’s swing.

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“The more you can not overthink things, just keep things where it’s a feel, and just trust in that feel, you don’t overcomplicate it,” Mays said, “it just frees your head up, so all you have to do is worry about seeing the ball and getting after it.”

Sturgeon had a his swing in a good place last year, but went through a slump and started thinking too much and stopped trusting his routine

“It was a good experience for him to go through,” Mays said. “He got back to the feel of his swing and not overthinking things.”

Now he’s off to a strong start that, if it keeps up, could be the beginning of the best year of his pro career.

Sturgeon, from Owensboro, Kentucky, played four year at the University of Louisville before being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 10th round of the MLB draft.

After seven games in Lowell with the Red Sox’s short-season A club, Sturgeon moved up to Low-A Greenville, where he was managed by Fenster for 48 games.

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Sturgeon and Fenster have crossed paths since at spring trainings, and the Sea Dogs’ first-year manager has been able to monitor Sturgeon’s progress.

“He’s gotten a lot more physical, like much more stronger. He’s got the ability to drive the ball a lot more than I remember him when he was 22 years old or whatever he was back then. And he’s just a much smarter baseball player.”

In 2015, Sturgeon moved up to Advanced-A Salem, where he played for 76 games before being promoted to the Sea Dogs for the final 40 games of that season. He has been with Portland since, save for the two games he played for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2016.

While his goal is to move out of Portland and beyond Double-A, Sturgeon said he has enjoyed playing in Maine.

“It’s a great place to play,” Sturgeon said. “They treat us well here, and it’s a good league,” Sturgeon said. “Obviously, you’d like to move up, but we’ve seen guys move up from here in the past, so you can only control so many things, so you’ve got to go out and play each day and the rest of the stuff will kind of take care of itself.”

Fenster said Sturgeon’s experience — in Portland, at the Double-A level, and in the Eastern League — makes him a nice resource to the players and the coaches. On the field, Sturgeon’s steadiness and versatility make him a key player for the Sea Dogs.

“Cole’s a very fundamentally sound player,” Fenster said. “He’s probably as fundamentally sound as anybody that we have. So to be able to plug him into all three spots in the outfield … in the top of our lineup to have a reliable player where you pretty much have a good idea what you’re going to get every night is a really, really valuable part to your team.”


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