Neal, Belt Lead Richmond to 4-2 Victory Over Altoona

Maybe one game is too small of a sample size, but tonight might have broken the Jeff Locke curse that exists whenever I see one of his games.  For those of you unfamiliar with the curse, here is my breakdown from last season:

Games I Was In Attendance: 4 G, 18.2 IP, 7.23 ERA, 2.09 WHIP, 4.8 K/9, 1.7 K/BB

Games I Wasn’t In Attendance: 13 G, 63 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 3.8 K/BB

Playoff Game I Was In Attendance For: 1.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K

Playoff Game I Wasn’t In Attendance For: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

If you think that’s bad, consider Locke’s final ten outings of the 2009 season:

7/29: 6 IP, 1 ER
8/4: 5 IP, 1 ER
8/9: 5.1 IP, 1 ER
8/14: 5.2 IP, 5 ER
8/21: 5 IP, 1 ER
8/26: 6 IP, 1 ER
9/1: 5.2 IP, 3 ER
9/6: 6.2 IP, 0 ER
9/11: 5.2 IP, 0 ER
9/17: 1.2 IP, 4 ER

Guess which two games I was in attendance for? If you guessed 8/14 and 9/17, you’re correct.

Jeff Locke

Locke got off to a great start tonight, retiring nine of the first ten batters he faced, allowing just one walk in that span, and striking out three.  Locke started off the game with a nice catch on a hard line drive back to the mound from leadoff hitter Darren Ford.  After getting a ground out to second, Locke struck out Thomas Neal with his curveball.  Locke started with a 1-0 lead, thanks to a leadoff homer by Chase d’Arnaud in the top of the first inning.

After a 1-2-3 inning in the second, Locke walked Skyler Stromsmoe to lead off the third.  Locke struck out the next batter, but not before Stromsmoe stole second base.  Opposing pitcher David Mixon tried to bunt Stromsmoe over to third base, but Locke fought him off and ended up striking him out swinging.  Locke got out of the inning with a flyout to center field.

Altoona took the lead in the top of the fourth.  Matt Hague and Hector Gimenez led off with back to back singles.  Two batters later, Yung-Chi Chen reached on a fielding error by the third baseman, loading the bases.  Jose de los Santos followed with a sacrifice fly to left field, bringing in Altoona’s second run.

Locke ran in to some trouble in the fourth inning.  Nick Noonan led off with a broken bat single to shallow right field, with the broken bat ensuring that the hit would fall in, rather than travel a bit further to right fielder Brandon Jones.  Thomas Neal followed that up by ripping a single to left field.  Yung-Chi Chen misplayed the ball, allowing both runners to advance a base.  Brandon Belt looped a single to right field, allowing just one runner to score.  Locke loaded the bases by walking the next batter on four pitches with no outs.  Locke got a chopper to shortstop for a 6-4 out, bringing in another run, then got out of the inning with a 6-4-3 double play.

Altoona threatened with two, two out singles in the fifth inning, but Hector Gimenez struck out to end the frame.  Locke ran in to more trouble in the fifth inning.  After a leadoff single, Locke struck out pitcher David Mixon for the second time.  Locke got Darren Ford to ground in to a fielder’s choice at second for the second out.  Nick Noonan followed with a chopper to third that was over third baseman Josh Harrison’s head.  Harrison made a leaping grap, but his throw was wild of first base, allowing Darren Ford to advance to third with two outs.  Locke managed to strike out Neal looking to escape the jam.

A note on Harrison at third base: he is definitely not a third baseman, and it’s all due to his size.  Twice tonight, Harrison saw a chopper that went over his head on plays that a taller third baseman would have fielded standing.  The first instance led to a single and his throwing error.  The second instance led to a single.  Each play would have been an out for a guy who is taller than Harrison (5′ 8″).

Richmond pitchers shut down the Altoona offense after the fifth inning, retiring 12 of the next 14 Altoona batters.  The only hit in that span was a bunt single by Jose de los Santos, his second bunt single in as many nights.  The only other hitter to reach base was Anthony Norman, who came on to pinch hit in the ninth and drew a two out walk.  Norman was making his first appearance since colliding with Jordy Mercer on a pop-up on Wednesday.

Locke ended his night with six innings pitched, six hits, two earned runs, two walks, and five strikeouts.  He threw 90 pitches, with 62 going for strikes.  His curveball looked great, fooling a lot of hitters, and getting a few strikeouts.  His fastball command was on tonight, probably the best I’ve seen of all of his outings.  That says a lot, since Locke looked good in his other outings I’ve been in attendance for, despite the poor numbers.  His biggest issue in the other games I’ve seen was controlling the movement on his curveball and locating it in the strike zone, but that was no issue tonight.

Dustin Molleken came on in relief, and gave up a double to start the second inning, but struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning.  Molleken ran in to trouble in the eighth.  Thomas Neal led off with a single, which was another high chopper to third that Harrison had to leap for.  Neal advanced to second during the next at-bat on a passed ball, then scored on an RBI triple by Brandon Belt.  Belt scored on the next play when Connor Gillaspie hit a sacrifice fly to center field.  Molleken retired the next two batters, but Richmond finished the inning up 4-2 heading in to the top of the ninth.

Richmond closer Rafaerl Cova came on and pitched a shutout inning for his 18th save of the year.  Cova struck out two, including getting Chase d’Arnaud looking for the final out, and walked one, with that walk going to Norman.  Richmond reliever Ronnie Ray got the win, pitching a perfect eighth inning with a strikeout, and improving to 1-3.  Molleken took the loss, falling to 3-4 on the year.

Altoona will try to salvage the series tomorrow as they attempt for their first win in this four game matchup between the two teams.  The game starts at 5:05 PM, and will feature Bryan Morris (4-4, 4.78) of Altoona taking on Clayton Tanner (7-6, 3.14) of Richmond.  Tanner was the 23rd best prospect in the San Francisco farm system coming in to the 2010 season, according to Baseball America.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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