Sadler, Cunningham lead Curve to victory in home opener

The Altoona Curve defeated the Harrisburg Senators 5-4 in their first home game of the year. Starting pitcher Casey Sadler was solid in the victory, going six innings and surrendering three runs on six hits, walking one and striking out two. Offensively, the Curve were led by second baseman Jarek Cunningham who went 3-for 4, including a two-run homer in the third inning. Gift Ngoepe added a solo shot in the 6th inning on a high fastball.

Sadler solid in second win of the season

2010 25th round draft pick Casey Sadler picked up his second win tonight, throwing six strong innings. As he did in his previous outing in Erie, The 6’ 4” right-hander threw a high percentage of strikes, and used his three-pitch mix to earn the win, featuring a sinking fastball, slider, and change-up.

On the night, Sadler needed only 80 pitches, throwing 55 for strikes (69%), and he produced a high ground out rate (12:3 GO:AO), all positive signs for the 22 year-old JUCO product. Early on, Sadler relied mostly on his sinker which he commanded well down in the zone, throwing it 89-91 consistently.

“The sinker was good early. I had it going for me, and I didn’t have to throw much other than that,” said Sadler.

He adds, “The defense played wonderful tonight like they usually do, and I rely on them as much as I can. I’m an early contact guy.”

Sadler did encounter some trouble as the game went on, leaving the sinker up in the zone, which resulted in several hard hit balls including a solo homer from Senators’ heralded prospect Anthony Rendon in the 4th inning.

“As the game went on I started trying to place [the sinker] a little too much. It got up on me and I got hurt a little bit,” noted Sadler.

Fortunately for Sadler, he could lean on his good slider in the later innings, using the pitch in all counts. He recorded his two strikeouts in his last inning with the Senators threatening, getting several swings-and-misses and called strikes. Sadler’s slider doesn’t have a ton of velocity, but it is an above-average offering because it breaks relatively late and sharp.

“The slider is a pitch I know I can go to when they’re on my fastball. I feel like I can throw it anytime. It’s one of those back pocket pitches you know you can go to. I don’t try to do too much with it and just let it go,” said the tall right-hander.

Sadler’s change-up has been a work in progress and its development will dictate if his upside is a starter or reliever, as having an effective third pitch could help him remain in the rotation as he advances. Tonight, his change was a bit inconsistent, at times flat and too hard, but overall Sadler is happy with his progress with the pitch, something he focused on this spring.

Jarek Cunningham hit his second homer of the year. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jarek Cunningham hit his second homer of the year. Photo Credit: David Hague

Cunningham and Ngoepe provide offensive punch

After struggling in AA last year (.217/.300/.337), second baseman Jarek Cunningham is showing some pop to start 2013, belting his second home run of the season tonight — an 0-2 pitch that Senators’ starter Paul Demny left up in the zone with Mel Rojas, Jr. on second base.

Cunningham’s prospect status slipped after the rough 2012, and since he is repeating AA this season, he will need to continue to swing the bat well to get back on the Pirates radar as a potential impact player.

Discussing Cunningham, Curve manager Carlos Garcia commented, “Well, the first thing is that he’s healthy this year [referencing a wrist injury last season]. I think that’s a big reason he’s making solid contact at the plate.”

Gift Ngoepe hit his first home run of the season, a high shot by the right-field foul pole, which ended up being the difference on the night. Ngoepe, who was 2-for-3, is an outstanding defensive shortstop, tonight showing his plus hands and footwork, but his contact rate has been a major concern (28.5% career K-rate).

His homer tonight demonstrates that he can make a pitcher pay for leaving a pitch up in the zone, what Garcia called “occasional power,” but making contact will continue to be an area of focus for the South African shortstop.

“He still has to concentrate on putting the ball in play and cutting back on his swing, but today he came up huge for us,” said Garcia.

Other notes:

**Andrew Lambo followed his natural cycle last game by going 1-for-4 with a first inning 2-RBI single.

** The Curve bullpen held on to preserve the win. Ethan Hollingsworth threw two scoreless innings, and Luis Sanz got the save. Sanz wasn’t particularly sharp, giving up a run and allowing three baserunners, but a game-ending 6-4-3 double play earned him his second save.

**INF Adalberto Santos was out of the line-up tonight. He left Tuesday night’s game in Akron after tweaking his quadriceps muscle, and his omission was precautionary.

** The Senators featured the Washington Nationals two top prospects in third baseman Anthony Rendon and centerfielder Brian Goodwin. Rendon was particularly impressive going 2-for-3 with a home run and walk, demonstrating noteworthy pitch selection and bat speed.

Author: John Eshleman

John Eshleman joined Pirates Prospects in 2012, providing live coverage of the State College Spikes and the Altoona Curve. He will return for the 2013 season to provide coverage of the Jamestown Jammers while they are in State College. He will also be providing coverage of the Altoona Curve throughout the year. John is currently earning a Ph.D in Rural Sociology from Penn State University, and he lives in State College with his fiance Allison. Also, he hates the designated hitter rule.

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  • emjayinTN

    Jarek Cunningham and Robbie Grossman were two of the first HS over-slot kids drafted by the Pirates in 2008. C’ham hit the ground running posting a plus .300 average with a lot of doubles and HR’s in the GCL. I think he got injured in ST in 2009 and did not play at all. 2010, 2011, and 2012 were all down years where he was rehabbing from major to minor injuries and, as a result he hit for good power for a middle infielder, but his K/W ratio went from 1.5/1 in the GCL to about 4/1 for the next 3 years. He came out of HS injured and we took a gamble – he is still only 23 years old and will not turn 24 until Christmas. Like DeJesus, he went to 2B while recuperating from knee issues. Even though his recent years were basically rehab, he played hurt and has progressed into AA. If he can stay healthy . . . . . . .