Two major stories coming out of Altoona this season have been how good pitcher Stolmy Pimentel has been and how poorly the offense has swung the bat. Tonight, those stories were switched, with the line-up leading the way on a night when Pimentel struggled for the first time in 2013. The Curve beat the Richmond Squirrels 9-8, gathering 15 hits and taking advantage of three Richmond errors to score four unearned runs. Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Jr., and Adalberto Santos each had three hits to lead the way for the Curve.
Pimentel not sharp
Coming into today, right-handed pitcher Stolmy Pimentel had a league-leading 0.74 ERA, only surrendering three earned runs on the entire season. Tonight’s start would be a different story, as Pimentel struggled with command and control, leaving with only one out in the fourth inning and two runners aboard. His overall line finished 4.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, and 3 Ks, only throwing 59 strikes in 100 pitches.
As the strike percentage and walk total demonstrate, Pimentel had trouble throwing strikes tonight, and his walk rate is something to keep an eye on. He was all over the place at times, bouncing pitches and then throwing way high out of the zone. However, the bigger issue was his command in the zone, which is how the Squirrels were able to hurt him.
“I was missing my spots and getting behind in the count. When you get behind in the count, the hitter feels more comfortable and can get better at bats,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel’s main problem was with his fastball, having trouble locating the pitches down in the zone and on the corners, two things he’s down well so far in 2013. Instead, he was in the middle of the plate, where the Squirrels hitters could hurt him.
He also didn’t have his good slider tonight, either missing away or hanging the pitch. Previously, Pimentel was starting the pitch in the zone and then getting swings-and-misses as it fell into the dirt.
“Sometimes his stuff is so good that hitters don’t take advantage of the mistakes he makes. Tonight they did,” said Altoona pitching coach Stan Kyles.
He adds, “He has a long way to go yet to become a major league pitcher, but he’s well on his way to becoming one. Tonight was a good learning opportunity for him.”
Previous reports had Pimentel’s four-seam fastball at 94-96 mph, but tonight I saw more gas, sitting 95-97 and touching 98 once. While more velocity is an exciting thing to see, it can also affect command, which was the case for Pimentel tonight.
“Sometimes when you’re feeling that good, your command suffers a bit. He’s got to learn to pitch with that. You can’t just wing it up there, you have to make pitches,” said Kyles.
Kyles was not concerned with the rough outing after the game, and he noted that this type of start is normal for a young pitcher who is still developing. Pimentel has been outstanding till now, and he was due for some regression (based on his high strand rate and low batting average on balls in play), so I’m not too concerned either.
A big game for the offense, led by Lambo, Santos, and Rojas, Jr.
As I’ve written recently and spoke about last week, the Curve offense has struggled this season as the worst hitting team in the Eastern League. Tonight the bats came alive for 15 hits, which led the way to victory.
Andrew Lambo and Adalberto Santos have been the Curve’s best two hitters so far this season, and they continued to perform tonight. It was an especially good night for Lambo, as he came in hitting only .182 against lefties, and with the three hits he’s up to .237 in that category. With one exception, he was patient in each of his at bats and worked good counts.
Santos leads the Curve with a .345 batting average and .471 on-base percentage, and he showed his plus hitting tool tonight with three singles and a walk, while scoring twice and knocking one run in. Simply put, Santos is too good of a hitter to be in AA, and though he presents some questions in the field and could stand to add more power, he’d benefit from taking his hitting tools to AAA soon.
After a solid first week of the season, Mel Rojas, Jr. hasn’t had the success of Lambo and Santos in 2013, so his 3-for-4 2-RBI night is a hopeful sign that he’s coming out of his slump. Rojas, Jr. is a switch hitter and has struggled from both sides of the plate.
Prior to tonight’s game, the centerfielder spent extra time working with hitting coach Ryan Long on some of his mechanics.
“[Previously] I was trying to use my whole body to swing. Earlier today, I was just trying to throw my hands at the ball, trying to drive it opposite field to the gap,” said Rojas, Jr.
He did exactly that in the third inning, lining a double to the right-field gap to plate Santos, his second RBI after scoring Lambo on a line drive to centerfield in the second inning.
Rojas, Jr. has some solid tools, but in his career he’s struggled with consistency and contact, two issues that have plagued him in Altoona. Tonight, he looked much smoother and comfortable at the plate, and the advice from Long appears sound. Rojas, Jr. can have a tendency to lunge at the ball when he swings, affecting his balance and limiting his ability to drive the ball, with his weight shifting forward before his hands come through the zone. By “using” his hands more, Rojas, Jr. had a more balanced swing tonight. His .231/.286/.350 slash line is still paltry, but Rojas, Jr. is making a big jump after only hitting .245 in Bradenton in 2012. Tonight was a sign that he’s able to make adjustments.
**Jarek Cunningham got the start at 3B for the first time this season with Walker at 2B. He delivered the tying run in the 8th inning by hitting a deep fly ball off the left field wall that was inches from being a grand slam. Instead, he ended up with just a single, as the runners had to wait to see if the ball could be caught.
**Gift Ngoepe had two hits on the night, one a bunt single. Once again, he led off despite entering the game with a .239 OBP.
**Jason Townsend picked up the victory in relief. He pitched a clean ninth inning after giving up the one-run lead in the 8th.
**Reliever Jeff Inman went on the disabled list today after feeling discomfort in his pitching elbow yesterday. He has yet to meet to doctor’s so it is unclear how serious the injury is.