It’s like they said in the movie “Bull Durham”: some days you win, some days you lose, some days it rains. Again on Saturday, the Pirates’ lower minor league affiliates experienced all three.
It rained again in West Virginia. The Power and the Savannah Sand Gnats will try for a double header again on Sunday. As best as I can tell, Friday’s game has been “cancelled” and won’t be made up.
Altoona Curve 6, Erie SeaWolves 2
The Curve finally put one in the win column, as they out-hit the SeaWolves 14 – 3 on Saturday afternoon. All but one member of the starting line-up had at least one hit, and while C Eric Fryer didn’t smack a hit, he contributed two walks and scored a run. CF Starling Marte, who had been hitless in the Curve’s first two games, led the onslaught with 4 hits — 3 singles and a double. 2B Brock Holt, DH Kris Watts, and 3B Jeremy Farrell all had two hits, and Holt and Farrell each drove in two runs.
Erie scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the 1st, on an infield single by the first batter of the game, followed by a bunt and a balk by starter Aaron Thompson, and an RBI ground out. Thompson settled in after that, and did not allow another run nor another hit. He walked one and struck out two in his 6 innings of work.
The Curve tied the game in the 3rd inning. Fryer walked, then came around to score on a wild pitch. They took the lead in the 6th, when Marte doubled. SS Jordy Mercer singled, driving in Marte. Watts also singled, and he scored moments later when Farrell singled. RF Brad Chalk added another run in the 7th — he tripled, then came across the plate on Holt’s RBI single. The Curve rallied again in the 8th, for two more insurance runs. Watts started with his second single. Farrell brought him home with a double, and Holt followed up with an RBI single to plate Farrell.
Reliever Brian Leach pitched a scoreless 7th inning and began the 8th, allowing a single. Michael Dubee took over for Leach, but the runner scored on an RBI single. Dubee also pitched a perfect 9th, earning his first save. Thompson earned the win.
All of the Pirates’ minor league affiliates lost their season openers on Thursday night:
Erie SeaWolves 3, Altoona Curve 2
One run in the bottom of the 9th made the difference, as the Curve lost in Erie, PA. The SeaWolves were first onto the scoreboard with a pair of runs in the 5th inning. Curve starter Bryan Morris had already escaped from two jams in the early innings. In the 2nd, RF Brad Chalk threw out a runner who was trying to stretch a double into a triple, then Chalk ended the inning when he threw to C Tony Sanchez to nail a runner who was trying to score from second base on a single. Morris loaded the bases in the 4th with a single and two walks, but a timely double play, 3B Jeremy Farrell to 2B Brock Holt, to 1B Miles Durham, ended that inning without a run scoring. Morris’ luck ran out in the 5th, though, when a walk and a 2-run homer gave Erie a 2-0 lead.
The Curve missed a scoring opportunity in the top of the 2nd, when Sanchez singled into left field, and LF Quincy Latimore lined a double just out of the reach of the Erie left fielder. But with runners on second and third, Erie starter Jacob Turner struck out both Farrell and DH Eric Fryer to end the inning. Turner allowed only two base runners for the next 4 innings — he walked Holt, and he hit Sanchez with a pitch. (Sanchez has got to stop being a magnet for opposing pitchers’ pitches.) After Turner left the game, the Curve were able to put men on base again. Farrell singled and Fryer walked in the 7th, though they didn’t score. The 8th inning began with back-to-back walks to Holt and CF Starling Marte. SS Jordy Mercer bunted them over to second and third, then another walk to Sanchez loaded the bases. Latimore came through again, with another double off the left field wall, missing a grand slam by inches, to plate both Holt and Marte and tie the game at 2-2.
Reliever Anthony Claggett finished the 5th inning for Morris with a strikeout and a pickoff of one of the runners Morris had put on base. Aaron Pribanic and Jared Hughes each pitched a perfect inning, with one strikeout for Pribanic and two for Hughes. Michael Dubee struck out the side in the 8th inning to preserve the tie. The Curve batters could not get anything going in the top of the 9th, though, and Dubee came back out to pitch the bottom of the 9th. With one out, a single and a stolen base put a runner in scoring position, and a ground out moved him to third base. Then a sinking line drive, just inches away from the diving Latimore’s glove, fell in for a hit, scoring the runner from third base for the walk-off win.
Dubee was charged with the loss. Morris got a no-decision, with 2 runs on 4 hits and 5 walks, plus 3 strikeouts, in 4.1 innings. The Curve had just 4 hits, two of them doubles by Latimore.
Pirates 3, Astros 1
Starter Charlie Morton continued to show the Pirates’ management that he belongs in the starting rotation with a 6-inning shutout performance today in Kissimmee, Florida. Morton scattered 4 hits over his 6 innings and did not walk a batter. He struck out 5 Astros. C Humberto Quintero had two of those hits — a single in the 3rd, when he reached as far as third base before being stranded, and a two-out single in the 5th. Astros’ starter Jordan Lyles followed that second single with a line drive into left field, and Quintero raced around the bases. Pirates’ LF Josh Fields got the ball back into the infield quickly, and Quintero was caught in a run-down and tagged out by C Ryan Doumit. Evan Meek and Chris Leroux each pitched a scoreless inning of relief. Neither gave up a hit, but both worked around base runners who got on due to fielding errors. SS Benji Gonzalez had a tough afternoon, with a fielding error in the 7th, back-to-back fielding errors in the 8th, then another fielding error in the 9th that lead to an unearned run. With Mike Crotta on the mound in the 9th, the error, a single, and a walk loaded the bases, and a sacrifice fly drove in the Astros’ only run. Crotta has not allowed an earned run in his previous 6 appearances (8.1 innings).
SS Ronny Cedeno provided the Pirates with their first 2 runs, on a 2nd-inning home run that followed Josh Fields’ double. Ryan Doumit picked up the RBI in the 3rd inning with a triple into left field, driving in 1B Andy Marte, who had singled. Steve Pearce, who started at third base today, singled twice in the game. CF Pedro Ciriaco, 2B Corey Wimberly, RF Cole White, 1B Garrett Atkins, and pinch-hitter Josh Rodriguez also got into the game.
More roster moves are expected on Monday, as the Pirates head into the final full week of spring training.
Continuing to look at the middle infielders in the Pirates’ minor league organization:
Jarek Cunningham — R/R, 6′ 1″, 185 lb
Cunningham was the Pirates’ 18th round pick in the 2008 draft. After a solid debut with the GCL Pirates (.318 average with 5 homers and 22 RBI), he missed the entire 2009 season due to knee surgery. He returned with a healthy knee in 2010, assigned to West Virginia. Cunningham jumped right out to a good start, hitting .304 in April, with a homer and 5 RBI. He slumped in May to just .194, with 2 more homers and 5 RBI. Then he popped up again in June, with a .317 average, 3 homers, and a big 17 RBI. The average slipped a little in July, to .279, though the power production continued, with 4 homers and 14 RBI. The slip continued into August, as he dropped to .214 with 2 homers and 6 RBI. He finished the season with a .258 average, and not much left-right difference (.265 against lefties and .256 against righties). He had 37 doubles, 7 triples, 12 homers, and 49 RBI. He struck out a lot — 132 times in 121 games (27%), and that rate was highest in July and August. He walked just 30 times (5.6%), and that was best in June and July. Cunningham played entirely at second base during the 2010 season (2008 was split between shortstop and third). Now that there is less concern about his knee, and with his good range and arm, he could spend time at shortstop too. The 21-year-old should be ready for A+ Bradenton for 2011. He’ll need to work on plate discipline and cutting back on the strikeouts.
Benji Gonzalez — R/R, 5′ 11″, 160 lb
Gonzalez was picked in the 7th round of the 2008 draft, coming out of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy. After two seasons in the GCL, Gonzalez was promoted to West Virginia for the 2010 season. He had hit a solid .286 in the GCL in 2009, but that did not carry over to 2010 with the Power. He hit .196 in the first half of the season, then he improved to .279 for the second half, for a .236 average overall. Gonzalez has limited power, with just 12 doubles, one triple, one homer, and 35 RBI in 2010. He stole 18 bases, but was also thrown out 14 times, so that needs some improvement. Gonzalez was the main shortstop for West Virginia in 2010, and showed strong defensive play with good range and a strong arm. He’ll need to work on cutting back on the errors (32) of course. After the regular season, Gonzalez went back to Puerto Rico and played in 19 games for the Puerto Rican Winter League’s Gigantes de Carolina. He did not hit well there either, just .184 with 2 doubles. Despite the low hitting, Gonzalez will likely be assigned to A+ Bradenton for 2011, where his hitting will need to improve.
Cheering for Pirates’ players and friends in the few winter league playoff games on Sunday….
Gigantes del Cibao 8, Toros del Este 2 — A 7-run 7th inning by Los Gigantes included a 2-run homer and a 3-run homer, and it gave them all the firepower they would need. Former Indy Indian Tim Harikkala finished the 5th inning after Los Toros scored their runs, then loaded the bases with a double and two walks in the 6th, though another reliever was able to end the inning without a run scoring. Juan Perez pitched the 8th inning for Los Gigantes and struck out the side.
PUERTO RICAN LEAGUE
Leones de Ponce 7, Gigantes de Carolina 6 — 2B Benji Gonzalez singled and tripled for Los Gigantes, but Ponce pulled it out with 2 runs in the bottom of the 10th. Los Gigantes began the game with 3 runs in the top of the 1st. They added a run in the 6th on a single and Gonzalez’s RBI triple. A double and a single gave them another run in the 7th. Los Leones scored one run in the 5th, then tied the score with 3 walks and a grand slam in the 7th. The game went into extra innings, but Carolina quickly scored a run in the top of the 10th with a single and a double. But in the bottom of the frame, Ponce had a runner reach base on an error, and a 2-run homer gave them the walk-off win. Gonzalez also singled in the 4th but was caught stealing.
Senadores de San Juan 8, Criollos de Caguas 2 — Another game with 3 runs scored in the top of the 1st, and Los Criollos were chasing Los Senadores for the rest of the game. Los Criollos scored their runs in the 7th, on a pair of doubles and an RBI single by 3B Ramon Vazquez. SS Luis Figueroa singled in the 4th, but was left on base.