Three wins for the Pirates’ lower minor league teams on Tuesday:
Altoona Curve 2, Akron Aeros 0
Starter Bryan Morris threw 6 shutout innings to lead the Curve over the Aeros in Akron. Morris scattered 4 hits and a walk, while striking out 3 for his first win of the season. The only real trouble he had was in the bottom of the 1st, when rehabbing Grady Sizemore began the inning with a walk. After two grounder force outs, a single, Akron had runners on first and second. A single lined into center field had the runner from second charging for home, but CF Starling Marte fired in to C Eric Fryer, who tagged out the runner at the plate. Morris sailed through his remaining 5 innings, allowing just two more hits — singles in the 2nd and the 5th. Brian Leach, Michael Dubee, and Noah Krol each pitched one scoreless inning of relief. Leach and Dubee each allowed one walk, but Dubee struck out the other three batters he faced. Krol earned his second Save of the season.
Both of the Curve’s runs scored in the 3rd inning. 3B Jeremy Farrell began the rally by being hit by a pitch. Fryer singled, and RF Jose Hernandez sacrifice bunted both runners into scoring position. 2B Brock Holt grounded to first, but a fielding error let him reach safely and gave Farrell the chance to score. An RBI grounder by Marte brougth in Fryer with the second run. Marte stole second base and moved to third on a wild pitch, but the inning ended before he could come around to score.
Marte singled after Holt walked in the 5th inning, and both Farrell and Fryer singled in the 7th, but neither of those threats yielded any runs. Farrell lined into right field in the 9th, and rounded second easily, but was thrown out when he tried to stretch it into a triple. He would have scored if he’d stopped at second, because Fryer followed with his own double. Fryer was 3-for-4 in the game, and Farrell went 2-for-3.
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.
Moving on up, as we look at the Pirates’ minor league pitchers….
Aaron Pribanic – R/R, 6′ 4″, 200 lb
Pribanic came to the Pirates in July 2009, as a part of the trade with the Mariners for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell. He was assigned to West Virginia, where he made 6 starts and one relief appearance to finish the season, earning a 4-2 record and a 2.15 ERA. He didn’t walk many 5 (1.2 walks/ 9 innings), but didn’t strike out many either (18, 4.3 K/ 9 innings). Pribanic was promoted to A+ Bradenton to begin 2010, and he spent the whole season there. He was a starter for the whole season, making 27 appearances, and earning a 7-6 record with an overall 3.33 ERA. He began the season slowly, with 4 starts in April, in which he gave up a total of 12 earned runs in 17 innings (6.35 ERA). May was a little better, with 18 earned runs in 33.1 innings (6 starts), for a 4.86 ERA. He gave up 11 runs in his first three starts in June, but by the second half of the month, things were beginning to turn around. Pribanic gave up 4 runs over his last three starts in June (21 innings). July was even better: 5 earned runs in 30 innings for a 1.50 ERA. Pribanic finished up the season with 8 runs in 44.2 innings (1.61 ERA) in August/September. Again in 2010, he did not walk many (33, 1.9 walks/ 9 innings) and did not strikeout many (71, 4.2 K/ 9 innings). Pribanic was assigned to the Arizona Fall League, where he made 11 appearances, all in relief, for the Mesa Solar Sox. He threw 18 innings and allowed 4 earned runs on 18 hits (2.00 ERA), with 6 walks and 9 strikeouts. The low strikeout rate has been attributed to Pribanic not having particularly strong breaking pitches. He does get a lot of ground ball outs, though, which explains why he can allow 157 hits in 154 innings and still give up “only” 57 runs. Pribanic needs to work more on those breaking pitches, as the Pirates would really like to see more strikeouts. He should begin 2011, at age 24, as a starter for AA Altoona.
Brian Leach — R/R, 6′ 3″, 195 lb
Leach was chosen by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2008 draft. He pitched as both a starter and a reliever in his first two seasons in the Pirates’ organization, but in 2010, Leach pitched almost exclusively as a starter, with just 2 relief appearances. He was promoted to Bradenton for the season, and like Pribanic, he got off to a slow start, leading the Marauders in earned runs (15) and walks (16) for the month of April, when he made one relief appearance and four starts, for 20.2 innings, for a 6.53 ERA. He cut back on the walks in May (9), and did a little better with runs, for a 4.70 ERA in 23 innings. Leach too turned things around in June, when he allowed 7 runs in 30 innings (2.10 ERA), with 7 walks. That ballooned up to a 4.75 ERA in July, though he kept the walks down to 6, and slid back to 3.26 ERA in August/Sept, with 9 walks. Overall, Leach earned a 9-9 record and a 3.85 ERA, with 144 hits in 138 innings. He walked 44 (2.9 walks/ 9 innings), and struck out 98 (6.4 K/ 9 innings). Leach also participated in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season. He made 10 relief appearances for the Mesa Solar Sox, and while he allowed 11 hits and 7 walks in his 10 innings, he did not allow a run. Leach has been somewhat on-again-off-again with his control — it was better during the second half of the regular season, and not so great during the AFL. He needs to work on that in 2011, when at age 25, he should be joining Pribanic in the Altoona starting rotation.
The Arizona Fall League wrapped up with the Championship Game on Saturday. The Scottsdale Scorpions beat the Peoria Javelinas 3-2. Each team posted 7 hits, with RF Adam Loewen (Blue Jays) going 3-for-3 for the Javelinas. Loewen’s first single contributed to the Javelina’s first run in the top of the 2nd, but the Scorpions came back with 2 runs in the bottom of the inning, which included an RBI single by RF Bryce Harper (Nationals). Loewen also singled in Peoria’s 4th run rally, when they tied the score at 2-2. Scottsdale took the lead again in the bottom of the frame, with a pair of doubles. Starter Sammy Solis (Nationals) earned the win for Scottsdale with 4 innings of work, and reliever Cole Kimball (Nationals) earned the save.
The Mesa Solar Sox played their second-to-last game on Wednesday, losing to Scottsdale by a score of 6-0. The Solar Sox were held to just 3 hits. 2B Josh Harrison had one of them — a double to lead off the 4th inning. CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (Mets) and 1B Josh Satin (Mets) each had a single. Harrison was the first Mesa player to reach base in the game, after they went down in order for the first 3 innings. But he was left on base when Scottsdale’s Josh Collmenter (Diamondbacks) struck out the next three batters. Nieuwenhuis singled and stole second base in the 5th, but the other three batters in that inning struck out too. Satin singled in the 8th, but was left on base. The Solar Sox had their best chance in the 7th inning, when with one out, DH Matt Rizzotti (Phillies) reached base on a fielding error and RF Andrew Lambo walked (the only walk for the Solar Sox. But C Tony Sanchez bounced into a force out, and a line out ended the inning.
MESA SOLAR SOX 5, PHOENIX DESERT DOGS 5 (TIE)
Starter Justin Wilson pitched into the 4th inning and allowed 2 runs, but the game ended in a tie. That means that the Solar Sox will not be able to catch up to the Scottsdale Scorpions, who have clinched the Arizona Fall League’s Eastern Division. The Solar Sox have three games remaining. The Scorpions will play the championship game on Saturday, against either the Peoria Javelinas (1st place in the AFL West) or the Surprise Rafters (2nd place, 3 games behind with 3 games to play).
The Solar Sox got the early lead, with a run in the 1st inning. 2B Ryan Flaherty (Cubs) singled up the middle, and a wild pitch put him on second base. 1B Matt Rizzotti (Phillies) also singled up the middle, and Flaherty raced around from second base to score.
Wilson worked around a pair of singles in both the 1st and 2nd innings, to hold onto the slim lead. But in the top of the 3rd, Wilson hit the first batter of the inning. Then with two outs, he gave up a 2-run homer to LF Brandon Laird (Yankees), and the Desert Dogs had a 2-1 lead.
A pair of doubles, by 3B Josh Vitters (Cubs) and RF Andrew Lambo, drove in a run for the Solar Sox in the 4th inning, to tie the score. A hit batter and a ground out by C Tony Sanchez moved the runners to second and third bases, but SS Jordy Mercer struck out to end the inning and leave both runners in scoring position.
Wilson began the 4th with a fly out and a walk, then was relieved by David Cales (Cubs), who got out of the inning without a run scoring. Nicholas Carr (Mets) pitched a scoreless 5th inning for Mesa, then gave up two lead-off singles in the 6th. A fielding error by Mercer brought in one run for Phoenix, and another single added a second run, giving the Desert Dogs a 4-2 lead.
Jordy Mercer made up for his error in the 7th, when he led off with a solo home run. DH Andrew Romine (Angels) singled following the homer, but was erased in a double play off the bat of Flaherty. LF John Tolisano (Blue Jays) doubled and Rizzotti walked, but that attempt at a rally ended with a ground out. The Solar Sox were closer, at 4-3.
Eric Neisen (Mets) finished the 6th inning for Carr, then pitched a 1-2-3 7th inning. Brian Leach extended his perfect ERA streak with a perfect 8th inning — two ground outs and a strikeout. Eddie McKiernan (Angels) took over for Leach to begin the top of the 9th, and he gave up a double, then a fielding error by Rizzotti allowed that runner to score, and the Desert Dogs were back to a 2-run lead.
Mercer began the bottom of the 9th with a line drive single into center field. Romine walked, and Flaherty moved both up a base with a sacrifice bunt. Mercer scored on Tolisano’s RBI ground out, and Romine scored on a wild pitch. But a strike out ended the inning and cut the rally short, and the game ended in a tie.