The Altoona Curve have found themselves in a late season swoon, losing to the Reading Fightins 8-0 on Wednesday night. They lost three of four to the Philadelphia Phillies’ AA affiliate in the series and five of six overall, scoring just seven runs in that span.
“It’s just not being able to make adjustments,” Jarek Cunningham said about the lack of offense. “Last night and tonight we faced very similar pitching and we weren’t able to make adjustments and just played right into their hands both nights.”
“I see a team a little bit desperate right now, swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone,” manager Carlos Garcia said. “Probably in the back of their mind they want to maintain their numbers and try to be a little careful and they go out there and try to have a quality at-bat. I was disappointed with the lack of patience at the plate earlier in the game. When we got down eight runs, rather than take a strike and work the count, we started swinging at first pitches. We tried to hit five-run homers when we didn’t have anybody on base. In that situation, you work the count, try to get on base, trust the guy who is on deck and pile as many runners on as you can.”
The Curve got shut out for the second consecutive night by a left-handed pitcher. You may think the Curve have lower numbers against left-handed pitching, but the numbers are very similar when facing a lefty and righty besides the slugging percentage.
VS LHP .252 avg .322 OBP .349 SLG
VS RHP .251 avg .325 OBP .393 SLG
Left-hander Nate Baker (3-3, 6.59 ERA) took the loss Wednesday, giving up seven earned runs on 11 hits in five innings. In the fourth inning, Baker gave up four hits to start the inning, including back-to-back home runs on successive pitches to Maikel Franco and Jim Murphy. Most of the damage was done by right handed hitters, who were getting extended on pitches out over the plate and barreling up Baker’s fastball. The catcher was setting up inside on the right-handed batters a few times but the pitches were not enough inside or off the plate to get weak contact. The Pirates’ 2009 5th round pick had a tough time staying on top of his fastball and locating it down in the zone. The Fightins took advantage of the thigh high and belt high fastballs by driving them to all fields. In his last three starts, Baker has thrown 16 innings and gave up 15 earned runs on 25 hits. Baker did get some swing and misses when he was ahead of the count with his changeup but most Fightins hitters were ambushing the fastball.
The Curve had several opportunities to score throughout the night. They left the bases loaded in the third. Cunningham, who tripled, was thrown out at home attempting to score on a fly ball to right field in the seventh. Alen Hanson was left stranded after leading off the eighth with a double to left field. In the ninth, Mel Rojas Jr. and Cunningham singled to start the inning but were left stranded as the Curve finished 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The minor league season is a grind and can take a toll on the players both mentally and physically.
“It’s just being in August and we’ve been playing since March so our bodies are tired,” first baseman Justin Howard said, who is batting .300 in his last ten games with a .382 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage for an OPS of .882. “Our mental focus is tired so it’s just the point of coming to the field and taking our at-bats and separating them when we’re on defense.”
You can’t but help to think that the team is mentally and physically drained, but no one has given up on the team or themselves.
“It’s not that you can look out there in the game and tell someone is giving up,” second baseman Cunningham said, after going 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple off the left-center field wall (385 feet) and had three of the team’s six hits. “Everyone is still playing hard and you can tell there’s been quality at-bats but at times you can see people not putting enough emphasis in situations when they need to be successful.”
Despite being out of the playoff race, manager Carlos Garcia says the team will finish the season on a good note, despite having a 59-71 record.
“We will finish strong, that’s for sure, there’s no doubt about it,” Curve manager Garcia said. “When I say we’ll finish strong I don’t mean we’re going to win the rest of the games, but we’re going to play with energy, go out there and prepare, try to be more consistent at the plate and in the field. The work will be done no matter how many games out we are and they understand that and they know that won’t fly on my watch, so they got to be ready to play.”
The game did feature some highlights made on defense by the Curve, despite two errors. Mel Rojas Jr. made two nice catches in the field. Rojas Jr. ranged to right-center to rob Anthony Hewitt of a double to the gap. In the seventh, the center fielder went back on the ball and caught a deep drive off the bat of prized prospect Franco on the warning track in dead center field.
Cunningham ranged to his right on a ground ball up the middle, making a backhand stab and making a leaping throw that could not be corralled on one hop by Howard. Gregory Polanco showcased his strong arm with a throw from the right field bullpen mound to second base. Polanco cut off the ball down the line and threw a dart just over a jumping Alen Hanson at second base with no bounce.
SS Alen Hanson went 1-for-3 with a double
1st at-bat: grounded out to third base on a 1-2 pitch
2nd at-bat: walked on a 3-1 pitch
3rd at-bat: grounded out to shortstop on the first pitch
4th at-bat: doubled to left field on a 2-1 pitch
14 pitches seen/4 plate appearances=3.5 pitches per plate appearance
RF Gregory Polanco went 0-for-3
1st at-bat: flew out to center on a 2-1 pitch
2nd at-bat: walked on a 3-1 pitch
3rd at-bat: flew out to left on a 1-2 pitch
4th at-bat: grounded out to second base on a 2-2 pitch
19 pitches seen/4 plate appearances=4.75 pitches per plate appearance