ALTOONA, Pa. – Although the Curve were able to sweep the Bowie Baysox in three games in the Eastern League Divisional Series, it came with a price, as they lost Cole Tucker for the remainder of the playoffs with a broken left hand.
Tucker has a slight fracture of the third metatarsal in his hand thanks to jamming it on a slide into third base yesterday. Leading off the game in the first inning, Tucker was hit by a pitch to get on base. After getting to second base on a Pablo Reyes walk, Tucker tried to steal third base and was thrown out by Bowie catcher Austin Wynns.
During the head first slide, Tucker jammed his left hand into the base. He remained in the game for the bottom of the inning, and he actually made a play on a groundout. He knew that something didn’t feel right, though, as he wasn’t able to fully squeeze the glove with his hand.
Tucker left the game and went to the hospital for x-rays where it was determined that he had a fracture in the third metacarpal of his left hand.
“It’s a big loss with Cole,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said after their 6-1 win over Bowie to clinch the divisional series. “He’s our heart and soul and an unbelievable leader. He was playing so well. It’s not a coincidence that we ended the year good and carried momentum into the playoffs; he had a lot to do with that. He’s a top of the order guy. We say, ‘you go, we go’ when we talk to Cole.”
In his last 20 games, including two in the playoffs, Tucker hit .390 with six doubles, two triples and two homers. He had a .513 OPB from the lead-off spot during that same span.
“It’s a lesson to be learned for him,” Ryan said. “We’ll move forward, and he’ll be back.”
Initial indications are that Tucker would be out 4-6 weeks with the injury; however, he relayed to me on Sunday night that it is a clean, minimal fracture that is non-displaced. He thinks recovery should be closer to four weeks until he is ready to play again.
As of right now, Tucker is still expecting to play in the Arizona Fall League. Of course, that could quickly change if there are any changes to his healing time. He will have the hand x-rayed in two weeks to see how well it is progressing. The Pirates have to lock in the players headed to the AFL soon, so that could affect his roster status.
With Tucker going down, Pablo Reyes slid over to play shortstop, and the Curve had a great roster replacement plan in Kevin Kramer. Out since June 10th with a broken hand of his own, Kramer found out last Saturday that he would start a rehab assignment and rejoin the Curve for their championship series if the team made it. Tucker’s injury opened the door for Kramer to get back in the lineup on Saturday night rather than waiting until the next series.
“It’s bittersweet to get Kramer back,” Ryan said. “We got the next man up attitude obviously, but it’s just tough with Cole going down.”
Kramer made his presence felt right away, as he hit a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat on Sunday. He added a line drive single later in the game. More importantly, he is healthy and looked comfortable at the plate.
“It’s definitely special,” Kramer said about coming back to play in the playoffs with the Curve. “Once I got hurt, it was always the goal to get back here. Obviously, it took a lot longer than expected, but that’s just part of it. It wasn’t easy. It was tough trying to wait it out, having to make the decision to sit and be smart and not try to swing through a lot of pain. It’s all worth it now.”
For now, Mitchell Tolman will fill in for Tucker in the lead-off role. He and Kramer will flip flop between designated hitter and second base in the championship series.
“I like what Tolman brings to the lineup,” Michael Ryan said. “He has good at-bats, and he’s a really good hitter. He’s made plays defensively. He’s going to play.”
Ryan plans to send out the same lineup in game one of the championship series against Trenton as he did on Saturday night to clinch the ELDS, depending on left or right pitching matchups.
For now, Cole Tucker plans to be the Curve’s biggest cheerleader. His excitement and enthusiasm are contagious in the clubhouse and dugout. Tucker may not be able to help on the field, but his “you go, we go” mentality will be passed on to Tolman and Kramer in the championship series.