Two weeks ago, Derek Hankins was enjoying a career year and finally - at age 27 - got his first promotion to Triple-A.
For whatever reason, despite the right-hander having a 1.82 ERA with the Curve, the Indianapolis coaching staff had very little use for Hankins. He made three appearances, pitched only 1 2/3 innings and wasn't used at all for six days.
Then he got demoted back to Altoona.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
The Curve’s Josh Harrison is forced out at second as Trenton shortstop Luis Nunez tries to turn a double play.
"It is a roller coaster," Hankins said. "You've got to really get a grip on what's really important, and what's really important is how you do individually and what you do for your team. Whether that's in Triple-A, Double-A, A-ball, whatever you want to say, it's all about what you can do to help your team win a ballgame."
Given the mental roller coaster and long layoff he's endured lately, it was no surprise Hankins struggled in his first appearance back with the Curve. He entered in a tie game in the eighth against Trenton, walked the first batter he faced, gave up the go-ahead run and was tagged for three more runs in the ninth.
The Thunder capitalized on Hankins' struggles for a 6-3 win. The Tuesday night game drew a stellar crowd of 6,950 to Blair County Ballpark - the second largest of the season behind only the Stephen Strasburg debut (7,887) - but the fans were treated to an overall shoddy game by the home team.
"We just didn't come through, just didn't play sharp baseball," Altoona manager Matt Walbeck said. "We had a baserunning mistake, forgot the number of outs, misplayed a routine double play, let a ball get by us. Just things like that that over the course of time are going to catch up to you."
The Curve finished with 15 hits but squandered numerous chances to build a big lead early. They went up 1-0 in the second on Kris Watts' RBI single, but Watts forgot how many outs there were, ran all the way on Anthony Norman's fly ball and was doubled off first base.
Rudy Owens pitched five outstanding innings for the Curve, shutting out the Thunder on two hits. He threw only 67 pitches but, like his last start, was lifted because the organization is trying to limit his innings as much as possible.
Owens left with the 1-0 lead, then Trenton immediately scored twice in the sixth off Tom Boleska. Altoona tied it at 2 in the seventh on an RBI single by Andrew Lambo.
Enter Hankins, who couldn't find a rhythm after being off since Aug. 2 for Indy.
"You just lose your feel a little bit," he said of the layoff. "Obviously tonight I wasn't very sharp. It's no secret. They put you in there, and I don't think I've pitched in about a week, something like that. You lose touch with the mound a little bit, lose feel. It's still no excuse."
The Curve relied heavily on Hankins his first tour this season, and with the bullpen struggles of late, he knows he will be needed in tight situations.
"I want the ball in that situation every time," Hankins said. "Every single game I want that opportunity."
Corban Joseph walked to start the eighth against Hankins and scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Daniel Brewer. The Thunder, who have the EL's best record at 69-47, added three runs in the ninth and improved to 6-2 against Altoona.
"They've had a pretty good season, so have we, and I think it's just one of those things where we've gotten the breaks over these guys," Trenton manager Tony Franklin said.
Franklin was ejected in the seventh inning for arguing a play at third base. Curve runner Chase d'Arnaud was called safe on a bunt by Josh Harrison, and Franklin disagreed with the call.
The manager was ejected, then put on quite a show as he vehemently argued for a couple of minutes, following third base umpire Karl Best from the bag to the middle of the infield.
J.B. Cox (2-0) won in relief for Trenton, and Ryan Pope picked up his 10th save.
Key player: Trenton RF Daniel Brewer was 1-for-2 with three RBIs.
Key play: The Thunder broke things open with three runs in the ninth off RHP Derek Hankins.
Key stat: Trenton is 6-2 against Altoona, the best record of any EL opponent against the Curve.
How they scored
Bottom 2nd: Durham doubled, scored on Watts single (1-0).
Top 6th: Joseph walked, Romine reached on d'Arnaud error, both scored on Brewer single (1-2).
Bottom 7th: d'Arnaud doubled, scored on Lambo single (2-2).
Top 8th: Joseph walked, scored on Brewer sacrifice fly (2-3).
Top 9th: Nunez doubled, scored on Krum single (2-4); Christian single scored Krum (2-5); Romine single scored Christian (2-6).
Bottom 9th: Lambo walked, scored on Durham double (3-6).