Most pitchers already throw a two-seam fastball before they get to Double-A, and most, when they're learning a new pitch, don't rely heavily on it the first time they use it in a game.
Given those two tendencies, what Curve lefty Nathan Baker did Saturday night was intriguing, to say the least.
"I started using a two-seamer today," Baker said. "It was the first time I've ever thrown it before [in a game]."
He had so much confidence in the pitch - which he estimated he'd only thrown about 10 times total in the one bullpen session he worked on it - that he kept going to it. Baker threw the two-seam fastball about 15 times in 80 pitches, and the repertoire addition helped him turn in the best performance of the season by a Curve starter.
The lefty tossed seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits with six strikeouts and one walk in game one of a doubleheader. He didn't get rewarded for the masterful effort as the Curve lost, 1-0, in eight innings.
Altoona received another strong pitching performance from Shairon Martis in game two and regrouped for a 3-1 win before 4,637 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. For the night, four Curve pitchers combined to allow only two runs and nine hits in 15 innings.
Today: Richmond at Altoona, 1 p.m.
Pitching matchups: Curve RHP Brandon Cumpton (3-2, 3.77) vs. Flying Squirrels LHP Mike Kickham (1-2, 3.00)
"The pitching tonight, up and down, was outstanding," said Curve manager P.J. Forbes said.
No one was better than Baker, and he desperately needed the confidence boost after struggling in his previous three outings. He had allowed 20 runs - 17 earned - in only 12 1/3 innings in those games and entered Saturday with a 6.94 ERA.
Four days ago, following his last start at Erie, Baker tried out the two-seam fastball with pitching coach Jeff Johnson. A four-seamer is the traditional fastball that all pitchers throw, while the two-seamer usually is a little slower and works more like a sinker.
For a left-handed pitcher, the two-seamer goes down and away from right-handed hitters, making it a highly effective pitch that most pitchers learn early in their careers.
"By the time they get [to Double-A], they usually have added that pitch to their arsenal, so it is pretty rare," Johnson said of Baker just learning it. "I thought he needed something to help get the ball away from the bat head a little bit to right-handed hitters, take some pressure off location and get some movement."
Baker said the plan was to "just throw it out there today, and it was actually successful," so he wound up sticking with it.
"It's a great pitch to right-handed hitters away, and my changeup off of that was able to work with it, as well," he said.
Johnson admitted he didn't expect Baker to be as effective so quickly with the two-seamer.
"It's a pitch that you develop at some point usually to get the ball on the ground," the pitching coach said. "So at some point, either in college or high school, especially in college with the metal bats, they throw a lot of them because they're trying to miss the big fat part of the bat."
Richmond scored the game's lone run in the eighth off reliever Kyle Cofield (0-1). The Curve thought they had tied it in their last at-bat when Elevys Gonzalez drilled a liner over the wall down the right field line, but it was ruled foul by first base umpire Tom Honec.
Forbes argued, the three umpires met and the manager said all three told him they saw it go foul. Pitchers in the Curve bullpen down the right field line thought the ball was fair, and Forbes had a humorous line about what he saw on the team's video replay.
"The white roller coaster gave me nothing," he said with a laugh.
Brett Bochy (2-0) won in relief for Richmond after starter Chris Heston threw six shutout innings.
The Curve scored twice in the second inning and once in the third off Richmond starter Andy Reichard (0-1) to take control in game two. Martis (1-0) shut down the Flying Squirrels on two hits over five innings, striking out four with two walks for the win.
Duke Welker gave up one run in two innings to earn his third save.
News and notes
Former Curve star Brad Eldred's stay in the big leagues didn't last long as he was designated for assignment by the Tigers on Friday. He cleared waivers and was sent back to Triple-A Toledo. Eldred went 3-for-16 (.188) with a triple, double and one RBI as the DH in five games for Detroit. He also struck out six times. ... Former Curve IF Jim Negrych was promoted from Harrisburg to Triple-A Syracuse this past week. Negrych went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs for Harrisburg after getting signed two weeks ago.
Key player: Curve LHP Nathan Baker threw seven shutout innings but got a no-decision in game one, and CF Robbie Grossman homered in game two.
Key play: Gary Brown's RBI single in the eighth won game one for Richmond, while the Curve scored twice in the second inning to take command in game two.
Key stat: Pitching ruled the night as the teams combined for only 18 hits in 15 innings.
How they scored
Top 8th: Flores doubled, scored on Brown single (0-1).
Bottom 2nd: Curry doubled, scored on Norman sacrifice fly (1-0); Farrell walked, scored on Latimore double (2-0).
Bottom 3rd: Grossman solo homer (3-0).
Top 6th: Mayora reached on fielder's choice, scored on Monell single (3-1).