The Curve's best major league prospect and one of the best arms ever to come through Altoona, right-handed reliever Duke Welker, was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis following Thursday's game.
Welker, the only member of the Pirates' 40-man roster with the Curve, projects as a back-end of the bullpen guy with a 98 mph fastball and sharp slider. If he continues to develop as the Pirates hope, he could be a late-inning setup man or potentially a closer at the big league level in the next couple of years.
"It's exciting what the future holds, but I'm ready and I'm prepared for it and just excited to get up [to Indy]," Welker said.
Welker pitched the seventh inning of the Curve's 5-4 win over Harrisburg before 4,350 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Altoona scored five runs in the first but had to hang on as Vic Black left the bases loaded in the ninth to secure the win.
Welker, who was 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA and five saves in 15 appearances, typically has pitched in the eighth or ninth inning for Altoona. But the plan was to let him get his one inning out of the way early and then tell him about the promotion.
"I'm just excited for him because two years ago, he really had trouble," Curve manager P.J. Forbes said. "That's all gone, and just to see him perform has been a lot of fun because he's a great guy."
Tonight: Altoona at Bowie, 7:05 p.m.
Pitching matchups: Curve RHP Tim Alderson (3-1, 1.93) vs. Baysox RHP Bobby Bundy (2-7, 5.26)
It took Welker a long time to figure things out as a pitcher and to get to Double-A after being a second-round draft pick in 2007. He began his career as a starter and went 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA for State College in 2007, but the next two years were a disaster for him.
Welker went 4-13 with a 5.51 ERA at low-A Hickory in 2008 and 0-11 with a 5.79 ERA for low-A West Virginia in 2009. He struggled with his command and got hit around when he was in the zone, and the Pirates decided midway through the 2009 season to move him to the bullpen.
"It took a lot of maturing for me to do," Welker said. "I think that's what starting did. It humbled me, and I kind of had to start all over again and start from the bottom."
Welker still battled control issues the past two years, but he finally broke through and enjoyed some success for high-A Bradenton in 2011, going 3-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 36 games.
The Pirates decided to add him to the 40-man roster rather than risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft in December, and now, after all the struggles, the 26-year-old is finally rewarding the organization.
"It's been awesome how patient the Pirates have been, and I'm loving where I'm at right now and excited for what the future holds," Welker said.
"I have a lot of belief in who I am and confidence in what I'm doing, and I feel like my stuff's good enough to be at the big league level and get hitters out consistently," he added.
If he ultimately can do that, the Pirates could have a future closer candidate in Welker.
Joel Hanrahan likely will be in line for a big payday after this season, so the Bucs could either deal him at the trade deadline or ride out the rest of the season with him and let him go at the end, like they did with Paul Maholm last year.
If Welker can perform in Triple-A like he did with the Curve - and especially given his age - he could be in line for a call-up to the majors by September, if not sooner.
"I'm working toward the big leagues, and I want to consistently stay in the big leagues at an All-Star caliber level," Welker said. "So it's just the process of getting there."
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: LF Quincy Latimore went 1-for-3 with a two-run double.
Key play: Latimore's big double in the first inning proved to be the difference.
Key stat: The Curve scored five runs in the first inning, which held up for the win.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 1st: Perez bunt single, scored on Valdez sacrifice fly (0-1).
Bottom 1st: Grossman walked, scored on Sanchez single (1-1); Holt singled, scored on Farrell single (2-1); Curry intentionally walked, scored on Durham sacrifice fly (3-1); Farrell singled, scored along with Sanchez on Latimore double (5-1).
Top 4th: Lozada walked, scored on Hood sacrifice fly (5-2); Valdez singled, scored on Mayorson single (5-3).
Top 8th: Nicol doubled, scored on Lozada groundout (5-4).