READING - Vic Black has been nothing short of fantastic for the Curve this season, and while health is the primary reason, perspective also has played a big part.
"I'm just having fun," Black said after throwing a scoreless inning in Wednesday's Eastern League All-Star Game. "There's really nothing better than just being healthy and going out to throw every day.
"It's just a blast."
The past two years weren't much fun for Black, a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2009. He suffered a shoulder injury that limited him to just two games in 2010 and kept him out until late May last year.
Black then struggled upon returning in 2011, posting a 5.28 ERA in 22 relief appearances at low-A West Virginia before doing better at high-A Bradenton (4.05 ERA in five games).
None of those numbers indicated Black would be a dominant Double-A reliever, but he's been lights out for the Curve.
Black hasn't allowed a run since May 26, a span of 13 appearances and 16 innings. In 30 games overall, he has a scant 1.22 ERA, one of the best in Curve history.
Black pitched a scoreless seventh inning Wednesday, striking out one, walking one and getting a double play for the Western Division All-Stars.
The flame-throwing right-hander, who's been clocked consistently at 98 mph all season, doesn't appear to be just a Double-A wonder, either.
To go along with immense talent, Black has a tremendous attitude about the game. That came about from having to miss so much playing time the past two years.
"There was so much I think I took for granted while I was hurt," he said. "Now, to have the opportunity to come out and do things every day, there's no better way to spend my days.
"It's just complete gratefulness. Now I get to wake up and come to the field instead of waking up at 6:30 in the morning at Pirate City and going to rehab."
Black had only thrown 71 2/3 innings in his pro career and hadn't exactly enjoyed much success when the Pirates decided to take a chance and let him start the season with the Curve. Black turned 24 in May, so the organization surely figured it had to find out about him at a higher level.
Curve pitching coach Jeff Johnson said Black has really just started to find himself as a pitcher this season.
"He was trying to figure out who he was and what kind of pitcher he was going to be," said Johnson, who also spoke of Black's great stuff and consistent approach every day.
With the injuries behind him, Johnson believes Black "can do whatever he wants" with regards to being a successful pitcher.
One of the big turning points for Black came when he joined high-A Bradenton last August.
"Just the transformation and [the Pirates] allowing me to do what I do, which is just throw," he said. "I've never been one to overanalyze the game and think about mechanics."
The Bucs, however, had tried stressing mechanics with him at the beginning of his career. And it wasn't working.
So when Black got to Bradenton, pitching coach Mike Steele gave him some news that jumpstarted his career.
"My first day back in the Florida State League with Mike Steele, we had a talk and he said, 'Hey, we made you a mechanical guy, and you're not. The locks are off,'" Black said.
"I think the mechanical idea is great for younger guys, but for me, I don't think, I just go pitch."
Being able to just let loose, Black saw his velocity rise. He's now a big-time power arm who projects to be a back-end bullpen guy in the major leagues.
Earlier this season, the Curve also had fireballer Duke Welker in the back of the bullpen. Welker, who's now in Triple-A, throws 98 mph, and with him and Black, the Pirates have two promising power arms in the upper minors.
Welker struggled early in his career as a starter, but the move to the bullpen has made him a very good prospect. A healthy Black is another one for the Bucs.
"We're grateful to give them some return on their investment," Black said. "For a while he struggled, I was hurt. There was frustration on our part. And we know they were patient with us, and now we're just able to go out and compete and do what they were planning on us doing."
If everything keeps going as planned, Welker and Black could find themselves pitching together once again next season, about 100 miles west of Altoona.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.