Brandon Cumpton, who finished second in the Eastern League with 12 wins last year, will be the Curve's opening-day starter Thursday at Erie, while Jameson Taillon is in line to start the home opener April 11 against Harrisburg at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Pitching rotations in the minor leagues aren't always set based on putting the ace of the staff first, as it's usually just how the pitchers lined up in spring training. There does seem to be more rhyme to the reason by the Pirates this year, though, setting up the rotation so that the prized prospect Taillon will start the first game at PNG Field.
"It's a big honor," Taillon said of starting the home opener. "I love pitching here. In my brief time up here last year I loved pitching here, loved the fans here, so I think it's a big honor to go out there and throw in front of them the first night."
Mirror photo by J.D.?Cavrich
Brandon Cumpton (left) and Jameson Taillon look over notes during media day festivities Tuesday.
Taillon's first start is scheduled for Saturday in Erie, then he will pitch five days later at PNG Field.
"You want the fans to get excited about a guy, which they are," Curve manager Carlos Garcia said of Taillon starting the home opener. "There's big potential in a guy who at some point will be an important pitcher in Pittsburgh, so I think it's very important for him."
Cumpton figures to be one of the Curve's best pitchers after turning in a solid 2012 season in which he went 12-11 with a 3.84 ERA in 27 starts.
"I actually felt like last year was one of my more consistent years," the right-hander said. "I didn't have as many ups and downs, so I just want to try to continue to do that."
The Pirates decided not to promote Cumpton to Triple-A and sent him back to the Curve for more seasoning.
"I'm not disappointed; I can't really control that," Cumpton said. "I'm just going to come here and throw how I know how to throw and keep competing and working on stuff."
Cumpton progressed the first half of last season, posting a 3.60 ERA in April, 3.47 in May and 2.59 ERA in June. He regressed in the second half, with a 3.75 ERA in July and 6.37 in six starts in August.
Asked how much better he got as a pitcher last season, Cumpton said, "I don't know if I'd say much better, but I learned more about myself. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and learned to pitch toward my strengths a little more."
Among the changes and new things at PNG Field this year, Saturday games will start at 6 p.m. all season. That's different from years past, when they began at 7 p.m. once the calendar switched to June.
There's a new speed pitch machine at the ballpark, so fans can see how hard they can throw.
There's also a new area called Sandy Candy Land, where kids can create their own sand art that's edible and sugar free.
The ballpark now features a business suite that can be used for more than just baseball games. The McCartney's BizBall Suite has room for 20 people and can be used for businesses that want to hold meetings or conferences at the ballpark at any time, not just during games.
There will be a giant Curve jersey outside the ballpark that will be signed by all players and dignitaries this season, then will be raffled off at the end of the year with proceeds going to the Lung Disease Foundation of Central Pennsylvania.
Reliever Hunter Strickland was expected to be with the Curve this season but was designated for assignment by the Pirates last week. He would have joined Altoona had he cleared waivers, but instead he was claimed Tuesday by the Giants.