On a day Curve manager Carlos Garcia mentioned Jameson Taillon in the same breath as Seattle Mariners star Felix Hernandez, Taillon wasn't even the best pitcher on the mound.
Taillon pitched six solid innings for Altoona, allowing just two earned runs, striking out six and walking just one, but he needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning of a 4-1 Akron victory at Peoples Natural Gas Field Thursday morning.
Aeros starter Danny Salazar also threw six innings, struck out 12, walked two and allowed only a check-swing single by Adalberto Santos in the fifth inning.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
The Curve’s Carlos Paulino puts the tag on Akron’s Tyler Holt for the out at home.
Taillon gave up four of the seven hits he allowed in the first inning, and Altoona fell behind 2-0 before even stepping to the plate.
"For the most part, that type of pitcher, they have struggles a little bit in that first inning," Garcia said. "If they get past that first inning, they're going to have a good game. It reminds me of Felix Hernandez of Seattle. You don't know what you're going to get in the first inning, but as the game goes on, he's going to be good.
"It's a matter of time. Once he learns how to handle that type of situation, he's going to be the pitcher we want him to be."
Tonight: Altoona Curve at Erie SeaWolves, 7:05 p.m.
Pitching matchup: Curve RHP Ethan Hollingsworth (0-1, 4.50) vs. SeaWolves RHP Patrick Cooper (0-2, 5.85)
Salazar didn't allow a baserunner in the bottom of the first inning, but it was the only frame in which the Indians No. 6 prospect did not record a strikeout.
The right-hander, who reached 98 miles per hour on his fastball in the fifth inning, struck out the side in the second and third innings. Salazar continued his torrid strikeout pace into the sixth inning and struck out nine out of the 12 batters he faced at one point.
"We faced a guy who was throwing the ball really well," Garcia said. "I am going to give him the credit today. We didn't adjust very well with two strikes."
He exited the game after throwing just 82 pitches, but Akron's relief pitchers were almost as tough on the Curve's lineup.
Austin Adams, Bryan Price and Jose Flores combined to pile up five more strikeouts, bringing the Aeros' total for the day to 17.
Taillon certainly did his part to keep the Curve in the game.
Tyler Holt's first-inning triple and Jesus Aguilar's third-inning double were fly balls that may not have been hits if right fielder Alex Dickerson had not been having problems with the sunny skies.
"I thought I threw OK," Taillon said. "They jumped on the board early and were swinging early. That forced me to make a change in-game.
"That's what pitching is about. If things aren't going your way, you have to identify why it isn't and find a way to change it."
Taillon said he noticed Akron hitters were swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, and he took advantage of that as the game went on.
"It was a blessing in disguise once I went over that first inning," Taillon said. "It made me go back to the drawing board and pitch in off the plate. It got me weak contact from then on."
Despite earning his third quality start of the season, Taillon (2-3, 3.03) lasted just six innings and threw 92 pitches. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stressed the importance of his starters pitching through seven innings, something Taillon has done just once in six starts, earlier this week.
"I've been OK in the first so far this year," Taillon said. "But I need to go out there with a closer's mentality and close that first inning and imagine the second inning as the first."
The Curve's only run of the game came in the seventh inning. Santos, who came off the disabled list earlier this week, hit a one-out double and scored when Akron third baseman Kyle Bellows misplayed Jarek Cunningham's ground ball. Santos accounted for two of Altoona's three hits.
"It isn't showing right now on paper and in games, but everybody in this locker room is talented," Santos said. "We're going through a little rut. Every team does. It's the first month of the season, and we're putting it behind us and looking forward to the next couple months and finishing strong."
Key player: Salazar struck out 12 in six innings and allowed only Santos' check-swing infield single.
Key play: Latimore drove in was turned out to be the winning run with a single up the middle in the first inning off Taillon to make it 2-0.
Key stat: Altoona struck out 17 times.
How they scored
Top 1st: Tyler Holt tripled, scored on Chun Chen single (0-1). Chen scored on Quincy Latimore single (0-2).
Top 6th: Carlos Moncrief walked, scored when Roberto Perez reached on a Jarek Cunningham error. (0-3).
Bottom 7th: Adalberto Santos doubled, scored when Cunningham reached on Kyle Bellows error. (1-3).
Top 9th: Holt doubled, scored on Nathan Baker throwing error. (1-4).