One of the Curve's biggest strengths this season has been getting quality production from their utility players, otherwise known as the unsung heroes of the team.
Eastern League All-Star Drew Maggi has drawn a lot of recognition, and rightfully so, but he's not the only one who deserves it. Andy Vasquez has quietly put together some impressive numbers in a part-time role, and despite being used very seldom for stretches, Kelson Brown has been a reliable contributor at the plate and in the field.
"Three years in Double-A for a lot of us, you learn how to do pinch-hit roles, double switches and all that stuff," said Brown, who started at second base Saturday night in place of injured Alen Hanson. "It was tough at first to get acclimated to that and not be an everyday player, but I think that as a group we've had a really solid bench this year."
Brown, who's batting .304, had one of the Curve's four hits Saturday as the offense fell flat in a 6-1 loss to New Britain before 6,278 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Altoona was no-hit for 5 1/3 innings before breaking it up in the sixth against Rock Cats starter Jason Wheeler.
Probably no member of the Curve gets overlooked as much as Vasquez, who started in left field and went 0-for-3. He has only 245 at-bats all season, yet he has ripped 10 homers with 16 doubles and has 33 RBIs to go along with a .763 OPS.
Vasquez has started at all three outfield positions, as well as second base and third. The 26-year-old is in his third season with the Curve and has doubled his previous career high in homers (5).
"A guy like that with the bat he brings every day, it's a value for any club," manager Carlos Garcia said.
Vasquez's power isn't a surprise to his teammates, who see it in batting practice, as well.
"I've really been impressed with Andy this year," Brown said. "He's never complained with his role. He's always come out with the same attitude and really done well."
At one time Vasquez was more of a priority prospect as he played in 113 games and got more than 400 at-bats for low-A West Virginia in 2011. Now he has to wait his turn for playing time, Garcia said, and when he gets it he seems to make the most of it.
"His versatility allows him to play all three outfield positions and also in the dirt, so he's valuable to us," Garcia said.
Brown suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss more than two months this season. The 26-year-old has shown an uncanny ability to hit well despite not playing very often, as his average this season and .290 mark in 2012 indicate.
"You just have to keep your focus on the dream and every day work hard and hope your chance comes," Brown said. "Coming into the season, I knew my role, knew I was going to be a utility guy, and that's what I'd be in Pittsburgh if they ever called me up. I had to learn how to be effective in limited appearances, and I feel like this is a really good showing for me."
One player who did not have a good showing Saturday was Pirates reliever Stolmy Pimentel, who had a downright miserable outing. Pimentel came on for the seventh inning and walked three - two with the bases loaded - and committed an error on a bunt back to the mound.
Pimentel retired only one batter and was pulled after 25 pitches (14 balls). He gave up three runs - only one earned because of his error - and allowed one hit. The right-hander is coming back from an ankle injury.
"He was overthrowing the ball, using too many offspeed," Garcia said. "He was probably trying to come back and work in his split-finger, but he was leaking out of the rubber and the arm can't catch up with his body."
Starter Zack Dodson (4-8) took the loss for Altoona, allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings. Wheeler (5-4) picked up the win for New Britain.
n 2B Alen Hanson was lifted from Friday night's game with a hamstring injury and sat out Saturday. He could miss a few more days, Garcia said.
Key player: RHP Jason Wheeler gave up only three hits and one run in six innings for the Rock Cats.
Key play: The Curve trailed just 3-1 in the seventh before Pirates RHP Stolmy Pimentel allowed three runs in a rehab outing.
Key stat: Pimentel had a disastrous night, walking two with the bases loaded and giving up three runs in one-third of an inning.
How they scored
Top 1st: Michael hit by pitch, scored on Rodriguez double (0-1).
Top 4th: Rosario singled, scored on Wickens groundout (0-2); Waring doubled, scored on Knudson single (0-3).
Bottom 6th: Cunningham doubled, scored on Cabrera single (1-3).
Top 7th: Knudson doubled, scored on Polanco bases-loaded walk (1-4); Michael walked, scored on Gonzales bases-loaded walk (1-5); Wimberly reached on Pimentel error, scored on Rosario groundout (1-6).