Pimentel continues his winning ways

Let’s just call it Stolmy’s remarkable story.

Two years ago, Stolmy Pimentel had as bad of a season as it gets for a pitcher at Double-A Portland. He was 0-9 with a 9.12 ERA in 15 starts.

Think of all the struggling pitchers you’ve ever seen, and they probably didn’t have anything close to a 9.12 ERA in that many starts, primarily because pitchers just don’t get that many starts if they’re that bad.

That’s the kind of season that can destroy a pitcher’s career.

Two years later, Pimentel is the biggest pitching surprise in all of minor league baseball. If not for Pirates pitcher-turned-slugger Stetson Allie, who hit two homers Monday and now has a whopping eight to go along with a .351 average for low-A West Virginia, Pimentel would be the biggest surprise period in the minors.

Pimentel has been nearly untouchable for the Curve, and he continued his masterful ways Monday with seven shutout innings in a 2-0 win over Akron before 2,017 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Part of the trade that sent Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox, Pimentel has a microscopic 0.30 ERA in five starts, allowing only one run in 30 1/3 innings.

“It’s been terrific to see,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said.

Pimentel ranks second in all of professional baseball – minors or majors – in ERA among starters, trailing only Triple-A Memphis’ John Gast (0.00), the only starter who has yet to allow a run.

Pimentel (2-0) allowed six hits, struck out five and walked one to earn the win Monday. The 23-year-old Dominican right-hander hasn’t allowed a run in 17 2/3 innings, since the first inning of his start April 18 at Harrisburg.

This clearly isn’t the same pitcher from two years ago, but for Pimentel, going through those immense struggles helped him become the pitcher he is today.

“You lose nine games and have a high ERA, every time you pitch you’ve got a lot of base hits, a lot of runs,” he said.

“There were times you get frustrated. You say like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t pitch anymore.’ I was frustrated in those moments, but I never put my head down. I always continued to work, and that’s the big key. When you are struggling, you can keep your head up.”

Pimentel seemed to be barely more than a footnote as part of the Hanrahan trade that also brought reliever Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh. With how he’s pitched so far this season, however, Pimentel is looking like a huge steal for the Buccos.

“He is throwing the ball with conviction,” Garcia said.

Asked what he meant by that, the manager added, “Conviction is, ‘I’m going to get you out. I’m going to get you out, I’m going to get you out quick.'”

Pimentel has a great arm, with a fastball that sits at 94-95 mph, and it’s no surprise in his third year in the Eastern League that he certainly understands how to pitch.

“You understand what kind of stuff you have, first of all,” Garcia said. “Then you know that you’re growing. You see it year after year, guys growing up.

“He is very mature at this point. Probably two years he was a guy who didn’t know what to expect. He probably was on the wrong path. And now it looks like a guy who knows what he wants, knows where he wants to go. He knows he has the stuff to go as far as he can as long as he stays healthy.”

Part of Pimentel’s maturity is understanding he couldn’t let his struggles at Portland in 2011 get him down. He remained focus and confident in his abilities, and he said he’s “trying to trust myself no matter what. That’s a big key with the experience.”

He was surprised to be part of the trade with the Pirates, but now that he’s in a new organization, he knows he has a fresh start. The Bucs also gave him confidence by placing him on their 40-man roster for this season.

“They’re trusting in me, what I have to do is trust in myself,” he said. “That’s where it starts.”

He’s still starting for the Curve now, but given his age, experience and tremendous success so far, the Pirates might not wait much longer before promoting him in Triple-A.

Garcia has no doubt Pimentel can be successful there, and beyond.

“With that fastball and that repertoire, anybody can be successful,” Garcia said. “The level of maturity is what impresses me the most. He knows that he is here refining his pitches and competing. In the mental side I see a guy who is ready to continue to develop himself until he arrives in Pittsburgh.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: Curve RHP Stolmy Pimentel pitched seven shutout innings, giving up six hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

Key play: Leading 2-0 in the eighth, reliever Jeff Inman got out of a bases-loaded jam with a 1-2-3 double play to protect the lead.

Key stat: Pimentel is second in all of pro ball among starters with an 0.30 ERA.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 1st: Vasquez singled, scored on Curry single (1-0).

Bottom 7th: Dickerson solo homer (2-0).