Curve offense sputters again

The Curve had the worst offense in the Eastern League with Andrew Lambo. Without him, well, that’s the new reality, and it’s a worrisome one at that.

“We’ll miss him, that goes without saying,” first baseman Charlie Cutler said of Lambo, who was promoted to Triple-A on Friday. “It’s hard to replace 14 home runs and however many RBIs he had [46]. He’s been the best hitter in the league.”

Now he’s gone. And the rest of the hitters in the Curve lineup have their work cut out for them.

“We need to all stay inside of ourselves,” said Cutler, a proven veteran who’s hitting a team-best .337. “We can’t replace him. So everybody just needs to be the best them they can be. And we collectively as a group need to be the best we can be.”

The Curve’s best wasn’t anywhere near good enough Saturday night as they were routed by Binghamton, 9-3, before 4,642 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Altoona was shut out until the ninth, when Cutler delivered a two-run triple to break up the shutout.

In all fairness to the Curve, they were facing one of the most impressive young pitchers in the minor leagues in Binghamton right-hander Rafael Montero (7-3). He was superb Saturday, giving up just two hits over seven shutout innings with six strikeouts and one walk while lowering his ERA to 2.43.

Mets fans are expecting to see Montero in the big leagues as soon as later this year, and he showed why against the Curve.

Still, Altoona’s offense has made a lot of pitchers look good this season, so Saturday wasn’t much different. The Curve entered the game last in the EL in team batting average (.235) and OPS (.685) and next to last in on-base percentage (.310), slugging (.375), runs (242) and walks (199).

All of that came with Lambo carrying a big chunk of the offense as he led the EL in homers and ranked second in RBIs while hitting .291 with a .910 OPS.

Manager Carlos Garcia wants all of his hitters to simply stick with their game plan at the plate rather than try to pick up the slack with Lambo now gone.

“I just want them to battle at the plate, to show some life at the plate, to understand that one guy doesn’t make this offense,” Garcia said. “They all have to contribute. They all have a role in the lineup, and they all have to be able to execute whatever the situation is at the plate.”

Those basic ideas are enforced to the hitters every day, and Garcia said the best thing he and the other coaches can do is remain positive with every player.

“We have a lot of guys struggling right now, and they have to play,” the manager said. “But at the same time, I want them to understand they can bring something to the table every day. Don’t feel like because offensively you are not where you expected to be that you are not part of the team. I want to make sure everybody believes he is part of the team.”

The Curve have played the past two games without their second-leading home run hitter, Jarek Cunningham, who’s battling a stiff neck. The second baseman is questionable again today, then the club has a day off Monday and he might return Tuesday.

Altoona had only three hits Saturday, one apiece by Mel Rojas Jr. and Carlos Paulino before Cutler’s triple in the ninth. The team also hurt itself with three costly errors, including two by third baseman Adalberto Santos in the second inning that helped Binghamton take a 2-0 lead.

“The most important thing is we have to play defense,” Garcia said. “We can win with this pitching, but we have to make plays for them.”

Casey Sadler (6-4) took the loss for the Curve, giving up three runs – only one earned – on five hits in six innings. Sadler has been solid for the club all season and actually lowered his ERA in the loss, to 3.20.

One byproduct of Lambo’s departure will be more playing time for Cutler, who started at first base. He’s a catcher and doesn’t have much experience at first, but the team needs his bat in the lineup. He also can DH against American League teams.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Cutler said. “I’m just going to do my best and see where the cards fall.”

“He can provide a good RBI situation for us,” Garcia said of Cutler. “This is the only guy that can hit in the cleanup spot. Yes, we give up some defense in there because he never played [first base].”

Garcia said Alex Dickerson, who has first base experience, will not be returning to the position and will remain in the outfield. When Cutler serves as the DH, Justin Howard and Kelson Brown will get time at first base.

Game recap

Key player: B-Mets RHP Rafael Montero gave up just two hits over seven shutout innings.

Key play: LF Travis Taijeron’s two-run homer in the seventh sparked a three-run inning that gave Binghamton a 6-0 lead.

Key stat: The Curve had a bad night at the plate and in the field, with only three hits and three errors.

How they scored

Top 2nd: Lucas reached on Santos error, scored on Santos error (0-1) that allowed Forsythe to reach; Forsythe scored on Montero single (0-2).

Top 3rd: Taijeron doubled, scored on Puello single (0-3).

Top 7th: Muno walked, scored on Taijeron two-run homer (0-5); Puello singled, scored on Lucas sacrifice fly (0-6).

Top 9th: Muno singled, Taijeron singled, both scored on Puello three-run homer (0-9).

Bottom 9th: Vazquez reached on fielder’s choice, Dickerson reached on Muno error, both scored on Cutler triple (2-9); Santos groundout scored Cutler (3-9).