Hughes solid; Dickerson homers

Jared Hughes is an easy guy to root for – friendly, charismatic, appreciative, humble, funny – and he’s also one of the better stories in the Curve’s 15 seasons.

Hughes spent parts of four seasons in Double-A, and he still made it to the major leagues.

How rare is that? Only two other players – pitchers John Grabow and Mike Gonzalez – have spent four years here and still gone on to the big leagues, basically because if a player needs four years in Double-A then he’s usually just not good enough.

Hughes’ perseverance should serve as an example to all current and future members of the Curve that as long as they keep putting on the uniform and doing their best, reaching the majors remains possible.

Hughes had to remind himself of that on occasion during his Curve years from 2008-11.

“There were times where I definitely came close to losing confidence,” Hughes said after making a rehab start for the Curve on Wednesday.

“The thing that was great, though, is I have great friends and family. When those times came and things weren’t going great, I could call my mom or call my girlfriend – who’s my wife now – and just kind of let my feelings out. They would say, ‘Hey, it’s all right. You’re going to be OK. We believe in you.’ And that helped me believe in myself.”

Hughes eventually did make it to Pittsburgh in 2011, had a superb 2012 season in the Pirates’ bullpen and is trying to work his way back up there after suffering from shoulder inflammation.

He looked like a big leaguer in his rehab appearance Wednesday, striking out four in two innings and helping the Curve beat Bowie, 2-0, before 3,386 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“I would say today was 100 percent,” said Hughes, who struck out the side in his second and final inning. “That’s me at my best today.”

Hughes wasn’t at his best with the Pirates earlier this season, going 1-2 with a 4.96 ERA in 15 games. He had some issues with his sinker, which wasn’t as sharp as a year ago when he went 2-2 with a 2.85 ERA in 66 games.

He’s been working on mechanics such as staying on top of the ball to get his sinker back to where it was in 2012, plus he knows he has to trust that his shoulder is healthy.

“Today I was able to go out there and trust it, and that ball was moving,” Hughes said. “So I think we’re in the right direction.”

The right-hander worked around a one-out double in the first inning and was dominant the rest of his outing. He clearly looked like a major leaguer, Curve manager Carlos Garcia said.

“No doubt. No doubt,” Garcia said. “He just doesn’t fool around. He came in and did his work, did it quick.

“It appears to me he’s healthy, good to go to the big stage.”

Hughes first will head to Triple-A Indianapolis today to continue his rehab. Even when he’s fully ready physically, there are no guarantees he will rejoin the Pirates immediately because their bullpen has been lights out all year. But if someone goes down or struggles, Hughes likely will be the first person called up.

“We have what it takes to go all the way to the end of October, so I’m looking forward to it,” Hughes said of the Pirates.

Hughes was a starter for most of his career, but he pitched in key games out of the bullpen for the Curve during the 2010 Eastern League title run, and his success was a good indication to the Pirates that he could handle that role.

“Probably the end of 2010, the year we won it all, I got put in the bullpen and I really became more aggressive,” Hughes said. “It didn’t really click until 2011, but the aggressive mindset is how I like to pitch.”

Hughes spent a lot of time in Altoona and has great memories of his time with the Curve. He spoke several times the past two days about the fans here and the friendships he made, plus he has very fond memories of the great 2010 Curve championship team.

“They say that Curve, Pa., is where you see the Pirates of tomorrow, and that came true,” Hughes said. “In 2010, a lot of those guys are in the big leagues now, and I really think that being able to be in those situations at the end of the year, in the playoffs, pitching in the championship game, that’s a stressful situation. It’s Double-A, but still you want that so bad, you’ve worked so hard.

“I think that definitely paid off in terms of experience for me. Now when I’m out there in big situations, I’ve been in that, I’ve done that before.”

Nick Kingham (3-2) followed Hughes and had a super night, pitching 6 1/3 shutout innings for the win. He allowed six hits, struck out four and walked three. Nate Baker retired the final two outs for his third save, while Bowie starter Tim Bascom (2-2) took the loss.

Game recap

Key player: Curve RF Alex Dickerson went 2-for-3 with a homer.

Key play: Dickerson’s solo homer in the second helped the Curve take an early lead.

Key stat: RHP Jared Hughes is one of only three players to spend parts of four years with the Curve and then go on to reach the majors.

How they scored

Bottom 2nd: Dickerson solo homer (1-0); Howard singled, scored on Paulino sacrifice fly (2-0).