Curve pitching wasted

The word “crafty” is often used to describe left-handed pitchers who don’t throw all that fast and rely on a lot of junk – think Jamie Moyer – but occasionally it also can be used to describe a right-hander.

Akron’s Toru Murata fits that description and, when he’s on, can make good hitters look bad with a bunch of 87 mph fastballs and variety of offspeed pitches.

Murata, from Japan, celebrated his 29th birthday Tuesday by limiting the Curve to two hits over six shutout innings. Akron’s offense didn’t do much better as Altoona’s Adrian Sampson put together a superb start, but the RubberDucks were able to squeak out a 1-0 win before 2,625 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“You don’t really know what he’s going to throw,” Curve third baseman Jarek Cunningham said of the veteran Murata, who’s in his second season with Akron. “He’s unconventional. You’re thinking something, he’s thinking something else.”

Murata doesn’t do anything overly impressive, but he has found ways to baffle the Curve in previous outings going back to last season. He gave up just two runs on eight hits over 13 innings the first two times he faced Altoona last year.

The Curve figured him out the next three times they faced Murata, and in September they crushed him for eight runs on 12 hits in five innings.

The pitcher on display Tuesday looked much more like the guy who gave the Curve fits early last season.

“Murata, in this level, he knows how to pitch,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “He knows [he’s facing] a lot of inexperienced ballplayers that he can speed them up and slow them down, and he gets away with that. Those type of guys, we’ve got to look one spot and one spot only and stay relentless through the whole at-bat, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Murata has split time this season between Akron and Triple-A Columbus, where he has gotten hammered with a 9.00 ERA in three games. The Curve tagged him for three runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning in relief May 2, but they didn’t come close to doing that kind of damage Tuesday.

“We should have stayed on the fastball, hunt the fastball and speed the other stuff up, and we didn’t do that today,” Garcia said.

Murata (3-0) stayed unbeaten with Akron and lowered his Double-A ERA to 1.66, striking out five while walking three. Adam Miller then pitched two scoreless innings, and Shawn Armstrong finished off the shutout in the ninth to earn his seventh save.

Sampson (3-3) suffered a tough-luck loss as he gave up only three hits in seven innings while striking out eight with one walk. His lone blemish came in the fifth when Jordan Smith doubled with two outs and, after a walk, Tyler Naquin smacked an RBI single to center for the game’s only run.

Sampson had a couple of starts where he had trouble being efficient with his pitches, but he’s corrected that issue lately and has gone seven innings his past two times out. He threw 102 pitches (65 strikes) Tuesday.

“My plan is to try to get people out on three pitches or less; that’s kind of what they teach us here,” Sampson said. “That’s the kind of thing I’ve been working on all year. Also eliminating the three-ball counts, just keeping pitch count down and try to get 10 pitches in an inning.”

Game recap

Key player: RHP Toru Murata gave up just two hits over six shutout innings for Akron.

Key play: RubberDucks CF Tyler Naquin singled home RF Jordan Smith in the fifth for the game’s only run.

Key stat: The Curve dropped to 4-11 against Akron, with six of the losses coming by one run.

How they scored

Top 5th: Smith doubled, scored on Naquin single (0-1).