Curve’s Morris throws gem against Bowie

Pirates lefty Wandy Rodriguez will make a rehab start for the Curve tonight at home, but there’s little chance the major leaguer will pitch better than minor league veteran A.J. Morris did Monday night.

Morris shut down the Eastern League’s top offense for six innings, and the Curve played their best all-around game of the season in a 6-1 win over Bowie before 2,377 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The win snapped Altoona’s season-high five-game losing streak.

“We are capable of playing games like this,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “Defensively we are a good ballclub, we just have to stay in ourselves and understand whose responsibility is what and play the best game you can play.”

Altoona’s offense had a good night with six runs – five coming in its last two at-bats to seal the win – and the defense played a clean game with no errors. The club had been having all sorts of problems playing clean games during the losing streak.

Morris was superb against a Bowie team that leads the EL in batting average (.299), doubles and total bases, while ranking second in runs and homers. Morris allowed just two hits in six shutout innings, striking out five with no walks.

“I don’t really get caught up in stats of who’s hitting because at the end of the day, whenever the game starts, everybody’s batting .000,” Morris said. “The same thing with pitchers, the ERA is 0.00. You just can’t get caught up in too much and just go out with the same plan you have every other game.”

That approach has been working well so far for Morris, who hasn’t allowed a run in 18 2/3 innings stretching back six appearances since April 11. He’s now all the way up to second in the EL in ERA at 1.11.

Morris is a 27-year-old who was claimed by the Pirates in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft in December. The major league Rule 5 draft often draws a lot of attention – who can forget when the Pirates infamously lost five of the first six picks, including Jose Bautista, in 2003? – but the minor league phase rarely gets much notice.

“I honestly didn’t even know the Rule 5 draft went on that week,” Morris said of last year’s draft. “I was just going about my business and got the phone call. It was another opportunity and a new team.”

He had been pitching in the Cubs’ system, going 4-2 with a 4.75 ERA in Double-A last year, after beginning his career in 2009 in the Nationals’ system.

“The Pirates have been nothing but welcoming, so it’s made for a smooth transition,” Morris said of his new organization.

Morris was slated to be in the Curve bullpen but has been needed to make three spot starts.

“He’s been around, and a guy like that is able to do some things,” Garcia said.

Whether Morris remains in the rotation or goes back to the bullpen depends on other pitchers, but he can force the issue by continuing to pitch like he has been so far.

Bowie starter Anthony Vasquez (0-1) suffered a tough-luck loss, giving up just one unearned run on three hits in six innings.

Drew Maggi had his second straight big game for the Curve, scoring three runs and going 1-for-2. He walked and scored on an error in the fifth inning for a 1-0 lead, singled and scored on another error in the seventh and also made a superb defensive play coming up with a hot smash at third base.

Maggi is a utility man, but he’s now hitting .340 and could find himself in the lineup more because of the spark he provides.

“His versatility is unbelievable,” Garcia said. “And not only his versatility, but it’s the way he plays the game. He gives everything he’s got every night, he doesn’t complain, he just wants to play. He really enjoys being out there. He’s definitely a guy who contributes every night, puts in great at-bats, runs the bases hard and plays great defense. I mean, I love the kid.”

Wandy tonight

Rodriguez, coming back from a knee injury, will make his second straight rehab start for the Curve. He pitched Thursday at Erie, giving up four runs – three earned – on four hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Game recap

Key player: RHP A.J. Morris pitched six shutout innings for the Curve.

Key play: Altoona scored three runs in the seventh to pull away, helped out by an error on by 3B Garabez Rosa.

Key stat: Morris’ 1.11 ERA ranks second in the EL.

How they scored

Bottom 5th: Maggi walked, scored on Romero error (1-0).

Bottom 7th: Maggi singled, scored on Ngoepe single and Rosa error (2-0); Ngoepe scored on Rojas Jr. single (3-0); Hanson singled, scored on Diaz sacrifice fly (4-0).

Top 8th: Chiang walked, scored on Ruettiger groundout (4-1).

Bottom 8th: Garcia doubled, Maggi walked, both scored on Hanson single (6-1).