Morris a ‘savior’ for Curve

You know a pitcher is in a groove when he takes the mound with a 1.46 ERA and lowers it even further after throwing seven innings.

Curve right-hander A.J. Morris did that Thursday morning, giving up only one run on four hits against Akron to lower his Eastern-League leading ERA to 1.43. Willy Garcia ripped two homers as Altoona beat the RubberDucks, 7-3, before 6,362 fans on a school kids day at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Morris’ ERA ranks third in all of Double-A. He won his fourth consecutive start and fifth straight game overall (the first was in relief), plus he lasted a season-high seven innings for the second straight outing.

“He’s been a savior,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said. “We know we’re going to have an opportunity every five days with A.J. on the mound.”

Pirates officials have been impressed with Morris (5-0), acquired in December in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

“He was targeted as a groundball machine, and so we thought that he would be a good match with us given how we defend in the infield,” Pirates farm director Larry Broadway said. “He has pitched aggressively with two types of fastballs and has done a good job for us so far. He’s efficient and forces contact.”

Morris had a shutout going into the sixth before the RubberDucks picked up a run, the first the pitcher has allowed at home since April 5. In his last three starts, he has beaten Akron twice and Richmond once, two teams that the Curve have struggled with, going a combined 8-19.

“[I’m] just trying to get ahead in counts and being in pitcher counts,” Morris said. “It allows us to save the bullpen a lot and to have success.”

Morris had no shortage of run support Thursday. Garcia smacked a solo homer in the third and a three-run blast in the eighth, plus Matt Curry hit a solo shot in the sixth.

Garcia went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs. He now has seven homers, second on the team to Stetson Allie’s eight.

Akron starter Will Roberts (4-5) took the loss. Jhonathan Ramos worked the final 1 1/3 innings to earn his first save for Altoona.

Curve shortstop Alen Hanson was pulled after his at-bat in the fifth inning and was replaced by Gift Ngoepe. Hanson broke his bat and didn’t run hard to first, and Garcia cited Hanson’s conduct for why he was pulled.

Game recap

Key player: Curve RHP A.J. Morris went seven innings, allowing just one run on four hits in earning his fifth straight victory.

Key play: RF Willy Garcia’s second homer, a three-run shot in the eighth, gave the Curve a 7-3 lead.

Key stat: Morris has only allowed two runs at home this season, and he allowed his first since giving up one against Erie on April 5.

How they scored

Bottom 3rd: Garcia solo homer (1-0).

Bottom 4th: Curry walked, scored on Broxton Single (2-0).

Top 6th: Toole singled, scored on Holt Single (2-1).

Bottom 6th: Curry solo homer (3-1).

Bottom 7th: Garcia doubled, scored on Ngoepe single (4-1).

Top 8th: Valerio singled, Naquin singled, both score on Holt single (4-3).

Bottom 8th: Curry walked, replaced by Vazquez after stealing second, Broxton walked, both score on Garcia three-run homer (7-3).