Curve ‘pen falters again; team’s spiral continues

The Curve have 11 saves, and they’ve blown 11 save opportunities.

That’s the season right there.

There have been other issues, of course, but failing to close out games time after time after time has been the biggest problem for a team that, at 25-41, has the Eastern League’s worst record.

That record wouldn’t be anywhere near as poor if not for the immense struggles finishing games.

“If you don’t have the mentality to go out there and shove it up somebody’s (bleep), it’s going to be difficult to close a game,” manager Carlos Garcia bluntly said after Sunday night’s 7-5 loss to Reading in 12 innings before 7,000 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

The Curve grabbed a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning and gave themselves a chance to win as Junior Sosa’s suicide squeeze bunt scored Justin Howard.

Trying to close it out, Emmanuel De Leon gave up three runs in the ninth for his second blown save in five tries.

The Curve didn’t quit, though, scoring two runs in their half of the ninth to pull back even at 5-5. Matt Curry singled home the first run, and Howard tied it with an RBI single that brought home Keon Broxton.

The bullpen couldn’t keep Reading in check, however. Matt Benedict gave up two runs in the 10th as the Fightin Phils grabbed a two-run lead that held up.

Benedict (0-3) took the loss, and he’s 0-2 in save situations. Ryan Beckman is 3-for-4, as is Quinton Miller, while Jhonathan Ramos is 2-for-4. Brandon Mann, who’s no longer with the team, was 0-for-3.

The closer-by-committee situation clearly hasn’t worked, but Garcia said it’s a necessity to go that route because no single pitcher on the roster projects right now to be a closer in the majors.

“It’s very difficult in the minor leagues (to settle on one closer), unless we have a guy as an organization that we think this guy’s going to be a closer in the big leagues,” Garcia said.

Explaining further, pigeonholing one pitcher as a closer in the minors means he’ll probably be limited to just the ninth inning. Doing that can hurt the pitcher’s development, Garcia said, because ideally minor league relievers need to build up innings by going at least two at a time rather than primarily one-inning save situations.

If there’s not a hard-throwing prospect such as Vic Black or Duke Welker or Daniel Moskos, guys who during their time in Double-A projected as potential big league closers, then it has be a closer-by-committee setup.

The mentality to be a closer is an issue in and of itself.

“That comes with experience, and we have a very inexperienced bullpen,” Garcia said.

Seth Rosin (1-1) won in relief for Reading, while Mike Nesseth shut down the Curve in the 10th for his first save.

Several Altoona hitters had a good night, including Drew Maggi, who reached base five times as he went 2-for-2 with three walks. Alen Hanson extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a 2-for-5 night, Howard went 3-for-4 and Curry was 2-for-4 with a homer.

The offense, though, failed several times to capitalize on good scoring chances throughout the game, so the blame doesn’t fall entirely on the bullpen.

Regardless of where the blame falls, the Curve are now 7-18 in one-run games and 3-8 in two-run games. That’s 16 games under .500 in close games, which is the entirety of how many games the team is below the break-even mark for the season.

Asked if the team is better than its record, Howard said, “Oh, absolutely. Any time you’re losing games by one run, that’s one play.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Howard added. “but we’ve got to find a way to stay in it and keep coming back every day and have a bulldog mentality. Hopefully the second half we can find a way to mature a little bit as a group and find ways to win.”

Game recap

Key player: Reading 3B Anthony Phillips entered the game late but went 2-for-2 with three RBIs.

Key play: Phillips tripled home two runs to give Reading the lead in the ninth and steal away what looked to be a Curve win.

Key stat: The Curve have blown 11 saves in only 22 chances.

How they scored

Bottom 2nd: Howard doubled, scored on Cunningham single (1-0).

Bottom 3rd: Curry solo homer (2-0).

Top 5th: Lavin singled, Duran intentionally walked, both scored on Garner single (2-2).

Bottom 8th: Howard singled, scored on Sosa squeeze bunt (3-2).

Top 9th: Altherr singled, Stassi walked, both scored on Phillips triple (3-4); De Leon wild pitch scored Phillips (3-5).

Bottom 9th: Hanson singled, scored on Curry single (4-5); Broxton reached on fielder’s choice, scored on Howard single (5-5).

Top 10th: Cartwright singled, scored on Fox double (5-6); Milner reached on fielder’s choice, scored on Phillips single (5-7).