Altoona pitchers make most of their chance

Two Curve pitchers who are great stories of perseverance and who were shocked to even make the Eastern League All-Star team wound up playing big roles in Wednesday’s game.

Ryan Beckman pitched a scoreless fifth inning and was credited with the victory as the Western Division stars took the lead for good in the bottom of the frame.

Kenn Kasparek later came on to close it out in the ninth and earned the save in a 5-2 victory at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

A month ago, there was no chance that Beckman and Kasparek would be All-Stars. But both have pitched outstanding lately, earned their spots on the team and showed they deserved it Wednesday.

“You’ve got to love it,” Curve pitching coach Stan Kyles said. “Coming into the season, both of those guys were just trying to be serviceable and trying to show the organization that they’re guys to be paid attention to.

“They did a nice job of getting themselves into this game, and then for them to go out and pitch well is a bonus and credit to both of them.”

Kasparek’s story is fantastic because he wasn’t even on the Curve’s active roster at the beginning of the season. He was with the team but didn’t have a spot and was on what’s called the “phantom DL.”

Kasparek finally got into a game April 22 and made another appearance May 2, throwing a scoreless inning each time out. When Triple-A Indianapolis needed some bullpen depth, the Pirates didn’t want to send up a young prospect who might be overmatched, so they gave the 28-year-old Kasparek a chance to pitch in Triple-A for the first time.

Kasparek did well with his opportunity, posting a 3.86 ERA in five relief outings for Indy, then was sent back down to the Curve when the Triple-A staff filled back out.

Kasparek has been terrific for Altoona in his return, with an 0.96 ERA in 11 games. More importantly, he has been a savior at the back end of the bullpen, going 4-for-4 in save opportunities for a club that has had a nightmarish time finishing off games.

“It’s pretty cool,” Kasparek said of his turnaround this season. “To start the year off not even on the roster, kind of just waiting and hoping a spot opens up and then something does, the patience paid off. I got here, made the All-Star team and was in the right position to get the save.”

It would have been easy for someone in Kasparek’s position to lose focus when he wasn’t pitching, but to his credit he never did. It made him ready to contribute when he finally got the opportunity.

“It’s extremely important (to stay focused) because you’ve got to stay on your game when you’re not performing,” Kasparek said. “It’s the mental side of it, but also physically you’ve got to stay sharp and work on your craft.”

Beckman first came to the Curve in 2012 and had some terrible luck. In his first game he went down with an elbow injury and had Tommy John surgery that year.

He made it back up to Altoona last season and was very good in 15 relief outings, posting a 2.37 ERA.

He was not good, however, earlier this year, with a 5.63 ERA in April and 4.70 in May.

“I started off the year real rough,” Beckman said. “And it’s easier now to say stay positive, but back in the day when it was going rough, you’ve just got to think to yourself, ‘stay positive, you never know what tomorrow’s going to bring you.'”

Tomorrow brought about a terrific month of June as Beckman was lights out with a 1.35 ERA in 10 appearances. That turned around his season and, much more importantly, his career.

Beckman improved drastically, but he still didn’t think he had a shot at the All-Star team.

“I was shocked, absolutely. No doubt about it,” he said upon being told he made it. “I struggled first off in the season, and after that I didn’t really even look at my stats. I wasn’t worried about it. When (manager Carlos Garcia) announced it to everyone, I was shocked. But it was really cool.”

What’s especially cool is seeing an athlete overcome adversity, find it within himself to succeed and go out and perform at a high level. Anybody who wrote off Kasparek or Beckman earlier this season would have to be thoroughly impressed by how both figured things out and have been very good of late.

After all they’ve been through, enjoying success in the All-Star Game on their home field had to be incredibly rewarding for both of them.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.