Bullpen can’t hold it together

He’s a big dude. That’s the first thing you notice about the Curve’s newest prized prospect, 6-foot-2, 233-pound outfielder Josh Bell.

The second thing you notice is he has a wide-open stance, somewhat unusual for a big, powerful guy.

Lastly, he appears to have very good plate discipline that allows him to see a lot of pitches and battle deep into counts.

Bell, one of the best prospects in the minor leagues, made his Curve debut Thursday night after getting promoted from Single-A Bradenton, where he hit .335. He barely missed a home run that went foul in his first at-bat and finished 0-for-2 with two walks in his Double-A debut.

“It was awesome,” said Bell, who started in right field and batted third. “Great to be out and have my first game. I’m excited for the future.”

The Pirates have plenty of reasons to be excited about Bell’s future.

“He’s a kid who put up great numbers over there in Florida, and we really think very highly of him,” Curve manager Carlos Garcia said.

This has been a rotten season in many ways for Altoona, and the team is now 25 games below .500 after yet another bullpen collapse Thursday. Bowie rallied from a late deficit with two runs in the eighth inning to tie and three in the ninth for an 8-6 win before 3,541 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

Today marks the 100th game of the season, and since wins and losses stopped mattering a long time ago, the most interesting aspect of the team to watch over the final 43 games will be how well Bell handles this level.

If it’s anything close to how he performed at Bradenton, he will be very exciting to watch.

“As a kid, you know what Double-A and Triple-A are, so this is just one of my dreams coming true, a Double-A guy, and I’m excited to be so close to Pittsburgh, as well,” Bell said.

The 21-year-old was a second-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2011 and received a $5 million signing bonus. He had committed to play college ball at Texas and told teams not to draft him, but the Pirates did so anyway and swayed him to turn pro with the huge signing bonus.

Bell missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury, but he returned in 2013 and hit .279 with 13 homers and 76 RBIs in 119 games at low-A West Virginia.

He improved across the board this year Bradenton, belting nine homers with 53 RBIs and an .886 OPS to go along with his .335 average in 84 games.

“Not swinging and missing, for the most part,” he said of his success in high-A. “Not giving the pitcher an idea of something that I can’t hit, an out pitch for him. If he’s guessing up there, he’s more likely to make a mistake.”

And when he sees a mistake?

“I like to crush it,” he said.

Bell crushed a hanging slider from Bowie starter Eduardo Rodriguez in the first inning and nearly hit a homer, but the ball hooked just foul down the left field line.

“I didn’t see (that pitch) for the rest of the game,” Bell said. “And that’s what I like to do, I like to instill a little bit of fear in the pitcher, and that’s where I get most of my success from.”

Bell flew out to center in his first at-bat, walked his next two times up and struck out swinging in the eighth. He’s a switch hitter, but Bell only batted right-handed Thursday and showed good patience.

His wide-open stance from the right side is intriguing simply because most power hitters keep their legs together for a strong foundation.

“It’s just something I worked on in the offseason,” Bell said. “I just brought it out this year, and I’m having a lot of success with it. It keeps my hands through the zone a lot longer than some other people, and I feel like that’s what allows me to foul some good pitches off for the most part. And when I get a mistake pitch I can really stay through it and drive it.”

Hey, whatever works.

And Bell’s stance certainly has been working this season.

“Right now he feels comfortable seeing the ball in that spot, and for now he’s going to stay that way,” Garcia said. “To come over here with a .330 batting average, there’s nothing you can change.”

Garcia is impressed by Bell’s approach at the plate, his strike zone recognition and that the youngster just enjoys playing the game.

“The more he plays in this league, the better he’s going to get,” the manager said.

The Curve looked to have a win in Bell’s debut with a 5-3 lead in the eighth, but Bowie scored twice off Joely Rodriguez to tie. Rodriguez (4-9) has been a starter all season but is now in the bullpen for the time being, and he blew a save opportunity, the team’s 19th this season.

The Baysox scored three more in the ninth to take the lead and send the Curve to their fourth consecutive loss. Asher Tolliver (2-1) won in relief, and Julio DePaula (2) got the save.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: Bowie CF Mike Yastrzemski went 4-for-5 with a triple and two runs.

Key play(s): Bowie scored twice in the eighth to tie and won it with three in the ninth.

Key stat: RF Josh Bell went 0-for-2 with two walks in his Curve debut.

SUBHD: How they scored

Top 1st: Yastrzemski singled, scored on Romero double (0-1); Marrero groundout scored Romero (0-2).

Bottom 2nd: Broxton solo homer (1-2).

Bottom 3rd: Ngoepe tripled, scored on Hanson single (2-2); Maggie reached on fielder’s choice, scored on Allie sacrifice fly (3-2).

Top 4th: Rosa solo homer (3-3).

Bottom 5th: Hanson singled, scored on Allie single (4-3); Bell walked, scored on Diaz sacrifice fly (5-3).

Top 8th: Marrero doubled, scored on Adams fielder’s choice (5-4); Starr single scored Adams (5-5).

Top 9th: Ruettiger singled, scored on Kang groundout (5-6); Yastrzemski singled, scored on Marrero two-run homer (5-8).

Bottom 9th: Broxton singled, scored on Hanson single (6-8).