Brubaker pitches gem for Curve

05/02/17 By Gary M. Baranec The Curve's J.T. Brubaker works against Richmond's Miguel Gomez Tuesday at PNG Field.

There was always an expectation within the club that the Curve pitching staff would be strong this season, and so far it’s been even better than expected.

Altoona has the second-best record in the Eastern League at 14-9, and the biggest reason why is a 2.86 team ERA, which also ranks second in the circuit.

“I knew it was going to be very good,” manager Michael Ryan said, “I just didn’t know it would be this good.”

The Curve got an outstanding performance Tuesday night from J.T. Brubaker, who tossed 6ª shutout innings for one of the best outings by a starter this season. The offense scored a couple of runs early, and that held up in a 2-0 win over Richmond before 2,527 fans on a windy night at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“Everything clicked today in this start,” said Brubaker, who allowed six hits, struck out four and walked one.

In a lot of other organizations, Brubaker wouldn’t have been in Double-A to start this season. He had some issues at high-A Bradenton a year ago, going 2-6 with a 5.32 ERA in 14 starts and allowing more hits (77) than innings pitched (67ª).

But while many other organizations would have sent him back to high-A for more seasoning, the Pirates aggressively moved him up to challenge him at a higher level, something they’ve done with most of their young prospects for several years now.

“It’s not so much of a challenge when they push us up, it’s that they have confidence in us that we can compete and do what we need to do at this level,” Brubaker said. “They see that we have the potential to play in the big leagues.”

A sixth-round pick out of Akron in 2015, Brubaker entered Tuesday with a 1-2 record and 5.09 ERA in four starts. He had shown good stuff, but also some inconsistency.

Brubaker (2-2) had it working on this night, though, handcuffing the Flying Squirrels and working out of danger with the help of three double play balls.

“When I needed to make pitches, I made pitches,” he said. “A couple innings there I let the leadoff guy get on or the next guy get on. But I was like, all right, groundball here, and I got the groundball.”

The Curve took a 1-0 lead in the second with a leadoff double by Edwin Espinal and RBI groundout by Tomas Morales. Kevin Newman walked and scored on a double by Jordan Luplow in the third for a 2-0 lead off Richmond starter Matt Gage (0-2).

Brubaker and the Curve bullpen took it from there.

Sean Keselica, who’s having a terrific season as he’s yet to allow an earned run in 15• innings, came on with two outs in the seventh and worked 1• innings.

Montana DuRapau ran into trouble in the ninth as Richmond put runners at the corners with no outs on two singles, but the closer worked out of the jam to finish off the shutout and earn his fifth save.

Ryan said the key for the pitching staff being so effective has been the young hurlers adjusting so quickly to the higher level.

One byproduct of the Pirates moving young guys up so quickly through the system is that the organization is showing those players they have confidence in them.

“When they show they have that confidence in us, it just gives us more confidence to go out there and do what we know we can do and what they know we can do,” Brubaker said.

Game recap

Key player: RHP J.T. Brubaker pitched 6ª shutout innings for the Curve.

Key play: LF Jordan Luplow’s RBI double in the third gave Altoona a 2-0 lead and all the cushion it needed.

Key stat: The Curve have the EL’s second-best record (14-9) and team ERA (2.86).

How they scored

Bottom 2nd: Espinal doubled, scored on Morales groundout (1-0).

Bottom 3rd: Newman walked, scored on Luplow double (2-0).

Next stop

Today: Richmond at Altoona, 10:30 a.m.

Pitchers: Curve RHP Tanner Anderson (1-1, 2.01) vs. Flying Squirrels RHP Jordan Johnson (1-1, 2.25)

Record: 14-9