Curve roll behind sub Diaz

The Eastern League’s best hitter so far, Kevin Kramer, got the day off for the Curve on Sunday, and his replacement, Chris Diaz, went 3-for-4 and played a big role in a victory.

It’s been that kind of season so far from Altoona, which has gotten contributions from numerous players to compile the EL’s best record and the best home record in minor league baseball (12-3).

“One through nine, and even the guys on the bench whenever they’re coming in, especially in National League games, everybody’s going to play at all times,” Diaz said. “Just having people that can come off the bench and be productive just helps the team grow.”

The Curve held off New Hampshire, 6-4, before 3,418 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field to take three of four in the series.

Kramer is hitting .360 and has reached base in all 30 games he’s played, but Diaz got the start Sunday against soft-tossing left-hander Shane Dawson. Diaz hasn’t had much playing time this season and has batted just 24 times, but he’s been productive, hitting .375 with a 1.083 OPS.

Diaz singled home the game’s first run in the second inning, tripled and scored in the fourth, then singled and scored in the sixth. That’s what you call taking an advantage of an opportunity to play.

“I’ve just been trying to be consistent every day, whether I’m playing or not,” Diaz said. “Just be a a guy that comes out and does the same thing every day. It feels good to have a good day.”

That can be hard when at-bats are few and far between, but it’s up to role players like Diaz to make sure they’re always ready.

“Chris Diaz probably hasn’t gotten the at-bats that he wanted to right now, but it’s very comfortable putting him in the lineup,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “He has a very good approach up there, he plays excellent defense, he can play multiple positions. He’s such a valuable guy to have on your roster.

“It makes the whole team so much better, and it makes them a lot better because Chris Diaz shows up like that, he’s going to get more opportunities, he’s going to play more. It’s just about finding the right time to put him in to where he’ll have success. He hits lefties really good, and we had a lefty today, so it’s easy to plug him in. We face a lefty on Wednesday, he’ll be in the lineup.”

The Curve led 3-2 in the fifth before an RBI single by Wyatt Mathisen and Jerrick Suiter sacrifice fly made it 5-2. Diaz’s run in the sixth, on an Edwin Espinal sacrifice fly, gave Altoona what seemed to be a comfortable four-run cushion.

New Hampshire rallied, though, and ex-Curve player Harold Ramirez made it a 6-4 game with a two-run single in the seventh. Reliever Tate Scioneaux closed the door over the final two innings, though, to earn his second save and lower his ERA to 0.82.

Miguel Rosario (2-1) got the win in relief for Altoona, while Dawson (1-5) took the loss. The Fisher Cats lefty was throwing curveballs in the low 60s, and even a couple in the upper 50s.

Pablo Reyes was 3-for-5 with two RBIs for Altoona, while Luplow was 2-for-4 with two runs.

Curve starter Brandon Waddell escaped a tough first inning unscathed and allowed one run in 3ª innings as he continues to come back from a forearm strain.

Waddell did not retire a batter and was pulled in the first inning his last time out at Richmond, giving up three runs. He has had first-inning issues going back to last year, but once he gets through that, he’s typically been very sharp.

“It’s hard to simulate the adrenaline, full effort and speed that you’ll be going,” Waddell said of pitching in the first inning. “You can get pretty close, but when you got hitters standing in there, you might try to manipulate a different way or throw the pitch in a different scenario.

“Obviously, offspeed pitchers are going to be harder to get a feel for off the bat. In a way, you look at it like a hitter where you get more tempo and rhythm throughout a game. The same goes from the pitching side.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: 2B Chris Diaz went 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI for the Curve.

Key play: Altoona scored twice in the fifth inning to take control with a 5-2 lead.

Key stat: The Curve are 12-3 at home, which is the best record in the minor leagues. The Orioles (13-3) are the only team in pro ball with a better home record.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 2nd: Luplow singled, scored on Diaz single (1-0); Mathisen walked, scored on Reyes single (2-0).

Top 3rd: Alford solo homer (2-1).

Bottom 4th: Diaz tripled, scored on Reyes double (3-1).

Top 5th: Reeves hit by pitch, scored on Lopes sacrifice fly (3-2).

Bottom 5th: Espinal doubled, scored on Mathisen single (4-2); Luplow singled, scored on Suiter sacrifice fly (5-2).

Bottom 6th: Diaz singled, scored on Espinal sacrifice fly (6-2).

Top 7th: Cardenas singled, Urena doubled, both scored on Ramirez single (6-4).