Escobar switching positions to pitcher

Elvis Escobar didn’t play in the Curve’s 6-1 loss to Hartford on Saturday night, and the Double-A veteran won’t be playing the outfield any time soon, either. Maybe never again.

Escobar, you see, is making the switch to becoming a pitcher, and how it all came about for the 23-year-old Venezuelan is an intriguing tale.

“It’s baseball, and baseball sometimes is weird,” Escobar said after the game at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “This might be my chance to make it to the major leagues. Who knows? I just opened my mind to this. I’m getting this opportunity to pitch, and I’ll do my best to make it.”

Two weeks ago, the Curve were in Harrisburg and getting blown out in what ended up being a 14-2 loss. Occasionally in the minor leagues, when a team is getting crushed, a position player will get a chance to pitch rather than wasting another reliever.

So, down 11-2 with two outs in the eighth inning, Escobar got a chance to take the mound.

It did not go well. He gave up three runs on three hits and two walks and didn’t retire any of the six batters he faced.

But Escobar, who throws left-handed, was firing the ball in at 94 mph. And he really wasn’t even trying all that hard.

“I wasn’t trying to pitch like a real pitcher, just throwing the ball,” he said.

Escobar has been a solid player for the Curve the past two years, but he’s had a tough season at the plate this year, hitting .151 in 40 games. So, after the Harrisburg pitching performance, he was called into manager Michael Ryan’s office a couple of days later and given a choice.

Escobar was being placed on the disabled list to open up a roster spot for someone else, and he could either stay with the club and wait for another opportunity to play, or try to make the full-time switch to the mound.

“They gave me the option,” Escobar said. “I probably could stay as a hitter, but I got this opportunity to be a pitcher. And who knows? I could make it to the big leagues as a pitcher.”

Escobar has always had a tremendous arm, so the possibility of him pitching was not new in the Pirates organization.

“There was talk about it beforehand, just because his arm’s so strong,” Ryan said. “Maybe there’s something there, maybe it’s a better option to get to the big leagues. So we gave him the choice, and he decided that’s what he wants to do.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, but Escobar has the right people around him to ask for advice.

“Right after (Ryan) told me that, I asked him if I had to answer right away,” Escobar said. “He told me to take your time.

“I talked to my brother, a pitcher, a left-hander. He’s in Japan right now. I talked to my father, who was a player, too. And I talked to my agent. I got the same answer from them. Just take it. You’ve got a great arm, and it could be the opportunity to make it to the major leagues.”

Escobar did pitch until he was 15 years old, so it won’t be an entirely strange switch for him.

“Before I signed (into pro ball), I showed teams as an outfielder and as a pitcher,” he said. “My agent at the time told me to sign as an outfielder because it’s easier to make the transition from outfielder to pitcher than pitcher to hitter.”

Escobar has a .265 batting average, 20 homers, 223 RBIs and a .666 OPS in his career. That made him a marginal prospect, while throwing in the mid-90s as a lefty could help him become more highly regarded.

One catch for Escobar is he’s in the final year of his initial minor league contract with the Pirates, so he only has three months left this season to make enough progress to show them he can indeed be an effective pitcher.

If he does, the Pirates could re-sign him and keep him on the mound. Or, he could go to another organization next season, and that club could keep him as a pitcher or return him to the outfield.

“The advice I gave him is to give it a try, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back,” Ryan said. “But if it’s something you’re going to enjoy and think you have a future doing, I’m sure you’ll get the opportunity either with us or with somebody else. Hopefully it’s with us.”

Escobar threw a bullpen session on Saturday and will throw another in a few days when the Curve go to Binghamton. He then will throw a light batting practice session to hitters when the club comes back home.

After that? Well, the time frame is unclear. Escobar will have to leave the Curve at some point to go get more work as a pitcher, most likely at Pirate City, and then hope to join a lower-level minor league club later this season.

There are no guarantees he will get back up to Double-A as a pitcher, but then again, there are never guarantees of any kind in baseball.

“I wanted to make it to the major leagues as a hitter, but I’m here getting this opportunity,” Escobar said. “I’ll have fun and let’s see.”

Game recap

Key player: CF Forrest Wall went 2-for-5 with a homer for Hartford.

Key play: The Yard Goats hit back-to-back homers in the fifth inning, the first a two-run shot by Wall, to break up a tie game.

Key stat: The Curve had 10 hits but just one run.

How they scored

Bottom 1st: Martin doubled, scored on Craig single (1-0).

Top 2nd: Nunez solo homer (1-1).

Top 5th: Rogers singled, scored on Wall two-run homer (1-3); Rodgers solo homer (1-4).

Top 6th: Mundell doubled, scored on Rogers single (1-5).

Top 9th: Wall singled, scored on Hilliard double play groundout (1-6).

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: Hartford RHP Peter Lambert (5-2) allowed just one run over 82⁄3 innings against the Curve on Saturday to get the win, but he wasn’t dominant. Altoona had 10 hits, including four doubles, but managed just one run in a 6-1 loss. Lambert did strike out eight with no walks.

SAFE AT FIRST: RHP Logan Cozart earned a rare save in a five-run game for Hartford. He came on with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth and retired the only man he faced. By rule, if the tying run is on deck, a reliever can get a save, and that was the case since the bases were loaded.

STEALING SECOND: RHP Pedro Vasquez (0-4) took the loss for the Curve, giving up four runs on four hits over five innings.

ROUNDING THIRD: C Jin-De Jhang went 3-for-4 for the Curve, while 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes and CF Jason Martin each went 2-for-4.

HEADING HOME: The Curve play at home this afternoon, are off Monday and then head to Binghamton for a road series beginning Tuesday.

— Cory Giger

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