Curve pound top prospect
It would have come as no surprise had the Curve struggled to scratch across any runs for a second-straight night. After all, Binghamton was sending the top Mets pitching prospect to the mound.
The Curve, however, and outfielder Jordan George had other plans, as Altoona used seven runs in the first four innings to pummel the Rumble Ponies, 10-2, before 7,685 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field and continue its dominance of Binghamton this season.
George led the charge with five RBIs and helped improve Altoona’s scoring margin to 46-21 over the Rumble Ponies in six games this year.
“To be honest with you, we’ve responded well every night that we’ve had a tough (game) previously,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “I wasn’t very surprised. I knew we’d show up and have good at bats. We showed up right away in the first, and then we carried that throughout the game. Not to take anything away from (Binghamton starting pitcher Justin) Dunn, he has some really good stuff, but he just made some mistakes.”
Rated as the No. 4 overall prospect for the Mets by MLB.com, Dunn (5-3) had a night to forget. The 2016 first-round draft pick was knocked around early and often, allowing the Curve to surpass their hit total in Friday’s loss before Saturday’s first inning even ended, and he surrendered at least one run in each of the first four innings.
The seven earned runs and 10 hits allowed in five innings of work were both the most Dunn has allowed in his nine career Double-A starts.
The night’s first run came from a face that Curve fans have become accustomed to seeing in the boxscore. The Will Craig RBI was his Eastern League-leading 82nd of the year and his 22nd since the All-Star break. Craig currently sits sixth all-time in single-season RBIs in Curve history with 36 games still left in the season.
For the fifth time in his last six starts, Eduardo Vera (4-3) allowed just two runs. Vera worked five-plus innings on the hill and allowed seven hits while striking out three and walking a trio of Binghamton batters.
“He’s adjusting to the league very well,” Ryan said. “At first he wasn’t getting away with some of the things that he was getting away with in high-A. Lately he’s had conviction in each pitch, been getting batters off balance and hasn’t been getting into a pattern. He’s become unpredictable and has had success.”
The right-handed pitcher picked up his first professional hit with an RBI single in the second inning. Vera’s RBI was the third straight night that a pitcher had an RBI the series after Sean Keselica had one Thursday and Mickey Jannis had one Friday.
While Craig and Vera may have gotten on the board first, it was George who shined the brightest with his four-hit, five-RBI game.
“Today was just meeting the ball in the right place,” George said. “I didn’t want to be too early, I didn’t want to be too late. Timing was definitely the key for me today.”
The switch-hitting left fielder isn’t touted as one of the Curve’s top prospects, but with Saturday’s performance he pushed his batting average to .299 and leads the team with an on-base-percentage of .384.
“He’s a professional hitter,” Ryan said. “He can play all the corner positions on the field. He gives us options. He’s a switch hitter. He puts the most consistent professional at-bats out there each night, and we try to get him in the lineup as much as we can.”
George punctuated his night on a high note in the eighth when he hit his fourth single of the game to tack on two additional insurance runs.
“My role is to just be able to hit and barrel the ball from both sides of the plate, move all around (the infield) and be an everyday guy,” George said. “I’ve got a job to do, and I just want to focus on doing it the best I can. That’s what I bring to this team. Just anyway I can help, I want to help.”
Key player: LF Jordan George was 4-for-5 with five RBIs on four singles.
Key play: A diving stop at first base by Will Craig to end the sixth inning with the bases loaded.
Key stat: Binghamton was 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
How they scored
Bottom 1st: Reynolds singled, scored on Craig single (1-0).
Top 2nd: Nido doubled, scored on Biondi single (1-1).
Bottom 2nd: Kelley doubled, scored on Vera single (2-1).
Bottom 3rd: Reynolds singled, scored on George single (3-1); Craig hit by pitch, scored on Hill sac-fly (4-1); George scores on Kelley sac-fly (5-1).
Bottom 4th: Reynolds reached on fielder’s choice, Craig doubled, both scored on George single (7-1).
Top 5th: Biondi walked, scored on Gimenez single (7-2);
Bottom 6th: Tucker solo homer (8-2).
Bottom 8th: Ratledge singled, Tucker doubled, both scored on George double (10-2).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: CF Bryan Reynolds is developing a bit of a hot streak at the plate. Reynolds has a six-game hitting streak going in which he has recorded eight hits after going 2-for-5 Saturday.
SAFE AT FIRST: The normally defensively-stellar Curve had two errors in the first two innings. Entering play Saturday, Altoona had nine fewer errors than the next closest team in the Eastern League.
STEALING SECOND: It was a good day in the Western Division standings for Altoona, as both the division-leading Akron and third place Harrisburg picked up losses in the first games of each of their respective doubleheaders.
ROUNDING THIRD: 1B Will Craig was hit by a pitch for the second time this series and 13th time this season. The 13 hit-by-pitches are more than double his next closest Curve teammates Jordan George and Christian Kelley who have both been hit six times.
HEADING HOME: RHP Geoff Hartlieb recorded his third hold of the season with two walks and a strikeout. Matt Eckelman and Tate Scioneaux also contributed to Saturday’s relief effort.
— Thomas Schlarp
Today: Binghamton at Altoona, 2 p.m.
Pitchers: Rumble Ponies RHP Kevin McGowan (0-1, 13.50) vs. Curve RHP Luis Escobar (1-0, 4.50)