Sadly, no help on its way for Curve ’pen
It had disaster written all over it once again, for the third straight day. But this time, the Curve found a way to avoid yet another costly ninth-inning collapse Wednesday afternoon.
The good news is that Tate Scioneaux got out of trouble against Bowie and recorded a much-needed save from Altoona’s beleaguered bullpen. Maybe, just maybe Scioneaux will be the answer going forward in the ninth inning, and he certainly proved last season that he can handle closing.
The bad news is the Curve’s bullpen this season has been perhaps the worst in franchise history, and circumstances within the Pirates’ organization have prevented it from getting any better.
The unfortunate reality is that this is the bullpen the Curve will have the rest of the way. There won’t be any significant help coming down from Triple-A, none coming up from Single-A and none coming from the independent leagues.
“This is who we’re going to have, and this is who we’re going to move forward with,” manager Michael Ryan said. “Unless the trade deadline comes and something happens where we add or we subtract. That’s the only way that it will change.”
The easy answer is that the Pirates have had a lot of pitching problems at the big league level, thereby forcing them to shuttle guys back and forth from Triple-A and causing a trickle-down effect.
The more honest answer, though, is that the Pirates have mishandled the pitching depth at the upper levels of their organization and forced teams, managers, coaches and players throughout the system to deal with problems that simply should not exist.
I’m sure it can be a daunting logistical task at times to make sure every team, from the big leagues all the way down to rookie levels, have five starting pitchers to get through the rotation and enough relievers to cover nine innings every day.
The fact that the Curve really haven’t had all of those aspects in place together for close to a month now is absurd and embarrassing for the Pirates.
Ryan and Curve pitching coach Bryan Hickerson are doing the best they can every day to make sure all bases are covered. But the organization has badly tied their hands by leaving the club short-staffed.
Ryan wasn’t being critical when he offered this assessment as much as he was merely pointing out why the Curve won’t be getting any pitching help.
“Everyone in the organization, each affiliate, is short arms. So there’s really no one to send,” he said. “There’s no one to send down, there’s no one to send up. It’s the same situation — who do we send up? Who do we send to Triple-A? Because it would cause us to be short, as well.
“We’re just going to ride these guys and keep working with them and try to get them better.”
The Curve are tied for most blown saves in the EL with 15, so still being in playoff contention despite that is a testament to how good the club is in many other aspects.
If only Montana DuRapau would have remained with the Curve, you’d have to think a lot of the closing problems would have been solved. DuRapau, the franchise’s career saves leader, joined the club for a short time after returning from a 50-game drug ban, but once the Triple-A affiliate needed help in the bullpen, he was the obvious choice to go.
Ryan and Hickerson have been extremely patient with Geoff Hartlieb in the closer role, but Hartlieb simply hasn’t gotten the job done. He’s got good stuff and solid numbers in some areas, but he’s just 6-for-12 in save opportunities and has blown some bad ones.
Matt Eckelman recently joined the Curve from high-A Bradenton, where he was 6-for-7 in saves, and he converted his first three opportunities with Altoona before blowing a ninth-inning lead Tuesday against Bowie. Still, Eckelman deserves at least a few more opportunities to see how he handles the role.
I’m actually stunned that it took so long for Scioneaux to get another save opportunity, which he converted Wednesday despite Bowie getting runners to first and third with one out and the Curve leading, 5-3. Prior to Wednesday, Scioneaux hadn’t had a save chance since June 8, and he’s now 4-for-5 in save situations.
We’re talking about a guy who saved 14 games a year ago, including the clincher in the Eastern League Championship Series, yet he just has not been in the mix. There’s a reason for that, too.
Lacking a fifth starter recently, Scioneaux had to start a couple of games on bullpen days, simply because he was stretched out enough to go three innings. So what happened was the Curve had to be focused more on just trying to fill nine innings than trying to win games, because if the goal was solely to win, then I have to believe Scioneaux would have gotten a shot to close much earlier.
I feel like I keep having to address the obvious — that this is the minor leagues, and there are bigger issues at stake than merely trying to win at each level.
But one of the biggest givens in the minor leagues should be that the parent club is organized enough to at least give each affiliate enough players and pitchers to be able to play the game the right way from start to finish, without having to get all cute by putting guys in unfamiliar roles.
The Pirates have not done a good enough job in that regard with their minor league personnel this season, and it’s painfully obvious to see in the Curve bullpen.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.