Curve surging in June

The Curve appeared to be in big trouble at the end of May, with the club losing eight of nine to drop a season-high five games below .500.

June has been a much different, much more encouraging story.

Altoona has the best record in the Eastern League so far this month at 7-2, and the team just finished off an impressive weekend against longtime nemesis Akron.

The Curve’s pitching staff turned in yet another strong performance to beat the RubberDucks for the third time in two days, 4-2, before 5,088 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“There’s just ups and downs in baseball,” Curve outfielder Bralin Jackson said. “When we’re down, we don’t get too down. When we’re up, we don’t get too high. We know how to stay even keel so that we can have a bounce back like this.”

The bounce back started with a huge ninth-inning rally at Erie a week ago, sparking a three-game road sweep of the SeaWolves. Altoona dropped Friday’s series opener against Akron, then rebounded with fantastic pitching in a doubleheader sweep Saturday before Sunday’s strong showing all around.

The Curve have won six out of seven and are back to .500 at 30-30. They’re not going to make the playoffs in the first half with only eight games remaining and a seven-game deficit in the standings, but the way the club has responded of late gives a lot of hope for the second half.

“You have to feel good about it,” manager Michael Ryan said. “The last three years I’ve been here, the goal has been to play your best baseball at the end of the year. I think that we’re on track for that. So that gets you excited.

“Also, it shows us that if this was a full season that we would still be in it, so we would have something to play for. And now we have something to play for in the second half because you go back to 0-0 and start over, but it doesn’t mean the momentum has to start over.”

The Curve’s starting rotation has had great momentum lately, and it continued with a superb outing Sunday by Pedro Vasquez (5-1). He allowed just one hit over six innings and struck out eight with no walks before getting lifted at just 74 pitches.

The only reason Vasquez was pulled was because the starting rotation has been so good of late and gone so deep into games that some of the relievers had to get some work in before today’s off day.

“It’s a great problem to have,” pitching coach Joel Hanrahan said of that impressive and unusual pitching situation.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” Hanrahan added. “That’s what these guys pride themselves on. From day one they’ve said they wanted to go six, seven, eight innings. They’re not five and dive guys like you see. They want the ball. And the sad part is the bullpen wants the ball, too, so trying to find that balance of getting the relievers in and letting the starters do their work, it’s hard.”

The Curve scored three runs in the fourth inning to give Vasquez some cushion. Hunter Owen and Arden Pabst had RBI singles, and Bligh Madris a run-scoring groundout off Akron starter Tanner Tully (5-5).

Blake Cederlind relieved Vasquez in the seventh, and the RubberDucks got to him for two runs to pull within 3-2.

The Curve added a big insurance run in the eighth as Logan Hill doubled, took third on an error on the play and later scored on a wild pitch.

Matt Eckelman finished it off in the ninth for his sixth save.

Ryan was critical of his club a week and a half ago, but he’s seen a big change during the current hot streak.

“I’ve noticed us playing team baseball,” the manager said. “A lot of the selfishness has gone away the last week once we brought it to their attention.

“We would have guys that would move guys over and be upset. We would have guys at the plate with a guy on third that were just trying to hit sac flies because they didn’t want their average to suffer. That’s gone away. You’ve got guys moving, guys giving up their at-bats for the team and guys in the dugout celebrating those.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: RHP Pedro Vasquez tossed a one-hitter over six shutout innings with eight strikeouts for the Curve.

Key play: The Curve scored three runs in the fourth for a 3-0 lead.

Key stat: The Curve have the EL’s best record this month at 7-2.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 4th: Tolman singled, scored on Owen single (1-0); Suiter singled, scored on Madris groundout (2-0); Pabst single scored Owen (3-0).

Top 7th: Tom doubled, scored on Garcia double (3-1); Call singled, scored on Chu groundout (3-2).

Bottom 8th: Hill doubled, scored on Siri wild pitch (4-2).

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