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Delay speeds up his MLB timetable

Next stop Tonight: Altoona at Bowie, 7:05 p.m. Pitchers: Curve RHP Pedro Vasquez (7-3, 2.69) vs. Baysox LHP Zac Lowther (12-7, 2.77) Record: 28-32 (second half); 64-64 (overall)

There are always at least a dozen guys from each Curve team who go on to play in the major leagues, and it can be fun trying to guess which ones ultimately will make it.

Some choices are easy, such as big-time prospects and/or players who tear it up statistically in Double-A. Pitchers who throw at least 97 mph have a good shot, even if they’re not sensational at this level, simply because big arms are always in demand.

Catchers also are good bets. Especially ones who are very good when kneeling behind the plate and also show a lot of potential standing at the plate.

Catcher Jason Delay fits the bill in both areas and certainly has the look of a player who someday will get to the big leagues.

Delay drilled two home runs and carried the offense with a career-high five RBIs in Altoona’s 8-2 win over Hartford on Wednesday night before 3,231 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“He had an outstanding night,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said of Delay.

His battery mate, Domingo Robles, also had a big night as he tied a career high with nine strikeouts while holding the Yard Goats to one run over seven innings. Robles (3-6) allowed six hits and walked two in his victory.

The pitcher got support from the offense — namely Delay — with four runs in the fourth inning.

Delay capped the big frame with a three-run homer barely over the wall in left, which for a moment looked as if it might have been caught as Hartford’s Vance Vizcaino leaped and crashed into the wall but couldn’t come down with the ball.

Delay upped the Curve lead to 6-0 in the sixth inning when he belted a two-run homer. He came up again in the eighth inning looking to become the first Altoona player ever with three home runs in one game, but he popped out to first base.

Delay, who wasn’t available for comment after the game, is hitting .248 with eight homers, 36 RBIs and a .714 OPS. Those aren’t eye-popping offensive numbers, but his development at the plate this season has been notable.

A fourth-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2017, Delay hit just three homers over his first two professional seasons, and he hit nearly that many Wednesday night. Ryan called his offensive development this season “outstanding.”

“He was known as a defensive catcher, and this year he’s starting to become a full offensive and defensive catcher,” the manager said. “It just shows you the things that he has learned and things he’s applying offensively.

“He’s a dual threat now. He’s got some serious power potential, and he showed it tonight.”

Delay got off to a tremendous start at the plate this season, hitting .394 over his first 19 games. The league caught up to him at that point, and he fell into a prolonged slump, but he’s made adjustments and been more consistent over the past month.

“He went from early in the season having success but not really fully understanding how he was having success,” Ryan said. “So, different situations of the game there’s different things you need to do offensively, and he started to understand that. Steadily he’s been getting a lot better.”

Ultimately, Delay’s defensive abilities are what should get him to the big leagues, and how long he stays there will depend on how well he can hit.

“If you look at the analytical numbers, his receiving numbers are outstanding,” Ryan said of the catcher’s defense. “The catch and throw is really good, as well. Defensively, he’s Vanderbilt University (product), very intelligent back there and does a really good job of calling the game.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: C Jason Delay hit two homers and drove in five runs for the Curve.?Key play: Delay’s three-run homer in the fourth capped a four-run inning for a 4-0 lead.

Key stat: The Curve have just one homestand left, a four-game series against Akron next week.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 4th: Oliva singled, scored on Hill sacrifice fly (1-0); Cruz doubled, Madris hit by pitch, both scored on Delay three-run homer (4-0).

Bottom 6th: Madris singled, scored on Delay two-run homer (6-0).

Top 7th: Jones singled, scored on Burcham single (6-1).

Bottom 7th: Jackson singled, scored on Sharpe double (7-1); Cruz double scored Sharpe (8-1).

Top 9th: Trejo walked, scored on Fernandez sacrifice fly (8-2).

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: LHP Domingo Robles (3-6, 4.55 ERA) has had an interesting year with a lot of ups and downs, but he was superb Wednesday with nine strikeouts, matching a career high. He threw seven shutout innings two starts ago against Reading and allowed just one run Wednesday, so those are good signs. He allowed four runs on 11 hits in six innings his last time out, so he’s still searching for consistency.

SAFE AT FIRST: Matt Dennis (4-3) took the loss for Hartford, giving up six runs on eight hits in six innings.

STEALING SECOND: Former Curve RHP Tate Scioneaux is now with Hartford and pitched in relief for the second straight game Wednesday. He allowed two runs on three hits in the seventh inning. Scioneaux was the closer on Altoona’s 2017 EL championship team and finished off the clinching victory against Trenton in the ELCS at home. He struggled with the Curve this season and was released by the Pirates.

ROUNDING THIRD: SS Oneil Cruz continues to hit well, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a run. He’s now batting .307 through 23 games. He’s also made eight errors, but only one in his past eight games after a rough stretch of making an error in six consecutive games.

HEADING HOME: The Curve now head to Bowie for four games. The final homestand begins Monday against Akron.

— Cory Giger

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