Bullpen implodes in defeat

READING — The Curve appeared to have solved many of their bullpen problems recently, but they endured another costly collapse Friday night to find yet another crushing way to lose.

Altoona led by two entering the eighth inning, then Reading scored five runs in the eighth to steal a 9-8 victory at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Curve scored once in their final at-bat and had the tying run on third base, but their chances ended on a long fly ball that was caught at the warning track.

The Curve are 17-15, yet they have blown eight save opportunities in 19 chances. Not all of those games wound up in losses, but the late-inning struggles by the bullpen clearly have been a major detriment to the club thus far.

Altoona scored four runs in the seventh inning to take a 7-4 lead, with Bralin Jackson’s two-run single snapping a 4-4 tie. Christian Kelley scored on a wild pitch later in the inning for a three-run cushion.

Reading stormed back with the five-run eighth, and the first run was gift-wrapped by a defensive mistake. Left fielder Logan Hill dropped a fly ball that turned into a four-base error, allowing Malquin Canelo to come all the way around and score.

Reliever Tate Scioneaux then gave up a walk and a double, and following a strikeout, he gave way to Geoff Hartlieb in relief.

Hartlieb walked the first man he faced to load the bases, then served up a grand slam to Deivi Grullon that gave Reading a 9-7 lead.

Hartlieb has three blown saves in six chances to go along with a 5.40 ERA. Many of his other numbers are good — 4-1 record, 1.03 WHIP, .233 opponents’ batting average, 13 strikeouts to two walks — but Hartlieb still has had a tough time shutting down rallies in key spots.

The Curve threatened in the ninth as Jason Martin led off with a double and Kelley drew a two-out walk. Pinch-hitter Jordan George was credited with a single on a ball to second baseman Brandon Bednar that could have been ruled an error, and that brought in Martin to make it 9-8.

Pinch-hitter Elvis Escobar drilled a ball to deep left field that nearly went for extra bases and a Curve lead, but Jan Hernandez made a running catch on the warning track for the final out.

Alexis Rivero (1-0) won in relief for Reading, and Edgar Garcia picked up his second save.

Martin went 3-for-4 to raise his average to .330, and he clearly has been the Curve’s best offensive threat this season. Kelley also went 3-for-4 to raise his average to .297.

Ke’Bryan Hayes and Will Craig had two hits apiece for Altoona.

Starting pitcher Pedro Vasquez allowed four runs on six hits over five innings for the Curve.

SUBHD: Scoring change

SS Cole Tucker was credited with an inside-the-park home run during Thursday’s win at Reading, but that was changed to a single and a three-base error on Friday.

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: C Deivi Grullon was 2-for-4 with a grand slam and five RBIs for Reading.

Key play: Grullon’s grand slam gave the Fightin Phils a 9-7 lead in the eighth.

Key stat: The Curve have a whopping eight blown saves in 19 opportunities, the most in the Eastern League.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 1st: Canelo tripled, scored on Green two-run homer (0-2).

Top 2nd: Craig doubled, scored on Ratledge sacrifice fly (1-2).

Top 3rd: Martin singled, scored on Hill two-run homer (3-2).

Bottom 4th: Martin walked, scored on Grullon single (3-3); Hernandez singled, scored on Marrero groundout (3-4).

Top 7th: Hayes singled, scored on Martin single (4-4); Hill walked, scored along with Martin on Jackson single (6-4); Kelley singled, scored on McGarry wild pitch (7-4).

Bottom 8th: Canelo reached and scored on four-base error by Hill (7-5); Green walked, Martin doubled, Hernandez walked, all scored on Grullon grand slam (7-9).

Top 9th: Martin doubled, scored on George single (8-9).

Next stop

Tonight: Altoona at Reading, 6:15 p.m.

Pitchers: Curve RHP Dario Agrazal (2-0, 1.26) vs. Fightin Phils LHP Ranger Suarez (1-2, 4.25)

Record: 17-15