Yinzers struggle in their return
Tonight: New Hampshire at Altoona, 6 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Sean Brady (2-4, 6.57)vs Fisher Cats RHP Hector Perez (4-2, 5.44)
By Tyler King
For the Mirror
After a long road trip that saw Altoona go 1-8 and falter to fourth place in the Eastern League Western Division, the Curve were just happy to be back home Friday night.
But even the friendly confines of Peoples Natural Gas Field and even a new nickname for the night — the Allegheny Yinzers — weren’t enough to outlast the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and top infield prospect Kevin Smith, who scored a 5-4 victory over the Curve.
“It was a huge relief to get [home] last night,” Curve designated hitter Logan Hill said. “That was a long trip, things just didn’t go our way and even the last game with just starting the game and then the rain, it just felt like we were never going to get home. We played good [tonight] and competed, the final score just didn’t go away.”
After falling behind 4-1 in the early innings, the Curve battled back in the fourth and fifth innings, thanks to RBI hits by catcher Jason Delay and first baseman Jerrick Suiter.
But Delay, who leads the team with a .314 batting average, couldn’t deliver in arguably the biggest spot of the night.
Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Delay stepped up to the plate with runners on first and third and just one out. After taking the first pitch, Delay hit the ball sharply on the ground, but it was right to the shortstop Smith.
“[Delay] had the right approach, got the right pitch, just didn’t execute,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “He’s not missing pitches. He didn’t miss the pitch tonight, he just hit it on the ground. I love Delay in that situation. I’ll continue to love Delay in that situation all year long. He’s going to come through more than he won’t. Just one of those nights.”
“It’s hitting a round ball with a round bat, sometimes you’re just going to hit it on the ground,” Hill added.
Ryan continued to highlight his team’s lack of execution after a night in which his team grounded into three double plays, left six men on base and wnet just 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“Right now, teams are just out-executing us,” Ryan said. “We’re playing a lot better than the scoreboard is showing. What is comes down to is executing.”
The Fisher Cats spread out 13 hits over the course of nine innings, led by Smith’s three hit night that was capped off by his solo home run in the top of the eighth inning that proved to be the game-winner.
“It looked like he was just jumping on some fastballs early,” Ryan said of the New Hampshire shortstop. “We didn’t even get the chance to get deep in the count against him and put him away. Credit to him, he got pitches to hit and didn’t miss ’em.”
Smith, who is rated by MLB.com as the No. 6 prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, came into the game hitting just .170 on the season, but he certainly found his stroke on Friday night.
Key player: Curve third baseman Hunter Owen went 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored, including his solo home run in the second inning that got his team on the board.
Key play: Smith’s solo homer in the top of the eighth off hard-throwing Curve reliever Joel Cesary proved to be the nail in the coffin for Altoona.
“Cesar’s 97 [miles per hour] at the neck,” Ryan said of the play. “High fastball, he hit it out of the park. That’s a really good piece of hitting.”
Key stat: Curve first baseman Jerrick Suiter extended his hitting streak to eight games with his two-RBI single that tied the game up at four in the bottom of the fifth inning. He’s hitting 11-for-30 (.367) over his last eight games.
How they scored
Top 1st: Wall doubled, scored on Adams’ double (0-1).
Bottom 2nd: Owen homered (1-1).
Top 3rd: Wall doubled, scored on Knight’s single (1-2).
Top 4th: Williams doubled, scored on Smith’s single. Smith scored on Wall’s double (1-4).
Bottom 4th: Hill hit by pitch, Owen singled, both scored on Delay’s single (3-4).
Bottom 5th: Jackson walked, scored on Suiter’s single (4-4).
Top 8th: Smith homered (4-5).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: The Curve had to use their bullpen for the entirety of Friday night’s ballgame due to a lack of starting pitching depth, Ryan said. Austin Coley served as the “opener,” pitching the first two innings in what was just his second Double-A appearance of the season.
SAFE AT FIRST: “Today was just a bullpen day,” Ryan said. “Coley is going to come out of the bullpen this year for us. We’re missing starters at the moment. Some days it’s going to align where we’re just going to use everybody out of the bullpen. [We] just decided to have him be the opener.”
STEALING SECOND: Blake Weiman provided two scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the Curve and hasn’t allowed in his last five appearances. On Friday night, he cut right through the heart of the New Hampshire lineup, needing just 27 pitches to retire the side in both of his innings on the mound.
ROUNDING THIRD: Curve second baseman Mitchell Tolman had the dreaded “golden sombrero” on Friday night, striking out in all four of his plate appearances.
HEADING HOME: The Curve are now 0-4 this season against the Fisher Cats, but have two more shots to get back in the win column this weekend.
— Tyler King