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Curve still impressive despite challenges

07/05/19 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Curve starter Brandon Waddell gave up two hits and no runs in six innings Friday night at PNG Field.

The Curve now have the best overall record in the Western Division for the season, a testament to the club’s ability to overcome numerous challenges, roster moves and injuries.

“That’s really cool,” second baseman Mitchell Tolman said when told the news Friday night.

Altoona got a terrific pitching performance from Brandon Waddell and beat Erie, 3-0, before 4,573 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Harrisburg lost Friday, so the Curve’s record (46-38) is now percentage points ahead of the Senators (47-39) for tops in the division.

“That’s good to know,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “Because we’re trying to prepare these guys to get to the big leagues. They’re going to play a full season in the big leagues, so it means that throughout the ups and downs they can get through a lot of things.”

Altoona also is a season-high eight games above .500 after winning its third in a row and sixth out of seven games.

“It’s the high-water mark in July and right before the all-star break,” Ryan said. “The process takes time, and we’re starting to figure some things out.

“I’m just extremely proud of the group the way that they continue to fight. That’s what gives you the confidence that they’re going to be in it until the end.”

As nice as having the top overall record is right now, the Curve wouldn’t be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Harrisburg won the first half, and Altoona is two games behind Erie and Bowie in the second-half standings.

So, Ryan and his players know they’ve still got a lot of work to do the rest of the way.

“On the other hand,” Ryan said of the overall record, “it doesn’t matter because it’s two halves. The great thing is we’re going to play in meaningful games throughout the rest of the year. That’s important for everybody as far as developing guys to learn how to win.”

Friday was the second of eight consecutive games the Curve will play against the SeaWolves. They’ll play two more times this weekend, take off for the all-star break, then play four games at Erie next week.

It’s almost unheard of for two teams to play each other eight times in a row, so this is about as wacky as it gets.

“I’ve definitely never been a part of eight games in a row with a team in pro ball, that’s for sure,” Tolman said. “It will be interesting to see toward the end of the series because everyone will know each other, we’ll be playing against each other every game, guys hitting, you know who’s hot, who’s not, where they’re hitting the ball.

“It will be interesting to see just from a baseball perspective how guys pitch to other guys and how guys play positioning and all that.”

The eight-game series gives the Curve a great chance to make up ground on Erie in the standings. Altoona trailed the SeaWolves by four games at the outset of this series but has cut that in half by winning the first two games.

“What makes this team so good is they take it one day at a time,” Ryan said. “They don’t look at a series necessarily, whether it’s three or four games. They think of that night’s game. That’s what we’re doing.

“It’s two games in this series so far, and they’re looking forward to (today) being game three. We’ll see how we do.”

Game recap

Key player: LHP Brandon Waddell tossed six shutout innings, allowing only two hits, to win for the Curve.

Key play: RHP Beau Sulser got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh to preserve the 3-0 lead.

Key stat: The Curve have the best overall record (46-38) in the Western Division.

How they scored

Bottom 4th: Madris singled, scored on Suiter sacrifice fly (1-0); Glendinning singled, scored on reyes single (2-0).

Bottom 5th: Tolman singled, scored on Oliva single (3-0).

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: LHP Brandon Waddell (1-1) was fantastic for the Curve, blanking Erie on two hits over six innings to get the win. “Tonight was very good,” manager Michael Ryan said of his lefty. “The changeup was really working, which made the fastball more effective. He was both sides of the plate with the fastball and then front and back with the changeup. It was a great combination. The best I’ve seen his changeup throughout a full outing since I’ve seen him.”

SAFE AT FIRST: Waddell had a rough go of it in Triple-A this season before getting sent back to the Curve, but he’s been outstanding in Double-A. He has a 1.89 ERA through four starts. Ryan was asked if he was concerned about how Waddell might handle getting demoted back to Double-A. “Not necessarily any concerns,” the manager said. “I knew that there was going to be some frustration and being upset. That’s normal for a player. Once he put that aside, he knows that he has a job to do transitioning him back to being a starter, and that’s going to give him, in my opinion, an opportunity to pitch a long time in the major leagues.”

STEALING SECOND: RHP Beau Sulser pitched the final three innings to earn his second save. He also got out of a big bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh by recording a pair of outs on comebackers, the first one at home plate. Erie reliever Joe Navilhon (1-2) took the loss.

ROUNDING THIRD: Logan Hill returned to the Curve from Triple-A Indianapolis and was the DH on Friday. Hill hit .184 with two homers and three RBIs in 14 games for Indy. Upon his return, SS Robbie Glendinning was wearing Hill’s No. 23 Curve jersey, but Glendinning switched and took No. 6 so that Hill could have his number back. OF Bralin Jackson was placed on the injured list to open up a roster spot for Hill.

HEADING HOME: Former Curve RHP James Marvel had a marvelous Triple-A debut Friday, tossing a seven-inning shutout in a doubleheader game for Indy in a 3-0 win over Toledo. Marvel allowed just three hits, struck out six and didn’t walk anyone.

— Cory Giger

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