Pitchers learning from Hanrahan
Tonight: Akron at Altoona, 6 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Sean Brady (4-12, 4.47) vs. RubberDucks LHP Adam Scott (4-4, 3.63)
Record: 31-35 (second half); 67-67 (overall)
It’s not out of the question that Curve pitching coach Joel Hanrahan could be the Pirates’ pitching coach as soon as next season, or within a couple of years.
To hear Altoona manager Michael Ryan talk about the two-time All-Star closer for the Bucs (2011 and ’12), Hanrahan is about as good as it gets as a pitching coach.
“It’s the greatest pitching mind that I’ve been around,” Ryan said.
Really? That good?
“Absolutely,” Ryan replied. “Just the things that he sees. The way that he can explain things for our pitchers to understand. The way that he cares about them. He’s a major league All-Star, how do you not listen to him?”
Hanrahan has done a fine job in his first season with the Curve, and his pitching staff is closing on a very strong note. Altoona extended the franchise record for a single season by tossing its 18th shutout Tuesday night in a 3-0 win over Akron before 3,662 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Pedro Vasquez (8-4) blanked the RubberDucks on three hits over seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.79. Jesus Liranzo pitched the eighth, then Matt Eckelman finished off the shutout in the ninth for his 23rd save. Kyle Dowdy (0-1) took the loss for Akron.
The Curve have shut out the RubberDucks each of the past two days, and they have three shutouts over the past five days (also Friday at Bowie).
Altoona’s 18 shutouts have topped the previous club record of 16, set in 2015 by a staff that included Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl. The Curve also lead the league in shutouts this season.
Hanrahan deserves a lot of credit for helping a staff that has faced a lot of ups and downs to remain focused and to finish on a strong note.
“These guys are all pitching for something, and there’s always people evaluating,” Hanrahan said of the late-season motivation. “I actually told the guys (Monday), we’re kind of in the bottom of the pack in pitching in the league, but we are high in some categories, and we have a chance to get into the middle of the pack in these last eight games.
“These last eight games are important, and they can really affect your season — good or bad — so I try to keep the guys locked in as long as possible.”
Despite throwing a league-best 18 shutouts, the Curve have the second-worst team ERA in the EL this season at 3.68. That should not be a reflection on Hanrahan’s efforts, though, as it’s really been more about the club being short in the starting rotation much of the year and having to find creative ways to eat innings.
“He’s one of the best pitching minds I’ve ever been around,” Curve lefty Cam Vieaux said two weeks ago, “so it’s a huge advantage for me to work with him.”
For Ryan, too. The manager said he’s learned a lot about pitching from Hanrahan this season.
“You watch the way he shows up to work every day, the preparation that he goes through,” Ryan said. “He studies video of not only our guys, but the opponents. He looks at heat maps of opposing hitters. He comes up with an amazing game plan, not only for our starters each day, but who has an idea when they’re coming out of the pen.”
Ray Searage has done a lot of good things as the Pirates’ pitching coach since 2010, but the staff in Pittsburgh has struggled mightily this year, and the organization may have to make a change this offseason.
If the Bucs let Searage go, they undoubtedly will give Hanrahan consideration for the job. He’s a known commodity in Pittsburgh because of his success with the Bucs, and his fun, energetic personality would be a perfect fit for the club and city.
The things working against Hanrahan are that he’s only been a minor league pitching coach for three years, and he hasn’t worked above Double-A. The Pirates might seek someone more experienced if they’re filling the big league job this offseason.
If Searage is retained for another year or two, it would allow for Hanrahan to get more experience and put him in an even better position for the major league job down the road.
For now, Hanrahan is just having fun watching his Curve pitchers close the season with some impressive outings.
“Any time these guys go out there and have a game like (Domingo) Robles did (Monday) or (Sean) Brady the other day in Bowie and you see the excitement on their face, that’s why we’re here,” Hanrahan said.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RHP Pedro Vasquez pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits with four strikeouts and one walk, to win for the Curve.
Key play: Altoona got an early lead with a run in the second inning on an RBI single by 2B Brett Pope, then added two insurance runs in the eighth.
Key stat: The Curve have thrown three shutouts in the past five days and have 18 for the season, a franchise record and the most in the league this year.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 2nd: Suiter singled, scored on Pope single (1-0).
Bottom 8th: Pope hit by pitch, scored on Pantoja error (2-0); Delay walked, scored on Siri wild pitch (3-0).