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Pitching does well for Curve

The ball was hit sharply off the bat of Mitchell Tolman toward the hole between shortstop and third base.

Reading shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa nearly got to it, but the ball tipped off his glove and into left field for just the fifth hit of the night for the Curve. It was a good at-bat by Tolman to extend the bottom half of the eighth inning, but Altoona has been lacking a big clutch hit late in games for what feels like the entirety of the second half of the season.

With just one swing, a man who has only been with the Curve for a little over a week provided what the team has been in need of for months — a clutch hit. Sweeney rocketed a ball into the right-center field gap and it bounced off the ball. Tolman, who got a good jump on the play, barely slid in before the tag at home plate, scoring the only run of the night as the Curve topped the Fightin Phils by a final of 1-0 on Friday night.

“We were looking for the big hit all night,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said postgame. Great swing by Sweeney. Good job by Tolman that at-bat before with the 0-2 hit and a great job off the bat and was able to score on the bang-bang play.”

Sweeney’s stint in Altoona hasn’t gotten off to the greatest of starts as he’s just 5-for-34 so far, but his clutch hit in the eighth was all that mattered.

“I knew there was a guy on first base so I had to get a ball into the gap. I got a heater and put some good wood on it, but honestly, I was just trying to put some things together to get this team rallied.”

“It definitely feels good,” Sweeney added. “We were facing some good arms today. We have some good arms that through some zeros for us so we had the opportunity to win the game. That’s what a team game is supposed to be.”

Domingo Robles was the man that kept Altoona in the game for seven innings on Friday in what was arguably his best outing as a member of the Curve. Even though Blake Cederlind was the man who picked up the win, Robles’ performance was certainly worthy of a victory.

“Robles kept us in the game,” Ryan said. “He established on the edges and that allowed for the off speed to play. The weak contact early in contacts allowed him to expand the zone a little bit. He stayed with the game plan the whole time.”

Opposite one of the arms in the Phillies organization, Spencer Howard, Robles looked the part as he kept the potent Reading offense off balance all night long. Even though he gave up seven hits, only one player reached third base while he was on the mound.

“There was more conviction when there were runners in scoring position,” Ryan added. “He stayed with the game plan, pitched to the edges and was able to change speeds.”

Robles was followed up by Cederlind and Matt Eckelman, who each tossed a scoreless inning to cap off the win. Those two bullpen arms have been the team’s most reliable this season and once again proved why the coaching staff has so much trust in them.

“They’ve been reliable all year long,” Ryan said. “They’ve earned those innings and those situations to pitch in. Those two show up and continue to get the job done.”

Game recap

Key player: Domingo Robles kept the Fightin Phils off balance and tossed seven shutout innings, allowing seven hits and striking out three in the process.

Key play: Darnell Sweeney’s two-out, RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning pushed home Mitchell Tolman for the game’s only run.

Key stat: Matt Eckelman notched his 21st save of the season which is the most of anyone in the Pirates organization this season.

How they scored

Bottom 8th: Tolman singled, scored on Sweeney’s double (1-0).

Covering the bases

LEADING OFF: Reading starter Spencer Howard proved why he’s one of the top pitchers in the Phillies organization as he was excellent in his six innings of work. He allowed no runs on just three hits and no walks, striking out eight Curve hitters in the process. Howard has now made three Double-A starts and has 22 strikeouts in 14 innings.

SAFE AT FIRST: The shutout victory was the Curve’s 11th shutout of the season and marks the second time this season the team has had back-to-back shutouts.

STEALING SECOND: Friday night’s win was the Curve’s first 1-0 win of the season and the team’s first win against Reading, the team with the best record in the Eastern League this season.

ROUNDING THIRD: The Curve are now back above .500 for the season, the first time they’ve been above .500 since August 1.

HEADING HOME: Curve righthander Cody Ponce will make his first start of 2019 on Saturday night. Ponce was acquired from the Brewers in exchange for Pirates starter Jordan Lyles at the deadline. He’s made two relief appearances for the Curve so far, but now the organization is going to try and stretch out the 25-year-old to see how he fares in a starting role.

— Tyler King

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