Vasquez stymies Baysox
Tonight: Bowie at Altoona, 6 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Sean Brady (3-12, 4.79) vs. Baysox LHP Alex Wells (8-3, 2.31)
Record: 25-31 (second half); 61-63 (overall)
Pedro Vasquez doesn’t get the kind of recognition he deserves as a pitching prospect in the Pirates’ system, but that could change with the numbers he’s putting up this season.
Vasquez tossed eight shutout innings — the longest outing by a Curve starter this season — in a 5-0 win over Bowie on Saturday night before 7,013 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Vasquez made such quick work of the Baysox that the game lasted only 2 hours and 8 minutes.
The right-hander gave up just three hits, struck out four and walked one while lowering his ERA to an impressive 2.69.
How impressive is that ERA?
In Curve history, only nine pitchers have thrown at least 100 innings in a season with an ERA under 3.00. (See covering the bases for the full list.)
Vasquez could become the 10th pitcher on the list if he can keep his mark under 3.00 the rest of the way, as he’s already thrown 107 innings.
All of that, mind you, is from a pitcher who had a 5.12 ERA for the Curve last season. So Vasquez, a 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic, has made a huge turnaround.
“I increased my confidence and attack the strike zone all the time,” Vasquez, through a translator, said of his success this season. “I’m focused on staying ahead in the count all the time.”
Curve manager Michael Ryan said Vasquez is not undervalued by the Pirates, because the organization knows full well what he’s capable of doing. Vasquez came to the Bucs in a 2016 trade with the Mariners for pitcher Arquimedes Caminero.
So, why the big turnaround for Vasquez this year?
“It boils down to he just wasn’t healthy last year at times, and he was out there pitching when he didn’t feel 100 percent,” Ryan said.
“He’s done everything that he needed to this year as far arm care, taking the throwing program serious, having an idea against who he’s facing. He’s been a pro this year.”
The Curve scored three runs in the third inning to give Vasquez (7-3) some early support, and that turned out to be more than enough. He kept Bowie’s hitters off balance by mixing up his pitches effectively.
“Last year at times he was afraid of contact, where he would nibble,” Ryan said. “He became predictable in some counts.
“This year he’s going right after guys and then setting them up with offspeed. It’s more of a guessing game. He’s throwing sliders or curveballs in fastball counts when the opposing team thinks fastball is coming. When they think an offspeed is coming, fastball’s coming. So he keeps them guessing, goes right after guys, and it’s a good combination.”
Vasquez had a game plan coming into the season and has stuck to it.
“I came into this year, my second year, knowing more of the league with confidence and trying to finish off every guy that I’m facing right away,” he said.
Zac Lowther (12-7) took the loss for Bowie, giving up three runs in seven innings.
Logan Hill hit a two-run homer for the Curve in the eighth, his 10th of the season, the most among current members of the club. Hill also had an RBI double in the third.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RHP Pedro Vasquez tossed eight shutout innings for the Curve.
Key play: Altoona scored three runs in the third inning.
Key stat: Vasquez is in line to become just the 10th Curve pitcher to throw 100 innings in a season with an ERA under 3.00.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 3rd: Pope walked, scored on Sharpe triple (1-0); Oliva double scored Sharpe (2-0); Hill double scored Oliva (3-0).
Bottom 8th: Oliva tripled, scored on Hill two-run homer (5-0).
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: These are the other nine Curve pitchers to throw 100 innings in a season with an ERA under 3.00: Sam McConnell (2000), Justin Reid (2001), Landon Jacobsen (2003), Tony Watson (2010), Derek Hankins (2010), Rudy Owens (2010), Phil Irwin (2012), Adrian Sampson (2014) and Chad Kuhl (2015).
SAFE AT FIRST: Curve manager Michael Ryan won his 213th game with the club Saturday, tying the record held by Tim Leiper and Dale Sveum. Ryan can break the mark with a win tonight.
STEALING SECOND: Ryan, an Indiana, Pa., native, also was honored before Saturday’s game as he was inducted into the Pennsylvania American Legion Hall of Fame.
ROUNDING THIRD: Pittsburgh Police Officer Dan Mead was honored during the game and received a $500 flight voucher as part of a Minor League Baseball promotion. Mead was the first responder to confront the shooter during last year’s Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and was lauded for helping save lives.
HEADING HOME: Former Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister was on hand scouting Saturday’s game. Banister was with the Pirates for many years before being hired by the Rangers. Now he serves as a special assistant to the general manager for the Bucs.
— Cory Giger