ALTOONA — I pulled into the parking lot at Blair County Ballpark this morning and — surprise! — it started to rain. It seems that’s the way it’s been all season, no matter whether I’m home, away or somewhere in between (like here). Karen Price is with the big league club this week in frosty Denver and sunny (??) San Diego, so I welcomed the chance to get a look at the Double-A Curve.
»»» Right-hander Bryan Morris (strained oblique) is scheduled to throw on flat ground from about 90 feet this afternoon. Morris, who went on the DL on Wednesday, told me he’s felt much better over the past few days and expects to be out “only a couple of weeks” with the injury.
»»» Lefty Aaron Thompson (2-2, 3.22) will start this afternoon (weather permitting) against Erie. I saw Thompson pitch a bit in spring training; the Pirates snatched him off waivers from the Nats over the winter.
»»» Daniel Moskos, whom the Pirates called up yesterday to replace Evan Meek (shoulder tendinitis), is the 83rd former Altoona player to reach the majors. Moskos pitched for the Curve in 2009 and ’10.
Moskos also is the first former short-season A State College Spikes alum to play for the Pirates. The Spikes already have sent seven former players to the majors from their one-year affiliation (2006) with the St. Louis Cardinals.
»»» I reminded catcher Tony Sanchez that Moskos toiled here at the start of last season and now is in the majors. GM Neal Huntington has said that he won’t hesitate to call up a prospect from Double-A, if the situation is right. Sanchez grinned — he knew what I was up to — but he didn’t take the bait. “I’m just focused on becoming a better player. I’m not worried about that other stuff,” Sanchez said. “I love playing here. It’s a great ballpark … when it’s not raining.”
»»» I had a very interesting chat with Jim Benedict, the roving minor league pitching coordinator, about right-handers Aaron Pribanic (2-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP in five games/four starts) and Tim Alderson (0-1, 1.35 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in seven relief outings).
Pribanic has shelved his curveball because he throws it with an overhand delivery, which tended to mess with the lower arm slot he uses for his sinker and four-seam fastball. A pitch-to-contact guy, Pribanic has a 1.73 ground out-to-air out ratio — not bad, but still not as effective as Morris (3.29), Jeff Locke (2.25) and Jared Hughes (2.21). More good news: Pribanic has issued just two walks in 24 innings — tops among Altoona’s starters.
Alderson’s drop in velocity is much-chronicled, but Benedict said it is symptomatic, not problematic. Alderson has taken well to tweaks to his mechanics and is pitching in relief to reinforce the changes. If things go well, Benedict would not be surprised to see Alderson eventually go back into a starter’s role.
»»» Altoona’s lineup for the game today against Erie: 1. Brock Holt 2b, 2. Starling Marte cf, 3. Quincy Latimore lf, 4. Jordy Mercer ss, 5. Jeremy Farrell 3b, 6. Tony Sanchez dh, 7. Miles Durham 1b, 8. Eric Fryer c, 9. Brad Chalk rf.
»»» “I haven’t hit lower than fourth since Legion ball,” Sanchez said. He understands the coaches dropped him in the order to help snap him out of a batting funk. The former first-round pick is hitting .262 with one extra-base hit (a homer) in 61 at-bats. “I’m not pleased with the average or the power numbers, but it’s the first month,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez isn’t the only one who’s struggling. Miles Durham is batting .188 and Jordy Mercer is at .154. The Curve (10-11) rank fifth in the 12-team Eastern League with a .245 batting average and fifth with 83 runs scored. They have 12 homers, which is tied for the fourth-lowest total.
“We haven’t really clicked yet,” Sanchez said. “This team is full of talent.”
»»» Moving from shortstop to second base seems to agree with Brock Holt, who’s batting .310. His .388 OBP is third-best on the team. “He gets two hits every night,” Sanchez said. “He’s a mutant. He’s my pick for the best hitter in the system.”