Some of the best players in Curve history got off to awful starts in Double-A, including:
* Andrew McCutchen started 0-for-15 in 2007 and was batting .181 after 40 games.
* Pedro Alvarez started 3-for-25 with 10 strikeouts last year and looked lost on curveballs.
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Chase d’Arnaud has raised his batting average 25 points this month.
* Brad Eldred, the slugger who hit 14 homers with an unbelievable 50 RBIs in August of 2004, was 2-for-23 with 13 strikeouts when he first came up in late July.
Double-A is the great weeding-out level for prospects, and even some of the best ones don't exactly look too impressive at first.
Shortstop Chase d'Arnaud entered this season as the Curve's highest-rated prospect, coming in at No. 5 on Baseball America's list of Pirate farmhands. He got off to a slow start and is still figuring out some things, but he's already way ahead of the learning curve in the mental aspect.
"It was a good experience," he said of his early season slump.
"It's something that had to happen before I were to go up and play elsewhere," d'Arnaud said. "It's important to know how to keep your mind right when you're struggling."
d'Arnaud, who hit his first Double-A homer Tuesday, went 0-for-4 last night to snap his 10-game hitting streak. His average dipped to .234, but that's a nice improvement from .198 where he was at on May 3. He's raised his average 25 points this month after finishing May at .209.
"He just continues to improve," Curve manager Matt Walbeck said of d'Arnaud, who's batting .289 in June. "He's got a ways to go, obviously, but we're real happy with the progress he's made."
Walbeck especially liked d'Arnaud's answer about how struggling can be a good thing.
"Anybody that can handle adversity, that's good," Walbeck said. "But it's even better when a guy can look at adversity and turn it into a positive. It's hard to teach that, and it's hard to tell a guy that. But it's certainly something that can propel him to the next level."
d'Arnaud has found ways to contribute offensively as he has 19 doubles, 24 RBIs and 30 walks, raising his on-base percentage to .320. He's also stolen 13 bases, a big key since he's hit primarily at the top of the order.
The only real negative about him offensively is the batting average, but he's not pressing to fix that.
"You're not just going to get it back right away," d'Arnaud said. "That's one thing I've learned. You've got to stick to your approach every night and just have patience.
"I've been focusing more at the plate on my approach, and right now I feel like my swing complements my approach."
d'Arnaud has been working on recognizing hittable pitches earlier and, as Walbeck said, "basically learning his strike zone, knowing what he can handle and what he can't."
"Sometimes you can get no hits, and you have to be satisfied with the at-bats you took and the quality of your at-bats," d'Arnaud said. "Sometimes you can have at-bats that are garbage and you can get hits. But I think it's important to get them the right way because it can help you in the long run."
d'Arnaud also has struggled a bit defensively, committing 19 errors, but Walbeck has seen improvement.
"His double play feeds are getting much better, and his reads of the swings are improving," the manager said.
"Right now he's learning to read which balls he should come in on, which balls he should stay back on and understanding that he has to catch the ball before he throws it. Sometimes he gets going a little fast and thinks that he can try and do it all at once, when really all it takes is one step at a time."
d'Arnaud battled a prolonged cold at the beginning of the season as his body tried to acclimate to the winter weather. That likely played a role in his early slump, but he won't use it as an excuse.
"The first couple weeks, the cold was a different experience," he said. "I had never really gone through that before. It was a different kind of cold. It wasn't like California in the winter time, and I might have gotten a little sick.
"But at the same time, I'm going to get sick again in the future, and I need to perform. That's what I've done in the past. I don't blame it on illness or anything. It's just a matter of being ready to play."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com.