Pirates general manager Neal Huntington watched Rudy Owens carve up Richmond's hitters Thursday night and surely had visions of the Curve standout doing the same thing in a Pirates uniform for many years.
"A lot of what we've heard about him all year," Huntington said when asked what he saw from Owens. "He moves his fastball around, uses his changeup effectively and mixes in a good breaking ball. Down in the zone, went in and out very well. Very quality pitching outing."
Owens tossed six shutout innings and allowed just two hits in front of the Bucco boss as the Curve won game two of a make-shift doubleheader, 5-1, before 4,469 fans at Blair County Ballpark. Richmond won, 9-6, in the completion of a suspended game from July 12.
If the Pirates are ever going to turn things around, it will have to come through better starting pitching. The Curve have four prized starters who could be part of the Bucs' long-term plans, and Huntington offered his analysis on each.
He didn't guarantee that Owens would remain with the Curve for the playoffs instead of going up to Triple-A, but his answer made it sound as if that would be the case.
"The playoff experience is invaluable for a guy," the GM said. "It's a must-win situation, it's a great environment for him to pitch in. ... We like those growth opportunities for guys."
So that means Owens is staying put, right?
Huntington laughed and replied, "We need to talk to Kyle [Stark, the farm director] about it some more."
Owens (11-6) struck out five and walked one in his outing and said he isn't concerned where he finishes the season.
"Pitching in Triple-A and playing in Double-A for the playoffs, they're both awesome," he said.
Lefties Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson and right-hander Bryan Morris round out the Curve's fantastic foursome. Huntington's thoughts on each:
* Locke (3-1, 2.89 ERA, came over from Braves in Nate McLouth trade): "Jeff was one of the three big pieces [of the trade]. Everybody wants to point to who was the most important piece. Really, they all three were -- with Gorkys [Hernandez] and Charlie [Morton].
"Jeff obviously is having the best year of the three ... and just keeps getting better. He's a left-handed pitcher with a quality mix of pitches. He can get groundballs, he can strike some guys out. He continues to come on."
* Wilson (10-7, 3.12 ERA in second pro season): "The difference from college baseball to pro ball is a huge jump for hitters just from the aluminum to the wood [bat], but it's also a huge jump for pitchers for the same exact mentality. They go through college trying to avoid contact all the time, and they're breaking ball happy. They learn how to just survive instead of being able to attack hitters and break bats and blow hitters up.
"Justin's done a great job this year of learning how to attack hitters in with his fastball, learning how to pitch to contact and be more efficient with his pitches. Tom Filer and Jim Benedict, they deserve a lot of credit for a lot of these guys' development, but in Justin's case it's been a quality advancement for him."
* Morris (6-4, 4.45, now in bullpen): "Bryan's thrown great. Obviously dominant in the Florida State League. [He] has come in and hasn't had necessarily the same results, but he really is just kind of locking in that delivery adjustment that he made.
"You hear a golfer talk about how long it takes to get his swing adjustments in, and in Bryan's case this is a whole new delivery for him. And as he fatigues and as his innings have gone up a little bit, he's having a harder time repeating it. So we moved him to the bullpen to try to control the innings, try to keep him pitching in meaningful situations and try to have him help this team in a playoff hunt, as well.
"He has a quality fastball, quality breaking balls. He's come a long way."
There's a chance all four starters could continue to develop together and be teammates for years in Pittsburgh. There's also righty Jared Hughes and lefty Tony Watson, both of whom are having solid seasons for Altoona.
"It's an exciting group here," Huntington said. "It's a good group of arms."
"It's always fun to get pulled up through the system with the same guys that you've been playing with for a few years," Owens said. "We just grow a bond, and it's almost like we turn into brothers on the staff."
Huntington also analyzed reliever Daniel Moskos, the 2007 first-round pick who excelled for the Curve earlier this season but struggled mightily in Triple-A before coming back to Altoona. Moskos struggled coming in with a 5-0 lead Thursday as he allowed a run on one hit and two walks in the seventh inning.
"It's command," Huntington said. "The Triple-A hitters aren't going to chase the pitch that Double-A hitters do, and if he can't command the fastball and breaking ball he's not going to be successful above this level.
"He doesn't have to paint, he doesn't have to pinpoint it. But it's got to be in the zone, and it's got to be in the zone out of the hand, and then the life can take it off and the velocity can make it impact. But until he can throw it for strikes when he needs to, he's not going to have success at the higher levels."
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 1st: Ford doubled, scored on Mercer single (1-0); Watts walked, scored along with Mercer on Durham single (3-0).
Top 2nd: Belt singled, scored on Timpner single (3-1); Gillaspie singled, scored along with Timpner on Lormand single (3-3).
Top 3rd: Belt doubled, Gillaspie walked, both scored on Timpner double (3-5); Westcott double scored Timpner (3-6).
Bottom 4th: Durham walked, scored on d'Arnaud single (4-6); Norman singled, scored on Harrison groundout (5-6).
Top 9th: Noonan singled, scored on Neal double (5-7); Boyer single scored Neal (5-8); Lormand single scored Boyer (5-9).
Bottom 9th: Hague walked, scored on Negrych single (6-9).
Bottom 4th: Negrych singled, scored on Schoop error (1-0).
Bottom 5th: Harrison walked, scored on Hague single (2-0).
Bottom 6th: Norman walked, Lambo singled, both scored on d'Arnaud three-run homer (5-0).
Top 7th: Schoop walked, scored on LaTorre groundout (5-1).