The Pirates don't instruct their minor league managers not to hit and run, but it often has seemed that way during the Curve's 14 seasons.
Through six managers and hundreds of hitters, one constant theme has been minimal use of that strategy. Station-to-station baseball has always been the norm, and the club has rarely seen the kind of aggressive approach on the basepaths that leads to running into additional runs.
Sunday, however, manager P.J. Forbes utilized the hit-and-run strategy to perfection in a key situation, and it jump-started his offense to a 4-1 win over Richmond before 3,637 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"I just felt like we needed to try something, so I just went with it," said Forbes, who also watched his pitching staff, led by Brandon Cumpton, turn in another stellar outing.
The Curve don't have a fast team - ranking next to last in the Eastern League with only 13 steals - and Forbes noted the club hits a lot of fly balls. Put those things together, and it's tough to gamble with the hit and run too often.
But when it works, especially for an offense that struggles to score like the Curve do, it can be the difference between winning and losing close games.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Bowie, 6:30 p.m.
"Every now and then you get a gut [feeling] and you go with it and trust guys can execute it," Forbes said.
In a scoreless game, the Curve were hitless entering the fourth inning against Richmond starter Mike Kickham. Tony Sanchez drew a leadoff walk, then with one out, Forbes called for the hit and run with Jeremy Farrell at the plate.
Sanchez took off, the second baseman went to the bag to cover and Farrell slapped a hit in the vacated spot to move Sanchez to third. Charlie Cutler followed with an RBI single that scored Sanchez and moved Farrell to third, and Quincy Latimore made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly off Richmond starter Mike Kickham (1-3).
"[With the hit and run] you get a concentrated effort to get the ball on ground, which is what Farrell did," Forbes said. "He just took an outside pitch and beat it on the right side."
The two runs turned out to be enough as Cumpton and three relievers combined to limit the Flying Squirrels to one run on five hits.
Cumpton, who has turned into the ace of the Curve rotation in the early going, opened with five scoreless innings before leaving with a man on third and two outs in the sixth. Reliever Kris Harvey allowed the inherited runner to score, but that was all Richmond would get.
Cumpton (4-2) gave up just three hits, struck out four and walked one to lower his ERA to 3.44. He had a rough Double-A debut at Erie (five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings), but in his five other starts he's posted a 2.51 ERA.
The start of this season couldn't be more different than last year for Cumpton, who got rocked for 21 earned runs in only 10 2/3 innings (17.72 ERA) over his first three starts for low-A West Virginia.
"Everything I threw across the plate was getting smacked off the wall and doubles," Cumpton said of those early struggles in 2011. "I really was just trying to aim everything, trying to spot stuff up, and instead of attacking hitters, I was shying away from contact. I did leave pitches up, just had no conviction behind them, and they were getting hit hard."
Cumpton quickly figured out his problems for West Virginia, later had success at high-A Bradenton and has carried that success over to this year.
"He's definitely got big league stuff," Forbes said. "That ball comes out of his hand nice, and you see by the swings they get. I mean, they're not real good."
Cumpton, who throws 93 mph, also has an uncanny ability to break a lot of bats, meaning he's pitching well inside and getting late movement on his pitches. He worked more on his changeup Sunday, which was his third time already facing Richmond.
"The last couple starts we wanted to start throwing more changeups," Cumpton said. "Facing teams two and three times, especially after I pounded them with fastballs, they're going to be sitting on fastballs."
SUBHD: News and notes
OF Adalberto Santos, recovering from a knee injury, was on crutches in the clubhouse Sunday and said he expects to be out four to six weeks. He was leading the EL in hitting at .396 when he suffered the injury last week. ... Tim Alderson earned his third save with a scoreless ninth inning. ... Sanchez has reached base safely in 17 straight games, tops on the team this season. ... Curve players spent Sunday evening taking part in a charity bowling event for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RHP Brandon Cumpton gave up one run on three hits in 5 2/3 innings for the win.
Key play: 3B Jeremy Farrell's single on a hit and run in the fourth set Altoona up for a two-run inning.
Key stat: RHP Tim Alderson hasn't given up a run in 13 innings for the Curve.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 4th: Sanchez walked, scored on Cutler single (1-0); Farrell singled, scored on Latimore sacrifice fly (2-0).
Bottom 5th: Grossman doubled, scored on Curry single (3-0).
Top 6th: Brown singled, scored on Mayora double (3-1).
Bottom 8th: Latimore doubled, scored on Cabrera single (4-1).