In a major trade for the Pirates, two now-former Curve players are headed to the Astros organization.
The Pirates landed left-handed starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez on Tuesday night in exchange for three minor leaguers - Curve center fielder Robbie Grossman and pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain.
Owens - who played in Altoona in 2010 - is arguably the best starting pitcher in Curve history, and Grossman was playing for the Curve when the deal happened, as he was pulled in the eighth inning of a 6-2 win at Reading. The victory was the Curve's sixth straight and puts the team at the .500 mark for the first time since April 16 when it was 5-5.
Grossman's spot in the order was three batters away when Curve manager P.J. Forbes had to remove the center fielder from the lineup and tell him the news of the trade.
The sending of Grossman, Owens and Cain to Houston brings in Rodriguez for Pittsburgh, and he should offer a boost to the Pirates' rotation as they try to keep their magical season going and reach the playoffs for the first time in two decades.
In 21 starts so far this season, Rodriguez is 7-9 with a 3.79 ERA and has 89 strikeouts in 130 innings. The 33-year-old has spent his career in the Astros organization, and Rodriguez made his major league debut in 2005.
Tonight: Altoona at Reading, 7:05 p.m.
Pitching matchups: Curve RHP Gerrit Cole (2-3, 4.71) vs. R-Phils RHP Jonathan Pettibone (8-7, 3.43)
He had his best season in 2009 when he won a career-high 14 games to go with a 3.02 ERA and 193 strikeouts. Rodriguez is under contract through 2013, with a player option for 2014 and will be owed $13 million for next season.
Owens was with Triple-A Indianapolis for the 2011 season and this year, while Grossman was spending his first year in Altoona.
After a slow start to the season, Grossman started to find his stroke in the last two months. From June 1 to Tuesday, Grossman hit .322 and raised his season average by more than 50 points in that stretch.
Grossman did serve a seven-game suspension in early June for what the Pirates organization called an "internal issue." After the suspension, Grossman said he needed to act more professionally and Forbes said he thought the 22-year-old has been a different person since missing time.
"The big thing for me is watching him grow as a person," Forbes said by phone after Tuesday's game. "I just saw him grow up a lot over the last two months. How he was approaching his craft, how he went about it and how he showed up every day. He's a tireless worker, but the professionalism and how he handled himself in everything. I can't say enough about him. It was a real pleasure to watch."
Grossman was selected by the Pirates in the sixth round of the 2008 draft and ended up hitting .266 with seven homers and 36 RBIs for the Curve this season.
The switch-hitting center fielder, who led off for the Curve in 91 of their 102 contests this season, also has a keen eye at the plate. His 58 walks led the Eastern League entering play Tuesday, and he also drew 104 free passes in 134 games for High-A Bradenton last season, which boosted his on-base percentage to .418.
"He's going to be a good player," Forbes said. "He's a pretty good player now, but he's going to be a really good player because he loves the game, he loves the game of baseball."
The other two minor leaguers in the deal were both left-handed pitchers.
Owens - who was 8-5 with a 3.14 ERA this season in 19 games for Indianapolis - had a tremendous 2010 campaign for the Curve, helping the franchise win its only EL championship. Owens was 12-6 with a 2.46 ERA in 2010 and also struck out 132 batters in 150 innings.
Cain, the other piece to the trade, was 3-5 with a 4.20 in 16 games for Bradenton this season.