ERIE -- All eyes will be on Jameson Taillon in his season debut today, but the game also will serve as a good example of how Double-A often pits up-and-coming young players against crafty veterans.
Former Curve pitcher Derek Hankins will take the mound for Erie, bringing with him a wealth of experience facing advanced minor league hitters. Hankins, 29, was with the Curve from 2007-10 and spent the past two seasons in Triple-A with the Rangers.
So while Erie's hitters will be trying to figure out the 21-year-old prized prospect Taillon, Curve hitters will have to solve a veteran who knows plenty about how to get out Double-A hitters.
It will be a good challenge for several young Altoona hitters who are in their first season in Double-A.
"I think it will get them some experience on veteran guys that can pitch a little bit, which is a valuable part of this whole process," Curve hitting coach Ryan Long said.
Long was on the Curve staff in 2010, so he's familiar with Hankins' repertoire.
"He's not real fresh in my mind; it's been a while since I've seen him," Long said. "Sometimes when he's on your team you don't see him the same as when you're going to oppose him."
Taillon will be making his fourth start in Double-A. He came up to the Curve late last season and was dynamite, going 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA, plus he learned it takes more than just great stuff to succeed at this level.
"Maybe one time through the lineup a good fastball will work," Taillon recently told the Mirror. "But once you're turning over the lineups two, three, four times, you've got to have command, you've got to have presence, you've got to be intimidating, you have to be able to mix it up, throw everything for a strike, have a game plan, know exactly what you're going to do. That's definitely something I take pride in."
Hankins was a key member of the Curve's 2010 Eastern League championship team. He went 5-5 with a 2.83 ERA in 34 games (seven starts) and picked up one win in relief in the playoffs.
Hankins said his best memory from his Curve days was "definitely winning that championship in 2010."
"We had probably the best team I've played ever played for," he said. "You see a lot of the guys on TV now with the Pirates."
Hankins went 7-6 with a 5.89 ERA for Triple-A Round Rock in 2011 and 6-7 with a 4.99 ERA last year. He was a 10th-round draft pick of the Pirates in 2004, and he knows the caliber of pitcher he's going up against in Taillon.
"He's a top prospect guy for the Pirates, and I guess it's always going to be good to pitch against the top guys, especially for the team that I played with and put some hard-earned work in," Hankins said.
"It means so much to me pitching against [the Curve], and there's still some people there when I was there in 2010 [including outfielder Andrew Lambo and pitcher Tim Alderson]. It's going to be fun being on the other side, and hopefully I can put on a good start."