From start to finish, the Curve received some excellent pitching Thursday night. Finally.
Putting everything together for nine innings has been a major problem all season for Altoona's staff, but three pitchers combined on a gem in a 3-1 win over Binghamton before 3,449 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Joely Rodriguez, a member of the Pirates' 40-man roster, was masterful, allowing only one hit for seven innings. Binghamton was able to scratch out a run off the lefty in the second, but Rodriguez was in control the rest of the way.
"I see a lot of progress," Curve manager Carlos Garcia said of the 22-year-old pitcher who has had some ups and downs this season. "Believe me, Double-A is a hard league to play. If he continues from this point on to develop himself and develop that confidence and awareness, continue to read swings and understand how he can mix up his pitches, he's going to be fine for the next two months."
Rodriguez (4-6) had allowed five earned runs in two of his past three starts prior to Thursday, and all told he's given up five runs in four of his 15 starts. But he put everything together against an impressive Binghamton offense that came in ranked third in the Eastern League with a .273 team batting average.
"He wasn't throwing the first-pitch strike, but the second pitch was pretty good," Garcia said. "He wasn't getting too far behind, continued to pitch and throw the ball over the plate, even though he was behind in the count. He was mixing the breaking ball and changeup very effective after he came back with the fastball."
Tonight: Binghamton at Altoona, 7 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve RHP Adrian Sampson (5-4, 2.39) vs. B-Mets TBD
Rodriguez enjoyed a superb 2013 season, posting a 2.70 ERA between Single-A West Virginia and Bradenton to earn a spot on the Bucs' 40-man roster. Thursday's start is the kind the Pirates hope to see more of the rest of the season.
"I expect a guy more confident from this point on," Garcia said.
The Curve scored two runs in the fifth to take the lead for good against Binghamton starter Hansel Robles (5-5).
Reliever Emmanuel De Leon ran into trouble in the eighth as the B-Mets threatened to tie with runners at second and third. De Leon struck out Dilson Herrera to get out of that jam.
Kenn Kasparek then came on for the ninth and earned his second save in as many chances. The Curve have had huge problems saving games, and Garcia said he will give more opportunities to Kasparek, who has had quite an unusual season.
The 28-year-old spent the first few weeks with the Curve but was not on the active roster. He wasn't injured but rather was more of an insurance policy.
Kasparek bided his time until he was finally activated and made two appearances, then when the Bucs needed bullpen depth in Triple-A, he received a surprise call-up. He performed well at Indianapolis, posting a 3.86 ERA in five games, before getting sent back to Altoona.
Now, the pitcher who wasn't even active to start the season finds himself in the vital role of closing games.
"You just go out there, and when it's your time to perform, you perform," Kasparek said. "You put those things behind you, and you just go out there with one mindset, which is to attack hitters and get outs.
"I wouldn't say I put more stock in that (closer) role than any other. It's still going out there pitching, facing hitters and getting outs and helping the team win. It's not really about the role. It's about being out there and having someone's back, being prepared and ready to face any situation."
Kasparek was pitching in independent ball two years ago when he was signed by the Pirates, who suggested he switch to a sidearm throwing motion. He used to throw flat but is now able to get more sink on his pitches, and that plus his good control and experience could make him exactly what the team has needed to finish games.
"I will try to give him that opportunity," Garcia said. "He showed me after he came down from Indianapolis that he wanted the intensity."
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: LHP Joely Rodriguez allowed one run on only one hit in seven innings for the Curve.
Key play: RHP Emmanuel De Leon struck out SS Dilson Herrera with the tying runs in scoring position to end the eighth inning and protect a 3-1 lead.
Key stat: The Curve are 20 games below .500 but have a winning record (4-3) against a good Binghamton team that's 45-33.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 1st: Maggi hit by pitch, scored on Diaz groundout (1-0).
Top 2nd: Lawley walked, scored on Ceciliani single (1-1).
Bottom 5th: Howard doubled, scored on Broxton single (2-1); Diaz walked, scored on Garcia single (3-1).