I'm covering the Altoona Curve over the next six days as they swing through New England.
Notes from Hadlock Field in Portland:
Tonight's game featured 24 runs, 31 hits, 59 total bases, 11 walks, six triples, four errors and one catcher's balk. The Curve lost 14-10, my scorecard is a mess and the game, somehow, only lasted 3:19. How's that for a recap?
Angel Sanchez being taught the Pirates way
Angel Sanchez gained some attention in April after he allowed only one run in 22 2/3 innings pitched. However, May has been a different story, so far. Including tonight's performance (six runs and nine hits allowed in four innings), Sanchez has given up 14 runs in the last 20 innings pitched.
For those not aware of Sanchez's well-traveled professional career thus far: He was originally drafted in 2010 out of college (Universidad Autonomy de Santa Domingo) as an international free agent by the Dodgers. He was ranked a top-25 prospect in the Dodgers organization in both 2011 and 2012 by Baseball America. In 2013, he was included in the Ricky Nolasco trade and sent to the Marlins organization. After pitching well in High-A, he was promoted to Double-A in the 2014, where he struggled badly. The Marlins removed him from the 40-man roster, and he was acquired by the Rays. After only two starts for the Rays' Double-A affiliate, he was designated for assignment and picked up by the White Sox, who designated him less than a month later. The Pirates claimed him off waivers in late July, and he pitched decently in his final five starts with Altoona.
After the season, he pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where he received instruction from current Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage. Sanchez struck out 11 and induced a ton of ground balls in 12 innings pitched, posting a 2.25 ERA.
During the last Pirates homestand, Neal Huntington was asked about Sanchez's promising early season performance.
"Angel's started out great," Huntington said. "He's had one tough outing, but mostly has thrown the ball and been aggressive with his fastball. The secondary stuff has been solid for him as well. He's attacked the zone and he's a guy that we obviously claimed on waivers and had some interest in, and we're fortunate to be able to get him back through waivers. He could fit for us."
After tonight's tough outing, I chatted with Sanchez about some of the instruction he is receiving in the Pirates organization. Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
The Pirates talk a lot about stressing the process over results. While I'm sure you're not happy with tonight's results, is there something process-wise that you can take from this outing?
Well, the first three innings of the game, I was able to throw strikes, no matter what happened in the game. They're a good team and they hit well and found corners to hit the ball. It's tough when you're hitting your spots and it doesn't go how you want it. So I just tried to do my best and continue to compete.
In the Arizona Fall League you had some coaches come down and work with you, what kind of things did they emphasize? Were there adjustments that they wanted you to make?
The first thing they told me was the tempo of my delivery, that I had to fix it. The other thing was to pitch to early contact, to get a lot of ground balls and not to get deep in the counts. Those were the things we were working on. Also, they wanted me to move my fastball inside and outside of the plate. The pitching coaches really helped me a lot, especially when I went down to instructional league for a couple weeks. That's where I started to fix my delivery and keep the ball down. So everything started with them.
Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage often talk about the organizational philosophy of pitching inside, inducing early contact and pounding the strike zone early. Have you noticed a different philosophy with the Pirates than what you've experienced elsewhere?
Yes, every team that I've been with is different. Most teams like to pitch on the outside corner, so the Pirates were kind of different for me because they asked me to throw more inside than outside the plate. I've heard [from the Pirates] that they like to make the hitter uncomfortable. And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to do the things they want me to do here.
A team official told me that you may be throwing with slightly less velocity this season. Is that something you're doing on purpose in order to locate better?
I especially want to keep myself under control. I don't want to go to a speed I can't control. I want to go focus on strikes and not throw too hard.
In order to get early contact and the early outs?
Yes, yes, exactly.
I've also heard from a team official that you're feeling a level of comfort now that you're getting consistent instruction. Do you feel that way? Are you more settled and comfortable working on one approach?
Yes, I feel pretty comfortable right now because they give me the opportunity to pitch. And also all the guys and teammates really support you and guys behind you are really playing for you. They really show you the support. It helps to make the pitcher feel strong on the mound and you want to do the best every time you're out there.
Broxton gets noticed
Center fielder Keon Broxton had an interesting night, legging out two triples and an infield single, while also striking out three times. He made couple of rangy catches, but then got completely turned around on a drive over his head. He isn't considered a major prospect, but he was the most noticeable player on the field tonight. Indeed, a scorekeeper in the press box who has seen a lot of games at Hadlock Field commented after Broxton's second triple, "Broxton is the fastest guy I've ever seen."
Heading into tonight's game, he was hitting .279/.357/.404. With the Pirates' logjam of outfielder, his ceiling is likely limited in the organization, but since joining Altoona last year he's improved from a career sub-100 wRC+ to a 134 last year and 117 so far this season.
Josh Bell went 1-5, with a double. He also committed his sixth error of the season when he wasn't able to corral a low throw over to first.