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Cannonballs coming: Justin Masterson debuts

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

-- Jameson Taillon returned to action after skipping a start and went six strong innings in Indianapolis' (25-23) 8-2 win over Pawtucket.  Taillon allowed four hits, walked none and struck out three.  He threw 54 of 83 pitches for strikes.  Jim Fuller, a veteran lefty signed during the off-season, made his first appearance for the organization, giving up a run in one inning.  He gave up one hit, walked one and struck out one.  Josh Bell went 3-4, coming up a triple short of a cycle.  The HR was his fifth.  Dan Gamache and Danny Ortiz also went deep, the first for Gamache and sixth for Ortiz.  Others:

Pedro Florimon:  2-5, 3B
Max Moroff:  1-3, 2 BB
Adam Frazier:  1-4, 3 RBIs
Jason Rogers:  0-4 (since returning to AAA, batting .188 with 23 Ks in 85 ABs)
Alen Hanson:  1-4 (broke 0-for-17 streak)
Cory Luebke:  IP, H, K

-- Brandon Waddell had a rough start against a very bad lineup as Altoona (27-21) lost to Bowie, 8-3, in a game shortened to seven innings by rain.  Waddell couldn’t throw strikes at any point during the start.  Early on, he wasn't missing by a lot, but he'd get behind and leave a pitch up and over the plate and get hammered.  He had a quick first inning thanks to two line outs, one of which resulted in a double play.  In the second, though, former Pirate farmhand Quincy Latimore led off with a HR and Waddell walked the next two hitters.  He got out of that inning with no further damage, but allowed three runs in the third on a walk, another HR, another walk and a double.  Three straight singles to start the fourth ended his day.  He left with two men on and Brett McKinney let both of them score.   Most of the batted balls off Waddell were hit hard and he didn’t record a single ground out or strikeout, the second straight game in which the Altoona starter failed to strike out a hitter.  Waddell allowed seven runs on eight hits and four walks. He threw only 38 of 74 pitches for strikes.

The Altoona offense came alive only in the fourth.  Erich Weiss led off that inning with a pop fly single and Austin Meadows lined a double to deep right center.  Weiss scored when the relay got away and Edwin Espinal then belted his second HR.  Meadows and Espinal each had two hits.  Meadows showed the limitations of his arm when a runner advanced from first to second on a fly ball to center that was only moderately deep.  Meadows' throw was accurate but very weak.  Harold Ramirez was 0-2 with a walk and Reese McGuire 0-1 with a walk.

A note here on shifts:  The Pirates’ lower level teams have been playing some hitters strongly to the pull side for a while, but I hadn’t seen a "Ted Williams type shift," with three infielders on one side of second, until the Curve used it today against Latimore.  In fact, they didn’t use it two days ago against Latimore (he wasn’t in the lineup yesterday).  Tim Williams reported recently that Indianapolis is using extreme shifts, so this may be something the Pirates are just now instituting.  I’ve often wondered whether the necessary data was available for shifting in the minors.  Shifts depend heavily on pitchers knowing what pitch to throw and where, so pitch data as well as spray chart data is important.  Latimore, though, came up through the Pirates’ system and has been in the Eastern League since night baseball was invented, so the Curve probably know all there is to know about him.  He’s an extreme pull hitter who takes a huge cut every time, so he’d be a good candidate to shift against.

Latimore had only one non-true-outcome at-bat and the shift came directly into play.  He hit a grounder to the left of second, in between Weiss and shortstop Chris Diaz.  Weiss should have been able to make the play, but he looked flustered and pulled up short, letting the ball go through for a hit.  Weiss appeared partly to be distracted by Diaz, as the latter also went for the ball, but he mainly seemed uncomfortable with his location on the field.  Some fans might see that as an indication that shifting is a bad idea, but I see it as evidence that shifting in the minors is vital once the needed data is available.  In any event, I hope those of you who attend minor league games will make note of instances where the Pirates' affiliates employ shifts.

-- Justin Masterson made his first appearance in the Pirates' system, throwing five innings in Bradenton's (28-22) 5-2 win over St. Lucie.  Masterson gave up a walk and a HR in the first inning, but settled down afterward.  He allowed just one other hit, walked three and struck out eight, while throwing 52 of 81 pitches for strikes.  Yeudy Garcia followed with four scoreless innings, but it took him 89 pitches.  He gave up three hits, walked three and fanned six.  Cole Tucker also made his Bradenton debut, going 2-3 with a walk.  He undid some of that, though, by getting picked off once and caught stealing once.  Taylor Gushue and Jordan Luplow each went 2-3 with a HR, the fourth longball for each.  Others:

Kevin Kramer:  0-2, 2 BB

-- West Virginia (26-23) shut out Columbia, 3-0.  Bret Helton gave up three hits and two walks over six innings.  He struck out four.  Tito Polo provided all the offense with his fifth HR, a three-run shot.  Others:

Mitchell Tolman:  2-3, BB
Ke'Bryan Hayes:  0-4, 3 K
Logan Hill:  2-3, BB