At the forefront of the Altoona Curve’s struggles this past week in their 1-7 road trip was the pitching staff. Usually a bright spot, the Curve pitchers were hit around to the tune allowing 61 runs in eight games.
Yes, you read that right. 61 runs…
Baseball is a game of ebbs and flows with some flows coming in the win column or others in the struggles of a particular unit. During the recent road skid, the Curve struggled in all three phases of the game, defense, offense, and pitching according to manager Michael Ryan.
“We didn’t hit, we didn’t pitch, and we didn’t play very good defense. You’re going to go 1-7 when you do that 8 games in a row or whatever,” Ryan said. “In all three phases, we weren’t very good. It’s behind us now. it’s happened, it’s time to move on.”
Following the 7-straight losses, the pitching staff got back on track with back-to-back victories to start this week. A 4-1 victory over Erie ended the road trip on a high note while a 6-0 blanking of Binghamton brought forth pitching and hitting fireworks over the 4th of July.
To get back to where the Altoona pitching staff needed to be was no easy task and it was up to pitching coach Bryan Hickerson to get them there mentally.
Getting back to the good
“The main message was, when you go through a deal like that, is for pitchers to have that same will to really mentally prepare to be the same tenacious, confident competitor,” Hickerson said
The pitching staff for the Curve has been superb in all facets throughout the first half of the season as they helped Altoona maintain first place in the Eastern League Western division up until this recent skid. What got them to that level game in and game out was a mental aggressiveness and confidence instilled in each player by both the player themselves and the coaching staff.
Beginning to bounce back and show the resiliency needed to overcome a rough stretch is something Hickerson, in his first season with the Curve, preached to his staff prior to their game against Binghamton on the 4th of July. And his message was simple.
“(We need to) maintain an aggressiveness and confidence and not start to doubt what you have,” Hickerson said. “As soon as you start doing that (doubting yourself) you’re defeated.”
While the results were different, the mindset and drive the pitchers had was the same. According to Hickerson, it’s something the staff has instilled in their pitchers from the beginning of the season and something that will allow them to have success on the mound or outside of the game of baseball.
“It’s instilling in the pitchers that we are the guys who control the game,” Hickerson said. ” We have the ball. We have to have a confident, aggressive presence out there.”
Anderson shuts down Rumble Ponies
Tanner Anderson seemed to have heard coach Hickerson’s message loud and clear as he rebounded from a terrible start during the road trip to go eight shutout innings and amass 110-pitches something rarely seen by minor league pitchers in the Pirates organization. Anderson surpassed the game-plan he, Ryan, and Hickerson laid out prior to the game by remaining efficient throughout the outing.
“Going into the game he (Anderson) was 7 innings. 105 pitches max, that was what he was going to be. Going into the last hitter there’s a little lee-way there with six pitches so if he had 102 or 104 he could keep going.” Ryan said. “By no means did we want him to get to 110 but he was fresh, he was getting the ball on the ground so there wasn’t any issue. We talked about after the 7th, if he had a quick 8th, we’d let him go.”
Prior to Tuesday’s outing, Anderson was roughed up in his last start against the Baysox lasting only four innings while giving up 6 earned runs. On Tuesday, Anderson found himself on the rubber again this time with an uncanny ability to keep hitters unbalanced via a steady diet of mixing pitches.
“Moving into the starter role, it’s just been mixing (pitches), that really allows each of my pitches to play off each other making each one better,” Anderson said. “Sinker was working well, four-seam was working well. Mixing the change-up and the slider just keeps hitters unbalanced.”
Keeping hitters unbalanced throughout the night not only proves well for pitchers but also the team as they were coming off a rough stretch of games.
“It gets the morale up, everybody is pumped,” Anderson said. “On the road, we struggled a little bit. It’s going to happen, the teams got into a little funk but I definitely think we are on our way up with momentum based on our last two games.”