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Cumpton shows he belongs

April 24, 2014 - Matthew Peaslee
PITTSBURGH — Brandon Cumpton pitched well enough to earn a win in his spot start with the Pirates on Thursday.

That didn't happen.

However, Cumpton pitched well enough to maintain a spot on the Pittsburgh roster for at least the next five days.

"Yes," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said emphatically when asked in his postgame press conference if Cumpton would get another start in the rotation.

A ninth round selection out of Georgia Tech in the 2010 MLB First Year Player Draft, Cumpton had a strong spring training and was close to surviving the final cut for the big league roster. He started the year in Class-AAA Indianapolis before filling in for Wandy Rodriguez, who is on the 15-day disabled list due to knee inflammation.

In Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Reds, Cumpton gave up just two runs and four hits, while striking out five in seven innings. Those two runs came in the sixth inning on a Ryan Ludwick double that plated a pair with two outs. The Pirates then recorded just three hits in the final four innings and fell to 9-14 on the year and 1-10 in games where they trail after six innings. Cumpton hit Joey Votto to start the frame then beaned Todd Frazier two batters later. In the second inning, Cumpton caught Fraizer with a pitch on the shoulder.

"A couple of them got more in than he wanted to get in," Hurdle said. "There's one reason why he's pitching efficiently, he's working the ball in.

"One ball caught a little bit more of the plate and stayed up too long."

From the second through fifth innings, Cumpton retired 12 of the next 15 batters. He also threw 20 first-pitch strikes. The start was Cumpton's first since a Sept. 29, 2013 appearance in Cincinnati. He earned the win, allowing just two hits, walking one and striking out three.

Last Friday, he made his most recent minor league start with seven scoreless innings against the Louisville Bats — a Reds' farm club. The Indianapolis Indians recently improved to an International League West Division-leading 13-6, thanks in part to Cumpton's pitching (1.42 earned run average in three starts with 11 strikeouts in 19 innings) and the all-around play of top prospect Gregory Polanco.

Polanco, 22, is currently batting .406 with four home runs and a league-leading 22 RBIs. The 6-foot-4 slugger also has two triples to aid his 1.062 on-base plus slugging percentage. Following a big league game where the offense fails to put a rally together, questions deserve to be raised on when Polanco will receive his promotion to Pittsburgh.

"At this point in time, there's other people involved in the decision making process," Hurdle said. "We continue to work through that."

Hurdle noted that he recently had an in-depth conversation with Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor regarding Polanco.

"There's a lot of different things to look at besides numbers," Hurdle said. "The quality of the competition, who you're facing, how you face them.

"Moves will be made when its the right time to make them."

Until that happens, there's plenty of room for improvement with the guys currently on the big league club. Despite going 2 for 5 against the Reds on Wednesday, Starling Marte is just 7 for 37 in the last eight games. He hasn't drawn a walk since April 19.

Jose Tabata collected his first hit in six days with a sixth inning single on Thursday. He's batting just .216 on the year and has just as many strikeouts as he does total hits (11).

Travis Snider, waiting to hear the verdict from his suspension appeal, struck out and grounded to second for the final out of the game on Thursday. His power numbers have slipped since his two-week surge to start the season. His last home run came on April 14 and he, too has as many strikeouts as hits (15).

There may be no better time for Polanco to step in and help this struggling outfield offense. Cumpton's next start, which looks to be on April 30 at Baltimore, could be as strong as his recent one.

His minor league stats showed he belonged in the majors and a strong start proved he could stay in the rotation.

Polanco's minor league stats show that he belongs in Cooperstown. But he has to show that in Pittsburgh first. Soon, he should be able to do that.


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