To say Frank Duncan was surprised by his promotion to Triple-A would be an understatement. But he certainly looked as if he belonged, even if he didn't necessarily feel like it.
"I was pretty shocked when I got the call," Duncan said. "There were a lot of nerves and just trying to control what I could control out there, which is throwing strikes and being aggressive. But to play against the top Minor League team of one of the most historical franchises in the sport is something I'll remember for a long time."
The Pirates prospect allowed one hit in six scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut, but Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rallied for three runs in the eighth to top visiting Indianapolis, 4-2, on Friday night. Duncan fanned five and did not walk a batter, throwing 48 of 68 pitches for strikes.
"Baseball is baseball and you're going to have a game plan no matter where you are," the right-hander said. "I had a great catcher [Ed Easley] and we were able to get together before the game with the scouting reports. At the end of the day, executing pitches is what you have to do to be successful and that's what I did."
Duncan has moved quickly since he was selected by Pittsburgh in the 13th round of the 2014 Draft. He began his professional career that same year with Jamestown of the New York-Penn League and was promoted to Bradenton in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, where he posted a 4.32 ERA in 27 appearances, including 25 starts. The 24-year-old started 2016 with Double-A Altoona, allowing three earned runs in 20 2/3 innings before his promotion.
"I think it's a testament to the coaching within the Pirates organization and how well they get the pitchers ready," the San Francisco native said. "You can make the argument that the Pirates have some of the most advanced and talented starting pitching in the Minors, especially in Triple-A, so I'll just try and feed off that."
Duncan retired the first eight batters before Jonathan Diaz lined a single to left. He set down the side in order in each of his final three innings, including a strikeout of Major League veteran Nick Swisher.
"It was definitely a memorable strikeout because the pitch before he hit one out that was foul by maybe a foot," he said." After that, I definitely realized who was hitting. Swisher's been really good for the game of baseball the last few years, both on and off the field, so it's definitely something I'll look back on one day. But it just comes down to facing another hitter when it's all said and done, and that's how I have to look at it."
The University of Kansas product had started 39 of his first 41 professional outings entering 2016. However, five of his six appearances with Altoona were in relief. Although Duncan has his preference, he also has his mind on getting the job done.
"I always want to be a starter," he said. "I think I can be one at the next level, but if getting to the big leagues is by way of relief, then fine. My job is just to get outs. I'd like to think I can be successful at any role, but at the end of day, competing is the name of the game and that's my main focus."
Guido Knudson (1-2) walked two of the three batters he faced and suffered the loss when Rob Scahill allowed an RBI double to Yankees No. 13 prospect Ben Gamel and a two-run single to Jake Cave.
RailRiders starter Luis Cessa, who surrendered one run on two hits and three walks with six strikeouts in six innings, and Diego Moreno combined to retire 15 consecutive hitters before Pirates No. 10 prospect Alen Hanson reached on a bunt single in the eighth. He scored on a two-out single by Jason Rogers that gave Indianapolis a short-lived 2-1 lead.
Yankees No. 25 prospect James Pazos (2-1) yielded three hits and recorded two outs for the win.
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.