Time didn't seem to be on the side of Eduardo Vera as he entered his seventh Minor League season. The 24-year-old was forced to sit out all of 2015 to recover from Tommy John surgery, three years after he signed with the Pirates and two before he cracked full-season ball.With
Time didn't seem to be on the side of Eduardo Vera as he entered his seventh Minor League season. The 24-year-old was forced to sit out all of 2015 to recover from Tommy John surgery, three years after he signed with the Pirates and two before he cracked full-season ball.
With Minor League free agency and the end of the regular season looming, Vera beat the clock for a day, both for himself and Double-A Altoona.
On Sunday, the right-hander allowed just two hits and three walks while racking up a career-high nine strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings as the Curve blanked the Flying Squirrels, 3-0, at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"My fastball was really good, my slider was pretty good too, I just felt really comfortable throwing it," Vera said. "[The slider] was working good for my strikeouts."
The victory clinched a fourth consecutive playoff spot for Altoona, and in the process, he lowered his ERA to 3.86 with 62 strikeouts throughout 91 innings in the Eastern League.
"It's been a hard journey for me. It's been really hard with the Tommy John and losing two years, pretty much," Vera said. "I struggled a lot, but I really think I'm doing my job right now. I really want to be on the 40-man [roster] with the Pirates this year. Hopefully, that's what happens, but if that doesn't happen, I might try the free agency, but we'll see."
Should he be added to Pittsburgh's 40-man roster, he will remain under team control for three years of options, from there he could be recalled and reassigned from the Majors to the Minors.
The playoff berth provides some extra life for his hopes of staying with the only organization he's ever known.
"I feel like this is going to be a really good experience," said Vera, who hasn't pitched in the postseason since 2013. "I just want to keep pitching."
Gameday box score
The Merida, Mexico, native said he made an adjustment to his mechanics his last outing against Binghamton that kept him on his back leg through more of his delivery to prevent his arm from getting too far out in front. The tweak also provided another unforeseen perk.
"I gained a little more power, and my fastball was a little bit stronger this time," he explained. "That way I could use my slider better. ... I was throwing fastballs [inside] to open up the zone for me, and then late in the count, I used my slider away."
Vera (8-3) said he could feel the uptick in velocity when the fastball came out of his hand, and that his suspicions were confirmed by his coaches when he exited the game.
Over his first years in the pros, Vera pitched in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues. He threw only 8 2/3 innings in the GCL after the surgery in 2016, but was extended to 132 1/3 innings last season for Class A West Virginia, compiling an 8-7 record with a 3.33 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 27 appearances. He made 19 starts, including his final 15 outings for the Power.
Vera opened the 2018 campaign in the rotation for Class A Advanced Bradenton and sported a 3-2 record and a 2.95 ERA with 30 punchouts in nine starts spanning 58 innings before moving up to Altoona on May 30.
Sunday's performance marked his first scoreless outing since May 3, when he held Dunedin without a run on three hits over seven frames. The nine strikeouts eclipsed his previous record of eight, a mark he set over six innings on Aug. 17, 2017 against Lexington.
Vera did not find smooth sailing from the onset Sunday, allowing a base hit and a walk to the game's first two batters, Matt Lipka and Caleb Gindl. But he quickly got out of trouble, inducing a 5-4-3 double play from Giants No. 24 prospect Ryan Howard and fanning Dillon Dobson on three pitches.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder faced 22 more batters before allowing another hit, striking out the side in the second and fifth on 11 pitches with walks again to Gindl in the fourth and sixth. He dispatched Arnold on a six-pitch whiff to open the eighth and got Ali Castillo to bounce to short before hanging a 1-1 slider to Dylan Davis, who slugged it into left field for a double.
"The slider was working really good but I knew that I missed that one," Vera said. "It was in the middle of the plate ... I couldn't do anything else."
After 102 pitches, 67 for strikes, right-hander Geoff Hartlieb notched the final four outs to record his ninth save this season.
Christian Kelley opened the scoring with his eighth homer of the season, a two-run shot in the second, and Pirates No. 8 prospectBryan Reynolds added an insurance run on a groundout to second that scored Cole Tucker in the sixth. Tucker, the fifth-ranked Pittsburgh prospect, finished 3-for-3 with a walk.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4.