By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.—Long relief. It’s one of the toughest jobs in baseball.
Curve pitcher Tom Harlan knows it well and accepts the assignment with little complaint.
“I’ve been a relief pitcher most of my time in pro ball,” Harlan was saying recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “Last year, I was a reliever at (high A) Bradenton and they sent me here for a spot start. I did pretty well so they kept me in the starting rotation.”
Harlan came to Altoona in July and pitched in 11 games – 10 starts. He posted a 3-3 record in 60 2/3 innings and compiled a 3.71 ERA.
“This year, I’ve been both a starter and reliever – wherever they need me,” he said. “It’s not a ideal situation but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I just go out and try to give my team a chance to win.
“I try to keep it simple.”
As of Aug. 12, Harlan had a 5-2 record and one save with the Curve. He had appeared in 30 games – 4 as a starter – with a 3.70 ERA in 73 innings. He was very effective at home with a 2-0 record and 2.72 ERA in 16 games – 3 starts.
After an outstanding career at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, Harlan went to Fresno State and was selected by the Pirates in the 13th round of the 2012 draft.
“I committed to Fresno when I was a junior,” Harlan said. “They offered a scholarship and my dad said take it, which I did.”
Harlan arrived at Fresno a year after the Bulldogs won the NCAA national championship.
“We won the conference every year and went to the regionals three times,” he said. “We had five pitchers drafted that year and four of them are still playing (pro ball).”
Harlan pitched in relief his first two years at Fresno and then joined the starting rotation for his junior and senior seasons, winning five as a junior and seven as a senior when he led the team in starts (16) and innings pitched (106.2).
He graduated with a degree in kinesiology.
“I graduated before I was drafted,” Harlan noted. “Hopefully, I won’t have to use my degree for awhile. (If I do), I’m thinking about going the corporate route and be a wellness coordinator. Or I could go into the medical field or perhaps become a teacher. There are a lot of options.”
His first pro season was at short-season State College where he compiled a 2-6 record and 5.l9 ERA in 20 games (all relief) in 2012. He was promoted to low A West Virginia where he appeared in 31 games (only one start), posting a 6-3 record and 2.27 ERA in 71.1 innings.
Harlan split 2014 between Bradenton (21 games) and Altoona (11) and went to the Arizona Fall League.
“That (Arizona) was great, playing against the best talent in the world,” he said. “It was a good learning experience, for sure.”
Harlan has spent all of 2015 with the Curve, and called his career “a nice progression.”
“The Eastern League has a lot of veteran guys,” he said. “The talent is about the same, but they’re more experienced, and if you make a mistake, they’ll make you pay. You’ve got to be on top of your game always.”