By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.— What a difference a year makes. Curve pitcher Alex McRae was promoted from Bradenton (A-Adv.) to Altoona (AA) last June and was roughed up in his first two Eastern League starts.
In his EL debut against Reading, the league’s most powerful team, McRae was charged with a loss after surrendering seven earned runs (four homers) in just 3 2/3 innings. A few days later, in his first home start against New Hampshire, McRae gave up nine runs (eight earned) on 11 hits and was handed his second loss.
“It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to start,” he said, “but, sometimes, you learn from your mistakes.”
However, before the 2016 season ended, McRae was one of the Curve’s top pitchers, posting an 8-6 record in 16 starts.
“Once I realized you have to have the same mindset at all levels, I was all right,” McRae said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “Bad starts happen … it’s part of the game.”
McRae said former Curve pitching coach Justin Meccage talked to him after those first two starts for Altoona.
“He got on me a little,” McRae said, laughing. “He told me to pitch to my strengths — just pitch and whatever happens, happens.”
That’s what McRae did and he finished strong, helping the club to the EL playoffs. He was 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA in his last 10 games for the Curve.
McRae is back with the Curve in 2017 and was named the opening-game pitcher against Harrisburg.
“It was very special, definitely a big honor,” McRae said.
In his first seven starts of 2017, McRae is 3-0 with a nifty 2.47 ERA, helping the club to a fast start in the EL’s West Division.
“He knows what this league is about,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “He constantly prepares for each start. His work ethic between starts is what separates him.
“He has more confidence this year and his secondary pitches have come a long way since last year,” said Ryan, who managed him in Bradenton last season. “He had a lot of success at the end of last year and had some success in the (Arizona) Fall League.
“I look forward to him carrying it into this season,” Ryan said of the 24-year-old, 6-3, 185-pound right-handed thrower.
Born in West Allis, Wis., McRae was a standout at New Berlin Eisenhower High School, earning all-star honors before going on to Jacksonville (Fla.) University where he was rated the fourth-best prospect in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The Pirates selected McRae in the 10th round (311th overall) of the 2014 MLB Draft. He began his career in Jamestown (short-season A) where he went 3-6 with a 6.21 ERA in 15 starts. He spent 2015 in West Virginia (Single-A) where his numbers were 8-9 and 4.98 in 27 starts.
McRae divided 2016 between Bradenton and Altoona. He was 3-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 12 starts before his promotion to Altoona where he went 8-6 with a 4.79 ERA in 15 starts.