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Minor league report: Newcomer Sampson is surprise of Curve staff

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Curve pitcher Nick Kingham works out in the bullpen Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at People's Natural Gas Field in Altoona.

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Notwithstanding trouble Thursday and Friday during the first two games of a series in Akron, the Curve's starting pitching has been effective so far.

“Our starters have really performed well,” pitching coach Stan Kyles said last week. “I'm encouraged by the way these guys have started the season, and I'm looking forward to them pitching a lot better as we go on.”

Adrian Sampson, Tyler Sample, Nick Kingham and A.J. Morris mostly have met or exceeded expectations, and Joely Rodriguez, who struggled early, has recorded two solid starts in his past three outings.

If there is a surprise, Kyles said, it is Sampson.

“I hadn't seen him before this year,” Kyles said. “It's just his work ethic. The way he prepares and the way he attacks hitters.

“He's low-maintenance, yet he has a thirst for knowledge. He just wants to learn.”

A right-hander taken in the fifth round out of junior college in 2011, Sampson pitched two seasons at Low-A State College and High-A Bradenton. He posted a combined 8-11 record and 4.20 ERA. After a rocky outing Thursday, his ERA climbed to 2.27.

On Friday, Sample, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound right-hander, could not get past the first inning, allowing three runs (two earned) in his second straight subpar start. But his ERA is respectable at 3.38.

Kingham, one of the Pirates' highest-rated pitching prospects, had the same ERA going into Saturday's game against Akron. Morris, who has pitched mainly in relief, has yielded one run in 14 innings over three starts.

Well-traveled man

Brandon Mann is not part of the rotation, but the right-hander had an effective spot start when he yielded one run and five hits in five innings April 21.

It has been an interesting journey for Mann, who turns 30 next week. Drafted by Tampa Bay in the 27th round in 2002, the right-hander has pitched for nine minor league teams, including the Curve. He also spent three seasons in Japan, pitching for Yokahama of the Japanese Central League in 2011 and 2012, and for Shinano, an independent league club, in 2013 after trying out with the Nationals.

The gift of progress

Gift Ngoepe, the Curve's South African shortstop, has improved greatly from last season.

In 72 games with the Curve in 2013, Ngoepe hit .177 and struck out 82 times. He had an on-base percentage of .278 and a slugging percentage of .282.

Through Friday, Ngoepe was hitting .252 with a .377 OBP and .412 slugging percentage. He also had 21 walks compared with 28 all of last season, with 11 extra-base hits, four fewer than in 2013. His strikeout rate also is down.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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