Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ya had to see it to believe it...

jose bautista
Jose Bautista from Pittsburgh Pirates.com

Nate McLouth was in a position battle with Nyjer Morgan? Puh-lease! The player Jack Wilson nicknamed "Mighty Mouse" kept his 13-game hitting streak alive in dramatic fashion last night.

McLouth lined a three run, two-out, game winning homer into the right center field seats at Dodger Stadium to stun Takashi Saito and the Blue Crew 6-4. He laid off a first pitch curveball and then turned on a heater that Saito left on the inside half of the plate to give the Bucs their fourth consecutive win.

A batter before, the flu-ridden Adam LaRoche stroked a pinch hit single up the middle to keep the inning alive. Brian Bixler was already on base, running for Jose Bautista whose one out hit started the ball rollin' in LA. He was the first runner to reach safely against Saito this young season.

(And congratulations to Bautista - his brilliant around the horn doubleplay on Sunday against the Reds was the ESPN webgem of the night. Not very often does a Pirate make an appearance on that feature. The last guy we recall getting big time webgem love was Turner Ward running through the wall at TRS.)

Bautista also had a two run shot in the second, staking the Pirates and Zach Duke to an early 2-0 lead. Like McLouth's, it was with two outs. Pittsburgh's last four homers have come with 2 away and accounted for 10 of the 15 runs scored in the past pair of games. Earl Weaver would love coaching this team!

Still, the Bucs are no where near hitting on all cylinders. The rotation has to get them deeper into games. John Russell has done a nice job with the bullpen, but they need a day or two off sooner rather than later. Part of the trust he's been showing the starters - and he's left a couple hung out to dry - is because he needs to rest his finishers.

Duke was an example of that last night. He didn't get the greatest support - Xavier Nady misjudged a ball that fell in for a triple and eventually a run, and another score was tacked on thanks to an infield single, balk, passed ball, and routine grounder.

But he didn't have a lot, either. Like Gorzo last night, he had no heat to speak of, and relied almost entirely on off-speed stuff. Duke didn't have a punchout, and even Vin Scully chimed in about that. He was right. It is tough to win in the majors if you can't throw the ball past anyone.

When he got his pitches up in the sixth, Russell kept him in, and probably didn't have much choice in the matter. He can't get 4 innings out of the pen every night, and the starters are going to have to work through it. Hopefully, those innings won't catch up to the staff down the road.

John Grabow, Tyler Yates, and Matt Capps finished another game. The Pirate pen has made 47 appearances totaling 53 innings in 13 games, and that's a load. It averages out to 4-5 pitchers per game, and no one's that deep.

One other problem that may be on the horizon is the team's lack of depth. The bench is good enough to give a starter a blow, but there are no replacement players on the pine. In Wilson's absence, the Rivas/Bixler shortstop combo is hitting .236 with 6 errors in 10 games, certainly not up to Jack Splat standards.

And we're a little curious why they continue to use long-time 2B Luis Rivas at shortstop and long-time SS Chris Gomez at second base. It seems like a bit of twisted logic to us.

Freddie Sanchez' arm continues to be a concern, though he won't come out of the lineup without a fight. But eventually he's going to have to get his wing fixed, and whether that takes rest, surgery, or whatever, it probably won't be pretty for the team to deal with. Pittsburgh may face long spells without its' two middle infielders together or at least playing at 100%.

The team, as we've said, is competitive if it stays healthy and gets some starting pitching. That they've hung around .500 without either happening is a credit to the players and staff. We wouldn't count on it happening forever.

On the Pirate front: Kevin McClatchy, the Buc's CEO up until October, a key ownership figure when the team was bought in 1996, and the dude that nursed and nudged PNC Park to completion, was named as an inductee to the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He'll be honored with ten other sportsmen on May 3rd at the Warrendale Sheraton Four Points Hotel.