Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And the walls came tumbling down...

It's a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse, and Ian Snell went from the heights to the pits in just an inning.

After working out of a first inning jam by whiffing the last two batters, Snell was on cruise control through four. He had 6 punch outs, twice striking out the side while giving up 3 hits and ahead of the struggling Reds 3-0. The end came quickly.

With one away in the fifth, he walked three straight batters. Snell almost got away with minimal damage after giving up a sac fly, but the red hot Adam Dunn launched one into the seats 454' away with two outs, and suddenly it was 4-3.

In the sixth, the Reds juiced the bases with one out and in came Damaso Marte. Money in the bank, right? Wrong. Marte allowed 4 of the 5 batters he faced to reach base in one of his few poor outings, and the game was over.

The Pirates made their characteristic ninth inning run, sparked by Adam LaRouch and Ronny Paulino long balls, but when the smoke cleared, the final was 9-6, Cincy.

The Bucs had Johnny Cueto on the ropes, but couldn't deliver the knockout blow against him. He gave up 9 hits and walked three in 5 innings, but got away with only three runs, and one of those was unearned. The Pirates stranded 13 runners during the game.

Red's wunderkind Jay Bruce started his first game tonight, batting second and manning center. He went 3-3 with a double, two walks, a RBI and a run scored. Pretty sweet debut.

The Bucs will have to play catch up to the Reds in retooling with youth. Bruce has plenty of company with 1B Joey Votto, pitchers Cueto and Edinson Volquez and SS Paul Janish as Cincy is getting young in a hurry. Homer Bush is still lurking at Louisville.

Jack Wilson returned from his calf injury at last. He hit from the two hole and went 3-5, and looked fine in the field.

Meanwhile, the questions about Snell and his 2008 season abound. He's now 2-4 with a 5.46 ERA and an opponent batting average of .310. After signing a three year contract, he was being counted upon to be a keystone of the Pirate rotation. Now Snell is it's greatest mystery.

On the Pirate front: The Pirates have come from behind in 14 of their 24 wins, third-most in MLB (behind Boston and Houston) according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As pointed out by Dejan Kovacevic in the Post Gazette, also consider that they've either tied or won a game in the ninth inning 7 times this year. You can almost hear the Gunner's ghost cap off another improbable win with the call of "We had 'em alllll the way."

And chalk up another reason the Pirates will go only as far as their starting pitching takes them.

A quality start almost guarantees a W for Pittsburgh. But we wouldn't really know - the last 10 Buc wins have come because they've scored five or more runs, and generally needed every one. It'd be nice to take a 3-1 or 4-2 decision every so often.

The bullpen has by and large held up its' end of the deal. Going into Memorial Day, the Pirate relievers have pitched the most innings in the NL (180 2/3). They have a 13-5 record, while the starters are 11-21. The pen's 4.07 ERA shames that of the rotation, which has compiled a 5.53 ERA.

And remember that the back end of the bullpen has been manned by Sean Burnett, Marino Salas, JVB and Evan Meek. Matt Capps, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Frankie Osoria and Tyler Yates have been better than advertised so far this year.

>The Bucs, despite the injuries, fielding misadventures, and pitching woes, are two games better today than where they stood last year. The Pirates were 22-28 after 50 games in 2007; 24-26 this season.

>Jack Splat should be back today. Since his April 3rd injury, the Buc shortstops had only hit in the mid .220's with 2 HR's, both by Luis Rivas Sunday. Rivas, Brian Bixler and Chris Gomez have committed a MLB high 14 errors at SS trying to fill Wilson's shoes.

Bixler will be the odd man out, heading back to Indy to see if he can find his stroke.

>Phil Dumatrait had a large bruise above his right knee from where he was struck by a line drive in Saturday night’s game. But he expects to make his next slated start May 30th in St. Louis.

Good thing he's a tough guy - Zach Duke has been bumped back a day, and Dumatrait will start in his place tomorrow. Since the Bucs had Monday off, he'll be pitching with his regular rest.

>Jay Bay played 663 career MLB games without a walk-off hit, then delivered the game winner two days in a row. We guess all things do come to those who wait.

>For those of you still holding vigil for Chris Duffy, his rehab work continues to be stuck in neutral. Some members of Pirates management have recently expressed frustration with his lack of improvement, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.

Since being given a cortisone shot in mid-April, Duffy has resumed throwing, but hasn't been able to throw 120 feet yet on a consistent and pain-free basis. There's no expectation for him to be back with the Pirates this season.

On the ex-Pirate front:
Eric Gagne & David Riske are on the DL, Derrick Turnbow is MIA, and Seth McClung moved into a starting role recently for the Brew Crew. They must be getting desperate to rebuild their bullpen, because yesterday they dumpster dove and came up with Julian Taveraz, who was DFA'd by the Bosox. He has to pass his physical today to close the deal.

It goes to show that no matter how many arms you have, it's never enough. Pitchers often have the life span of May flies.

At least it's a low cost risk. They only have to pony up the MLB minimum, about $130K, while Boston shells out the remainder of the $3.75M contract they signed with him for 2008. Maybe Tavaez will give them some innings. His arm is certainly fresh enough. He hasn't pitched in 2 weeks and only had 12-1/3 innings before that.

Solly Torres has become the Milwaukee closer through default at last look.

>Washington signed 2B Pokey Reese to a minor league contract this weekend. He'll report to AAA Columbus. Reese, 34, is a vet who played MLB for 8 seasons. His last appearance in the bigs was in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox.

The Nats say they have no intention of calling him up, but signed him because of a lack of minor league depth. Reese played in Pittsburgh from 2002-03, hitting .254 and swiping 18 bases in 19 tries.

>"Willie Randolph is our manger now and hopefully for years to come," Met GM Omar Minaya told the New York Post.

The ex-Pirate second sacker and current Met manager has been under fire because of the underachieving NY nine that are 23-25 and 5-1/2 games out of first going into today.

We don't know if that comment by Minaya was meant to squelch the controversy or was Randolph's kiss of death. After all, it's a baseball truism that it's easier to fire the manager than the whole team.

The South Carolinian was drafted by the Pirates in 1972 and was a benchwarmer during his rookie season of 1975. He was then sent to the Yankees as part of the Doc Medich deal, and spent 13 of his 18 big league years in pinstripes. He was a lifetime .276 hitter.

Randolph was effectively blocked from playing in Pittsburgh by Rennie Stennett.

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