Saturday, May 31, 2008

Moving the ball around...

We haven't seen Ian Snell pitch for awhile. Today, he had a sharp slider and a heater that was hitting 92-93 all day with fair control. No difference; he still got slapped around and was gone after four innings. And it's not hard to see why.

We know this is a mantra of Pirate followers, but you have to pitch inside. Snell won't, and doesn't even seem to have the inclination to do so. Even on weak hits, the batters are tracking the outside of the plate, slapping and dumping great sliders into right field.

Snell's wasting the pitch if he won't throw hard and inside to hitters to keep them honest. It's not just a matter on intimidation, but of making the hitters guess and cover the whole plate, every at bat.

Home plate is only 17" across, pretty small to begin with. You can't make a living in this league by ignoring half of it. Can you think of a great power pitcher that didn't own the inside black? And if the ump is squeezing the plate, well, that's even more reason to use all of it.

He had one sequence where he jammed the only lefty and got him to foul out, and later that inning he came inside on a righty, got him to roll the bat over, and was rewarded with an easy ground ball double play. It works if he comes inside.

The other problem? Way too many belt high heaters. It seems that he's enamored of his four seam (straight) fastball and doesn't go to the two seamer (sinker, in his case), especially when his slider's on, and it costs him dearly. There's not nearly the margin of error for straight heat as there is for a ball that moves.

Our advice to Snell? Use all your pitches, Ian, and the whole plate, and you'll be back in business. You have the stuff; trust it and come up with a game plan that uses both sides of the black.

As far as the game, the Cards showed why they're hanging around with the Cubs. They made three or four top notch, inning-killing plays in the field. The highlight reel catch of the day was Ricky Ankiel's diving, back to the plate grab of an X-Man drive in the second that may have changed the course of the game.

They also turned a couple of DPs, and the Pirates, though hitting the ball on the nose all day, could never put a big inning together, stranding 11 and dropping a 7-4 decision.

Jack Splat was a last minute scratch again. Let's hope his wheels don't become a chronic issue with him.

On the Pirate front: Jack Splat has some tenderness behind his knee, and the team is hoping it's just a bit of inflammation. John Russell says he has no plans to rush Wilson back into game action until his leg is good to go, though he's penciled in for today's tilt.

>Ryan Doumit is wearing a splint on his broken thumb and plans to continue using it for the remainder of the season. He's recovering nicely, catching bullpen sessions and batting left-handed, which puts less pressure on his injured thumb. He'll start hitting right-handed this week.

The brass are debating whether or not to send him out for some minor league rehab when he's ready. Doumit is lobbying hard against it.

On the minor league front: Neal Huntington told the Hardball Times that "Steve Pearce is one of our best prospects. While we believe he has quality upside, he is not a finished product.

The reality is for Steve to fulfill his potential we have some work to do outside of the batter’s box. Steve has worked hard to improve his defensive abilities to allow him to play adequate defense in the outfield.

At some point this season we will re-introduce first base to Steve and thus give him two potential major league positions. Steve is progressing nicely. He continues to mature as a hitter and has made quality strides with the gloves and with other parts of his game."

Reading between the lines, it sounds to us like Pearce has a better chance of replacing LaRoche if he's moved than taking the place of Nady. We thought he was having some problems converting to the OF. Too often we've checked on Indy and Pearce has been the DH.

>OF Anthony Webster hit a grand slam for Altoona, his fourth HR of the year. The 25 year old minor league vet signed with the Bucs as a FA this year to add depth to the organization. He's hitting .228 as a Curve. Webster is in his 8th season of pro ball.

>At Lynchburg, 3B Jim Negrych went 3 for 3 with an RBI and walked twice. The 23 year old Pitt grad is hitting .364 for the Hillcats this year.

On the draft front: Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette writes of Thursday's draft: "there are strong indications, internally and externally, that they (the Pirates) favor Vanderbilt University third baseman Pedro Alvarez."

That's somewhat contrary to recent national reports. But there's no question he fills a need - he plays third base and he's a left handed power hitter, seemingly custom made for PNC Park. Will he overcome a poor playoff and Scott Boras? We'll see soon.

On the Pirate history front:
Tony LaRussa just overtook Red Schoendienst as the longest tenured manager of the Cards. The top five managers for the Pirates by games coached are:

Fred Clarke (2,427 games, 1,422-969), Danny Murtaugh (2,068 games, 1,115-950), Jim Leyland (1,716 games, 851-863), Chuck Tanner (1,398 games, 711-658), and Frankie Frisch (1,085 games, 539-528).

(The GW will profile the three likely suspects for Pittsburgh on draft day this week. Tomorrow, we'll feature Florida State catcher Buster Posey, Tuesday will be high school phenom Tim Beckman's turn at bat, and Wednesday we'll write up Vandy's 800 pound gorilla, Pedro Alvarez.)

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