Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Basement Battle

Jeff Karsten's Pittsburgh debut was OK by most standards - 7 innings, four runs (three earned), 7 hits, and a seventh straight quality start for the Pirates. But it wasn't up to Edinson Volquez's snuff.

Volquez went 6-2/3 innings, giving up 5 hits, a run, and K'ing 5 on his way to win number 14. He's the kind of arm Pittsburgh lusts for - heater that clocks in at 93-95 on the gun, diving change-up, and a nasty curve - and all with great movement.

We're not too concerned with the bats right now. After all, in the first 12 days of August, Pittsburgh's faced Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Dan Haren, Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, Pedro Martinez and Volquez. That's a pretty fair stable of pitchers.

Take away not only Jay Bay and Xavier Nady, but Adam LaRoche and for a good chunk of time, Freddie Sanchez and Jack Splat, and you're sending the B team out to compete against the aces.

But what's discouraging is the lack of fundamentals the remade club has shown.

Two more errors today - that's eight over three games. Another runner was thrown out going from second to third on a ground ball. No discipline at the plate. Failed bunts. Runners stranded in key situations, and no long balls to make up for the lack of timely hitting.

Give the other guys a run or two, leave a couple of your guys on base instead of plating them...well, you need some kind of pitching to overcome that.

The Reds are the perfect example. They just lost Adam Dunn and Junior. Their first baseman is a catcher. Their left fielder just got called up, and their center fielder is hitting .188. They were riding a six-game losing streak, and had dropped 14 of its last 16.

What happens? The catcher, Javier Valentin, homers and makes a nice diving stop of a ball up the line to take the Pirates out of their last and best chance to make a game of it. The .188 hitter, Corey Patterson, drives in a run with two outs, and to prove it's not a fluke, does it again a few innings later. The rookie, Chris Dickinson, gets his first MLB hit.

Wilson and Sanchez are still days away from returning to the lineup. LaRoche will be back any day (Thursday looks likely).

It'll be interesting to see who gets shipped to Indy when he does report (We think Joey Bats looks like the odd man out). Or will one of the infielders get DL'ed? Fifteen days would take them very close to September's expanded roster and some easy moves.

And it looks like young LaRoche may have rushed his return - he had considerable difficulty hanging on to the bat, and was spotted massaging his thumb in the dugout. He said that it's "manageable," which is a far cry from OK.

No one said that a makeover of Pirate baseball would be easy, and it's in choppy seas right now.

On the minor league front:
Indy won 2-0 behind Corey Hamman (3-3, 4.81 ERA). He went 7-1/3 innings, giving up five hits with a walk and a strike out. Three relievers cleaned up after him to nail down the win.

Four Tribesmen had a pair of hits - CF Nyjer Morgan (.291), SS Brian Bixler (.281), 1B Jason Delaney (.304, 2-2, double, two walks, and run scored), 2B Luis Cruz (.314, double, RBI). C Ronny Paulino (.390) went 0-2, but walked twice and scored.

> Altoona lost a 4-3 heartbreaker. After scoring three runs in the eighth to go ahead, RHP Ron Belisario (4-4, 5.36 ERA) gave up a pair in the ninth to lose it. Matt Capps continued his rehab, going an inning and striking out a pair.

CF Jose Tabata (.248) went 2-4 with an RBI, and 2B Shelby Ford (.288) had a double and two RBI.

> Lynchburg lost 7-0. LHP Brian Holliday (5-10, 5.45 ERA) took the loss. He gave up three hits in five innings, but a homer, three walks and three errors led to his downfall. The Hillcats had four hits.

> Hickory went down 9-4. RF Keanon Simon (.211) went 3-4 with his first homer, a walk, 2 runs scored and an RBI. 3B Matt Hague (.321) went 2-4 with and RBI, and SS Jordy Mercer (.219) hit his fourth home run.

1B Adam LaRoche had a pair of hits, with a double, run, and RBI.

> State College lost 7-1. DH Calvin Anderson (.265) had two hits, including his sixth HR.

> Bradenton won 2-1 as four pitchers scattered 10 hits for the victory. DH Benjamin Gonzalez (.223) had two hits and an RBI. CF Edwin Roman (.216) went 1-2 with a walk, stolen base, and scored twice.

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