Sunday, August 3, 2008

Growing Pains

Well, Pittsburgh got what it usually does out of Ian Snell - 4 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, 4 runs, 86 pitches.

But the toddler Bucs made a game of it, scoring three runs in the eighth to tie the game 5-5 on the strength of a two-run, two-out blast by Andy LaRoche.

Craig Hansen, who fits into the Tyler Yates/Denny Bautista mold, retired the first two Cubbies in the eighth. But he walked Geovany Soto on a full count, and we all know what happens with the dreaded two-out base on balls to the eight hitter.

Sweet Lou sent up Daryle Ward, and John Russell tapped his left arm to summons Sean Burnett from the pen in what once upon a time was a Damaso Marte moment. Pinella sat Ward down and sent up Reed Johnson, a move we're fairly certain Russell had to anticipate. The same Burnett - Johnson match up resulted in a DP ball earlier in the series.

Looked like a good match up today, too, when Burny jumped ahead 0-2. Then he wasted a pitch right down Broadway, and Johnson rocketed it into the arms of a bleacher bum. Just to rub it in a little, Alfonso Soriano golfed a 1-2 pitch deep during the next at bat on a ball that was about a foot from the the ground.

Tough loss? You betcha. But it's part of the growing pangs of a bunch of baseball pups. Hansen looked OK, and the Pirates have been pretty lucky with guys of his pedigree this year. Burnett is being fast tracked to becoming a late inning guy, and he'll either learn the importance of every pitch or mop up again.

The new boys on the block, LaRoche, Brandon Moss (he homered too), and Steve Pearce, collected four hits, a walk, 2 runs scored and 3 RBI. They also K'd 4 times, all on off speed pitches. They'll see a lot of them in the next 10 weeks, just like Ryan Doumit did, and they'll adjust or end up at Indy.

The learning curve in the outfield may be a steep one. Both Moss and Pearce are converted first basemen, and it showed today. Moss learned a Wrigley lesson when he let a long, lazy fly caught in the wind carry over him for a double. Pearce fired a ball home after a single, and managed to miss the cutoff man (and the plate) by a country mile while he was at it.

On the plus side, LaRoche showed a major league arm and started two more around-the-horn DP's, though his range wasn't tested in the Chicago series.

But the silver lining is that they did come back, and they're getting schooled in games that are far from the playoff pressure cooker. It was too little, too late, but still an encouraging step. Now about that starting pitching...

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