Monday, June 30, 2008

We had 'em all the...oooops.

Second and third, one out, up by one in the ninth. Can't score. Junior goes yard in the bottom of the ninth. Walks off. *ouch*

On the Pirate front: Paul Meyer of the Post-Gazette and Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review both report that for the first time in 52 years, a Pirate pitcher will bat somewhere other than ninth.

Paul Maholm, starting against Cincinnati, will bat eighth, with Jack Wilson batting ninth. The GW rues the day Tony LaRussa joined the NL Central.

John Russell told the Trib: "That puts Jack in a situation where if he gets on, we've got the top of the order coming up. It just adds a little more offense and maybe gets a few more guys on base for Jason (Bay) and Ryan (Doumit)."

The last time a Pirate pitcher batted higher than ninth was Sept. 3, 1956. Bobby Bragan had his pitcher bat seventh for 20 straight games. The last Bucco hurler to bat from somewhere other than the bottom of the order was George "Red" Munger, who batted seventh, with Hank Foiles and Bill Mazeroski behind him.

> CF Nate McLouth was a late scratch from the Pirates' lineup tonight because of a sore left knee. Russell said he made the move because McLouth had fouled several pitches off his knee in recent days and also banged it up on a slide yesterday.

> Perhaps unnoticed, but a key to Ryan Doumit's mashing: his eye. The 27-year-old has struck out just 21 times in 156 at-bats this year compared to 59 Ks in 259 trips to the dish a season ago. His strikeout rate has fallen from 23.4% to 13.5%. Hit the ball more, get more hits. Pretty simple.

> The Pirates list John Van Benschoten as Wednesday's starter, with crossed fingers. If his right shoulder acts up, they'll turn to Yoslan Herrera or Bryan Bullington. Ah, nothing like the pitcher du jour.

> GM Neal Huntington has made 13 roster moves since Wednesday, beginning with the Denny Bautista trade, to keep fresh arms on tap. Busy dude - and we'd imagine Jeff Andrews has to look twice at the scorecard to figure who's in his bullpen on any given night.

> The Pirates pushed back Phil Dumatrait's return date back a couple of days to July 7. Ian Snell is still supposed to come back July 8, his first day off the DL.

> CF Chris Duffy, rehabbing at Altoona, must come off the DL Friday. He can still play in the minors, but the Pirates have to return him to a now full 40-man roster.

> Wonder if the Pirates nailed up a hoop to the bullpen? Denny Bautista is 6-7, Romulo Sanchez and TJ Beam are 6-5, and JVB is 6-4. Pretty good front line, hey? But can they pitch?

> Can the Pirate's improve on their first half of play? Only if the pitching shapes up. The Buc's starting ERA is over a run higher than the league norm. Even if Adam LaRoche and Freddie Sanchez find their strokes, you can't expect much more out of the attack. The fielding has been OK since Jack Splat's return.

So that leaves only one place to pick up the slack. Gorzo, Ian, are you ready to rumble through the dog days?

The Pirates, btw, are at 38-43, three games ahead of their record at the halfway point last season, when they were 35-46.

On the minor league front: Indy 3B Neil Walker hit his 13th home run, a three-run shot, in a 6-5 loss.

> At Altoona, 2B Shelby Ford hit his second home run of the year. It was the game winner as the Curve won 6-5 in 10 innings. He's batting .319 so far this season.

On the draft front: LHP Justin Wilson of Fresno State, the CWS champs, hopes to get his pro career started soon, now that the Bucs can talk turkey with him. They weren't allowed to negotiate with the fifth round pick while the college playoffs were still in progress.

Wilson, 8-5 with a 4.34 ERA, became Fresno State's ace after teammate Tanner Scheppers injured his shoulder, and was the winning pitcher in the 6-1 victory against Georgia that clinched the CWS.

He doesn't feel his workload in college will hinder him in getting back on the mound quickly. "I think I ended up with like 118 innings or 120, but my arm feels great and fresh and ready to play baseball," Wilson said to "I don't think there is a problem with me going out and playing a little bit more."

Scheppers is recovering from slight damage to the labrum in his shoulder and is expected to begin an independent throwing program early next month. Once the Pirates are convinced he is healthy, and they do think he will recover fully, talks will heat up.

No word on Pedro Alvarez, as both the Buc's and Boras have taken a vow of silence on the give and take going on with his contract.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A dollar short...

Make a play, win a game. Xavier Nady was trying to do that when he uncorked a throw to third that not only missed the sack, but the whole zip code. A run scored, the hitter advanced to third and later scored on another single.

That's the way you lose 4-3 games. (Not to pick on Nady; Pittsburgh had a pair of runs gift-wrapped by the Rays.)

Actually, it was reassuring to see the X-Man back in right, starting a day game after a 13-inning night game. We were curious as to how well his sore wing would hold up.

Gorzo wasn't all that, but he was around the plate, using both sides of the dish, and like Ty Taubenheim the night before, bore down when he got into a jam. He had a season high 8 K's as he took a baby step towards returning to 2007 form.

Andy Sonnanstine pitched seven effective innings, junk balling between 65-85 MPH and completely flummoxing the Bucs. Then Troy Pericival closed the Pirates down in the 9th. He was throwing 91-92 MPH, and looked like the reincarnation of Bob Feller after the Buc bats were slowed down by Sonnanstine.

The competition now heats up. The next 14 games are against Central Division foes, with the Yankee make-up thrown in. The Pirates are 11 games behind Chicago.

The top two wild card teams are St. Louis and Milwaukee, and they're 8 games out in that race. At the halfway point of the season, they're running out of time to make hay.

On the Pirate front: Denny Bautista has a contusion on his right forearm, but he wasn't placed on the DL although his arm was still swollen yesterday. "If everything continues to progress the way we think it will, we should be able to use him by Monday," John Russell told the Tribune Review.

> The Pirates today recalled reliever Romulo Sanchez from Indy. Sanchez had a 2.85 ERA and four saves in 25 appearances for Indianapolis. We are confused as all heck by now and have completely given up on trying to figure out who or why.

> In the latest round of musical chairs, Nyjer Morgan was sent back to Indy. If Chris Duffy keeps tearing it up at Altoona, we wonder how long it'll be before Trent Jewett has three MLB-ready CF's on his roster?

> Jeff Andrews told George Van Benko of this about the Pirate pitching woes: "I'm spinning my wheels and manager John Russell is spinning his wheels. Unless they want to take the ball and throw it over the plate, there is nothing in the world that we can do to them."

"If they're trying to throw the ball and be perfect and trying to nibble on the outside, we can try to cajole them into doing it and say, 'Come on and throw strikes.' We can give them all the catch words, but until they, in their hearts, want to throw the ball over the plate and compete, we can't do a thing."

Pretty telling stuff on the mental make-up of the staff.

> Taubenheim was the ninth different pitcher to start a game for the Pirates this year, and it's only June. Last year, 10 different pitchers started a game for the Bucs.

> The official diagnosis on Frankie Osoria is that he suffers from bursitis in his right ankle.

On the hot stove front: The rumors concerning the Yankees and Damaso Marte won't go away. They know the Pirate's price, and the ball is in their court if they want him this year instead of waiting to see if he hits the market in 2009.

On the minor league front: C Steve Lerud homered in his Altoona debut last night.

> RF Jamie Romak hit his 13th home run and went 3 for 4 with three RBIs. He's hitting .301 for Lynchburg.

>The blue print for the Buc's new suits became pretty obvious in the draft - go for the bats. It looks to us as if they'd like to cast the team in a more of an AL mold, with big sticks and power arms. That's natural, given their background, but should make some longer-term Pirate minor leaguers a little nervous.

> BTW, don't write off Jimmy Barthmaier quite yet. The Pirates think he has MLB stuff, and aren't about to throw him under the bus like the Reds did to Phil Dumatrait. Barthmaier has spent very little time above AA and is still considered very much a work in progress.

> Why did the Buc's roll the dice on Tanner Scheppers? After facing Joba Chamberlain, Scott Kazmir and Edison Volquez in three consecutive series, is it any wonder they have pitcher envy?

On the ex-Pirate front:
The Reds signed 32-year-old journeyman Rob Mackowiak to a minor-league contract. He was sent to AAA Toledo. Mack started the season with Washington and hit .132 in 58 bats before his release.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lucky 13

Indy rode to the Buc's rescue last night, as Ty Taubenheim, TJ Beam, and JVB combined for 9 innings and gave up just a pair of runs in Pittsburgh's 4-3, 13 inning victory over the Rays. Van Benschoten got the win, his first since 2004.

Taubenheim was as advertised, a nibbler that did OK until he started losing command of the corners in the fifth and sixth and had to pitch too often in hitter's counts. Still, he kept his composure when the heat was on and kept the Buc's in the game.

Beam and JVB threw clean ball over the last three innings, and Jay Bay finally dumped one into the bullpen with two outs to make it a lucky 13 for Pittsburgh.

On the Pirate front: Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates will recall pitchers John Van Benschoten and T.J. Beam from Indy, and place Frankie Osoria on the 15-day DL.

Ty Taubenheim already is set to make the start tonight in place of Phil Dumatrait, and he'll probably be sent back to Indy right after the game.

You really do need a scorecard.

> Xavier Nady was limited to pinch-hitting last night, and is day-to-day on returning to regular duty. He still has some soreness in his shoulder, and until that abates, he'll ride the pine instead of patrolling RF.

> Denny Bautista's forearm wasn't broken after getting whacked with a liner last night, but the extent of his injury won't be known until more tests are taken today. He's out for at least the weekend.

> When it rains, it pours. Long man Franquelis Osoria is bothered by a sore Achilles tendon and his availability will be day-to-day, too. ( EDIT - he's on the 15-day DL. Another one bites the dust.) Pretty soon Jeff Andrews is gonna visit the mound and have to stay to pitch for an inning or two.

> Nate McLouth's splits are starting to catch up with him. He's hitting .300 against righties, .264 vs. lefties. The gap is even more pronounced in slugging percentage - .606 vs RHP, .396 vs. LHP. Overall, he's hitting .289 with a .543 slugging percentage.

> The Pirates are third in the NL in runs scored, with 382. A big reason is that they lead all major-league teams with a .287 average with two outs and runners in scoring position. Nothin' like a little two-out lightning, as the Gunner used to say.

On the minor league front: RHP Yoslan Herrera, 27, made his Class AAA debut at Indy, allowing 2 runs on 7 hits in seven innings. He struck out 6 and walked 1 in picking up the win. SS Brian Bixler went 3 for 5 with a double, a triple and a steal. He's hitting .271 for the Indians.

TJ Beam gave this quick report on Herrera's outing: "He looked great," Beam said. "A different guy than I saw in Spring Training. He threw sliders for strikes and his fastball was down. He threw curveballs for strikes and changeups for strikes. He looked good. He made one bad pitch -- the two-run homer -- and that was the only thing."

> RHP Ryan Drese signed as a free agent with the Pirates and was assigned to Indy. Drese, 32, had been playing in the independent Atlantic League. He last pitched in the majors in 2006 with the Washington Nationals. In 6 years in the bigs, Drese has compiled a 34-39 record with a 5.31 ERA as a starter with Cleveland, Texas, and the Nats.

> Brian Friday, SS for Class A Lynchburg and one of the Pirates' top prospects, was placed on the minor league DL because of back pain. 3B Matt Hague, the 9th round choice, was promoted to the Hillcat roster.

> 3B Matthew Payne had three hits for State College. He was this year's 34th round selection from NC State.

> C Miguel Mendez, a 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, hit his third home run and went 3 for 3 with 2 walks and 2 RBIs for the GLC (Bradenton) Pirates. LHP Tyler Cox pitched three innings, allowing 3 hits and striking out 6. He's the 35th round pick from Illinois State.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Three run homers...

Well, Jimmy Barthmaier certainly made the Bucco decision on who to send back down pretty easy. He was shellacked early and often, giving up a pair of 3-run homers, and Tampa cruised to a 10-5 victory.

The Pirates had one shining chance to make a game of it after clawing back from a 7-0 hole to a 7-4 count midway through the game. The first two runners reached, but in one of the uglier at bats this year, Chris Gomez kept bouncing down and in sliders foul to third.

He finally hit a fair hopper to the hot corner, and a 5-4-3 DP later, the Pirates had squandered opportunity's last knock. Hit it to right side next time, old timer, where the hole was a mile wide.

The Bucs can't bunt worth a diddly. Jack Splat and Nate McLouth both tried to drag bunts for base hits, and weren't close, one rolling out to the pitcher and the other popping up. Good idea, bad execution.

And new reclamation project Denny Bautista took a liner off the pitching arm. The stringbean doesn't have much meat to start with, and we'll find out later what the severity of the injury is.

The Pirate approach at the plate today was pretty good. They were patient at the dish, and as a result Ray's ace Scott Kazmir was gone after five innings, giving up a four spot after throwing 103 pitches. But the hole was too deep, again.

Now to see what happens tomorrow with Ty Taubenheim on the hill. If he pitches like Barthmaier, we may see JVB here next week.

On the Pirate front: Ty Taubenheim will get the call Saturday for the Bucs as the pitching Wheel of Fortune continues its spin. He's put together a string of 3 or 4 nice starts, although his stats are fairly pedestrian - he is 4-9 with a 4.60 ERA at Indy, striking out 61 and walking 33 in 90 innings.

Taubenheim, a 25-year-old RHP, made 13 appearances for Toronto in 2006-07. He was 1-5 with a 5.40 ERA for the Jays. Taubenheim is a finesse guy who throws the four standard pitches, including a high 80s fastball, and generally gets them over the plate.

JVB, despite the love expressed by the brass, apparently had enough nagging bumps and bruises to miss this call-up. Of course, that's what they said about Kevin Thompson, too, and look what happened to him.

On the minor league front: Yoslan Herrera, a 27-year old RHP, will be promoted to Indy from the Curve tonight to take Barthmaier's place.

> C Steve Lerud went from Class A Lynchburg to Altoona after batting .256 with eight home runs for the Hillcats. 1B Miles Durham, who's batting .348 with 14 home runs, was promoted from low Class A Hickory to Lynchburg.

> RF Jamie Romak hit his 12th home run for Lynchburg, where he's batting .296.

> RHP Brad Lincoln was roughed up at Hickory, allowing 7 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings of work. He struck out 5 without a walk. Lincoln is now 4-3 with a 3.65 ERA.

> SS Jordy Mercer, the Buc's 3rd round pick,, went from short-season State College to Hickory, so that he and 4th round selection SS Chase D'Arnaud, who will stay with the Spikes, can get some innings in the field without tripping over one another.

In his Hickory debut last night, Mercer went 2 for 4 with a double.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It must be raindrops...

Thunder, lightning, rain...they'll try to do it again July 10th.

RHP Jimmy Barthmaier makes his major league debut tonight against Tampa Bay and LHP Scott Kazmir, who is 6-3 with a 2.03 ERA. Good luck, kid.

On the Pirate front: OK, they DL'ed Ian Snell for fifteen days. He comes back on July 8th. That cleared roster space for newcomer Denny Bautista.

Jimmy Barthmaier, who could get two starts, tomorrow against Tampa Bay and then against the Reds on July 2nd, will be the next addition to the team. They have to drop someone - likely TJ Beam - to make room for him.

Barthmaier, 24, has a good arm, with a 91-93 MPH fastball, a nice curve ball, and a decent change. He was highly regarded as a prospect in the Astro's organization until 2007, when the wheels fell off and they cut him. Barthmaier looked mediocre at Altoona, but picked it up in Indy to punch his ticket to PNC.

There's an open date on July 3rd, so they can get away with a spot start Saturday, since Phil Dumatrait comes back on the 5th. They have a lot of options for that slot, so we'll see what they come up with. They should announce that starter after tonight's game or sometime tomorrow.

GM Neal Huntington wouldn't rule out JVB, who pitched four innings on Tuesday, from getting the nod to make Saturday's start.

He was reported to have no further problems with his right shoulder or the blister that bothered him in his previous start, so we have to include him in the mix of possible pitchers. In fact, he's probably the front runner.

If they bring up an extra arm from the minors on Saturday, and the guy they send down is either Sean Burnett or Franquelis Osoria, the Pirates risk losing him.

Burnett can declare free agency if the Pirates designate him, and Osoria is out of options, so he would have to clear waivers. Right now, Osario should be the odd man out based on performance, but John Russell just loves him, sooo...

Then again, if Barthmaier doesn't impress in his start, he could go back down and make it all academic. We're unsure about the options, so he could get yoyoed back and forth either way, which would be the cleanest way to handle the roster.

> From the noise the Pirate brass is making, they look at Denny Bautista as a bullpen guy. They'll start him out as the long man - maybe manager Russell will use him, who knows? - and if they can control his wild thing, they hope for another Tyler Yates type back-end reliever.

On the hot stove front:
From Jayson Stark of ESPN - "For weeks, the Braves have focused on adding starting pitching. But in recent days, they've shifted their M.O. to adding a bat, who would almost certainly land in left field.

Clubs that have spoken with the Braves report that they're targeting only guys who could represent another "certified threat" in their lineup. So given the dearth of that sort of creature, three to keep your eye on are Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady."

On the minor league front:
CF Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' top gun at Indy, has been selected to play in the 2008 Futures Game. He's batting .283 with 8 homers, 31 RBI and 21 stolen bases. McCutch has a .363 OBP and .423 slugging percentage.

The Futures Game will be played July 13 at Yankee Stadium as part of the All-Star festivities.

> Indy RF Steve Pearce hit his 10th and 11th home runs and went 3 for 4. His batting average is a healthy .270 now. 3B Neil Walker smacked his 12th home run. It's HR or no count for him - he's hitting a sickly .223.

> CF Chris Duffy got two more hits for Altoona, and is batting .313.

On the ex-Pirate front:
AP reports that the Houston Astros have released Shawn Chacon, opting to cut the right-hander a day after he reportedly grabbed GM Ed Wade by the neck and threw him to the ground.

The team requested waivers on Chacon on Thursday for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. If he isn't claimed by another major league team by Monday, waivers will expire and his contract will be terminated without pay.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bronx Bombers are back

OK, the big dogs are back. You didn't think Pittsburgh would wax the Yankees every night, did you? They'll duke it out for bragging rights tomorrow night.

Joba Chamberlain was all that, with a mid-to-upper 90s heater that moves and a sweet curve to go with it. Zach Duke didn't pitch as badly as his line shows.

If Jack Splat makes a couple of plays for him, he gets away with giving up one run. But that's the way of the world with Duke - he needs airtight D, and didn't get it tonight.

Still, he kept it a game until TJ Beam left the corral gate open. Hey, payback's a beach. Each team's scored a KO with one bout to go.

On the Pirate front: The Bucs picked up RHP Denny Bautista, 27, from the Tigers. He was their set up man after returning from the DL in late May (shoulder tendinitis), and had an 0-1 record, 3.21 ERA, and 4 holds. Bautista should fit right in with Pittsburgh; in 19 innings, he struck out 10 and walked 14.

He was DFA'ed to make room for Joel Zumaya.

Overall, the Dominican has pitched for Baltimore, KC, Colorado and Detroit. Bautista's lifetime ERA is 6.42. He's started 21 times in his MLB career, and what the Pirates plan to do with him is anyone's guess.

Bautista's the Buc's kind of project, throwing in the mid-90's, and could slide into any one of several pitching roles, from the back end of the pen to spot starter, ala Shawn Chacon.

Kevin Thompson was waived injured (his wrist was operated on recently) to clear up a spot on the 40-man roster (Jason Michaels sealed his fate), and there will be no word on who goes home on the 25 man roster until at least after tonight's game.

Detroit got 23 year-old RHP Kyle Pearson, Lynchburg's closer, in return. He was highly thought of in 2003 when he was drafted as a high school kid in the 4th round. Pearson was 13-27 with 12 saves and a 4.95 ERA in the Pirate's minors.

He was 1-1 with 4 saves and a 6.75 ERA this year, and he didn't seem to figure much in Pittsburgh's future after he was demoted from Altoona to the Hillcats. Pittsburgh converted him from a starter to the bullpen; maybe the Tigers will reverse the process.

> RF Xavier Nady, out since June 14 because of a bruised left shoulder, could be cleared to play tonight after a full batting practice session yesterday. If he's not ready, he's close. The X-Man's been gone 11 days, so not putting him on the DL ended up pretty much a wash but for possibly three or four games.

> JVB pitched, and none too well, for Indy last night. That should take him out of the Tampa Bay pitching sweepstakes, though. Ty Taubenheim, Jimmy Barthmaier, and Yoslan Herrera look like the candidates.

Unless the Bucs have something up their sleeve. Bautista hasn't started in a couple of years, and Sean Burnett is the long man, but either one of them starting would save them a move on the 25-man roster, especially if they were the Saturday fill-in for Ian Snell...just thinkin' out loud.

They're all on the 40-man roster already, so that won't be a consideration. There will have to be moves made on the 25-man roster, though, for a minor league call-up.

Jenifer Langosch of says her sources tell her Friday's starter will be Jimmy Barthmaier, and he is the logical choice to take Phil Dumatrait's spot in the rotation.

We'll see soon what they do to cover Saturday's start. Herrara's pitched well in AA, and the Buc's liked what they saw of Taubenheim in the spring. Or they could try to cobble together nine innings from the current roster.

On the minor league front: Altoona had some nice performances last night. LHP Corey Hamman (4-6, 3.15) pitched 8 scoreless innings and allowed 3 hits.

CF Chris Duffy hit his first home run and went 2 for 4. His average in now .286. 2B Shelby Ford, who's batting .327, hit his first home run and went 2 for 5 with a double. 1B Jason Delaney went 3 for 5 with a double and 4 RBIs, and he has a .296 average.

> A couple of Hickory's big sticks kept mashing last night. C Andrew Walker hit his fifth and sixth home runs and went 4 for 5 with three RBIs. His average is up to .280 after a forgettable start to the season. 3B Bobby Spain hit his fifth home run and went 4 for 5 with 2 home runs, lifting his average to .312.

> Third round draft pick SS Jody Mercer had a big day at State College, homering, doubling, and driving home a pair as the DH.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Someone get the number of that truck...

Balls leaving the yard, bouncing off walls, rattling around in the corner, dropping in front of and behind fielders - 19 knocks and 12 runs in all. It looked like the 2008 version of Murderers Row.

Except it was the Pirates, not the Yankees, doing all the damage. It was like the Bucs were channeling the Lumber Company.

Tom Gorzelanny staggered at the game's beginning and Frankie Osoria at its end. But in between, it was all Pittsburgh. As the Gunner would have said last time New York was in town "We had 'em all the way!"

The bats thundered, 38,000 fans roared, and it was, for once, a good night for baseball in Pittsburgh.

Just one question - what bit of blackmail does Osoria lord over John Russell? Give the guy a day or three off. Heck, even Sean Burnett should be able to hold a nine run lead for an inning.

On the minor league front:
At Altoona, LHP Dave Davidson (3.18 ERA) threw 2-2/3 perfect innings of relief with 5 strikeouts, and has been pitching pretty well after a slow start.

1B Jason Delaney went 3 for 4 with a double, upping his average to .290. CF Chris Duffy went 2 for 3 with a double, walk and steal. That's more like what they expect from him.

> Calvin Anderson, draft pick from Southern, hit his second home run and went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. He's off to flying start, hitting .429 at State College.

On the high school front:
Here's where some of the area's better players are headed, with more in a later post:

> Jordan Jankowski, RHP/1B, Peters Twp. - He signed with Miami (Ohio), but also was drafted in 34th round by the Houston Astros.

> Cory Mazzoni, RHP/1B, Seneca Valley - He signed with North Carolina State, and was drafted in 26th round by the Washington Nationals.

> Zak Sinclair, RHP, West Allegheny - He also signed with N.C. State, and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 34th round.

> Scott McGough, SS, Plum - He's a 46th-round draft pick of Pirates, but has signed to play at the University of Oregon. McGough also pitches.

> Jim Rider, SS, Peters Twp. - He'll play next season at Kent State.

> Matt Devine, P/SS, Springdale - He'll play next season at VMI.

> Derrik Zeroski, SS/P, West Allegheny - He's headed to Duquesne.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hit and run...

How does MLB Trade Rumors rate the Pirate bait in this year's meat market? Here's the gang that they think are available for the right price:

> Ronny Paulino - once Ryan Doumit returns, the Bucs can at least consider moving Paulino.

> Adam LaRoche - extension talks fizzled.

> Jack Wilson - the Bucs may hang on to Wilson for the sake of respectability. Wilson is signed through '09 and has a limited no-trade clause.

> Jason Bay - the resurgent Bay is one of the crown jewels of the trade market. The Bucs were right to wait on trading him. Since the acquiring team gets him for a season and a half, could he draw a Teixeira-like bounty?

> Xavier Nady - among RFs, only Ryan Ludwick has been more productive than Nady this year. He earns $3.35MM this year and won't reach free agency until after the '09 season. It'd be tough for Pirates fans to watch their incredibly productive outfield be dismantled, but trading Nady and Bay might serve the greater good.

> John Grabow, Damaso Marte, & Tyler Yates - the Bucs hold two premiere southpaws in Grabow and Marte.

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette and his take on any looming deals: There will be no all-out fire sale. That is the indication I am getting on many levels. You likely will see Nady go at some point, and you could see Marte and maybe John Grabow. If someone blows the doors off for Jason Bay, you might see that, too, though his outcome is looking more and more as if he might stay.

Bottom line, though: If somebody offers (a) pitching bounty...the Pirates are sure to listen. They have Brad Lincoln and a lot of question marks in the minors, including Danny Moskos' status as a starter vs. reliever. That dearth has to be addressed for the team to be competitive, much less a contender.

Five weeks or so to go until deadline. It should be interesting.

> The docs at AGH had encouraging test results for Pittsburgh's battered pitchers, Ian Snell and Phil Dumatrait. Snell has medial epicondylitis, or tennis elbow. He's day-to-day, and should miss just one start, on Friday against the Rays, if any.

Dumatrait has bursitis in his rotator cuff, which is an inflammation, not a trauma injury, and is expected to return to action as soon as he clears the DL on July 5th.

Since neither guy looks like he's down for the count, we think Pittsburgh may hold up on their Plan B of looking for an arm outside the organization for the immediate time being. But as the trade clock ticks down, a young gun, especially one firing his bullets from the right side, would look awfully nice...

> Speaking of kids looking good, RHP Yoslan Herrera pitched 7 shutout innings and gave up 2 hits in his win Sunday. He struck out 3 and walked 1. The Cuban's record is 4-7 with a 3.12 ERA at Altoona. He's been sharp lately, and may rate a look at Indy in the coming weeks. Herrara's 27, and his career needs some giddy-up.

The Curve's RF Brad Corley (.299) went 3 for 4 with a triple, RBI, and a steal while 2B Shelby Ford (.330) went 2 for 3 with a triple, walk, and three steals. They've both been mashing lately. CF Chris Duffy went 0 for 4 and is hitting .190 during his rehab stint.

> 3B Bobby Spain is having a nice year at Hickory, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs while hitting .307.

> 15 of the 24 inked Pirate draft choices for 2008 are playing at State College, including four of the top 10 draft picks. (The Spikes are carrying a 30 man roster.)

They are SS Jordy Mercer, SS Chase d’Arnaud, 3B Jeremy Farrell, 3B Matt Hague, OF David Rubenstein, 1B Calvin Anderson, RHP Brian Leach, C Mark Carver, 1B Matt Payne, RHP Alan Knotts, C Chris Simmons, OF Cody White, LHP Mike Williams , RHP Allen Ponder, and RHP Owen Brolsma.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Off day thoughts

> The Bucs said that they're checking out Ian Snell's elbow irritation (although we think his head needs straightened out more) and that made us wonder.

If there's something wrong with him, and with Phil Dumatrait on the DL, do JVB and Bryan Bullington become two of our starters by default against the Rays? Or would Jimmy Barthmaier earn a spot start or two? Dumatrait comes back July 5th.

> The Buc bats have been smoking, especially considering the lineup they're putting in the field. Hitting coach Don Long deserves a medal.

> How odd is it that Pittsburgh plays the teams they won their last two World Series against in the town they won game seven at - and for the first time since those sweet wins? Only a computer could come up with that scheduling.

It was the Pirates first visit to Baltimore since Steve Blass won 2-1 in 1979, and will be the Yankee's first trip here since Maz sent them packing in 1960. Needless to say, the stadiums look a little different. Memorial Stadium and Forbes Field are just fond memories today.

> In his press conference after the game, John Russell defended his bunt call with runners on first and second and no one out. And that was the right call, too. But he didn't address the better question - why did he pinch hit for Ian Snell with Freddy Sanchez in the 4th inning if he was gonna bunt anyway?

He wasted Sanchez' bat early in the game and put one of his better bunters, Snell, on the pine. He could have pulled him after the bunt just as well as before it. Sanchez popped out and effectively killed the inning to add a little salt to the wound.

One thing we've learned is that Russell is as unpredictable as the Pittsburgh weather. He goes by no book that we're aware of. Whether that's part of his learning curve or just his approach to the game will be seen down the road. So far he's used an unique blend of National and American League strategies.

> Phil Dumatrait is on the 15-day disabled list because of rotator cuff tendinitis in his left shoulder and fortunately nothing structural. Rest is supposed to cure what ails it.

The domino effect of calling up TJ Beam is that Chris Duffy is now on the 60-day DL instead of the 15-day to make space on the 40 man roster. That won't affect when he can return because Duffy has already passed the 60-day mark.

> Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says the A's suddenly could become a buyer. He cites the usual suspects: Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, C.C. Sabathia, and notes that the A's have the prospects to pull it off.

And boy, could Pittsburgh use some, especially if they pitch.

> Now the vigil begins to see when and if the Bucs can reel in the big four remaining draftees - Pedro Alvarez, Tanner Sheppers, and high schoolers Robbie Grossman and Drew Gagnon. It's a great draft if they get all four to sign on the dotted line, although it may break the bank.

Alavrez' deal is the big one. That'll determine how much of the pie is left for the other guys. The sooner, the better if Pittsburgh wants to get all its ducks in a row.

Put away the brooms

The bats were willing, but the pitching was weak. Throw both Ian Snell and Frankie Osoria on the mound the same day, and the results are pretty predictable right now.

Bring on them Yankees!

On the Pirate front: The Pirates today will place Phil Dumatrait on the DL because of an unspecified left shoulder injury, and will promote reliever T.J. Beam from Indy, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

This came out of the blue to us - we expected Xavier Nady, not Dumatrait, to go on the DL - and there are still lots of questions involving the makeup of the Pirate's roster without him. There's no immediate need for a starter with the scheduled off day tomorrow. So we're in wait-and-see mode at this point.

Beam, 27, has been Indianapolis' best reliever lately, having allowed just 3 earned runs in 22 1/3 innings over his past 16 appearances. He has a 2.02 ERA in 26 appearances, and his opponents have been held to a .202 average. Beam has 39 Ks and 14 walks. The Pirates signed him from the Yankee system.

> Look for Pittsburgh to throw every left handed bat they have into today's fray. Blue Jay starter RHP Dustin McGowan has a 4.15 ERA. His road ERA? It's 6.27. His ERA against lefties? It's is 5.61.

> Jack Splat became one of five players in franchise history to make 1,000 appearances at shortstop last night. The others are Honus Wagner (1,887), Arky Vaughan (1,381), Dick Groat (1,242) and Jay Bell (1,103). Pretty good company.

On the hot stove front
: Damaso Marte has been mentioned in a lot of deals, but the Pirate's have a pretty high value on him. If he continues to pitch the way he has been, he'll be a Class A free agent if the Bucs offer him arbitration, and will earn Pittsburgh a couple of very high draft picks if he's signed elsewhere.

If the other teams can't beat the deal that's already in hand, the Pirates won't be moving him. There's no reason to. So when you hear the other teams crying about the Buc's overinflated demands, remember that these new guys do have a solid process in place to determine the worth of their players.

On the minor league front: RHP Jimmy Barthmaier continues to tear it up at Indy. He allowed 1 run and 4 hits in six innings. He struck out 8, with no walks, running his record to 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA. 1B Steve Pearce went 3 for 4 with a double and two RBIs and is hitting .266.

> In Altoona, RHP Derek Hankins pitched six scoreless innings and allowed two hits. He struck out 5 and walked 1. He's 2-3 with a 3.57 ERA. Chris Duffy is hitting .235 in his first week with the Curve.

> At Lynchburg, 3B Jim Negrych shows no signs of slowing down. He went 3 for 4 with a triple, double and walk. He's batting .360.

> Hickory's RHP Brad Lincoln allowed 3 runs and 7 hits in six innings. He struck out 3 and walked 1. His record is now 4-2, with an ERA of 2.97. 1B Miles Durham, batting .338, hit his 13th home run, a three-run shot, and went 2 for 4 with a double.

> At State College, SS Jordy Mercer, the recently signed third-round draft pick, went 2 for 5 with a triple.

> Brooklyn Cyclones designated hitter Ralph Henriquez is a switch-hitter. Staten Island pitcher Pat Venditte is ambidextrous and has pitched that way all his life. Hilarity ensued when they met in Class A yesterday.

One would switch batters boxes, the other would switch gloves. The umps finally decided enough already - they told the batter to pick a side, pitcher responds - once. They ended up righty vs righty, with Venditte striking out Henriquez. The rules committee promised to come up with a clarification to cover such oddball situations. Just when you think you've seen it all...

It reminds us of former Central Catholic and Pitt pitcher Brant Colamarino who also threw from both sides of the mound. He now plays Class AA ball in the Oakland farm system as a first baseman.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Home sweet home

The Pirates played a very efficient game against the Jays tonight and were rewarded with a 6-3 win. The Bucs had but six hits, but three left the yard, and that was enough to do the trick. They stranded zero runners.

Paul Maholm was workmanlike. He was bailed out of one spot when Nate McLouth threw out a runner at home, and worked out of another when he jammed super pest David Eckstine with the bases juiced and got a come-backer to end the inning.

It was according to plan - get a lead, get seven innings out of Maholm, and let John Grabow and Matt Capps nail the coffin shut. It's sweet when it works out that way.

Listen, we know that the Blue Jays are on life support right now. But the Pirates weren't far from it after the disastrous White Sox series, and their resilience, especially with Ryan Doumit and Xavier Nady on ice, is great to see.

It was a nice win. Now to see if Ian Snell has figured anything out tomorrow.

Hey, make sure to read Will Pellas' column (Pellas on the Pirates) just below this. He's got some great views on the team, and we're glad to have him join the blogosphere with us.

On the Pirate front: Last night was just the second time in the eight-year history of PNC Park that a game was scoreless through nine innings. The other was against Atlanta Aug. 28, 2002. The Pirates won that one too, 1-0, in the 10th.

The most dramatic overtime shutout in Pittsburgh was when Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon became the first NL pitchers to throw a combined extra inning no-hitter in history against the Astros on July 12, 1997 at TRS. Mark Smith hit a 3-run homer in the 10th to claim that win.

> The Bucs won't clear Doumit for duty behind the dish until he goes a day without showing any symptoms of his concussion. That leaves Doug Mientkiewicz as the back-up catcher. Maybe he'll pitch next.

> John Russell said on Saturday that the Pirates are shooting for Tuesday as a possible return date for both Nady and Doumit, when the Pirates open a three-game set against the Yankees. They're definite scratches for the Blue Jay series.

The Bucs won't come out and say it, but we think they're really pointing to the Yankee series, and are rolling the dice that Doumit and Nady are in the lineup against the Bronx Bombers.

> Nyjer Morgan has 19 stolen bases in 37 games for Indianapolis. He adds some desperately needed speed to a lead footed Pirates lineup that has a major league-low 21 stolen bases this season, and are on pace to end up with under 50 steals in 2008. We hope Russell will take advantage of his wheels when the situation calls for a stolen base.

On the minor league front: Steve Pearce hit his 9th home run, a three-run, walkoff shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. He went 3 for 4 with a double, walk, four RBIs and steal. He's hitting .259. 3B Neil Walker, hitting .230, smacked his team-leading 11th home run for Indy.

> Catcher Ronny Paulino, who was optioned to Indianapolis on June 5, has a right ankle sprain suffered during a rundown. He just was placed on the DL.

> RHP Luis Munoz, in his first game since being demoted from Indy to Altoona, allowed 1 run and 4 hits in seven innings. He struck out 6. The Curve did wonders for Evan Meek; let's see if it helps Munoz.

On the draft front:
The Rays agreed to terms with their No. 1 overall draft pick, shortstop Tim Beckham, on Friday, sweetening his deal with a $6.1 million signing bonus. Having the top dog get signed usually helps the rest of the first round fall in line, and we'll see shortly if it comes into play with Scott Boras and Pedro Alvarez.

Pellas on the Pirates: Nate McLouth

What Do We Have in Nate McLouth?

'Twould seem an odd question to be asking when Nate the Great has been one of, if not THE, most valuable Pirates over the first half of the 2008 season. Nate's performance is sweet vindication for those of us who have tirelessly beaten the drum for him to be a fulltime regular since he first saw action late in 2005. And yet, as his batting average (though not so much his OPS) has slowly ticked downward over the past few weeks---he's now hitting a still-robust .290---I couldn't help but take a second look at Mr. McLouth and what he's likely to give us going forward.

A significant part of my personal enthusiasm for Number 13 is the fact that he has always been what Rick Pitino calls "a fills-up-the-stats-sheet guy". Versatility is particularly important in the National League, where unlike the A.L. they don't play beer league softball. Over the first two-plus years of his career---when he wasn't being wasted on the bench by Genius Jim Tracy---McLouth looked to me like the baseball version of Pitino's "fills-up-the-stats-sheet guy". I figured, he might never hit for a superlative average, he might never crack 30 home runs, he might not be overwhelming in any one statistical category, but his overall contribution, both offensively and defensively, would make him one of the better all around players in all of baseball.

I still believe that to be true.

So, why am I writing this?

For two reasons. One, if Nate's .290 or lower average is more in keeping with his true talent than his well over .300 figure from April and May, it means that we're back to what even his supporters figured he was. That is, a high .200s hitter who will get a lot of extra bases though not necessarily by hitting a lot of home runs, and who will make a significant portion of his contribution to the team with his glove and with his legs. So far so good, but why does he only have 8 steals all season long despite being an expert base stealer who has been caught a total of 5 times, with 40 SBs, in his CAREER? Surely he ought to be running wild on the basepaths or at least, a lot more often than he has to this point in time.

Which leads me to the second reason I'm asking, "What Do We Have in Nate McLouth". That is, if he isn't going to be the elite base stealer I still believe he's capable of---whether that's because of John Russell's philosophy or because Nate's still bugged by that spring training hamstring strain or what---that means we have to take a hard look at how much "standard" production he'll give us in the future. Again, you may ask, Will, are you crazy? What's wrong with 15 HR and 50 RBI before the All-Star break? Again, nothing. But while those are great numbers for a center fielder, they are merely good numbers for a corner outfielder. And a corner spot is where Nate will be no later than next season, because wunderkind Andrew McCutchen is about to take center stage.

And THAT, boys and girls, is why I'm a wee bit concerned. Mind you, I still believe that Nate is more than capable of being a corner outfielder if he is allowed to run the way he can. With 30-plus steals at a better than 80% success rate and an accompanying 100 runs scored, he is Eric Byrnes and maybe better than that. Without the SBs, he is Luis Gonzalez before Gonzalez started putting up crazy numbers with Arizona.

Maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on the running game, and maybe Nate will be a consistent 25 HR, 90-100 RBI guy, in which case he's more than capable of corner OF production and the whole point is moot. But I think he's more likely a .280 15-20 HR with 70-80 RBI kind of hitter on a year in, year out basis, in which case his bat, while still good, is a little light for a corner outfielder. That's why I want to see him running with abandon. We need his whole game, not just the part of it that's been better than expected in 2008.

It's our pleasure to bring Will Pellas' take on the Pirates to the GW periodically.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The gods must be crazy...

The baseball gods must be crazy. What else could explain the Pirate staff giving up a quadzillion runs in the last three series and then coming home to take a 1-0, twelve inning victory?

Zach Duke continues to look like he's figured it out, working the ball inside every so often and keeping it down. He went 7 shutout innings and even struck out 4 Blue Jays, matching the always tough Roy Halladay pitch for pitch.

And make no mistake - Pittsburgh won tonight because of Duke. This is the 10th time in the last 11 starts that he's given the Pirates 6 innings or more, and he's allowed two or fewer runs in six of his past 10 starts. Good job, Zachster.

He had an able assist from Doug Meintkiewicz, who made two great plays at third, one game-saving, and scored the game's only run after a three hit night. Maybe we'll see some more platooning at the hot corner.

Excuse us now - we're running down to church to light a couple of candles in hopes that the gods will continue their zany ways.

On the Pirate front: The Buc brass befuddled everyone by sending Marino Salas down and bringing up Nyjer Morgan. That leaves the Pirates with 11 pitchers (not that John Russell ever uses the two at the end of the bench), 1 catcher, and a 4 man bench. Get well soon, anybody.

> In one of the weirder plays we've seen, Morgan lined a baseball off Halladay's noodle in the seventh inning. It ricocheted right to third baseman Scott Rolen on the fly to end the ending (with the bases loaded, yet.) Halladay is day-to-day, but the Jays expect him to make his next start.

> Bill Mazeroski will throw out the first pitch Tuesday when the Pirates open a three-game series against the Yankees. Rub a little salt into it while you have the chance, Buccos. They might just do better by putting him in the lineup.

> What a difference PNC makes in interleague play. The Bucs are 38-40 at home, and a miserable 21-59 on the road. In fact, the Pirates last walk-off home run was against the White Sox in June, 2006 at PNC.

> The White Sox scored 37 runs, hit 10 home runs and batted .404 against Pittsburgh in the three game set. Add your own punch line.

> The Blue Jays fired manager John Gibbons today. Cito Gaston, who brought two World Series championships to Toronto, returned as manager.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Whatever the Pirate pitchers have, it must be contagious. Phil Dumatrait and John Grabow caught it too. Proving that a 6-0 lead is surmountable when you play Pittsburgh, the White Sox pounded out a 13-8 win.

The mound has become the Buc rotation's Bermuda Triangle. Once they toe the rubber, they're lost at sea. Is it too soon to declare the annual June swoon has arrived?

On the Pirate front:
Since May 31, Jose Bautista has started all but two games and has posted a .345 average. After homering Wednesday, the third sacker finished the current six-game road trip with 3 long balls. He now has 7 on the season.

Bautista's batting average has improved to .255 since reclaiming everyday playing time, and he's driven in 11 of his 29 RBIs in his last 18 games. John Russell was dumb like a fox when he sat him down for Doug Meintkiewicz in early May.

Now to see if Joey Bats can hold off the horde of 3Bmen Pittsburgh's drafted and stashed in the minors.

On the minor league front: The Pirates traded RHP Jonah Bayliss to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later. Bayliss, 27, was 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in 28 games for AAA Indianapolis. He pitched in 50 games over the past two seasons for the Pirates and went 5-4 with a 7.22 ERA.

The new suits continue to weed out the minor league organization. It's just about time for the guys in the bigs to get a little uncomfortable, too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

White flag...

Pittsburgh just can't run with the big dogs, especially the ones unleashed in the Windy City. The White Sox put them away again, 8-2 tonight.

The Buc batters flailed at Mark Buehle. He had the ball up in the zone all night, and the Pirate batters obliged him by flying out all night - unless there was a runner on first; then they hit one on the ground. Four Buc hits, two Buc DP's.

And boy, does the middle of the lineup look bare without Ryan Doumit and Xavier Nady.

The pitching was sort of reverse of the results. Tom Gorzelanny gave up 4 runs in 6 innings, but it could have been much worse. His command was AWOL, keeping pitches up and working behind batters constantly.

Tyler Yates gave up 4 runs in 2 innings, but pitched pretty well. He hit a batter after a single, and looked to have Jim Thome struck out, but the ump wouldn't give him the call. You can guess what happened next.

Thome dumped one between three fielders - and it looked like either of the outfielders could have made the catch if they took charge - to plate one run. The other two came with a two out double, by a batter that wouldn't have gotten up but for Thome's good fortune.

With two outs in the eighth, he was touched for a two out ground ball double past third. The next batter popped up, and Luis Rivas and Adam LaRoche acted out a Keystone Kop routine to let it drop. But Yates was around the plate both innings, pumping out 95-96 MPH heat and a decent curve, and looked pretty good, though the line ended up ugly.

Chicago isn't the Pirate's kind of town.

On the Pirate front: Roberto Clemente was named to the Rawlings Gold Glove All-Time Team, and his family will be picking up the award at PNC on Saturday. Mike Thompson, Rawling VP, will present the trophy to Clemente's wife, Vera, and their two sons, Roberto Jr. and Luis. Junior will throw out the first ball.

The rest of the team was C Johnny Bench, 1B Wes Parker, 2B Joe Morgan, SS Ozzie Smith, 3B Brooks Robinson, OFs Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr., and pitcher Greg Maddux. That group could snag a baseball, although we think there was a miscount at 2B. Morgan over Maz? C'mon!

> Gorzo, tonight's starter for the Pirates, was born a few miles from old Cominskey Park and was a die hard White Sox fan. They even drafted him in 2000, but he passed and went on to college.

> Ryan Doumit will miss at least tonight and tomorrow with a mild concussion received when he got his cage rattled yesterday. Actually, he got his cage rattled three times - that's how many fouls he took off the mask catching last night.

On the minor league front: Look who made the jump to AAA - Evan Meek pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his Indy debut last night. In 9 games with the AA Altoona Curve, he had a 2.81 ERA, 17 Ks and 3 walks.

Of course, someone gotta go when someone else gets called up. In this case, it's RHP Luis Munoz, part of the Bucs 40-man roster and obviously pretty highly thought of in the organization. In 12 starts with the Indians, he went 3-3 with a 5.45 ERA. He's off to Altoona to try to find his mojo.

> The Pirates signed free-agent SS Ray Chang and sent him to Altoona. Chang, 24, began this season in the San Diego Padres' system and hit .240 in 30 games of AA & AAA ball. He's interesting. Undrafted, within three years he earned a starting role in AAA Portland this season.

He hit .262 with 70 hits in 267 at bats for the Beavers in 2007. In 78 games he had 17 doubles, three homers, 24 runs scored and 34 RBIs. He drew 17 walks and whiffed 58 times, and committed 12 errors.

> Hickory 1B Miles Durham was named Class A Sally League player of the week. He hit .500 with 5 doubles, a triple, 2 homers and 7 RBI.

> The short season State College Spikes revved it up, and 1B Calvin Anderson, the Pirates' 12th-rounder in the 2008 draft, hit a 2-run homer in his pro baptism and went 3 for 5. Great way to start a career, hey? And he only signed on Monday.

Anderson came from Southern and will be a work in progress, but he's got a great mentor for up-and-coming first sackers in Sid Bream, who coaches with the Spikes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No righties need apply

They said the White Sox feasted on righties, so of course, Pittsburgh fed them Ian Snell, Frankie Osoria and Marino Salas. 16-5 *ouch* At least, no one got hurt except in the ERA.

And we hope the Pirates pay the ransom to whomever kidnapped the real Snell and get that impostor off the mound.

On the Pirate front: Nate McLouth is the only Pirate player receiving All-Star votes, coming in at No. 13 in this week's voting. Xavier Nady, Jay Bay, and Ryan Doumit are getting no love at all. Wonder what their tally would be if they played in New York, Chicago, or LA?

> Xavier Nady's bum wing will have to be evaluated day-to-day. His type of sprain could be OK in a week, or it could last 3 weeks, depending on the severity. The Bucs will have until the end of the Chicago series to see how it's coming along. Once they're out of the DH parks, they can't afford to be a man down at PNC for any appreciable length of time, especially with the Rays, Blue Jays, and Bronx Bombers lined up.

> It looks like PNC - and every other field - will have instant replay come August 1st. MLB isn't spilling any beans, but it appears that it will be limited to HR's and go to a centralized "war room" in NYC, just like the NHL reviews. The exact mechanics - will umps call for it, will there be manager challenges, or will it be up to NY - hasn't been announced, and may still be under discussion.

Replay already has been used once in a game. In 1999, ump Frank Pulli watched a play on a TV monitor, then overturned a home run call. The next day, both leagues outlawed replay review.

On the draft front: The Pirates today signed shortstops Jordy Mercer and Chase D'Arnaud, their 3rd & 4th-round draft picks, and 39th-round pitcher Albert Fagan.

> After Tim and Gordon Beckham, Mercer might be the draft's best bet at SS. Though he's a big guy at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, his range and hands are fine, and he boasts a plus arm. Mercer was Oklahoma State's closer, and hits 91-94 mph on the radar (his future's in the field, not the hill, even tho he holds the school save record with 17.)

He has room to improve as a hitter, and needs to add some muscle and sharpen his eye. Hit .330 with 12 doubles, 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 62 games this year as a junior with the Cowboys. Mercer's speed is slightly above-average, and he's an instinctive runner if not a base stealer.

> D’Arnaud took over as the everyday SS for Pepperdine this spring after playing the hot corner for two years. He showed good range, soft hands, a solid, accurate arm, and should be able to handle SS at the next level. He runs well and is a heads-up hustler on the base paths.

His bat is of some concern. Scouts believe that most of his faults are correctable; he needs to go with the pitch better and improve his plate discipline. But D'Arnaud handles the bat well and has easy, projectable power with a slight uppercut stroke. He hit .314 with 17 doubles, 11 home runs and 50 RBI as a junior this year.

> RHP Fagan was named the Region 15 Junior College Pitcher-of-the-Year in 2006 at Rockland CC. He gave up his final season of eligibility last year and tried to catch on with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent. We've believe that he's a power pitcher, and he's big enough to be at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds.

On the ex-Pirate front:
Gonzo is finally back. Mike Gonzalez will join the Braves Tuesday and is ready to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday, manager Bobby Cox said. The LHP is two weeks past his year anniversary of having TJ surgery on his elbow. One setback prevented his return in mid-May, but Gonzalez has rounded into form after 4 minor league rehabilitation appearances in Class AA Mississippi and 5 in AAA Richmond.

> As expected, the Willie Randolph era in New York has come to an end. He and a couple of coaches were let go. Jerry Manuel is the interim manager.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Notes on a day off...

On the Pirate front: Ryan Doumit was named the NL's co-Player of the Week, along with Florida Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco. Doumit batted .400 (10-25) with 4 home runs.

He had a .960 slugging percentage and 24 total bases, tied for the league lead with 8 runs scored, and drove in 7 runs. Nolasco went 2-0 with 15 strikeouts in 2 starts lasting 14-2/3 innings.

> Xavier Nady has a sprained left shoulder, but the team has no plans yet to place him on the DL. The MRI scan showed a Grade 1 acromioclavicular joint sprain in the shoulder, which sounds worse than it is. There is no damage to the cuff or labrum.

The Pirates said they will take the next coupla days to see how Nady's wing heals. He'll rejoin the team tomorrow in Chicago.

On the minor league front: Chris Duffy returned to Altoona, and the 2004 Curve MVP started in CF and led off. He went 0-for-3. We think he may be there for awhile, but he's been so far under the radar this year that we'll just have to wait and see what he has and what the Pirate plans for him are.

> The 2008 South Atlantic League All-Star Game will be held Tuesday night. Hickory's 3B Bobby Spain and SS Jose De Los Santos will start for the Northern Division team, while 1B Miles Durham also made the team as a reserve.

On the draft front: The Pirates signed five more picks from the 2008 draft.

3B Jeremy Farrell, the 8th choice from the U of Virginia, is the son of Boston Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. He led the Cavaliers with 11 homers and 51 RBIs and was hitting .320 with 47 strikeouts in 200 at-bats during the regular season.

His swing mechanics improved this season, and he hit with more pull power, but there is still some question about his bat speed. 1B is probably his best position because he's a tad slow with an average arm, though he might be athletic enough to play a corner OF position.

> Calvin Anderson, from Southern A&M, the 12th choice, is a 1B, and the son of former Pittsburgh Steeler Fred Anderson. He's a big galoot at 6-7, 240 lbs., and hits from the right side. Like most guys from the SWAC, Anderson is still raw.

He has a long, powerful swing with full extension but has shown good bat control as well. Anderson has been a steady hitter as a three-year starter at Southern, hitting .328-8-34 this spring.

> They also signed SS Jarek Cunningham, their 18th pick from Mt. Spokane HS. Cunningham had a commitment to Arizona State but opted to go pro. The Bucs signed a slew of SS's, so Cunningham may see time at 2B.

There are no recent stats available - Cunningham missed most of his senior season to rehab a knee injury.

> And finally, twin picks from West Point: catcher Christopher Simmons (41st round) and outfielder Cole White (42nd round). Simmons hit .318 with 8 HR's, and is thought to be an organization-type C.

White was an effective two-way player for Army. For much of his career he was the team's best hitter while also pitching. The Pirates plan to try him as an outfielder. He hit .373 with 8 HR's this year.

They'll get a break in their military assignments, much like David Robinson. Athletes can fulfill their commitments by engaging in recruiting and other related activities.

By our count, that's 21 guys they've signed. We hope they're aiming for 30 or so, seeing that so many of the toolsy players they picked have yet to ink a deal. We're a little surprised at how many late picks they've signed. It could portend a major housecleaning in the Pirate minor league organization.

On the high school front: Pittsburgh lost a great coach today, Peabody's Norm Frey. Although he enjoyed plenty of basketball success, it surprises some to discover that baseball was his first love.

He and Ken McDonough had a unique coaching relationship. Frey was Peabody's head baseball coach from 1955-68 and won 6 City League championships. When he resigned, McDonough took over, and Frey became his assistant. With the McDonough-Frey combo, Peabody won 14 City League baseball titles during the days when Peabody was usually as good as any of the WPIAL's best teams.

"He was my mentor," McDonough said. "I knew a little about baseball, but I had no idea how shallow I was until I sat down and talked with him after I got hired."

Both retired from teaching and coaching in 1992. After retiring from Peabody, Frey still was an assistant baseball coach in the Pittsburgh Federation League. When Mike Wilson became Duquesne's coach in the fall of 1993, the first person he called was Frey to offer him an assistant coach's job. He coached seven years at Duquesne.

"When I first got the job, I called Norm before I even called my wife," Wilson told the Post Gazette. "There wasn't anybody better than him who knew and could teach fundamentals." Frey even had two batting cages in the back yard of his North Side home, so he could give hitting lessons to kids.

God speed, Norm Frey.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Be still, my heart

Well, we'll say this - if the last two games of this series were playoff games, they'd be shown on ESPN 'til the cows came home. As is, the Bucs salvaged a win in the three game set filled with high drama, taking a 10 inning, 5-4 victory.

Jason Michaels two-out, two run single. Nate McLouth's catch with two out and two on. Brian Roberts going the opposite way for a two-out, two run ninth inning homer to tie the game. Adam LaRoche stroking the game winner in the tenth. Matt Capps getting a blown save and win in the same game, a day after George Sherrill did the same for the O's.

It's what you'd expect to see from two teams that aren't there yet, but heading down the right road. Big hits, big plays, big hearts. And what more can you ask for?

On the Pirate front: Xavier Nady has a left shoulder contusion after crashing into the wall chasing after a foul fly in the ninth last night. X-rays taken last night were negative, but he will have a MRI test tomorrow in Pittsburgh, and the results will tell the tale as to whether he'll go on the DL or be good to go.

> Who woulda thunk it in April? The Pirates have gone a season-high 65 innings without committing an error. That's 7 games plus. Who sez having Jack Splat back doesn't make a difference? (EDIT - Jose Bautista ended the streak at 73 innings with his ninth inning boot today. Nice timing, Joey Bats.)

On the minor league front:
C Ronny Paulino hit his fourth home run at Indy, a two-run shot. He's returning a bit to earth - his average is down to .429.

> LHP Danny Moskos is starting to heat up. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed 3 hits while striking out 7 and walking 1. His record is 6-3, with a 4.04 ERA at Lynchburg.

For those with a short memory, Clemson's Moskos was the Pirate's top pick in 2007, selected 4th overall, ahead of the now infamous Matt Weiters. He's being converted from a closer to a rotation guy.

> Brad Lincoln is settling in a Hickory. He allowed 3 runs on 9 hits in six innings. He struck out 4 and walked 2 in his shakiest start since coming back from rehab. We're curious to see how his arm holds up as the innings add up. Lincoln is 3-2 with a 2.70 ERA.

> Hickory 1B Miles Durham hit his 11th home run and went 2 for 4 with a triple and 2 RBIs. The 25 year old is hitting .335 with 49 RBIs.

On the hot stove front:
Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette wrote today about why Jason Bay may be off the trade market - Hey, Jay Bay May Stay.

> MLB Trade Rumors agrees - "Xavier Nady is more likely to go. The Boras client is not expected to re-sign with the Pirates when he reaches free agency after the 2009 season. Trading him now makes sense - he's hitting well and he's more than a rental."

On the draft front: likes the Pirate draft. Their take:
"This is the year that Pittsburgh Pirates' fans have been waiting for. There is perhaps no other team that landed two more impressive talents with their top two picks. If Tanner Scheppers is indeed healthy, he and Alvarez are two of the premier talents in this draft class.

Pittsburgh then took advantage of the depth of college position players, nabbing two quality shortstops in back to back rounds in Mercer and D'Arnaud. Just when it seemed they'd go college heavy throughout the draft, Pittsburgh may have gotten a steal with prep outfielder Robbie Grossman at 174th overall.

Beyond just the elite talent at the front of the class, the depth that Pittsburgh added really is remarkable, and that's where the sleepers come into play for them. In the 8th and 9th rounds they were able to get two quality third baseman still on the board, Jeremy Farrell and Matt Hague.

Their best sleeper pick of all, though, may have been their 14th round pick, Mike Colla. Colla gives them a durable college arm with a good, low-90's fastball."

Hague's the only one they've signed so far, so we'll see how it plays out. Drafting good players is the start, but getting them inked and into the fold is another story.

On the ex-Pirate front: LHP Shane Youman, who was released as part of the Pirate housecleaning over the winter, was cut from Phil's Double-A team, Reading. He was flat-out awful, with an 0-1 record, 11.28 ERA, 21 walks surrendered in 22-1/3 innings and a WHIP of 2.42.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's the same old song...

Ya know, it'd be nice to see a team in sync, pitching the ball, hitting the ball, catching the ball. Pittsburgh has a knack of doing one or two of the above, but just can't seem to put all three together.

The Pirates have scored 13 times and hit 5 home runs at Camden Yards. They've fielded pretty well. And they've lost both games.

There's talk about getting Matt Kemp, Chase Headley, Pedro Alvarez. That's nice, but what Pittsburgh needs is a couple of arms like the O's Radhames Liz or the Red's Edinson Volquez on the hill.

Buc starters can't carry a game past the sixth, and the pen is overworked and overexposed. Last year Captain Hook, Jim Tracy, went to the bullpen 395 times.

John Russell, who tries to protect his relievers, is on pace to make the call 425 times this season. His guys so far average 2.6 appearances and 3 innings per game. The five amigos will make 70-75 outings apiece at this rate. Matt Capps was the only Pirate reliever to pitch in more than 65 games in 2007.

Now part of that is that Russell doesn't trust his long guys very much, and Tracy had Shawn Chacon and to a lesser degree, Solly Torres, to eat innings. Also, the Bucs are competing more often, and close games require the back of the bullpen arms. But the Pittsburgh rotation has to control their pitch counts and get games to the 8th inning every so often.

It's an old adage, but starting pitching wins. Someone tell the Pirates.

On the Pirate front: The Post Gazette's Paul Meyer and the Trib's Rob Biertempfel reported that Adam LaRoche, benched for a second straight game, had a twenty-to-thirty minute, closed door meeting with John Russell yesterday. No mention of what was discussed was made by either side.

> Holy Moley! Chris Duffy will begin a rehab assignment with Class AA Altoona Sunday. Will wonders never cease?

On the minor league front: JVB continues to dazzle 'em at Indy. He pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits, winning 2-0. He struck out seven and walked two. JVB's record for the Indians is 7-1 with a 3.74 ERA.

> At Altoona, Evan Meek pitched two scoreless innings of relief for his second save. He struck out three and dropped his Curve ERA to 2.81.

> 3B Bobby Spain stayed on fire, going 3 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. He's hitting .311 at Hickory. He was Pittsburgh's 19th round pick in the 2007 draft.

On the draft front: The Pirates reeled in three more draft picks. Signing on the dotted line were 3B Matt Hague (No. 9), RHP Owen Brolsma (No. 48) and OF Craig Parry (No. 50).

Hague hit .360 with 12 homers and 57 RBI in 62 games this season at Oklahoma State. He's shown good power and plate discipline, and hit well in the wood bat Cape Cod League. The Indians drafted him 11th in 2007, so the suits were well aware of him.

Hague's strong suit is his offense, and he profiles much better defensively in RF than either corner infield spot. Some scouts are intrigued by his pitching because he has flashed a 94 mph fastball in brief relief stints, but he was drafted as a hitter.

Brolsma had TJ surgery in 2005 and hasn't pitched much or successfully for Texas Tech, but he has a low-90s fastball and a slider as his second pitch. The Pirates apparently felt the long layoff (he also lost a year when he transferred to TT) hurt him and his arm was worth a look. He figures to be a reliever.

Parry, the Buc's Mr. Irrelevant, is a left handed power hitter from South Dakota State. He played catcher, outfield, and third, although in 2007 he was primarily a DH. He spent two years in JC ball before going to SD State, where he was an academic All-American. Parry hit .338 with 10 HRs.

That gives Pittsburgh 16 guys signed from the draft - but none of the top six yet.

(The draftee bios were taken in the main from WTM's Pirate Player Profiles, a most excellent site.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Doesn't look like 1979...

Pittsburgh cannot stand prosperity. Up 6-1 in the third, the Pirates did everything wrong and were thumped, 9-6.

None of the pitchers had any command, missing Ryan Doumit's target by feet, not inches. The Pirates walked 8 unintentionally, and four scored. We won't mention all the 2-0 and 3-1 counts the Oriole batters had to work with, or the wild pitches.

The Buc batters had a field day for four innings. After that, 17 up, 17 down. They flew out 16 times.

One group doesn't throw strikes with the lead; the other doesn't chip away to add to it. It was a team loss in every way.

On the Pirate front: Get ready to chew some fingernails this series - the Pirates and Orioles each have 18 comeback victories, tied for fourth in MLB. The fat lady may have to make an encore.

>The O's and Bucs last met in Baltimore during the 1979 World Series, and the last time they rumbled in Crab Cake City before that was 1971, again in the Series. The two teams have met just once for a series in the regular season, at PNC Park in 2005. The Bucs took 2 out of 3 then.

Pittsburgh is 33-34; Baltimore 32-33. So somebody will be .500 or better when the three game set ends Sunday.

On the minor league front: What did the wanna-be Bucs do at Indy last night? DH Ronny Paulino hit his 3rd home run, a grand slam, and went 1 for 4 with a walk. He's hitting .550.

SS Brian Bixler went 3 for 4 with a triple, a walk and a steal to get his average up to .250. 1B Steve Pearce went 3 for 5, and is now sitting at .256. CF Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 5, dropping his average to .284. Finally *whew* 3B Neil Walker went 0 for 5. He's hitting .228.

>At Lynchburg, RF Jamie Romak hit his 11th home run and went 1 for 3 with a walk. His average is .290. The Brave throw-in on the Adam LaRoche deal is looking more and more like a real prospect.

On the hot stove front:
This is a little nuts. Jayson Stark of ESPN writes: "The Jason Bay/Xavier Nady rumors continue to percolate. But an official of one team that investigated says we should take all Pirates trade rumors this July with an entire shaker of salt.

'My feeling is they're not going to trade any of those guys, because [their ownership] wants to finish at .500. They haven't done it in 15 years. So if they're even close at the deadline, they won't trade anybody.'"

Scary news, if true. We've suffered through 15 years already; don't blow it now. Even if the suits move just big one guy and bring up McCutch, that will at least give us a sign that there's a light at the end of what's been a very long tunnel.

Actually, the sense we've gotten is that the brass don't plan to blow up the Bucs, but add a young piece or two and try to hang around in the Central while they rebuild the minors - and their fan base. After all, the pitching is young, and there's not much on the horizon to bump them. And we're OK with that.

We think they could move Nady (we'd rather move him than Bay because of Boras and his cranky wheels), LaRoche, Yates, Paulino, one of the lefty starters, one of the lefty set up guys and some other assorted odds and ends, and score a prospect or two and a few young guys to stock the system.

Hopefully, people will eventually go to PNC for the baseball one fine day instead of the bobbleheads.

On the high school front: Canon-McMillan scored 7 runs in the first two innings and cruised past Spring-Ford, 10-2, to win the PIAA Class AAAA championship.

>Burrell lost the PIAA Class AA championship this morning, dropping a 8-3 decision to Loyalsock.

>Camp Hill junior pitcher Matt Spiegel threw a two-hitter, striking out five and walking three as the Lions defeated WPIAL champion Carmichaels, 2-0, in the PIAA Class A baseball championship.

>Vicentian brought home the girls' A softball crown with a 2-1 victory against Upper Dauphin. The Royals were led by senior pitcher Trish Melvin, who struck out 14 batters and tossed a two-hitter.

Latrobe lost its bid to win the PIAA Class AAAA title, falling 3-0 to Hatboro-Horsham in a rematch against the defending champs.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Til their arms fall off...

Cruising along with a 6-1 lead against the depleted Nats after 5 innings, the Bucs were looking to have an easy get-away day. No such luck.

Gorzo faded, Sean Burnett got toasted (although in his defense, it's hard to take a ten day break from pitching and be any kind of sharp), and memories of the series opener were becoming more and more vivid.

But Pittsburgh hung on, thanks to a huge K by Tyler Yates and Damaso Marte's first save in a Pirate uniform, and the Bucs took the series with a 7-5 win.

The bats won today, led by Ryan Doumit's two hit, three RBI day - with another homer - and bench riders extraordinaire Chris Gomez and Doug Meintkiewicz, who had a pair of hits, too, along with Nate McLouth. Jason Michaels drove in the insurance marker with a pinch-hit double.

Is it just us, or has Mientkiewicz become the Pirate version of down and dirty Pittsburgh Penguin sparkplug Jarkko Ruutu?

Give the unorthodox John Russell some credit, too, for putting Doumit behind the plate today when the book said he should sit. And Doumit, too, for catching two games in the scorching heat within 20 hours. It's great to be young, we've heard.

We're guessing that Raul Chavez will catch tomorrow at Camden Yards and Doumit will DH after that workload, especially with the O's LHP Brian Burres on the mound. The other Baltimore hurlers scheduled are Radhames Liz and Daniel Cabrera, both RHPs. But Russell has surprised us many times before, sooo....

The Buc bullpen is in desperate need of a deep game from one of the starters. The five amigos seem like they've pitched every day, and Russell has shown great reluctance, probably wisely, to expose Burnett or Bryan Bullington in a close game.

The word is that Marino Salas has regained his nastiness at Indy, and may come up soon to replace the well-rested Bullington, who's finally gonna get some innings in the Indian rotation.

They need to do something before the pen suffers from collective chronic fatigue. (Bullington was sent down today; expect Salas to join the big club again tomorrow.)

On the Pirate front: For those of you that remember Adam LaRoche exploding last June, think back on this: on this date in 2007, LaRoche had a batting average of .211.

>The interleague stretch has the potential to be a make or break time for Pittsburgh, even after their recent mediocre 11-11 showing against the division.

The Cubs will be missing Alfonso Soriano for 6 weeks with a broken wrist, and the Redbirds will go 3 weeks without Sir Albert, who has a strained calf, and also put RHP Adam Wainright on the 15-day DL with a sprained finger on his pitching hand.

If the Bucs want to seriously hang around, there's no time like the present to make a move. They have everyone healthy; the Central leaders will be without their top guns until July. They play in Baltimore tomorrow, the start of 15 straight games against the AL.

Pittsburgh is 57-94 in interleague play, and a particularly horrid 20-54 on the road. Must be that designated hitter thing that fouls up Pittsburgh, hey?

On the hot stove front: Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says that unlike in past seasons, the Pirates are not under pressure to move salary.

Left-handed reliever Damaso Marte is their only potential free agent of significance, and the team could offer him arbitration after declining his $6 million option and potentially keep him under club control.

The best guess, then, is that the Pirates will operate strategically, trading either Bay or Nady but probably not both as they await the arrivals of Andrew McCutchen and Steve Pearce. They also could move a reliever and certainly a starter in the right deals.

He adds that Bay for Matt Kemp is a possibility if LA continues to struggle. He's the most attainable of the hitters under contract beyond this season. He is not yet 30, ranks 12th in the NL in on-base/slugging percentage and qualifies as a bargain at $5.75 million this season and $7.5 million in '09.

Even so, the Dodgers probably would require the Pirates to expand the deal rather than trade Kemp for Bay straight up — and the Pirates have pitching to spare.

On the draft front: The Pirates today signed SS Benjamin Gonzalez, (7th round), LHP Chris Aure (15th round), RHP Brian Leach (25th round), and CF Edwin Roman (27th round).

Gonzalez and Roman played for the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy. Both are speedsters with great gloves and wiffle-ball bats.

Aure is the highest-drafted Alaskan since Chad Bentz was taken in the 7th round by the Montreal Expos in 2001. He pitched for North Pole HS. Leach threw for Southern Mississippi and was 2-4 as a junior.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Pirates, let us count the ways. Second and third, no one out. No one scores. Bases loaded, one out. No one scores. They load the bases with one out again. Again, no one scores.

Matt Capps comes on, for the fourth consecutive game and fresh from blowing his first game of the year. He walked the first batter after being ahead 0-2. Sounds like a recipe for another dismal night in Pittsburgh.

But the Bucs weren't to be denied tonight and ground out a 3-1 win over the Nats. Ian Snell looked like the ace of old, going 6 innings and K'ing 6. He was finally efficient with his pitches, throwing 93 - and 61 were strikes. It was Snell's first W since April 12th, and he's now 3-6.

Capps got back on the bike again, getting a fly out and DP to end the game and notch his 16th save, a day late, maybe, but a rose by any other name...

Can there be a better breakout story than Ryan Doumit? He pumped out three more hits and another dinger, this one right handed. What a difference he makes in the middle of the order, especially with the continued Adam LaRoche funk.

LaRoche is hitting .213, 30 points lower than any other starter. And worse, his slugging percentage is higher than only Jack Splat's and Freddie Sanchez', our middle infielders. John Russell has dropped him to 6th in the order, and he may go lower.

He's batting .194 against lefties, and if they could platoon Joey Bats, they have every reason to do it for LaRoche, too. Our guess is the only reason they haven't is the hope that he snaps out of it so Pittsburgh can move him off its' books.

But hey, if the Pirate pitching keeps it up, Pittsburgh can afford to carry a glove at first base.

On the Pirate front: For all of the incessant yada yada yada, the Bucs haven't been at .500 since they were 7-7 on April 15. They've crept up to within one game of .500 five different times, and rolled back down the hill.

We'd like to see the media fixate on something else, like what the record will be on September 28th.

On the minor league front: Ronny Paulino is now 9-for-13 (.692) with 2 homers, 5 runs scored and 4 RBIs since being optioned to Indy on Friday.

>Class A Lynchburg's SS Brian Friday and 3B Jim Negrych have been chosen to represent the Hillcats in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game. Friday, the club's 3rd selection in last season's draft, is hitting .301 with 41 runs scored. Negrych's .353 batting average and 82 hits lead the Carolina League. The third baseman's 39 RBIs rank third. He's from Pitt.

>Hickory's 3B Bobby Spain was selected as a South Atlantic ("Sally") League All Star. He's hitting .312 with 4 HR's and had a 21 game hitting streak earlier in the season.

Neil Walker and Joey Bats better keep their heads on a swivel - Pedro gets drafted #1, and both Class A third basemen make the All-Star team. A veritable embarrassment of riches for Pittsburgh at the hot corner!

>Brian Rogers, who was released by the Pirates last week, signed on with the Tigers and has been assigned to AAA Toledo. That was his organization before he came to Pittsburgh.

On the draft front: The Bucs signed a gaggle of late round picks today.

They inked C Mark Carver (33) from North Carolina-Wilmington, 3B Matthew Payne (34) of North Carolina State, RHP Allan Knotts (38) of Louisiana Tech, LHP Michael Williams (44) of Mount Olive College, 1B/P Allen Ponder (45) of Auburn at Montgomery, and finally RHP Zachary Foster (49) of Pitt-Bradford.

Carver was a fifth-year senior, setting a school record for RBIs with 82 and hitting .347 with 16 HRs. According to Baseball America, he has an average arm and below-average receiving skills, but is pretty athletic and could move to another spot. The Bucs are gonna try him behind the dish for now.

Payne, a senior, went to school as a pitcher, was converted to the infield, and didn't earn a starting job until this year. He hit .320 with 9 HR's and drew about as many walks as K's at the plate, so he's got a decent eye.

Knotts is another 5th year senior, and he both started and worked out the pen, compiling a 3-3 record with a save and an ERA of 4.74. Williams is a senior and was 8-2 for the D-2 champs, Mt. Olive, with a 4.10 ERA.

Ponder is one of the hybrids that Littlefield loved so much. He went to Alabama as a pitcher, played 2 years, sat out 2, and finished at AUM as a 1B/closer. He was 8-1 with 6 saves and a 2.01 as a reliever, and hit .349 with 18 HR's for his NAIA team. He'll be 25 in September, so he better be a quick read in the minors.

Foster, a junior who attended Bradford HS, was 3-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 10 outings, 8 as a starter.

(We got most of their rundowns thanks to WTM's Pirate Player Profiles.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings...

Ya could see this one coming. All the papers and TV talking heads were yapping about a Pirate sweep of the Nats and the surge into interleague play. Most ballplayers say they don't read the papers; the Bucs sure shouldn't have today.

Well, forget the sweep. In one of the more crushing defeat suffered at PNC, the Pirates lost 7-6 to Washington. The Nats had the middle of its' order out and the fewest home runs in the league, but banged out five blasts, one with two away in the ninth, to stun Pittsburgh, which had one of the best finishing records in baseball.

The Pirates blew a 4-1 lead in the seventh and a 6-5 lead in the ninth.

There were a couple of bright spots. Ryan Doumit was a monster, crushing two homers and adding a pair of doubles. He also slid headfirst into second and escaped with his thumb in one piece, so that's a plus too.

The chatter about Freddie Sanchez' shoulder should also be laid to rest after watching the great relay he made from right to easily gun out Lastings Milledge at the plate.

We're not exactly sure what problem child Elijah Dukes did to set off Manny Acta, but the Nat's manager lit into him during the dugout celebration of Milledge's game winner.

When the team lined up for the customary high fives after the game, Dukes pulled the old junior high snub and ignored Acta. But as the game ended, Acta was walking Dukes back to the locker room with his arm around his shoulder, chatting into his ear. Tough love in DC, we guess.

As for the Pirates, well, they've been resilient all season, and we hope this doesn't launch them into their traditional June swoon. Maybe a little lesson on hubris will do the boys some good.

On the Pirate front: Looks as if nobody outside Pittsburgh appreciates the work that Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady and Jay Bay have done so far this year.

McLouth is the only one getting any All-Star ballot-box love, and he's just 11th among OFs, while Bay and Nady haven't cracked the top 15. As Rodney Dangerfield sez, "I don't get no respect..."

On the minor league front: Altoona RHP Yoslan Herrera was named the Bank of America Eastern League Pitcher of the Week for the week ending Sunday. In his lone start during the week, the 27-year-old Cuban tossed a career-high eight scoreless innings.

On the draft front:
A word of caution to those Bucco fans that are goo-goo over the Pirate draft haul. It's true that in the back end rounds they picked some toolsy, upside kids that projected to go much earlier in the draft.

What's also true is that Pittsburgh has little chance to lure them away from college unless they bury them in big bucks. They're not "steals" - their price will be dear.

And they won't hop aboard unless one or two of the kahunas at the head of the list don't ink a deal, freeing up some extra loot. The Buc's pot of gold isn't unlimited (don't we know that!), but the later picks are just a solid Plan B to keep the system bubblin' away if the big boys decide to wait it out another year.

We see it as a nice, professional draft with an acceptable amount of risk, given the state of the Pirate organization. But it doesn't mean a thing if you can't get the right names signed on the dotted line. August 15th, the contract deadline, is draft D-Day. Then we can start rating and debating the newest class of Pirates.

And don't hold your breath waiting. Pedro Alvarez not only has Scott Boras working for him, but intends to finish school (which is a big thumbs-up in our book.) We don't expect a quick deal being cut for him, and the rest of the draft won't fall into place until he puts his "X" on the paper.

On the high school front:
Canon-McMillan cruised past Central Mountain, 14-0, to reach the AAAA-PIAA championship game. AA Burrell whipped unbeaten Sharon 8-1 to advance to the state finals. Carmichaels stopped the Serra try for state A titles in football, basketball and baseball when they jumped on the Eagles early and took a 6-0 victory. AAA Trinity lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Somerset.

>On the girl's side of the ledger, Latrobe's Alexa Bryson shut out Central York, 1-0, in 13 innings, giving up 5 hits and striking out 25. Bryson hasn't allowed a run in the postseason, covering 6 games and 51 innings. Pretty good stuff from the senior, who has one more hill to climb, the AAAA championship.

WPIAL A Champ Vincentian beat Bishop Guilfoyle 7-2 to earn a title shot.

AAA Belle Vernon fell 2-0 to Susquehannock. The WPIAL teams in AA got knocked out early, and Bald Eagle will represent the west.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hot fun in the summertime...

Ah, a little payback. No, not during the early mashup between the teams, but when the Bucs finally turned the tables on a wild pitcher, in this case none other than the Big Unit.

Doug Mientkiewicz walked to lead off the third. He scored - on Luis Rivas' bases loaded walk. Jason Michaels walked with one out in the fourth. He scored. Jack Splat walked to begin the fifth. He scored. Mientkiewicz walked again to start the sixth. He scored again. Spot a trend?

Randy Johnson walked 5 in his 5-2/3 innings. Four scored, and the other drove in a run. How often has this happened against Pittsburgh? Sweet to be on the fat end of that stick for once, hey?

Zach Duke quietly put together another nice game, evening his record at 4-4 and dropping his ERA to 4.10. He went six, giving up a pair of runs on five hits, and striking out 5.

Damaso Marte and Tyler Yates came on to provide a little drama before Matt Capps got the call, and nine pitches later, he had netted his 15th save in 15 tries. The Bucs finished on top 5-3 to salvage a draw of the four game set with the D-Backs.

Yates wildness hasn't hurt the Pirates yet, but it's beginning to become a little worrisome. We hope he can find his eye if he's gonna keep pitching in the seventh. After all, his rep as a wild thing is what got him dealt to Pittsburgh.

The boys got a little feisty in the heat. Arizona manager Bob Melvin was ejected by home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg after arguing that a double was a homer in the second. Boo hoo, hehe. Then the clubs threatened to have a third inning smack down when Mientkiewicz and Johnson exchanged looks and then words.

The benches and bullpens emptied, but a tennis match broke out and calm was restored. Who woulda thunk the Zachster would outdo the Big Unit - and have more K's, to boot?

All in all, a fine way to spend a summer afternoon.

On the Pirate front: How good has the bullpen fivesome of Tyler Yates, Frankie Osoria, Damaso Marte, John Grabow and Matt Capps been? Today, the Pirates ran their record to 21-0 when leading after six innings. The outings haven't all been gems, but plenty good enough to close the deal.

>Jason Michaels was ejected for arguing a strike call yesterday. He was playing for the gimpy Xavier Nady, and as a result, Doug Mientkiewicz had to sub in right field for only the 6th time in his 11 year career. We hope John Russell explained the difference between passionate and stupid to Mr. Michaels.

On the minor league front: Indy scored 5 times in the ninth to pull out a 9-7 win. TJ Beam ran his record to 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA and Jesse Chavez, who's coming out of a recent pitching funk, got the save, his fourth. His ERA is 3.44.

Neil Walker hit his 8th and 9th long balls of the year, picking up 4 RBI's and his average, now at .237. The thought of Pedro coming aboard seems to have brought out the best in Walker.

Ronny Paulino is batting clean-up for the Indians, and went 2-5 tonight with a double.

>The Pirates made an interesting move when they signed Franklyn German to a AAA contract a few days ago. The 6'7", 260 lb. Dominican RHP has pitched for Detroit, Florida and Texas, and boasts a high-90's heater and a split finger fastball. German, 28, is considered to have closer potential.

His only drawback? In 158-2/3 big league innings, he's struck out 114 - and walked 119! So far in Indy, it's been 2 innings, 2 K's, 2 walks.

>Brian Rogers, the pitcher the Bucs bagged from the Tigers for Sean Casey, was released to open a spot. The suits didn't see him as having a major league arm. The transition from soft throwers to flame throwers continues.

>Altoona had a big night too, winning 13-5. Shelby Ford became just the tenth player in Curve history to record five hits in a single game. 5-for-6 on the evening, the 2B was a homer shy of the cycle and finished the night with a triple, double and three singles along with a pair of runs scored and an RBI. He's hitting .365.

C Miguel Perez (.304) and OF Jonel Pacheco (.298) also had big nights. Perez finished the night 2-for-5 with 5 RBI. He hit a home run, a three-run double, and a sac fly. Pacheco added three doubles en route to going 3-for-6.

>Mike Crotta led Lynchburg to an 8-2 win. The 23 year old RHP threw 6-2/3 innings, allowing two runs on two hits and striking out four in his longest start of the season. Crotta is now 5-4 with a 4.84 ERA.

>Brad Lincoln and Hickory lost 2-1. He went 5, giving up both runs, as his record dropped to 3-2. The Crawdads have lost four in a row, and 7 straight on the road.

On the draft front: Pittsburgh picked off some of the low hanging fruit and inked three selections this morning. 11th-rounder OF Dave Rubinstein of Appalachian State, 35th round pick LHP Tyler Cox of Illinois State, and 36th round draftee OF Kyle Morgan from the U of San Francisco all agreed to deals.

Rubinstein, a junior, hit .332 with 9 home runs and 48 RBIs as a junior and was an All-America. Senior Cox was 4-4 with a 4.55 ERA in nine starts, and Morgan, another senior, batted .298 with 6 home runs and 50 RBIs.