Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jay Bay, Bosox Bound

The Bucs wrangled right up to the deadline, putting together all sorts of Jay Bay configurations in an effort to land a top notch pitching prospect from the Marlins or Tampa.

After an exasperating night and day, they finally pulled the trigger, but with Boston and LA, in a 3-way deal.

The Pirates ended up with 3B Andy LaRoche, Adam's bro, OF Brandon Moss, and RHPs Craig Hansen and Bryan Morris. LaRoche, Moss and Hansen will join the Pirates for their game tomorrow in Chicago. Morris will be assigned to Class A Hickory.

> Brandon Moss, 24, an 8th round pick in 2002, is an athletic outfielder with a good arm that hits to all fields. He has slightly above average speed, and is supposed to be a solid fielder that plays the game right. It looks like they plan to plug him into Bay's LF spot.

The lefty Moss is still a work in progress, ala Steve Pearce, in that he switched from first to the OF in late 2007. In the past couple of years with the Red Sox, he's garnered 103 AB's, with a .291 average, 2 HR's, 12 RBI, 10 BB's and 31 K's. You can also count on him going down on strikes every 3 or 4 at bats.

> RHP Craig Hansen, 24, has a fastball that clocks at about 92-93 mph and touches 97. He also has a high-80s slider, which sometimes disappears. But he also struggles by getting behind early in counts. Hansen will fit right in at Pittsburgh that way.

He was used purely out of the pen by Boston, and will go as far as his command takes him. Hansen's arm is live enough to close if he can find the plate often enough.

He spent the last three years with the Sox, and was called into 74 games, covering 71-2/3 innings. Hansen had a 3-5 record and 6.15 ERA over that time. He's 1-3 with 2 saves and a 5.58 ERA in 2008.

> Bryan Morris, 21, is a RHP drafted in the first round by the Dodgers in 2005 out of junior college, and has him ranked as LA's #11 prospect. He has a 93 MPH heater that sinks and an above average curve.

Morris underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept. 28, 2006, and just came back this season, pitching for the A Great Lake Loons. He's 2-4 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.29 WHIP as a starter there, and still obviously needs to build up arm strength.

He's projected by most baseball gurus as having middle of the rotation talent.

> Baseball Prospectus has RH Andy LaRoche, 24, listed as the Dodger's #2 prospect and a five star player. He's gotten 152 at bats in LA the past two seasons, hitting .216 with 3 HR's and 16 RBI. LaRoche has got a pretty good eye, K'ing 31 times and walking 30.

In March, LaRoche tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb, and was on the DL until May, just enough time to allow Blake DeWitt to bump him from the hot corner. To further crowd the position, Casey Blake came over from the Indians.

LaRoche showed some decent power in the minors, but hasn't flashed that muscle in the bigs. LA hasn't really given him much chance to strut his stuff.

It makes us kinda wonder just how far apart Pedro and the Bucs are in signing that contract, and if LaRoche isn't here as an insurance policy, or perhaps leverage to apply some pressure on Scott Boras.

He was drafted as a SS, so it's not a great leap of imagination to see him converted to 2B if the hot corner gets glutted.

All in all, better than the package deals floated in the past 24 hours. Pittsburgh got a couple of mid-level MLB players in Moss and Hansen - Boston got away cheap - and some slightly damaged but upside talent from LA with LaRoche and Morris.

And Pittsburgh kept Jack Splat and John Grabow around to fight for another day. So the Pirates still have their field captain and avoid another hit on the bullpen.

Still, it's disappointing to see the three heavy hitters leave town without an elite arm coming back. The suits did stick to their guns though, and wouldn't come down in price for Tampa or Florida.

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade
For 1.3 years of Bay, the Pirates receive LaRoche, Morris, Hansen, and Moss. Moss becomes the regular left fielder, LaRoche takes over at third until Pedro Alvarez is ready. When that happens, they might have a good problem on their hands. Future Pirates' outfield: Moss, McCutchen, McLouth. The pitchers are a couple of live arms at this point.

The deal necessitated some housecleaning by the Pirates.

To clear space on the 25-man roster, the Pirates optioned SS Brian Bixler back to Indy and DFA'ed RHP Frankie Osoria. CF Chris Duffy was also DFA'ed to make room on the 40-man roster. We were hoping to get something from, or at least for, him, but injuries and Nate McLouth dimmed his star.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Deadline Day...

Zach Duke got rocked, and the Pirates, undermanned to the max, couldn't climb out the 6-0 hole he left them in, though they made yet another valiant effort. Pittsburgh lost, 7-4. Ho hum, old news.

But we're setting the alarm early to see what becomes of the late night speculation that Jay Bay, John Grabow, and maybe Jack Splat are key pieces, in some yet undetermined combination, of a blockbuster deal with the BoSox and Fish.

Stuff it, Rays. Go boo-hoo with the Mets for awhile. And Dejan can stay up; GW has to go to work in the early morning.

We have to admit that the rumors have been much juicier and certainly more mind-blowing this year under Huntington than they ever were during the Littlefield/McClatchy years.

And hey, if they land a couple more prospects and sign Pedro and Tanner, maybe that 2010 window might still be slightly ajar. But at least, it looks like there will be a future now.

Wednesday pre game

For those of you keeping count, the Pirates have won 50 games this season. They've come from behind in 26 of them. Good thing the Bucs aren't quitters!

> Adam LaRoche was officially diagnosed with a right intercostal strain which our medical people (OK, GW's nurse missus) say is a slight cartilage tear.

LaRoche strained a muscle in his right lower back, near his rib cage, while swinging in Sunday's game. He will be shut down physically for at least seven to 10 days before he can even begin rehab, so he may be out for longer than two weeks.

Depending on its severity, these kinds of injuries can last from 2-6 weeks and that's why Pittsburgh is being very cautious in LaRoche's treatment, so as not to aggravate it.

> There was a boxful of scouts at PNC pointing radar guns at John Grabow last night, so he's still on the table as Thursday creeps up.

> Lyle Spencer of says "Jason Bay could follow Nady out of Pittsburgh. He'd look splendid in right field in Tampa Bay or Queens. But the Bucs would like to keep a run-producer aligned with Nate McLouth - and keep the turnstiles clicking."

On the minor league front: RHP Ross Ohlendorf went 6 innings and gave up 7 hits and 4 runs, while striking out 5 with 2 walks. He took the loss as the Tribe only managed 5 hits. Gorzo goes for Indy tomorrow.

SS Luis Cruz, 24, (.264 with six home runs and 46 RBI in 105 games) and 1B Jason Delaney, 24, (.292 with seven home runs and 43 RBI in 109 games), were called up from AA Altoona to Indy.

> Altoona won 4-2, as RHP Juan Mateo (3-1) went three shutout innings, giving up 2 hits and striking out 4, got the win. 2B Shelby Ford (.278), 3B Jim Negrych (.500 - good first day for the Pitt grad), and SS Jason Bowers (.269) had two hits each.

At long last, 3B Jim Negrych, batting .370 with 77 runs scored, and OF Jamie Romak, batting .279 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI at high A Lynchburg, got the call to the Curve.

> Lynchburg lost 5-2 as it managed just 3 hits. RHP Brad Lincoln (1-2, 6.60 ERA) took the loss. He went six innings, yielding 3 runs on 6 hits - two left the yard - and striking out three while walking one.

> Hickory only collected 6 hits, losing 7-5.

> State College got hit by a truck, losing 14-2. RF Andrew Biela (.290) had a pair of singles.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Plop Plop Fizz Fizz...

Oh, what a relief it is. Yoslan Herrera gave up a three spot in the first and generally sputtered through five innings. After three, the Bucs were down 4-0. They had the Rockies right where they wanted them.

Jason Davis, John Grabow, Denny Bautista, Sean Burnett and Tyler Yates shut Colorado down over the final four frames and the Buc bats were busy enough to battle to a 6-4 win. Yates notched his first save as a Pirate, and Davis earned his first NL win.

Yates looked especially focused. Maybe the rush of being a closer suits him. As for Herrera, the Pirates are 3-1 in games that he's started despite his ERA and he probably showed just enough to make his next start Monday.

Luis Rivas had three hits, three RBI, and finished a home run short of the cycle, while Jay Bay and Nate McLouth, who made a great leaping grab to save extra bases and a run in the third, banged out a pair of knocks.

Dirtdog Mientkiewicz doubled home a run and Chris Gomez had a sac fly as the Buc bench is playing lights out against the Coors crew.

The sixth inning was worth the price of admission. The first two Rockies reached safely, exit Herrera, enter Davis. The obligatory sac bunt was an adventure, as Jose Bautista took a flop trying to snag it in the air, but threw out the runner from the turf.

With the infield in, the next batter spanked one to Jack Splat. The runner at second stormed down the line full steam ahead while the guy at third was anchored to the base. Wilson went for the tag-throw DP.

Except he dropped the ball. His flatfooted throw to first was a hair late. Bases loaded, one out right? Wrong. Dirtdog ran at the wayward runner from second, and eventually the Pirates ran him down as the runner at third stayed put.

Willy Taveras was up next, and he hit a swinging bunt to Joey Bats.

He had no play on the speedy Taveras at first, but the Colorado runner at third hesitated and then decided to go for the glory. Bautista kept his cool and flipped the ball to Ryan Doumit who chased him back up the line and got him on a diving tag.

That inning pretty much ran Colorado into its second straight defeat, and gave Clint Hurdle a few new gray hairs and another excuse to down a cold Coors Light or three after the game.

For a team without Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Matt Capps, Phil Doumatrait, Tom Gorzelanny, Adam LaRoche and Freddie Sanchez, they are playing with remarkable energy and determination.

How far that will carry Pittsburgh will be seen shortly when they embark on a killer road trip instead of facing the dregs of the NL at PNC. But we'll take it for now.

Tuesday pre-game

The Pirates put 1B Adam LaRoche on the 15-day DL - guess it was an oblique he pulled - and brought back SS Brian Bixler from Indy. Freddie Sanchez is out until at least Friday, necessitating Bixler's call-up.

> Both the Braves and Bucs denied the report about a Jay Bay deal. We'll never know exactly what went on, as Atlanta became sellers instead of buyers after a rough weekend of play and Chipper Jones landing on the DL.

Sources say there's still lines being cast for John Grabow and Jack Splat, but after Xavier Nady's trade, the action on Bay has dropped considerably, although there are yet some interested parties.

Some speculation is downright laughable, even at the height iof silly season. One Florida paper thinks the Marlins are trying to pry Ryan Doumit from the Bucs.

Its logic is that Pittsburgh has Ronnie Paulino stashed away at Indy, making Doumit expendable. That's one rumor we think can safely be squelched. But if they're interested in Paulino...

On the minor league front: Indy got clobbered 14-1. It was so bad that C Carlos Maldonado (9.00) made his first pro pitching appearance, allowing one run and three hits in an inning of relief. He struck out one. 'Nuff said.

> Altoona didn't. 3B Jason Bowers' (.264) third-inning, two-run homer and five scoreless innings of relief by LHP Josh Shortslef (4-2, 2.42 ERA) and RHP Jeff Sues (3-1, 4.32 ERA) were the difference in Altoona's 3-1 victory over Trenton.

Starter RHP Christian Castorri (0-1, 6.32 ERA), who took the mound Monday in place of previously scheduled and currently DFA'ed starter RHP Luis Munoz, allowed only one run in four innings before turning the game over in the fifth.

> Lynchburg was rocked, 8-2. DH Kent Sakomoto (.261) went 3 for 4 with a double. C Kris Watts (.315) was 2 for 4 with a double and a run.

Danny Moskos, the Pirates' No. 1 draft pick of 2007, was taken out of the Hillcat's rotation and will work out solely of the bullpen. He's 7-7 with a 6.30 ERA in 20 starts.

The Pirates claim the move was made to keep his innings down rather than because of ineffectual pitching, and he may get some closely monitored, scheduled innings of long work.

> Hickory won 6-0 behind RHP Matt McSwain (4-4, 1.78), who pitched eight no-hit innings. He struck out two and walked two - and they were both wiped out thanks to twin killings as he faced the minimum before reaching his pitch count. The no no was lost after a two-out infield single in the ninth.

DH Erik Huber (.266) was 2 for 4 with a double and two RBI.

> Bradenton won 7-0. RHP Gary Amato (1-0, 0.00 ERA) pitched three innings of relief and struck out six batters in his first GCL appearance. Starting RHP Gabriel Alvarado (2-1, 3.81 ERA) pitched four innings, struck out three and allowed two hits in the no-decision. Third baseman Andury Acevedo (.193) went 2 for 4 with two RBI and a run scored.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Snell Wins...This Is Not a Test!

Ian Snell looked like the same old, same old for the first three innings, and then the light went on. He ditched his curve, moved his fastball and slider around and kept them down or out of the strike zone, and hey, the Pirates won, 8-4.

Now giving up 4 runs and 8 hits in seven innings might just be another day at the office for most starting pitchers, but for Snell, it was a gold star performance.

He gave up a two run homer in the first, escaped with a run in the second when Nate McLouth and Jack Splat teamed up to throw out a guy at home, and surrendered a couple of laser shots that were run down in the third.

After that, he was back, nailing 11 in a row at one point. Snell gave up a run in the seventh, but with runners on first and third and no one out, he got a DP ball to kill Colorado's last gasp rally. His 8 K's with only 1 walk showed that for one night, at least, he had his pitch command hitting on all cylinders.

For Snell, it was win number 4, his first since June 11th. Seven complete innings is the deepest he's gone in a game since May 9th. The bullpen didn't know what to do with their unexpected free time, though we're sure they appreciated it.

It took the Bucco B team - Sanchez and LaRoche, the two hottest hitters since the break, were both out - a while to get the range, but thanks to 9 walks (3 scored) and 10 hits, they ground out enough runs to end the Rockie Mountain high Colorado had been on, with nine wins in their last ten games going into tonight.

Ryan Doumit and Dirtdog Mientkiewicz had three knocks apiece, and McLouth hit his 22nd home run, a towering blast that eventually splashed down in Pop's Pond.

Doumit had a busy day - he tagged out a man at home, stole a base, threw out a would-be thief, doubled, scored 2 runs, and had 2 RBI. Bay added another swiped sack for the suddenly go-go Buccos.

And the Bucs still left runners galore. Twice they had the bases juiced with one out for Snell and Chris Gomez, and they left them that way. Wilson bounced into a pair of double plays. Efficient they weren't, but effective they were.

Denny Bautista finished the last two innings perfectly, striking out 4 batters.

Now to see if Yoslan Herrera shows up as Jeckyl or Hyde tomorrow.

Monday pre-game notes

The Pirates called up RHP Jason Davis from Indy yesterday. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the team DFA'd disappointing RHP Luis Munoz. JVB was sent back to Indy where he'll work solely out of the pen.

Davis was signed by the Bucs as a free agent on March 29, after Texas released him. The 28-year-old posted a 6-9 record at Indianapolis with a 4.41 ERA. Davis is a big guy (6'6") with a fastball that can get into the upper 90s, although more often it's around 93-94. He also throws a splitter.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. "He's been in the big leagues before and he has Major League-caliber stuff. He gives us length and unfortunately, with a couple unstable spots in our rotation right now, it's a good opportunity."

In other words, he's the long man and spot starter for the time being, and maybe the fallback if Yoslan Herrera bombs again before Ross Ohlendorf is ready.

In his last four starts, Davis posted a 2-0 record with a 1.95 ERA. He has a 20-22 lifetime record in 6 MLB years, mostly with Cleveland, and a 4.78 ERA.

> Jeff Karstens is supposed to report today, and is scheduled to take JVB's next start Friday or Saturday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Let's hope the wind is blowing in.

> reports that:
A proposed deal to trade Jay Bay to Atlanta in exchange for four minor leaguers was killed when presented to the Pirates owners for approval.

Still as the week progresses, the Braves will continue to pursue Bay, who is set to earn $7.5 million during the final year of his contract next year.

The Pirates would have a definite interest in shortstop Brent Lillibridge, who they developed before trading him to the Braves in exchange for Adam LaRoche last year. In addition, they'd likely ask for Brandon Jones, who would be considered a Major League-ready outfielder. He hit .278 (15-for-54) with seven extra-base hits, including a homer, in 16 games with Atlanta earlier this year.

To complete the deal the Braves would likely also have to include one of their talented young pitchers from the Class A level and another marginal position player.

We'd prefer to see CF Gorkys Hernandez, OF Jason Heyward, or RHP Tommy Hanson as part of the Brave package. Jones isn't a power bat, and we need to find one or get another arm for Bay.

Several sources say that if Pittsburgh does hold on to their oft-discussed trio of trading chips Bay, Jack Splat, and John Grabow, they still may be shopped during the winter.

> Phil Dumatrait has been reported as either not throwing in Florida or tossing lightly, so his return looks like it'll be in late August or more likely September.

> It's thought that Tanner Scheppers wants to sign and begin his professional career now, so his pitching audition for the Pirate evaluators, now pushed back to August, should be the make-or-break part of the deal.

On the minor league front:
Daniel McCutchen lost his first start at Indy, 4-3. He lasted six innings and gave up 4 runs on 7 hits, striking out 3 and walking 2. DH Luis Ordaz (.323), 33, had two hits.

> The Curve won 5-3 in 11 innings, with LHP Dave Davidson (4-2, 3.29 ERA) getting the win with 3 shutout frames. 2B Shelby Ford (.279), RF Tony Webster (.242), C Steve Lerud (.234), and SS Luis Cruz (.263) each banged out two hits.

> Lynchburg gave up an eight spot in the eighth and lost 11-3. LHP Danny Moskos (7-7, 6.30 ERA) had another not-so-strong start, going 4 innings and giving up 3 runs on 4 hits with 3 walks. RHP Blair Johnson (3-2, 4.12 ERA) was hammered in the loss. C Kris Watts (.310) had two hits and two RBI. SS Jose De Los Santos (.240) also added a pair of hits.

> Hickory won 6-1 behind 6 goose eggs thrown by RHP Duke Welker (3-8, 4.34 ERA). SS Jordy Mercer (.202) collected three hits, and RF Erik Huber (.263) & 2B Greg Picart (.258)added two more apiece. Picart had two RBI.

> State College lost 6-3 as three errors led to three unearned runs. LF Quincy Latimore (.230) had three knocks, including his first home run, and 2 RBI. 1B Calvin Anderson (.261) and SS Chase D'Arnaud (.250) had two hits each.

> Bradenton lost 4-3. Starter RHP Zachary Foster (1-0, 3.26 ERA) has a strong start, going five innings while yielding a run on 2 hits, striking out 4 and walking 1. The Pitt-Bradford grad, 21, didn't figure in the decision.

CF Victor Sanchez (.306) went 3-3 while 2B Adenson Chourio (.337), 1b Carlos Silva (.294), and C Jesus Aguilara (.300) added a pair of knocks.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Guess Who Got Another Save?

Paul Maholm was every bit the equal of Jake Peavy this afternoon. But John Grabow couldn't match up with Heath Bell and Trevor Hoffman, and the Pirates lost a great pitching duel, 3-1.

Maholm went seven innings, giving up a run on a hit batsmen followed by a bloop and a bleeder. He gave up four hits and struck out 9 in another top of the rotation style start. Maholm is 7-6 with a 3.79 ERA.

Peavy's line matched Maholm's - seven innings, one run, four hits, 10 K's. It was a terrific game to watch while they were pitching. The Pirate's scratched out their run on a Nate McLouth walk, stolen base, and ground ball single by Adam LaRoche.

The Bucs had a chance to go ahead in the seventh, but fate intervened. With Raul Chavez on first and two outs, Jack Splat sliced a double into right that looked like it might rattle around and chase Chavez home. But it hopped into the stands, Luis Rivas popped out, and that was the Buc's last opportunity.

Grabow came in and gave up an eighth inning long ball to Scott Hairston, his 17th, and a backbreaking ninth inning blast to Josh Bard, his first MLB homer. Hoffman strolled in to pick up his third consecutive save.

John Russell made a two-for-one switch that took LaRoche out of the game after he pulled a rib muscle. It looks like he may miss some time; we'll know more tomorrow.

After looking sharp against the Astros, the Pirates lost 3 out of 4 to the worst team in the NL, the Padres. San Diego must circle their Steel City dates on the team calendar. The Padre's last series loss in Pittsburgh came on July 28-30, 2000, when they dropped two out of three games at 3RS.

Today was a get-away day, and the Buc lineup sure looked the part. Rivas leading off, Chavez catching, Michaels in RF, Mientkiewicz at's hard to come up with a order with those guys, much less one that would threaten Peavy.

And instead of experimenting with a three-headed hybrid of Pearce, Michaels, and Mientkiewicz in RF, we'd like to see some stability in the order and one guy, or at worst a platoon situation, replace the X-Man. If Pearce is the future, throw him in the fire.

While we're back-seat managing, please settle on a closer for the next few weeks, too. Closer by committee is almost always a bad situation. Pick a guy and give him a fair chance.

Our choices would be Denny Bautista as closer, Grabow and Tyler Yates as set-up men, and TJ Beam and Sean Burnett in the middle innings. Jason Davis and Frankie Osoria can clean up after the starters implode in the third or fourth inning.

There was a buzz in the crowd when Freddie Sanchez got yanked after an inning, but it wasn't an under the radar deal. Sanchez had back spasms, and that's what brought on Rivas' unexpected appearance at second base. Sanchez is listed day-to-day.

With the Nady trade and LaRoche's ribs, the pitching better step up. The lineup is suddenly very ordinary.

And we give a GW tip o' the cap to the SD fans in the stands. They're all members of SS Khalil Greene's family, coming down from Butler to see him play. At least they enjoyed the weekend.

Sunday pre-game

In their Yankee debuts last night, Xavier Nady, batting seventh and playing LF, went 0-for-3 with a run scored, a BB and a HBP. Damaso Marte came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning and struck out David Ortiz, the only batter he faced.

> Ken Rosentahl of Fox Sports says that in an interesting twist, the A's have had regular conversations with the Pirates about Jason Bay. He notes the A's are hoping that other teams will balk at the asking price.

> Jeff Karstens will join the rotation when he arrives in Pittsburgh. Ross Ohlendorf will report to Indy for 3-4 starts to "stretch him out" before he's expected to join the Bucs, and Daniel McCutchen will join him there. Jose Tabata will report to Bradenton for rehab but should be ready to play within a week.

> The Pirates tried to pry OF Austin Jackson, the top Yankee position prospect, or Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' top pitching prospect, from NY to Pittsburgh, but were told they were untouchable, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

> Sixth-round HS draft pick OF Robbie Grossman worked out Saturday afternoon at PNC Park for director of player development Kyle Stark and other team officials. He wants more money or he's headed to the U of Texas. That pot of gold depends on Pedro Alvarez and Tanner Scheppers, we assume.

> Barney Dreyfuss, at long last, enters the HOF today. As owner, president and general manager of the Pirates from 1900-32, he reigned over one of the most successful eras in Pittsburgh baseball history. The team won two World Series titles, six NL pennants and had only five losing seasons, led by SS Honus Wagner.

Goose Gossage gets his bust displayed in the Hall today, too. he wasn't in Pittsburgh very long, but was one of the first of the dominating power closers.

> Five games behind the Cubs at the break, the Brewers have since won eight of nine - nine of 10, overall - to grab a share of the lead. The two teams open a much anticipated four game series in Milwaukee on Monday with 60-44 records. CC Sabathia was the boost the Brew Crew needed; his presence made them believers.

Sabathia, btw, is 4-0 in Milwaukee, with 3 complete games, a shutout, and 1.36 ERA.

On the minor league front:
Indy lost 6-5. 1B Ryan Mulhern (.261), 28, a Cleveland pick-up, went 2-4. RHP Ty Taubenheim (4-9, 5.60) was torched again, allowing four runs and five hits in 2-2/3 innings. RHP Evan Meek (2.70) continued his good work, pitching 1-1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

> Altoona won 10-8. RHP Juan Mateo, 25, (5-1, 2 saves, 2.86 ERA) blew a save chance and then watched the Curve rally to get him the win. SS Angel Gonzalez (.357), 22, went 2-5 with a home run and 2 RBI to lead the attack.

> Lynchburg stranded 10 and lost 5-4. CF Alex Presley (.259), 2B Jim Negrych (.372), RF Miles Durham (.250), and C Kris Watts (.303) all had a pair of hits.

> Hickory pounded out a 12-8 victory. LF Albert Laboy (.276), 3B Matt Hague (.330) and OF Erik Huber (.261) had three hits apiece. DH Danny Bomback (.254), 2B Greg Picart (.242) and OF Keanon Simon (.200) added two knocks each to the cause. SS Jordy Mercer (.179) homered, his second of the campaign. The win ended a 10 game skid for the Crawdads.

> State College lost 7-3. CF Ciro Rosera (.249) had three hits including a double and all three Spike RBI.

> The GCL Pirates won 8-4. 2B Adenson Chourio (.326) had two hits, a run and an RBI. C Juan Garcia (.259) had a pair of hits and an RBI. CF Edward Garcia (.179) hit his first homer.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

John Van Bye-Bye

Jimmy Barthmaier (27.00), John Van Benschoten (10.48), Yoslan Herrera (9.75), Matty Morris (9.67), Tom Gorzelanny (6.57), Ian Snell (6.10), Phil Dumatrait (5.26) and Zach Duke (5.04). Those ERAs are why the Pirates traded for three pitchers today.

And JVB is why they lost tonight. When a team scores six times and can't get the tying run on deck, you know the pitching has let the game get away. In this case, it was out of the barn before the 27,000 PNC faithful could find their seats in a 9-6 loss.

He gave up seven runs in 1-2/3 innings, walking 4 and surrendering two three-run long balls. No matter how well the Pirates hit, it's just the same struggle, game after game.

The Pirates are supposed to add Jeff Karstens to the roster tomorrow, bringing it up to full strength. He's going to be thrown right into the rotation, although as of now Yoslan Herrera is Tuesday's starter.

We'd be very surprised if JVB sticks, although that begs the question of who to bring up, as Ross Ohlendorf is going to Indy to get a couple of starts under his belt. Still, we see no point in keeping JVB in Pittsburgh.

With Jake Peavy on the hill tomorrow, Paul Maholm will have his work cut out for him to keep the home stand from spinning into disaster.

The New Bucs...


> Jose Tabata, OF: The headlines in the New York tabloids last season likened Tabata to Manny Ramirez. He's young, he's talented and he was supposed to be one of the prospects on whom the Yankees were keeping a firm hold. But along with being young and talented, he's also temperamental, so maybe the Manny comparisons weren't too far off.

Tabata bolted from the Trenton Thunder at the end of April in an incident that may have ultimately played a role in making him a future Buc instead of a future Bomber. He had been struggling through the first month of the season when his frustrations came to a head on April 26 at New Britain. After striking out for the second time against the Rock Cats in the Eastern League contest, Tabata went into the visiting clubhouse, picked up his belongings and left the stadium.

The Yankees suspended him for three days and welcomed him back after he apologized and copped to being immature and frustrated. He was hitting .200 when he walked out on the team. He's hit .270 since returning, raising his average to .248. Tabata has three homers, 36 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a bunch of unanswered questions that have cropped up about his makeup since the incident.

If he can put this behind him and continue to play the way he played early on in his career with New York, then the Pirates could have a nice young outfielder to build around. He hit .314 as a 17-year-old in the GCL in 2005 and was hitting .305 at Charleston of the Sally League the following July when he was hit by a pitch on the right wrist.

Doctors struggled to make a diagnosis and he played with a sore hand for much of 2007 before having the hamate bone removed in August. Still, he hit .307 in the Florida State League and had 54 RBIs.

While there was talk that he was the heir apparent to Bobby Abreu in right field, his inconsistencies and obvious immaturity have tarnished his reputation as being one of the brighter prospects in baseball.

> Ross Ohlendorf, RHP: Ohlendorf was with the Yankees the first three months of this season after appearing in six games for them last year. His claim to fame is that he was part of the trade that sent Randy Johnson back to the Diamondbacks in January of 2007.

Ohlendorf has seen considerable time at the AAA level over the last three seasons, and had appeared in 25 games out of the bullpen for the Yanks this year. He was 1-1 with a 6.53 ERA. He has been used mostly as a starter throughout his career since the Diamondbacks took him in the fourth round out of Princeton in 2004.

His departure from New York coincided with Sidney Ponson's arrival. Ohlendorf was 1-1 with a 4.03 ERA in five starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the Triple-A International League.

> Jeff Karstens, RHP: Karstens was selected by the Yankees in the 19th round of the 2003 Draft out of Texas Tech. He snaked his way through the system, eventually reaching New York in 2006, when he went 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA in eight games (six starts) for the Bombers.

He appeared in only seven games for the Yankees last year because of injuries. Karstens suffered from a tender elbow near the end of spring training and then went down after suffering a broken right leg at the end of April against the Red Sox.

Karstens appeared to have the best shot at earning the long man spot in the New York pen this season, but pulled his right groin - incidentally it was on a pitch to Nady - and didn't return to action until the middle of May. Since his return, he's made 12 starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, posting a 6-4 record with a 3.80 ERA. He's won three consecutive starts.

> Daniel McCutchen, RHP: The big right-hander from Oklahoma experienced some early hiccups after the Yankees made him a 13th-round selection in 2006. He was hit with a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's performance enhancing drug policy, but laid the blame on some prescription drugs he took while in school.

The Yanks seemed satisfied with his explanation and he came back strong last year, going 14-4 with a 2.47 ERA while splitting time between the Florida State and Eastern Leagues. He was 2-0 in two playoff starts for the Thunder as they won the EL title.

McCutchen is 8-9 with a 3.14 ERA in 20 starts split between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. He's won his last three outings and has a 2.39 ERA over his last 26 1/3 innings. There was some discussion about moving him to the bullpen because of his aggressiveness and attack-the-hitter style on the mound.

Overall, he's got a good low-90s fastball that moves, whether it's a two-seamer or four-seamer. His curveball remains an effective out pitch.

Breaking news...

Peter Abraham of the NY Post, in his LoHud Yankees Blog reports the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte deal has been reconfigured (EDIT - it's official now. The final pieces weren't put together until this morning. Ohlendorf and Karstens join the 40-man roster, and Steve Pearce was called up from Indy.)

The Yankees are sending RHP Dan McCutchen, RHP Jeff Karstens, OF Jose Tabata and RHP Ross Ohlendorf to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. LHP Phil Coke and RHP George Kontos are out of the mix now.

We sort of wondered when the teams refused to name names whether the deal was still in flux. Pick one from column A, another from column B...

Karstens, 26, throws a 90-91 MPH heater with an improving splitter, a change up he uses for his out pitch, and a curve he rarely shows. He's 6-4 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a 3.80 ERA. In two years with the Yankees, Karsens is 3-5 with a 5.65 ERA as a starter and long man.

McCutchen, 25, is highly considered in the Yankee organization and was generally thought to be untouchable. He throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curve and change - and it's said he's developed a pretty mean slider at Scranton, where he's 4-6 with a 3.58 ERA.

He was also suspended 50 games for steroid use between 2006-07. McCutchen denies that allegation, saying it wasn't the juice but an ADD med he was taking.

Both guys are starters and good control/low hit pitchers. McCutchen has a WHIP of 1.19, Karstens 1.18. We really liked Kontos, but this duo is an upgrade over the discarded pair. Older, but nearer to being MLB ready, even if they're part of the second tier of Bronx Bomber pitching.

It also shows how vital depth is in an organization. The Yankees didn't put a dent in their list of their top pitching prospects and landed a pair of proven MLB players. But while it didn't hurt their system a twit, it immediately upgraded Pittsburgh's. The Pirates are still years away from that ability to reload or deal.

Our take? While many fans point enviously to Billy Beane's booty bag, he traded pitching, and everyone was willing to bid high for that commodity. The Pirates needed pitching, and it was obvious no one was parting with their elite. The Bucs were offered AA arms across the board, and that was as good as it would get.

So they got a talented headcase in Tabata, who they can groom to replace Bay someday if he lives up to his potential. McCutchen is a top flight AA arm and more than holding his own in AAA.

Ohlendorf and Karstens can toss MLB ball, even if at the back end of the rotation or as long men, and the recent implosion of Pirate pitching attests to their need for that. Of course, they could became part of the Indy crop of AAAA pitchers, too, so the jury is out on them until they put up or shut up.

Face it - Nady and Marte were dead men walking as far as the Pirate suits were concerned. Tampa and the Mets wouldn't or couldn't beat the Yankee deal.

So Pittsburgh pulled the trigger to hopefully get some pitching depth at the upper levels with Ohlendorf and Karstens - remember, Indy's rotation was in shambles, too - and some down-the-road potential with McCutchen and Tabata.

Could they have done better holding out to the deadline? Maybe, but obviously they thought not. A couple of days won't tell the tale, anyway. A couple of years will.

Now it's Jay Bay's turn on the hot seat. According to the Pro Blog:
Before Friday night's game against the Phillies, many of the Braves players were asking whether Jason Bay was going to be one of their teammates at some point this weekend. On Thursday night, some of them were under the impression that a deal with the Pirates was imminent.

In fact one player said he had expected to wake up on Friday and learn the deal was complete. But when asked on Friday night, the Braves said they weren't close to making a deal for Bay.

Still as Braves GM Frank Wren continues his search for a power bat, Bay remains a definite candidate.

Adam Rubin of the NY Daily News reports:
The Mets have narrowed their trade focus to acquiring a corner outfielder, and one team insider expressed optimism that Cleveland's Casey Blake, Seattle's Raul Ibanez or Pittsburgh's Jason Bay could be obtained next week.

The belief is that those teams' demands, currently exorbitant, will relax as Thursday's trading deadline approaches. GM Omar Minaya wouldn't discuss individual players, but acknowledged the organization has started to focus on particular targets.

The Pirates' trade of Xavier Nady last night might change Pittsburgh's plans about trading Bay.

Could shape up to be an interesting week of rumors ahead of us, but we think Bay stays and any deals would be of smaller pieces.

As Jenifer Langosch of writes about future wheeling and dealing:
There is not believed to be any deal imminent. And because of the steady financial state of the team and the contract situations of the remaining players, the Pirates would have to be blown away by an offer to cut a deal. As a result, it remains plausible, but unlikely, that any other big deals will come down in Pittsburgh over the next week.

Saturday pre-game

MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes take on the Bucco deal:
The return is not terribly impressive for Nady and Marte. I don't like the idea of the Bucs taking Tabata as the centerpiece - there is too much projection involved with him. If Ohlendorf and Ian Kennedy could've been had, I would've opted for that.

Neal Huntington's view:
We feel like we are adding quality depth to our organization. As we talked about from the beginning, in order to be a successful, sustainable, championship-caliber organization that plays meaningful games into September and October, we need to have options.

Unfortunately, we've not had the necessary depth to be able to sustain injury, to be able to sustain less than ideal performance. This deal, if it goes through, will begin this process of beginning to accumulate that necessary depth.

> A couple of other trade notes: Ross Ohlendorf was initially acquired by the Yankees when they sent Randy Johnson back to Arizona in 2007, and is expected to be the only player in the deal to land on the Pirate roster immediately.

> Doug Mientkiewicz, who played one year in the Yankees organization, referred to Tabata as "a little Manny Ramirez." We don't know if that's a compliment or not.

> Phil Coke pitched the first inning for Trenton before he was pulled. He struck out the side.

> George Kontos was a fifth-round selection in the 2005 draft and has moved up a level in the Yankees farm system in each of the last three years. So he should be in Pittsburgh in 2010, right?

> Today's question - do they start the Andrew McCutchen era and call him up, or do they take the safe route and bring back Nyjer Morgan to take Nady's spot in the lineup? Both add some speed and top-of-the-lineup presence. One's clock is already ticking; the other has yet to have his clock wound.

Do the suits a) think Cutch is ready, and more importantly, b) want to delay his MLB service time by a year by keeping him at Indy?

And with Ohlendorf looming, do you think this is a big start for JVB?

On the minor league front: Gorzo (1-1, 3.27 ERA) won his first game with Indy. He allowed five hits and one run in five innings. LF Nyjer Morgan (.278) had three hits, including a double, two runs scored and an RBI. CF Andrew McCutchen (.282) had two hits and two RBI.

> RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, struck by a line drive on his right wrist Thursday night, did not sustain a fracture, according to X-rays taken yesterday. He's listed as day to day and might be able to take his pitching turn next week.

> CF Chris Duffy (inner ear infection) has been placed on the minor league DL and sent to Bradenton. He could be out another seven to 10 days.

> LF Melvin Dorta (.292) went 2-4 and drove in all three runs for Altoona with a two-run home run in the sixth and a solo shot in the eighth in its loss tonight.

> 2B Shelby Ford returned to the Curve roster from the DL yesterday. He had been on ice since July 12 because of a high ankle sprain.

> Lynchburg went down 4-2. 2B Jim Negrych (.371) had two hits and an RBI.

> State College won 4-3. RHP Brian Leach (1-0, 4.05 ERA) allowed just three hits and struck out five in five innings of relief to pick up the win.

3B Jeremy Farrell (.339) was 2 for 4, including his third double this season and an RBI. 2B Chad Rice (.239) was 2 for 3 with two runs scored. LF Quincy Latimore (.211) and CF Ciro Rosero (.222) each had two hits and a stolen base.

> Spike's OF Cole White and C Chris Simmons have been recalled to active duty by the United States Army. The military changed its stance on allowing athletes to serve their stint as recruiters. The Pirates retain their rights, but how long they'll stay in khaki instead of Bucco black and gold isn't known.

Pellas on the Pirates: The First Salvo

Huntington Fires The First Salvo in the Trade Wars...But Did He Hit The Target?

As the 2008 season has played out, most observers figured that the Pirates were likely to tempt contending teams with a two player package of outfielder-first baseman Xavier Nady and lefthanded reliever Damaso Marte.

Lo and behold, that's precisely what happened. The winner of the presumed sweepstakes among an undetermined number of bidders was the New York Yankees. (I personally thought the Rays, fighting to stay ahead of the Yankees in the A. L. East, would step up to the plate. Apparently they did not.)

Prior to this deal, new Pirates GM Neil Huntington made a number of fairly small, usually pretty sharp trades and acquisitions. Jason Michaels, the quintessential fourth outfielder and a very handy fellow, was fished out of the water after the Cleveland Indians' season plunged to the bottom. Doug Mientkiewicz was a savvy acquisition in spring training, even if it seems it was Mientkiewicz who more or less "acquired" himself for the Pirates.

Getting Tyler Yates to help in the 'pen was a sound move, though losing Todd Redmond---lately lighting it up in double A in the Braves' system---could possibly hurt down the road. Phil Dumatrait proved to be an excellent scrapheap pickup before he hurt his shoulder again. All of these and several minor league, organizational-filler type moves have proven to be solid, professional moves by the new captain.

But this deal was different. This was the first of what could be a series of large scale, near-blockbuster, veterans-for-youngsters kinds of trades. It is hard to overstate just how crucial it is for the future of the franchise that such trades work out in the best interests of the Pirates.

While Huntington's first amateur draft looks pretty good on paper, it is rare that any team, let alone the Pirates, can succeed solely by growing its own talent from within. Certainly the amateur draft and subsequent player development is the largest part of the success equation---no question there---but good teams still manage to turn their veterans into an additional source of young talent, more often than not.

All of which brings us to the million---or multi-million---dollar question: Did Huntington and the Pirates succeed with this trade? That is, did they successfully turn two established, better than average, young(er) veteran major leaguers into more than their number in promising young minor league talent?

The answer, alas, is "maybe".

What jumps out at you when you look at the players the Pirates received in this deal is the lack of a true Blue Chipper from the Yankees' minor league system. Outfielder Jose Tabata comes close to Blue Chip status, but he is not yet 20, was probably overpromoted to double-A Trenton this year, and is coming off a hamate injury, to boot.

He's also had, shall we say, behavior issues that have nothing to do with drugs but do have to do with his being difficult. Hopefully he's just young and doesn't know how to deal with the emotions coming from the first significant injury of his professional baseball career.

Anyway, Tabata is definitely still a very interesting player and probably the surest thing in this deal.

Along with him, the Bucs got three pitchers: righthanders Ross Ohlendorf and George Kontos and lefthander Phil Coke.

Ohlendorf, whom the Yankees got in the Randy Johnson trade a couple years ago, throws in the low 90s and has a good sinker. He's been in the bigs for parts of the past two seasons, but had recently gone back down to triple-A to be reconverted into a starting pitcher.

Kontos is 3-9 for double-A Trenton this season, but has a power arm and fairly promising peripheral statistics; he has defintely mowed them down over the past two seasons, averaging about 9 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Coke likewise misses a lot of bats and has better than average strikeout numbers. He was promoted to triple-A after a stellar half season at double-A, which makes us feel a little better about his being a 26 year old player who has yet to pitch in the big leagues. He's probably a throw-in in this trade, but ya never know with lefthanders, and in our organization he'll probably go straight to triple-A Indianapolis.

All in all, these 3 pitchers are not outstanding prospects, but we can confidently say that they are all interesting prospects. Unfortunately none of them carries the "can't miss" tag, which returns us to our original assessment: WAIT AND SEE.

Making a "wait and see" type of trade, rather than a veterans for a couple of can't miss prospects (such as the Brian Giles for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez deal) is a ballsy move by Neil Huntington. It's particularly courageous when one considers that this was his first big deal. That said, I can't help but think that if he had been able to acquire just one of the Yankees top pitching prospects---Ian Kennedy is the most likely---this trade would look much better, at least in the short term.

The most worrisome thing about this deal is that so much of it is, in fact, speculative. We've just made a big play in the futures market, without a lot of protection in the short term if the long term falls flat. It was definitely a calculated risk on Huntington's part, and it took a signficant amount of intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger.

There's reason for optimism with this trade, and it definitely proves that the team's front office is determined to rectify the failures of what has been an atrocious starting rotation this season.

Unfortunately there's also reason for concern. Whether Huntington hit the target with the full broadside remains to be seen, and it will likely be two or three years before we know for sure. Meanwhile, we must continue to do our best to see through the mists of battle and stay the course, full speed ahead.

(The GW's analyst Will Pellas gives us his take on the Yankee deal. And no, he's not on the block, so save your dime.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Coulda, shoulda...

As we've said before, Zach Duke needs airtight defense to win games. And tonight, one of the Buc's stalwarts with a glove, Nate McLouth, let Duke down.

Brian Giles lined one into center. McLouth took a step in, then reversed his field and had the ball in his sights. But it ticked off of the heel of his mitt and eventually led to two scores. And in a 6-5 game, that's a lotta runs.

Pittsburgh also had its share of misdadventures on the basepaths at PNC (and amazingly, Ryan Doumit wasn't involved!) Freddie Sanchez was thrown out at home by a goodly margin in the third...ooops, it was on Doumit's double. He still got under the tag, but as we all know, the ump will make the automatic out call in that situation 99 times out of 100. And he did.

In the sixth, the Pirates had no one to blame but themselves. With runners on first and third and one away, Chris Gomez singled home a run. But dirtdog Doug Mientkiewicz was thrown out trying to reach third, and then Gomez was caught as he headed towards second. It was an ugly way to end a rally, especially from two of the more veteran players on the roster.

The Pirates also loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth but only managed one run, on pinch-hitter Jose Bautista's two-out, full-count walk. Adam LaRouche, who launched a pair of homers, K'd, and Mientkiewicz lined out to center before him. Jack Splat ended the inning with a pop out.

They looked a lot like the Pirates of May, and that's not a good sign. Maybe watching Xavier Nady get pulled from the batter's circle and teammates exchanging hugs with Damaso Marte as he took his last stroll through the dugout took the steam out of them. We hope the emotional let down doesn't linger.

They pull the trigger...

Fox Sports reports that the Bucs have sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Evil Empire for AAA RHP Ross Ohlendorf, Class AA LHP Phil Coke and RHP George Kontos and Class AA OF Jose Tabata, pending physicals and medical reports.

Pittsburgh was supposed to have their eye on Ohlendorf. The Yankees used him out of the pen this year. He pitched 40 innings with a 1-1 record and a 6.53 ERA before being sent back down. The 6'4", 25 year-old right-hander has a 93 to 96 mph sinking fastball, a slider and changeup.

After being demoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was converted back to a starter and went 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four games. He pitched 16 2/3 innings and allowed 19 hits and four walks and struck out 20.

He was twice an all-star in the minors; the Bucs probably plan to turn him around. Ohlendorf could have a shot at the musical chairs that the rotation has become.

Coke, 26, was 9-4 with a 2.90 ERA as a starter at Trenton and had just been promoted to AAA. He throws his 4-seamer about 91-92 mph and has a strong sinker a few ticks slower, with an average change up and a curve that's improving.

Kontos, 23, may be the sleeper of the bunch. He throws a 93-95 MPH 4-seam fastball, but mostly uses a 2-seamer. His change-up, now more refined, is 78-80 MPH. His slider is his best pitch. It is devastating with a huge break that causes plenty of swings and misses. Kontos was 3-9 at Trenton, with a 3.77 ERA and a rep as a hard luck pitcher.

He was also arrested in Tampa last year when he refused to leave a bar at last call.

Tabata, 19, was hitting .248 at Trenton with 3 HR's, 36 RBI, 40 runs scored and 10 stolen sacks. He's pretty highly touted, in the Melky Cabrera mold. Tabata is supposed to have a rifle for an arm, though not that great a cover guy on the OF. The Venezuelan has been an OK RBI man, averaging a run driven in every 2 games, a good line considering he has shown so little power so far.

Tabata has been on the DL with a hamstring injury that has kept him out since July 1 and had a wrist (hamate) injury, ala Pedro Alvarez, earlier in the year. There's been some thought given about him shutting it down the remainder of this season.

Tabata's been suspended by the team for three days, too, and has a rep as a problem child. Some think he was rushed to AA and might have been better served at his age to play high A another season.

Still, as of January 2008, Tabata was ranked the Yankees 3rd best prospect by Baseball America behind Joba Chamberlain and Austin Jackson.

No sure shots here, but a lot of upside and probably what the organization needed to start bulking up. The jury is still out on the deal. The Yankees are happy they didn't part with any A-list arms, and the Pirates got a quick jolt of younger talent.'s Jon Heyman says of the deal:
Pittsburgh came down off its initial price tag an awful long way then. Tabata still has very exciting potential and is incredibly young, but his wrist problems are scary and he's looking like a headcase. Ohlendorf has never been a good bet to develop into anything more than a sixth- and seventh-inning guy. Pitcher Phil Coke is also believed to be in the deal, and he's a true long shot to help.

One thing that's obvious is they're looking down the road a couple of seasons for the guys they got to make their mark. Pittsburgh's a weaker team today than they were yesterday.

But youth needed to be served, especially on the mound. And maybe some competition will bring out the best in the current staff. Nothing focuses you like the risk of losing your job, hey?

Now does the housecleaning continue, or did the Pirates make their move?

Friday pre-game

The pitching has been OK during the Pirates mini-burst of four in a row, but here's why they're winning: Pittsburgh is averaging 8.5 runs and batting .355 during the win streak. That'll notch ya a couple of W's.

> Yoslan Herrera did just the opposite of most Buc starters yesterday and it worked out just fine. "[I looked] at videos from the first two outings and saw [I] had to make adjustments," said Herrera. "[I] pitched more on the corners this time than before."

He had to nibble more! What a difference that is.

More importantly, he established his fastball early on and was in sync with C Ryan Doumit's game-calling all night. Herrera pitched off of his heater, even though it's only in the mid-80's. Of the 52 pitches he used in the first three innings, 34 were fastballs. He went more to his off-speed pitches as the game wore on.

> Nothing new on the trade talks. Now it's just a matter of playing chicken as the July 31st date approaches.

On the minor league front: RHP Mike Thompson (2-1, 5.03) came in cold and did yeoman's work for Indy last night, pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowing one earned run on six hits with a walk after starting RHP Jimmy Barthmaier (3-1, 3.71) exited in the first after stopping a line drive with his right (pitching) wrist. Marino Salas (3-3, 4.06) hurled a scoreless inning to get the win.

3B Neil Walker (.238) was 2 for 4 with two doubles, three RBI and two runs scored. 2B Luis Ordaz (.329) added three hits and a run scored, and LF Nyjer Morgan (.271) went 2 for 5 with a RBI and a steal.

> At Altoona, RHP Dan Reichert (1-1, 3.55) struck out a season high seven and allowed just five hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings to earn the win. The 32-year old was purchased from Cleveland's AAA team earlier this month, and has pitched in 124 MLB games, including 51 starts. He's 21-25 with 2 saves and a 5.55 ERA.

The Curve are a lot like the parent club in one respect: it's 23-5 when its starting pitcher goes at least six innings

LF Jason Delaney (.296) went 2-4 with a double and RBI, while 2B Jason Bowers (.269) of Laurel Highlands HS also went 2-4 with a RBI.

> Bradenton got waxed in the GCL - don't ask - but 2B Adenson Chourio (.319), who went hitless, picked up two walks, two stolen bases and a run scored. Even when he doesn't hit, he's a threat.

> Pirates minor league RHPs Roman Carrasco and Luis Figueroa were each suspended 50 games today after testing positive for anabolic steroids, according to Major League Baseball. Both suspensions were effective immediately.

Carrasco was 7-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 12 starts. Figuera was 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA. Both were pitching in the Venezuelan League.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Four in a row...

You wonder what Yoslan Herrera was dreaming on that boat in July, 2005, when he and 17 other Cubanos drifted across the deep blue sea for two days to Miami and freedom. We can't read minds, but we'll bet tonight was high on his wish list.

After a year in the Dominican and and season and a half in Altoona, Herrera won his first MLB ball game tonight, spinning 6 shutout innings in the Pirates 9-1 runaway win over hapless San Diego, which has now lost 9 of its last 10 games.

He gave up six hits - and two of them were Luis Rivas gifts - struck out 4 and walked one. Herrera wasn't overwhelming, but he did a much better job of mixing his pitches and keeping the ball down, and that was enough against the punchless Padres.

He iced the game in the third, when with runners on second and third, he got the PNC-loving Brian Giles to bounce back to the mound, ending the inning and SD's most serious threat against him. The grin splitting Herrera's face after the game said it all.

Denny Bautista and Sean Burnett brought the victory home. Maybe even more amazing than Herrera's game was Burnett tossing his first 1-2-3 inning of the year, in his 29th appearance. The trio struck out nine batters and walked one. You don't see that line often for Pittsburgh.

The Buc bats were efficient, even for them, scoring nine runs on eleven hits. Three left the yard, drilled by Jay Bay, Xavier Nady, and Nate McLouth. Like last night, the Pirates shared the spoils - seven players scored, six had RBI, and four had multiple hits.

Dang, if the X-Man could only play third base, we'd be half tempted to tell the Yankees and Rays to pound salt and keep the gang together.

Thursday pre-game

Matt Capps is continuing to progress in his throwing program and is still on schedule to return to the club within eight weeks. Circle September 2.

> It's probably safe to head to your car after the eighth inning tonight. The Padres are 1-54 when trailing after eight innings, and the Pirates are 5-49. Of course, that means they're pretty dang good when up after eight. Trevor Hoffman, Matt Capps and Damaso Marte have a lot to do with that.

> Goose Gossage is getting ready to enter the hallowed HOF. He pitched in an era when relievers routinely were given the ball in the seventh inning and asked to close out the game.

"When we went out to play we honestly thought it was a six-inning game," Padre teammate Tony Gwynn said. "If you didn't do much damage against us in the first six innings, Goose was going to come in and shut the door. I saw him do it a lot."

52 of his 310 saves were in games in which he recorded seven or more outs, so 17% of his saves were earned working 2-1/3 innings or more. That's some arm. The Pirate starters are lucky to average that many innings most days.

> Not much new on the rumor front. The Mets are supposedly looking at lower priced OF's, cooling on Xavier Nady, whom the Braves have scouted while they decide if they're gonna be bears or bulls at the deadline. The Phils are looking for left-handed bullpen help and seem out of the Nady bidding, too. The Rays and Yankees seem the hottest to trot after the X Man. Otherwise, same old, same old.

> Pittsburgh's favorite wanna-be owner is a step closer to getting his paws on the Cubs. Internet billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of three finalists in the Cubbie sweepstakes.

The others are the Ricketts family, which founded the brokerage that is now TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., and a group led by Sports Acquisition Holding Corp. that includes Henry Aaron and Jack Kemp.

On the minor league front: Indy won behind some strong pitching last night, 3-1. LHP Corey Hamman (1-1, 3.45) allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out one and walked four.

RHP Evan Meek (2.86) pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief for his first save. He struck out four with no free passes. Meek's starting to get it; in 22 innings, he's K'ed 17 and walked just 5.

The pride of Pine-Richland, 3B Neil Walker (.234), was 2 for 4, with a double and RBI. SS Brian Bixler (.283) finished with two hits and a run scored.

According to farm director Kyle Stark, C Ronny Paulino remains in Bradenton, where he is rehabbing a sprained right ankle. He's working through a running program and is near the point where he can return to action. The plan is for Paulino to play a few GCL games before returning to Indy.

> The Curve won 6-3 behind the bats of RF Brad Corley (.289), who went 3 for 4 with three doubles, and 2B Angel Gonzalez (.412), who went 3 for 4. C Steven Lerud (.215) hit a two-run home run in the sixth, with three RBI, two runs scored and a walk.

> Lynchburg romped, 9-3. RHP Brad Lincoln (1-1, 8.00), in his second Hillcat start, allowed three runs and six hits in five innings, striking out three. LF Jared Keel (.212) hit his 11th and 12th home runs and went 2 for 3 with five RBIs.

> Hickory was shut out 3-0. The hard-luck loser was RHP Matt McSwain (3-4, 2.03), who yielded one run and four hits in five innings. He struck out six and walked two.

> State College's game was suspended due to rain last night. SS Silvio Pena (.296) went 3 for 5 with an RBI and CF Ciro Rosero (.208) added two doubles and scored.

> Bradenton won in the GCL, and 2B Adenson Chourio (.326) kept the hot wand going. He was 3 for 4 with a walk and an RBI. 3B Andury Acevedo (.178) was 2 for 3 with two RBI, two runs scored and a walk and 1B Alex Vargas (.299) went 2-4.

On the draft front: The Pirate suits are chafing at the bit waiting for Pedro to sign on the dotted line. They wanted him in the minors ASAP; he made it plain he was finishing school.

We think he'll sign by deadline day. It'd take a heck of a gap in the bonus money to make him give up those paychecks for a year.

Tim Beckham, the top overall pick, signed with Tampa Bay for a $6.15 million bonus. Pitcher David Price, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, inked a six-year, $8.5 million contract with a $5.6 million signing bonus. So the Pirate's assumed signing bonus of $6M is certainly in the ballpark.

> Tanner Scheppers should be in town this weekend to take an exam and toss the pill around in front of the Bucco honchos.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Now that's the way we've come to expect the Bucs to win ball games. Abysmal starting pitching, an early call to the bullpen that keeps everything in line, and just enough maple in the bats to pull out an 8-7 win.

Ian Snell gave the Pirates three not-very-strong innings, facing 18 batters and throwing 85 pitches while giving up a six-pack of hits and 5 runs. He struck out five and walked three, two of whom scored. Only a blind optimist would say he took so much as a baby step towards respectability today.

Five Pirate relievers picked up the slack, allowing two runs over the final six innings. Frankie Osario got the win, his fourth, after two scoreless frames and Damaso Marte notched his fifth save.

To provide a bit of high drama to the finish, Marte walked Ty Wiggington with two outs in the ninth to get to Miguel Tejada. He struck him out, ho-hum.

We hope the relief corp is getting its beauty rest. With Yoslan Herrera, the Zachster, and JVB on tap for the next three games, we suspect they'll need it.

The Pirates only hit one long ball in the win today, Jay Bay's 21st. He has 138 homers for the Pirates, tied with Billy Maz for 8th in team history, and is the 4th Buc to have 4 consecutive 20+ HR seasons. The others are Pops, Ralph Kiner, and Frank Thomas.

As a team, the Pirates slapped out 14 knocks, including three doubles. They spread the glory around, with six different guys driving in runs and six Bucs scoring runs.

Doug Mientkiewicz started at third and went 4-4 with a walk. Joey Bats struck out as a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third. The suits might want to speed up those talks with Pedro and Boras.

On the Pirate front: The Pirates will look for their first series sweep since taking three from the Giants in May, and their first road sweep of the season. In fact, they'll be trying for their first three-game winning streak since taking six in a row in early May.

> The Pirates must channel the Lumber Company when they play at Minute Maid Park. They've unloaded a dozen homers in the past four games and 23 in the past 10 games there.

> Xavier Nady hasn't allowed trade talk and fatherhood distract him. He doubled last night to run his hitting streak to 11 games.

> How's Jack Splat taken to the nine hole in the batting order? In 18 games batting ninth, he has a .234 average. His hitting nosedived while he was sweating out the Detroit rumors during the 2007 deadline period, too. He only hit .219 last July, so maybe he's just not comfortable being on the meat market.

On the hot stove front: John Heyman of SI says the word is that the asking price for OF'er Xavier Nady has "loosened" a tad, and that Pittsburgh seems more interested than before in trading him.

The Pirates were said a couple weeks ago to be seeking "two top prospects" for Nady, who's having a big year, but that seems to have come down a tad. The Pirates have to clear a spot for Andrew McCutchen and seem likely to keep Bay, so they're looking at a Nady deal as an opportunity to add some quality depth to the organization.

The Rays, Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Cardinals are among the teams to have inquired about X. The Rays need a right-handed hitting OF'er and have the chips to deal. The loss of Hideki Matsui means the Yankees need an OF bat, too, and like the Mets and Rays, they would also prefer a RH hitter.

We hope the price hasn't come down too far. Seems like there's plenty enough teams interested to draw a pretty nice return for Nady. And we discount the whining over asking price - the rest of the league must think Dave Littlefield is still dumping salary and holding his annual fire sale. It's time to disabuse them of that notion.

On the minor league front: RHP Jason Davis (6-9, 4.41 ERA) scattered 7 hits and two runs over 8 innings to earn a win for Indy last night. Brian Bixler (.277) had two hits to pace the attack.

They faced old teammate Brad "Big Country" Eldred, who's playing for Charlotte in the White Sox organization. He's batting .266, with 26 HR's and 72 RBI. He also has 84 K's in 284 at bats, but still looks like a legit prospect, especially as a DH.

> Lynchburg broke out the lumber, bombing the Wilmington Blue Rocks 11-3. OF Jamie Romak (.292) set a career-high with 3 doubles and tied a career-high with 4 hits while driving in 3 runs. 3B Jim Negrych (.368) and DH Kent Sakamoto (.264) had 3 hits apiece.

> At Bradenton, the GCL Bucs won 2-0 as three pitchers combined for the shutout. C Jesus Aguilera (.259) went 2 for 4 to lead the offense.

Hurricane Paulie...

Hey, there's nothing to this winning thing. Get some pitching, hit three home runs every game, and it's simple as pie.

Tonight Paul Maholm took the honors on the mound. While the Buc bats were steadily chipping away at Astro call-up Jack Cassals, Maholm was breezing through the Houston lineup.

He went eight innings, giving up 1 run on 5 singles - and if Joey Bats doesn't let a DP ball bounce off of him, it's a shutout (Bautista also made an amazing play in the fourth, to even things out. Good Jose, bad Jose.) Maholm was laboring through the last couple of innings, and the last two batters he faced bounced balls off his wrist and leg.

Maholm finished 8 innings of work for the 6th time this season, the 3rd time in 4 starts this month, and is 5-1 in his past 6 decisions. Maholm is 7-6 on the season with a 3.92 ERA.

Sean Burnett closed out, and showed why John Russell still picks his spots for him. He hit a batter, threw a wild pitch, and had Ryan Doumit hopping all over the catcher's box spearing and blocking pitches. He got out of the ninth giving up a run, and that was plenty enough to seal the deal, an 8-2 Pittsburgh win.

Burny's got the stuff - he's throwing his heat at a respectable 91-92 MPH and his slider's quick and sharp - but his command has a long way to go before he earns Russell's confidence.

The offense was highlighted by Freddie Sanchez, Nate McLouth, and Doumit long balls. Doumit's dinger was crushed, almost landing in the Astro train running along the upper reaches of Minute Maid Park.

Now to see if Ian Snell, who's looked all-so-close to getting it together since coming off of the DL, can keep the strong pitching line going tomorrow afternoon.

On the Pirate front: As dramatic and dogged as the 2008 edition of the Bucs have been, the Pirates are actually pretty even in rally stats: Comeback Wins: 24, Blown Lead Losses: 22, Walk-off Wins: 6, Walk-off Losses: 5. Still, over half of their victories came while they were behind in the score.

> Yoslan Herrera is still here, so he should be starting again on Thursday. Marina Salas got the bus ticket back to Indy today.

On the minor league front: Chris Duffy can't win. First, his achy breaky shoulder took way longer than expected to heal. Then he was carted off the field at Indy because of dehydration. Now he's in the hospital, being tested for an inner-ear infection. Highmark must be about ready to drop his coverage.

> Gorzo is now on a regular starting schedule at Indy, and he's cleared to go five innings/80-85 pitches in his start on Friday.

> At Altoona, LHP Brian Holliday (1-1), just called up to AA, tossed a seven-inning complete game as the Curve swept a DH tonight. He scattered 9 hits and gave up 1 earned run. RHP Josh Hill started the first game, going 6 innings and giving up a run and 4 hits. Ron Belisario picked up the win with two scoreless innings of relief.

Lotta hitting heroes - CF James Boone went 5-7 (.238), OF Brad Corley (.284) was 4-7 with his 11th HR, SS Luis Cruz (.264) 3-6 and C Miguel Perez (.287) 3-7.

Corley is an interesting prospect. A converted reliever, he has a strong arm, has a good glove, and runs pretty well, filling in at CF when the need arises. His minuses are he doesn't have great power and his plate discipline has been spotty.

In 373 at-bats for the Curve, he's hitting .284 with a team-leading 11 HR's, and has 69 K's and just 17 walks. He's 24, so the clock is ticking against him.

> Lynchburg was outslugged, but not because of DH Kent Sakamota (.259) who had 3 hits and a HR, 3B Jim Negrych (.364) and OF James Barksdale (.314), both of whom had a pair of knocks.

Continuing to struggle, LHP Danny Moskos (7-7, 6.28) allowed 5 earned runs and 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out 3, walked 1 and uncorked 2 wild pitches. He's being converted from the pen to a starter this year, and the Pirates feel like he's hitting the wall with the increased workload now and hope he learns to fight through it.

> 1B Calvin Anderson (.273) stayed hot, going 3-4 in State College's loss last night.

> Bradenton won big, led by Venezuelans 2B Adenson Chourio (.309), who was 4-4, and 1B Carlos Silva (.280), who went 3-4.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Houston, We Have Liftoff

After three hours of watching two teams leave runners all over the sacks and flash some decidedly little league fielding, the ninth inning made it worth the wait.

Down 3-2 despite having 12 hits, the Buc bats finally gave up the funk. Jay Bay crushed one to tie it, Adam LaRouche went yard to give Pittsburgh a two run lead, and Freddie Sanchez got a Minute Maid bounce and scampered home with a three run, inside-the-park homer to make it a 9-3 laugher.

The key to the game? Without doubt it was John Grabow's great relief job in the sixth inning. He came on with the bases juiced, thanks to Sean Burnett's wild thing. All Grabow did was K Lance Berkman and get Carlos Lee to pop to right, keeping the game together and giving the Pirates time to rally.

JVB did an OK job, giving up 2 earned runs in 5 innings and probably living to fight another day. Burnett couldn't find home, but the A team of Grabow, Tyler Yates - he got the win - and Denny Bautista iced the Astros the rest of the way.

On the Pirate front: Tonight's starters are scheduled to be John Van Benschoten (1-2, 9.77 ERA) vs Runelvys Hernandez (0-3, 10.29 ERA). When's the last time you saw two guys with an ERA of 10 going against one another in mid-July?

The Pirates will announce their roster move to make room for JVB today. It seems like they'll send down Marino Salas, but Yoslan Herrera could go, too.

> BTW, if you're curious, like we were, about how many times you can send a guy up and down, here's Wikipedia's explanation of the option system:
If a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the active major league roster, he is said to be on optional assignment—his organization may freely move him between the major league club and the minor league club. If a player is on the 40-man roster and not the active 25 man roster for any part of more than three seasons, he is out of options and may not be assigned to the minors without first clearing waivers. However, if a player has less than 5 years of professional experience, he may be optioned to the minors in a fourth season without being subject to waivers. If a major league player is ineligible for free agency and "has options" remaining, his team may option him to a minor league team without consequence.

> Wonder why Doug Mientkiewicz was back at the hot corner yesterday? Jose Bautista is batting .208 (10-for-48) in July with one extra-base hit.

On the hot stove front:
Ed Price of the Newark Star-Ledger says Hideki Matsui's uncertain status for the rest of the year prked the Yankee's interest in Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.

The Bronx Bombers also are kicking the tires of Damaso Marte and John Grabow.

Minor-league OF'ers Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata and pitchers such as Ian Kennedy are names that could be discussed. Melky Cabrera does not interest the Pirates.

> The Yankees, bless their mercenary little hearts, always drive up the price. There's quite a line for Pittsburgh players this year. The X-Man, Jay Bay, Damaso Marte, John Grabow (a lower cost Marte, in some eyes), Jack Splat...they're all available, if the price is right, for a change.

Our understanding is that Bay would require two A-list prospects and a lower level player, Nady and Marte two top prospects, and they're at least listening to Wilson and Grabow offers.

> And John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times chimed in:

Damaso Marte is drawing the most interest as Boston, Detroit, the Mets, the Yankees, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tampa Bay have all made inquiries. Detroit, Philadelphia and St. Louis are said to have some interest in Grabow.

The Mets also have some interest in Bay and Boston is said to be “monitoring” him in the event designated hitter David Ortiz has problems coming back from his wrist injury.

The Dodgers still have interest in SS Jack Wilson. There has been speculation of an expanded deal in which the Pirates would ship Wilson and Bay to the Dodgers for a package topped by CF Matt Kemp along with prospects RHP James McDonald, C Lucas May and SS Chin-Lung Hu.

The Pirates have been scouting the Phils and the Rays AAA Durham farm club heavily in the last two weeks but don’t appear close to making a deal with either team.

Among the players the Pirates reportedly have interest in are Cardinals RHP Anthony Reyes and OF Chris Duncan, Tigers 1B Jeff Larish and OF Matt Joyce, Yankees RHP Ross Ohlendorf, Braves SS Brent Lillibridge (remember him?) and OF Brandon Jones, Rays RHP Jeff Niemann and a trio from the Mets’ Class AA Binghamton farm club — LHP Matt Niese, RHP Eddie Kunz and RHP Bobby Parnell.

On the minor league front: Indy romped, 11-2. Every position player had a hit and scored. Seven had multiple knocks, and four guys went yard. The bad news - Gorzo went three innings, and gave up both runs, yielding four hits, including a homer, and two walks. He K'ed three.

Mike Thompson, who may have a chance of pitching next week during the endless Buc audition period, got the win, going four scoreless innings and giving up two hits.

> At Lynchburg, C Kris Watts doubled and hit a two-run home run, his fourth in his last eight games, in a losing effort. He's hitting .301 for the Hillcats.

> In yet another losing effort, 1B Calvin Anderson (.253) had a pair of hits, including his 4th home run, and 4 RBI for State College.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rocky Mountain Low

That sucking noise you heard this afternoon was the sound of the Pirate's season being flushed down the drain. Well, at least the Rockies are back in the race.

On the Pirate front: The Pirates are expected to bring up RHP John Van Benschoten from Indy to fill the vacant starting spot Monday against Houston. They really don't have many options at this point, and the big question is who is gonna take Yoslan Herrera's place? At least we assume a 19.50 ERA will get him sent back to the minors, though with Pittsburgh's wealth of arms...

Apparently not Gorzo, Bryan Bullington's gone, Ty Taubenheim is on the DL and Jimmy Barthmeier was creamed in his last two starts. Indy doesn't have any rotation left to send to the big club. Brad Lincoln even got clocked in his high A debut.

The starters have a collective ERA of 5.77, worst in MLB (the staff ERA is 5.24, still the highest in baseball), and the call-ups have an ERA approaching nine. Yikes! There aren't enough arms left to go to the four man rotation of bygone days.

> The suits, we hear, fear fan backlash if they begin to move popular players. Through 50 games at PNC Park, the Pirates have drawn 968,441 fans, the second-lowest total in MLB - and not many teams have had 50 home dates yet. They're on pace to draw 1.57 million, down from last year's 1.74 million. Seems to us that they don't have that many fans left to lose.

It appears that PNC wasn't the savior that it was predicted to be. Fireworks and bobbleheads can't compete with a real live team on the field. We can only hope that the lease the Pirates signed when they moved in is ironclad.

> Today's question: If Jim Tracy, Dave Littlefield, and Kevin McClatchy were still here, how far back on the bench would Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit be? Then try to imagine Pittsburgh's record with Ronny Paulino and Nyjer Morgan starting every day.

> Juan Marichal was in town to give the keynote for last night's Negro League All-Star Gala at the Heinz History Center. ESPN's Jay Harris was the event's host. You might remember him as a WPGH news anchor before he moved on to Bristol.

On the minor league front: Seven innings, no hits, no runs. That was the line for Lynchburg starter Tony Watson as the Hillcats blanked Potomac 2-0.

Watson struck out a season-high eight batters, and walked two in the longest outing of the young lefty’s career. He now carries a 6-9 record, with a 3.40 ERA.

> Hickory blew a 6 run lead and was pounded 12-7. C Ronald Pena (.263) had a double and triple while red-hot 3B Matt Hague (.368) added two hits.

> At State College, DH Cole White (.369) extended his NYPL-leading hitting streak to 15 with a leadoff single in the first and scored twice. Matt Payne (.299) extended his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 22.

> SS Jarek Cunningham (.414) had two more hits, including his third homer, for Bradenton. 1B Alex Vargas (.300) from the Dominican had two hits, one a double, but the GCL Bucs went down 2-1.

Coors Field - a Hitter's Park For Everyone But...

Can't pitch, can't score, can't win. Colorado takes its third in a row from the Pirates, 7-1.

> Xavier Nady, proud papa, made it to Colorado tonight, but didn't make the lineup. He sat the game out, despite the desperate times the Bucs are struggling through. Are the winds of change about to hit Pittsburgh?

Now Nady did pinch hit in the ninth, and may have just been pooped from the excitement of his first child's birth and the cross country trip. But with the Yankees suddenly in the market for a right handed bat, the trade rumors will swirl hot and heavy around Nady now, and the bidding could get interesting.

> Watching Matt Herges pitch reminded us of one of the great Keystone Kop moments of recent Bucco history. It was tales like the Herges saga that keep the Dave Littlefield legend alive.

The Pirates traded two pitching prospects to Montreal in the 2002 off season, one of whom was RHP Chris Young, to get Herges. Then they released him at the end of spring training to keep LHP Dennys Reyes. Herges never threw a pitch for Pittsburgh.

It was reported that the final cut was among Herges, Reyes, and Salomon Torres. Torres could spot start, Reyes was left-handed, and Herges was left holding the bag.

Herges so far has a 10-year career as primarily a long/middle relief guy, with a 40-33 record, 34 saves and a 3.81 ERA. Young, in five years as a starter, has a 39-26 record, mainly with the Padres, and a 3.75 ERA. He'd look pretty dang good in a Pirate uniform right about now, don't you think?

Reyes? He lasted 10 innings with Pittsburgh, compiling no record and a 10.35 ERA. He was gone by May. So Littlefield gave up Chris Young and Matt Herges to have Dennys Reyes pitch 12 times for the Pirates.

And they may have given up on Reyes too soon. After a couple of so-so years, he's found a home with the Twins for the past three seasons as a set-up man/lefty specialist out of the pen.

On the Pirate front: LHP Phil Dumatrait is having a slower rehab process than anticipated. Though he's eligible to come off the DL on Thursday, he won't make it back that quickly.

"He's not throwing, from what I understand," John Russell said before Friday's game against Colorado. "He still had some discomfort. He played a little catch on Sunday. He'll go to Florida and rehab down there, get the inflammation out of the shoulder and start in on a throwing program."

He's expected to need at least two minor-league rehab starts before he returns to the Pittsburgh rotation.

More good news, hey?

> Russell said Pittsburgh hasn't decided on the Pirates' starter for Monday. And we thought JVB was Huntington's etched-in-stone choice as the #6 starter. Still, they have to start someone, and JVB has a good a shot as anyone. But the fact that the suits have to think it over doesn't bode well for him.

> LHP Tom Gorzelanny will make at least two more starts for Indy. He's scheduled to go Sunday, with a limit of four innings/65 pitches. He'll get another start after that, for five innings/85 pitches, then be re-evaluated for a return to the Bucs.

> In case you were wondering, like we were, where Jay Bay was during the inside the park home run that careened wildly away from Nate McLouth and rolled along the track towards left, well, he was at third. Bay backed up third base after the ball was hit to right center, as all old school LF'ers with a little hustle in them do.

> It's past time to quit beating up Dave Littlefield & Kevin McClatchy over the state of the Bucs and move on. We know they made boneheaded moves, like the A-Ram and Chris Young deals, but they were immersed in ineptitude all around them.

We have to assume that the signings, deals, and drafts they made went through the chain of command, which would certainly include Bob Nutting, before they were OK'ed. And the duo did zero in on pitching, unfortunately with many more misses than hits.

Our take is that the scouting and financial constraints they were working under doomed the pair to failure no matter what. So it was a true team effort, and while Littlefield and McClatchy deserve their fair share of abuse, it was a case an ingrained institutional incompetence. And they did serve to keep the heat off of Nutting's role in the organization's current shortcomings.

Let's hope that he's learned from the past. Nutting has given us small indications that he may be, though we have yet to see a signature move by the new suits.

On the hot stove front: Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that a Pirates scout watched David Price's last start, though he was likely looking at other members of the Montgomery Biscuits, Tampa's AA club. The Rays are interested in Xavier Nady.

Price, btw, was the Rays #1 draft pick last year. He's a LHP from Vandy, and just made the jump from A to AA on July 1. He's considered untouchable by the Rays, so the Pirates were checking out position players in all likelihood. RHP Wade Davis, 23, or RHP Jeremy Hellickson, 21, who just made the move to AA, could also be potential Pirate targets.

It looks more and more as if a MLB ready arm isn't in the cards for the Pirates, and they'll have likely have to settle on AA prospects when they pull the trigger. No one seems willing to give up pitching without getting pitching back.

> One theory floating around regarding the Pirates alleged "unreasonableness" in trade talks is that it's all being generated by the New York press.

Apparently the Mets thought Aaron Heilman and a pick or two from their scrap heap were proper compensation for one of the Buc OF'ers, and are venting their displeasure through the media, probably more to save face with their fans than anything else.

So consider the source when those rumors pop up, and hope that the suits sick to their guns and get the max available when they do deal. The future of the franchise could well depend on it.

On the minor league front: At Indy, LF Nyjer Morgan went 0 for 4 to end his hitting streak at 17 games. He's batting .272. He also bowled over Andrew McCutchen while the pair were chasing down a gapper, but both escaped the crash unharmed.

> RHP Brad Lincoln made his Lynchburg debut last night and was rocked, allowing 5 earned runs on 7 hits through 4 innings of work, in an eventual 13-5 loss to Potomac.

> Lynchburg LHP Brian Holliday has been named the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week. He joins OF Jamie Romak, who won the Carolina League’s Player of the Week last month, as the Hillcat's second award-winning player this season.

Holliday went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts. In 12 innings, the southpaw allowed just two runs while striking out a league-high 12 batters.

The Moon Township native turned his season around after a nightmarish start in 2008. At one point, he endured a stretch of 13 straight starts without a victory. Over an 11-start period between April 29th and June 10th, he went 0-7 with an 11.13 ERA.

He started to turn his season around by late June, and in his last five starts, Holliday has lowered his ERA by one run. He's now 4-8 with a 6.02 ERA.

> RHP Matt McSwain allowed 1 run on 2 hits in 5 innings, striking out 6 while walking 1. He's 3-3 with a 2.05 ERA for Hickory, which eventually lost. The Crawdad's starting pitchers now have a 2.01 ERA in their last 10 starts, but only a 3-2 record to show for their efforts.

> 20 year-old Dominican C Miguel Mendez homered for Bradenton in the GCL, his fourth of the year. He's batting .409 with 11 RBI in 12 games. SS Jarek Cunningham went 3 for 7 with a double in two games. His average is .400.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nothing like a quick start...

Five hits yesterday, six hits tonight. No hits off the Rockies' bullpen. Yep, they're 0-2 after the break. You thought Pittsburgh could outpitch someone?

Yoslan Herrera will try tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Second verse, same as the first...

Not much to dissect tonight. The Pirates had one hit after the third inning, and that was erased by a DP. The last four batters fanned.

Paul Maholm ran out of gas in the sixth, giving up two doubles, a triple, and a homer, and that three spot by the Rockies was enough to hold off the Bucs, 5-3.

Before tonight, Colorado's team had lost four in a row, had only 39 wins, was in a 25-inning scoreless streak and was missing 3 members of its regular lineup due to injury. Hidden vigorish or not, this was no way to start the second half of the season.

On the Pirate front: Player's pick Nate McLouth played 11 innings, while Chicago's Kosuke Fukudome, who was the people's choice starter, played just four.

And Nate the Great did just fine, gunning out what would have been the winning run at home, and going 1-4 at the dish, with one ball lofted to the warning track. Sweet All-Star debut, we'd say. Hopefully, he'll be back for more.

> The Pirate rotation coming out of the break looks like Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Yoslan Herrera, Zach Duke and JVB. But that could change in a New York second, as the Pirates haven't officially announced any of their starters yet except for Maholm.

Phil Dumatrait is due back July 27th if all goes well. Gorzo? Who knows?

> RHP Marino Salas will rejoin the Pirates' bullpen today from Indy. He has an 11.17 ERA in 9 Bucco appearances, giving up 18 hits and 8 walks in 9 2/3 innings. Big improvement there.

> Jenifer Langosch of gives her fearless prediction for the second half of the season:
Knowing that they will be playing at least until September without Capps, the Pirates need their bullpen to step up. The work of Damaso Marte, John Grabow and Tyler Yates will be especially critical to keep the team going until Capps' return.

Also, Snell needs to begin to show some sort of resemblance of his '07 form, and the Pirates are going to need someone -- anyone -- to capably fill in as the team's fifth starter.

Despite losing a handful of key players at the Trade Deadline, the Pirates will teeter around the .500 mark until the end of the season, only to fall just short. However, appearances by Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen in September will give the fan base a short taste of what's to come.

On the hot stove front: Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus writes:
Ian Snell is a name that hasn’t been discussed much, but could bring a huge return for the Pirates. He’s durable, solid, and seems the type that would relish being in a pennant chase. The Pirates would have to be overwhelmed, but it was suggested that Snell is the equal of Rich Harden in talent.

I didn’t buy it, but they have similar body types, two pitch repertoires with similar velocity and movement, and some questions about durability. The Pirates are more likely to trade Jason Bay or Xavier Nady, though probably not both.

Andrew McCutcheon is a downgrade, but could offer up some hope for fans while either of the vets could bring a solid return. The Rays, Dodgers, and Mets have all taken a look at one of the OFers.

Then again, moving Snell doesn't really solve Pittsburgh's pitching problems, does it? We guess it depends on the return.

On the minor league front: In the Class AAA All-Star Game in Louisville, Indy's CF Andrew McCutchen went 2 for 2 with a sacrifice fly and two RBIs. SS Brian Bixler went 1 for 4. Cutch, btw, didn't make the Olympic team.

> In the Class AA Eastern League All-Star Game at Manchester, N.H., 1B Jason Delaney went 1 for 3 with a walk. RHP Pat Bresnehan allowed three runs, two hits and a walk in one inning of relief. He was charged with a blown save and the loss. LHP Josh Shortslef pitched one scoreless inning.

> Brad Lincoln, Pittsburgh's top pitching prospect and 2006 first-round draft pick, is moving up a step to Lynchburg. He was 5-5 with a 4.65 ERA in 11 starts for Hickory.

> At Lynchburg, IF Jim Negrych hit his fourth home run, a grand slam, and went 1 for 4. He's batting .362. LHP Danny Moskos got clobbered, and his ERA is over 6 now.

> 3B Matt Hague (.373) went 3 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI for Hickory.

> The draftees were raking at State College. LF Cole White (.370) went 3 for 6, with a double, two RBI and three runs scored. 3B Jeremy Farrell (.300) had two hits and three RBI. 1B Calvin Anderson added a grand slam

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pellas on the Pirates: Reflections

A Season of Ironies

If the blogosphere is any indication, most Pirates fans are spending the All Star Break in feverish speculation about which veteran(s) will be traded by the deadline and which team's hotshot prospect(s) will be coming our way in return. While such speculation is fun, it's also wearisome beyond a certain point. So, I thought to take keyboard in hand and reflect for a moment or two on the 2008 season to date, which has been one of extreme irony thus far.

It cannot be doubted that the previous regime, for all of its well-documented incompetence, nonetheless decided very early on that it was going to sink or swim with pitching. The current Pirates staff, particularly the starters, is still largely made up of Littlefield-era draft picks and acquisitions. Of course, perhaps the greatest frustration of that era was seeing number one choice after number one choice crash and burn with one horrific injury after another.

Even so, one would think that just by sheer force of numbers, at least some of the numerous pitchers chosen under Littlefield would have developed by now into solid assets. If we were talking about the Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny of 2007 instead of 2008, and if it were possible to couple them with the Paul Maholm of 2008 and the Zach Duke of 2005, well: now we'd be talking about a better than average if never overwhelming starting rotation.

Unfortunately, Snell and Gorzelanny have imploded this year, Snell (perhaps) due to a sore elbow and Gorzelanny (allegedly) not due to injury. Meanwhile Zach Duke has managed to smoke-and-mirrors his way to a more or less average season thus far, and given where we are as an organization, we'll take it until/unless we can get someone better---though it looks more and more like his stellar rookie half-season was a fluke.

That leaves Maholm, who is at the moment unquestionably our best starting pitcher. Good for him, bad for us overall, since Maholm is miscast as a staff ace---he's really a fairly good third or fourth starter on a good team. Fifth starter Phil Dumatrait was outstanding for about six weeks before his balky arm acted up again. He may or may not prove able to take a regular turn in the future. He was a number one draft choice himself once upon a time, so perhaps we'll get a big payoff from a scrapheap signing going forward.

But all in all, it is ironic to say the least that the 2008 Pirates are the mirror opposite of what we thought they'd be going in. The pitching staff is, to put it kindly, somewhere between horrible and mediocre, overall. The bullpen has been slightly better than the rotation, but that's not saying much.

Meanwhile the hitting---thought to be, to put it kindly, somewhere between horrible and mediocre heading into the season---has been outstanding. The Green Weenie is so impressed, in fact, that without even blinking, it mentioned this year's starting outfield of Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, and Jason Bay in the same breath as the 1927 outfit that featured Kiki Kuyler and the Waners.

That assessment may or may not prove accurate over time, but there's no question the Pirates' hard-hitting starting outfield has been a revelation. Add in the supremely talented bat of catcher Ryan Doumit, and not even overexposed utilityman Jose Bautista and perpetual slow-starting streak hitter Adam LaRoche's stinkage can dim an outstanding first half of hitting.

In short: we have a good hitting, poor pitching team when we were thought to have the polar opposite coming into 2008. Given the more or less established fact that pitching is the single most important factor in winning baseball games, it's borderline miraculous that the Pirates somehow managed to slug their way to a not-terrible 44-50 record at the All Star Break. The 2007 Bucs had 40 wins at the Break before Edmund Fitzgerald-ing their way to the bottom.

The bottom line is that it looks like the Pirates will once again be looking for pitching, pitching, and more pitching in exchange for any of their veteran position players that get traded by the deadline, the more so because the few top prospects who are nearly ready to graduate from the minors are all position players (McCutchen, Walker, and Pearce).

Very ironic, eh?

The GW is pleased to have Will Pellas pitch his thoughts on the state of the Pirates when it's his turn in the rotation.