Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Boss on the Bucs

Neal Huntington had a Q&A with Pirate fans Tuesday, and touched on a trio of players: Pedro, Jack Splat, and baby LaRoche. Here's what he had to say:

On Pedro's contract: "This is an agreement that we would have been pleased with on August 15."

"And despite the increase of $355,000 in minor league salaries, the value of the new contract is actually less than the original agreement because we were able to spread the signing bonus over four rather than two years."

"In the end, we eliminated any litigation risk and got Pedro on the field immediately without increasing our financial commitment."

On Pedro's future: "It is too early to know for sure where Pedro will start next season, but most indications are he will start with one of our A-ball clubs (Charleston or Lynchburg). He has missed a significant amount of time this season."

When asked when to expect Alvarez to hit the bigs, he said "Pedro's skills, abilities, aptitude and development will determine his progression through our system. In my experience, few players have been damaged by a conservative development path, while many have been irreparably damaged by being rushed."

On Jack Splat's place in next year's plans: "We are planning on Jack Wilson being the shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates next season, and perhaps beyond. That said, we will explore all potential avenues to make this organization stronger. As a result, no player is untouchable."

On Andy LaRoche: "Andy is not alone is his struggles as he attempts to establish himself as a Major League player. A historical perspective shows several All-Star, and even Hall-of-Fame-caliber players, that did not perform well at a similar age in their first extended exposure at the Major League level."

"Some development remains with Andy, but we still believe he will earn his at-bats and become a very productive Major League player."

And that's about as good a job of CYA as we've ever heard.

As we translate his rap, Huntington said a) we signed Pedro to get him in camp and to avoid a possible sticky decision by the arbitrator, and he'll start at A, just like Matt Weiter, b) Jack Splat's gone as soon as we get an offer that's not completely laughable, and c) Andy LaRoche is our third baseman, even if he makes Joey Bats look like Mike Schmidt. Get over it.

Also, Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette reports that the Bucs may have cast Jeff Andrews and Lou Frazier to the wind because a couple of available vet coaches may be on their radar - Rick Peterson, Joe Kerrigan, and Perry Hill.

Peterson, fired by the New York Mets this summer, is a new age pitching coach, heavy on biomechanics, psychology, and a touch of tao as his worktools. He made his name with the Oakland A's staff during the Art Howe era.

Kerrigan was the New York Yankees' bullpen coach, after serving stints for the Expo's and Phillies as a pitching mentor. He managed Montreal briefly, and would add an experienced shoulder for John Russell and Gary Varsho to lean on in the heat of battle.

Hill, a highly touted glove guru, and the Bucs were close to a deal last November, but Hill didn't bite and spent a second season out of the game. He may not want to roam far from his Texas home, though.

Huntington has said that he doesn't have anyone lined up, and is just in the process of building an interview list. If those guys are on it, it's an impressive group.

Finally, congratulations to the Chicago White Sox, who took the division with a 1-0 win over the Twins. Jim Thome went yard in the seventh, Junior threw a runner out at the plate in the fifth, and that's all John Danks and Bobby Jenkins needed. Now off to Tampa Bay, as the playoff dance card is now full and starts tomorrow.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Old Buccos in the ALDS

And hey, there are some old Bucs that took their game to the big boy's league and caught on with some championship AL teams. Watch the tube for:

Jason Bay, LF, Boston - Bay took his booming bat to Boston at the deadline as part of the Manny menange a trois. The Bosox sent Pittsburgh Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen, while the Dodgers chipped in Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris. Please come home, Jay.

Bay's Boston line is .293-9-37 in 49 games; overall, it's .286-31-101.

Pittsburgh landed him in 2003, along with Ollie Perez, for Brian Giles. Bay hit .281-139-452 as a Bucco.

Sean Casey, 1B, Boston - Casey signed as a free agent this year with the Bosox. As a back-up to Kevin Youkilis, his line was .322-0-17.

"The Mayor" is an Upper St. Clair grad, and played for the home town team in 2006, with a .296-3-29 line until traded to Detroit for Brian Rogers.

David Ross, C, Boston - He was released by the Reds late in the year, and picked up by Beantown to a minor-league deal. He joined the roster in September, and isn't eligible for the playoffs.

The slick-fielding backstop hit .125 in 8 at bats for the Red Sox.

The Bucs purchased him from the Dodgers in 2005, and he hit .222-3-15 for them, until he was sent to San Diego in July for JJ Furmaniak.

Tim Wakefield, RHP, Boston - The knuckleballer was inked by the Pirates as an 8th round draftee in 1988, and spent his first two MLB seasons, 1992-1993, with Pittsburgh. The Pirates released him and he signed with Boston, where he found a home to this day.

The 16-year hurler was 10-11 with a 4.13 ERA this season.

Wakefield was 14-12 as a Pirate, and had a 4.17 ERA.

And though Bosox skipper Terry Francona never suited up for the Pirates, he's a New Brighton guy, the son of Aliquippa's Tito Francona. Terry played in the MLB for a decade; his dad for sixteen years. How'd they miss a home town stop?

Boston is practically the Beantown BucSox!

Gary Matthews, Jr., CF, Los Angeles Angels - Matthews joined the Halos in 2006 as a free agent. His 2008 line for LA is .242-8-46.

The Pirates plucked him off of waivers from the Cubs in 2001. His Buc line was .245-5-14 in 46 games before he was sold in August to the NY Mets.

As far as a quick scan of the rosters tell us, the Tampa Bay Devils, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago White Sox are Pirate-free clubs.

You Can't Fire the Team, So...

Hmmmm...the Pirate pitching staff gave up the most runs, hits and walks in the NL this year. They also had the highest ERA and the next to fewest strikeouts in the League. Somebody's head had to roll after a season like that, and it was Jeff Andrew's.

He, along with first base coach Lou Frazier, fell to the axe of Neal Huntington today.

Andrews, 49, had spent 22 years in the minors toiling as a pitching coach. After last year's disastrous showing under the guidance of Jim Colburn, he was hired by Pittsburgh, where it was hoped his familiarity with the Pirate pitchers, many of whom he had tutored at Indy, would drive a revival of their early success. It wasn't to be.

The dismissal was a mild surprise, but his fate had been decided for awhile, apparently, to happen so soon after the season. And while his work didn't merit his return, the inaction of the new Pirate suits has to be blamed, too. He never had a chance to succeed with the material he had at hand.

They knew in the spring that they had problems with the starting staff. And while they brought in some help for the bullpen, Phil Dumatrait was the only rotation arm that they added. When Matty Mo quickly imploded, the five men they had were the only five they had left to dance with in 2008.

No meaningful competition for jobs and the failure to land a veteran inning-eater to replace Morris, both as a pitcher and mentor, had as much to do with Andrew's firing as his coaching did. And they know that. That's why they dealt for Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, and Dan McCutchen.

So the pitching cost Pittsburgh more than Jeff Andrews. It also cost the Pirates their two most productive bats, Jay Bay and Xavier Nady. Those five guy sure caused a lot of turmoil this year.

Our major concern is that for many of the staff - Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Capps, and John Grabow - the new boss will be the fourth pitching coach in five years, following Spin Williams, Colburn, and Andrews. That's a lot of tinkering and mind games to deal with for a young crew.

As for Frazier, we'd guess his day jobs of coaching the outfielders and base-running fell short. He was a tireless worker, but too many missed cut-offs and too many gaffes on the basepaths during his watch sealed the deal for him.

Huntington said to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com: "Ultimately, I am the GM, and I am accountable for our performance. I am not proud that I had to make coaching changes this soon with people that I hired only one year ago, but I feel like this is the best move going forward."

We suggest, given the youth of the team, that he bring in a couple of veteran heads that can teach the game and provide a little fire to the troops. And we hope that he continues to really emphasize the fundamentals throughout the system, from Bradenton to Indianapolis, so the learning curve isn't so steep at PNC.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pirates In the NLDS

Pittsburgh won't be entirely shut out of the playoffs. As a popular refuge for the MLB's tired, poor, huddled masses, there are old Bucco's scattered all over baseball's landscape. Here's some guys that wore the Pirate colors that made it to the post season (though we can't guarantee they all make the roster):

Jason Kendall, C, Milwaukee Brewers - The Pirates traded Kendall to the A's in 2004 for Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes, and cash. He signed with the Brew Crew as a free agent in 2008, and became their starting catcher, with a .248-2-49 line.

A number one draft pick in 1992, he played in Pittsburgh from 1996-2004. Kendall became the Pirates all-time leader in games caught, with over 1,200, and hit .306-67-471 in his nine year Buc career.

Jeff Suppan, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers - In one of their better deals, the Bucs shipped the dependable Suppan to Boston in 2003 at the deadline with two minor leaguers for Mike Gonzalez, Freddie Sanchez, and cash. He joined the Brewer staff in 2006 as a free agent. This year, he was 10-10 with a 4.96 ERA.

Suppan was 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA for Pittsburgh in 2003.

Solly Torres, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers - Torres, upset that the Pirates didn't pick his new camp for it's Latin America baseball academy, disgruntled his way into becoming the new suits first trade, getting sent to Miller Field for Marino Salas and Kevin Roberts. Sometimes it pays to rock the boat.

He became the Brewer closer by default, and put together a 7-5-28 record with a 3.49 ERA.

Torres was a Pirate from 2002-2007, compiling a 26-28-21, 3.40 line.

Brian Shouse, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers - Shouse was drafted by Pittsburgh in 1990, and pitched 4 innings in 1993 for the team. He was released in 1996.

He's a regular out of Milwaukee's bullpen, mostly as a match-up guy, with 69 appearances, a 5-1 record with 2 saves, and a 4.34 ERA.

Shouse came to the Brew Crew in 2006 from the Rangers in exchange for Enrique Cruz.

And let's not forget Milwaukee skipper Dale Sveum, who was part of 1997's Pirate "Freak Show."

Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs - A-Ram's trade in 2003, along with Kenny Lofton and cash for Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez was the darkest day of Pittsburgh's lurid salary-dumping history. The big guy kept mashing along the lakefront, hitting .287-27-111 this season.

He played in the 'Burgh from 1998-2003, and had a line of .261-76-309 in those six seasons.

Daryle Ward, 1B/OF, Chicago Cubs - Ward became a free agent in 2006, and signed on with Chicago in 2007 as their left-handed bat off the bench. He hit .216-4-17 in a pinch hitting role this season.

He was a platoon guy in Pittsburgh from 2004-2005, and got his fair share of AB's, putting together a .255-27-120 line during those two years.

Matt Stairs, 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies - The Pirates let Stairs go in 2003. The 16-year vet ended up with the Phils last month in a trade from Toronto, just in time to qualify for the playoff roster, for 23-year old LHP Fabio Castro. He hit a combined .252-13-49 for the Phils and Jays this year.

Stairs was solid for the Pirates in 2003, hitting .292-21-57 in 300 AB's.

Joe Beimel, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers - Beimel, Duquesne's only MLB player, was released by the hometown Bucs in 2004. He signed as a FA with LA in 2006, and has been their left-handed specialist since. The Bluff grad was 5-1 with a 2.03 ERA.

The St. Mary's native pitched in Pittsburgh from 2001-2003, where they changed him from a starter to a bullpen arm when someone noticed he was getting clobbered the second time around in the order. He was 10-19 with a 4.93 ERA in his Pirate career.

No Fat Lady Here

The fat lady may have sung her final aria for the 2008 Pirates, but not for the GW.

Will and I plan to keep churning out the news, analysis, opinion, hot stove stuff, and tales of yesteryear on a regular (though not daily) basis during the off-season. So keep us bookmarked, and stop by when your baseball jones needs fed.

And thanks for visiting us. We appreciate your click. - Ron

Turn Out the Lights...

The Bucs closed out the season the way they started it when they whipped San Diego in the finale today by a 6-1 tally.

The Pirate batters had a case of the back-to-backs today. First, Adam LaRoche and Steve Pearce hit B2B homers in the fourth, and the game was put away in the ninth when Jay Michaels and LaRoche came through with B2B two-out doubles, good for three runs.

The Pirate pitching did a bob-and-weave with the Padre hitters through the first six innings, but limited the NL's lowest scoring attack to one run over that span.

The Buc back-enders had a great finish to the season, with John Grabow, Tyler Yates, and Matt Capps pitching near perfect ball, marred only by Capps plunking a batter. Yates was untouchable again, striking out the side on 12 pitches.

So another tumultous season ends, 2,400 miles from PNC Park. It's time to grab a cold one and get the logs stacked for what's bound to be an interesting hot stove league over the winter.

> Adam LaRoche isn't the only Pirate that has first-half woes. Remember when Freddie Sanchez couldn't hit BP? Well, Sanchez has posted a .348 average since the All-Star break, the third-highest mark in the NL.

He'll also take an 83-game errorless streak into next season. After making seven errors in the first two months of the season, Sanchez has been perfect in the field since May 29th, and his .989 fielding percentage is second-best in the League. Not much range, we'll admit, but he's back to Steady Freddie.

For the record, Sanchez finished up the year hitting .271, and LaRoche .270. The trick will be to hot-wire the duo in April and May next year. Sanchez will hopefully come into camp with all his body parts functioning, and LaRoche...well, he's probably open to suggestions at this point.

> The Brew Crew hung on to take the wildcard spot, as CC Sabathia held off the Cubs 3-1. Our hat's off to CC. He pitched like a throwback warrior, taking the mound on three days rest three straight times. Who they're gonna pitch in the playoffs is a another question, but at least they're in it.

The Mets were dropped by the Marlins, 4-2. Ollie and Scott Olsen were both toast by the sixth, and it became a battle of the bullpens. And as far as the Mets are concerned, that's a losing proposition.

Milwaukee will go to Philly, and the Cubs will host the Dodgers. And we bet that's some somber post-game party that New Yorkers have to close down Shea.

> The Twins and White Sox both won, so here's their scenario: Chicago hosts Detroit in a make-up game tomorrow. If the Sox win, the Twins come to town for a one-game, winner-take-all match.

Whoever survives plays Tampa Bay. And this year's down-to-the-wire races once again prove that a MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. It's also another reason the wild card is so cool.

Sunday Chatter

> Ross Ohlendorf is the third Princeton ballplayer to make an appearance in the Pittsburgh-San Diego series. The Padre's Chris Young and Will Venable suited up for the Tigers, too. Ohlendorf was teammates with both. The Orange and Black must be doing a pretty good job of recruiting these days.

> Ryan Doumit's 15 home runs are the most by a Pirate catcher in a season since Mark Parent hit 15 in 1995. The club record is 17, set in 1965 by Jim Pagliaroni. It's hard to believe that in 122 years of play, no Bucco backstop has ever hit 20 homers.

> GW was pretty hard on Doumit's ability to handle the chores behind the plate, but we're glad to be eating some crow. He, with a few stretches of regression, has improved noticeably during the season at setting a target, framing a pitch, and blocking balls. He's still a work in progress, but he is progressing.

Overall, the 2008 catching line isn't much different than 2007. Pirate catchers threw out 30.6% of the wanna-be base snatchers (46-150), compared to 31.8% (35-110) last season. Doumit nailed 26.8%, Paulino 25.8%, and understudy Raul Chavez gunned out 48% of the runners. Robinzon Diaz was 1 for 1 in his lone appearance.

And we don't read much into the fact that opposing teams ran 40 more times on Pittsburgh this year, other than there were more baserunners to send between the increase in hits and particularly walks in 2008, plus some to-be-expected early season testing of Doumit's arm.

Errors and passed balls were virtually identical between the two seasons. As bad as the pitching was, the ERA went up just a tad from 4.93 in 2007 to 5.12 this season. It was terrible in 2007, and almost unbelievably, even worse in 2008.

The only major upticks were in wild pitches, leaping from 45 to 64 (to us, a combo of poor pitching and catching), and of course, those pesky walks, skyrocketing from 518 to 652 in a year. And you can't blame the receivers for that.

Doumit seems well on track to losing his old moniker of Ryan No-Mitt. More importantly, his legs held up, and he's a lock to man the dish next year.

> Dejan says that the Bucs are gonna try to hold on to Dirt Dog Doug and Jay Michaels. Mientkiewicz we can see, if a contender doesn't pry him away. But Michaels? He gave us some dramatic moments, but a .226 corner OF'er doesn't warrant an invite back to us. We will say that 42 RBI in 226 AB's, though, is clutch, and that's why they're looking hard at keeping him.

The silver lining we see from the offer is that it gives us a glimmer of hope that the Bucs were just puffing up and showcasing Nyjer Morgan, the latest Rajai Davis/Tike Redmond clone, to the baseball world. Just building value, as the suits like to say.

But with Cutch almost sure to start 2009 in Indy and Brandon Moss being sliced, it looks less and less like that's the scenario.

> BTW, the untouchable Yankee arms that Pittsburgh couldn't tear loose at the trade deadline, Phil Hughes (0-4, 7.96 in seven starts) and Ian Kennedy (0-4, 8.35 in nine starts) didn't fare as well as the pitchers the Bucs did get, Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.03 in nine starts) and Ross Ohlendorf (0-3, 7.50 in four starts, with one more coming today). Just sayin'...

The Playoff Chase

The playoffs seemed pretty cut and dried on Labor Day, but there's a couple of sizzling races heading for the wire.

The final NL berth comes down to the the Milwaukee Brewers or New York Mets, both teams stumblin' and bumblin' their way to the finish line.

CC Sabathia starts at home against the Cubs in what could be a preview of the NLCS matchup. The Cubbies are starting *snicker* Angel Guzman, 0-0 with a 7.04 ERA.

The Cubs, wisely, opted to rest Carlos Zambrano, the scheduled starter, and save his arm for the upcoming playoffs.

The Mets play the last regular season game in the history of Shea Stadium, with Ollie Perez starting for New York against Scott Olsen of the Marlins. The Mets start an hour ahead of the Brewers, so expect some serious scoreboard watching by the players and fans alike at Miller Field.

If the Brewers and Mets are still tied after today, they will play a one-game tiebreaker at Shea Stadium on Monday with the NL Wild Card berth to the winner.

If the Mets win and the Brewers lose, the Mets win the NL wild card and will travel to Chicago to face the Cubs in the Division Series. The Phillies would then host the Dodgers in the other series.

If the Brewers win and the Mets lose, the Brewers win the NL wild card and will travel to Philadlephia to face the Phillies in the Division Series. The Cubs would then host the Dodgers in the other series.

In the AL, the Twins retain a half-game lead over the White Sox. Scott Baker gets the call against Kansas City's Brandon Duckworth in today's game at the Metrodome.

Mark Buehrle will try to keep Chicago's hopes alive as the probable starter at home against Cleveland's Bryan Bullington. And whoever thought Bullington would be involved in a meaningful MLB game on the last day of the season?

He's 0-1 since being called up, with a 5.59 ERA. Bullington's pitched 9-2/3 innings for the Tribe in two appearances, one a start. Cliff Lee was scratched from his scheduled start because of a stiff neck, and BB got the nod to replace him.

Chicago may have to make up a rain out against Detroit. If the White Sox and Twins are still within a half-game of one another following today's games, the Tigers would play the White Sox on Monday at U.S. Cellular Field.

Following that game, if the Twins and White Sox are tied, the teams would play a one-game tiebreaker on Tuesday at Chicago for the division crown and a postseason playoff date with Tampa Bay.

The Angels host the Bosox in the other opening AL playoff series. And that should be a tremendous set of games.

One Mo'

Well, if Jimmy Barthmaier could have gotten that third out in the first inning a little sooner, the Bucs may have come home with a scalp. But he didn't, and Pittsburgh went down 3-2.

After nailing the first two hitters on long flies, Barthmaier walked Brian Giles. You can guess the rest. A double and homer later, it was 3-0. Oh, he, Denny Bautista, Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez shut down the Friars the rest of the game, but Chris Young and Trevor Hoffman had all the runs they would need.

Adam LaRouche and Jay Michaels drove home two-out runs to make it close, but that first inning walk ultimately did in the Pirates. They had a shot in the seventh, when the first two batters reached and were bunted to second and third.

John Russell opted to pinch hit for the pitcher with Jack Splat against the RHP Mike Adams. The book says that's the spot for Dirt Dog Doug, but if there's one thing we know about Russell, it's that he has no book.

Wilson struck out swinging, but maybe the lefty-righty thing didn't make any difference, as Nate McLouth did the same - on three pitches.

So ends another mighta-been game for the Pirates. Only one more battle before the 2008 wars end. It's been a long year.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Yada

> Even with Damaso Marte's trade and Matt Capp's stint on the DL - or maybe because - five Pirates have set career highs for innings pitched out of the pen.

John Grabow leads the pack with 73 appearances and 75 innings worked, both career highs. Tyler Yates got the call 71 times (he was in 75 games for Atlanta last year), but threw 72-1/3 innings, the most of his MLB career.

Even the lesser lights worked the most of their young careers. Denny Bautista was brought in 50 times, pitching 59-1/3 frames. Sean Burnett was called on 56 times for 50 innings, and TJ Beam hit the hill 31 times and worked 45 innings.

And with Jimmy Barthmaier and Ross Ohlendorf finishing up the campaign, we suspect that there will be more innings added to the totals.

When five guys from the bullpen have their busiest years, it sure speaks volumes about the starting staff. And with young guys shouldering so heavy a load, it's no wonder the relief corp's work become so spotty as the season dragged on.

> Ian Snell closed the year out with his best two months of pitching, with a 4.67 ERA in August, followed by a 4.33 mark in September. But that's still quite a fall from 2007, when he posted a 3.67 ERA. He finished this year with a 5.42 ERA.

He's a lock for the 2009 staff, but has to cut down on his horrendous pitch counts and get over the implosions on the mound when things don't fall his way. Snell's the only arm the Pirates have with top of the rotation nastiness, and they need him to show it next season.

> BTW, the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League announced they have signed Tanner Scheppers, giving indy ball two of the top three college pitchers available in the 2008 draft, counting Fort Worth Cats RHP Aaron Crow.

This is a good career move? Well, JD Drew hid out in St. Paul during his 1997 holdout, and it worked out OK for him. So we'll just have to wait and see where Scheppers ends up in next year's lottery.

> While in Milwaukee, Adam LaRoche had a deer silhouette, the logo for Buck Commander, tattooed on his arm.

For those of you that don't know, LaRoche is a passionate outdoorsman and hunter, and has done a series of videos with other baseballers like Chipper Jones, Brad Hawpe and Russ Springer on tracking wily deer. Buck Commander is the Louisiana-based outfit that he's hooked up with that sells hunting guides and gear.

California Dreamin'

Well, whatta ya know? There is a team worse than the Bucs.

The Pirates pulled off a 6-3 victory at PETCO Field tonight, thanks to Ryan Doumit's three run blast and Brian Gile's two run drop.

Ian Snell and Josh Geer were hooked up in a sweet pitching duel for five innings, both giving up solo homers. Then Geer's elbow went out, quickly followed by Snell's leg cramping on him.

Pity, too. Snell was working on a one-hitter, and after throwing 27 pitches in the first frame, had a comfortable count (for him) of 80 after five. But they both hobbled off to their respective dressing rooms, and it became a battle of the bullpens.

The Bucs got some shaky work from Sean Burnett (he got himself in more trouble with his glove than his pitches), a brief but effective TJ Beam sighting, another strong inning from Tyler Yates, and John Grabow danced out of a jam in the eighth. It was enough.

Pittsburgh clung to 4-3 lead with two outs and two on in the ninth when the usually dependable Giles couldn't get a handle on Nate McLouth's ball, and a pair of big insurance runs came home.

Matt Capps polished off the Padres on three fly balls in the ninth, and the Pirates finally put one away. It was their first win in San Diego since 2005.

> The Bucs filled their final fall ball slot when they sent OF Jamie Romak to Scottsdale to play in the Arizona Winter League. He hit 25 HR's between A and AA ball this season, but needs to cut his strikeout rate.

Romak whiffed 127 times in 410 at bats. Still, there aren't many Pirate prospects with his power, and his progress bears watching.

> Nyjer Morgan is done for the season after it was confirmed on Friday that he had a mild left hamstring tear. It's too early to tell if the injury will keep him from playing in the Mexican League during the off season, as planned.

Morgan batted .347 in the 34 games he played following his recall and reached base safely in 25 of his 27 starts since. He stole eight bases in eleven tries and scored 20 runs during that span.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Doctor Strangeglove

When I was just beginning to flip baseball cards in the schoolyard, the first Pirate bomber that I followed was Frank Thomas, back in the day when everyone rooted for the home team. The slugging third baseman went yard 35 times in 1958 with 109 RBI.

I was seven years old then, hoping to earn a spot in Baldwin‘s Little League at Lafferty Field, and used to sneak a transistor radio to bed to listen to the night games. Local kids were all Pirate fans and experts before ESPN and cable TV nationalized the sport, and could rattle off every Bucco stat by heart.

But in what was to become a key trade for the Pirates, they moved Thomas to the Cincy Redlegs late that winter for Smoky "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" Burgess, Harvey “the Kitten” Haddix, and Don “the Tiger” Hoak.

I was disappointed, but not for long. A new muscleman showed up at Forbes Field to take his place. It was Dick Stuart.

He was a cocky and flamboyant first baseman from California who hit baseballs vast distances but fielded so poorly that he earned the nickname Dr. Strangeglove. And he didn’t care a whit about his inability to flag down a baseball. In fact, he once drove around with the license plate number E3.

Stuart's ying and yang was crystal clear from the start of his career.

He had hit 66 long balls in 1956 for Lincoln of the Class A Western League and modestly started signing autographs ''Dick Stuart 66,'' a habit he’d continue his entire life. But the Pirates were still wary because, as then manager Bobby Bragan said, "Dick Stuart is the worst outfielder I ever saw in my life."

Thanks to his one way play, Bill James rated him as the worst "percentage player" in baseball history for his inability to draw walks, run the bases or field. However, he twice had an OPS of 140, and in a third year he led the league in total bases. He did his thing pretty well, Sabremetric friendly or not.

After a year and a half in Hollywood and Salt Lake City, where he became a first baseman in name if not in spirit, he got the call to the bigs in 1958. His first major league hit was a home run. His second was a grand slam. Stu blasted 16 homers in 67 games - and booted 16 balls.

No matter how well he hit, he could never shake his well-deserved rep as a bad fielder. He botched 90 balls during his five year Pirate career, and set the modern-day record of 29 miscues in 1963 with Boston.

When the PA announcer at spring training told the fans before the game that "Anyone who interferes with the ball in play will be ejected from the ballpark," Danny Murtaugh, the Pirates' manager, quipped "I hope Stuart doesn't think he means him."

In his first full season of 1959, he hit .297 with 27 HRs and 78 RBI in fewer than 400 at-bats. Stu had 23 homers and 83 RBI in 1960. On June 30th, he ripped 3 consecutive HRs and drove in in 7 runs against the Giants to join Ralph Kiner as the only Pirate to hit 3 HRs in a game at Forbes Field.

He still had trouble with that glove, though. "One night in Pittsburgh, thirty-thousand fans gave me a standing ovation when I caught a hot dog wrapper on the fly," as he recalled.

When Bill Mazeroski hit his unforgettable shot to win the Series, Stuart was due up next. "I was kneeling in the on-deck circle, thinking I was going to be the hero. And all of a sudden, I was out on the field jumping around," Stuart said in an interview with AP.

No lack of confidence for our boy Stu, who up to that point had 3 singles in 20 trips against the Yankee staff, but still couldn‘t wait for that next redemptive at-bat.

1961 was his best NL campaign. He made the All-Star team, hitting .301 with 35 home runs and 117 RBI. In 1962, his usually trusty bat deserted him. When the Forbes Field faithful would get on him, the Gunner, Bob Prince, would come to his rescue with his memorable defense of “Don’t boo Stu in ‘62 - he’ll come through.”

That’s the year my most unforgettable memory of Stuart was formed, when my dad and I were at Forbes Field. We went pretty often, as my father was a born and bred Oaklander and knew all the ticket takers from childhood, which usually guaranteed us free entry to the old park. You could call us season ticket holders of a sort, hehe.

A guy singled into right, and Stu turned his back on the play by the bag, assuming the throw would go into second. It didn’t. Roberto Clemente fired a bullet to first, behind the runner, and nailed Stuart squarely in the back.

He wouldn’t admit he was hurt, or even acknowledge anything untoward had happened - the catcher had to run down the ball. Stuart just stood there, hands on hips, eyes straight ahead, while Clemente slowly shook his head.

As Dick Schofield said "Everybody liked Dick - but he did have trouble with that leather thing." Stuart’s take? “I know I'm the world's worst fielder, but who gets paid for fielding? There isn't a great fielder in baseball getting the kind of dough I get paid for hitting.”

But he didn’t come through in 1962, batting just .228 with 16 homers and 64 RBI. The Pirates shipped him to the Red Sox with Jack Lamabe for Jim Pagliaroni and Don Schwall. He had a couple of great years in Boston, pounding 75 taters and driving home 232 runs while becoming 1963‘s “Comeback Player of the Year.”

He spent five seasons in all with Pittsburgh, mostly alternating with Rocky Nelson. He would get more than 438 at-bats just once in that span. But he made the most of them. In 559 games as a Bucco, he hit 117 dingers, good for 13th place on the all-time list.

He never lost his sense of humor. With his career winding down, Stuart had a two-homer game for the Dodgers, and the crowd went wild. He appreciated that, he said, because "I've had standing boos a lot of times."

He played 1,112 major league games for the Pirates (1958-62), the Boston Red Sox (1963-64), the Philadelphia Phillies (1965), the New York Mets & Los Angeles Dodgers (1966) and the California Angels (1969), plus a couple of seasons spent in Japan (1967-68).

His career batting average was .264, and his lifetime stat line was 228 home runs, 743 runs batted in and a .489 slugging average. He also struck out 957 times in 3,997 at-bats. In 1963, he led the American League in runs batted in with 118.

I can only wonder what those numbers would have looked like if he played in the era of the DH. As Dick Groat said of his old teammate: "Dick just wanted to hit the ball. He didn't want to be catching it or fighting ground balls. To Dick, fielding was a necessary evil. He had to do it to get to the plate."

Richard Lee Stuart, who was born Nov. 7, 1932, in San Francisco and grew up in nearby San Carlos, died from cancer on December 12, 2002 at his home in Redwood City. He was 70.

As for me, well, I wore number 7 on my back every sandlot season that I played. And I never booed Stu.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where's Ryan?

It'd be easy enough to blame Jesse Chavez for this loss. After all, he did walk Craig Counsell, of the .227 batting average, on five pitches to load the bases with two outs in the tenth to get to Ryan Braun, who deposited a slider over the fence for a walk-off 5-1 win.

But this one has to go on the shoulders of John Russell. He said he'd play to win, and he didn't do that tonight. He took the only player he has that's hitting over .281 and his clean-up man, Ryan Doumit, out of the lineup.

He just wanted to give him a blow - with 4 games left in the season, against a team fighting for its post-season life. He did the same with Nate McLouth yesterday.

Do you think that if the tables were turned that Dale Sveum would sit Ryan Braun one night and Prince Fielder the next? Neither do we.

When Nyjer Morgan left the game in the first inning with a tweaked hammy, that left the Brewer staff to face a lineup that featured six players hitting under .230, and three of them under .200. To us, it's not just poor managing to bench your big gun in a match that counts, but utter disrespect of the game.

At least Zach Duke took it like a man, carrying the club on his back while pitching superbly. He threw in and out, using his fastball as his bread and butter pitch. The Zachster scattered seven hits over seven innings, and only two were squarely hit.

Tyler Yates struck out the side on 11 pitches in the eighth, and John Grabow mowed the Brew Crew down 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Pirates deserved better tonight. Maybe Russell is saving the big guns for that crucial San Diego series.

> The Colorado doc concurred with his Pittsburgh counterparts, and Brandon Moss will make a date with the chop shop to work on his knee. We'll see if he can make it back by the spring. It'll be iffy.

> Neil Huntington, after some hemming and hawing, told Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com that Neil Walker may have a shot at unseating the bumbling, stumbling Andy LaRoche in 2009, although he didn't sound very enthused at the thought.

"We're still excited about Neil Walker's growth and development," Huntington said the day they went out and got LaRoche. "Truth of the matter is that Neil has put himself in a position this year with some offensive struggles that he wasn't ready to go, in our minds, Opening Day next year."

He backpedaled a bit today, saying that "We have some things that Andy needs to work on, and we're looking forward to him capitalizing on the opportunity to take the everyday third-base job. But it's not going to be handed to him. He's going to have to earn it."

"Andy has already done some things at Triple-A that we are anticipating Neil will do," Huntington said. "But if it's not Andy, then certainly Neil Walker becomes a candidate."

Translated, it sounds to us like LaRoche is a lock to start next year at third, but if hits like his big brother in April and May...

Huntington also brought up the possibility of "creatively exploring" other options through the free-agent market or the waiver wire this offseason to find an outside answer for third.

But with two of his top prospects already at the hot corner and Pedro in the fold, he'd certainly not look for anything more than a stopgap solution to plug a potential third base hole.

> Hey, it took us all season (GW is nothing if not persistent) but we finally decided to work Google and find out just why the Brew Crew pull out their jerseys after a win.

It's not an "in your face" thingie at all, just another goofy little baseball tradition. Mike Cameron started it this year, following in the footsteps of his dad, who untucked his shirt as soon as he came home from work. So it signifies nothing more than the end of a good day's job. We can live with that.

And boy, are we glad Mr. Cameron didn't take his shirt off when he hit the door. We shudder to think what Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia would look like, bouncing all over the field topless. Beach volleyball, it ain't.

> The Dodgers clinched the West today. It took a bold move by GM Ned Colletti, who put his job on the line by bringing in Manny. But it paid off, and after an adjustment period, LA put together a title run of 18 wins in the past 23 games to notch a spot in the playoffs.

> Mickey Vernon, one of baseball's class acts and a member of the 1960 Pirate World Series winners, died today at the age of 90 after suffering a stroke. His career spanned four decades, from 1939-1960, mostly spent with the Washington Senators.

He was a two-time AL batting champion and seven-time All-Star first baseman, with a career consisting of 2,409 games and a .286 average, with 2,495 hits, including 490 doubles and 120 triples, and 1,311 RBIs, missing two full seasons during the war. Vernon is up for the pre-WW2 veteran's HOF vote in 2009.

Known as one of the great glovemen of his era, he still holds the career record for DP's participated in, taking part in 2,044 twin killings. Vernon compiled a .990 fielding average over the years.

He coached for Danny Murtaugh in 1960, and the Bucs activated him in September for the stretch run. Vernon went 1-8 as a pinch hitter that month, at the age of 42, and earned his only Championship ring.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remember When September Meant Something?

How do you hold the other team to two singles and lose? Heck, it's easy if you're Pittsburgh.

Have your pitchers walk nine guys, commit a timely error, miss a ball by diving past it, and then strike out 13 times when you're at bat. The Pirates did all of that in their 4-2 loss to the Brew Crew tonight.

Two things are glaringly obvious. First, all Milwaukee has to do is show up to whip the Bucs. And secondly, September 29th can't get here soon enough.

> Well, Pedro is finally signed, sealed, and delivered. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, Gorzo was put on the 60-day DL. So now it's time to see if the kid can play ball.

Where is the question. He signed too late to play winter ball, so it looks like he's going to start his career in the Florida Instruction League. Maybe missing three months won't delay his career, but then again...well, it can't help.

He addressed two of the questions his challenge presented. Regarding the lost goodwill of the Pirate faithful, Pedro said "I just want the fans of Pittsburgh to judge me on the field as a player. Starting today, I will work my hardest to be the best I can be."

Alvarez also said that the contract situation and ensuing soap opera was on him, not Scott Boras. "Throughout this whole process, I, myself, wanted a fair [negotiation]," he said. "I thought for myself and made decisions for myself."

Let the Pedro era begin. At last.

Pittsburgh's Pedro Press Release

Major League Baseball announced today that the dispute regarding the status of Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals has been resolved by agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association and that both players will be free to begin baseball activities immediately with their clubs.

The agreement with the MLBPA also clarifies how the August 15th deadline for signing selections in the First-Year Player Draft will be administered in future years. The agreement makes clear that deadline extensions can be made only by agreement between the Commissioner's Office and the MLBPA.

"From the beginning our primary concern was allowing Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Hosmer to begin their professional careers as quickly as possible and this settlement accomplishes that goal," said MLB Executive Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred.

"We fully support and welcome the changes to the manner in which the August 15th deadline will be administered. We believe that the changes will result in a cleaner and more consistent application of the deadline which is in the best interests of both Clubs and players."

Yawn. Pedro gets a few more bucks if he's fast-tracked, a couple less if he takes a stutter step every here and there. The policy the MLB suits and MLBPA agreed on has been informally in place for years, and now it's set in stone.

And with a top five pick next year, we hope Scott Boras and Frank Coonelly can share the same sandbox if need be in the future. What a needless waste of time this whole thing has been.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


It's still five weeks before Halloween, but the Pirates took an early trip to their favorite House of Horrors, Miller Field, and remained 0-for-2008 with a 7-5 loss.

The Buc outfield in particular played like a trio of headless horsemen, committing two errors, letting balls fly over their head, and unleashing throws into the netherworld.

The Brewers were handed a pair of runs to start the game - Jeff Karstens actually pitched fairly well tonight - but came back and treated the Pirates in the second, when Dave Bush walked three batters, including Karstens on four piches, and then gave up two-out RBI hits to Nyjer Morgan and Freddie Sanchez to fall behind 3-2.

But with a lineup minus Adam LaRoche, who is day-to-day with a groin tweak, and Brandon Moss, who the Bucs shut down after finding out his knee may need cut after a routine check-up, the only other runs would come on a two run shot by Steve Pearce.

Jesse Chavez, John Grabow, and TJ Beam hung pitches that were turned into a pair of RBI doubles and a homer, and the Brew Crew, in a must-have game, walked off with the win after Prince Fielder's ninth inning, two-out shot.

The Pirates haven't won at Miller since May of 2007. That's downright spooky.

> The Pirate OF was brutal tonight. Morgan let a soft liner dink off his mitt, leading to a run, and later in the game had trouble playing a ball off the wall and then made a poor throw into his relay, allowing another run to cross the plate. On the other side of the coin, he had four hits. We're guessing he's modeling his game after Juan Pierre.

Nate McLouth left his feet for a ball well over his head and then launched a throw that landed nowhere near his cut-off, and that cost the Bucs a run. Pearce hesitated a second on a liner to right, and it ended up barely over his head. Yep, another Brewer run plated, compliments of the outfield.

> Moss will see a Colorado doctor soon to get a second opinion on his knee. It apparently hasn't bothered him in Pittburgh, but acted up on him in Boston earlier in the year.

He has a structural problem that may need surgery to correct, according to the Buc docs, caused by his tibia and femur grinding together at the knee, technically known as osteochondritis dissecans.

The Vail medico is Dr. Steadman, an expert in microfracture surgery, the recommended course of action to correct the problem. The procedure generally requires 6-8 months of recovery time, and that would put quite a crimp in next year's Pirate plans and Moss' career. Caveat emptor.

> No further word on Pedro. We'll see if the arbitration hearing picks up again tomorrow after being cancelled today. We've seen Rube Goldberg contraptions that were less complicated than this mess. After all, how hard is it to give someone $6M just to play baseball?

> Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has a telling piece on the value of top draft picks and how they contributed to playoff success this year at Built with First Round Picks.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Much Ado Over Nothing

Dejan reported that Pedro has agreed to a deal with the Bucs. It looks like little more than a reshuffling of the original offer. Alvarez gets his $6M bonus, but in four annual payments instead of two.

His contract is worth a tad more now, $6.4M, making him the highest paid rookie this year, and he gets a major league contract, meaning it's guaranteed and he goes on the 40-man roster now instead of being exempt for three years (see Andrew McCutchen, if you think that doesn't make a difference, especially in September).

The extra value of the deal is just about what the Pirates save by spreading out his bonus. And, of course, Boras gets his bragging rights, although somewhat belatedly. Our guess is that he would have taken this offer 15 minutes after Alvarez was drafted.

The MLB suits and the MLBPA have to settle their grievance before he's inked, and since it's now a major league deal, we assume the Pirates will give him a physical before the signing.

Our only two questions are 1) whether the arbitration issue will hang things up, and 2) how legit can a deal be when it's reached over a month past the deadline (and remember, now it's a MLB contract, not a minor league deal), while the original ended up in a hearing room for being maybe a 1/2 hour late?

What a tangled web we weave... But until his name is inked on the contract and approved by all the high hats, we're not going to count the Pirate eggs as being hatched. We just hope this isn't a situation where Boras outsmarted himself.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Turn Out the Lights

Except for the love the city has for Jack Splat and he for it, the game was another forgettable exercise in futility for Pittsburgh.

They lost to Houston 6-2 on a collection of dribblers, bloops, walks, misplayed balls, questionable umping, and wild pitches while serving as Roy Oswalt's personal whipping boy. Pretty normal stuff.

But when Jack Wilson stepped in to pinch hit in the fifth inning, the connection between a player and his town was never more obvious.

The fans stood and roared - well, as much of a roar as 20,000 people can make - throughout his at bat, and they pumped up the volume even more when he roped a single into left field. They rose to their feet once again when he trotted into the dugout.

At least one guy will leave with good memories of Pittsburgh.

> Pittsburgh drew 20,311 fans today, just about right on the season average of 20,113. Their total attendance of 1,609,076 was the lowest since 2004, when they attracted 1,583,031 to PNC Park, and that was during a 75-game home slate. The average attendance is the lowest since PNC opened its gates.

The MLB average since 2004 has been around 2.5 million.

When the park opened in 2001, 2,435,867 people spun the turnstiles. That's 30,834 warm fannies per game, and that represents quite a fall from grace for the franchise.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tag Team Win

Boy, it wasn't easy, but the Bucs pulled out a 6-4 victory over the Astro's tonight in the preliminary to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.

The Pirates scored five times in the first inning - and how's that for role reversal? - tacked on another run in the second, and went into a deep coma for the rest of the game. Ryan Doumit did the early damage, driving in three runs with a pair of doubles.

After that, seven Pittsburgh pitchers, with varying degrees of success, held the Astros to four runs. Houston got six of its leadoff hitters on, banged out eleven hits, drew four walks and got an error to aid the cause, but left 10 runners stranded as they sputtered to defeat.

Jason Davis pitched a pair of scoreless innings for the win, his second, and Matt Capps, despite some drama, shut the door in the ninth for his 20th save.

GW followed the game on MLB.com's Gameday - FSN had that crucial early season clash between Texas and Rice pre-empt the Pirates - and according to their gun, the Mad Capper was hitting 93 with his heater, even touching 96 against Lance Berkman. That's good news for 2009.

Well, one last hurrah at home, and PNC can call it a year. The 2008 season has been a long, strange journey.

> Jack Splat made his return from his finger injury, pinch hitting for the pitcher. He flew out to center. Hopefully, he can take a possible final bow tomorrow.

> The Pirates named Jim Negrych their Minor League Player of the Year and Jeff Sues their Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the 2008 season on Saturday.

Negrych, the Pirates' sixth-round selection in the 2006, hit a combined .359 (170-for-473) with five home runs, 72 RBIs and 87 runs scored in 129 games between Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona.

Sues, a fifth-round selection in 2005, also made the jump from Lynchburg to Altoona this season. The 25-year-old right-handed reliever posted a combined record of 4-2 with three saves, a 3.22 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 37 appearances.

A Pack of Pups

We will say that the Pirates have been full speed ahead in their youth movement. At an average player age of 26.6, they're way younger than the next two NL puppy mills, the Giants (27.1) and Nationals (27.4).

And if they remake their bench, as expected, they get rid of more gray hair. The current B-team consists of Chris Gomez (37), Raul Chavez (35), Dirt Dog Doug (34), Jason Michaels (32), and Luis Rivas (29).

The only other players on the current 40-man roster not in their twenties going into spring camp are Tyler Yates, Freddie Sanchez, and Jack Splat, who will be 31, and John Grabow, who will be 30.

The cloud outside this silver lining is finding an alpha dog to lead the pack. Jack Wilson and Sanchez should be the heir apparents, but injuries have limited them (along with won't-go-away trade rumors regarding Wilson), and Mientkiewicz, a natural born fireball who is iffy to re-up with the team.

A lot of next year's load will fall on the shoulders of Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, and Adam LaRoche, who has shown some signs of stepping up his presence since the trades. As they and the team embark on a maturing process, their ability to lead by more than example will be a needed element in 2009.

> Next year's chance to reload through the draft sees Pittsburgh sitting pretty solidly in the four hole, behind Seattle, Washington, and San Diego, and ahead of Atlanta and Baltimore.

And speaking of drafts, the Pedro soap opera airs its next episode Tuesday and Wednesday in New York. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Meek Shall Inherit the Cellar

Man, it's painful to watch this team. Eight more walks, and three of them scored in the Astro's 5-1 victory. The Bucs only had four hits, and electing to watch paint dry seems to be the paying public's reaction to the play of the past two months.

Pittsburgh only drew 26,000 for a fireworks night, their one sure-fire attraction. At last check, they have 25,000 sold for tomorrow night's Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. It looks like the best laid promotional plans are finally losing steam to the product on the field. Football and hockey have started, and the Bucs can't compete.

EDIT - Boy, did we miss that. Not only did the Bucs sell out with 36,000 fans, but Pitt drew 50,000 and the Pens sat 16,000 on the same day. Over 100,000 locals backed their home teams Saturday, not too shabby a turnout for a "small market".

Ian Snell was wild, walking five, and his velocity was still down. But he didn't give up a hit until the fourth inning, and that was a ground ball single through the hole.

But it exposed a season-long Pirate bugaboo, the free pass - there were two on via the walk before the hit - and the double-edged sword that's Nyjer Morgan.

Morgan fielded the ball in short left and had an easy toss to the plate, no more than 200'. Any kind of on-line throw would nail the runner, the plodding Lance Berkman. They don't call him Fat Elvis for nothing.

But he threw it belt-high to relay man Andy LaRoche, who was on the infield grass, instead of throwing it through him to home. LaRoche's relay was airmailed to the backstop, and that was about all she wrote for the Pirates. How a guy can be so aggressive on the bases and so passive making a throw is beyond us.

Denny Bautista had another forgettable performance to hand the game to Houston. John Russell, who has changed pitchers virtually every other batter since the horde of call-ups arrived to stock the pen, left Bautista to struggle on the hill. In two innings, he threw 44 pitches, and gave up three hits, three walks, and three runs.

In fairness, one hit ricocheted like a Super Ball off of the first base bag, and another fell inches in front of a diving Nate McLouth. Still, both were smoked, and Bautista's fall into the abyss has more to do with his poor pitching than the baseball gods.

On the plus side, Ryan Doumit nailed two would-be base stealers and Adam LaRoche hit his 23rd homer. That's it. Oh, and the Pirates are one game closer to another top five pick in next years draft. Hmmmm...could that be part of the plan?

> Pirate pitching this year has rung up a 5.17 ERA. The NL average is 4.29. Their 615 walks are the NL's most, with ony the SF Giant staff within hailing distance. Just St. Louis has struck out fewer batters than the Buc's 909 whiffs.

Finding the plate and getting some bats to miss balls has to be job number one for Pittsburgh next year. A 3:2 strike out to walk ratio doesn't cut it.

Throw in the fact that Pirate hurlers have given up the NL's most hits (10.2/game, compared to the league average of 8.9), 101 hits more than the next worse team...well, Jeff Andrews will need Luke Ravenstahl's PR person to spin his term in office.

The hitting, although skewed by the pre-trade production, is right about at the NL average, scoring 4.6 runs per game with a .260 team average and .406 slugging percentage.

> Remember how the new ballyard was supposed to rejuvenate the Pirate franchise? Pittsburgh, which dropped to 38-41 at home, will finish with a losing home record for the seventh time in eight seasons at PNC Park.

The Buc attendance is next to last in the NL, at 19,647/game. They're ahead of Florida, which draws 16,179, and behind the Reds, which have 25,615 spin the gates every game.

> The Bucs record is now 64-90, giving them their fourth straight 90-loss season. That puts them in the same company as the Rickey-Dinks of the early 50's that lost 90 games or more in six consecutive years.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Fat Lady Works Overtime

GW was part of a jailbreak from work at lunch with buds Tom DiNuno, Frank Garnett and Chaz Durham, escaping to catch a slacker's special on a beautiful September afternoon. And while we were treated to a competitive game, there wasn't much beautiful about the play.

The Dodgers won in twelve, 4-3. John Russell stuck to who brung him when he made up the getaway day lineup, running Jason Michaels, Chris Gomez and Raul Chavez out along with the fall wonders, Nyjer Morgan and Luis Cruz.

That tells us all we need to know about Steve Pearce, Luis Rivas, Brian Bixler, Ronny Paulino and Robinzon Diaz's places on the Pirate totem pole.

As for the game...well, start with eight Pittsburgh pitchers giving up eleven walks, four of the intentional variety.

Paul Maholm was uncharacteristically wild, giving up a half dozen free passes. Craig Hansen, predictably, faced four batters and walked three in earning a well-deserved loss. Three of the four Dodger runs were scored by a runner who walked.

Throw in a dribbler or three that could have been outs, Nyjer Morgan being easily tossed out trying to score from third with the second baseman holding the ball (we suppose Lance Berkman's lesson hasn't quite sunk in yet), and the Pirates left plays - and the game - all over the field.

EDIT - Paul Meyer said in the PBC Blog that Tony Beasley took the hit for Morgan's doomed gallop home. Doesn't anyone watch the ball?

Still, they made a run at it in the twelfth inning, putting runners on second and third with two away. They don't quit, and the fat lady didn't get to sing until Michaels popped out to second.

What the heck, nice day for a ballgame. Too bad the Bucs didn't join in the fun.

> A sight to behold: Apparently, the Blue Crew initiate their September call-ups with a bit of hazing silliness. When the Dodger relievers walked out to the bullpen in the middle of the first inning, the newcomers didn't carry their stuff in gym bags.

They had pink and blue "Hello Kitty" backpacks instead, much like you'd see on opening day - of first grade! Every now and then, you need reminded that beyond being a big business, baseball is still, and hopefully will forever remain, a little kid's game at heart.

> The Pirates announced that the club has extended its working affiliation agreement with Class A Lynchburg through 2010.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's Not Over Until the Third Out...

Maybe it was because Dirt Dog Doug questioned his teammate's desire in this morning's Dejan Kovacevic piece. Maybe it was because Joe Torre stuck to the book instead of his eyes. But whatever it was, the Bucs should bottle it.

They brought down the thunder and rolled to a 15-8 vicory over the Dodgers tonight. It wasn't as easy as the score would indicate, with some sloppy fielding and another very pedestrian performance by the Zachster.

But the Bucs scored four times in the fifth inning and added eight more in the seventh frame, all with two outs and the bases empty. It was plenty enough to thwart LA, and proof positive of the old admonition to not be the third out.

Dodger ace Chad Billingsly was cruising along with a 4-2 lead, and struck out the first two Pirates he faced in the fifth. He'd finish the inning on the bench after giving up two hits, a walk, and Adam LaRoche's grand slam, a shot that hit the batter's eye backdrop in dead center.

By the seventh, it was 7-7, and Scott Proctor had mowed down five straight Pirates. But Torre went with the odds and brought in lefty Scott Elbert, their #1 draft pick in 2004, with Nate McLouth due up. He walked, and Ryan Doumit went yard.

And that was just the start. The Bucs pounded out 7 hits, the Dodgers added an error, and eight Pirates in all crossed the dish.

The Zambellis weren't in the house tonight, but the Pirates provided a Skyblast of their own for the faithful.

A couple of things became painfully obvious tonight. The Pirate attack will go as far as their first five hitters will take it, the pitching has miles to go, and Brian Bixler doesn't have much of a future in Pittsburgh.

Those have to be addressed for 2009. For tonight, just enjoy the show.

> The Pirates seem to be rethinking moving Adam LaRoche in the off season. He's under team control for one more arbitration year, and they plan to talk to him after the year on extending his contract. That's a good move, with no one else in the system ready to take over first base. The results of those talks will determine his future in Pittsburgh.

> The Pirates announced today that they've come to an agreement to affiliate with the Class-A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League through the 2010 season. Charleston plays in Appalachian Power Park, which opened in 2005.

"We are very pleased to move to Charleston and re-establish Pirates roots with a great community," said Neil Huntington. "It is an opportunity for us to have another of our affiliates close to Pittsburgh and develop players in a beautiful facility."

The move from Hickory marks the return of Pirates baseball to Charleston. From 1971 through 1976, the Charleston Charlies were Pittsburgh's Triple-A affiliate in the International League. From 1978 to 1979, Charleston was Pittsburgh's Single-A entry in the Western Carolinas League.

You can go home again.

> The Pirates also announced their schedule for the 2009 season, which will start late because of the World Baseball Classic.

The Bucs are slated to begin the 2009 campaign on Monday, April 6 in St. Louis. Following a seven-game road trip to St. Louis and Cincinnati, Pittsburgh will return home for a nine-game homestand.

The PNC Park lid lifter is scheduled for Monday, April 13, against the Houston Astros. The Pirates will also face the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins during the first homestand

The Bucs will face all five members of the AL Central during interleague play, taking on the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers (June 12-14) and Kansas City Royals (June 26-28) at PNC. The Pirates will travel to Chicago to face the White Sox (May 22-24) and to Minnesota (June 16-18).

That three-game set against the White Sox will be followed a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Double your pleasure...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bucs Feeling Dodger Blue

Judging by the line score, the Dodgers 6-2 win tonight was a laugher. And the Pirates did play like zombies much of the evening. Pittsburgh only mustered five hits off Derek Lowe and seven all together, and at least four Dodger knocks were off Bucco gloves. It wasn't pretty.

But the game actually turned on a pair of dribblers that put together wouldn't have gathered enough steam to get past the pitcher's mound. One launched an inning that shouldn't have been, and the other killed an inning that should have been.

The Dodgers were up 1-0 in the second inning with runners at first and second and one away when Lowe laid down a bunt. Three guys had a chance to make the right play, and all three blew it.

First, Jeff Karstens stepped in front of Andy LaRoche and fired a one hopper to Freddie Sanchez, covering first base. Sanchez couldn't field the ball cleanly, and it dropped beside him. He recovered in time to beat the pitcher.

But first base ump Tim Timmons missed the pick-up, and called Lowe safe. Instead of second and third with two away, the bases were juiced with one out. A sac fly - which should have been out #3 - single and double later, it was 4-0.

Karstens short armed an easy throw, Sanchez couldn't field a one-hopper, and Timmons missed a call. It added up to three runs.

In the fourth, the Pirates made their only challenge of the night. Three straight hits had a run in and runners on the corner with nobody out. But instead of making it interesting, Brandon Moss topped a ball off the plate, and it dropped five feet in front of home.

Inexplicably, he never ran the ball out. Catcher Russell Martin had all the time in the world to look the runner back at third and then start a 2-6-3 DP. Goodbye, big inning, hello, fat lady.

Karstens had another ugly line - 11 hits and 2 walks in five innings, and looks more and more like the right-handed version of Zach Duke.

> Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors reported that Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein has a source that says the union will claim that the Pirates and MLB engaged in a premeditated conspiracy, perhaps designed to take Scott Boras out of the picture by negotiating past midnight.

And you wonder why Pirate suits avoided Scott Boras clients so religiously? Our guess is that Boras may have just precipitated this whole midnight madness manuevering with exactly this scenario in mind. He then either gets the deal he wants or a juicy arbitration case. Running with the devil...

> Dale Sveum, one of the members of the Pirate's 1997 "Freak Show" that challenged for a division title until the final weeks of the season and one-time Altoona Curve manager, replaced Ned Yost as skipper at Milwaukee. He'll try to right the Brewer ship that was once a run-away leader for the wild card.

> Catch Michael's post at Hyzdu Headquarters, comparing Nate McLouth's 2008 season with Andy Van Slyke's 1988 year. You'll be surprised at the similarities.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Bucs We Know and Love...

OK, back to reality. Ross Ohlendorf, Marino Salas, and Romulo Sanchez gave up a dozen hits and eight walks in eight innings, and the Bucs were mashed by the Dodgers 8-2 tonight.

It got so bad that Juan Pierre even went yard, his first round tripper since September 18, 2006, two years ago.

The Bucs avoided the schneid when Adam LaRoche smacked his 20th HR with two gone in the ninth. Oh well, so much for the joy in Mudville.

> Jimmy Barthmaier is penciled in to take the hill on Saturday, against the Astros.

> Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are now in the 'Burgh, getting their team orientation and marching orders for the off season.

> Some unintended blowback from the Junichi Tazawa situation might be brewing.

He's the Japanese righty that asked the teams in his homeland league (NPB) to not draft him so he could go directly to MLB. A lot of teams are on him; even the Pirates are kicking his tires, although they're not thought to be major players in the chase.

A little background first. The NPB players that are under contract have to be "posted" by their team to move across the deep blue Pacific. Basically, this means that the team that holds the contract puts it up for bid. The highest MLB bidder gets 30 days to ink its man, if the bid is acceptable to his team.

If they get their guy, the fee goes to his team, and if not, the player has to play for the NPB for another year before being eligible for posting again. It serves as a transfer fee between the MLB and NPB, and prevents MLB teams from raiding players under contract.

The system works just fine for the NPB teams, but not so well for the players, who lose the ability to market themselves to the league, as a true MLB free-agent could, the tradeoff to get out of their contract early.

Posting does not apply to free agents, players who have ten or more years of service time with the NPB or amateur players who have never played in the NPB. The amateur loophole is the one that Tazawa is trying to exploit.

Of the 37 Japanese-born players playing in the MLB, only twelve have entered the league using the posting system. Their fees have ranged from $56M for Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka to $300K for San Diego's Akinori Otsuka. The others have either been free agents or vested veterans because the MLB and NPB have an informal agreement to keep their hands off one another's prospects.

And this is why the Tazawa hunt is straining the relationship. They consider MLB's interest in the RHP as a power raid on their feeder system. But what are the NPB's options?

One, according to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors (who got his dope from Patrick Newman of the NPB Tracker), is that a NPB team could sign an American amateur player as retaliation. A player like, oh, Pedro Alvarez or Aaron Crow.

It's a convoluted path to follow, but rest assured that it's a set of dots that Scott Boras will have no problem connecting if the opportunity presents itself.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

St. Louis Meltdown

The whoosh you just heard was the air coming out of St. Louis' balloon, as they were swept by a suddenly rejuvenated Pirate ballcub, 7-2. With 14 games to go and three teams ahead of them in the wildcard race, it's fast nearing the time to stick the fork in them.

Of course, we thought the same thing of the Astro's after Pittsburgh swept them in July. Instead, they just gave them a wake-up call.

The only sign of life the Cards showed was when they charged the field in the eighth inning. Ron Villone had to be restrained by Jason LaRue and a couple of other teammates after Doug Mientkiewicz and Aaron Miles started yapping at one another. He was ejected for his WWF act. Dirt Dog sure knows how to keep a game interesting.

It started the play before, when he slapped the ball out of Mile's glove at second. Mientkiewicz told MLB.com's Todd Krise that "We talked about it. [Miles] said he would do the same thing if the game was close. I didn't deliberately smack at him. That's what you're supposed to do. I didn't try to hurt him."

"I don't know what I've ever done to Ron Villone, but you might have to ask him."

The fat lady warbled early today, as the Bucs crossed the plate six times in the first two innings. They were helped mightily in the opening frame, when the Cards failed to convert a couple of balls into outs - and yes, scorer Bob Webb called them hits.

John Russell showed he knows how to juggle an 18-man pitching staff, using his bullpen to shut down the Redbirds, starting with the opening pitch. Jason Davis and T.J. Beam, the eventual winner, each put together three solid innings.

Romulo Sanchez, Sean Burnett, and Craig Hansen polished off the last three frames, and the Bucs have put together their first three-game winning streak since late July.

For Hansen, it was his fifth consecutive scoreless outing. But we're still not sold on him. He's taken something off of his fastball in an effort to find the plate, but he still walked a pair today in a no-pressure situation, and was shaky last night.

In the past month, the league is batting just .219 against him. But his on-base percentage is a horrid .405, with an ERA of 10.38. Until he can control the plate, he remains a huge question mark.

But you can't ask for much more out of the Pirate bats, even without Ryan Doumit, who was given a blow on getaway day. The first three guys in the lineup - Freddie Sanchez, Luis Cruz, and Nate the Great, who homered - combined for six hits and a walk, setting the table to score six times.

Luis Cruz is starting to grow on us. He appears to be a dependable contact hitter, and his fielding has improved as he's grown accustomed to the speed of the bigs. Brian Bixler and Luis Rivas look like they're about to become yesterday's news.

Hey, who knows - maybe he's auditioning for Jack Splat's spot. Stranger things have happened. And with $7M and a prospect or two at stake...well, just thinkin' out loud.

The middle of the order, 3-4-5 hitters McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Brandon Moss, drove home seven runs. They also teamed up for six hits and a walk. McLouth is becoming the perfect bridge between the scorers and the bangers at the three hole.

Moss is looking particularly comfortable at the dish. He told FSN that the NL plays an entirely different game than the AL, both in strategy and pitching, and it seems like he's catching on to its nuances.

Even Andy LaRoche got in on the fun, ending an 0-21 nightmare with three hits. Let's keep our fingers crossed - he started the slump after his last three-hit day, which ended an 0-27 slide.

And we saw something today we can tell our grandchildren about. Nyjer Morgan came in late in the game - as a defensive replacement! He subbed for Steve Pearce.

All in all, a great weekend of baseball for the Pirates, and one we hope bodes well for 2009.

> In spite of its recent bullpen blowups, the Pirates are 45-2 this season when leading after seven innings. The scary part is that they've led after seven frames only 47 times in 149 games, and still have 63 wins. They may be bad, but they don't mail in games very often.

> Look for the Buc management to push for an aggressive off-season training program for the players. After Paul Maholm, Doumit and McLouth came to camp slimmer and more prepared for the grind of a 162 game season, and Matt Capp's new-found religion after he went on the DL, the benefits are fairly obvious. It's a big part of the accountability thing they've been pushing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

July All Over Again

The Pirates took a trip in their way-back machine and pulled out a 7-6 victory over the Cards tonight, reminiscent of the excitement of the good ol' pre-trade days.

They fell behind by a four-spot early thanks to some shaky starting pitching, roared back to tie the game, and then hunkered down into a battle of attrition between the bullpens.

The Bucs started out of the gate quickly, scoring twice in the first. They loaded the bases with nobody out, and a pair of sac flies put them up by a 2-1 tally.

But Ian Snell, in what's becoming a disturbing trend, gave up four straight hits with two away to hand St. Louis a 4-2 lead the very next inning. A two run homer in the fourth ended his day. He had no velocity, breaking 91 MPH only once, according to the FSN gun.

Maybe they should be worried about shutting him down instead of Paul Maholm. Maholm has more innings, but we'd wager Snell has thrown as many, if not more, pitches.

Adam Wainwright had an off day on the hill, too, showing uncharacteristic wildness and leaving pitches up in the zone. Pittsburgh took full advantage.

Instead of rolling over, the Pirates answered with four runs of their own, stringing together five consecutive hits in the fifth frame. The inning was keyed by clutch doubles off the bats of Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit, who had 3 RBI for the evening.

Then the battle of the bullpens began. The Cardinal back liners put together six scoreless innings. But the Buc relievers countered with eight shutout frames, and they needed every one.

Finally, with two away in the twelfth, the Bucs hit paydirt. Adam LaRoche drew a walk, and Brandon Moss ripped a 3-2 pitch off of the left center field fence, easily plating LaRoche, who was off and running on the pitch.

Moss was mobbed by the team, led by the quiet LaRoche. Maybe it was a bush league celebration of a meaningless if hard fought win. Then again, maybe it's the beginning of a team finding some chemistry and coming together.

It was the kind of game fans pay their money to see. Both sides made some dazzling defensive plays, and there was enough offense to keep everyone happy. Let's hope there's the same fire during the remaining days of the season.

> Jeff Karstens was yanked from tonight's start because of some dental surgery, and has been pushed back to Tuesday. (Snell pitched with his usual four day's rest today.) Jason Davis will start tomorrow, and Monday's guy will be Ross Ohlendorf. Where this leaves newly-recalled Jimmy Barthmaier is anyone's guess.

Friday, September 12, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

Well, the Bucs held up starting the game for over an hour, but it was worth the wait. Oh, the infield was slow as molasses and the outfield was a bit slick, but everything was perfect for Pittsburgh tonight.

Led by the arm of Paul Maholm and the bat of Nate McLouth, the Pirates shed the gray cloud of a six-game losing streak with a 10-2 romp over the Cards at PNC in front of an appreciative crowd of dozens (not counting Rennie Stennett bobbleheads).

Maholm took a shutout into the ninth, getting the St. Louis hitters to pound the ball into the infield all night. 22 of the 24 outs he recorded were on grounders or K's. McLouth reached base five times, doubled, tripled, and homered, and drove in five runs.

Maholm had two hits himself - both in the same inning - a run and 2 RBI. He was a one man wrecking crew. Luis Cruz added three more knocks, as the Bucs banged out 14 hits.

One guy we'd like to give a little love to is seldom used catcher Raul Chavez. He's the poor man's version of Dirt Dog Doug. Chavez chugged out a pair of infield hits on sheer hustle (he's not exactly Nyjer Morgan on the basepaths), and worked Romulo Sanchez in the ninth as hard as he did Maholm in the first.

Even if he's the loser next year to Robinzon Diaz or Ronny Paulino, he's the kind of guy an organization can never have too many of in its system. His workouts are legendary among the Pirates, and he's a high-energy guy that's always ready to go.

When Chavez's tank is empty and it's time for him to coach, Pittsburgh could do a lot worse than adding him to its staff.

> 24-year-old RHP Jimmy Barthmaier was activated today to take the rotation spot of Tom Gorzelanny, whose season ended because of a sprained ligament in his left middle finger. He's scheduled to pitch on Tuesday. Barthmaier's last outing came on August 30th, when he pitched 6-2/3 innings for Indianapolis.

> Daniel McCutchen joined the Pirates for their series against the Cardinals, though he wasn't activated. He said the move was made for him to "hang out and see what it's like in the big leagues." Pittsburgh plans to do the same with Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen during their 10-game homestand, each getting a three-day stay.

John Russell said. "We just thought it would be a nice thing to let these guys be around the staff, be around the players and...to make sure that their offseason program is put together."

> The Pirates honored one player from each of their minor league teams as recipients of the organization's first Pirates Community Commitment Program awards.

Neil Walker (Indianapolis), Brad Corley (Altoona), Jared Keel (Lynchburg), Austin McClune (Hickory), Josue Peley (State College) and Jean Garavito (Bradenton) were the six players honored. They'll receive the award during a pregame ceremony on September 19th.

> Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors printed his Offseason Outlook: Pittsburgh Pirates today.

It's Raining All Over the World...

From his humble abode in Greenfield, GW doesn't think there will be any baseball at PNC tonight. That's probably a good thing, given the latest burst of lethargy shown by the local nine. But while we're waiting to see if they play between the raindrops, it's as good a time as any to look over the post-deal Pirates.

Part of the problem, of course, is that since the trades, the Pirate opponents are in the hunt and actually have a reason to play through August and September. In two months worth of games, only the Reds, Giants and the Padres, who the Bucs won't see until the last series of the year, aren't fighting for their playoff lives.

Jack Splat's injury-laden year and Freddie Sanchez's hobbled bod took away two steady old heads, leaving the team pathetically short-handed. Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, and Nate McLouth must look around every night and wonder if they're back in AAA.

The pups have potential, but not one is ready for the everyday role they've been given. The pick of the litter, Brandon Moss, looks at too many pitches, including third strikes. Whether he guesses too much, has a "fast ball or nothing" attitude, or just looks at one zone of the plate, we don't know. But we do know that you can't hit a ball if you don't swing.

Andy LaRoche just isn't ready. His fielding is raw, and his bat hasn't come around yet. Learning your trade in the bigs is never easy.

The pitchers have the arms, but they all have miles to go. Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf are capable of earning a rotation spot, but both leave too many balls over the plate. Karstens too often hits the wall the second time through the lineup, while Ohlendorf gets lit up by lefties. Craig Hansen just has to find the plate.

Jimmy Barthmaier is a soft thrower with a wicked curve, but only pitched 90 innings in 2007 and 125 this year. He just doesn't have enough work to tout a track record.

Dan McCutcheon showed he will go after hitters in his time at Indy and isn't afraid to pitch to contact. Unfortunately, too much of the contact against him goes yard. He'll have to learn to temper his aggressive approach a bit without giving in to batters.

Steve Pearce and Nyjer Morgan have the look of bench players right now. Neither can field a ball without the pitcher holding his breath, nor done enough with the bat to merit starting on their offense alone.

We still hold out some hope for Pearce, who has less than a season in the OF and shows a decent knack with runners on (his RISP is .294, and he has 11 RBI in 72 AB), but Morgan doesn't have sufficient time left on his clock to improve enough to pencil into the lineup card every day.

Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz? One fields well enough, one hits well enough. Pity they're not one guy. Robinzon Diaz was a depth acquisition, not a challenger to Doumit.

The two prize catches were Jose Tabata, who was all that at Altoona, and Byan Morris, still in A and just starting pitching again this year after missing 2007 due to TJ surgery. Neither is on next year's radar.

To add to the mix, the trades and poor play have weighed heavily the veteran Pirates, who almost to a man on tonight's FSN's "Inside Pirate's Baseball" segment sounded beaten down. It's not a good clubhouse for young guys to be in right now.

Don't look for much next year, other than a steady improvement in the play of the young guys. With Wilson and LaRoche supposedly on the blocks, although there's not a replacement in sight for either one, it could get uglier before it gets better.

But if the cards fall right, Pittsburgh could turn the corner in 2010. Admittedly, that's a big leap in faith, but with Cutch and Tabata on the near horizon and hopefully a return to respectability by the pitching staff, that looks like the window the new suits are aiming for in their long-range plans.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pirates Swept Away by Texas Hurricane

Talk about going down without a fight. Tonight Roy Oswalt faced the minimum 27 batters in shutting out the Bucs 6-0. He yielded three singles, all erased on DP's.

He ran his scoreless streak to 32-1/3 innings, and at one point mowed down 20 straight Bucs on the way to his 15th win. Including the three hits, the Pirates hit just seven balls out of the infield all night.

Zach Duke was again undone by a big inning, giving up five runs in the fifth frame, thanks greatly to a double play ball that was fired into the outfield by 3B Doug Mientkiewicz. The first run, scored in the third, was set up by a bunt that Duke threw into right field.

Losing is one thing; embarrassment is another. And the Pirates look like they're slinking red-faced towards an August-September collapse that even by Pittsburgh standards is stunning.

You'd hope that with five July starters out of the lineup, three by trade and a pair by injury, that someone would grab the bull by the horns and try to get a jump on the spring auditions for starting roles. The same holds true for a wide-open 2009 pitching rotation.

But it looks at this point like the Pirates are going into next season with more questions than answers.

> The Pirates seem serious about sticking to a 6-man rotation to finish the year so that the innings can be kept down for Paul Maholm and the Zachster. They'd both make an extra start if the Bucs went back to a five-man staff.

If Gorzo is toast for the rest of year, Jason Davis and possibly T.J. Beam could make a spot start. The Pirates also haven't ruled out bringing up someone else from the minors, like Jimmy Barthmaier, who wasn't with those called up in September.

> Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors reports that 22-year old RHP Junichi Tazawa has decided to forego Japanese baseball and sign with an MLB team. The Braves, Tigers, Red Sox, Pirates, Mets, and Yankees are thought to be in on him. He features a 93 MPH heater.

Where do you think Pittsburgh ranks on that list of rivals for his baseball affections? Still, they deserve props for getting in the game.

> Pedro's round #2 is scheduled for Madison Square...er, New York City on September 23-24.

Mercy, Mercy Me

Gorzo boogies to finger-poppin' time, Denny Bautista continues to imitate Tyler Yates, and the Bucs keep losin', 7-4 this time. The team has dropped 16 of its last 19 games, and five in a row.

Gorzelanny may be out for the final couple weeks of the season, as he left last night's game with "irritation" of his finger, and will be examined tomorrow in Pittsburgh. He heard a pop, and if it's a ligament, he's done for the year.

As for Bautista, he's has allowed 16 runs in 10 1/3 innings since August 22nd.

> Freddie Sanchez said his vision has improved over the last 24 hours, but he'll sit until he's checked out by his optometrist on Friday, when Pittsburgh returns.

> Steve Pearce's first home run ball, hit Tuesday night, will have quite a story to tell when it finally reaches his mantel. First, he lucked out when an Astro fan gave his blast the Wrigley treatment and threw it back on the field. Unfortunately, the foul ball person got the baseball and tossed it to a fan by third base.

After working out a trade with him, the Buc bench performed the traditional ol' fake toss into the stands scam. Pearce has probably hired a guard to watch his prized horsehide until he can get it home.

> Young Bucs are breakin' out the sunscreen all over the system, as the Pirates announced their winter league assignments.

Playing winter ball in Mexico will be OF Steve Pearce, OF Nyjer Morgan, RHP John Van Benschoten and LHP Dave Davidson. OF Chris Duffy is also a possibility to join them.

Heading to the Dominican Republic will be RHP Jesse Chavez and C Ronny Paulino.

The Pirates are sending seven youngsters to the Hawaiian Winter League. The list includes IF Jim Negrych, SS Brian Friday, OF Miles Durham, LHP Kyle Bloom, RHP Eric Krebs, RHP Harrison Bishop and RHP Moises Robles.

Already announced as going to the the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona League are RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP Jared Hughes, RHP Jeff Sues, RHP Michael Crotta, C Steve Lerud and 2B Shelby Ford, with an OF yet to be determined. (We'd hold out for Hawaii ourselves).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bucs Lanced...

Ross Ohlendorf couldn't handle Lance Berkman, or for that matter, anyone else in an Astro uniform, and Houston kept the Bucs reeling with an easy 8-3 victory last night.

Ohlendorf threw harder - he was consistently about 93 MPH - but the ball stayed over the plate. Berkman launched one for a three-shot homer in the first, and doubled another run home the next at bat. Six runs and nine hits in four innings would be Ohlendorf's line for the night.

Hey, at least Steve Pearce finally went yard.

And what happened to Pittsburgh's middle infielders? After Jack Splat's MASH-unit year, Freddie Sanchez of the achy rotator cuff left because of fuzziness in his vision, a problem he had earlier in the year. He's taking drops to resolve it, but it's been a season that Wilson and Sanchez will be glad to see end.

Injuries to the two guys the Pirates counted on to be in the line-up day in and day out hurt the team's performance as badly as anything outside the pitching this season, both up the middle and at bat.

> Don't expect a quick decision on the Pedro hearings, starting today. It may stretch out long enough to cost Alvarez any shot at fall or winter ball in the organization, assuming he comes out of the affair still under contract to the Pirates.

Due to the number of witnesses being called, the hearing won't be done today. And because the arbitor has very few open dates, it could be weeks or months before anything is resolved. He only has one more open date this month, in late September, and may need a third day, then at least a couple of weeks for a decision.

The good news is that his findings are binding, so when it's over, it's over. There will be no appeals to drag on indefinitely.

> Dejan says that Hickory and Lynchburg of the Pirate's A level-minor leagues may be dropped for other towns next season. Geez, firing coaches is one thing, but firing a city?

> If GW is a little spotty posting, it's not because we've given up Bucco blogging. Our old PC is making life fairly miserable on the e-front, and Mr. and Mrs. GW are debating the repair/buy a new one options. Until then, we're mooching the kid's laptop when it's available.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Little Things Add Up

We don't know if it's more frustrating to be a Pirate or a Pirate fan these days. The losing has to wear on both, especially the way the Bucs lose.

Yesterday, they gave the Giants six, maybe seven outs in an inning and got run out of AT&T Park. Today, they had their chances, and again, just couldn't make a play or a pitch when they had the opportunity.

To start, they made emergency starter Alberto Arias, a September call-up, look like Tom Terrific. He struck out six the first time around the order, and had the Pirates rolling his sinkers on the ground all night. Houston got five unexpected shutout innings from him.

In the fourth, Pittsburgh threatened but any chance of a big inning was erased when Nyjer Morgan, aboard on a single, advanced from first to third on a pickoff gone wild. He took a turn, danced down the line and made a wild sprint home, challenging Lance Berkman to throw him out at home. He did, with nobody out. The Pirates left the bases loaded without scoring.

In the fifth, Ian Snell was tearing through the Astros. With two outs, pinch hitter Mark Saccamanno homered on the first pitch he saw, a not too bad heater that he went with and lifted out to the opposite field. It was the first MLB at bat for the Houston native and 2003 draftee out of Baylor.

The wheels fell off after that. A bunt hit was followed by three roped singles, all off of hangers, and suddenly it was 3-0. It's innings like this that make people wonder about Snell's mental make up, and rightly so. A bad memory is often the best friend a pitcher can have from batter to batter.

And he did have his stuff cooking tonight, striking out 9 in six innings, while giving up only one other hit. He mixed his change in to the lefties and threw first pitch strikes. But for a guy with a self-professed chip on his shoulder, he needs to quit pouting and start battling.

The Pirates answered with a pair of their own in the sixth, and went after LaTroy Hawkins hard in the eighth. Ryan Doumit lined a two-out single into right, and Adam LaRoche drilled a shot into deep center. It hopped over the wall, preventing Doumit from trotting home.

Brandon Moss came to the plate, and Cecil Cooper went to the mound to have Hawkins work carefully to him, with the RH Andy LaRoche on deck. Hawkins fed him a steady diet of curves, and Moss watched a full count breaker drop in for strike three. Even in Little League, the batter knows that you can't go down looking in that situation. But Moss did, and the Bucs went quietly 1-2-3 in the ninth.

It's becoming obvious that the Bucs are looking hard at Nyjer Morgan as an option next season. If Cutch starts 2009 at Indy, the cards seemed stacked in Morgan's favor to claim a roster spot.

Too bad he's not 23 instead of 28. His natural ability is formidable, but his baseball instincts are non-existent. Besides his base-running gaffe, he played a long fly into a double when he lost track of the wall. And for all his speed, he still can't bunt or slide, arts that most high school players have mastered.

At his age, he's never going to be a threat to be an everday MLB player, just a temporary bench piece until the suits decide to start McCutchen's service clock.

Oh well. Wonder who the Pirates will draft next year? Should be a top five pick.

Buc Bits

Altoona Curve skipper Tim Leiper has joined Indy's manager Trent Jewett and hitting coach Hensley Meulens at the unemployment line as the Bucs continue their clean sweep through the minor league system.

It's no great surprise that the new suits want to leave their own imprint on the organization. Kyle Stark's paint-by-the-numbers philosophy of bringing up young players created some tension among guys that in prior years had a fairly free hand at the helm, and caused some considerable head-banging between management and the holdover coaches.

And whether because of talent, teaching, or philosophy, the Pirate's top two levels weren't exactly churning out MLB-ready players. A lot of Pittsburgh's prospects have stagnated in the upper minor league system.

We suspect most have just hit the wall ability-wise, but the new regime made it clear that they have a strictly defined program they want in place, from the GCL to the International League, covering everything from conduct and pitch counts to movement up and down the ladder.

Whether that proves to be a more effective way of prepping talent has years to go before it will be validated, but it's a 180-turn from the old school. We wish Leiper, Jewett, and Meulens the best of success in the future. They were good people and coaches caught in the turmoil and turnover of transition.

> The Buc's list of banged up players keeps on growing.

Jack Wilson has played his final game at short for the club, if off-season trade rumors prove true. X-rays revealed a hairline fracture near the tip of his finger, and doctors told Jack Splat that he can't throw for another six weeks. He hopes to come back to at least pinch-hit or run in September.

Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz will keep SS warm, although Cruz is expected to be moved around the field to see if he has the stuff to be a MLB utility man.

Nate McLouth took six stitches to close the cut over his eye after a bad hop yesterday, but will be in tonight's lineup, bruises and all. Luis Cruz had his left wrist wrapped and was getting electrical stimulation treatment after misplaying a liner Saturday. He's back for the Astro's, too.

Freddy Sanchez will live with his bum shoulder for the remainder of the year. It doesn't seem to affect his hitting, though. He was 8-14 against the Giants, with 5 runs scored and 2 RBI.

> Sunday was a big day for Robinzon Diaz. He caught his first MLB game, had his first hit, first stolen base, first RBI, and first gunned basestealer.

> Pedro has his day in court Wednesday in NYC in front of the arbitrator. The decision will take awhile, even after the hearing, probably requiring two or three weeks before it's finalized. Dejan suggests that the proceeding may take more than one session - and the arbitrator is booked for the rest of the month. The drama never ends.

An Inning of Infamy

The headlines said it all - "Pirates Tie Record With 16th Consecutive Losing Season" and right below it, "Steelers Romp." Baseball season is now officially over in Pittsburgh, at least as far as the local sporting public is concerned.

And with losses like today's, it's no wonder. Cruising along with a 5-0 lead and tossing three no-hit innings, the wheels fell off for Jeff Karstens in a hurry. How about giving up a ten-spot?

It started with a soft single, an error by Karstens, and a lost pop-up by Brian Bixler. Then a sinking liner was spanked into left center that Nate McLouth dove for, missed, and got conked in the noggin with for his trouble, opening a nasty gash over his eye.

To add insult to injury, the single turned into a bases-clearing triple. Three more hits followed, then Steve Pearce misplayed a bloop.

Eight Giants in a row reached base, although if the baseball gods hadn't been so mischievous, it could have been a manageable inning with the Bucs in their dugout. It's hard to point a finger at Karstens in the middle of a team melt-down.

TJ Beam entered, gave up a single, got an out - number one, after 10 batters - and watched a grounder glance off Freddy Sanchez's glove. By the time the smoked cleared, it was 10-5 G-Men, and the fat lady had sung for Pittsburgh.

So far on their road trip, the Pirates are 3-3. They blew a five run, three run, and another five run lead in the losses. At least McLouth joined the 20-20 club today before retiring for the afternoon.

McLouth needed some stitches over his eye, but it's uncertain if the 2008 Pirates can be put back together so easily. With the Steelers and Pitt already on the field, and the Penguins poised to take to the ice, there won't be many people in town that care.