Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weekend Report Card

Hey, the Bucs have been in camp a couple of weeks, and it's time for the first GW report card of the preseason.

Starting Pitching: Absolutely an incomplete here. No one's had a longer outing than three innings, but the rotation is beginning to form, more by subtraction than addition.

Jimmy Barthmaier (0-1, 18.69 ERA), Daniel McCutchen (1-0, 5.40 ERA), and Jeff Karstens (0-0, 5.79 ERA), haven't done much to help their chances in a couple of starts and Phil Dumatrait is still tossing off of the practice mound, so Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Ohlendorf, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm are looking good, at least by default. Many felt that's how the staff would take shape before camp.

But we'll see when the arms get stretched out and the troops are all back from the WBC; the rotation is still flux. There could be a dogfight among Ohlendorf, Gorzo and Karstens for the last two spots, and it will become tighter if Dumatrait makes the roster in April instead of the DL. The best sign so far is that while the guys are giving up some hits, the walks are down, and so are the runs.

Bullpen: Man, they're duking it out here. So far ten guys have yet to surrender a run, and a couple of others have looked nice, but have skewed stats because of one bad outing.

Jeff Sues and Ron Uviedo are in Bradenton for a look-see, while Romulo Sanchez and probably Denny Bautista, both long shots, are working on a ticket to the farm.

Question mark and out-of-options righty Craig Hansen has worked five innings, yielding two walks and striking out six. Another iffy guy, Donnie Veal, the Rule 5 pick-up who went four outings without giving up a run, then walked four today in an inning, opening himself up to a return to Chicago if he doesn't right himself.

Jesse Chavez has struck out a sick nine batters in 3-2/3 innings, but has a bloated ERA thanks to inconsistency - he's also given up six hits and three runs.

The guys have a month to sort themselves out, but so far, this has been a great battle to watch.

Starting Lineup: It's possible that a contest for left field could break out, but otherwise, barring injury, the lineup is set.

Andy LaRoche has shooed away the competition at the hot corner so far, hitting .600 with a long ball and four RBI. And no one is going to claim the jobs of Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, or Brandon Moss, if he can go.

Nyjer Morgan had LF handed to him, but he's hittin just .148 so far, and Eric Hinske would be breathing down his neck if not for a sore rib cage. Hinske should be back in another week, and that position could get interesting when he returns.

And if Moss is seriously hurt, the outfield becomes wide open, with Craig Monroe and Jeff Salazar becoming keepers and possibly starters, at least as a platoon, in a corner spot.

Another guy we'd keep an eye on is Jack Splat. He's hitting a meager .133, but has no heir apparent in the system, so his job is safe. Still, a poor season and the Bucs lose a deadline trading card.

Bench: The fight for starting positions should be so competitive. Ramon Vazquez and Eric Hinske are locked in, and the winner of the Jason Jaramillo/Robinzon Diaz back-up battle will claim another spot. The real battle is for the other pair of seats on the pine.

OF'ers Jeff Salazar, Craig Monroe, and Garrett Jones are duking it out. Salazar has a glove and is tied for the team lead in RBI with 7. Monroe has the advantage of a righty, and has a pair of long balls to lead the team. Jones is more of a first base type that can play some OF, ala Craig Wilson, and is hitting .368 so far this spring. Throw in corner guy Andy Phillips, who is batting .467 with 7 RBI, and the Bucs may have to make a hard decision.

They may keep two of them - Phillips can play some second base - but if they want another middle infielder, then Luis Cruz and Brian Bixler enter the equation. Neither has done much to merit a ticket to the show.

Steve Pearce and Neil Walker? The suits have made it pretty plain that they're going back to Indy. Pearce hurt himself with a calf strain, and Walker lost his value when young LaRoche came blazing out of the camp starting gate.

The Future: A couple of young guns are making themselves heard. 2B Shelby Ford, ticketed for Indy, is hitting .357 with a homer and 4 RBI. Pedro Alvarez, in limited at-bats, is still smoking away at a .456 clip. Andrew McCutchen isn't hitting all that well - .143 with a homer - but has been a force in the OF. Jose Tabata has been bothered by an achy shoulder, but has shown a great eye at the plate.

Injuries: The injury bug is the great bugaboo of camp, and it's bitten the Pirates a bit. We'll now more in the next day or two about Moss, who appears to have sprained or badly bruised his thumb. An MRI tomorrow should determine if there's a tear or not.

Phil Dumatrait, at last report, is throwing side sessions and may get to pitch live in another week. Steve Pearce has a calf sprain and Eric Hinske has a pulled rib cage. Both could be back late next week. Brian Slocum has recovered from a hammy pull, and will pitch tomorrow.

Jose Tabata has a shoulder inflammation. He's expected back early in the week, but as a DH only until his wing is 100%. Prospect Jarek Cunningham is done for the year, suffering ACL and MCL damage during an infield drill. He'll have surgery for the ACL in a couple of weeks; the suits are hoping that time span, spent on rehab, will allow his MCL to escape the scalpel.

* Break up the Bucs! The Pirates hit three homers, by Freddy Sanchez, Craig Monroe, and Garrett Jones, as they rolled 11-4 over the Astros. You may recall they hit four against them in an earlier matchup. Sanchez, Jones (who had 3 RBI), Nate McLouth, and Andy LaRoche added a pair of hits to lead the onslaught.

The Pirate pitching was solid except for Donnie Veal, who walked four, threw a wild pitch, and committed a balk in an inning of work. But a good job by Ross Ohlendorf (3-1/3 innings, six hits, but only one earned run) and perfect relief by Jesse Chavez, Evan Meek, Matt Capps, Jason Davis, and Denny Bautista sealed the deal.

The Red Sox visit McKechnie Field tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. Tom Gorzelanny will start, followed by Sean Burnett, Craig Hansen, Tyler Yates, Brian Slocum and Chris Bootcheck. This will be Slocum's first appearance after suffering a strained hamstring earlier in camp.

* Matt Eddy of Baseball America has a piece giving the rundown on the top positional prospects, including Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. They offer a couple of insights that are a little counter-intuitive from what the casual fan has been fed.


WilliamJPellas said...

I must say I'm liking Garrett Jones more than a little bit. If nothing else, he's shown more versatility than he was thought to have, and he gives us some veteran insurance if/when Adam LaRoche is traded (as I hope he will be, since he won't be worth what we'd have to pay him to re-up long term).

Ron Ieraci said...

Actually, Will, Monroe was the pick-up I wasn't sold on, but if he keeps it up, he'll land a spot.

I sorta figured Jones was a guy they picked up as LaRoche insurance; he and Pearce could platoon at first if one can't outright win the job until Pedro claims the bag.

WilliamJPellas said...

Hmmm. So you're of the opinion that Pedro Alvarez is NOT a 3B, at least not long term in the majors. I know a lot of scouts are split on that one; some think he will grow / eat his way into a 1B, others are not so sure. Have you seen him in person or otherwise watched him enough on TV to be pretty sure he's going to be SuperSizePedro?!? :-D

I guess I'm not surprised about the way the rotation has shaken out to this point---as you say, most observers figured it'd be the same rotation we had last year, plus Ohlendorf and minus Matt Morris. But I was sure hoping that at least one from among Karstens-McCutchen-Dumatrait-Barthmeier would put a stranglehold on a spot, the more so because I'm not convinced that either Gorzellany or Snell or both wasn't hurt last year. Barthmeier probably isn't healthy, either; he might be one of those guys, like Dumatrait, that has all the ability but their body just keeps breaking down. I have to believe Karstens is hurt, too, because his control last season and throughout most of his career has been very good and now all of a sudden he's walking guys. That's frequently an indicator of a hurt arm, as the pitcher will often alter their delivery to favor the injury.

I'll tell you this, too: if all or most of the guys I mentioned above are in fact injured to one degree or another, we could be in for another terrible year with our starting pitching, even though we brought in a lot more arms over the offseason than we did last year. I still say McCutchen will get the first crack at things if anyone goes down or is ineffective. Dumatrait can definitely pitch, it's just a question of whether he'll be physically sound. Same with Karstens, though he's not a guy around whom you can really build a rotation.

Ron Ieraci said...

Mostly, Will, it's just looking at his body type - big! - and reading about the drills he's going through to upgrade his defense; it makes me think maybe he's a bit of a project at the hot corner.

Toss in that first base is about to become vacant and third base has some young warm bodies to draw on, I think putting Pedro on first is probably the best way to get your most talented eight on the field at one time.

Pitching? I still think Snell's the only guy with A stuff, with Maholm and Dumatrait having middle rotation skills, McCutchen, Gorzo and Ohlendorf being #4 types and the rest are just fodder. And yah, pitchers are the most fragile creations in God's green acreage.

Until Brad Lincoln and Bryan Morris come up, Pittsburgh won't have a hope for a #1 pitcher unless Snell grows up, which ain't likely.