Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bucs Bounce Back

Hey, the 'Stros can't throw Mike Hampton against the Pirates every night. Roy Oswalt took the hill, and the Bucs rode two big innings to a 6-4 victory.

Houston drew first blood when Hunter Pence bombed a two-run, first inning shot off of Paul Maholm. Pittsburgh came back with a pair of three-run innings in the second and third to take a 6-2 lead.

They made the most of their eleven hits, bunching eight of them in those two innings and scoring four times with two outs.

The Astros chipped away, but Maholm hung in for seven frames and turned over a 6-4 lead to the bullpen in the eighth. John Grabow escaped that inning, stranding a pair after walking the first batter.

The Bucs blew a gift run in the ninth when lead-off hitter Nyjer Morgan reached on an error and stole second. But he gave it right back when he tried to steal third - with nobody out! - and was picked off by LaTroy Hawkins. Of course, Freddy Sanchez followed with a single.

But no matter. Matt Capps came in and threw gas, touching 97 MPH, and kept the ball down. He got three routine outs, with a two-out excuse-me single the only blemish. It was Capp's 13th save in 15 opportunities and Maholm's fourth win, his first since late April.

And hey, all's well that ends well.

-- Jack Wilson hurt his right arm reaching back for a ball at second in the eighth inning. He stayed in the game and seemed to be throwing OK, but he was pretty uncomfortable, constantly tugging at and stretching his wing. We'll see if it costs the increasingly fragile Jack Splat any time.

-- Andrew McCutchen has all the tools to be an outstanding center fielder, but he's shown a serious case of the nonchalants on a couple of plays so far. Hopefully JR and Gary Varsho will get his act in gear. McCutch needs to develop the focus of Nyjer Morgan and the late Great Nate to blossom into a force in the field.

It's only human nature that a first-rounder with all the physical tools coasts from time to time, unlike afterthoughts Morgan and McLouth, who had to earn every inning they've ever played. But he's in the show now, and the thin line between good and great is drawn on doing the little things well and at 100%.

-- Adam LaRoche stole his first base of the year. He's up to quota now; LaRoche has had one stolen sack every year as a Bucco. The next one will be gravy. And hey, he and bro Andy had a pretty good night. They banged out back-to-hits in the second and third innings, igniting the Pirate attack against Oswalt.

-- Astro RHP Chris Sampson has as much of a hex on Pittsburgh as Mike Hampton. He's gone 14 outings covering 22 innings against the Bucs without yielding a run. Only Nolan Ryan and Octavio Dotel have strung together longer scoreless streaks for the Astros against Pittsburgh.

-- Neal Huntington released a letter to the fans explaining the McLouth trade. Why explain? Well, as the man writes: "We knew this move was not going to be popular in the clubhouse with our players or among our fan base who have suffered through a long stretch of losing seasons." Amen to that.

-- The draft is Tuesday, and there are two schools of thought regarding the Buccos pick. One school believes they'll go cheap in the first round, signing a position player, and then be able to spend more money on pitching in the later rounds.

The other school thinks that with clearing Nate McLouth's salary for the rest of the year, they could go for a big-bucks guy like Aaron Crow, who sat out a year rather than take $3M last go-around. The Pirate selection process should be interesting; there aren't any real favorites this time around, and both plans have their strengths in a draft that's not top-heavy but pretty deep.

-- The Pirates have to learn to play ball against their division if they want to go anywhere. Right now, they're 26-29, 6-1/2 games behind the Brew Crew. In Central play, Pittsburgh is 10-20, and has a losing record against every team in the division.

1 comment:

WilliamJPellas said...

Well, I gotta hand it to Neil Huntington. That letter was so incredibly well written and such a clear statement of his principles, that I almost---ALMOST---forgave him for trading Nate. Heh heh.

Seriously, if nothing else, he does have a vision and he does have a plan and he is, in fact, acting in accordance with that vision and that plan. No question about any of that. And, I respect a man who at least has principles and sticks to them---which is, obviously, a whole lot more than we had in the previous regime. For that, I am grateful.

I still don't like the trade, but what's done is done, and let's hope at least two of the three players pan out.