Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Steady Freddy and the Big O Come Through

Hey, the Buc clubhouse was down in the dumps again, singing the blues as a couple more of their compadres moved on. It's a tough time to be a Pirate; they're probably all crouched in a corner trying to avoid Neil Huntington and his handful of plane tickets.

But they played like pros tonight, riding the sharp pitching of Ross Ohlendorf and the clutch hitting and running of Freddy Sanchez to a 3-0 win over their Central division nemesis, the Cubs.

The Big O worked his slider, change, and moving fastball like a magician tonight, going seven innings and giving up just four hits without a walk and whiffing eight as he notched his seventh win.

He had some help in the field. Andrew McCutcheon made a diving grab to steal one hit, and Brandon Moss, the new left fielder, cut off a liner and threw out Geovany Soto at third to end the seventh inning.

John Grabow deserves big props, too. He came on in the eighth and gave up a ground ball single and then watched Jack Wilson throw the next ball away, putting runners at second and third with no outs and facing the tying run. Grabow calmly struck out the next two batters and got the last out on a hopper to Sanchez, allowing Matt Capps to cruise through the ninth for his eighteenth save.

And Steady Freddy, after coming up empty in the clutch last night, banged a pair of two-out RBI knocks and scampered home from second on a wild pitch to single-handedly carry the anemic Bucco attack. He may not be getting much voter love, but Sanchez is playing like he should be the Pirate All-Star in St. Louis.

Virgil Vasquez (1-0, 3.00) will take on Randy Wells (2-3, 2.57) in the rubber match at PNC tomorrow night.

-- With Nyjer Morgan's trade, Sanchez moved up to the two hole for Pittsburgh and Delwyn Young hit third.

-- As clutch as Sanchez was, Robby Diaz was the opposite. He left six runners on, hit into two DPs, and was spared the ignominy of swinging into four twin killings in one game when he bounced into two-out force plays twice.

And Away They Go...

If you're keeping score, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, and Eric Hinske got their plane tickets out of town, and OF Lastings Milledge, RHP Joel Hanrahan, and a couple of A players joined the swinging door Pirates.

Indy's OF/1B Garrett Jones will be at PNC tonight, and OF Jeff Salazar will join him tomorrow. Hanrahan will take Burney's spot in the bullpen, and Milledge will continue his minor league rehab. C/OF Eric Fryer will squat behind the plate at Lynchburg and RHP Casey Erickson will join West Virginia's rotation.

So what do we have? Morgan will patrol center for the Nats and Burnett will join their porous pen. NyMo was hitting .151 against lefties, and that probably spelled his doom, along with being 29.

Burney, the popular theory claims, was nothing more than a LOOGY, although his splits say otherwise; RHB hit .211 against him, while LHB hit just .189.

He's the surprise in the package to us; we thought he would become John Grabow's replacement when it was his turn to leave the 'Burg. But he's not the power arm that Hanrahan is, and the Buc suits value - hey, overvalue - velocity. Lighting a candle for Nate McLouth after his trade probably didn't help his cause, either.

And if Grabow does go, Burnett's trade means that Donnie Veal is the only lefthanded reliever on the 40-man roster, and they want to convert him to a starter next year. Maybe Gorzo will become the next Burney.

Milledge, 24, is a toolsy hitter with a history of immaturity. But he stands a better chance of being an everyday, productive player than Morgan, even if his fielding will never be mistaken for Mo's in the pasture. We'll see if the third time is the charm; both the Mets and Nats gave up on the talented Floridian.

The closest comparison we can make with Milledge to a player already in the organization is that he's an older Jose Tabata, with center field wheels and a corner stick - and with some growing up to do.

Hanrahan is a Craig Hansen/Tyler Yates clone. He was awful as a starter in 2007, pretty decent last year as a reliever, and downright terrible this year, losing his closer's job; that's what a 7.71 ERA will do to you. But in his career, he has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and the current Pirate suits just can't seem to resist the possible upside of a guy that can blow the ball past ya.

The two minor leaguers the Bucs landed from the Yankees - Hinske is taking over Xavier Nady's bench spot for the Bronx Bombers - are considered fringe players, although the Pirates tried to land Fryer when he was a Brewer last season, and think he has MLB potential behind the dish. Erickson is a ground ball pitcher, and despite putting up nice numbers out of the bullpen, will be plopped into the Power rotation.

Both will be 24 in August, and are gonna have to fast track their way out of Class A. Still, they're probably as good a haul as can be expected for a bench guy with one homer, and the Bucs thought highly enough of the pair to throw $400,000 to the Yanks to help cover Hinske's remaining salary.

Hinske and Morgan's departure allows the Pirates to get plenty of at-bats for Brandon Moss, presumably the new left fielder, and Delwyn Young, who will take over in right, at least until the All-Star break.

If Milledge makes it up before September - and he should easily, although the suits say he has to earn a spot - he'll probably end up in left. He's got center field speed, although not the glove of Morgan. But Gary Varsho turned Morgan from a raw package into a pretty nice outfielder; maybe he can spin the same magic with Milledge.

At any rate, the plan is for him to be on rehab assignment for another week to ten days and then on to Indy, so they have some time to sort it out. Who knows? By then, Young may be playing second base.

Our only problem with the dealing is while we understand they're selling high on their players as best they can, the management is still collecting random bits and pieces.

We'd feel better if some sort of plan, other than grabbing whatever they can find, like kids in a candy store, seemed to be taking shape. We suppose that one day it will all become clear. At least now we know that they hope Milledge and Tabata can become the corner outfielders of the future; time to get to work on the middle infield.

But until then, hey - who's gonna lead the team bump after the Jolly Roger gets raised?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Same Ol' Song

Ah, the Bucs ease back into Central division play against the reeling Cubbies, losers of 6 of the last 7 games and home of Milton Bradley driven discord. Rich Harden, with a 4.95 ERA and without a victory since May 12th, was on the hill against Pirate ace Zach Duke. Time to make hay, hey?

Nah. Duke was OK, giving up three runs in seven innings and none after the fourth, but the Bucs couldn't get the clutch hit and dropped a 3-1 decision to Chicago.

The Pirates banged out eight hits between the fifth and seventh innings, and scored just one run. Seven of the knocks were singles, and no hit advanced a runner more than station-to-station. They left the bases juiced in the fifth, wasted back-to-back hits in the sixth, and ended the seventh with a DP.

After two more against the Cubs and a make-up against the Mets, the Pirates take to the road for nine games before the All-Star break. These next two weeks could prove crucial to their hopes in 2009. If they get through that stretch and late July within sight of the Central leader board, Pittsburgh will be home for 35 games in the friendly confines of PNC.

If not, plan on buying a scorecard. The team will surely look a whole lot different for those last two months of the season. If they hang around, there will still be a house cleaning, but more likely during the off-season (even the Pirate suits should know better than to blow up a team while it's still got a pulse.)

Whether they stay in the race or not will depend on the pitching. Pittsburgh is 28-15 when yielding four runs or less, but 7-26 when giving up five or more. There's not much wiggle room when the staff has a bad night.

-- Ryan Doumit's estimated return date is July 17th, after the All-Star break. His estimated trade date, July 30th. Just jokin'...maybe.

-- Don't be surprised if Donnie Veal isn't completely "rehabbed" by July 8th and spends some more time on the DL. The Rule 5 claim needs to spend 90 days on the roster to stick with the organization; since he went on the DL June 1st, he has 55 days under his belt.

JR looks quite comfortable with the bullpen's current configuration, and seems to have confidence in all the staff now that Steve Jackson and Jeff Karstens have joined the mix. The Pirates may not want to disrupt his comfort zone. And if they DL Veal until the September call-up, they only have to carry him for a week in 2010 to complete their claim.

He can join other out-of-option pitchers Phil Dumatrait, Tyler Yates, and Craig Hansen on the see ya in September list.

If they can't poke and prod an extended injury out of him, look for Evan Meek or perhaps Jackson to spend a few weeks in Indy.

-- We're still scratching our heads over the Steve Pearce call-up. Unless Adam LaRoche is about to be moved, he's the odd man out both in right and first base. Wouldn't the time have been better spent at Indy, playing ball instead of watching?

-- We're also a little curious why the Buc suits are badmouthing Ian Snell, calling his contract a mistake and admitting that they've been trying to move him for months. Doesn't exactly sound like the way to plump up a guy's value to us. Then again, they're probably just verbalizing what the rest of MLB already knows.

The biggest block in moving Snell is that he's locked into a contract that pays him starter wages when the rest of the league sees him as a reliever. At any rate, judging by the roaring inferno of burning bridges, it's unlikely that Snell will ever pull on a Pirate jersey again, seventeen strikeouts or not.

-- Pedro Alvarez's knee injury is tendinitis; he's expected to miss a couple more days. He's looking more and more like a first base candidate.

-- Think the Pirates have issues with their minor league pitching? The Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres) and the High Desert Mavericks (Mariners) slugged it out to the tune of 51 runs in Lake Elsinore's 33-18 victory in the Class A California League. Hey, we know the west coast leagues are hitter's paradises, but geez...score eighteen runs and still lose by fifteen?

Attendance Pipe Dreams

Hey, DK had a piece in the Post-Gazette on Sunday with Frank Coonelly discussing the payroll differences between the Pirates and Brew Crew.

There's a huge revenue gap between the two clubs, and according to the story: "Coonelly pointed out that Milwaukee has built up its product to the point that it has a $50 million advantage over the Pirates in local revenue, thanks almost entirely to having drawn 3 million fans last year to the Pirates' 1.6 million."

First, let's disabuse anyone from thinking that the Pirates will draw three million folk. Pittsburgh has drawn over 2,000,000 fans only three times in its history, and two of those times were 1990-91 at Three Rivers, the last time they had some players on the field.

The Pirates biggest year was 2001, when PNC Park opened. They averaged 30,834 fans per game, with a total gate of 2,435,867. (Pirate attendance through the years, from Baseball Almanac.)

The seating alone precludes Pittsburgh from drawing 3,000,000 fans. Miller Park holds 43,000, so they have to sell 86% of their seats to draw 3,000,000. PNC has 38,362 seats, and would need a 97% sell rate to draw three million people, virually a sellout crowd of 37,083 every game.

The Bucs best year, 2001, saw them selling 80% of the seats over the course of the season. And PNC is the smallest ballyard in MLB next to Fenway Park.

Ticket prices are about a wash, with Milwaukee getting $18.11 per ducat and Pittsburgh $17.08 ($22.01 is the MLB average). Still, a bigger yard and an extra buck per ticket sold does translate into a few more benjamins rolling into the Brewer coffers.

You may also recall the brouhaha over the stadium referendum back in the day; it was actually defeated locally until the State came through with a plan.

As a result, the Pirates got advertising and concession revenues in exchange for park maintenance; the Brewers also got the lucrative parking rights for 13,000 spaces around Miller Park.

So let's set some realistic goals. If the Pirates improve their product to the point where they can move 85% of their tickets, they would average 32,607 warm booties per game and have an attendance of 2.6M. That would increase ticket revenue, at today's rates, by $17M dollars, plus the associated revenues the increased foot traffic would bring in souvenirs, hot dog sales, advertising, etc.

And improving the team is the key. Forbes Field had its best attendance far and away in 1960; TRS's best years were in 1990-92, and 1988, when they finally came out of the doldrums to finish second.

The Pirates haven't developed any particular cachet among the fan base to guarantee attendance; they need to field competitive teams if they expect to just open the gates and be flooded with fans, ala the Steelers and Pens.

Our take on the attendance question? First, don't fixate on what other teams draw. If the Pirates put a respectable team on the field, a realistic goal over time would be to sell 75% of the park, which translates to 28,772 fans per game/2,330,500 over the season. The stadium size and market almost guarantee that the Pirates will never draw the MLB average, which was 2.7M last year, over 33,000 per game.

Though they don't divulge their numbers, in 2007 they sold the equivalent of 9,000 full season plans. It's thought to be lower now, because of the post All-Star drop off in sales (as you recall, you needed a season-ticket plan to get All-Star seats in 2006, and they sold over 11,000 packages that season). Still, that's roughly 700,000 seats, and that's not a lot.

They have to continue and expand their season, corporate, and group sale efforts. The MLB average, so far as we can ferret out, is about 15,000 season tickets, so they have a ways to go. Ideally, you'd like half your tickets to be pre-sold.

Do this with the understanding that your ceiling is 2,500,000 in attendance for all intents and purposes. The Pirates are brilliant with in-game promotions, but will have to mine other revenue streams like advertising and local media rights to close the financial abyss.

Next, they have to fight the urge to take the easy road out and jack up ticket prices as a quick fix. Hey, their prices are dirt cheap, and they certainly can be raised.

But don't scare away a skeptical public by trying to make up the revenue gap in one or two jumps. You can't erase 15 years of bad play and all the negative publicity, not just locally but across the nation, in one fell swoop.

Last, realize that sales in Pittsburgh correlate to a great degree with on-field performance. The suits, and Bob Nutting in particular, will have to spend money now to make money later.

Easy, hey?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Too Little, Too Late

Hey, Zack Greinke is all that. He went seven innings, and until the rain fell that frame, the Bucs couldn't solve him. Pittsburgh had seven hits off him in 6-1/3 innings, but only two runners got past first base.

Charlie Morton couldn't match up with him, as he tried to chip away at the rust of pitching only six innings in three weeks. But he kept them in the game, giving up a three spot in his five innings of work. Morton threw strikes, but his command was off.

The bullpens took over, and they both were more than equal to the job at hand. KC had three guys pitch 2-2/3 scoreless and hitless innings; the Pirates used five arms to shut down the Royals over the last four frames on one hit.

It was one of those glass-half-full days; everyone but Cincinnati in the Central division lost today, so it was a squandered opportunity, but at least they didn't lose any ground. And hey, the goal is to keep winning series, and they did that against KC.

-- Too early to tell whassup with Charlie Morton; we'll wait until he takes his turn on a regular basis and gets into a groove before we pass judgment. His ball has nice movement, especially the heater and change, but he was up and over the plate too much today. Could be inactivity; could be his MO. Time will tell.

-- That the Bucs are a team in progress was obvious in the fifth inning. With runners on first and third with one out, Adam LaRoche went for the runner at home after fielding a slow grounder. Had him, too, except Jason Jaramillo missed both blocking the dish and the tag, and that run would loom large.

The next batter, with runners on first and second, lifted a fairly deep fly to center. Cutch went for the runner at third instead of making the smart play to second, allowing both runners to advance. Young teams that are dependent on small ball have to play smart baseball in the field, too.

-- Another thing we don't understand: after giving up a leadoff single in the seventh and up 3-0, the Royals put a big shift on Eric Hinske, with the third baseman playing the shortstop position. Doesn't Pittsburgh need runners in that situation, at least enough to see if you couldn't push a ball past the pitcher for a sure hit, or take a stab at poking it the other way to get the tying run on base?

Not our heroes. Lefty Hinske took two big cuts, then popped out - to the third baseman playing short. To add insult to injury, the next batter, Andy LaRoche, tripled. Smart small ball; can't play it sometimes and not others.

-- Geez, what's Ray Searage doing with the pitchers at Indy? Ian Snell went seven frames today, and gave up one unearned run on two hits, with one walk and 17 punch-outs. Tom Gorzelanny pitched five innings yesterday, allowing two unearned runs on four hits and two walks while striking out 12. Look out, Joe Kerrigan!

-- Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer took a look at the upcoming MLB meat market, and had this to say about the Pirates:
"Headed toward a record 17th straight losing season, the Pirates are already sellers, having sent all-star outfielder McLouth to Atlanta. Word is the Pirates would deal starter Ian Snell and listen on starters Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, and closer Matt Capps. First baseman Adam LaRoche, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and shortstop Jack Wilson are all in play."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Earl Weaver Was Right

Hey, there's nothing to coaching baseball, according to the gospel of old Oriole manager Earl Weaver: get solid starting pitching and play for the three run homer. It worked for him over the years, and it worked for the Bucs tonight as they won 6-2.

Paul Maholm gave the team the solid pitching, going seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits and a walk, and getting three DPs behind him. His only bump in the road was dealing with Willie Bloomquist and Billy Butler; Bloomquist scored twice, driven in both times by Butler. He faced the minimum 12 batters over the last four innings.

After falling behind 2-0, Delwyn Young followed a pair of bloops with a blast into the bullpen, and the Pirates never looked back, putting up insurance scores in the seventh and eighth frames. 36,000+ fans were loving the game as much as the fireworks.

The Central is topsy-turvy this year. The Bucs are in last, but only five games in back of frontrunners St. Louis and Milwaukee (and the wildcard), and 1-1/2 games behind the Cubs for third.

It could make the upcoming moves a little more tricky for the suits if the team keeps within shouting distance for another month.

Do they dare move Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez if they're in a race? The pair don't really fit into a 2012 time frame, but there's no one behind them in the system for now, like McCutch was for Nate McLouth. Stay tuned.

-- A couple of notable vignettes from last night's game: Royals OF Jose Guillen played Andy LaRoche's triple off the Clemente wall with his honker. The drive hit high off the facade, dropped straight down, and took a nasty bounce right off his beak.

The post-game bump included half the team this evening, with Young sprinting in from right and Sanchez and Wilson joining in with Nyjer Morgan and McCutch. Morgan wasn't used to all the company and ended up sprawled on the outfield. Hey, it's nice to see the guys with a little life, like they really enjoy playing the game.

Young kept peeking over his shoulder during the FSN post-game interview to see if he would get splatted with a shaving cream pie from his teammates, ala Cutch. He didn't; we guess the guys were too busy practicing the bump for anyone to do the honors.

A Pirate fan reached over the railing to pull in a ball that was in play. Morgan chided him briefly, and all ended up well, as the umps, after a quick conference, kept the runner, pitcher Bruce Chen, on first. It didn't end up as well for the fan; he was escorted out of the park.

-- The Pirates are celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Forbes Field. Did you know the 1909 Pirates of Honus Wagner were the first Pittsburgh team to win a world championship in sports when they beat the Tigers four games to three in the Series?

And they were the first Bucco squad to host a fireworks display, when the sky show was part of the victory parade. Wonder if that's how the Zambelli's got their start?

-- Still miss Doug Mientkiewicz?

This 'N That

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette reports the next trading block tidbit; the Nats are hot for Nyjer Morgan.
The teams began discussing this (deal) eight days ago, and a Washington proposal in which the Pirates would get younger outfielder Lastings Milledge crumbled when the Pirates came back seeking Milledge and starter Craig Stammen.

One of the sources said the teams plan to continue to talk, mostly because the Nationals are eager to have Morgan as a leadoff man.

Milledge, 24, is five years younger than Morgan and once was considered an elite prospect. He currently is rehabilitating a broken finger in Class AAA and should be ready to return in early July.
Doesn't anyone have a spare middle infielder or two stashed away somewhere? Enough with the outfielders already!

-- The Bucs did a make-over of Virgil Vasquez's pitching repertoire at Indy, according to Jen Langosch of MLB.com. V Dub had been a fastball-slider pitcher for the Tigers. But the Pirates didn't allow him to throw the slider at Indy, forcing him rely more on his curve and change, which he was hesitant on using in the past. Works so far.

-- July should turn into a very interesting time for the Bucs. They're still hanging around in the Central and wildcard races; will that impact how high they blow up the current roster? And while Tyler Yates, Craig Hansen, and Phil Dumatrait will surely be gone until September, they'll have to make room on the roster for Donnie Veal and Ryan Doumit when they return next month.

Don't spend a lot of time trying to memorize all the faces now on the Pirate bench; they will be plenty of changes coming in the next four or five weeks. McCutch may be the only player that's safe.

-- The Pirates are 7-6 in interleague play so far this season; a split with KC will give them a winning record against the junior circuit for the first time since 2001, when they were again playing against their Central division counterparts. They should do so well against the NL Central.

-- How far does the Pirates' minor league system have to go before they come all the way back? According to Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Pirates have two of the worse teams in the bushes at Altoona and West Virginia, and one of the better ones at Lynchburg.

Mixed progress, so it seems, in the suits rebuilding program. Even with the player-for-prospect trades, they're a couple of solid draft classes away from stocking the minor league pond.

-- Xavier Nady's elbow rehab didn't do the trick; now it looks like he'll need TJ surgery, according to George King III of the New York Post. That may take him out of action until 2011, and sure isn't the way he planned to enter his free agent year of 2010.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bombs Away In Pittsburgh PA

Break up the Bucs! Led by the effective pitching of Virgil Vasquez and three long balls by unlikely power sources Nyjer Morgan, Jason Jaramillo, and Jack Wilson, the Pirates overcame a little ninth inning drama to take the opener from the KC Royals, 5-3.

The Double V fought off some early nerves - he gave up both of his runs in the second on a lead off walk followed by back-to-back doubles - and then Vasquez quickly found his groove, becoming the poster child for working quickly and throwing strikes.

He went six innings, giving up four hits, walking a pair, and whiffing seven to notch his first MLB win. Steve Jackson and Sean Burnett shut the door on the Royals in the seventh and eighth, and Matt Capps earned his seventeenth save, albeit with a little two-out damage that brought the winning run to the plate.

The key play was in the second, when with two runs in and a runner at second base with no outs, a grounder to Wilson turned into a thank you ma'am DP when he caught the runner going to third and Freddy Sanchez dove and tagged the batter trying to sneak into second.

Vasquez mowed down 13 of 15 Royals after that, and the Pirates were on the road to their third straight victory.

-- Vasquez started for Charlie Morton tonight; Morton will start for Ian Snell on Sunday to give his tight hammy a couple of more days to loosen up before taking the hill.

-- Ryan Doumit will head to Bradenton early next week to begin rehabbing his broken wrist at Pirate City. He's still thought to be several weeks away from being game ready. Doumit has been hitting BP and catching the bullpen while with the team.

-- Stumblin' prospect 1B Jamie Romak, 23, has been sent down to Lynchburg and OF Miles Durham, 26, took his spot at Altoona. Romak is hitting .175/5/24, while Durham is batting .296/7/39.

-- The Pirates promoted OF prospect Starling Marte, 20, from Bradenton of the GCL to Class A West Virginia. Pitcher Quinton Miller, 19, will join him, coming up from State College.

Marte was the Dominican Summer League MVP last year after batting .296/9/44 in 65 games and is considered one of Pittsburgh's top Latino prospects. RHP Miller, a 20th round selection in 2008, signed in August for $900,000 out of high school. Both youngsters are highly regarded by the Pirate organization.

RHP Noah Krol from Bradenton and 3B Brett Willemburg also were moved up to WV. Krol, 25, came from the Tiger organization, and Willemburg, 25, is from Cape Town, South Africa and spent most of his career playing internationally.

In addition, the Pirates' first-round draft pick, BC catcher Tony Sanchez, 21, is expected to join the Power on Saturday after a State College shake down cruise.

-- *sigh* The Pirates get another mention in Baseball America's "Not So Hot" Prospect Sheet:
Shelby Ford, 2b, Pirates. Not even in Matt Antonelli's darkest hour last season, in his Triple-A debut, could he imagine the depths Ford has visited. Antonelli, if you'll remember, batted .215/.335/.322 for Portland a year ago, showing none of the power or speed that had marked him as a top-tier second base prospect. While Ford, a third-round pick from Oklahoma State in '06, lacks Antonelli's first-round pedigree, he's suffered a similar fate with Indianapolis this season. The 24-year-old switch-hitter went 3-for-16 (.188) on the week and has batted a miserable .166/.210/.218 through 193 at-bats this season, connecting for only one home run and five doubles. With those sorts of numbers, one might expect Ford to be suffering from sever strikeout issues. But that hasn't been the case—he fanned three times this week and a manageable 42 times on the year.
--The Bucs released OF Marcus Davis, an 18th round draft pick from Alcorn in 2007, after he hit .180 at Lynchburg. The Pirates selected him on raw potential, but his bat failed him; he hit only .219 in his brief minor league career.

-- Spring free agent IF Andy Phillips has signed a one-year contract worth $400,000 with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan's Central League. Phillips had a .250 career batting average with 14 home runs and 70 RBIs in 259 games in the major leagues.

The Pirates stashed Phillips, 32, at Indy before trading him to the Chicago White Sox in mid-April for RHP Michael Dubee, 23, who was just promoted to Altoona.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Bigger They Are...

Over 30,000 fans packed PNC tonight, and hey, guess what? A real ball game broke out!

The Big O and Cliff Lee each worked seven innings, giving up a pair of runs apiece. Then in the eighth, with the bullpens on duty, both sides juiced the bases without a hit; they were all walked full. John Grabow got out of his jam with a big K. The Indians did it with a little help.

Joe Smith got the first Buc, and then walked the next pair. Eric Wedge went, reluctantly we're sure, to the well again and called on Rafael Perez. He walked Brandon Moss on four pitches. But Jason Jaramillo swung at the first pitch, a knee high heater off the plate, and rolled into an easy 6-3 DP. Take a strike, please!

Matt Capps blew through the Indians 1-2-3, and Matt Herges came on for the Tribe. Bang! A liner into left by Jack Splat (who was 3-for-3 with a walk). Boom! A two-strike liner into left by pinch-hitter Eric Hinske. First and second for wunderkind Andrew McCutchen.

JR had him bunt. He rolled the first offering foul. On the next, the Indians put on the wheel play, with the shortstop breaking to cover third. In a savvy move, Wilson fell in step with Jhonny Peralta and stole third while Cutch took a ball. Bam! Another liner into left, and the Bucs had their first walk-off win of the year, 3-2.

Hey, it may be too soon to anoint McCutchen as the next big thing, but right now isn't the time to tug on his cape. He went 2-for-4 with a walk & stolen base, scored the first run and drove home the last two.

Cutch has a .330 average, 18 RBI and 14 runs scored in 20 games, and his .516 slugging percentage is the best on the team. And the energy he and Nyjer Morgan bring to the team with their mid-air bumps and goofin' have injected some life in an otherwise business-as-usual, button-down group of Pirates.

The Bucs are hangin' in there. Oh, they're still in last, six games back, five in the loss column. And things will surely get worse when the inevitable fire sale begins in earnest. But it sure is nice to see a couple of pieces falling in place.

Movin' Along...

-- Well, so much for Ian Snell making his next start here; it'll be at Indy instead. A day after giving Snell a shaky vote of confidence, the suits decided to repeat the Gorzo treatment on him and see if it works, not that it's done all that much for Gorzelanny.

They called up Virgil Vasquez, so we'll see how this plays out. We thought that they'd carry Snell for one more start until they were sure that Charlie Morton wasn't going to miss another turn; but Snell, as reported by DK of the Post Gazette, asked for the trip down to clear his head of the "negativity" that's surrounding him.

-- Matthew Pouliot of Circling the Bases picked the ten infielders most likely to change addresses. The local entries are:
Adam LaRoche - The comments he made after the Nate McLouth trade didn't help matters, but LaRoche was already unlikely to finish the season in Pittsburgh. A divorce would be best for both parties, as it'd surely help LaRoche to have a chance to ply his trade for a contender as he heads into free agency at season's end. While he's been a reliable first baseman since the day he debuted in 2004, he's still never topped 90 RBI in a season, partly because he sat against lefties early on and partly because he's hit in some poor lineups. However, it's also the case that his power has tended to disappear in big situations. A few key homers down the stretch for a more visible team might do wonders for his reputation as he enters the market.

Freddy Sanchez - While it's always Jack Wilson's name that comes up in trade rumors, his double-play partner is at least as likely to be dealt this summer. If they keep him, the Pirates will have to decide whether to pick up his $8 million option for 2010 or buy him out for $600,000. He's probably worth the cash, but he is 31 and second basemen tend to age especially badly, making it unlikely that he'll still be a quality regular when the Pirates are next ready to contend. He'd be an upgrade for the Giants, White Sox, Twins, Brewers, Cubs, Angels and Cardinals.
What, Jack Splat didn't make the Top Ten?

-- Nice enough start for the two number ones just promoted. RHP Brad Lincoln, in his Indy debut, allowed one run and two hits in 6-2/3 innings. 3B Pedro Alvarez smacked his second homer in three games for the Altoona Curve this afternoon.

Alvarez and Lincoln were also selected to play in MLB's All-Star Futures Game, on Sunday, July 12 in St. Louis. They'll represent the U.S. team. The pair are being fast-tracked, and may pop up at PNC sometime next season. The future's so bright, I need sunglasses...

-- 1B Calvin Anderson of the West Virginia Power, 2008's 12th-round draft pick, drove in the winning run in the Sally League all-star game. Anderson also went yard 13 times to win the home-run derby - and when's the last time a Pirate could lay claim to that title at any level?

-- 1B Brian Myrow was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for either cash or a minor league PTBNL. He was assigned to Indianapolis to replace Steve Pearce. Myrow hit .277 with seven homers and 25 RBI in 48 games for Triple-A Charlotte.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pellas On The Pirates: Just....Kinda.....There

What to say about the Pirates 2009 season thus far? Hello? Bueller? Anybody? Bueller? If I was looking for a soundtrack piece, it would be a recording of crickets chirping. If this season were a retailer, it would be Wal Mart, not Nieman Marcus. If it were a car, it would be a Yugo: drab, barely functional, and unmemorable.

Well, not completely unmemorable. The Nate McLouth trade took care of that. But Nate was just one of three young, homegrown players the Pirates signed to multiyear contracts this past offseason. Supposedly, these three---McLouth, catcher Ryan Doumit, and staff ace Paul Maholm---were to form the core around which the next contender would be built.

Certainly, it might be debated whether any or all of the three are truly the types of players who could be the foundation for a team that could take a run at a World Series. McLouth and Maholm, while both well above average, are not elite players. Doumit might have the raw ability to be an elite player---at least compared with most current major league catchers---but his enormous talent does us no good when he is constantly in the trainer's room.

So, the front office decided to blow up the putative foundation it had just laid, and return to zero in the ongoing---never-ending?---rebuilding process. In trying to determine whether they did the right thing by dealing McLouth and then drafting Doumit's near-future heir apparent, collegiate catcher Tony Sanchez, I think we should start by looking at the performance of the team as a whole, and the would-be core in particular.

McLouth is having another highly productive year; even though his batting average is off nearly 20 points from last year's .276 mark, his combined stats for Pittsburgh and Atlanta show another 20-20, .800-plus season is all but guaranteed. Again, Cooperstown, it ain't. But very solid major league numbers, it is. So, Nate was worth the contract, whether in Pittsburgh or in Atlanta.

Unfortunately, Doumit has been hurt almost all season, and now we will never know how well the team would have done with all three of its young guns firing at the same time. In addition, the front office appears to have given up on Doumit. Surely the drafting of Sanchez means Doumit is next on the trading block, because the team also has two fine young catchers in Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz. While neither is Doumit and neither is a world beater, you could certainly do worse than a platoon of the two while you wait for Sanchez to arrive.

Likewise, Maholm's season has unquestionably been a mild disappointment. While most observers figured he pitched a little over his head last year, make no mistake: he was VERY good in 2008 and almost as good for most of 2007. 2009? Meh. Sure, he's continued to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in the form of a shameful lack of run support. Many fine Maholm outings over the past two and a half years have been wasted because the team just doesn't score for him. But there's no question he has fallen back to the pack in '09. Is he terrible? Certainly not. Is he still the best we've got? Definitely. Is he, right now, the same pitcher he was in 07 - 08? Not even close.

And so it goes up and down the roster. No one stands out, other than, perhaps, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, whose comeback has now proven beyond all doubt that he can flat-out rake. But Sanchez alone is not enough to carry this lineup. The LaRoche brothers have been consistent, but consistently a tick above average and no higher. Same with most if not all of our other players. Only Andrew McCutchen seems to have real star potential, and even he looks more Marquis Grissom than Barry Bonds---except that Andrew can't steal bases the way Grissom could despite being almost as fast.

This team isn't terrible, even if it should have kept the "Medium-Sized Three" intact for the entire year before making the next move. Even now the Pirates are not, in theory, out of contention---even though we all know that they really are. And yes, it would have been nice to have a somewhat competitive and interesting team on the field while the organization was rebuilt from within. Many pundits consider it impossible to win while rebuilding, but others have done it before and it will be done again. But whether this was do-able in Pittsburgh or not, McLouth is gone, Doumit soon will be, and Maholm has taken a definite step back. What's left beyond them isn't terrible....it's just...kinda....there.

Thanks to GW contributor Will Pellas for his take on the yo-yo Pirates and their rebuilding process as it stands so far this season.

The Stopper

Hey, when a team is in the dumps, all eyes are on the stopper to make things right again. On May 12th, the Bucs were mired in an eight game losing streak; Zach Duke shut down the Cards on three hits.

Tonight, they were suffering through a five game losing streak, and Duke scattered five hits as the Pirates snapped it 10-6. He was responsible for just one of those runs, going six innings while notching his eighth win of the year.

He probably could have gone an inning or two more; Duke only faced 25 batters and threw 94 pitches. But JR explained after the game that he was concerned because Duke had sat through a couple of long innings, so he gave him an early hook, although it meant he had to run through his bullpen for a second night.

Duke had a lot of help. Adam LaRoche and Jason Jaramillo homered, and every Pirate starter, Duke included, had a hit and either scored or drove in a run.

Tonight's game showed the value of taking the third out when it's given to you. The Bucs scored six two-out runs in the fourth when they were given life on Luis Valbuena's wide throw, followed by a wild pitch, a stolen base, and four more hits, the last going yard.

The Tribe made it interesting in the ninth when Andy LaRoche had a two-out ball go off his glove - it was ruled a hit, but could have easily been scored an error - and made two miscues that were rung up on a ball off the body and a bad throw.

Steven Jackson came unglued, giving up a pair of bombs and a walk before Burney came on to finally smother the flames after five runs had crossed the dish. But hey, it's not easy getting six outs to close an inning.

The two Central Division basement dwellers will go at again tomorrow, with Indian ace Cliff Lee matching up against the Big O in the deciding game of the series.

Rumors and Notes

-- Jen Langosch of MLB.com on Ian Snell and some Pirate possibilities:
Snell does have one option year left, which means the Pirates could send him down as they did with Tom Gorzelanny around this time last year. Triple-A Indianapolis starter Virgil Vasquez was pulled from his start on Tuesday after one inning, and it was confirmed that his early exit was because the Pirates wanted to keep him available as an option for the big league club.

He could be an option if the Pirates are interested in making a move. Or, maybe the more likely scenario, the Pirates could call on Vazquez as bullpen reinforcement after Snell's start forced five relievers to have to pitch on Tuesday.
GM Neal Huntington confirmed that Snell will make his next start.

The Pirates are still not certain whether righty Charlie Morton will be able to make his start Friday. He hasn't completely gotten over his achy hamstring, so the Bucs may skip his turn and have Virgil Vasquez make the start.

-- Danny Knobler of CBS Sports reports:
Phillies scouts have looked at every starter who is, might be or, in some wild scenario, could be available. They wonder whether they could make a deal with the Pirates for Paul Maholm, or even Zack Duke.
-- According to John Perrotto of the Pirate Report:
The Pirates have been looking to add a veteran right-handed reliever to their young bullpen and are considering trading for Luis Ayala, who has been designated for assignment.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported the Pirates’ interest Tuesday night and a baseball source confirmed it. Ayala, 31, was 1-2 with a 4.18 ERA in 28 games this season. He struck out 21 in 32 2/3 innings and walked eight.
-- Tyler Yates (right elbow inflammation) remains in Pirate City. There is no timetable for his return. Yates is on the 15-day DL. Craig Hansen (neck spasms) is also there and isn't throwing, either. Hansen is on the 60-day DL. No word on Phil Dumatrait.

-- Another of Kip Wells' nine lives has given up the ghost. The Nationals DFA'ed the reliever today. Wells, a 32-year-old righty, has an ERA of 6.49 in just over 26 innings, with 18 strikeouts and as many walks.

-- Sound familiar? Brewers CF Chris Duffy, assigned outright to Class AAA Nashville on May 26, has been placed on that club's inactive list. Duffy went home to Arizona for the birth of a child after playing three games with Nashville and never rejoined the club.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It Only Counts In Horseshoes

The Pirates had lost four in a row; the Indians six. Something had to give, and tonight it was the Pirates, 5-4, thanks mainly to Ian Snell's abysmal outing and David Huff's shutdown performance.

Snell didn't make it out of the third inning. He threw 50 pitches in that frame alone, and ran up six consecutive 3-2 counts. Snell left after 2-2/3 innings, giving up 4 runs on four hits and walking three.

The Buc bullpen held the fort after that, yielding only a Jhonny Peralta homer off of Evan Meek. But Huff, with a 7.09 ERA, was shutting out the Pirates on four hits, sorta like he was channeling Mike Hampton.

There were two big turning points in the ninth, when Pittsburgh staged a gutsy comeback. The first pivotal moment was when Eric Wedge figured he would give Huff a blow after 112 pitches and go to his dysfunctional relief corps for the last three outs.

Big mistake. Matt Herges and Kerry Wood did everything but give the game to the Bucs, surrendering a four spot and leaving the bases juiced for a game-deciding, two-out, full count pitch to Adam LaRoche, who flew out to right.

The second? It was early in the ninth. With no outs, a run in and a runner on first, Andy LaRoche worked the count to 2-1. He swung at an ankle high slider, then bounced out on another. A little discipline, and who knows how that ninth inning rally ends up? But it wasn't to be.

One thing the suits can be thankful for is that with the losing streak and Nate McLouth deal, the fans' attention has been focused on Andrew McCutchen.

He made another nice grab today, extended his hitting streak to eleven games (the best for a NL rookie so far this season), had a big two-out single to bring the Bucs within one, and then stole second to get the tying run in scoring position.

If he finds a little pop in his bat, he'll join Sid the Kid and Big Ben in the Pittsburgh pantheon of Steel City sports heroes. Now if he can only lead the team to the promised land eventually like they did...

-- GW is still wondering what the Bucs are thinking with Steve Pearce. They're putting him in a position to fail by playing him in the outfield, where he butchered a ball tonight.

The suits spent all spring playing him at first, and moved Garrett Jones to the OF so Pearce could continue to play first everyday at Indy. Then they call him up and stick him in the outfield. Pretty poor planning, if you ask us.

-- Quit platooning Brandon Moss, OK? His stroke is back, and you have to find out if he can play everyday or not. Delwyn Young has a sweet bat, but no power and less of a mitt; Pearce can't play the OF, at least not yet. We can't help but wonder if juggling the lineup everyday is part of the Pirates' offensive problems.

-- Hey, old Butler RHP Matt Clement can go home again - just not a baseball guy. He was hired to coach the Butler basketball team, which he played for back in the day, even garnering a few D-1 offers. Clement, his wife Heather, and their three sons live in Butler.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moves and Grooves

-- Since Thursday, after being benched for four games, Brandon Moss has gone 6-for-9, pushing his batting average up to .264. On Saturday, Nyjer Morgan went 4-for-4. On Sunday, with a day off Monday, they both sat. The Pirates lost by a run. Admittedly, it was against a lefty, but still, you have to wonder what JR is looking at when he puts a lineup together.

-- Robby Diaz has drawn comparisons to Manny Sanguillen, but on Sunday, he looked more like Ronnie Paulino, jogging to first and trying to spear balls in the dirt with his mitt instead of moving his body. No wonder Jason Jaramillo is the number one guy.

-- Matthew Pouliot of Circling the Bases picks likely OF trade bait:
Eric Hinske - He's been a fairly valuable player off the bench, but Hinske never made a lot of sense for a Pirates team that opened the season with fellow left-handed hitters at all three outfield spots and at first base. He'll probably be cashed in for a prospect before the deadline. The Mets and Tigers could both use the extra left-handed bat.
-- It's moving day for some of the Bucco puppies. After promoting RHP Brad Lincoln to Indy and 3B Pedro Alvarez to Altoona, the Pirates sent RHP Dustin Molleken, 24, (3-1-1, 3.48 ERA), RHP Michael Dubee, 23, (2-1-6, 1.45 ERA) and OF/1B Miles Durham, 26, (.296 7/39) to the Curve with Pedro.

SS Chase D'Arnaud, 22, (.291 3/31), the fourth-round pick in 2008, has been jumped from West Virginia to high Single-A Lynchburg.

It's good to see them promoting guys aggressively, especially the college players that came into the organization already a bit long in the tooth. Gotta get the pieces in place before the big housekeeping begins, hey?

-- The Pirates have also signed four more draftees: RHP Victor Black (1st round supplemental - Dallas Baptist), 1B Aaron Baker (11th round - Oklahoma), RHP Phillip Irwin (21st round - Mississippi), and RHP Ed Fallon (43rd round - South Carolina Upstate).

Brooks Pounders File

Name: Brooks Pounders
Birthdate: 09/26/90
Height: 6'5"; Weight: 240 lbs
Bats: Right; Throws: Right
Hometown: Temecula, Cal.
Position: Starting Pitcher
School: Temecula Valley HS (Cal.); signed with Southern Cal
Drafted: Second round (53rd overall)
Signing bonus: $670,000
Assignment: Bradenton (GCL)
Favorite Singers: Hank Williams Jr. and Toby Keith.

Stats: Pounders went 9-2 with a 1.91 ERA, with 91 strikeouts in 64-1/3 innings last season. He also hit .400 with 7 HR and 25 RBI. As a junior, he was 7-3 with a 1.81 ERA, with 75 K in 65-1/3 innings, and hit .333 with 10 HR and 39 RBI.

MLB.com Scouting Report:
Fastball: 88-90 mph range, and keeps it down.
Curve: Stays around the strike zone and has a solid rotation.
Slider: Tight with late bite.
Changeup: A plus pitch now, will be a solid out pitch.
Control: Throws strikes, has above-average fastball command. Will be a plus command guy in the future.
Poise: Good poise, works quickly, and has a no-nonsense attitude on the mound.
Strengths: Four at least average pitches from a high schooler. Works fast and throws strikes, the type who can throw a two-hour game.
Weaknesses: Will have to maintain his body.
Summary: Pounders might be more substance than style. He doesn't seem to have the best body in the world, but he's more athletic in his delivery than you'd think. He won't light up a radar gun -- something that might hurt his Draft status -- but he does have four pitches he can throw for strikes as a high schooler. That kind of pitchability doesn't grow on trees, especially from the prep ranks.

Real Baseball Intelligence Scouting Report:
Strengths: Brooks Pounders has excellent size and is a good athlete despite his girth. As his name suggests, he pounds the zone with three solid pitches: a plus changeup and an average slider and fastball. His command is excellent.
Weaknesses: Pounders' fastball isn't as impressive as the other elite prep pitchers in this class. It's only 89 mph and it is fairly straight. Although he's tall, Pounders isn't long and lean like a lot of other high school pitchers.
The Future: Pitchers with average fastballs and excellent command tend to be underrated. Pounders may not be a first round pick, but in five years, he'll be one of the best high school pitchers to come out of this draft class.

Perfect Game USA Scouting Report:
Brooks Pounders has a big country strong build and is a very talented two way prospect. He has always shown a power bat and in the metrodome he showed a big power arm to go with it. He has always been able to pitch but made a huge jump from touching 90 before to now pitching 90-94. His breaking ball and change were very good and he showed excellent command of three pitches. He also showed his big power potential at the plate with good leverage and strength in his swing. The ball flies off his bat when centered. He is a good student and has verbally committed to the USC Trojans. Aflac All American

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thank You, Ma'am

Ya know, good teams are opportunistic; they make their own breaks by powering through their mistakes and taking full advantage of their opponent's miscues. The Rockies did both in this afternoon's 5-4 victory at Coors Field.

In the first, with a run in and the bases loaded, the Bucs couldn't bring another run home. After a walk and a hit batter, Steve Pearce bit on a first pitch in the dirt. He struck out swinging a few pitches later on another ankle-high slider.

The next batter, Robby Diaz, grounded out on the first offering. Can't anybody take a first strike when a pitcher is struggling? It would be the last real threat the Bucs would muster.

The Pirates went up 3-0 in the second on Freddy Sanchez's sixth homer. It didn't last long. With one out, Paul Maholm walked the eight hitter on five pitches. He was bunted over, and the next guy lined a single to Delwyn Young in left.

It crawled up his arm, he dropped it, and then lolligagged a throw to second. The next batter hit a pop up to Sanchez, who, without sunglasses, let it drop. The next batter doubled.

Now Maholm wasn't sharp today, but between walking the eight man and missing a pop fly, the Rox got two or three runs giftwrapped in an eventual one-run game.

They had a last chance in the fifth, when Andy LaRoche led off with a single but was thrown out by a large margin trying to stretch it. Three hits, a walk, and a Rox error would result in just one run for Pittsburgh, and that on a two-out pinch hit by Brandon Moss.

The Rox had their moments, too. They set up the Pirates' final run with a bad pickoff throw, and had two guys thrown out stealing on the same play in the fifth. Good teams can take advantage of gifts; bad team can't. That's today's storyline.

The Bucs come home to take on the Indians, starting Tuesday. The pitching matchups are provided by MLB.com.

-- GW is wondering what the Bucs are gonna do with Steve Pearce. He spent the year at first base while first baseman Garrett Jones went to the OF at Indy. Pearce is the only pure RH OF alternative, though we think he'll probably see some time giving Adam LaRoche a blow against lefties, with Delwyn Young in right.

Still, we don't see many at-bats coming his way unless/until LaRoche is moved.

-- RHP Brad Lincoln was bumped up to Indy. The fourth overall selection of the 2006 draft was 1-5, with a 2.28 ERA. Don't let the record fool you. In 75 innings, he gave up 63 hits and 18 walks for a WHIP of 1.08, while striking out 65.

-- Top pick Tony Sanchez came through with a game-winning, ninth-inning single in his second play-for-pay at-bat to give the State College Spikes a 4-3 win. He just arrived in the morning, and entered the game in the sixth inning. Sanchez went 1-for-2.

It was also the opening act for RHP Quinton Miller, 19, who was drafted 20th last year from Shawnee (NJ) HS, and got the highest second day bonus of the draft, $900K. He didn't sign until mid-August, and spent his time at Pirate City last year. He went four innings, giving up 5 hits, two runs, and striking out a pair.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Little Things

Hey, the Bucs hit the ball on the nose tonight, scoring seven times. But it wasn't enough, as the Rox smacked three homers to negate that and went on to a 9-7 victory.

But it wasn't the big things that cost the Pirates; it was the little things that did them in. One inning in particular killed Pittsburgh.

The Pirates had put up a four spot in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead, keyed by Andrew McCutchen's bases-juiced triple. They added another in the eighth, runners on first and second with no one out, and JR had Jack Wilson bunt.

Everyone knows in that situation that you push the ball up the third base line; everyone but Jack Splat, that is. He tried to bunt a pitch well outside the first time, almost popping out. Then he banged one to the left of the mound, for a force out at third. Wasted chance one.

Then Jason Jaramillo got picked off second. Instead of adding to the pot, the Pirates folded. It would get worse.

With a three run lead, John Grabow walked the first batter on five pitches. With two outs, he gave up a bloop single. Then Grabow got ahead of Chris Iannetta, 0-2.

Jaramillo set up low and in; everyone knows that you waste a pitch with that count and see if the batter will fish. Not Grabow. He delivered one right down Broadway, and Iannetta bombed it into straight center for a game-tying homer.

Hey, seven runs should win you a game. But when veterans like Wilson and Grabow make mistakes that would get a kid exiled to the bushes until he learns the game, well, you can see why the suits can't wait to break up this club.

At least young guys can learn from their mistakes; old salts that should know better but just don't execute when the game is being decided are a different story.

The Pirates have lost 2-1/2 games in the past three days, falling 6-1/2 back. It's not panic button time quite yet, but it sure could be by July 4th. And that'll give the suits plenty of time to beat the trade deadline.

Afternoon News

-- Craig Monroe got his walking papers today, and Steve Pearce got his call-up. Monroe had a couple of big games for the Bucs, but was 0-for as a pinch hitter and his .215 average made him expendable.

Pearce was having a solid season at Indy, hitting .277 with 11 homers and 43 RBI. In two prior MLB cups of joe, Pearce is a .266 hitter with four home runs and 21 RBIs in 177 at-bats. He's 26, and it's probably make-or-break time for him in the organization if JR finds some at-bats for him.

We'd guess this is the opening gambit of the Adam LaRoche sales pitch.

-- Jack Wilson played in his 1,100th game at shortstop on Friday. With four more appearances at that position, he'll pass Jay Bell (1,103) for fourth on the Pirates' all-time list. Honus Wagner leads the list with 1,887 games at short.

-- Baseball America has two Pirate youngsters in yesterday's Prospect Hot Sheet:
Intrigued by CF Robbie Grossman's wide range of abilities, the Pirates bought the sixth-rounder out of a Texas commitment last year for $1 million. It looks like money well spent. The 19-year-old switch-hitter batted .419/.471/.645 (13-for-31) this week for low Class A West Virginia, contributing three doubles, seven RBIs, six runs scored and two walks. Grossman flashed his athleticism by legging out two triples and stealing two bases in three attempts. However, he also struck out seven times, which remains an area for concern as he now has 82 of them in 58 games. That total ranks seventh in the minors.

It has been a hit or miss season for 3B Pedro Alvarez, and he did a lot of both last week. Alvarez, the 22-year-old 2008 first-round pick, posted two multi-home run games and two multi-strikeout games for high Class A Lynchburg, totaling four big flies and 13 strikeouts on the week. Still, seven of Alvarez's last nine hits have gone for extra bases, raising his numbers to .243/.338/.828 with 14 long balls.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rockies Rock Ross

Hey, the Rockies are the hottest team in baseball, and they showed the Bucs why tonight, winning 7-3 in a game that wasn't as close as the score. The Rox outhit, outpitched, and outgloved Pittburgh.

And the Pirates helped by continuing to pound the top of the ball. 21 outs were recorded on grounders. Not that it much mattered. The Big O gave up nine hits, including two that went yard, and six runs in five innings, half coming with two outs.

Oh well, we'll see what Charlie Morton has tomorrow.

-- Rob Neyer of ESPN's Sweet Spot says the Bucs should deal Ryan Doumit, too. Geez, Pittsburgh's become the blue light special aisle of MLB.

-- Jorge Says No! blog isn't so sure the Bucs will be big sellers, though:
With the trading deadline rapidly approaching, let's take a look at some teams, who might look to sell at the deadline.

Pittsburgh: UNSURE (probably sellers)
-already traded away Nate McLouth, who was their best player
-only 5.5 games out of first place at the moment
-too early to say if the Pirates will trade away any other players after the McLouth backlash
-- Jim Tracy told the Denver Post that he did indeed lose the team in 2007.
"It was during the latter part of the 2007 season, and it had a lot to do with what was taking place above me," Tracy said. "We lost our general manager, and it got to the point where I felt like the support staff that you need to do this job, in this chair, effectively was lost. It was gone. I felt like I was trying, at the latter point and time, to steer a ship that had no rudder. So in that vein, in the course of the last 30 days of the season or so, I did lose the team."

The Pittsburgh experience still stings, but Tracy said he never gave up. "I never quit trying there, I can promise you that," he said. "But it's not easy to change a culture that has been beaten for 14 or 15 years in a row. A lot of good people have tried there."
-- Speaking of old managers, Jim Leyland just got a two-year extension from the Tigers.

-- The A's signed ex-Pirate RHP Shawn Chacon, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since an altercation with Houston GM Ed Wade last year, to a minor-league deal. He's not expected to be an option for Oakland's MLB staff, but provides some depth at Triple-A Sacramento, according to the Denver Post.

-- Where are they now? Try Japan for a couple of ex-Bucco pitchers. Ryan Vogelsong is pitching for the Hanshin Tigers, where he's 0-3 with a 6.84 ERA. John Wasdin is with the Seibu Lions, where he's 2-2 with a 5.04 ERA.

-- Top pick Tony Sanchez will start Saturday with short-season State College. He'll play the opening five games for the Spikes, and then report to Class A West Virginia.

-- The Pirates signed their ninth-round draft pick, Brock Holt, a junior second baseman from Rice University. He hit .348 with 12 home runs, 43 RBIs, and a .425 OBP. Holt struck out 35 times and walked 34.

-- According to MLB Trade Rumors, ESPN Insider Jorge Arangure Jr. reports that MLB investigators are looking into super prospect Miguel Angel Sano's age at Minnesota's request.

Sano says he's 16, but some believe he's older because of his physique; any player caught lying about his age receives a one-year suspension from MLB. Arangure reports that Sano is expected to sign with the Twins or Pirates if he's OK'ed.

-- A couple of drafted local kids signed contracts this week. Gus Benusa, a CF from Riverview and 8th round pick, inked with the Giants, and LHP Josh Hungerman, of North Allegheny and Cleveland State, a 17th round selection, signed with the Rockies.

Let The Dogs Loose

OK, we thought we'd take a look at the maddening hot and cold bats of the Bucs. Just what is their problem?

Well, lack of power is the obvious bug-a-boo. It's tough to dump Jay Bay, the X-Man, and Nate McLouth, a trio worth probably 75 long balls per season, and replace them with Andrew McCutchen, Nate Morgan, and the flavor-of-the-day in right. Throw in Ryan Doumit's surgery, and suddenly there's a power outage of Biblical proportions.

Now the baseball book says that the middle of the field belongs to the gloves; any dingers they toss in are gravy. But the Pirate corners are strikingly AWOL in going yard. Adam LaRoche alone is holding up his end with 9 homers; he'll end up with his usual couple of dozen dingers.

But baby bro Andy has just three at the hot corner, Morgan one in left, and Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young have gone yard once. Pedro Alvarez (14), Steve Pearce (11), and Garrett Jones (10) are the only players in the entire Pittsburgh minor league system that have posted double figure home runs.

Throw in Calvin Anderson's seven at West Virginia, and you still only have four guys with some pop in the organization - and they all project to play first base, unless Pedro suddenly discovers some leather and athleticism at the hot corner.

What to do, other than plop Doumit in right field (which we read is being considered again, given his injury history and the performance of Jason Jaramillo and Robby Diaz, plus the drafting of Tony Sanchez in DK's article)?

Well, we've heard a lot about discipline and using the whole field; maybe that's part of the problem and one Donnie Long can address. Here's the Pirates' spray chart, according to Baseball Reference (and remember the averages are for balls in play only):

Pulled balls: 445 at-bats, 190 hits, .427, 28 HR/99 RBI
Middle of the Field: 1039 at-bats, 315 hits, .303, 12 HR/127 RBI
Opposite Field: 300 at-bats, 92 hits, .307, 0 HR/29 RBI

Andy LaRoche:

Pulled: .400, 3/13 - 2009; .326, 7/18 - career
Middle: .337, 0/14 - 2009; .256, 2/30 - career
Opposite: .278, 0/3 - 2009; .275, 0/9 - career

Brandon Moss:

Pulled: .372, 1/4 - 2009; .411, 4/12 - career
Middle: .303, 0/7 - 2009; .308, 5/31 - career
Opposite: .125, 0/1 - 2009; .237, 0/3 - career

Delwyn Young:

Pulled: .562, 0/2 - 2009; .571, 3/8 - career
Middle: .424, 1/8 - 2009; .339. 1/10 - career
Opposite: .529, 0/1 - 2009; .349, 0/1 - career

It shows that sitting back on the ball and going middle/opposite doesn't work for guys that are by nature pull hitters (which is virtually every middle-of-the-order hitter in MLB); it kills their run production and power. The team line shows it clearly, and the three young guns' stats confirm it.

In their short careers, they have no homers and 13 RBI going opposite field; 14 HR and 38 RBI when pulling a pitch. And they all have their highest batting average, both for the season and career, when they turn on a pitch.

So hey, we think it's time to pull the plug on sitting back and using the whole field. Let the dogs loose, develop an aggressive attitude at the plate, and turn the philosophy around to use the middle of the field to your foul pole. Can't hurt, right?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Buc Bats Baffled

We thought it'd be a pretty well tossed game today, and it was for seven-and-a-half innings, with the Twins up 3-0. An overdue flurry of hitting before the final six outs were recorded made the final 5-1.

Zach Duke pitched well enough to keep the lumberless Bucs hangin' around, giving up three runs on seven hits in six frames and escaping a bases-loaded, no-one out jam in the third with just one run.

But Nick Blackburn went the distance, giving up just six hits and not allowing a run until two were out in the ninth. The Pirates helped the cause by bouncing into a pair of DPs, part of the 18 ground-ball outs he coaxed from the team.

Well, off to visit the Colorado Rockies and their new skipper, Jim Tracy. Here are the pitching match-ups from MLB.com.

-- Hey, we know it's getaway day. But doesn't anybody on the team besides Freddy Sanchez ever need a blow?

-- The Bucs haven't won a road interleague series since 2003. Of course, they haven't won many NL series on the road, either.

-- GM Neal Huntington confirmed that Donnie Veal is healthy enough to be reinstated from the DL, but said that because of some mechanical issues he's working through, no return date has yet been set. Hey, it's good to see the kid get some innings.

Veal began his rehab assignment with Indy on June 8 and according to Hoyle, the Pirates can keep him on assignment for up to 30 days. See ya July 8th, Donnie!

-- Here's what Jayson Stark of ESPN.com says about upcoming Pirate moves:
The Pirates were the first team to start selling, with that Nate McLouth deal. And they'll have the most jam-packed display window you'll find down at the Deadline Mall. You can dabble in Wilson, Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, John Grabow, maybe even Freddy Sanchez. But which of those guys is most likely to exit? Tough call.

"They'd love to move Jack Wilson," said an official of one club. "But they've been trying to move him for months -- years, even. He's a good player, but he's not worth the contract he's got [for $7.25 million, plus a $200,000 bonus if he's traded, plus a $600,000 buyout for next year]. So if they want to get something in return, they should probably move the second baseman [Sanchez]."

But can they at this point? As an executive of another club put it, "After trading one fan favorite [McLouth], I don't see them trading another guy like that. But there's really no logic in that. Once you make that [McLouth] trade, you're telling your fans you're not buying into 2009. So that's the path you've picked. Now you're stuck with it."
-- RHP Brooks Pounders, the Pirates second-round pick in the draft, signed and will report to the GCL. Pounders, 18, was 9-2 with a 1.96 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 64-1/3 innings for Temecula Valley (Cal.) HS this season. He was slated to play college ball at SoCal.

The 6-5, 215 pounder throws an above-average fastball, breaking ball and changeup. He signed for slot bonus money, about $900K.

-- Pirates draftee LHP Matt Dermody not only threw a perfect game for his Norwalk HS team from Des Moines, Iowa, but he struck out all 18 hitters he faced. Dermody is an unsigned 26th-round selection from this year's lottery; the Bucs may have to add some sugar to that bonus now to entice him to turn pro.

-- Maybe the Bucs weren't so dumb letting Tanner Scheppers walk last year. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com reports that two teams passed on Scheppers in the draft because they were told he has a 50-percent tear of his labrum by their docs, and believe his shoulder will eventually require surgery. The Rangers hope not; they took him 44th with a sandwich pick in the first round.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Buc Bats Bop

Hey, GW had a tough night. The storm sewers backed up, so he and the eldest had to bail, yo ho ho. Mrs. GW bundled the telephone, TV, and PC with Comcast - so none of those are available, either. Geez, all from one little tornado.

But fortunately, the hard times didn't extend to the Buccos. They cranked out three dingers, from Andrew McCutchen and the LaRoche boys (the first brothers to homer in the same game for Pittsburgh since Paul and Lloyd Waner, aka Big and Little Poison, in 1938) and Ian Snell only suffered through one two-out meltdown as the Pirates repaid the Twins 8-2.

Snell and John Grabow in particular ran through the raindrops, but in a bit of role reversal, it was the other team that went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, a very welcome change.

The Pirates send Zach Duke (7-4, 3.10) out against RHP Nick Blackburn (5-2, 3.31) in what should be a dandy of a getaway game.

-- When Doug Miller of MLB.com asked who the flashiest gloves in baseball were, he got this reply from Trever Miller of the Cards: "Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. Any play they make up the middle, that tag team. They're the best players to watch night in and night out."

-- Aaron Gleeman of NBC's "Circling The Bases" has this to say about Ian Snell: "...his track record suggests that Snell could be a pretty effective reliever.

Focusing on his fastball-slider combo while ditching his changeup would help Snell, given the lack of success that he's had with his third pitch over the years, and his shaky command would play better out of the bullpen."

-- A couple of good performances from the bushes: Lynchburg's Pedro Alvarez (.233) hit his 13th and 14th home runs, going 2 for 7 with six RBIs in a doubleheader split.

West Virginia's LHP Rudy Owens (7-1, 2.20) pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out nine with no walks. He's been a pleasant surprise this year and may be stepping up in class sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Maholm Mauled by Minnesota

Let's just say Paul Maholm didn't have a very good day at the office. He lasted five innings, giving up fourteen hits, a walk, and eight runs. And hey, it could have been worse. The Bucs turned three DP's behind him (they would score five during the night, four started by Freddy Sanchez) and threw out a guy at the plate.

Maholm saw his ERA jump over half a run, from 3.61 to 4.23 as he suffered his third loss versus four victories against the Twins.

Hard as it may be to believe, the Bucs were in it in the fifth, when they loaded the bases with one out and down just 4-2. They were a single away, but Adam LaRouche hit into a 4-6-3 DP, and the wheels fell off the rest of the way.

You can't really blame the offense for this one, but they did continue their pitty-patty ways, banging out eleven hits, but stranding 10 and hitting 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

-- Tonight's game at the Metrodome ended a streak of 786 games that the Pirates have played on grass, the longest in MLB according to Elias Sports Bureau. The last game Pittsburgh played on turf was on July 11, 2004, in Puerto Rico against the Montreal Expos, barnstorming in their last season before moving to DC.

-- John Perrotto of the Pirates Report serves up the latest trade rumors: John Grabow and LAA; Adam LaRouche and the Giants; Ian Snell and Colorado or Texas; and Jack Splat, maybe the Red Sox.

-- Stan McNeal of the Sporting News picks out six players who have to step up their game in the Central for their team to compete.
The N.L. Central is tighter than my budget these days. A mere 4 1/2 games separate the first-place Brewers from the last-place Astros and Pirates, with the Cardinals, Reds and Cubs bunched between them.

When times are so tight, one player can make a big difference. Every team in the Central can point to one player who was supposed to be a difference-maker but largely has been a disappointment. To give their teams the best chance to win the division, these guys need to step up:

Pirates: SP Ian Snell
What was expected: The offensively challenged Pirates needed the 27-year-old righthander to return to his form of 2006-07, when he went a respectable 23-23 with a 4.23 ERA.
What has happened: The Pirates are feeling the drag of Snell's command struggles (4.75 walks per nine innings). Pittsburgh has a winning record when Zach Duke (7-6), Paul Maholm (8-5) and Ross Ohlendorf (7-6) start, but it is 3-10 when Snell (1-7, 5.25 ERA) pitches.
What's next: Snell, who actually has pitched well his past two starts, might have worn out his welcome because of a penchant for making excuses. Since losing his temper after manager John Russell ordered him to walk Tigers No. 8 hitter Ramon Santiago to face rookie pitcher Rick Porcello (who hit an RBI single) this past Friday, Snell's name has come up in trade speculation. Snell was well-liked by Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who gave him his opportunity to start when he was managing the Pirates.
-- With so many high school kids selected, the Pirates expect the draft negotiations to drag out this season. But they've gotten a few college guys to sign on the dotted line and join with Tony Sanchez: Jose Hernandez (23rd, LF, Texas @ San Antonio), Jason Erickson (24th, RHP, Washington), Ty Summerlin (30th, SS, Southeastern Louisiana), Pat Irvine (33rd, LF, Elon), and Marc Baca (42nd, RHP, UNLV).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Off Day Reader

-- John Perrotto of Inside Pittsburgh Sports say there are moves afoot to deal Ian Snell. The most likely destination is Colorado, which expressed interest in him last season and whose new skipper, Jim Tracy, likes Snell.

-- After Dontrelle Willis' outing yesterday, some media types are calling for him to pull a Ricky Ankiel and head to the outfield.

-- LHP Rudy Owens (6-1, 2.48), SS Chase D'Arnaud (.298/3/28), DH/1B Calvin Anderson (.286/7/37), manager Gary Green and pitching coach Jeff Johnson were selected to the Sally League All-Star game, representing the Class A West Virginia Power.

-- BTW, before the beefing about Tony Sanchez gets too out of hand, here's when the other guys considered by Pittsburgh went: Aaron Crow, (12th round), Grant Green, (13th round), Matthew Purke (14th round), Alex White (15th round), Kyle Gibson (22nd round), and Tanner Sheppers (44th round). It's not as if Pittsburgh forfeited the second coming by selecting the BC catcher.

-- RHP Kyle Hansen, the 6-foot-7 younger brother of injured Pirates hurler Craig Hansen, was taken by Milwaukee in the 40th round of the draft. He's committed to his brother's alma mater, St. John's.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy, himself a former big league outfielder, saw his third son drafted on Wednesday when Mark, a catcher at Duquesne University, was taken in the 49th round by the Rockies. Middle son Chad is an outfielder in the Rangers system at Double-A Frisco, while his oldest son, Brian, is the pitching coach at short-season State College in the Pittsburgh system.

-- Stephen Strasburg and his honcho Scott Boras haven't even gotten to yank the Nat's chain yet, but the next big thing, 16 year-old Bryce Harper, is trying to steal their limelight.

The phenom will skip his last two years of high school in order to enter the MLB draft sooner. Bryce's father, Ron Harper, told the Las Vegas Journal-Review that his son, a junior, will focus on earning his GED instead of a diploma, which he believes will make him draft-eligible next year instead of 2011.

Harper burst onto the national scene on June 8 when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline "Baseball's Chosen One."

The a 6-3 catcher has signed a letter of intent and completed enrollment forms at the College of Southern Nevada, according to the paper.

The Tony Sanchez File

Name: Jorge Anthony "Tony" Sanchez
Born: May 20, 1988
Height / Weight: 6-1/220, R/R
Hometown: Miami, Florida
High School: Miami Killian
College: Boston College
Class: Junior

Scouting Reports: ScoutingBook:
A native of Miami, Jorge 'Tony' Sanchez is an offensive-minded catcher in the style of Matt Wieters (though with less power) or Buster Posey (but with less defensive prowess). He does show enough skill to stick at catcher, though, and his bat is legitimate: He hit .346/.443/.614 at Boston College in 2009. He's seen as nearly major league ready today.
College catchers are always a premium commodity and Sanchez has emerged as one of the better options in this year's group. He's a solid catch-and-throw guy behind the plate, with good overall defensive skills. He also can swing the bat some, with a little power, giving him an intriguing all-around package. He's struggled with conditioning in the past, but he seemed driven to get himself into shape. The benefit has been an outstanding junior season that will probably move him off the board early on Draft day.

Stats: Sanchez hit .346 in 2009 with 51 RBI, 14 home runs and 19 doubles his junior season at Boston College, and threw out 19 base runners, tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference.His college line is a.317 batting average, with 49 doubles, 24 home runs and 124 RBIs in 161 games.

Awards: He was named as one of three finalists for the 2009 Coleman Company -- Johnny Bench Award, which is presented annually to the top college catcher. He was also recently named to both the All-ACC First Team and the Louisville Slugger All-America Third Team.

Hype: Sanchez was rated by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN as the top college catcher available in the draft, as well as being the best overall defensive catcher and having the best throwing arm of any college catcher.

Draft Day Yada: Despite the offensive numbers and Sanchez's highly regarded defensive abilities, the selection was unconventional. In most pre-draft rankings, Sanchez had been listed as the best catcher available, but also as a likely late first-round or sandwich pick.

The Pirates passed on a number of promising pitchers to nab Sanchez, like Aaron Crow. He was part of a plan to draft a deep class rather than a top-heavy one, and so the ability to sign him at slot value was important to Pittsburgh.

The suits wanted to conserve cash to spend on later picks, many of whom were high school kids signed to major college programs. Whether that's a worthwhile plan or not is about three or four years from us knowing yet, but it will involve more than Tony Sanchez.

Status: Signed Friday, and the 21-year-old catcher will report to Pirate City in Bradenton to participate in a few days of minicamp. He'll then join the low Class A West Virginia team, where Sanchez will assume starting duties behind the plate.

Off-the-Wall Note: Sanchez employed Jared's now-famous Subway diet, eating a turkey and tuna sandwich with lettuce, onions and honey mustard on wheat bread at least five times a week, as he dropped nearly 30 pounds during college.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Walk On The Wild Side

Dontrelle Willis continued his long slide into the pitching abyss, and it's a good thing for the Pirates. They violated about every rule of baseball at the plate, but still came away with a 6-3 victory in front of some Penguin honorees, Lord Stanley's Cup, and 27,000 fans.

If the Bucs had any discipline at the dish, the game would have been over in the first inning. As it was, they scored three times - two were walked in - by a wild Willis. But they wouldn't take a strike, and squandered a great chance to ice the game before it had barely begun.

They left two more on in the second, and had the bases loaded in the third without scoring; in fact, they would have the bases juiced in four different innings.

They put up three more in the fourth, capped by a Robby Diaz two-out, two-run single. Then, instead of going for the throat, they went on cruise control. Willis walked eight in 3-2/3 innings, but the Bucs would strand 14 and go 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

Fortunately, the Big O was on. He went six, giving up a run on two hits and two walks to win his sixth game. But with a lead to play with, Ohlendorf and the bullpen walked the leadoff hitter in the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Not exactly how you want to ice a game.

But a win by any other name...and hey, the Battlin' Bucs are only four games back; no one wants to take charge in the Central. We wonder what the suits will do if the race is this close in July? There would have to be a lot of explaining if they ran a fire sale again.

The Pirates play mainly interleague the rest of the month, and then interdivisional until mid August, with a couple of Central series sprinkled in the mix. There's a lotta baseball to be played until then, but it could set up a real rarity in these parts - a September that means something. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

The Pirates are off to Minnesota, opening Tuesday night. Here's the pitching matchups from MLB.com.

-- Charlie Morton is going to miss his scheduled start Tuesday. The rest of the rotation will just move up a day, since Monday is an off-day, and he'll go Saturday against the Rockies.

-- Ryan Doumit was cleared by team doctors on Friday to resume baseball activities. He began by throwing on flat ground on Saturday and did so again from a distance of about 45 feet today. He'll slowly begin increasing that throwing distance over the next few weeks.

Doumit also began taking dry swings on Saturday. He's hopeful that by the end of the week, he'll be able to hit off a tee. From there, he'll work toward being able to take batting practice.

-- Tyler Yates' latest medical tests confirm that he doesn't have nerve or structural damage to his elbow, but there's still no schedule for his rehab or return. He says he only has pain when throwing from a mound. That's not a good report.

-- Phil Dumatrait will start working off a mound at Pirate City. Looks like he's working on earning a September call-up.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette put together his revised list of the Pirates Top Ten prospects after the Nate McLouth deal.

-- Lynchburg RHP R.J. Rodriguez (4-1, 11 saves, 3.27 ERA) was added to the Class A Carolina League All-Star team, joining OF Miles Durham and C Kris Watts. The 24 year-old from Miami was originally signed by the Padres in 2006 from Bethune-Cookman.

-- Speaking of Lynchburg, their big guys had a good night. RHP Bryan Morris (0-1, 4.66) allowed one run and two hits in 5 1/3 innings, striking out two and walking three. 3B Pedro Alvarez smacked his 11th and 12th home runs, a grand slam and a three-run shot, and went 2 for 5 with a walk and seven RBI. All-Star C Kris Watts hit his fourth home run, a three-run shot, and went 4 for 4 with a triple and walk.

The Hillcats won 16-5.

-- Looks like Rene Gayo is going to have his hands full trying to reel in super prospect Miguel Angel Sano, a 16-year-old SS from the Dominican Republic. Other teams thought to be in the chase are the Yankees, Indians, Cards, Orioles and Twins. It's thought that his signing bonus will be in the $3-4M range.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Duke, Sanchez, Tame Tigers

Holy Cimoli! Two home runs in one game by the Bucs, including a grand salami by Freddy Sanchez in front of 31,000+ fans. Hey, that alone was all the offense that Zach Duke needed, as the Pirates rolled over the Red Wings...er, Tigers, 9-3 tonight.

Duke went eight innings, giving up three runs on six hits, including a pair that went yard. But they were solo shots, unlike Sanchez's two-out blow in the fourth.

Pittsburgh banged out 16 hits, and we'd like to say that they've turned the corner offensively. But we'd be premature, based on tonight's performance. The Pirates hit into three DPs, had a runner thrown out at the plate, and hit into a first-and-third, no out, DP to second that didn't score the runner on third (it was Duke, so that may help explain it).

But one encouraging sign was the the Buc hits weren't rolled through the infield; there were quite a few liners spanked, and that was a welcome sight.

The Zachster is now 7-4 with a 3.10 ERA, and thrived with the lead, retiring the final eleven Tigers before giving way to Jesse Chavez in the ninth. It's only June, but if you're compiling an early list of Comeback of The Year Players...

But it's nice to have an easy day at the shop, and with all the offensive woes, the guys are still only five out in the Central.

-- Bill Mazeroski, Chuck Tanner, John Candelaria, Elroy Face, Bob Friend, Al Oliver, Jim Rooker, Grant Jackson, Dave Giusti, Kent Tekulve, Manny Sanguillen, Steve Blass and Bob Robertson were honored before the game as part of "Championship Weekend."

-- JR is sitting Brandon Moss down for a couple of days, with back-to-back lefties due. Delwyn Young got the start tonight in right field.

-- Baseball America dedicated its' "Prospect Hot Sheet" to the top picks of 2008. Here's what BA had to say about Pedro:
"Alvarez' 2008 season was wiped out thanks to a dispute over whether he signed before or after the Aug. 15 midnight deadline. His 2009 season has had much less drama, but less than expected production (.236/.335/.448 in 203 at-bats at high Class A Lynchburg) as well. Alvarez' power (10 home runs) is there and his on-base percentage is almost 100 points higher than his batting average, so if he can just fix his low average, he should be fine in the long-run."
Looks like that holdout is making the long run a lot longer than it should have been.

-- Way to go, Pens. They win the Stanley Cup, the Steelers win the Super Bowl, and with the same formula. Draft well and fill in the pieces on the market. We think the current suits are trying to copy the same blueprint with the Pirates; time will tell when it's finally time to add pieces instead of moving them.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ah, For The Good Ol' Days

Ya know, the suits did everything in their power to straighten out a dysfunctional pitching staff. And they did a pretty good job; the arms have by and large kept the team competitive this year.

But geez, we kinda miss the good ol' days when an 8-7 score was the norm. Heck, we'll settle for a bloop and blast, circa 1960.

The Bucs squandered a decent enough outing by Ian Snell, who gave up two runs in seven innings, both driven in by mound opponent Rick Porcello, and both times with two outs. John Grabow gave up a homer to the first guy he faced, and that was all the fat lady needed as the Tigers won, 3-1.

The Bucs were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, but that's only half the tale. A runner thrown out at home on the contact play, three double plays, seventeen ground outs...this team is crying out loud for a middle of the order presence.

Maybe they could start with giving Eric Hinske and Craig Monroe some right field love. An outfield with one knock among them is a huge part of the problem. But team-wide, the Bucs need some sticks that will drive a ball instead of rolling over on it.

Ah, well, Ryan Doumit will be back one of these months. And maybe Andy LaRoche will rediscover his minor league stroke. And his big bro is due to go on a summer spree. But until then, there's not much in the way of muscle in the Pirate lineup.

-- How's this for signability? The Pirates and catcher Tony Sanchez came to a contract agreement today; it's thought that he'll sign for the slot bonus, which is about $2.5 million. Not that we miss last year's drama.

Sanchez, 21, hit .346 with 14 homers, 51 RBI, and 63 runs this past season as a junior at Boston College. He finished his career with the Eagles with a .317 average, 24 homers and 124 RBIs in 161 games. And that's without being able to hit a curve! Sanchez is supposed to be a good glove guy that can control a game behind the plate.

He'll be assigned to Class A West Virginia after a week or so of some poking, prodding, and coaching at Pirate City.

-- The Pirates plan to honor the 100-year anniversary of their first World Series championship against the Tigers. The Bucs won that 1909 matchup in seven games, as Babe Adams won three while Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner were the drawing cards.

On Sunday, the Pirates will "Turn Back the Clock" by having both clubs wear their Series' uniforms. PNC Park will try to replicate the 1909 game experience fans had at the time with a retro scoreboard and no music or mascots. Yes, there was a time when there were no racing perogies or Parrots roaming the stands.

-- Donnie Veal has pitched twice at Indy while on rehab, and hasn't been scored on. In 4-2/3 innings, he's given up three hits, struck out four and walked just a pair.

-- Tyler Herron, a first-round sandwich pick in the 2005 draft (46th overall), has been released by the Cards, and the Bucs snapped him up and shipped him to Altoona.

The suits in St. Louis said he was cut because of performance issues, although a question of "coachability" was raised, and the Redbird chat boards are all wondering whassup. The 22 year-old is also Rule 5 eligible in December.

Herron was he was 2-4 with a 4.34 ERA at AA Springfield. In 45-2/3 innings, he walked 22 and struck out 37. He throws a sinking fastball 89-90 MPH, a curve and a changeup. Herron was a top 10 prospect in Baseball America’s 2008 Prospect Handbook, and he ranked 23rd in the current edition. Pretty rapid fall from grace, but still worth a look.

BTW, he attended Wellington HS in Florida. The Pirates 1999 and 2000 first round draft picks both were from Wellington High, too - Bobby Bradley and Sean Burnett.

The Jeff Locke File

Name: Jeffrey Alan Locke
Height: 6-2; Weight: 180; Bats: L; Throws: L
Born: November 20, 1987 (North Conway, NH)
High School: A. Crosby Kennett HS (Conway, NH)
College: None
Drafted: Atlanta Braves took him in the 2nd Round (51st overall) of 2006 draft

Strengths: Locke throws a sinking fastball 90-94 for strikes. His curveball is above-average with a late bite, but his changeup isn't there yet. For a young lefty his command is good, he's aggressive, and he has some deception built into his delivery. Locke still may pick up a little more velocity as he matures. He has pretty good control, keeps the ball in the yard, and gets a lot of ground ball outs.

Weaknesses: As with most pitchers drafted out of high school, he's pretty raw. He has trouble repeating his delivery, so his mechanics need work, and he could use improvement defensively. Locke, even though he has good control, has days when he can't throw a strike, and his ERA blows up because of that inconsistency.

Projection: Locke is the least-polished of the three players coming from the Braves, but has plenty of upside. If he can improve his changeup, he has the ability to jump into the top or middle of a rotation. His overall ceiling is a tick behind guys like Tommy Hanson and Cole Rohrbough, but he has enough ability to become a #2-3 starter.

Locke was mentioned as trade fodder when the Braves went after Jake Peavy; that shows how highly Locke is regarded around the league, even as a project. Baseball America had him rated as the Braves #7 prospect. Atlanta's timeline for him to reach the show was 2011; that may be optimistic, but he is only 21 now; still time to see if he can turn potential into performance.

He's not quite up there with Brad Lincoln or Bryan Morris, but the Pirates think they've added another good arm added to the system, and one that projects higher than the bottom-of-the-rotation guys they've been bringing into the organization.

Bio: Locke was the Braves' second-round draft pick in 2006 (#51 overall) following his senior year of high school in Conway, New Hampshire. In high school, he was known as "The Kid" or the "Redstone Rocket," a nod to his home neighborhood.

Locke was assigned to the Gulf Coast Braves (Rookie League) upon signing with the Braves on June 18, 2006. In 2007 the Atlanta Braves assigned Locke to the Danville Braves of the short-season Advanced Rookie Appalachian League, and he rocked.

But after his great 2007 debut at Danville (7-1, 2.66 ERA, 74 K in 61 innings), his 2008 campaign was much more pedestrian. Pitching at Rome in the Sally League, Locke ran up a 5-12 record with a 4.06 ERA and 38 BB/113 K's in 139-2/3 innings.

He was having a not so hot season statistically at Myrtle Beach in the high A Carolina League, with a 1-4 slate and 5.56 ERA. But his strike out rate is coming back (43 in 45-2/3 innings), which is a good sign. The Bucs assigned Locke to Lynchburg.

Minor League Honors:

05/04/2009 CAR Pitcher of the Week
10/08/2007 Baseball America Rookie All-Star
08/24/2007 APP Post-Season All-Star
07/23/2007 APP Pitcher of the Week