Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's Play Two!

It's obvious the Pirates don't stay up at night and worry about bad games. After playing a stinker yesterday, they swatted the Cubbie staff around in the nightcap, 8-2, and swept today's twin bill, after winning just three times on the road since the All-Star break.

The Pirate pick-a-number rotation got Jeff Karstens a win after five decent innings. Five Bucco hurlers held Chicago to seven hits, and may make Joe Kerrigan lobby for a 15-man staff next season so he can go with four starters and a grab-bag for the fifth day.

The Buc bats were led by Ryan Doumit, who banged out a 4-for-4 day with a homer, double, three runs and four RBI. Andrew McCutchen had two hits, one a triple, plus a walk and two runs scored. Hey, we don't know why people are so hot to drop him in the order; he's doing just fine at the top of line up, creating havoc and producing runs.

Lastings Milledge added a pair of knocks and drove in a run, while Brandon Moss scored once and brought home a pair.

For once, a good day to be a Pirate. And if they go 2-2 in October, they'll avoid 100 losses, which seemed unthinkable just a week ago. Heck, make that a day ago.

-- Teke, on FSN's post-game show, had an interesting thought on Matt Capps' woes. He believes that the Mad Capper is using too much off-speed stuff, and that's the cause of him losing command of his bread-and-butter heater. Teke's take: more heat, less junk, and Capps will be good as new.

He also suggested that with the dearth of lefties in the Pirate's bullpen, don't be surprised if Daniel Moskos gets a chance to fill the role sometime in 2010.

It's A Beach...

Hey, we all know what payback is...and Charlie Morton got some sweet revenge on the Cubbies in the opening match of a day-night doubleheader.

He zippo'd the Windy City nine 4-0, spinning a four hitter - and two didn't leave the infield - striking out eight, walking three and drilling a pair. Last time he took the hill at Wrigley, he was rocked for a 10-spot in an inning. And no, he wasn't yanked; unlike Zach Duke, he had the good sense to keep his shutout intact.

Morton went from the worst outing of his young career to his best; today was his first shutout and first complete game. It helped that he was pitching against a lineup without Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez this time around.

All the action was in the first, when the Bucs jumped ahead 4-0 on a RBI bouncer by Steve Pearce, a two-run double by Jason Jaramillo, and a knock up the middle by Brian Bixler.

The key play of the frame was a hard slide by Lastings Milledge, who came in high and wide to break up a possible DP, keeping the inning alive. He may have gotten barked at by the Cubbies and boo-birded by the fans, but hey, that hustle earned Pittsburgh the W.

Milledge was supposed to be a head case when the Pirates got him, and he's still a few tools short of a complete kit, but one thing he has done consistently is play each and every game hard.

Morton showed the Cubs that he was ready this time around when he followed that outburst by striking out the side in the opening inning.

And a performance like Morton's was just on time, not only for his personal psyche, but saving the bullpen with the pitcher-by-committee lineup due for the Pirates in the nightcap.

-- JR said that there's a chance that Ronny Cedeno may be done for the season because of his achy hammy. That's not a good way to end the campaign for a guy that's looking to earn an everyday spot. Luis Cruz isn't threatening him, but...

...Cedeno could be leaving the door slightly ajar for Brian Friday to make a mid-season appearance in 2010, or for the Bucs to look for another option outside the organization during the winter.

-- GW's take on the Miguel Sano deal: Agent Rob Plummer sure seems like he aims to be the Scott Boras of the Domincan. He said he was gonna get Sano the biggest bonus ever paid to Island position player, and he did. Plummer also violated the first rule of representation - don't take it personally. He cut the Bucs out, and cost his client a shot at a few more pesos by not starting a small bidding war.

However, all this moaning about the po' stood-up-at-the-altar Buccos is misplaced, too. They almost lost Pedro because they negotiated publicly, bypassed the agent, and took it personally themselves, the same template they applied to Sano.

Someone has to be the grownup in these deals. We just hope that eventually, the Latino kids become draft-eligible. And we'll be checking out the box scores in four or five years to see if Rene Gayo was right about Sano's talent.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On The Road Again...

Hey, Sweet Lou wasn't gonna stir up any controversy by going out and yanking Ryan Dempster in the ninth. And he didn't have to even consider it.

Dempster pitched his first complete game of the year and his first shutout since he blanked the Expos in 2001 by downing the Bucs 6-0 on a five-hitter.

The game was won on two simple premises - throw strikes and catch the ball. Dempster threw strikes, Kevin Hart didn't. The Cubs caught the ball, the Bucs, particularly the middle of their infield, didn't.

Dempster was constantly ahead of the Pirate batters, and Hart walked four in his four innings; two would score. Hart did deserve better; he could have easily been on the hook for two runs instead of a half dozen.

In the first, he walked the leadoff hitter, and he scored. A couple of batters later, Hart dropped a toss to first. That runner eventually scored.

In the fateful fourth, Luis Cruz and Delwyn Young both committed errors, and both missed playable balls. Another dink dropped into left when Lastings Milledge slipped in the outfield. By the time the smoke cleared, it was 6-0, the way it would end.

Hey, there's a reason the Bucs have only won three road games since the All-Star break. They play away from Les Trois Rivieres like your favorite little league team does when the coach's kid pitches.

Ah well, one more week to go and then we can concentrate on what's wrong with the Steelers.

Cubbie Pre-Game

-- Andrew McCutchen and Andy LaRoche will bat 1-2 for the Bucs tonight; the middle of the order will be Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit, and Lastings Milledge. The table-setting duo have 115 RBI; the trio forming the heart of the lineup have 96.

Sound a little backwards to you?

-- Get over yesterday's hoo-hah. The storylines should be the Bucs took 3 out of 4 from LA, Andy LaRoche went Pops on his old team mates, and Zach Duke pitched great, not that JR had a brain cramp.

In spite of what Russell said, our best guess is that he planned to keep the Zachster in until he lost the shutout; there just happened to be two outs in the ninth before that happened. JR should have taken that into consideration, but he didn't, and oh well.

The pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan, agreed with the call, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette. Hopefully, it results in more giggles than poison in the locker room.

-- The guy the Bucs have been hot after, Miguel Angel Sano, is signing with the Twins for $3.15M, according to Baseball America. Word was that his agent, Rob Plummer, and the Pirates involved, Neal Huntington and Rene Gayo, got along like a mongoose and a couple of cobras.

The international bazaar is like the Wild West; maybe it's time for MLB to negotiate with the union for a universal draft. Besides all the dirty laundry, the kids that get drafted outside the first round are taking a financial drubbing compared to open market teens.

-- DK got the Boss Man, Bud Selig, on record as saying he keeps an eye on everyone's books, and he's 100% behind the way the Bucco suits are spreading the cash around.

-- They come, they go. Joe Kerrigan said he'd be back in 2010; Rich Donnelly won't be. The Pirates plan to replace Donnelly with a assistant pitching coach to serve as Kerrigan's heir apparent.

-- RHP Anthony Claggett, just picked up from the Evil Empire, passed his Bradenton test and was added to the active roster.

-- Yesterday's win was the first time in five weeks that Pittsburgh has taken back-to-back victories. It also eliminated the Pirates from the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. The No. 1 pick will again go to the Washington Nationals in next June's draft.

The Pirates and Baltimore are still battling for the #2 spot. Pittsburgh had 59 wins, the O's have 60.

-- For all the talk of building from the bottom up, Pittsburgh only got one player on the short-season New York-Penn League's Baseball America Top Twenty, State College RHP Victor Black.

He was the Bucs' 49th pick in the draft, a supplemental first rounder from Dallas Baptist. Black went 1-2 for the Spikes, with a 3.45 ERA and 33 K's in 31-1/3 innings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Blue Gets Big Boot

Who would believe it? The down-and-out Buccos, after being broomed by the Reds, came back and took three out of four from the Big Blue Dodger machine, taking their last PNC outing of the season by a runaway 11-1 margin.

Today, they clicked both pitching and hitting, a phenomena rarely associated with the Pirates. Zach Duke was masterful, and we're sure he's wondering where all those runs were in past starts. Still, he'll gladly take them.

He gave up a run on four hits in 8-2/3 innings, walking one and whiffing six, needing only 103 pitches. John Russell mystifyingly yanked him with two outs in the ninth and the bases empty.

The crowd jeered JR both on the trip out and back, sandwiched around a brief O for Duke. But Donnie Veal came in and K'd Blake DeWitt to make it a moot point.

We suppose complete games, in the scheme of things, aren't valued very highly any more. Hey, maybe he was on a 100-pitch count, or was pulled after blowing his chance for a shutout. For whatever reason, it certainly didn't earn JR any points.

Zach Duke, BTW, opened and closed the 2009 slate at PNC Park with wins. He shut out the Astros for a complete game victory back on April 13th. But his day was only the second best among Buccos.

Andy LaRoche spoke softly and carried a huge stick against his old club. He went 5-for-5 with two homers, two doubles, four runs scored and six RBI, Willie Stargell-like numbers. The fans liked it; he got a curtain call from the dugout.

In the series, he was 10-for-18 with four doubles, four dingers, seven runs scored and nine RBI. Maybe he is what the Pirate's hoped for, after all. Or maybe he just has a log-sized chip on his shoulder; we;ll find out in 2010.

The second inning was pivotal, when Dodger miscues cost them a chance to jump ahead and later handed the Bucs an early cushion. In the top of the inning, Matt Kemp started on second after a Luis Cruz throw away, but was doubled up when Cruz ran down a pop-up. Mark Loretta followed with a single, and was picked off breaking to second by Duke. Big promise, no results for LA.

An error and back-to-back hits plated a pair for the Bucs in their half of the frame, and then they went wild with two away. An Andrew McCutchen walk, Andy LaRoche double and Garrett Jones single - probably should have walked him again, Joe - made it 5-0, and Pittsburgh never looked back.

After a long, hard season, the Pirates finally gave the home boys something to cheer for. And maybe some hope for 2010.

-- Ronny Cedeno sat out again with sore hammys. We're wondering if he's hurt a little more than the Bucs are letting on, or if the suits decided this was the time to give Luis Cruz an audition. They have been extremely cautious with September tweaks, good for next year maybe, but a contributing factor to this season's finish.

-- A couple of the beat writers have suggested the suits are whispering sweet nothings to the media about Matt Capps in an effort to boost his trade value in the off season. Good luck with that.

-- The crowd of 16,696 fixed the 2009 season attendance total at 1,577,853 (19,480/game). That's the new low water mark, breaking 2004's total of 1,583,031 (and they only played 80 home games that year). It's the second time that attendance has dropped under 20,000 in PNC Park history, and the lowest since 1998 at TRS (19,271). The Pirates finished 40-41 at PNC this year.

-- The LA Times writer Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodger visitors' clubhouse at PNC was wrapped in plastic and stocked with celebratory championship hats, tee shirts, and champagne after they went ahead in the top of the ninth yesterday. Of course, the Buccos pulled it out, and the Dodger clubhouse guy said "It took about 35 seconds to tear everything down." No worries about today's party; it's in the other locker room.

-- Reports from the Bay are that San Francisco is unlikely to exercise the $8.1M option on Freddy Sanchez for 2010 and he hinted yesterday that he'd rather hit the open market than agree to a new deal with the Giants at a lower salary.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yes, The Fans Do Appreciate It

The Pirates pulled out all the stops on Fan Appreciation day, and shame on any of the 26,831 fans that left in disgust after the top of the ninth.

The zaniness began in the third/fourth inning. The Bucs scored twice in the third, aided greatly by back-to-back wild pitches by Clayton Kershaw. Nothin' like a little gas drizzled on the fire, hey?

Then the Dodgers put the first two runners aboard in the fourth; Robby Diaz caught one stealing, and Daniel McCutchen picked the other off of first. Nothin' like a little damage control, hey? And those two plays may have been the pivotal outs of the afternoon.

The game would stay 2-1 until the seventh. McCutchen gave up a single (6 innings, 2 runs, five hits, two walks, three K's), and Captain Hook replaced him with Jesse Chavez. Chavez gave up a double, and after striking out Russell Martin, intentionally walked Orlando Hudson, bringing Jim Thome up in a pinch-hitting role.

He got the DP ground ball to short, but Luis Cruz mishandled it, leaving only a play at first, and that brought home the tying run. Joel Hanrahan, recovered from a tender elbow, shut down the Big Blue Machine in the eighth.

Still tied in the ninth, Matt Capps got the ball. We all know how that ends up. The first three guys singled off him, and before you could say "what hit me" it was 5-2, LA. Not that he was entirely at fault; Brian Bixler couldn't get the force-out at home on a ball hit to him, and Robby Diaz allowed a passed ball for another free score.

The Buccos had some life left in their battered bones, though. They may be bad, but they rarely mail one in.

Delwyn Young and Brandon Moss led off the ninth with pinch-hit base hits. After a first-pitch force out by Andrew McCutchen, Dodger cast-off Andy LaRoche beat out an infield single to plate a run, and the runners moved up a base when Rafael Furcal threw the ball into short right field.

Garrett Jones was intentionally walked (for the third time; guess who Joe Torre decided was not going to let beat him) to load the sacks for clean-up hitter by default Lastings Milledge.

And hey, what better ending for Fan Appreciation day than cranking a 98 MPH heater into right field for a single? The ball tailed and hopped past by Andre Ethier, clearing the bases and giving Pittsburgh a most improbable 6-5 victory.

The players and fans partied, and Joe Torre was seen casting an evil eye towards both the pitcher's mound and right field, underneath the shadow of a flapping Jolly Roger. Hey, all as it should be, right?

Maybe Pittsburgh should play the Dodgers and Phillies all the time.

-- Garrett Jones' trio of intentional walks gives him a team-high eight, overtaking Ryan Doumit's half dozen. Not quite Albert Pujols' 43, but then again, Sir Albert hits a little better with guys on.

-- Lasting Milledge got the Pirate's 45th outfield assist of the season yesterday afternoon, tops in MLB and the best number in 25 years for Pittsburgh.

-- The US won the World Cup today, 10-5, over the Cuban national team. Brad Lincoln was roughed up a bit as a reliever, but came away with the win (3-0, 2.89 ERA). Pedro was held hitless, and finished up with a tournament line of .259/5/12.

-- Remember Rajai Davis, the guy Pittsburgh traded in 2007 for Matty Mo? In 340 at-bats, he's hitting .318 (.376 OBP) for Oakland, with 61 runs scored, 41 RBI, and 45 stolen bases.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Buc Bullpen Returns To Normal

Well, yesterday's victory was a tonic for the Pirates. Unfortunately, burning out the bullpen came back to bite the Bucs tonight.

In a pretty well played game, Pittsburgh went ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh when Luis Cruz and Andrew McCutchen delivered two-out RBI knocks.

But since Jesse Chavez pitched a pair of frames last night and Joel Hanrahan's elbow is apparently still achy, JR started the eighth with Denny Baustista. A walk, strikeout, and single later, he tapped his left arm to match up Phil Dumatrait with James Loney. He walked him to juice the sacks.

In jogged Steve Jackson, who walked in a pair of runs and gave up a two-run single to Jim Thome. Way to kill a rally, bullpen.

We don't know if JR should have done anything different Friday night; hindsight is 20-20. He got the win, and the team was in desperate need of one.

But if he'd have gotten an extra inning out of Jeff Karstens, or brought in Virgil Vasquez or Dumatrait in the sixth (shaky choices, we admit), or worked Jackson two innings instead of Chavez, he might have had something left for the late innings this evening.

But he didn't, and the Bucs fell again, 8-4. The spirit is willing, but the talent is weak.

Russell can't be held to the fire for this one, though. It's not his fault that Hanrahan is hurt, or that Evan Meek, Jose Ascanio, and Tyler Yates are on the DL, or that Jesse Chavez has the most appearances of any rookie, or that Sean Burnett and John Grabow are plying their trade in other cities or that Ross Ohlendorf is shut down and they're still using a six-man rotation.

Management dealt him a dead man's hand, and it showed again tonight.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is That The Jolly Roger Flappin' In The Breeze?

JR went with his spring-training, pitcher-of-the-inning theory today. And hey - the red hot Dodgers, averaging nearly seven runs per game the past two weeks, were shut down by the boys from the bullpen tonight.

The Bucs came out smokin' - well, as much as they can, anyway - and jumped out ahead of the LA gang 1-0. Andrew McCutchen chopped one off the pitcher's mitt for a single, a wild throw on an Andy LaRoche roller put runners at first and third, and Garrett Jones lifted a fly into center to plate a run.

Then Ryan Doumit came within inches of going yard, the ball just flying inches outside the foul pole. And hey, that was the excitement for the time being.

The Dodgers came back with two outs in the second with bloop doubles up each line; kinda makes you wonder where the outfield was positioned. Either the ol' straightaway D bit Gary Varsho's charges, or Karstens was supposed to be working outside and caught too much of the dish. Either way, it was worth the tying tally.

The Pirates added a pair in the third, when with two on and one out, Doumit bounced a possible DP ball to first, clanging it off James Loney's mitt for an error to juice the sacks. Brandon Moss made them pay with two outs when he dropped a soft single in front of the hard-trotting left fielder Manny, plating a pair.

The pitching committee made those runs count. Karstens went three, giving up a run on three hits and a K. Donnie Veal followed, and gave up two hits, a hit batsman, and whiffed a trio in two innings. Steve Jackson got three fly outs, and Jesse Chavez came on to pitch a pair of shutout innings, giving up two hits and fanning one.

Matt Capps threw like a real closer, sandwiching strikeouts around a weak grounder. Veal got his first win, and the Pirates proved that with a lot of pitching (they gave up seven hits, had seven K's and didn't walk a soul) and a clean game in the field, anyone can win.

Not that the underlying problem was addressed. All the runs were unearned, and the Pirates were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. In a telling stat, the Pirates struck out eighth times. Seven were with runners in scoring position.

But hey, break out the Jolly Roger tonight. It's been a long time.

-- Steve Blass had an interesting take on tonight's pitcher-by-committee approach taken by the Buccos. In a FSN interview, he said he didn't like it, not because of the strategy, but because he doesn't approve of anything that strikes at the integrity of the game (although he hedged his comments a bit because Jeff Karstens was a starter, once upon a time). He's old school; when a team in a race comes to play, you should send your best out.

Hey, it's not unusual for teams on the wayside to play oddball September lineups for a variety of reasons, even against teams in the hunt, but it is nice to hear that somebody thinks you should play games that count straight-up.

-- Craig Calcaterra of NBC's Circling The Bases on the Pirates' JR:
"Firing (John) Russell would be temporarily cathartic, but ultimately pointless. The Pirates aren't going to win with a better manager. They're going to win with better players. And at present, there's no reason to believe that John Russell isn't the guy to lead them if those better players ever happen along."
-- The Pirates named Pedro Alvarez (.288 27/95) their minor league player of the year and Rudy Owens (11-2 2.10 ERA) their minor league pitcher of the year.

-- Nyjer Morgan, by the numbers: Pittsburgh with Nymo was 32-39 (.451), without him, they're 24-56 (.300). The Nats playing with Nyjer are 23-26 (.469); minus him, Washington is 29-74 (.282). Funny what a top-of-the-order guy with wheels, a glove, and boundless enthusiasm can bring to a team, hey?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bucs Nearly Outnumber Fans

Two outs, and runner on first after a walk to the eighth batter and botched bunt. That's the situation Charlie Morton faced in the top of the third inning. One more out and back to the dugout. If it were only that simple...

A ground ball single into left, a shot that hopped over the wall, a gapper into center, and a dink single into left, and hey, suddenly it's 4-0 Cincinnati. And that frame became a mountain the Pirate hitters just couldn't climb.

Lastings Milledge went yard, and that was the only money ball among the Pirates' seven hits. However, the fireworks display did draw the attention of a hovering Apache helicopter. It didn't have to worry; the Pirates aren't a threat to anyone.

The Reds had seven hits; and stringing together those four knocks did in the Bucs today in front of a gathering of 2-4,000, depending on who was counting. Heck, there were more riot cops on Penn Avenue than there were warm fannies at PNC.

As the season spins out of control, it's tough to tell who's sadder - the Pirates, their fans, or the PNC vendors.

-- The Pirates claimed RHP Anthony Claggett off waivers from the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers DFA'ed him on September 14th. To clear space for him, RHP Jose Ascanio was placed on the 60-day DL. So much for Jose being back next week.

Claggett, 25, was 7-7 with four saves and a 3.07 ERA in 39 appearances for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He struck out 43 and walked 32 in 82 innings of work. He's considered borderline 40-man roster material.

-- Freddy Sanchez will have off season surgery on the torn meniscus in his left knee. Both the Giants and Pirates were aware that Sanchez would likely require knee surgery after the year when they made the July 29 trade, which makes snagging a top prospect like Tim Alderson even more surprising.

-- Braves prospect Todd Richmond (3-0, 1.21 ERA) tossed eight shutout innings yesterday as the United States defeated Puerto Rico 3-0 to earn a spot in the World Cup championship game. Remember Redmond? He was traded for Tyler Yates last season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Whoops, There Goes Another Ballgame...

Do ya really want to know what went on at PNC tonight? OK, you masochist...

The Lastings Milledge project continues. He made a sweet sliding catch on a ball to end the second, but played a crucial part in the Red's three-run third when he took a bad angle on a well-stroked ball and played it into a double and eventually two extra runs.

In the Pittsburgh half of the frame, Hart forced Neil Walker at second on a bunt. Andrew McCutchen followed with a double, but the lumbering Hart couldn't come around, and as a result, the Bucs stranded runners on second and third.

The next inning, they left the bases juiced, stymied by a nice two-out stop by Brandon Phillips. JR had opted to let Hart bat in that situation, even though Pittsburgh was down 4-1. It only got worse.

The decision blew up in JR's face when he yanked Hart the next frame, with the bases loaded and a another run in. Phil Dumatrait trotted to the hill and completed the job, allowing all three Reds on base to plate.

Denny Bautista gave up another, and Virgil Vasquez was swatted around too, although he may have escaped if Ronny Cedeno caught a possible DP feed from Garrett Jones.

It was either make the catch or avoid the hard-sliding runner; he bailed out and the ball flew into left field. The Tinman isn't the only guy that needs a heart.

GW's opinion, for what it's worth, is that McCutchen, Jones, Doumit, and possibly Milledge should start in 2010. Every other position should be an open competition.

If Neal Huntington thought that Dave Littlefield's team had a roster of guys that didn't know how to win, maybe he should take a look in his dugout.

-- The MRI taken on Ramon Vazquez’s achy knee showed no internal damage. Vazquez can play as his pain threshold allows. Joel Hanrahan continues to be day-to-day with a sore 'bow. Jose Ascanio may rejoin the team this weekend.

-- Neil Walker obviously heard Huntington's beef about guys taking the winter off. He just announced that he's playing winter ball for Luis Dorante's team in Venezuela.

-- Hey, did you ever wonder what motivates grown men to pay money to come watch a kids game? In some cases, it's because the fans are still catering to their inner child, like the"ballhawkers" discovered lurking in the outfield seats, glove at the ready, by the Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neill.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

Hey, the Pirates looked like they were cruisin'. But we know better, don't we?

Up 2-0 in the fifth behind an Andrew McCutchen lead-off homer and a two-out Ronny Cedeno double, Zach Duke seemed to worked his way out of a jam, set up by a botched bunt coverage and an infield single that ticked off of Delwyn Young's glove. With the bases juiced, a dribbler in front of the plate was pounced on by Ryan Doumit.

He stepped on the dish, and threw to first, but Garrett Jones came off the bag and then had the ball knocked out of his mitt by the runner. The throw was OK; Jones appeared to show some indecision at first, his part-time position. And we all know what happened next. Bingo, bango, bongo, it's 5-2, Reds.

Pittsburgh got a run back on a Robby Diaz RBI parachute into right, but a Donny Veal/Chris Bootcheck tag team in the seventh gave that back and more; when they left, it was 8-3.

The next frame was Eric Hacker's turn; he made his maiden appearance, and held the Reds to just two runs. The Bucs scored once in the eighth, on a bases-loaded walk. For some reason, JR sent Brian Bixler up with the bases juiced to pinch hit for Young. Where has his head been the past week?

The Cincy pitcher, rookie Carlos Fisher, had just walked two batters on nine pitches. So BB is told to take a strike, right? Wrong. On a 1-0 pitch, he swung through an ankle high curve and proceeded to whiff waving.

Did we mention that Cincinnati had the NL's lowest batting average coming into this game at .243? They banged out sixteen hits tonight. The Reds sent nine batters up in one inning twice; they only went down in order twice, in the first and last innings.

Three balls went of Pirate gloves. The fielders botched a bunt and a DP. Pittsburgh stranded ten runners; with fourteen hits, six for extra bases, and three walks, they still only scored four runs. The manager is consulting his Ouija board before he makes a move.

It's just ugly.

-- When Garrett Jones went deep yesterday, he became only the second player in MLB history to hit 20 or more homers in a season without hitting any before July. The other was Kevin Maas of the 1990 Yankees, who like Jones, was a mid-season call-up.

-- the Pirate prospects on the US World Cup team may be making a better case for a job at PNC next year in Italy than in Pittsburgh. Brad Lincoln (2-0, 1.89 ERA) allowed two runs and six hits in 6-2/3 innings in a 6-3 victory against Venezuela. Pedro Alvarez went 1 for 3 with a homer, his fifth, a walk and RBI.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It Took A Little Longer Than Usual, But...

Jekyll and Hyde, that's who Daniel McCutchen emulated tonight. Young Daniel was down 2-0 after three batters when Adrian Gonzalez went yard on him. For the first three innings, he gave up three runs on seven hits, catching too much of the plate and elevating his pitches.

Then he settled in, and retired the next nine batters in a row, keeping the ball around the knees. It's kinda the MO of the three guys - McCutchen, Kevin Hart, and Charlie Morton - auditioning for the 2010 back end of the Pirate rotation; they only thing they do consistently is pitch inconsistently.

Anyway, the ball game took the usual Pirate turn. It was 3-2 in the eighth, with the Pittsburgh runs coming on a solo shot by Garrett Jones, his 20th and 16th with the sacks empty, and a wild pitch.

The bullpen let it get out of hand again, with a bit of role reversal. Phil Dumatrait threw a clean inning, and Jesse Chavez gave up a pair of homers to make it 6-2.

But the Padres gave those three runs back, thanks to some fast and loose fielding and a two-run double by Andrew McCutchen. The Bucs tied it in the ninth, loading the bases with nobody out and eventually plating a run on a slow roller by Ronny Cedeno.

It just prolonged the agony. After the Pirates' Neil Walker hit into a two-on DP in the tenth, Jeff Karstens, who has been absolutely brutal since his back injury, was lit up. The Bucs lost, 11-6, falling to 2-9 in extra-inning games.

Hey, six runs is an explosion for Pittsburgh. But when a team is 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and strand fourteen, well, you've wasted more than your fair share of opportunity. They were 3-for-31 with RISP this series, and the wretched results are due more to Bucco ineptitude than Padre pitching.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has a piece on possible free agents the Pirates may be looking at - Ricky Ankiel, John Grabow, and Freddy Sanchez among them. All could help, but all have bridges to cross first.

Ankiel is represented by Scott Boras, Grabow is supposedly in talks to re-enlist with the Cubs and is a Type A free agent, and Sanchez already turned down a Buc offer, plus he's been banged up all year.

-- Just thinkin' out loud - if the Bucs aren't sold on Ronny Cedeno at short, word is that Milwaukee's JJ Hardy and Atlanta's Yunel Escobar will be on the market.

-- Delwyn Young broke an 0-for-27 streak when he lined a single into right in the sixth inning.

-- Hey, the Bucs, unlike most area businesses, have embraced the upcoming G-20 Summit, and landed their first big international fish. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will throw out the first pitch on Friday. Maybe he's part of the Pirates' world-wide scouting search for talent.

-- John Perrotto of Pirates Report has an article on former GM Ted Simmons, who first began the demolition of the team in 1992.

As Simmons told him " was either cut the payroll or watch the team move to Tampa Bay." The stress was so much that he suffered a heart attack in 1993 and had to retire.

-- Pedro is hitting .278 with 4 long balls and 11 RBI for the US in the World Cup after ten games. Brad Lincoln is 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA, with two starts and 12-1/3 innings under his belt.

-- Old Bucco player and coach Dave Clark is the new skipper of the Houston Astros. He replaced Cecil Cooper, who the Astro suits let twist in the wind all summer before letting him go today.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kids Day, On and Off the Field

Yawn. The Bucs went down without a peep, 4-0, to San Diego. A mediocre outing by Paul Maholm, a stinko effort by the depleted Bucco batsmen, and two throwing errors by Ryan Doumit leading to three runs about covers it. Another day at the office.

With half the Bucs in the tub, the Padres picked a fine time to visit. And they still have another go at the Pirates tomorrow night.

All we're hoping is that when Garrett Ford comes back, they put him at first full-time and use Brandon Moss/Doumit in right. Steve Pearce has pretty well flunked his audition, and with the year winding down, it's time to ease up on Doumit's workload and give Jason Jaramillo and Robby Diaz some dish time.

-- Pittsburgh has scored 18 runs in the past nine games, and only twice have they plated more than a pair. It's tough to win ballgames with an attack like that, no matter how strong the pitching. Not too surprisingly, the Bucs are 2-7 over that span.

-- In spite of their incredibly inept play over the past three months, the Bucs still have drawn over 70,000 to PNC for the Padre series so far, without a firework display or bobblehead in sight.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette covers a wide range of subjects in the PBC blog today - Ross Ohlendorf being officially shut down, the possible non-tendering of Matt Capps, and the reluctance of the baby Buccos to sign on for winter ball.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review has a piece on the 2007 World Cup, and current Pirate reps for the US: Jeff Karstens, Brian Bixler, Delwyn Young and Steve Pearce.

-- John Perrotto of the Pirates Report reminds us of a little remembered Dave Littlefield deal in 2004 that bit the Bucs big time: Leo Nunez for Benito Santiago.

-- Adam LaRoche is hitting .356 since the Braves traded for him on July 31, and he’s led the team in home runs (12) and RBIs (33) since then. He may re-up with his first team. He's said to be looking for three years, though, and that may be a bit long for Atlanta's liking.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Indy Goes Down To The Padres

Hey, interesting lineup today, partially because of banged up bodies and we suppose partially because it's a day game.

Andy LaRoche is still sick, Delwyn Young's back is achy, and Garrett Jones hurt his shoulder making a Web-Gem play last night and is expected to miss a couple of days.

So Neil Walker is at third again, Steve Pearce at first, and *tada* Ryan Doumit in right. We're supposing that JR didn't want to match up Brandon Moss against the lefty Clayton Richard, but still...let the rumors begin.

Anyway, that opened up the catcher's box for Robby Diaz, and Brian Bixler gave Ramon Vazquez a blow at second. So except for Ronny Cedeno and Doumit, it's all guys from Indianapolis' 2009 lineup. Frank Kremblas should be proud.

Not as proud as Ross Ohlendorf, though. The big Princeton grad went seven innings, giving up a run on five hits. He struck out five and walked one, keeping the punchless Bucs in the game to that point, 1-1. And he was fairly efficient with his pitch count, needing 94 pitches to get through seven frames.

If they shut him down for the rest of the year, it was a fitting farewell - a great start with no decision, Pittsburgh's MO of late. The Bucco brainiac has compiled a 2.83 ERA since the All-Star break, going just 4-3 despite making eight quality starts over that span.

We just don't get JR's bullpen decisions. Again, with the game on the line, he brought in Phil Dumatrait. He got his lefty-on-lefty matchup, the only problem being that his southpaw has a 10.80 ERA.

Dumatrait is getting hit at a .308 clip by lefties, with a 1.000 slugging percentage going into today's game. That's hardly the stuff LOOGYs are made of. Donnie Veal, conversely, has held lefties to an .083 average, yielding one single, although the six walks and one plunk in 19 batters faced is a significant red flag.

Even when Dumatrait's OK, he's like Joe Btfsplk, with a gray cloud perpetually raining over his head. He got the first out, and then Brian Bixler booted a garden-variety ground ball. Dumatrait walked the next two batters, nibbling all around the black but getting no love from plate ump Gary Darling, losing both guys on 3-2 pitches.

He replaced him with Denny Bautista, who fell behind Henry Blanco, hitting .239, 2-0 before serving up a sac fly. Then he walked Tony Gwynn Jr. to reload the bases, but escaped without any further ado. The Padres had manufactured the go-ahead run without a hit.

Of course, it did seem a bit of ironic justice. The Pirates needed an error and two walks to score their run in the first, also without getting a hit

And that gift run was enough. Moss added a little drama when he lined a two out single, followed by a drive into right field by Walker that petered out just shy of the wall, with RF Will Venable making the grab with his back against the fence.

Hey, we can't blame JR for the lineup; guys get hurt, and five singles isn't going to win a team too many games. But why he continues to call on his B team from the bullpen is beyond us. His undermanned team keeps on grinding. When they hang around, he should give them a chance at the win instead of holding auditions or just crossing his fingers.

A manager's job is to best position his club for victory, and for whatever reason - maybe the suits want to see some guys, or he has misplaced confidence, or thinks his regular arms are worn - JR's not doing that right now. As the clock ticks towards 100 losses, it's clear that it's a total, top-to-bottom, team effort.

-- Steve Jackson pitched a 1-2-3 eighth today. He's regained command of his change-up, and when it's on, he's a very nice bridge guy. And while we're on the bullpen, Joel Hanrahan has a sore elbow, but it's not thought to be serious.

-- The Pirates haven't put together back-to-back wins since August 21-22 when they beat the Cincinnati Reds.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sweet Home, PNC

As Dorothy said, "there's no place like home." And after a close-but-no-cigar brooming in LA, PNC and its home cooking was a welcome sight.

It didn't look to be that way at the git-go; Charlie Morton was smoked for a lead-off double, and a bunt and sac fly later, it was 1-0 Padres. It was the 98th run the opponents have scored against the Bucs in the first, easily the staffs' worst inning.

But the Bucs, thanks to Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Moss triples plus four walks, jumped on top in their half, 3-1, even if they did leave the sacks juiced (hey, it was Morton up with two outs, so we'll cut them some slack).

Morton, who has been bitten by the big inning blues, worked out of some early trouble. He left the bases juiced in the second when he struck out superpest David Eckstein.

Later, with runners on first and second and no outs in the fifth, facing the heart of the order, he wheedled a 3-6-1 DP from the bat of Adrian Gonzalez and caught Chase Headley looking at a big ol' hook.

The lanky righty took a seat after seven innings of very workmanlike pitching. He gave up one run on six hits with a walk, plunked batter, and four strikeouts. It was his longest outing since July 18th against the Giants and his second W as a Bucco.

The Pirates finally tacked on another tally in the seventh, when Ryan Doumit singled home McCutchen, and one more breathing room run scored in the following frame when McCutchen's sac fly to the 399' mark in center plated Neil Walker.

Jesse Chavez and Matt Capps finished the game off, and the Bucs raised the Jolly Roger in front of 26,178 fans, taking a 5-1 victory over San Diego.

-- Andy LaRoche was sick and became a late scratch from tonight's lineup, giving Neil Walker a rare start at the hot corner. Delwyn Young remains out with a sore back.

-- The good news keeps rollin' in. Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette reports that Joe Kerrigan is still up in the air regarding a return gig with the Buccos. The last count is four pitching coaches in four years; maybe it'll be 5-for-5 in 2010.

Kinda makes you wonder about "the plan" when two of the guys that are supposed to implement it, Kerrigan and Perry Hill, are showing their doubts.

-- Hot shot SS Miguel Angel Sano doesn't appear to be near a deal with any club, but ESPN's Jorge Arangure Jr. hears that the shortstop wants $3.2M, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Worst Ever? Nah, Just Seems Like It.

Hey, as the Pirates stagger to the end of the 2009 season, one question keeps popping up - no, not when Pedro, Jose, and Brad are gonna hit PNC, but rather is this the saddest of all the sad-sack teams ever put on a field by Pittsburgh?

Ultimately, wins and losses will determine that. The all-time record for futility is held by Guy Becker's 1890 Alleghenies, who finished 23-113. In the modern era, it was Billy Meyer's Rickey-Dink squad of 1952 that bottomed out with a 42-112 slate. The Bucs don't have enough games left to challenge those marks.

Oddly, the worst team during the Streak was Lloyd McClendon's 2001 rag-tags that finished up with a 62-100 record, the only club in those 17 long years to hit the century mark. Now there's a target the 2009 guys can reach. They have 18 games left; if they finish 6-12, they've got it.

We could use another matrix, as the Sabremetric crowd likes to call them. How about if we go old school and compare runs scored per game against runs yielded? This year's edition scores 3.99 runs per game and gives up 4.76, a difference of .77 runs per match.

Ah, not close. Last year's nine was worse, plating 4.54 runs and surrendering 5.46, a .92 spread. And hey, that 2001 bomb squad tallied 4.06 runs and gave up 5.30, a whopping 1.24 difference. 1994's group was almost as bad, scoring 4.09 runs and allowing 5.09.

So we've seen some lousy baseball over the past couple of decades, and certainly not all of it this season.

Heck, that 1952 collection of puppies lost by an average of 1.8 runs, and 1954's band of Buccos was even a little worse, having it handed to them by 1.87 runs per game.

But don't give up hope yet. If we take the baby Buccos' performance from July 1st on, a different picture emerges. So far, their record from the dog days on is 19-48, a .284 winning percentage (The Pirates were 36-41 at the end of June, and had actually outscored their opponents). Multiply that out, and you have a 46-116 record.

They've averaged 3.54 runs per game during that span, and given up 5.31, a 1.77 run per game deficit. It's not quite as bad as some of those 50s' teams, but it's far and away the worst of the past two decades and on the short list of all-time flops.

The worst team ever? Nope, but the past three months have seen some of the most painful baseball the franchise has ever strung together. Temporary inconvenience for permanent improvement, or is the light in the tunnel actually an onrushing train...? Stay tuned.

Thursday Tidbits

-- The usually button-downed Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette offered this bit of speculation in his Q&A column:
"I would be quite sure that Huntington has had input in the decision to stay with LaRoche rather than look at Walker. And, although no one with the Pirates would acknowledge such a thing, I would be equally sure that the trade had something to do with it.

How could it not?

If Walker fails, that is just another lousy pick by Dave Littlefield. If LaRoche fails, that is a painful blow -- maybe the most painful one -- in what already is shaping up to be a bad Jason Bay trade."
-- Jen Langosch of has a piece on the tragic summer of third base coach Tony Beasley.

-- Hey, the Bucs win! The Bucs win! The Bucs....ooops, sorry. I meant the Hillcats. Lynchburg won the Carolina League championship tonight in wild west fashion, hanging on to outlast Salem 8-7.

Ronald Uviedo saved the win for Mike Crotta when he came on in the ninth with runners on first and second and one away. The righty got a pair of infield rollers to close out the game for the 2009 Class A kings, stranding the tying run at third and lead run at second.

Lynchburg leaped ahead 7-4 after two innings - starter Jeff Locke got rocked - and were helped tremendously by back-to-back baby Red Sox errors, with a wild pitch sandwiched between. The miscues led to four unearned runs.

The hitting heroes were Jordy Mercer, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles, 2 RBI, and a run scored, and forgotten man Jamie Romak, who was 3-for-4 with a double and 3 RBI. Chase d'Arnaud had a double and 2 RBI, while Josh Harrison plated three times.

Well done. Maybe in a few years Mercer, d'Arnaud, Matt Hague, Tony Sanchez, Rudy Owens and company will bring their winning ways to the show.

-- The Roberto Clemente "Day of Giving" recognition is scheduled for Friday's game against San Diego. Paul Maholm will be recognized as the team's Roberto Clemente Award winner and MLB nominee. Maholm won the award for his work with the Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania. The Pirate minor league awardees will be honored, too.

-- The so-far quiet Pedro Alvarez blew up on the Tapei team today for the US in the World Cup. He hit three home runs and had six RBI in the United States' 14-3 runaway victory.

-- The Rangers signed 44th overall draft pick RHP Tanner Scheppers. Reports claim that he received a signing bonus of $1.25M, a record for the supplemental first round. Texas couldn't sign their first rounder, freeing up a couple of extra bucks for Scheppers, who the Pirates drafted #48 last year but didn't sign.

Scheppers will make his pro debut at the Arizona Fall League.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bucs Bats Singin' The Blues

The Bucs had a chance early, but well, ya know... They had four hits, two of them lead-off knocks, and two of them doubles in the first three innings. One came in, and they were held to a pair of hits the rest of the way as they went down quietly this afternoon, 3-1, striking out eleven times.

The good news was Kevin Hart gave the Bucs six good frames, giving up two runs on seven hits but only one walk while whiffing five. The odd news is that JR, with a 2-1 game and an off day tomorrow, elected to bring in Denny Bautista and Phil Dumatrait.

Bautista got through his 2/3s of an inning with a walk and strikeout. Dumatrait faced three batters, too, and gave up another long ball. That's two homers in his last ten pitches.

The insurance run probably didn't make much difference the way the Pirates were hitting, but shouldn't you be putting your better players on the field against a team in a September play-off run? There's a time to evaluate and a time to go with the best ya got.

The guys will all be on the big bird soon, winging their way back to the Three Rivers and their final homestand, beginning Friday against San Diego, Cincinnati, and LA. The probable pitchers are listed here, from

-- A couple of back-of-the-envelope calculations; the Bucs, since July 1st, have averaged 3.5 runs per game and hit .219.

-- Yesterday's come-from-behind win was nothing new for the LA nine. The Dodgers have 12 walk-off wins this season and Andre Ethier had the game-winning knock in six of them, four of the hits leaving the yard.

How money is he during crunch time? Ethier is batting .333/.472/.649 with four homers, six doubles, 13 walks, and 17 RBIs in 72 plate appearances from the ninth inning on.

-- Tomorrow's day off will be the last of the season for the Pirates. They're scheduled to play their last 18 games in 17 days, with the next eleven at PNC before closing the year on the road.

-- RHP Brad Lincoln earned the win yesterday when the US beat Japan, 4-2, in the the World Cup. Lincoln pitched 7-1/3 innings, surrendering one run on six hits and striking out five. It was his second straight strong outing for Team USA.

Close Only Counts For Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

Ah, the Buccos, God bless their star-crossed little souls. They put up a three-spot in the second on Steve Pearce's two-run blast and a single by Zach Duke, and with two out in the ninth, clung to a 3-2 lead.

Duke allowed just two runs on four hits in 7-1/3 innings, and notched seven strikeouts. His only bump was in the fifth, when a couple of fastballs got away from him.

Matt Kemp doubled off one and Casey Blake tripled off the other, on a ball that Garrett Jones couldn't handle cleanly and let rattle around in the corner. Other than that, he was lights out for Pittsburgh.

But it was Matt Capps time in the ninth, and everyone holds their breath when he takes the hill. He gave up the two-out single to Kemp that tied the game; Andre Ethier, who had doubled with one away, beat Jones' throw home. For Capps, it was his fourth loss/blown save in his last eight outings. His ERA is 6.02.

Oh, the baby Bucs hung in. They even scored a run in the thirteenth to go ahead once again on a Ryan Doumit single. But mad scientist JR couldn't leave well enough alone; he saw all those warm bodies in the bullpen and decided to try to use each and every one. Quantity and quality are not the same things.

Steve Jackson pitched the twelfth, and got out of a one-out, runner on third jam by going to his change-up. He coaxed a pair of rollers with it to escape the inning, and his command, often lacking, looked sharp.

But JR opted to bring in Chris Bootcheck to close the deal. He grooved a 1-2 fastball that was lined off him for a base hit to the leadoff hitter, Rafael Furcal.

He got the next batter to fly out, deep in the left field corner, and JR tapped his left arm and called for Phil Doumatrait. His first pitch was a knee-high heater on the inside corner to Ethier, and it left the yard. Bye bye ball and ballgame.

But it wasn't an unexpected finish. JR yanked Jackson, with a 3.60 ERA, for Bootcheck, with an ERA of 12.00, and Dumatrait, who's compiled an 11.16 ERA. The result was predictable.

The Bucs had chances. Twice there were runners on first and second with one out during overtime, but neither Lastings Milledge nor Pearce, with two outs, could bring one home. In fact, they whiffed three of the four times. Pearce particularly looked bad, unable to lay off two-strike fastballs that were a foot out of the zone.

So hey, what's new? Waste another strong Duke performance, don't hit in the clutch, and blow leads in the ninth and thirteenth innings. Just another day for the Pirates.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Tales

-- Some homecoming for Delwyn Young. His back is still achy, and it looks like they're gonna shut him down until they get home Friday. A cross-country flight should be just the thing to loosen it up, hey?

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review has a piece about the victory celebrations taking place in baseball, and what the Pirates think about them. Needless to say, the guys that do the "Fun Bunch" bump after every win kinda like them.

-- The 2010 Pirate schedule has been released.

-- The Cubs are trying to resign LHP John Grabow. Maybe someone should make Pittsburgh's suits aware of that option when a contract expires.

-- The MLB is running a contest for fans to pick the greatest nine for their teams, and Jen Langosch of has an article on how the Pittsburgh vote is shaping up so far. If you want in on the action, you cast your vote here, and there are some pretty solid blasts from the past to choose from.

-- Lynchburg took a 2-0 lead in their quest for the Carolina League championship with a 5-4 win over Salem tonight. They came from behind, scoring single runs in the eighth and ninth frames for the win.

LHP Rudy Owens started. He went six, and gave up two runs on four hits while striking out seven. RHP Noah Krol got slapped around some, but RHP Ron Uviedo came on to get the win.

2B Chase d'Arnaud had a double, walk, run scored, and two RBI. But the hero was CF Jose De Los Santos, who had a two-out, ninth-inning walk off homer to win the game.

-- If you're a rock and baseball fan, you might want to check out The Baseball Project, a band fronted by a couple of REM veterans that do baseball-themed songs. Their first album was "Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails," and they have material for a second on tape, including one tune called "Harvey Haddix."

Bucs Can't Dodge Bullet

It was a typical night at the office for the Bucs. First and second, no one out in the first. First and second, no one out in the third. Nobody scored either time.

The fourth and fifth innings saw the Bucs scratch out a run, but they left a runner at second to end one frame and at third the next. Then the opposing bullpen got the call, and the last 14 Pirates were retired without a peep.

The evening's offense came to six hits total, and 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

On the mound, Daniel McCutchen was scuffling, his change-up all over the place and constantly behind in the count. The big blows were an Andre Ethier dinger and RBI doubles from Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin.

It could have been worse; Lastings Milledge threw out a runner at home in the first, the Buc's 40th outfield assist, and running mate Andrew McCutchen made a pair of spectacular grabs.

It may well have been a case of nerves and excitement for McCutchen. He was pitching in front of 42,045 fans at Dodger Stadium in just his third MLB start, easily the most rockin' house he's ever worked.

His Pirate debut had come in front of less than 2,000 fans in Cincinnati. The announced crowd at his second start at PNC Park was less than 15,000. The bright lights of LA may have spooked him a bit in his first prime-time start.

But as usual, he kept the Bucs in it, leaving on the short end of a 4-2 score after five frames. The Pirate bullpen gave up a couple more, and the Dodgers came away with a 6-2 win.

There is a little more sub-plot involved in this series than Pirate road woes, the Andy LaRoche (he had two hits) and Delwyn Young homecoming, and Manny Mania.

Colorado and the Giants are going head-to-head while the Dodgers entertain the clueless-on-the-road Pirates. LA is hoping its two closest competitors bloody one another up while the Bucs roll over.

So it's a good test for the young Pirates; they could be spoilers or the Dodger's road to the Promised Land. And not just for three days. The Big Blue have a four game set coming up at PNC later in the month.

-- Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette got a little insight into the Nate McLouth deal when he talked to Dirt Dog Doug Mientkiewicz, who said "When Nate [initially balked at a] move to left or right field, I pretty much felt, as a baseball fan, that the handwriting was on the wall. Once Andrew [McCutchen] was ready, you got to play him."

So just maybe there was an underlying current of discontent between Nate and the suits that helped grease the skids for the deal.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Munchies...

-- Delwyn Young is out again, but the past couple of days it hasn't been because of his minuscule batting of late; he has a balky back, and is day-to-day. Too bad; a series against his old mates - the first of the year - could have been the cure to what ails him.

-- When the Pirates shut down Ross Ohlendorf in a start or two, we expect them to use Donny Veal as one starter and perhaps Virgil Vasquez as the other, backed up by Jeff Karstens and maybe Eric Hacker. They'll try to get three or four innings from each and hand the ball off to the bullpen.

If they close down Kevin Hart, too, expect the four to become a mix-and-match two headed replacement.

Veal, unlike the others, is in Pittsburgh's long-term plans as a potential starter. He's going to the Arizona League as a rotation guy after the season, and he'll join Indy's starters in 2010, when his Rule 5 sentence has ended.

-- The Pirates are carrying a 32-man roster this month; 17 pitchers and 15 position players. Jose Ascanio should also join the pack for the last couple of weeks of the year.

-- Hey, the only Bucco team in the playoffs is up 1-0 in the Carolina League championship series.

Lynchburg is facing the Salem Red Sox in the CLCS for the Mills Cup. LHP Justin Wilson led the Hillcats to an opening victory tonight, 9-2. He went 5-2/3 innings, giving up five hits and two runs, one earned.

Lynchburg banged out twelve hits, primed by CF Jose De Los Santos, 1B Matt Hague and 2B Chase d'Arnaud.

De Los Santos went 3-for-3, and tripled, scored, drove in two runs, stole a base and walked. Hague had two hits and a walk, including a homer, and scored three times while driving in a pair. d'Arnaud also had a pair of hits, a double, stolen base, and three RBIs.

Lynchburg beat Wilmington, 5-2, in Game 5 of the Carolina League's Northern Division championship series yesterday to qualify.

RHP Bryan Morris allowed one run and seven hits in 6-2/3 innings, striking out one and walking one. RHP Ronald Uviedo pitched 1-1/3 innings of perfect relief, whiffing a pair and notching his second playoff save.

The slugging hero was Cubby pick-up 3B Josh Harrison, who went 2 for 3 with a double, walk and four RBIs. 2B Chase d'Arnaud brought home the other run while scoring twice and stealing a sack.

The Hillcats are doing it without their closer, RHP R. J. Rodriguez (6-3-27, 3.08 ERA), and bridge guy RHP Tom Boleska (1-1, 1.60), who are both playing in the World Cup.

-- Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle surpassed Hall of Famer "Wee" Willie Keeler yesterday, when he legged out an infield single that gave him his ninth consecutive 200-hit season. Keeler set the previous record of eight straight from 1894-1901 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ichiro tied the Georgia Peach, Ty Cobb, with his ninth overall 200-hit season. The most 200-hit years in a career is ten, a record set by Charlie the Hustler, Pete Rose.

-- From Aaron Gleeman of NBC's Circling The Bases: "Conventional wisdom is that strikeouts are a terrible thing. (But) Among all hitters with at least 400 plate appearances this season, the 10 guys who strike out most often have an average OPS of .938 and the 10 guys who strike out least often have an average OPS of .753."

As he asks, would you rather send up Adam Dunn or David Eckstein to bat for your nine?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

All Things Must Come To An End

Ho, baby, they made it exciting, but the Bucs, behind a dominating performance from the up-and-down Paul Maholm, hung on to salvage the third game of the Astro series by a 2-1 score.

The Pirates scored to open the game, when Andrew McCutchen led off with a double and came in on a Garrett Jones knock. There it stood until the eighth, when Ryan Doumit hit a solo shot to make it 2-0. Maholm had scattered six hits up to that time, and was quite efficient, throwing only 95 pitches.

But JR just couldn't bear to let him take the hill in the ninth to try for the complete game shutout; it's apparently against the Bucco bylaws. So in trotted Matt Capps, and the hardball theatrics began.

He threw two heaters to Lance Berkman; both were balls. Hey, can't walk the leadoff hitter, can we? So it was another fastball, this one over the plate. And the Big Puma banged it over the yellow line in center field to cut the lead to a run.

The next guy singled, and visions of impending Armageddon flashed across Pirate psyches. But a pop up and 1-6-3 DP ended the drama, along with the Pirates unsightly thirteen game road skid.

And a drama it was. Capps had a few choice words for Miguel Tejada after he popped out; Cappers thought a coach was stealing signs and giving them to Tejada. That's the first time we've seen that kind of exchange after a soft out. The streak must be wearing on the boys.

Now it's off to Dodger Stadium. The probable pitching matchups are here, provided by

-- Lastings Milledge threw out a guy trying to stretch a single into a double in the third inning, giving the Pirates a MLB-leading 39 outfield assists for the season. That's the most since the team had 40 in 1991.

The Bucs also turned three DPs in the final three innings today. Not only did that help ice the game, but it gave them 151 twin-killings so far during the season, the NL's best, two ahead of the Cards.

-- Part of Ryan Doumit's second half woes may have to do with his wrist injury, which traditionally take a full season to mend. He told Richard Dean of that "It's not where it needs to be, but a lot of rest in the offseason will be what the doctor ordered."

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette prepared a list of seventeen reasons why the Pirates will succeed, followed by seventeen more reasons why they'll flop.

-- Robert Dvorchak of the Post Gazette covers the career of baseball's first great closer, Elroy Face, Danny Murtaugh's Baron of the Bullpen.

-- Joe Rutter of the Tribune Review dug deep to find five good moves the Pirates made during the past couple of dismal decades.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

By The Numbers

OK, break out the checklist. Playing a Central Division opponent? Check. Playing on the road? Check. No home runs? Check. Another loss? Check.

The Pirates outhit the Astros 9-4 tonight, but no matter how you do the math, eight singles do not equal two long balls. Four times, the Pirates left two runners on base. The Astros left no runners on base.

A bunt single for the 'Stros was followed by a Carlos Lee homer. A seventh inning walk was followed by a Miguel Tejada dinger (on an ankle high waste pitch, yet). The only other Houston runner was caught stealing. And that was all the Astros that reached base.

Ross Ohlendorf lasted 6-1/3 frames, and gave up four hits and a walk, but the yard ball did him and the Buccos in.

The Bucs stranded nine, but when you have no extra base power and only three hitters in the lineup with an average over .246, that'll happen.

Throw in a little Keystone Kop action on the bases, when Tony Beasley waved Ryan Doumit around, then called him back as Lastings Milledge steamed into the hot corner, leaving third baseman Jeff Keepinger wondering who to tag, and well... Tonight it resulted in another ho-hum, 4-2 loss.

But hey, at least Pitt won. And people wonder why the media and fans flock to football and hockey in September.

-- Delwyn Young is back on the bench. We're wondering if the crash course in playing second, taking place before regular pre-game routines, is sapping him physically and mentally.

We also wonder how much this opens up second base next year. The rumors of Andy LaRoche and his middle-of-the-infield bat getting a look at that position aren't exactly blazing, but they won't die, either. Shelby Ford's meltdown at Indy means that there are no other strong internal candidates for 2010.

-- Gordon Edes of Yahoo!Sports has picked his over and underachiever teams for 2009. Garrett Jones earns a spot on the over-achiever list, along with ex-Bucco Nyjer Morgan. Long ago Pirate Brian Giles was named to the under-achiever squad.

-- In their final Prospect Hot Sheet of the season, Baseball America picked its Top Twenty prospects. Pedro was Pittsburgh's lone rep, at #14.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This Before...

The Bucs fell behind early, tried to come back, and were left in the dust when the bullpen blew up higher than Zambelli fireworks. Such are the Boys of Summer in Pittsburgh, seemingly on a headlong rush to hit 100 losses.

It's pretty much the same ol' - they don't hit when they pitch, they don't pitch when they hit, and some days, they don't do either.

For Charlie Morton, it was a better start - six innings, six hits, three runs. For the offense, it was Andy LaRoche's solo homer. For the bullpen, it was a botched rundown among a barrage of extra-base hits and walks that did them in.

With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, Ryan Doumit blocked a pitch and caught Hunter Pence breaking from third. But LaRoche made a high throw to Doumit, who couldn't glove it. Six runs plated for the Astros before the Bucs could muster three outs, and they were all unearned.

The error hurt, but not as much as the homer, two doubles, and three walks that Joel Hanrahan and Jesse Chavez gave up that frame did. Where are you, John Grabow and Sean Burnett?

And to add a little insult to injury, LaRoche ended the game by taking three straight strikes without once offering a swing. Add it all up, and it's Houston 9, Pittsburgh 1.

That makes for 13 losses in 14 games, 12 consecutive road losses and an 11-27 slate since the Wilson/Sanchez trades, 18-44 since the Morgan trade, and 30-57 since the McLouth deal.

In fact, they're 71-122 since August of 2008, when Nady and Bay went bye-bye, a .367 winning percentage that translates into a 59-102 record over a season.

The question that will be answered in a couple of seasons is whether or not they had to blow up the team in its entirety to reach the Promised Land. Everyone knew the short term would be a hard slog towards respectibility.

Now three points remain: should they have left so many young guys to flounder without any veteran hands on board; did they evaluate the players that they got - and moved - correctly; and is the system strong enough to make the MLB club competitive?

Remember, it was done by Branch Rickey in the '50s. He purged the Pirates' roster of its higher-salaried veterans and flooded the team with young players. Many of those puppies failed, but Vern Law, Bob Friend, Elroy Face, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, and Roberto Clemente became the the nucleus of the Pirates' 1960 World Series club.

But it took the better part of a decade to reach fruition, and lasted longer than Rickey, who became famous for his "Rickey-Dink" teams of the 1950s rather than laying the groundwork for a championship. These Pirates - and their architects - don't have nearly that much time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Friday This 'n' That...

-- BTW, the Streak might not be the only downer this season. The Pirates are 16 losses away from 100 with 24 games to go, so that mark is well within reach, as kinda an exclamation point to the season. The 2001 team was the only one during the 17 year futility span to drop 100 games.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette selected his final 2009 Top Ten Prospects list, headed, of course, by Pedro and Jose.

-- Pirate prospects participating in the Fall Instructional League: Tim Alderson, Bryan Morris, Danny Moskos, Rudy Owens, Donnie Veal, Shelby Ford, Jarek Cunningham, Chase d'Arnaud, Brian Friday, Jordy Mercer, Gorkys Hernandez, Starling Marte and Jose Tabata, who will report for duty on September 21st.

Moskos, Veal, d'Arnaud, Friday, and Tabata will then move on to the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.

Pedro Alvarez, Mpho Ngoepe, Dinesh Patel, Rinku Singh, Tony Sanchez, Brooks Pounders, and Zach Von Rosenberg will attend the later sessions, beginning September 29th. Overall, 105 young 'uns will take part in the post-season program.

-- Lynchburg evened their playoff series at a game apiece against Wilmington last night with a 1-0 win. LHP Rudy Owens kept on truckin', going 6 scoreless innings while scattering four hits, striking out six, and walking one.

RHP Ron Uviedo earned the save; we notice that he's out of the rotation and back finishing games, although that may be because R.J. Rodriguez, who was the Hillcats' regular closer this season, is pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Cup.

-- Brad Lincoln had a strong outing for the US World Cup team, going five innings and yielding a run on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. It was to no avail, however, as the gringo bullpen blew up in a 13-9 loss to Venezuela. Hey, he might as well get used to it now.

-- Remember Tanner Scheppers, who the Pirates drafted last year but didn't sign? Well, Texas drafted him in 2009 in the #44 spot, and guess what? He hasn't signed with them, either. He has until next June's draft to ink a deal, since he pitched indy ball last year, or he becomes eligible for the rookie lotto again.

Pellas on the Pirates: The Season of Our Discontent

Things haven't exactly gone well for the Pirates since the front office blew up the team back in July. On the bright side, the organization as a whole is without question far stronger and deeper than it's been in many years, particularly in the lower minors.

And while the picture is not as bright at Double and Triple-A, there are nonetheless a handful of marquee players in the high minors who are about to hit the big leagues. Their names are Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Daniel McCutchen, and Brad Lincoln. All should be in Pittsburgh to stay no later than midseason in 2010.

So, the cupboard is not exactly bare, even if our cup is not yet running over with young talent.

Still, while it's clear that the front office is looking at the longer term, there remains the small matter of the players who are taking the field for the major league team in the here and now. And it is there, at the top end of the organization, that we find the most unrest, the most volatility, and the most underachievement at the moment. This is not a good thing.

Consider that Ryan Doumit was very publicly smacked down by Manager John Russell, with the full backing of the front office. To all appearances and from most reports, Doumit had it coming. But it's still shameful when a guy as talented as Doumit acts like a petulant Little Leaguer.

To be sure, the team deserves kudos for enforcing standards and discipline. It's just so sadly typical of a losing team and a losing organization that even its good homegrown talent frequently ends up on the lower end of the character scale.

Consider also that Delwyn Young has gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel and has yet to be spotted bobbing in the mist. Was it really only 6 weeks ago that some fans were saying he might even be better than Freddy Sanchez with the bat?

Young has still been an excellent find and one of the best pickups to date by General Manager Neil Huntington, but second base---thought to be Young's for the foreseeable future---is now a big question mark once again.

And as with the shortstop position, the Pirates do not have anyone in the upper minors who is anywhere close to being ready to play second base on a daily basis in the big leagues.

Andy LaRoche has shown a very good glove at third base, and as advertised, he can definitely draw his share of walks. Those two definite pluses to his game make his "traditional" offensive stats look a little bit better, which is to say he's probably a somewhat better player than his high .240s, 8 HR, 50 RBI season to date would otherwise indicate.

But he's still not hitting anywhere near enough, particularly on this mostly punchless team. This has re-opened a door that was long ago thought to be slammed shut, behind which is the forgotten former first rounder, Neal Walker. Walker still can't figure out how to get on base any other way than a hit, and his minor league numbers have never been much better than fairly respectable.

But LaRoche, again, is vulnerable, and whether the team wants to say so publicly or not, third base is Walker's for the taking if he can seize the day. Assuming Pedro Alvarez plays first and not third once he comes to Pittsburgh to stay, we should see a free-for-all in spring training this February between Walker and LaRoche.

I personally think the Pirates need to throw Walker out there every day for the first half of the 2010 season unless he falls totally flat on his face in Bradenton.

Reading between the lines, it appears that team management agrees. All of which is quite an amazing development for Walker, who a mere two months ago was openly questioning whether he had any kind of future in Pittsburgh at all. But Walker is no sure thing. Thus we could still be in for more of the reliable mediocrity of LaRoche for the next year if not longer than that.

The pitching staff is likewise unsettled, and again, the thing that jumps out at me is that it is as uncertain a jumbled mess as it is at this point in time. In other words, most of the upheaval at the trading deadline had to do with the Pirates' position players. It is remarkable to see how much disarray there is in the pitching staff despite the fact that most of the July moves did not involve any of our hurlers.

That said, the one move that did involve our hurlers that has definitely come back to bite us in the hind quarters was the loss of John Grabow to the Cubs. Without Grabow, the bullpen has been extremely inconsistent; some of this, to be sure, is due to the loss of the highly effective Evan Meek, as well as the general stinkage of closer-slash-gascan Matt Capps.

But Grabow, it is clear in hindsight, was the veteran glue that held the 'pen together. Not as much because he is a leftie---though that definitely helped---but because his consistent effectiveness made everyone else's role much more readily defined. Without Grabow---and Meek---the bullpen has been disorganized and ineffective.

Among the starting pitchers, Paul Maholm has regressed after a sterling year and a half run from the second half of 2007 all the way through 2008. Word is that he's been pitching hurt with a bad groin for most of 2009, so I'll reserve judgment until we see how he looks next season.

Either way this bears close scrutiny, because while the Maholm of 07-08 is a workhorse number three starter who is sometimes capable of superb performances, the Maholm of 2009 definitely is not.

Charlie Morton, the centerpiece of the much-despised Nate McLouth trade, has been all over the map since his arrival in Pittsburgh. Morton, too, has been playing hurt, in his case with a bad hamstring. This is a very worrisome injury for any player, but especially for a pitcher.

Morton must show that he is completely healthy in 2010 for this team to make any significant progress, because until further notice, he's your number two starter, sink or swim.

Kevin Hart, who's been trying to show that he should be a starter and not a reliever going forward, has followed a couple of good starts with several very bad ones.

Supposedly pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is doing a teardown-rebuild with him, but once again, this is a very disappointing start for a new Pirate who was thought to be one of the key acquisitions in the July firesale.

To be sure, there have been some very positive developments with this team in an otherwise lost season. Andrew McCutchen has proven to be better than I thought he was, and is without question already the leader of this team.

Daniel McCutchen definitely shows promise in the rotation, and of course Ross Ohlendorf has been lights out for most of the season. Zach Duke's recent meltdowns have not overshadowed his very good year.

Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz have shown that you could do a lot worse than the two of them as your starting catching tandem. And of course Garrett Jones is amazing.

But all in all, the Pirates just don't look good right now, and that's all there is to it. Even allowing for the inevitable nature of rebuilding jobs throughout the sports world, the team's far-too-many question marks and horrendous second half record are disturbing.

(GW contributor Will Pellas and his thoughts on the rebuilding process - and it seems like it will be ongoing, and ongoing, and...)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cubs Maul Bucs

Pittsburgh a laughing stock? Well, hey, being down 7-0 before you come to bat might cause a couple of chuckles. Zach Duke didn't get tattooed, except for his ERA, but some well placed - oh, what the heck, poorly played - balls led to the first eight Cubs reaching base.

Ronny Cedeno started off by eating a roller in the hole. Then a bunt was pushed past Duke, whose stab at the ball cost him the race to the bag. A jam shot was softly dinged past Ramon Vazquez's mitt. A two hopper went under Andy LaRoche's glove. Another bouncer wended its way past Steve Pearce.

Then came the only shot of the inning, a Soto drive off the Clemente Wall on a 2-0 pitch. It was followed by a dink into left. Cedeno made a nice play up the middle on the next hitter, but the ump ruled Pearce's foot was off the base on the throw. He was blatantly wrong, but when it rains...

Finally a bunt and an out, at long last. With the infield in, a big bouncer to Cedeno was dropped, costing him an easy out at home, though he recovered to get the out at first. And hey, a can of corn to left. Seven runs, eight hits - and only one hit hard. The infield did a remarkable imitation of garden gnomes in polyester.

But the baby Bucs didn't fold up their tents. They kept trying to come back, but whatever chance they had died with the six guys they left in scoring position. And with a final score of 9-4, they needed every one of them to plate.

The Pirates are now 20-43 against the NL Central. They have to compete in their own backyard before dreaming of taking on the world. 'Nuff said.

-- Eight straight hits to lead off an inning is a record that's been set four times in MLB now. And hey, for Chicago, it was the second time they did it against the Pirates. The first time was in 1973.

-- Want some high-priced talent in Pittsburgh? Look no further than Arnie Palmer's box. They celebrated his 80th birthday before the game, and coming to the 'Burgh to party were Jim Rohr, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, and Peter Jacobsen, among others.

-- Though Delwyn Young has made strides at second base, his Ultimate Zone Rating, as determined by Fangraphs, is -3, which is in the bottom third of the rankings. Freddy Sanchez's rating is 5.7, which is second in the NL.

In case you're wondering, Ronnie Cedeno's overall UZR is -0.3; Jack Wilson's is 14.7. Wilson's is the best of the shortstops with at least 550 innings played; Cedeno is 20th out of 28.

-- As expected, C Robinzon Diaz and utility guy Brian Bixler were called up today, along with RHP Eric Hacker. Donnie Veal is off the DL, and Jeff Karstens will come off the list tomorrow; Jose Ascanio is still a week or so away from joining the gang.

-- Tim Dierkes of Major League Trade Rumors has his "Off Season Outlook" for the Pirates posted.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has the season recaps for the Indianapolis Indians, the Altoona Curve, and the West Virginia Power today.

Jim Rosati of the North Side Notch also has his own detailed breakdowns of Indy, the Curve, and the Power posted on his site.

Monday, September 7, 2009

History In The Making

Hey, if we were rookie Daniel McCutchen, we'd take home the tape of today's game and pore over it. No, not for what he did, but to watch the underrated Ted Lilly (43-25 with 568 innings and 92 starts for the Cubs since 2007) dissect the Bucs.

Both strike us as fairly similiar pitchers; Lilly spots a fastball and uses a curve to go with his bread-and-butter change-up, McCutchen mixes his heater with a slider to set up his out pitch, the change-up.

The biggest difference is that Lilly has better command, moving his pitches up and down, in and out, while McCutchen has better velocity but a tendency to keep his pitches up a little more and catches a little more of the plate. Of course, Lilly has had 1,500+ MLB innings to hone his craft; McC now has 13.

McCutchen did OK for the role he's auditioning for, as the fourth or fifth guy in the rotation. He gave up nine hits and a walk, but danced out of trouble and showed decent composure. If Derrek Lee hadn't taken him yard twice (on a first pitch heater, then a first pitch change, both with two outs), it would have been an excellent outing.

But it is what it is - the Pirates 17th straight losing season, as they fell to the Cubs 4-2, banging out a meager two hits. Get ready for the national media coverage. It won't be pretty.

If we were Daniel McCutchen, who will end up with his name as the answer to baseball trivia questions the rest of his days, we wouldn't lose any sleep over it. We'd go home, set up the projector, butter the popcorn, and watch how Ted Lilly goes about his business.

-- A couple of post-game thoughts: the Cubby fans, bless them, they do travel well, and even the WGN announcers dissed the Pirates all day. It's probably deserved, but maybe someone should remind of 1908; even Pittsburgh's streak doesn't touch that one.

-- The Pirates seemed to have patched up the pitching this year to at least hangin' around the middle of the pack. But they have a couple of big holes in the offense. The Bucs need a two hitter desperately.

We can live with Andrew McCutchen leading off; his speed and pop offset his on-base percentage (.358), which is OK but not quite up to top-of-the-order standards.

The problem is that no one on the roster can hit behind him. Delwyn Young's plummet at the plate began with him being jumped to the second spot. Today JR used Ronny Cedeno. There is really no logical candidate for Russell to choose. Just thinking out loud, but maybe that's where Andy LaRoche belongs, even with his 16 DPs.

He's fairly patient, can bunt a little, and maybe being forced to hit behind a runner will cure him of opening up so much at the plate.

And please find a clean-up hitter. Or two.

Pitch Counts

GW was never a big fan of limiting innings pitched, but we do think that a pitcher should be shut down at somewhere around 3,000 pitches for the season, unless he's CC Sabathia. After all, it's pitches that stress an arm, not innings, and they don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

The rule of thumb is that everyday starters should top out at 3,000-3,200 pitches during the season, and ideally average 16 or fewer pitches per inning.

So we thought we'd take a look at the pitch counts run up by the Bucco staff, and see if the six-man rotation theory for September holds water. And hey, it does make sense.

For the workhorses of Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, they're just replicating last year's pitch load. Maholm has thrown 2,654 pitches this year, 15.8/inning, compared to 3,041 last year, with 14.7 tosses/frame. He's been a little less efficient, but still will be right around last year's count.

Zach Duke's embrace of pitching to the mitt is keeping him on track, too. He's thrown just 14.2 pitches/inning, 3rd best in the majors, compared to 15.8 in 2008. In fact, although Duke is three innings away from matching 2008 (182-185), he's thrown over 300 pitches less (2,590-2,928) than last year.

Both have 4 or 5 starts remaining, depending on how the rotation gets juggled over the final 27 games, and should be the only guys on the staff to touch the 3,000 pitch mark.

Charlie Morton likewise will match 2008's pace. His minor league work was about the same over the past two seasons, and he's gone 68 MLB innings this year compared to 74-2/3 last season. His pitch count is 1,181 (17.4/inning) versus 1,356 (18.2) in 2008. Hard to believe, but he's cut down a bit on his pitches/inning this year.

But three guys are pushing the limit. Ross Ohlendorf has pitched over 100 more MLB innings this year than last, and thrown 2,510 pitches compared to 1,068 in 2008. He's been efficient this year, using just 15.4 pitches/inning as opposed to last year's 17, but it's time for him to cruise.

Kevin Hart isn't nearly as bad. His minor league innings are about equal over 2008-09, though he's more than doubled his MLB innings, from 27-2/3 to 61-2/3, and his pitches have gone from 576 to 1,076. Hart's a slow worker, but his pitches for inning have improved, from 20.8 (ouch!) to 17.4 this year. If they baby him, it's just a matter of caution more than overwork.

A name that's not tossed about much is Jeff Karstens. He had a couple of rough outings before ending up on the DL, and dead arm could be the reason. He went from 51-1/3 innings of work in 2008 to 93 this season, and his pitch count rose from 830 to 1,481. He throws about 16 pitches per inning. They'll keep an eye on his pitch count when he's back.

For all three of these guys, there's also the added onus of being yanked from the bullpen to starting during the year (and in Karstens' case, back again), not only adding stress to the arm but altering their preparation, too. So if the Pirates are leery of over extending them, it's a logical precaution.

No one in the pen is in danger of overwork; JR has used them efficiently, if not entirely effectively, during the season and protected them when he had to. But there are two pitchers in particular that illustrate the effect of command on performance.

Matt Capps is Case A. He's worked seven inning less so far than he did last year, but thrown more pitches (815-727). His pitch count has jumped from a sparkling 13.5 pitches/inning to an unsightly 17.6, and so has his ERA, from 3.02 to 6.02.

Jesse Chavez shows the other side of the coin. In limited work last year, he threw 19 pitches/frame, and had an ERA of 6.60, in an admittedly small sample of 15 innings. But this year, he's cut his pitch count down to 15 per game, and his ERA dropped to 4.13.

The Kerrigan effect? Tough to tell. Dumping Ian Snell and Gorzo helped; Morton and Hart are both marginally more efficient, but they haven't been here long enough for Dave Kerwin...errr, Joe Kerrigan, to have much influence on them. The bullpen hasn't shown much change in pitch counts overall. Until the Bucs settle in with a staff that's not in transition, no one knows how well they've been coached up.

But this much is certain - the fewer pitches thrown, the more effective the pitcher.

-- The countdown to 17 is almost at liftoff. Joe Rutter of the Tribune Review has a recap of all the losing teams, from 1993-2008.

Jen Langosch of recalls the events of the first year of the streak, 1993, to put it all in perspective.

John Perrotto of Pirates Report recalls some of the players that made the streak possible.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette continues his series on the Pirates minor league affiliates. Today he posts on the State College season.

Jim Rosati at North Side Notch blog has a more detailed look of the Spikes' year.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Magic Is Back...For The Day

Ah, it all seemed so familiar. Bucs dig hole, Bucs rally, Bucs lose heartbreaker. And that's how it looked like it would play out today.

Paul Maholm had a mediocre outing, giving up four runs in six innings, one scoring bizarrely when Jason Jaramillo's throw back to him sailed over his head. Remember when Jack Wilson used to back up the mound with a runner on third for just that possibility? But the Pirates answered with three runs in the sixth after two outs on singles by Ronny Cedeno and Jaramillo.

The game sat at 4-4 until the ninth. Jesse Chavez got the first two outs routinely, but fell behind pinch hitter Ricky Ankiel. Ankiel got the pitch he was waiting on, a waist-high heater, and like Albert Pujols the night before, drilled the ball over the center field fence. You could hear the entire park deflate.

But for once, the worm turned. Jaramillo led off the Bucs' ninth with a single, his third hit of the day. Andy LaRoche was called on to bunt him over, but rolled into a force out instead. No matter.

Andrew McCutchen lined one into left, and pinch hitter Ryan Doumit took a Ryan Franklin soft serve and dropped it gently into center, plating LaRoche and tying the game. Franklin got the hook, and Tony LaRussa got the matchup he wanted.

LHP Trever Miller took the hill as Garrett Jones dug into the box. Miller is the ultimate LOOGY, holding left handed batters to a .108 average, and was almost as tough with runners in scoring position, limiting lefties to a .156 average.

And we know Jones' problems in both areas. He was hitting .227 against LHP and .156 with RISP. But what do they say about lies, dang lies, and stats...?

Jones took a hook away and a heater tight, and blasted a 2-0 fastball towards the North Side Notch. It dropped, McCutchen scored, and the Pirates broke their nine game losing streak and Joel Pineiro's 10 game winning skein in one fell swing.

So hey, the inevitable 17th losing season will have to wait on another day. The Cubs come to town tommorrow; odds are they'll be the ones to deliver the historic blow. The pitching matchups are here, from

-- The Pirates had to save a couple of balls today. Neil Walker got his first hit, going 1-for-3 with a walk and run scored. And despite the longball, Jesse Chavez notched his first MLB victory.

-- Charlie Morton will miss his start against the Cubs. He's got a groin tweak, and they plan to push his next appearance back three days to Friday, when he'll open the series in Houston.

-- In his piece for the New York Times, Tyler Kepler calls the 2008 Nady deal with the Pirates a "steal" - and he doesn't mean for the Bombers.

-- The much ballyhooed Jeff Clement may not show up this month. The Bucs aren't worried about starting his clock, but plan to let him rest his strained oblique and get some work in the Fall Instructional League. But he did return to Indy yesterday, so he still has a shot at a locker at PNC.

So who's left to recall when the Indy season ends tomorrow? Probably Brian Bixler and Robby Diaz; Jose Tabata would be a real surprise. C Eric Krantz deserves a chance, but he's not rostered, and SS Argenis Diaz probably hasn't done enough to earn a call.

RHP Eric Hacker is on the 40-man roster, but he's a long shot. He's pitched pretty poorly the past couple of starts, and Jeff Karstens, Donnie Veal, and Jose Ascanio are all supposed to rejoin the roster soon, making the bullpen an awfully crowded place.

Besides, the Pirates have called up Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Luis Cruz, Steve Jackson, Daniel McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Steve Pearce, Virgil Vasquez, and Neil Walker in the past few weeks. Half of Indy's July roster will end up at PNC.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

This Is The Future?

Hey, Tony LaRussa knows he has this NL Central thing wrapped up, and he's not gonna burn out his top guns with the playoffs starting to sneak into sight - especially against the sad sack Pirates.

Ross Ohlendorf took full advantage of the absence of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday - heck, the Cards even sat Yadier Molina - by spinning an eight inning, four hit gem. He struck out eleven, walked one, and lowered his ERA to 3.97, throwing 103 pitches, with an amazing 77 of them strikes.

The only run Ohlendorf gave up was unearned, manufactured thanks to a single, balk, tag-up, and an Andy LaRoche boot.

He was so dominant that in the seventh he threw what's known as an "Immaculate Inning," striking out the side on nine pitches. The Big O is the 43rd MLB pitcher in history to get one.

But it didn't get him a win. At least he didn't get the loss. After Pittsburgh left the bases juiced in the ninth, La Russa decided to quit playing around, and had Sir Albert pinch hit.

He did what he does, which in this case was to ship a belt-high 1-2 Matt Capps heater over the middle of the plate into the bullpen. Two strike mistakes, especially to Pujols in a tie game, are absolutely inexplicable.

Holliday came up to bat later that inning, but he could only manage a single. Oh, the Bucs made it interesting, getting Andrew McCutchen to third base with two away in the tenth. But as the Pirate fortunes have gone, Lastings Milledge was called out on a pitch wide of the dish. C' est la vie. Good teams get the breaks; bad ones get broke.

The Pirate sticks, after scoring six times against Adam Wainwright last night, were held to six hits this evening. They grounded out eighteen times, and a lot of those were off fastballs; that needs addressed. You can't be beating heaters into the ground and expect to score many runs.

The inability to drive a pitch - especially with Mitch Boggs, not Wainwright or Chris Carpenter on the hill - led directly to the team's season-high ninth straight loss, 2-1, in front of 27,071 PNC die hards.

-- Indy's Player of the Year awards went to: RHP Daniel McCutchen (Most Valuable Player; 13-6, 3.47 ERA), OF Jose Tabata (Rookie of the Year; .286/3/10), C Erik Kratz (Defensive Player of the Year), and Chris Bootcheck (Henry Smock Relief Pitcher of the Year; 3-2-20, 3.38 ERA).

-- Altoona named Pedro Alvarez (.333/13/39 in 60 games) the team's 2009 MVP. he was also chosen as the Eastern League's Player of the Month. RHP Yoslan Herrera (11-1, 3.23 ERA in 23 outings) was the Curve Pitcher of the Year.

-- C Tony Sanchez and OF Starling Marte were sent up a step to Lynchburg from West Virginia to join in the upcoming Carolina League playoffs. Sanchez, 21, hit .316/7/46 in 41 games. Marte, 20, had a line of .312/3/34 with 24 steals in 54 games.

-- Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet throws a little love at Lynchburg SS Chase d'Arnaud's this week. They say he shows "surprising pop and good instincts on the bases with 30 steals in 38 tries." Maybe there is life after Jack Wilson.