Monday, May 31, 2010

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On...

Check next weeks calendar, because:

-- On June 7th, the Player Draft begins, and

-- On June 8th, Steven Strasburg is supposed to make his MLB debut against the Bucs, the Washington Nationals announced today.

And right around that time, the Pirates should start bringing some prospects up to try their hand in the show; that means some guys on the roster now are on borrowed time.

Should be an interesting way to kick off the summer.

Home For the Holiday

The Bucs continued their generous ways early in today's ballgame, when in the second inning Ryan Church, playing in left, ran Andrew McCutchen off a ball that he was calling for, and it dropped in for a triple. Multiple positions are fine, but often lead to these kinds of communication snafus. And they always seem to cost the team, as it did a batter later when an infield out brought home the run.

They continued their sloppy play in the third when Ronny Cedeno booted a bouncer and Neil Walker knocked down a ball but couldn't make a play. Ohlie picked them up, shutting down the 2-3-4 heart of the Cubbie lineup.

The Pirates ineptitude with the bats continued, too. Randy Wells, who faced six batters without getting an out last start, held the Bucs to three hits over five. The $64,000 question is whassup with Andrew McCutchen.

He reached first twice with two outs, and stayed anchored. Neil Walker follwed both hits with singles; a stolen base in a situation begging for one could have led to a run or two. Whether it's a confidence thing, wet conditions, or respect for Wells, we don't know. We do know that it's becoming more and more of a drag on a team that struggles to score.

The Pirates tied it in the sixth, when they got into the Cubs bullpen. Garrett Jones golfed a down-and-in heater over the wall in right for his sixth long ball of the year.

Ross Ohlendorf left after seven innings, and was getting stronger as the game wore on. He threw 103 pitches, giving up a gift run on three hits, two of which could have easily been turned into outs, striking out six and walking a pair. It was an encouraging outing for Ohlie and a welcome sign for the rotation.

Pittsburgh weathered a scare in the eighth when a walk, stolen base, and bouncer put a runner at third with two away. But a brilliant bare-handed play by Andy LaRoche banged-banged Mike Fontenot's bid to bleed the lead run home.

And it paid off when the Pirates went ahead in their half of the frame. Jones doubled with one out against Sean Marshall. With two away, the Cubs intentionally walked Ryan Doumit to get to Jeff Clement. JR sent up Bobby Crosby instead, and he lined a 3-2 pitch into center to plate Jones and give the Bucs a 2-1 lead.

Octavio Dotel came on to close, and GW was worried about rust on the old warhorse; he hadn't pitched since May 25th. It showed against the first batter, Alfonso Soriano, but he struck him out without throwing a strike to the free swinger.

Then he got into rhythm. He broke a bat to get a shallow fly, put one on the hands that dropped between three players, and then blew a heater past Ryan Theriot to ice his eleventh save. It's good to be home.

Three Pirate pitchers held the Cubs to four hits, and only Geovany Soto's single was struck with any authority. The Bucs didn't exactly pound the ball; they got seven hits, two from Walker, whose two outs were both hit on the nose, too, and a homer and double by today's hero, Garrett Jones.

Jeff Karstens will hook up against Ted Lilly tomorrow night.

-- JR told the beat guys that Neil Walker will be the second baseman from now on; Aki Iwamura is a bench rider. We suspect it's just the first of several moves in the next couple of weeks.

-- First baseman Steve Pearce, who sprained his ankle Monday in Cincinnati, still needs a protective boot on his right foot. The Pirates can't even guess when he'll be back until he can lose his blue bootie.

-- You'd expect a good game today from these two teams; they're tied for the most MLB Memorial Day wins with 105 (the holiday used to feature a scheduled doubleheader for decades.)

-- On his radio show, Neal Huntington threw cold water on a quick promotion for Brad Lincoln, saying he needed work on his changeup. And Charlie Morton doesn't?

-- The Pirates reacquired OF Jonathan Von Every from Boston for Jousue Peley. Peley, 22, is catching at West Virginia, and hasn't hit over .200 in three years of Class A ball. The move makes sense for the Pirates, who will need a replacement for Jose Tabata at Indy shortly, we assume. They also plan to promote red-hot Alex Presley from Altoona, according to Huntington.

-- Donnie Veal has ligament problems in his left elbow, and will see Dr. James McAndrews Tuesday. That is rarely a good sign.

-- Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk has a piece on Ollie Perez. Not only has he been sent to the pen, but apparently he's lost the confidence of both his manager and his teammates.

And hey, remember the troops today. Freedom is never free; it's cost our nation over a million military lives to keep.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bucs Limp Home

Boy, Atlanta looked a lot like Pittsburgh today. Paul Maholm went six innings, threw 113 pitches, gave up ten hits and three walks, and still only surrendered two runs, without so much as a single DP turned behind him. He stranded ten, eight in scoring position. No wonder Bobby Cox is ready to hang 'em up.

But hey, this is the Bucs we're talking about. They were, with all that, down 2-0, having managed just three hits off winless Kenshin Kawakami. In the seventh, they finally made some noise. Garrett Jones worked KK for an eight pitch walk to lead off, and Jeff Clement took a first pitch fastball deep into right center to tie the match.

Joel Hanrahan came on, and had the heat today. He was throwing 96-98, and ten of his twelve pitches were number ones. Why not? Tahashi Saito must have been watching; he threw his heater almost exclusively too, and though it was clocked at 91-92, he struck out Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen swinging; Neil Walker was the only one to put it in play when he lofted a deep fly to left.

Hanrahan continued to bring the heat, but a one out walk to Nate McLouth would haunt him after McLouth got the call on a borderline 3-2 pitch. He walked Brian McCann, starting him off with a pitchout and then a pitch so far out it was probably a semi pitchout (McLouth stole second anyway), and Chipper Jones brought him in with two away on a soft pop to left that Ronny Cedeno couldn't run down.

Javier Lopez came in and gave up a triple to Jason Heyward to make it 5-2, and the fat lady was singin'. All with two outs, set up by an umps iffy call and a quail. But when you can't score, every little break that goes against you is a mountain to climb.

The Pirates have lost five in a row, and 6-of-7 on the short road trip. Maybe some home cookin' is in order; it sure can't hurt.

Ross Ohlendorf will start on Memorial Day, and Randy Wells will get the nod for Chicago, replacing Carlos Zambrano who was briefly hospitalized earlier in the week with appendicitis-like symptoms.

-- The Bucs started an interesting, and well shaken, lineup this afternoon. McCutchen hit leadoff, Young batted third, Cedeno was jumped up to sixth, and Iwamura dropped to eighth.

Some of it is due to get-away day maneuvers, but maybe JR is finally using performance instead of potential as a batting order criteria. Then again, he may just be picking out of a hat too, for all it seems to matter. The Pirates have been held to three runs or less 21 times in 28 May games.

-- The Bucs have scored 63 runs in their 31 losses; that's just two runs scored per defeat. There should be a lot of guys looking over their shoulders when the first week of June rolls around. And shortly after the draft concludes on June 9th, expect some wheelin' and dealin' to create roster spots and playing time for the boys from Indy.

Sunday Shorts

-- One Pirate hitter that's been a pleasant surprise is Ronny Cedeno; he's hit .329 in the past four weeks, bringing his overall average up to .266 after a miserable April. He has a nineteen game on-base streak going.

-- Who's the Pirate poster child for versatility? Bobby Crosby has started nineteen times; seven times at short, six times at second, and three times apiece on the corners. He's a one-man infield. Crosby has booted four balls at short, but played the other spots flawlessly.

-- Chris Jakubauskas finally threw off a mound; it's good to see his recovery coming around after his concussion. It takes a long time; he was felled by Lance Berkman's liner on April 24th, over a month ago.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette penned a plus/minus piece regarding the abilities of JR. GW is noncommittal, at least until he sees the skipper with a major league core to work with.

-- Matthew Glenesk of the Tribune Review writes that the newly effective changeup of Brad Lincoln, once a sorely lacking third pitch, has come around because of Daniel McCutchen's help. McCutch taught Lincoln a new grip; before that, Brad had been using the circle change with iffy results.

-- Baseball America lists Bryan Morris in its Prospect Hot Sheet this week. They summarize that "After battling injuries for most of the last two years, Morris, who features two plus pitches in his fastball and curveball, is finally getting his frontline potential to show through."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Can't Wait 'Til June...

Ah, the Bucs. Second and third, one out with Garrett Jones up and the infield back. He whiffed, swinging and missing back-to-back change ups. Leadoff single in the second by Bobby Crosby, and Lastings Milledge lined to first for a DP. After an Andrew McCutchen homer to start the third, Neil Walker singled. Andy LaRoche rolled into a tailor made twin killing.

Of course, neither team showed much of a killer instinct during the first three innings. They combined for seven hits and four walks, but put together an 0-for-6 RISP. Only solo shots by McCutchen and Jason Heyward put points on the board.

In the fourth, Pittsburgh finally got a clutch hit. Milledge was aboard after a single, and went to third on Ronny Cedeno's two-out double to left. Then Brian Burres helped the cause by tripling when he hit a soft slicing liner that the shallow-playing Nate McLouth took a bad angle on and allowed to roll to the wall.

Burres got through the fourth unscathed and the Bucs up 3-1. Big inning? Well, the Pirates are 14-1 when leading after four, so...

In the fifth, the Pirates returned to their old ways. Neil Walker led off with a double, and with one out, a Jones liner to the pitcher turned into another DP.

That fourth inning record was moot after the fifth, when Burres began to lose control. A single and walk came in on Troy Glaus' double up the line; LaRoche was playing off it and Milledge was in left center, so the ball had a lot of room to roam. And Burres was up to 96 pitches, 50 for strikes.

Same ol' in the sixth for the Bucs. Ryan Doumit got to second with no outs, Crosby couldn't move him up, and Dewey got picked off. It was the third time in six frames that the leadoff runner was on second with no outs and didn't get advanced to third. Fundamentals, my dear Watson, fundamentals.

Burres faced a batter in the sixth and gave up a single, bringing on Javier Lopez. Lopez uncorked two wild pitches - and in justice both went off Doumit's mitt; maybe Dewey was crossed up. Both pitches looked catchable - and then plunked Nate the Great, who was trying to bunt. Jones saved the bacon for a moment with a tumbling catch that froze the runner, but a sac fly brought the gift run home.

The game went on quietly enough after that until the bottom of the eighth. Brendan Donnelly walked Eric Hinske to put runners on first and second with two away, and JR brought in Evan Meek, who promptly fell behind 2-0 to Martin Prado who sat on a heater and drove to the fence. 6-3, Atlanta.

To add a little misery to the game, the tarps had to come out for the ninth, prolonging the agony by 24 minutes. The Bucs, BTW, had nine hits, two each by Walker and Cedeno.

Paul Maholm will go against Kenshin Kawakami tomorrow afternoon.

*rant* This team isn't constructed to play Earl Weaver ball, and either through coaching, talent, or brain cramps can't play small ball, which requires some fundamental execution. They don't move runners, they run station-to-station, fall asleep on the basepaths, and the pitchers walk 4 guys a game and too often work from behind in the count.

Now we know that JR and the staff schedule days to go over fundamental stuff, but maybe the team is just not athletic enough for it take root; maybe better players are the answer.

They're trying to cram power bats into the lineup, and as a result have several guys that play multiple positions, some not even having substantial minor league time at their MLB spot. Some call it versatility; others call it being a jack of all trades and master of none.

A perfect example was Walker, who almost didn't get to first to cover on a bunt because he was stationed near second base, at DP depth. Did JR have the wrong defense? Was it Walker's inexperience? Shouldn't a coach or teammate given him a heads-up?

More? Tonight two guys were doubled up on liners, another was picked off second, a guy was held up at third on a throw that went to second base, attempts to steal second base with two outs weren't taken...and that's just baserunning basics.

Whatever it is, the Bucs win games in spite of themselves, and sooner or later will have to learn to play smart and throw strikes if they ever want to sniff respectability. *end of rant*

-- The Braves tried a little psyche game on Andrew McCutchen, playing "Dude Looks Like A Lady" when he came to the plate in the third. He homered, and gave a shush to the PA announcer on the way to the dugout. Guess it worked; he didn't play it any more.

-- McCutch also returned to the leadoff spot; JR must use a ouija board to make up his lineup.

-- The Pirates put eleven runners on base, scored three times, but only stranded four. Amazing.

-- Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game for the Phils against the Fish, striking out 11 in a dominating performance. And he needed to be perfect; the suddenly punchless Philadelphia nine won 1-0. It's the 20th perfect game in MLB history.

-- The Angels' Kendry Morales hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning, but broke his leg celebrating at home plate by taking a leap on the dish and landing awkwardly. He'll be out for an indefinite period with a fracture in the lower left leg that will require surgery. Maybe this will slow down the toga party mentality of ballplayers, but we doubt it.

Wet Noodles

It rained early; it rained late. And the Braves rained hits on Zach Duke in between as they rolled to an easy 7-3 victory last night.

Duke wasn't exactly giving up lasers, but a pitch-to-contact guy has days when everything misses a glove, and Friday night was one of those times. By the time the puddles had dried, Duke pitched 5-1/3 innings and allowed seven runs on 12 hits. The left-hander walked two and struck out four.

Heck, the game was all but over before the first clouds had passed when the Braves jumped off to a 4-0 lead in the first. With two outs and the bases jammed, David Ross stroked a sack-clearing double. Chipper Jones also haunted the Buccos, driving in three runs. The pitcher, Derek Lowe, even added a pair of hits and drew a walk while running his lifetime record against the Pirates to 9-0.

Neil Walker, recovered from his first collar of the year with a pair of doubles, an RBI, and run scored. Garrett Jones had a pair of hits and an RBI; the rest of the team had three hits total.

Brian Burres takes on Kris Medlen tonight.

-- Pedro Alvarez can smell June. He's collected 10 hits in his past 24 at-bats, with four doubles, a homer and seven RBIs during the eight-game stretch (not including last night's rain-suspended game).

-- Bradenton placed eight players on the South Division roster of the Florida State League, a division high.

Chosen were pitchers Bryan Morris, Nathan Adcock, Noah Krol and Jeff Locke, catcher Tony Sanchez, infielders Brock Holt and Jeremy Farrell, and outfielder Quincy Latimore. Morris was the leading vote-getter.

-- Todd Richmond, 25, the player traded for Tyler Yates, threw a no-hitter last night in AAA ball.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Morton Salted Away and Other Stuff

-- So who didn't see this coming? Charlie Morton's fatigued shoulder, which wasn't bothering him last night, has landed him on the DL. He'll go to the Bucs' Florida camp to rehab. Steve Jackson was called up to take his spot. The 28-year-old Jackson was 2-3 with a 3.14 ERA for the big team in 2009, and is 1-0 with a 3.42 ERA at Indy in 2010.

That leaves Tuesday's pitcher "TBA." Brad Lincoln or Jeff Karstens?

-- Andy LaRoche is off again tonight. Maybe that back isn't as strong as hoped. And so's Ronny Cedeno - his back is tight, too. Time to hire a Swedish masseuse.

-- Aki Iwamura is back at leadoff tonight. Ronny Cedeno was the one hole hitter yesterday, the seventh different guy to do the honors this year - in 48 games!

-- Jack Tascher is on rehab assignment at Altoona; he's due off the DL on June 3rd.

-- For all their late inning heroics and Ryan Doumit clutchness, the Pirates are just 2-27 when trailing after six innings. Come from behind isn't their MO.

-- The blogosphere is reporting that Altoona reliever Diego Moreno has been placed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain. The flamethrower pitched just one inning for the Curve after being promoted from Bradenton, where he was 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 26-1/3 innings.

-- Oooops! We reported that the Pirates had signed Dominican 3B Elvis Sanchez, but it looks like they just made him an offer and don't have his name on the dotted line yet. Mea culpa (my bad!).

-- Another mock draft, another vote for high school SS Manny Machado, this time from Jim Callis of Baseball America.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sorry, Charlie

So much for Charlie Morton making little steps toward respectibility. Mort lasted two innings, gave up seven runs (five earned) on eight hits, walked three, and struck out a pair. He threw a total of 68 pitches to get six outs.

And hey, it could have been worse - he stranded five guys in those pair of frames. The Reds sent up nine men each inning; Brandon Phillips and Johnny Cueto were the only two not to get a hit.

Morton is now 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA, making him statistically the worst pitcher in baseball by a wide margin.

Jeff Karstens, Javier Lopez, and Evan Meek were solid in relief, but the game was too far out of hand for it to matter.

Johnny Cueto again owned the Pirate hitters, giving up three hits and no runs with 9 Ks and 2 walks in six innings. The only thing that can be counted as a negative was his pitch count, which hit 101. With that lead, he should have been able to give their Red pen a night off, not that it made much difference.

Dusty baker used three guys to mop up, none prime time, and that let the Bucs escape with a shred of respect, losing 8-2. There were a couple of bright spots.

Ronny Cedeno, batting leadoff, hit a pair of doubles and walked. Aki Iwamura had a pinch hit RBI single to run his hitting streak to five games. And Jeff Clement banged out three hits, trying to stave off a June replacement while boosting his average to .209 (take that, Mario Mendoza!).

Who knows? Maybe Clement will stay and Charlie Morton will get the ticket to Indy; after all, he does have an option remaining (as does Clement). No scholarships, right? We'll see what the suits have up their sleeve in short order.

The Pirates travel to Turner Field to take on Atlanta tomorrow night. The match up will be Zach Duke against Derek Lowe.

-- Here's the lede for ESPN's Jason Stark "Rumblings and Grumblings" column that has a few paragraphs about Matt Capps resurgence:
If you live in western Pennsylvania, it's tough enough that the man leading the major leagues in homers (Jose Bautista) is a fellow who was once dumped by the Pirates for a nonprospect in a 2008 waiver deal. But then the Pirates had to go out this past winter and nontender the pitcher who's now leading the majors in saves, too. Does it ever end for this team, or what?
He did a piece on the best "minor" free agent pick-ups during the off season; Eric Hinske is there, too. Sheesh!

-- And to add insult to injury, Fox's Ken Rosenthal has a story today on the red-hot Hinske, too.

-- Bryan Morris' 0.81 ERA, combined between Bradenton and Altoona, is the best in minor league baseball to date.

-- Nick Colias of Major League Trade Rumors reports that the Pirates have signed Dominican RHP Jonathan Herrand for $185K from the Dominican League La Javilla squad. Jeffrey Nolasco at Hoy (Spanish language site) says he's 6'4", with a 95 mph fastball backed by two plus breaking pitches, and a delivery that his Javilla coach compares to a young Pedro Martinez.

-- A final misery loves company note: the Mets just swept the Phillies - and shut them out last night for the third straight game!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bronson Baffles Bucs

Bronson Arroyo was named for Charles Bronson, and he sure as heck has been a tough guy against the Pirates, shutting them out 4-0 tonight.

Both sides scuffled for runs; the Reds had a guy thrown out at home and a runner picked off second followed by a hit, while the Pirates lost an opportunity when Garrett Jones was called out for leaving the baseline in a debatable call; the Bucs ended up leaving the bases juiced that inning.

After leaving the bases loaded, they got the first two runners aboard in the sixth for Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, the three-four hitters. They managed a weak pop up and weaker DP.

Dusty Baker looked like a genius when he sat down Pirate nemesis Joey Votto for Miguel Cairo tonight. Cairo, 36, lined his first homer of the season, and only his second in the past five years.

Ohlie went six innings and gave up three runs on eight hits and five walks, but stranded eight to keep the Bucs in the game. He was up and his velocity was 89-91 on the heater; he's still struggling to get back into pitching shape.

Bronson Arroyo looked, as usual, like he was Greg Maddux against the Bucs, going 7-2/3 innings and giving up five hits. The Bucs loaded the bases against Nick Masset, but Daniel Herrera whiffed Garrett Jones on a 66 MPH breaker, after watching his first pitch sail out of the stadium, well foul, to end the eighth. That was the last hurrah.

Neil Walker continues to see the ball well; he had two of the Pirates' six hits. He's still rusty at third, though - he only played there once at Indy this season, He does have a lot of experience at the position from prior years (353 games), so the learning curve shouldn't be too hard to handle.

Charlie Morton goes against Johnny Cueto tomorrow; we'll see how long Cueto lasts. he was pulled from his last start with a blister.

-- The Pirates have been shut out seven times this year. The Reds staff has three shut outs, and all of them are against the Pirates.

-- Going into tonight's game, Pirate nine-hole hitters have the lowest batting average in the league at .063. Conversely, opposing nine-spot hitters have the highest average in the league against Pittsburgh, hitting .250. Oddly, opposing lead off men are hitting just .241, although Pirate table setters are hitting just .191, thank you, Aki.

-- A lot of mock drafts are flying around, and in the last two days, AOL Fanhouse writer Frankie Piliere,'s Jonathan Mayo, and ESPN's Keith Law (behind a subscription wall) all have the Pirates taking high school shortstop Manny Machado.

-- Melissa Segura of tweets that the Mets, Pirates and Astros appear to be interested in signing Dominican third baseman Elvis Sanchez.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dewey Delivers

Hey, just like Sunday deja vu. The Bucs have a one run lead in the eighth, and the back-enders come on to close it...except they give up game tying homers. Then Dewey steps up, launches one into the night sky, and it's a Pirate victory.

Tonight, Paul Maholm and Mike Leake weren't exactly dazzling, but they were effective trading zeroes into the eighth inning. Aki Iwamura led off with a triple - well, a can of corn that centerfielder Drew Stubbs apparently lost in the moonlight - and brand spanking new call up Neil Walker doubled him home for a 1-0 lead.

It took ten hits for the Pirates to score a run; two double plays, a caught stealing and a pick off at second tend to cut down your scoring chances. More amazingly, the Bucs 3-4-6 hitters, Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, and lastings Milledge, all had two hits, but somehow couldn't bunch a couple of them together.

The Reds, held to six hits over seven innings by Maholm, were now looking down the barrel of Joel Hanrahan's right arm. And hey, he struck out two of three men he faced. But one swing by Bucco killer Brandon Phillips tied it when he blasted a heater delivered down Broadway an estimated 433 feet into the bullpen.

Ryan Church and Milledge went down quietly in the final frame, but Ryan Doumit stepped out of his telephone booth, Nick Masset tugged on his cape, and Dewey responded by bombing a ball into right to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. Octavio Dotel breezed through the ninth, and the Dewey dinger stood up.

Ross Ohlendorf will go against Bronson Arroyo in the Saturday night get together.

-- Andy LaRoche could be back in a couple of days or so, but there's no estimate on Steve Pearce. They have to wait for the swelling of his sprained ankle to go down before they can evaluate him.

-- The Pirates "Million Dollar Arms" from India, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, attended a reception at the White House on Monday hosted by President Obama in celebration of the White House's Heritage Month. The pitchers were among 150 luminaries, diplomats and celebrities from Asia and the Pacific Islands to attend.

Walker Up, Pearce Out & Other Stuff

-- Neil Walker, 24, has just been called up to replace Steve Pearce, who landed on the 15 day DL after spraining his ankle last night. It'll be interesting to see if Walker gets much time; it'll be a juggling act for JR to get innings for both Walker and Bobby Crosby. We'd hope he gets enough at bats to determine if he's the real deal or a bench piece.

Walker, a switch hitter, has a line of .321/.392/.560 with six homers, 18 doubles, two triples, 26 RBI and 10 stolen bases. He's played at first, second, third, and the outfield for Indy, and only been charged with one error during the season.

-- Donnie Veal just went on the minor league DL with tightness in his pitching arm, according to tweets from the beat guys. Good timing; Daniel McCutchen just came off the DL today.

-- CF Alex Presley, who was a lifetime .270 hitter in his first four years in the Pirate system, is tearing it up in Altoona. He went 4-for-5 with a two homers, a double, and a triple with 8 RBIs last night. Presley is hitting .379 with 35 RBI, 26 RS, and a .415 OBP. He's a 5'-9", 180 pound, eighth round draft pick of 2006 from Ol' Miss.

-- Today is the anniversary of the Bambino's final home run, #714, and he hit it here. Ruth blasted it over the Forbes Field roof, the first man to ever clear the stands, and it was the last of three dingers he hit that day. The story is recounted by Robert Dvorchak of the Post-Gazette.

-- If you think Bryce Harper will fall to Pittsburgh, think again. Harper just hit four home runs during a 6-for-6, 10 RBI game in the regional juco playoffs to lead the Southern Nevada Coyotes to the NJCAA World Series, reports John Manuel of Baseball America. Hello, Nationals.

-- If you're wondering who that leaves for the Pirates, Keith Law of ESPN thinks it will be shortstop Manny Machado of Miami Brito High School. He says:
The Pirates' mix includes four or five serious candidates, with Machado and Ole Miss lefty Drew Pomeranz at the top of the list. Pomeranz would cost less and get to the majors much faster, but the big lefty doesn't have Machado's ceiling and hasn't thrown well since he strained a pectoral muscle several weeks ago.
-- Last year's #1 pick Stephen Strasburg has a 0.39 ERA through his first four starts with Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 27/4 K/BB ratio in 23-1/3 innings. Strasburg has a 0.99 ERA and 54/10 K/BB ratio over nine starts between Double-A and Triple-A. See ya' in Washington next month, kid.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It Takes Three

Man, some days that third out is so hard to get. Brian Burres was bobbin' and weavin' his way through the Reds for three innings, giving up one unearned run (on a two out double, natch) when the wheels fell off in the fourth.

He walked the first two batters on nine pitches and gave up a single to Drew Stubbs on an 0-2 pitch. But Burres coaxed a DP ball out of the next hitter, and with the pitcher up, he looked like he'd escape with a just a run in for the bad guys.

But he fell behind Adam Harang 3-0, and two pitches later he singled. The next hitter doubled, and Jeff Karstens came in to toss a little gas on the fire by giving up two more hits before getting that third out.

And they had chances; a high relay to the plate cost them one chance to end the inning, and a grounder that bounced a step away from Aki Iwamura somehow got past him. It was originally ruled an error, but since he completely whiffed on the ball, the scorer later changed to a hit. Giving a team five outs is a sure recipe for a big inning.

Instead of a 2-2 game, it was 6-2, and Cincy would never look back, winning 7-5. They tacked on another tally when Karstens was taken deep by Stubbs - with two away. If you're keeping count, that's six Red runs out of seven driven home with two gone.

The Bucs got their runs on a two run homer by Ronny Cedeno with two outs, two strikes, and the pitcher on deck, a two run double off the bat of Delwyn Young, who had three hits, and a sac fly from Garrett Jones. The hitters did their job tonight...if the team could only get that third out.

Paul Maholm will take on rookie wunderkind Mike Leake tomorrow night.

-- Ronny Cedeno wasted no time keeping his 15 game on-base streak alive; he homered during his first at bat in the second.

-- Steve Pearce sprained his ankle while chasing down a wayward toss from Delwyn Young from across the diamond. No word on how long he'll be out; he left the park on crutches and is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow. X-rays were negative for a break.

-- Andy LaRoche is getting more than a breather; he sat out his third game with stiffness in his back. Delwyn Young got to play the hot corner tonight.

-- Diego Moreno, 23, was promoted today from Bradenton to Altoona. The Venezuelan reliever is 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA in 26-1/3 innings, giving up eleven hits, two walks, and striking out 39 with a WHIP of 0.49. Pretty impressive stuff from the fireballer, who throws in the mid-nineties and touches 97.

-- Another Marauder, RHP Nathan Adcock, was named as the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week. He was 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA and twelve K's in twelve innings over that span.

-- C Robinzon Diaz found out the grass isn't always greener... After being cut loose by the Bucs after last season, he signed with the Tigers. He's hitting .216 at AAA Toledo.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dewey Dramatics

Ryan Doumit sure knows how to pick his spots. In the bottom of the tenth with two away, he drilled Takashi Saito's first pitch fastball over the Clemente wall, giving the Bucs a much needed 3-2 win. The liner was Doumit's first career walk-off long ball.

It was a see-saw game between two teams struggling to plate runs. Atlanta drew first blood when Yunel Escobar, aboard on a Ronny Cedeno error, scored after a pair of singles.

The Bucs took the lead when Andrew McCutchen led off the sixth with a triple, followed by a Garrett Jones walk. A Steve Pearce fly brought home McClutch, and a two-out Doumit single drove in Jones, who had stolen second. Dewey ended up with three hits to pace the offense.

The game was knotted in the eighth after Eric Hinske took Evan Meek deep, turning on a 96 MPH fast ball.

Both teams had chances, but ended up stranding twenty runners between them (the Pirates left 32 runners aboard in the three game set). The Buc infield was key, turning three DPs behind Zach Duke to help foil the Chop City gang.

Duke's line for the day was seven innings of seven hit ball; the only run against him was unearned. He struck out five and walked none. And as an added bonus, Aki Iwamura's back was lighter by one monkey this afternoon, after he ended an 0-for-34 streak by banging out a pair of hits, including a double.

The get-away day had big boys Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones resting for the Braves, while Andy LaRoche took a breather for Pittsburgh.

The Pirates travel to Cincinnati for a four game set. The opener will match Brian Burres with Adam Harang.

-- Doumit's dinger ended a streak of 63 straight innings at PNC without a homer for Pittsburgh.

-- Nate the Great was 1-for-5 this afternoon; he's now hitting .198 for the Braves.

-- The Pirate win ended a three game losing spell and broke the Braves' five game winning streak.

-- According to Mike McCall of, Jack Splat is concerned that his hammies may be bringing his career to an end. On the DL again, he said "This is when you actually look at your career and if it's going to last too much longer," he said. "In reality, there's nothing more that I can do."

-- Carlos Zambrano's return to the Cubby rotation is bad news for Tom Gorzelanny. Ken Rosenthal, in a Fox Sport's vid, says Gorzo could be sent to the pen or dangled as trade bait, but thinks that's a losing move for Chicago.

-- On a down note, Jose Lima died of a massive heart attack at his California home early Sunday morning. He was just 37. Lima, a native of the Dominican Republic, pitched in the bigs for 13 seasons (1994-2006), and won 21 games for the Astros in 1999.

It Must Be Raindrops

Just another rainy day defeat for the Pirates tonight, as they went down to the Braves by a 4-2 count. The good news is that Charlie Morton lasted six innings and only gave up two earned runs. The bad news? Well...

The Buccos banged out nine hits, drew seven walks, and had an Atlanta boot thrown into the mix. Ryan Church and Lastings Milledge had three hits apiece, which is a mixed blessing; that means the other seven lineup spots only accounted for three knocks.

Pittsburgh stranded fourteen runners and went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position; their ten strikeouts didn't help the cause. And they gave up two runs on a Ronny Cedeno error and a Joel Hanrahan wild pitch.

Hanrahan got a swinging strikeout on his ball away and down with two out in the ninth and the bases juiced after two walks, but it ticked off Ryan Doumit's mitt. He had just come into the game in the eighth to pinch hit and then took over cold for Jason Jaramillo during the final frame.

Dewey recovered and made a play to first, where the runner was ruled safe in a bang-bang call. It was close enough that JR got ejected for protesting too much; he must have let a "dang" or two escape his lips in frustration. And he has a frustrating team, no doubt about it as Lanny would say.

All the Buc action happened in the fourth, when a Church double, Milledge triple, and Cedeno safety squeeze accounted for the scoring. The Braves used two solo homers and two gifts to put up their four tallies.

Zach Duke will take on Kris Medlen tomorrow afternoon. Medlen has started just two games this season, serving as a replacement for the injured Jair Jurrjens. The righty's done pretty well too; he's 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA.

-- Aki Iwamura returned and batted leadoff. He's in an 0-for-33 funk (.152 BA), though he did draw two walks (he has 20 walks and 20 hits for the season) and stole a base tonight. We guess his hammy is recovered, but still can't figure out why he's not at the bottom of the lineup instead of the top.

-- Ronny Cedeno has reached base safely in thirteen consecutive games, dating back to May 8th. Don't get too excited, though - he's only hitting .250 during that span.

-- The Pirates drew over 26,000 tonight, despite a rain delay of over an hour and a half. And hey, it wasn't even a fireworks night, although the team did give away Garrett Jones figurines.

-- Pittsburgh ranks fifteenth in hits, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage among sixteen National League teams. The Bucs have scored more than four runs only two times in the last fourteen games.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Braves Moonwalk Over Sleepwalking Buccos

No deep analysis required tonight. The Bucs made a little early noise against Tim Hudson, then he went on cruise control after the second, while Ross Ohlendorf couldn't get through the fourth. The result was an easy 7-0 victory by the red hot Braves.

To blame the pitching is easy. But it's hard to throw when your margin for error is as slim as it is with the Pirate offense. They've now gone seventeen innings without scoring, and the lack of a big bopper or three combined with a team BA of .237 is a recipe for defeat.

They plugged Garrett Jones into cleanup, brought up Jeff Clement to play first, and dealt for Aki Iwamura just so they had some guys that could drop balls over the Clemente fence, yet only nine of their 30 homers have come at PNC.

Clement and Iwamura have been disastrous to date, and Jones has seen his fly ball/ground ball percentage flop from 41-40 in 2009 to 33-48 this year. It's not a good sign when your four hitter pounds more worm burners than balls in the air; there's not been very many ground ball homers hit this year.

They're not alone in hitting woes. The Pirates OBP is down from even last season's, and without runners on, the long ball loses a lot of its luster. The team line so far this season is a .237 BA, .307 OBP, and .356 Slugging %; the NL averages are .257/.331/.404.

That the team is 18-24 is misleading; their Pythagorean slate, based on runs scored and yielded, has them at 11-31.

Another ten days, and we expect the welcome wagon to start arriving from Indy. Some people want the parade to start now, but hey - these guys are no threat this year, so why start the clock early? By All-Star break, we'll start to see the 2011 roster take shape.

Charlie Morton will start Saturday against his old teammates, squaring off against Derek Lowe.

-- Atlanta is sizzlin'. The Braves have won five in a row and nine of their past eleven games.

-- Aki Iwamura can pinch-hit, but can't run. Seems to GW like the pair go hand in hand. He struck out as a pinch hitter tonight, solving the problem. But if he doesn't get his hammy untweaked real soon, a trip to the DL may be in the cards, according to JR.

-- Talk about hot and cold: Octavio Dotel hasn't given up a run in eight straight appearances. Before that, he had been scored on in six straight games.

-- Baseball Prospectus has figured out the odds of teams making the 2010 playoffs. The Pirates are given a one-third of a percent chance *ouch* And that's better than the odds for the Astros or O's!

Bucs Slow Roasted

Ugh, what a snail-paced game. Paul Maholm and Chris Narveson were mirror images of each other, pitching at a pace that would bore a sloth to tears and filling up the plate with junk, junk, and more junk with an occasional show-me heater tossed in.

In fact, Narveson threw 112 pitches; 71 for strikes in his six frames, while Maholm threw 111, 70 for strikes, in his seven inning stint.

The Bucs scored three times in the first, keyed by Steve Pearce's two-run triple. And that would be it.

Maholm's biggest enemies were walks and inches. He walked three, and two scored on hits that were inches away from being outs. McCutchen missed taking Corey Hart's triple off the wall by a ball's width, and George Kottaras' two-bagger ticked of Pearce's mitt.

Both balls were smoked, but tantalizingly close to being noisy outs instead of run producers. As is, they each drove in a guy that walked and eventually came in on small ball groundouts. The Brew Crew only had five hits against the Bucco arms.

The Pirates seven hits didn't exactly light up Narveson or the remade Brewer pen, either. They had just one knock from the fifth inning onward. The best op they had they ran themselves out of in classic little-league style.

Lastings Milledge led off the Pirates' fifth with a double, but he was caught in a rundown on Bobby Crosby's roller to the mound. To the mound! Crosby made it to second on the play, but when he was off to the races on Andrew McCutchen's grounder into the shortstop hole, he was easily gunned at third.

And with McCutch running, it was entirely probable to have a first-and-second, one out situation for Garrett Jones and Pearce; instead it fizzled into a two-away, runner on first ho-hummer. Oops, there goes another promising inning. Once bitten, twice shy isn't the Pittsburgh way.

GW knows he harps on it early and often, but every series, one game seems to be lost because of fundamental errors and another won in spite of them. The biggest part of playing the game right is to, well, play the game right. Right?

Ross Ohlendorf faces off against Tim Hudson tonight against the Braves and Nate the Great's Pittsburgh homecoming.

-- Brendan Donnelly is back, and much to everyone's surprise, it was Jack Taschner that dropped off the roster. He's on the 15 day DL with a tight hammy; who knew? JT is due back June 2nd. We're hoping Donnelly will take his place as a mid-inning guy out of the pen and not as a back-ender.

-- David Golebiewski of FanGraphs has a piece about the maturation process of Evan Meek.

-- Chris Jakubauskas has resumed throwing long-toss after a successful procedure relieved his vertigo symptoms last week.

-- Hey, yesterday we posted an article regarding JR's status as an about-to-be canned coach; today Gene Collier of the Post Gazette says it's time to sign the quiet man to an extension.

-- FOX's "This Week in Baseball" will feature the Buccos at noon on Saturday. The theme of the show is the Pirates' youth movement with segments on McClutch and Ohlie.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cryin' In Their Brew

The Brewers caught the Bucs at their worst in April, destroying the Pirates by a 36-1 count in a three game set and launching them on a season-high seven game skid. The worm has turned.

The Pirates scored three runs in the seventh inning to take control on the way to a 6-4 win. It was the Brew Crew's ninth straight loss. And just like when the Bucs couldn't catch a break during their streak, the baseball gods tied the Brewer's shoelaces together at every opportunity in theirs.

They stranded ten runners on the bases. The Pirates put their game-winning inning together thanks to a pop that dropped, a walk, and two seeing-eye ground ball singles.

Ryan Braun made a heads up play by leading off the ninth with a bunt single when he saw Andy LaRoche playing deep. LaRoche would have the last laugh when Braun stole second as Prince Fielder struck out with the shift on, placing LaRoche behind the bag.

That meant no one was at third - Octavio Dotel admitted he was supposed to cover, but "forgot" - and Braun took off for the open bag. The only problem that was LaRoche was between him and third with the ball, and tagged him out for the oddest double play GW can remember ever seeing.

There was some speculation that since Braun had taken third in similar circumstances during an earlier series, the Pirates had set him up. GW thinks it was a blind pig finding an acorn, but hey - Braun wasn't the tying run; the Brewers were down by a pair; the base made no difference whatsoever. His bad all the way.

It's the kind of play that players trying to shake off a losing spell's bad mojo make, like trying to hit a five-run homer. It just prolongs the agony.

The night's highlights included a three-hit performance by Steve Pearce, who is suddenly hitting .273 as a platoon guy at first, and a pair of knocks by LaRoche and Garrett Jones. Props also have to go to Javier Lopez, who got the win, his first as a Pirate, and Joel Hanrahan, who together faced four batters and K'd every one.

And the Pirate batsmen deserve a team-wide "atta boy." Six different players drove in the six runs, as the Bucs were an uncharacteristic 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

And hey, there were lowlights galore, too. Beside Braun's gaffe, Ryan Doumit called time after running down a passed ball...except the runner was still moving, time wasn't given, and it ended up being a two-base mistake. The dependable leather work of Pearce lost a little tarnish as he clanked a pair of balls.

He and Ronny Cedeno also made ill-advised runs from second to third. Pearce got away with his, but Cedeno was eventually retired in a rundown. And a couple of more balls fell into left for hits when Lastings Milledge couldn't run them down from his North Side Notch shift. The scorer even had an off day, ruling two likely errors as hits, one per side.

Paul Maholm takes on Chris Naverson in the second and last game of short Brewer series. Atlanta comes to town for the weekend before the Pirates hit the road again.

-- The Pirates are now 12-0 in games that they lead after seven innings. The back end of the bullpen, now that Octavio Dotel is getting regular work, has been all that.

-- Tim Brown of Yahoo!Sports did an article on coaches that may be at the end of their leash, and rates JR as being in the middle of the pack.

-- Forgot to post this yesterday, but JJ Cooper of Baseball America has a piece on Jose Tabata in the Daily Dish minor league blog.

-- Bradenton OF Quincy Latimore hit his third grand slam of the season last night. He's batting .253 with five homers and 32 RBIs. When three of your five lost balls are grand salamis, that's pretty clutch hitting.

-- Jonathan Mayo of takes his stab at projecting the June draft, and has the Pirates down to either Jameson Taillon, the top high school arm in the class, or shortstop Manny Machado, the top prep position player.

Bucs Trump Ace

Told ya the Pirates had 'em right where they wanted them. After losing to a guy with a 5.89 ERA and looking bad doing it, the Bucs put together a winning effort against top gun Roy Halladay and took a 2-1 victory against the Phillie's ace.

Zach Duke wormed out of trouble and the back end of the pen was lights out tonight.

Duke's sinker dove again, and he held the baddest bats in the NL to six hits over six innings, walking a pair and whiffing five while getting out of fifth and sixth inning jams (were you watching, Charlie Morton?). He got the win, his third, and his first since April 10th.

The three amigos, Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, and Octavio Dotel, allowed one runner - and that on a walk - in the final three frames to ice the win.

Halladay pitched a complete game, but was fortunate to escape giving up just two runs during his 132 pitch outing, the highest pitch count in the majors so far this year.

The Pirates banged out nine hits against him, drew a walk, and were gifted with three Phillie boots, but hit into two DPs, stranded eight and went just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

But those two clutch knocks were enough. Ryan Doumit and Andy LaRoche hit back-to-back doubles in the second with two away, and Lastings Milledge help manufacture the game winner in the sixth after Philly had tied the game and saw the go-ahead run thrown out at home by Andrew McCutchen.

He beat out an infield dribbler, went to second on a hit-and-run ground out by McCutch, and came crashing home on a hard slide to tally on Garrett Jones line drive single into center.

Jones had three hits against Halladay, and Doumit added another pair.

The Pirates are coming home for five games, two against the Brew Crew and three against Atlanta. Brian Burres faces Randy Wolf in the opener.

-- The win broke a streak of 28 road trips for Pittsburgh without a winning record, dating back to 2007 when Russell was still managing in the Phillies' farm system.

-- The last time Halladay and Duke went mano-a-mano was in 2008. The Pirates won that game 1-0.

-- McCutchen's assist was the Pirate outfield's 13th, tops in the majors. They led the league last year, too, with 45 throw-outs.

-- Brendan Donnelly is due back from his oblique injury before the weekend. Brian Burres and Jeff Karstens are the likeliest to go to clear a spot for Donnelly, so Burres has a lot riding on his start against Milwaukee at PNC Wednesday.

And if he gets through this cut, Burres still has Brad Lincoln to worry about in June. Hey, some competition among Pirate pitching? There's a concept for you. For awhile, it looked like no one wanted a job.

-- The Pirates announced the signing of six teen Latino players, four pitchers (two are 6'-7") an outfielder, and a first baseman. They'll all start out in either the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer League.

The most highly touted is 17 year-old Venezuelan outfielder Willy Garcia, who received a $280K bonus. Rene Gayo thinks he has a chance to become a five-tool player.

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Brotherly Love Tonight

Well, what did you expect? Charlie Morton may yet turn into a swan, but he was an ugly duckling again tonight as he gave up five runs in the third inning to start the Phillies on the road to a 12-2 win.

Morton went four frames and gave up six runs on six hits, the big blow being a two out, full count, three run blast by Jason Werth. Morton gave up a five spot that inning, all with two out. He always seems to have that one inning, and a season's worth of those frames is why he's 1-7 with a 9.68 ERA.

More amazingly, he gave up six hits, and all six guys scored. This year, he's allowed 67 runners (not counting errors) and 42 have scored, or 63%; he only strands 1/3 of his runners. Last year, he was much better, keeping 71% of the runners on the bases. For comparison, this year Zach Duke has left 69% of his runners on the sacks, and Paul Maholm 71%, much like Morton's 2009 rate.

Maybe his problem is something mechanical working out of the stretch, or maybe he doesn't have confidence in spotting an out pitch. With a 95 MPH heater and a 12-to-6 curve with two other pitches to show, he has the tools, but not the execution. And the Pirates badly need a top end starter, which he potentially is.

Jack Taschner added a little insult to self-inflicted injury when with two away in the eighth, he gave up a single, and then walked the next two guys to juice the bases for Ryan Howard. Howard unjuiced them in a hurry when he drove a 2-1 pitch into downtown Philadelphia to provide the final margin.

Nine of Philly's dozen runs came with two away; Howard drove in six of them. He and Werth had ten RBI batting fourth and fifth. The top three Phils in the order got on seven times and scored seven times.

Not that the Pirates were up to slugging it out anyway. The lineup collected five hits, two by Ryan Doumit, with a homer added in by Delwyn Young, who drove in both runs. His dinger was during his first at-bat; it was his first leading off a game, and the Pirates only moment of glory.

Heck, we can't even say they played the field well. Andrew McCutchen dropped a can of corn in center that plated a run.

But don't worry. Our stopper, Zach Duke, takes the hill tomorrow against some American League retread by the name of Roy Halladay. He's just 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA. We got 'em right where we want 'em.

-- The Pirates have dropped six straight and 11 of their past 12 games at Citizens Bank Park. Road warriors the Buccos ain't. In fact, JR's team has yet to finish a road trip with a winning record.

Splashes On A Rainy Monday

-- Zach Duke gets the unenviable task of taking on Roy Halladay tomorrow night. Halladay is 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA.

-- Delwyn Young will become the Pirates third starting second baseman in three games as he gets the nod tonight. As an added bonus, he'll bat leadoff.

-- Jimmy Rollins, Phil SS who has been out for 29 games with a strained calf, was given the OK to play tonight. Let's hope it takes him a couple of days to get his mojo back.

-- So far in May, Pittsburgh pitchers have put together a 4.02 ERA. The starters numbers are 5-6 with a 4.23 ERA while the pen is 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA. The ERA for the season is still just 5.64, but it's dropped half a run since April. Maybe Joe Kerrigan will keep his job.

-- We weren't the only ones to notice it. Roto Authority's Tim Dierkes checked out who's added and who's lost velocity this year - and Zach Duke and Paul Maholm are in the Top Ten of the losers.

-- Indy's Daniel McCutchen has been placed on the minor league DL with arm fatigue.

-- Altoona Curve pitcher Jared Hughes, 24, has been named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. He made two starts last week and compiled a 2-0 record. Hughes went a season-high seven innings in both starts and permitted a total of three runs (one earned) in his 14 innings of work to compile an 0.64 ERA for the week. The righty from Long Beach State also struck out six and walked just a pair over the same time frame.

He has a 7-1 record with a 3.16 ERA through eight games (seven starts) in 2010 and currently leads all of Minor League Baseball with his seven wins.

-- Prospect Starling Marte will have surgery tomorrow to repair a hamate bone injury in his left hand suffered after getting conked by a pitch a week or two ago. The hook of his hamate bone will be removed, ala Pedro Alvarez. He's expected to be out 8-10 weeks, so he should be back sometime in August.

-- Ah, the minor league domino game. Bryan Morris was sent to Altoona yesterday. Righty Hunter Strickland, 21, will replace him at Bradenton. At West Virginia this year, he went 0-4 with a 5.86 ERA, and compiled eight walks and 15 strikeouts in 43 innings.

Hey, quiet down, we didn't promote him; maybe control pitchers are the flavor of the week. The ERA doesn't bother us, but 15 Ks in 43 innings? That's a red flag. We'll find out soon enough if he's a warm body or if the brass see something they like in him.

Taking Strickland’s place at West Virginia is righty Victor Black, who had been on State College’s roster. Black was a sandwich pick (#49) in the 2009 draft. He'll turn 22 in a week.

Not to worry. The Spikes still have high school aces Zack Von Rosenberg and Brooks Pounders, taken in last year's draft, to anchor their rotation.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Too Good To Last

For the first time this year, the Pirates failed to plate a run in the first inning against the Cubbies. Bad omen? You betcha.

Oh, the Bucs cranked it up in the second; guess their alarm clock buzzer went off late. They scored three times on a Bobby Crosby single and a two-out, two-run knock by Lastings Milledge.

But as so often happens with this club, the bats were put away for the remainder of the game. The Bucs strung together three hits and two walks that inning, and that line would match their total for the rest of the afternoon.

They had a golden opportunity in the seventh when Steve Pearce and Bobby Crosby opened the inning with singles. After a Cedeno flyout to right, the Cubs ran a wheel play on Ohlie, and he crossed them up by pulling back the bat and taking a cut.

He drilled the ball into right center, over the head of Kosuke Fukudome, but the wind blowing from right pushed the ball in far enough that Fukudome could make a web gem running grab, saving a pair of runs. The Pirates ultimately loaded the bases with two outs, but Andy LaRoche popped out to first. That was Pittsburgh's last, best shot at scoring its golden fourth run.

Ross Ohlendorf looked close to being back. He went six innings, and was charged with two runs on four hits, walking and whiffing three while hitting 94 regularly on the Wrigley radar. He also hung tough, pitching out of a bases loaded jam in the second inning, and a second and third situation in the sixth, both with one away.

Even though his pitch count was only at 73, he got a quick hook when he walked the first batter in the seventh. JR tapped his right arm, and in came Evan Meek, money in the bank so far this year. But while Meek was willing, the infield wasn't.

After two fine grabs of quails being knocked down by the Lake Michigan breezes by Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Church, the Cubs switched up and began aiming at Pirate infielders.

A roller got through the second base hole when it took a late bounce over Crosby's mitt, and a wild pitch later, it was a one run game. Ronny Cedeno clanged a routine grounder to keep the inning alive, and Derrek Lee fisted a three hopper through the shortstop hole to tie it.

In the eighth, it was on DJ Carrasco, and he couldn't come up with the goose egg. He had two outs with Alfonso Soriano on first, but threw a wild pitch with a steal going on, and Soriano got to third. He walked Geovany Soto, and Xavier Nady lined a two strike slider into right to bring home the eventual winning run of their 4-3 victory.

The good news is that the rotation looks like it's beginning to fall in place, and that Pittsburgh, although 16-21, is only five games back of the Central Division leading Reds.

The bad news is that they gave a game away, just like they did with St. Louis earlier in the week, and a team with the Pirates' offense can't get away with playing less than solid, fundamental baseball.

Charlie Morton takes on Kyle Kendrick tomorrow night in Philly.

-- It was bound to happen. The Bucs were 14-0 when leading or tied after six innings this year before this afternoon's come from ahead loss. They were up 3-1 after six today.

-- Aki Iwamura was yanked during yesterday's match because of tightness in his right hamstring and will probably miss a handful of games. JR said Iwamura could probably pinch hit, so it isn't thought to be too serious. Bobby Crosby is his replacement, at least today, and Lastings Milledge was penciled in to lead off.

-- Steve Pearce is back in the saddle again after taking off a few innings because of a slightly sprained tendon in his knee, and was in today's lineup, where he made a couple of sweet plays in the field.

-- The Pirates do fast track some prospects. Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweets "GM Neal Huntington said rhp Bryan Morris (3-0, 0.60 ERA, 40 K in 44.2 ip) could go from Class A to Triple-A by August."

Morris was promoted from High A Bradenton to AA Altoona today. The potential fly in the ointment: he only worked 72-2/3 innings last year, and hasn't posted more than 110 innings in any one season in the minors. So the brass will watch his innings carefully; he has 37 frames under his belt to date.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bucs Hang On

Hey, they were up to their old tricks. Pittsburgh scored three times in the first inning, thanks to a couple of walks, an Andrew McCutchen knock and a Ryan Church double. Then they shut it down until the ninth, when pinch-hitter Jeff Clement lined one the opposite way for what would become the game winning homer.

Paul Maholm went six innings for the win. It wasn't a clean effort, but he allowed only two Cubbies to cross home while scattering eight hits and striking out four. The third inning was when the Cubs scored, and it could have been worse but for a Church strike to Doumit to gun Aramis Rameirez at the plate for the final out.

DJ Carrasco and Joel Hanrahan held the fort until the ninth, when Octavio Dotel made it interesting. With an out, he walked Starlin Castro on four pitches.

Kosuke Fukudome fell behind 0-2, took three straight balls - Dotel's curve was nasty, but seemed to have a mind of its own - and dropped a soft lob into medium right that rolled to the field box fence along the line. It ended up a triple after a long chase by Garrett Jones, who was stationed in the gap.

The Bucs brought the infield in, but they could have all just walked off the field for all it mattered. Dotel got out of the mess by striking out Ryan Theriot and Marlon Byrd, both swinging through high heat.

So hey, the decision by the brass to stock up on back-end guys who could throw a baseball that actually misses bats paid off again. Not all of their models have held water, but that's one that sure has.

The four guys used to bring a game home - Dotel, Hanrahan, Carrasco, and Evan Meek - have whiffed 90 guys in 79 innings. That's 10.25 K's per nine innings pitched. Nothing like being able to cover up for your own mistakes, hey?

Unfortunately, the top two innings for Bucco opponents are the third and fourth, when they have put up 75 runs against the rotation and run away with games (the next highest inning *sigh* is the first). That's why it's been so hard to get the ball in the hands of the closers. And it's more the pity since the Pirates are such quick starters.

The Pittsburgh hitters' first and ninth inning scoring chart is, well, off the charts. The Pirates have tallied 32 runs in the first - 25% of their offense - and tacked on another 20 platings in the ninth. That's 41% of their scoring in two innings, and would work out to 6-1/2 runs per outing if spread throughout the game.

Ah, stats are fun, even if they are danged lies. Buts there's only one that really means anything, wins and losses. And Pittsburgh is 16-20. Some of their holes may be filled when Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln and perhaps Neil Walker join the club sometime after June, when the specter of Super 2 status has passed.

Alvarez and Lincoln could one day be difference makers. Tabata fills a void at leadoff, and Walker could potentially sit Aki Iwamura down.

Until they settle in - and the results will in all likelihood come later rather than sooner; not everyone greets MLB life like McClutch did - it's gonna be a roller coaster ride.

Ross Ohlendorf will try to put the final nail in Chicago's coffin tomorrow against Ted Lilly.

-- Talk about role reversal: the Cubs were 24-8 against Pittsburgh in 2008-09, but are are 0-5 and have been outscored 32-14 against them this season. The Cubs have now lost seven straight against the Pirates dating to last season

-- Steve Pearce's knee pain is caused by a tightening of his tendon. He'll likely be out for the Cub series, but shouldn't require a visit to the DL.

-- Brian Bass cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Indy.

-- Prospect Starling Marte has a left hand injury that may require surgery, and is scheduled to see a specialist on Monday. Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweets that it's a dreaded, power-sapping hamate injury. Marte was hitting .283 at High A Bradenton.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America projects that Pittsburgh will pick Drew Pomeranz in the June draft if they're willing to shell out the bucks. He's a lefty from Ol' Miss. (The article is subscription only).

The consensus top five players are C Bryce Harper, high school SS Manny Machado, prep RHPs Jameson Taillon and Karsten Whitson, and Pomeranz.

-- Ollie Perez has been yanked out of the Met's starting rotation and placed in the bullpen. He has no remaining options and a fat contract; not all of Littlefield's moves were wacky.

He's 0-3 with a 5.94 ERA, and has walked 28 batters in 31-1/3 innings.

Friday, May 14, 2010

McClutch, Jones and the Pen Quiet Cubs

Maybe it was leaving the Three Rivers behind. Maybe it was a chance to face off against the tail-spinning Cubbies. Maybe it was the opportunity to hit against a pitcher who was a Pirate not so long ago. Or maybe it was just the law of averages finally kicking in.

Whatever it was, the Bucs should bottle the stuff. Led by Andrew McCutchen setting the table, Garrett Jones cleaning it, and a bullpen on a mission, Pittsburgh ended their misery by pounding out a 10-6, come from ahead win against Chicago.

The Pirates stormed to the lead by scoring three times in the first; Brian Burres gave up four before they'd bat again and would get the hook after four frames and six runs. No big deal.

McCutchen and Jones put on a middle-of-the-order clinic, going 10-for-11 and each pounding out a homer among five hits. They teamed up to score seven times and drive in seven runs, McClutch touching home five times and Jones bringing home five ducks. McCutchen added a walk and two stolen bases to explode out of his modest slump.

It's the first time in 40 years that two Pirates have had five hits in the same game. On Aug. 1, 1970, Bob Robertson and Willie Stargell, also hitting back-to-back, both had five hits in a 20-10 win over the Braves (the Pirates missed an extra point).

But the key was the work of DJ Carrasco, Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, and Octavio Dotel. They worked five scoreless innings, throwing four hit ball and striking out eight. Pitching wins games, even if they are prima facie slugfests.

The Cubs couldn't do the same. After Gorzo was shown the door, the Bucs clawed back against five Chi-town relievers, eventually breaking it open with a three spot in the eighth against Carlos Zambrano thanks to Jones' tie-breaking blast, his fifth of the season.

Paul Maholm will try to keep the good times rollin' tomorrow against Ryan Dempster.

-- Andrew McCutchen became the fifth Pirate in the expansion era to score five runs in game, joining Pops Stargell, Rennie Stennett (in his famous 7-for-7 game), Bobby Bo, and Brian Giles. Pretty fast company, no?

-- Steve Pearce left the game with soreness in his knee while running the bases. And to show you what kind of day it was for the Bucs, his pinch-runner, Zach Duke, scored.

-- Ronny Cedeno started today. There was some concern that his wrist injury may have laid him up for most of the series, but he toughed it out and should be good to go now.

-- Ryan Church's wrist is recovered enough now that he can play again. He's expected to get the start tomorrow.

-- Everyone in the Pirates' starting lineup reached base at least once, except for you-know-who. Aki Iwamura went 0-for-6, dropping his batting average to .161. Neil Walker has been playing second base for the past week or two at Indy; it may be getting near time to bring him to the show if he and the brass can kiss and make up.

Walker's average is .338, and he leads the International League with 45 hits. He has 24 RBI with five homers, sixteen doubles, and a .602 slugging percentage.

-- The Pirates are 7-2 when they hit two or more homers in a game.

-- In his rant regarding Tampa Bay's inability to draw fans, Fox Sport's Ken Rosenthal suggests contraction - of bad owners. He says "...just think: If the Rays played in Pittsburgh, they would pack PNC Park. So, stick the Rays in Pittsburgh. Instant management upgrade..."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pellas On The Pirates: The Small Market Death Spiral

The Pirates just got swept by the Cincinnati Reds. That, in and of itself, is not news in the annual 162 game marathon that is major league baseball. What is news is the way the sweep occurred, and what it says about the state of the organization and, most critically, the state of the team that the organization is actually putting on the field at increasingly empty PNC Park.

That team stinks, pure and simple.

Not only does it stink, it’s boring in its stinkage. There is nothing worse in sports than a team that is both bad and boring. Bill Veeck, (in)famous for decades for his, umm, creativity in the face of consistently terrible baseball on the south side of Chicago, understood this. Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly, and Neil Huntington plainly do not. That’s why the Pirates are now firmly in the vice grip of the dreaded “small market death spiral”.

Ironically, it was a writer from Cleveland who best described this phenomenon back in April, in an article about the Indians---Huntington’s former team. Here is what he said:

The Indians now are in the (graveyard) spiral of the small-market team, the one that links payroll to attendance and prohibits them from getting better because they can't spend beyond their means, and they see their means dwindle with each bad season.

Attendance during the 3 game brooming by the Reds was less than pathetic. Given the way the Pirates played in the series, in which they came within a seeing eye single and a hit batsman of a perfect game by the luminous Johnny Cueto and then followed that gem with a listless shutout against perpetual underachiever Homer Bailey, there is no reason to expect it to get better any time soon, if ever.

The pathetic attendance, it says here, was due not to the weather but to the inescapable fact that this team is brutal, and it is boring, and it is painful to watch. We’re talking about the team that takes the field in Pittsburgh, the so-called major league team, the product that the organization is presumably trying to sell, the one for which it charges customers a fee before they are allowed the, err, privilege of watching it. Somewhere along the line, probably very early on in the current “rebuilding plan”, the current front office decided that the quality of the product it put on the field was irrelevant. This is not merely an insulting notion. It is, and has been, disastrous.

In short, there is little or no reason to go see this team play. It’s that simple and that bad.

Let’s start with the pitching. There is not one starting pitcher on the current staff who could reasonably be expected to do something special against the enemy on any given night. Not one. That’s not to say that the likes of Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, etc., are “bad” pitchers. They’re not. They’re just nothing to write home about, and they don’t throw particularly hard, and so as a fan you never get the gratification of the occasional wow-he-really-mowed-‘em-down-tonight moments in the face of a terrible season. This staff never mows ‘em down.

At best, it gives you some quality starts and keeps you in games---which is certainly not a bad thing (just ask the Cardinals, except that they have a real team alongside their otherwise mostly pedestrian staff), it’s just not something that grabs your attention and gives you some hope and entertainment.

Steve Carlton, who was of course a Hall of Famer and far better than anyone we have on hand, was nonetheless a great example of this when he won 27 games for an utterly brutal Phillies team back in the early 70s. Curt Schilling, speaking of Philadelphia, did the same thing for a couple of seasons in the 90s, before the Phils began their current run of sustained excellence.

The Pirates have no similar pitcher in their current rotation and are highly unlikely to have one anytime soon, unless Brad Lincoln and his reconstructed elbow can fulfill the can’t miss label he had coming out of college. But that’s probably too much to ask of him after his surgery.

The bullpen has Evan Meek and Octavio Dotel and Brendan Donnelly, and they are all big, mean guys who throw hard and who “miss bats”. They come closest to providing some “wow” moments, but they are relievers and they aren’t going to be in many epic confrontations unless this team is playing meaningful baseball in July---which it won’t be.

The hitting is not only lackluster, it’s boring. Well, other than Andrew McCutchen, who is certainly the closest and only thing this team has to someone who is worth the price of admission. But it’s increasingly apparent that he’s just about all this team has.

The sad thing is that the Pirates traded away McCutchen’s charismatic running mate from last season, Nyjer Morgan, and he has gone on to give Washington a real boost amid an unexpectedly competitive and---that word again---entertaining season. Now, obviously, no one is saying that Morgan is headed for Cooperstown or even the All-Star Game. Well, probably not the All-Star Game. But despite his higher-than-you’d-like caught stealing numbers and punch and judy bat, Nyjer was….well, he was fun. Fun!

And he and McCutchen together were like frick and frack, the more so because they came up together through the Pirates’ minor league system. The two of them together at the top of the order would certainly have added enormous entertainment value to this Pirates team, but instead Morgan was sent to the Nationals in exchange for Lastings Milledge.

As with so many of Huntington’s moves, this one made sense on paper. Further, Milledge has unquestionably done everything that was asked of him by management, and has evidently put his previous pain in the neck behavior behind him, perhaps for good. Unfortunately, as with so many of Huntington's moves, his performance on the field has been almost as bad as his behavior has been good, and on top of that, he’s been ho-hum in the process. Well, except for that whole getting tagged out while jogging because he thought he’d just hit a grand slam thing. That was funny. Heh.

I could go on. Garrett Jones is either coming back to Earth, or being pitched around to an incredible degree, or both. Probably both, though I still think he could be a productive, better than average hitter with any support around or behind him.

But this lineup just doesn’t put any pressure on the opponent. It doesn’t run---again, other than McCutchen---and it doesn’t hit home runs and it doesn’t hit for a high average and it doesn’t flatten opposing catchers after running a stop sign at third base. It’s bad and it’s boring, and there’s no reason to expect improvement any time soon, except, perhaps, from Jose Tabata, who looks to be nearly ready at Triple-A Indianapolis.

But Tabata, cue the drum roll, please, looks more like a solid, complimentary, “professional hitter” type than he does an impact prospect. Again, not someone who is going to “wow” you. He’ll probably be better than Milledge, at least the Milledge we’ve seen thus far in 2010, but not as much fun as Morgan.

Pedro Alvarez, currently Tabata’s teammate in Indianapolis, does have the “wow” factor, but he seems to have stalled a bit in his rise through the system, and it might not be until next season that he gets established in Pittsburgh.

All of which returns us to the disgruntled Indians writer. Insert the word “Pirates” for “Indians” and he would be writing about the Bucs:
The Indians are doing their best to sell this rebuild as one made for the long-term, not the short. And it may well turn out that way. But if they were going to have any kind of season that would keep fans interested and keep revenues at any kind of acceptable level, they needed a decent start.

This team is not decent. It is not good. And it’s not even watchable. The current front office is getting the terrible attendance it deserves with its putrid on-field product. It seems to me that there was an arrogance about the way Neil Huntington went about his task, an arrogance that insisted the team’s on-the-field performance while it was being rebuilt simply didn’t matter. That always rubbed me the wrong way, and it only gets worse the longer I watch what is going on at PNC.

No, you can’t have everything, and yes, the longer term really is more important. But bad baseball doesn’t have to be as boring and hopeless as this bunch clearly is. While it’s not the main thing, it’s critical that fans be able to have some fun in exchange for their long-suffering patience.

That’s what made Veeck’s teams somewhat tolerable, and it’s what made the Cubs “lovable losers”, and it’s what made the Phillies occasionally interesting even when they were otherwise terrible. There’s almost nothing interesting about this bad team. That’s something that Neil Huntington evidently never understood when he set out to fix the Pirates.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

None Is the Loneliest Number

Start with a sweep, end up getting broomed. So much for the Bucs promising homestand, ending with another shutout at the hands of the Reds, 5-0.

Zach Duke never had it; he gave up five runs in five innings on nine hits, two that went yard. More worrisome is that GW never saw the PNC radar gun flash anything higher than 85 MPH on his pitches, and even for the Zachster, that's not good.

In fact, his heater has lost a couple of miles since 2008-09. He averaged 89 for those two years, but just 87 this year. It may be that there's a more basic problem with Duke and his arm; maybe the 398 innings are catching up to him.

But unless you're Walter Johnson, pitching behind the Pirate attack is enough to wear anybody down. They were shut out for the second day, this time by Homer Bailey. And like Johnny Cueto last night, it was his first career goose egg. In fact, it was the first MLB complete game for both guys.

It took Bailey just 90 tosses to dispatch the Bucs; seven of his nine innings took ten or fewer pitches to complete. He gave up four hits, and two of those runners were erased on DPs.

Awi Iwamura is in a 1-for-29 funk; maybe his pay rate is too rich to bench him, but how long can you lead off with him? Andy LaRoche was dropped down in the order; now he's trying to crank every high and tight heater into the stands again instead of being patient at the dish.

Hey, JR doesn't have much to work with, but he's got to give them some slim chance of succeeding. Try Milledge at leadoff and LaRoche second; try picking names out of a hat; do something. The same ol' isn't cutting it.

The Pirates have a day off to think about it; that may be good or bad. Then it's off to Wrigley, where Brian Burres takes on Tom Gorzelanny.

-- Ronny Cedeno was plunked in the left wrist last night, and it was heavily wrapped after the game, although he played all nine innings. He'll be off today with a bad bruise. We're sure that it was just a coincidence that he had the only hit and then got smacked with a pitch...

-- Hayden Penn was sprung from extended training and sent to Indy to join the rotation. His first start was last night and resulted in a ten inning, 7-5 loss; but he was competent. Penn went six innings and gave up three runs on eight hits with six K's and no walks. He threw 78 pitches, 55 for strikes, so that's a promising note.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Move along, Please...Nothing To See Here

It would be difficult to be be thumped more convincingly than the Bucs were tonight. In front of a crowd smaller than the stadium staff on a damp, raw evening, the Reds pounded out fifteen hits, had six guys with multiple knocks - and each one had an extra base hit, too - and destroyed Pittsburgh 9-0.

Charlie Morton had a rough start - three of the first four Red Stockings got aboard as they scored twice in the first frame - but then came around to finish with six innings of three-run, seven-hit ball.

The bullpen wasn't very sharp, either, with Jeff Karstens being tagged with four runs in 1-2/3 innings. Maybe the hidden vigorish rose up to bite him, or maybe coming back on two days of rest after throwing six innings against the Cards Saturday was the culprit.

Johnny Cueto pitched his first ever complete game, giving up one hit while throwing only 102 pitches, and facing just 28 batters, one over the minimum. Ronny Cedeno was his only thorn, with a ground ball single and one plunking.

Oh well, at least there weren't any errors.

Homer Bailey will go against Zach Duke in the Wednesday afternoon get-away game.

-- The Pirates have scored only one run on six hits against the Reds so far in eighteen innings, to add some icing to a generally inoffensive home stand. And Cincy's starting pitching had been terrible, with a 5.31 ERA going into tonight's game.

--The Pirate pitchers had gone 64 innings without giving up a long ball until rookie Chris Heisey hit his first major-league home run in the eighth off Karstens.

-- The Tribune-Review ran an AP piece about teams scouting umpires, complete with pictures, dossiers, and strike zones.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Very Small Ball

Well, the pitching held up, even if the guys had to dodge a couple of raindrops. But the bats and gloves remained in cold storage, and that was enough for the Reds to eke out a 2-1 win against the Pirates tonight.

Ohlie went four innings in his first outing in five weeks, and gave up a run on three hits. The rust showed as he walked four and ran up a pitch count of 84. Still, it's nice to have him back. He was hitting 93 on the gun, and K'ed three batters, so hopefully once his endurance returns, the rotation will stabilize.

But those bats. The Bucs managed just five hits, and Bronson Arroyo, who entered the game with a 6+ ERA, went into the eighth with a shutout before a Ronny Cedeno homer and Delwyn Young single sent him to the showers.

The gloves, ugh. Ryan Doumit let a throw get through him, although he did make a sweet block to nail a runner after a Lastings Milledge-to-Cedeno relay in the ninth.

The winning run was unearned; Andy LaRoche made his fourth error in as many games, again misfiring on a backhand attempt, to let a runner on to open the eighth. The next hitter rifled a double into the gap to bring home the bacon.

Take advantage of an opportunity? The Bucs had a silver-platter chance in the ninth, when with one out Francisco Cordero walked Doumit and Milledge. But the next hitter, Jeff Clement, swung at the first pitch and rolled out; Cedeno took two before he bounced out to second.

Oh, well. So much for those close game wins; the Reds did what it took, and the Bucs didn't tonight. They strap them on again tomorrow when Charlie Morton takes on Johhny Cueto.

-- Ryan Church remains out with a sore wrist, bruised when he was hit by a pitch Friday. He's day-to-day with, and wasn't available tonight except for emergency duty.

-- Indy's Jeremy Powell was named the International League Pitcher of the Week after going 2-0 and allowing just one earned run in 13 innings.

Monday, Monday

-- The Pirates DFA'ed Brain Bass. He's out of options, so he's fair game for anybody else's roster. Brian Burres will be the fifth starter and Jeff Karstens will be the long man for the time being.

-- Brendan Donnelly and his strained oblique are eligible to come off the DL Friday, but he won’t be activated until at least May 19th, when the Pirates start their next home stand.

The holdup is likely due to the combination of being careful with a oblique and the sudden log jam of pitchers in Pittsburgh.

-- GW failed to mention that Chris Jakubauskas has been shut down from baseball activities again after suffering from some minor dizziness on Friday. He's supposed to see the doc again today.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette had a "Notebook" piece on Neil Walker today, featuring some management grumbles about attitude after he failed to run out a pop-up. GW isn't a fan of the brass taking players to task in the media, but then again, they should play the game right.

-- The Pirates have lost seventeen times; twelve have been by a six run margin or greater. They've won fourteen; nine have been by one or two runs.

-- The Pirates signed a pair of young Latino players after their appearance in the Dominican Prospect League All-Star game. They are Isaac Sanchez, 17, a RHP with control who features a nasty curveball, a fastball clocked at 89-92 mph, and a change-up.

The other is Miguel DeAza, 17, a left-handed outfielder who has good speed, a good arm, and is a contact hitter who the scouts hope fills out to become a power guy.

Sanchez signed for $180,000 and DeAza for $150,000 respectively, typical signing bonuses for players selected in the 7th-10th rounds of the draft.

Coaching 101

Hey, the St. Louis series has demonstrated that are are lots of situations for ballplayers to react to, and they don't always have on their thinking cap when needed. Here's some of the bonehead plays that were made, and how they should have been handled:

-- Positioning the infield to take the middle away from Yadier Molina. No doubt JR and the braintrust was given a chart showing the balls in play hit by Molina as part of the advance scouting report, and moved the boys around accordingly.

The problems: Small sample size; Molina's reputation for using the whole field, and in all likelihood, no chart showing what he did against that alignment, as apparently no one else has used it, and finally factoring in the pitcher's tendency (Zach Duke), who likes to work the outside of the plate. Molina had three opposite field hits.

The book: Adjust your infield according to the called pitch location against a guy that doesn't have a real tendency for hit placement.

-- Two guys on the same base after a rundown, and both getting tagged out, as happened to Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen. With runners on first and third, LaRoche broke home on a grounder to either prevent a DP or score, which is the right move...but it fell apart on execution.

The problem: LaRoche returned to the bag, which is human nature but not baseball brilliance. McCutchen was supposed to be there, so he was heads-up on the base path.

The book: LaRoche, once in a rundown, is supposed to prolong it enough to allow the back runner to advance and then give himself up. But if two runners end up on the same sack, the rules give the base to the original occupant, so everyone concerned should stay cemented to it until the ump sorts it out.

-- Aki Iwamura tags dirt on a steal attempt, falling for the hidden hand trick of Joe Mather after a perfect throw.

The problem: Iwamura ho-hummed the tag by dropping it straight down while Mather borrowed a page from Wee Willie Keeler by sliding where they ain't.

The book: A tag should be under control enough cover the base; that's why swipe tags are so popular. Watching the runner helps, too - not all are suicidal.

-- Bunting into a wheel play. Jeff Karstens tried it with runners on first and second and no outs, but forced Jason Jaramillo out at third, taking away a golden scoring opportunity.

Problem: The wheel play has the corners charging in full tilt, with the SS covering third and the 2B covering first. The Card wrinkle is to have the second sacker also hold the runner before breaking to first. The purpose is to leave the hitter no space to roll the ball and getting the lead runner. It's a high-risk, high-reward defense.

Book: Both the runner and hitter went against the book. Jaramillo should watch the second baseman and take an aggressive break towards third when the infielder broke to first; he didn't. The coaches could have Karstens swinging to make contact rather than bunting. If he got enough of the ball to roll it past the first wave, the infield behind them is basically empty. The downer is that a one-hopper hit at an incoming fielder is a tailor-made DP. If you opt to bunt, bunt toward third base; make the fielder at least turn to make a play. Karstens didn't.

But give Tony LaRussa some credit. In a close game, he saw a slow, part-time player on second, and used the quick Skip Schumaker to keep him close to the base. The stars lined up right, and he squelched a potentially game-breaking inning.

-- With Lastings Milledge on second and an out, Card third baseman David Freese snagged a hard-hit ball and had Milledge trapped between the bases. He looked him in the eye...and took the out at first.

Problem: First, Milledge was way too aggressive off second; maybe he thought the ball was headed into left. Second, in a 1-0 game, Freese has to get the lead runner when the opportunity presents itself. Milledge scored a batter later.

The Book: Freese has to go after Milledge; at worst, they'll be a different runner on second and two away; it's much more likely that there would be a runner at first. And Milledge has to make sure any ball hit his right gets through before he's off to the races.

Hey, GW is always preaching about fundamentals. But baseball is a crazy game, and there are a million situations to be downloaded into a player's data bank. But you'll notice that most of the gaffes were committed by Pittsburgh; it's the sign not particularly of bad coaching, but of a young team still trying to learn the ropes and beating itself on some nights while absorbing the lessons.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ah, Their Moms Still Love 'Em

So much for the quality starts. Paul Maholm went through an inning that had to leave his arm screaming, as he gave up four runs on 54 pitches in one frame against the Cards this afternoon.

He had breezed through the first two, though there were warning signs when he fell behind some batters. But the third frame featured five 3-2 counts, a two-out, two run knock on an 0-2 pitch (of all times to find the plate!), and three walks. His pitch count was at 83 when the inning finally ended.

And hey, JR kept him in; he even let him bat in the bottom of the third. He lasted for three more batters as Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge misplayed balls that would lead to another pair of runs.

Let's hope that extra frame doesn't come back to haunt Maholm's left arm down the road. He finished up with 95 pitches thrown in 3-1/3 frames.

And oddly enough, the Pirates could have escaped with no damage with a little luck. They had DP situations three times in the third and fourth innings, and got grounders. Two were chops that had to go to first, and the other was rolled through the hole for a single. When you're hot, you're hot...and when you're not, you're not.

The Bucs came back with two runs in the fourth on Garrett Jones' single to right. No diff; Brain Bass couldn't get the third out in the sixth, letting five consecutive Cards reach base with two away. DJ Carrasco came on to make it six when he beaned the next batter, making the score 11-2.

The Bucs tacked on a couple of more in the ninth, when a two-out Redbird boot was followed by three singles, making the final score 11-4. Ah well, le bonne temps couldn't last forever, especially when your staff walks eight, bops one, and can only whiff a pair after 205 pitches.

Tomorrow night features the return of Ross Ohlendorf, who hasn't pitched since April 7th, against Bronson Arroyo.

-- Looks like the Pirate pitching picture will be Ross Ohlendorf back, Brian Bass gone, Brian Burres as the fifth starter, and Jeff Karstens to the pen. We'll know for sure Monday.

-- The Bucco record going into this afternoon's game is 14-16. Its Pythagorean prediction is 8-22. The Pythagorean winning percentage is an estimate of a team's winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed, according to Baseball Reference. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky. Apparently, the Pirates have a standard-issue rabbit's foot.

-- And as long as we're looking at geek stats, we thought we'd take a peek at Fan Graphs and compare the outfield the Pirates traded - Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, and Xavier Nady - against the one we have: Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Garrett Jones, and Ryan Church.

Instead of crunching a zillion numbers, we decided to stick with the catch all Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value, or how many victories the players add or subtract from a team's performance weighed by both fielding and hitting production.

The Bucs 2010 WAR: McCutchen (+1.2); Jones (+0.4); Church (-0.2); and Milledge (-0.6). The current team total is +0.8, about a game better than average.

The Bye-Bye Bucs 2010 WAR: Nady (+0.1); Morgan (0); Bay (-0.1); and McLouth (-0.1). The traded guys are worth -0.1, just about average.

Now take these with a grain of salt. The season is young, the sample size small, and Bay is due for a hot streak while Nymo has been hurt. Still, the current snapshot makes Neal Huntington look a lot less clueless.

-- Brewers outfielder Jody Gerut hit for the cycle on Saturday, tallying a solo homer in the second inning, a bases-loading single in the third, an RBI triple in the fourth and a two-run double in the ninth.

Gerut was a Bucco from 2005-07, and was the return for Matt Lawton who was traded to the Cubs.

(GW and Will wish all the moms a happy and loving Mother's Day)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Who Sez They Need Four Runs?

Jeff Karstens just made the decision for the fifth starter a little more iffy, throwing a six inning, three-hit goose egg and lowering his ERA to 4.08 as the Bucs topped the Cards 2-0 in front of 25,000 fireworks fans.

This marks the fifth straight game that the Pirate starters have gone six innings or more while giving up two earned runs or fewer. The team, not too surprisingly, is 4-1 during that stretch. And that kind of performance helped put the resurgent bullpen back in order so JR can use his back end to close games rather than eat innings.

Pittsburgh got its runs from several unlikely sources: Steve Pearce scored on a Ronny Cedeno infield hit, his first of two on the night, and Lastings Milledge, who had stolen second despite a pitchout, came home on a two-out Jason Jaramillo knock, his third of the game.

Andrew McCutchen, looking comfy in the three hole, added a pair of doubles. He's hitting .436 (17-for-39) in his ten games at that spot in the order.

The game had its interesting moments. The second run was a gift; Pearce hit a shot to third baseman David Freese, who had Milledge trapped halfway between bases. But Freese opted to take the out at first, and Milledge scored a batter later.

Milledge was involved in another big play, too. Holding on to a 1-0 lead in the sixth, a two-out single into shallow left brought Ryan Ludwick thundering home from second. Milledge's throw was up the line quite a bit, and Jaramillo's swipe tag clearly missed him.

The baseball gods were smiling on the Bucs, though, after laughing at them yesterday. Plate umpire Marty Foster pointed at Jaramillo, he held the ball up, and Ludwick was rung up. So it goes down as Milledge's second assist, and the team is atop the MLB now with ten outfield assists on the season. Thanks, blue.

One other noteworthy moment came in the eighth. Joel Hanrahan had two on and two out, with Pirate killer Albert Pujols at the dish.

He started him off with two sliders, one low and the other fouled. The next pitch, a 96 MPH heater at the knees, froze Sir Albert for a called strike two, and he polished him off with another slider off the plate for a swinging strike three. Not often do Pirate pitchers get the best of Pujols, especially with the game on the line.

Karstens and Brian Burres both have done yeoman's work in helping to stem the bleeding from the Pirate rotation, going a collective 4-2 and contributing mightily to righting a sinking ship. But Ross Ohlendorf is due back Monday, and Brendan Donnelly on Thursday from the DL.

Obviously, one of them has to stay as the fifth starter. But who else goes? For once, a good dilemma for the Bucs, knowing that there is some talent on hand unlike the days of JVB and Yoslan Herrera.

Adam Wainwright and Paul Maholm go tomorrow afternoon in the deciding game of the series, followed by a three game visit by the Reds.

-- The Pirates tried to steal twice, and both times ran into pitchouts, the only two of the night. One was even on a 2-1 pitch. Maybe they ought to mix up their patterns a little better; just because the Pirates' opposition scouting hasn't been so hot doesn't mean other teams are asleep at the wheel, too.

-- With tonight's game, the Cards have now amassed sixteen quality starts in the past seventeen games. That's how teams win divisions.

-- The Bucs haven't given up at all on slumping Jeff Clement. They think his problem is an exaggerated leg kick that causes a negative domino effect on his swing, so Donnie Long is spending time trying to quiet his footwork. It's what they were working on with John Raynor before his return to the Marlins.

-- Lastings Milledge is another work in progress for Long. He's been focused so much on hitting the ball to the opposite field that he had begun diving over the plate during his swing. So they're working on getting him to stay straight up and pull again. That may help explain why 56% of the balls he's put in play this year have been grounders, many soft rollers to second.

-- John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports gives Neal Huntington an incomplete grade for his rebuilding program so far, although he admits to being "skeptical" of the dealing overall.

-- Lasting Milledge's non grand-slam Thursday night was the topic of Dave Brown's Yahoo!Sports Big League Stew blog.

-- Baseball America's Prospect Hot sheet has three Bucco youngsters highlighted today: Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, and Jose Tabata. Not only that, but in keeping with the Pirate love theme, Bryan Bullington gets a nod, too.

-- 47-year-old Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a complete game shutout yesterday, holding the Braves to just two hits in a 7-0 victory. The previous record holder was Phil Niekro, when he did it for the Yankees at the age of 46 in 1986.