Wednesday, June 30, 2010

So Who Needs Hits?

Hey, Pirate pitchers past and present did a pretty good job today. Bad Brad Lincoln notched his first MLB win, going seven shutout frames with four hits allowed, a walk, a hit batter, and six K's.

Tom Gorzelanny threw five goose eggs at his old teammates, yielding no runs on four hits with three walks and five whiffs. But in the end, the Bucco bullpen outshone the Cubbie's relievers, and Pittsburgh got a 2-0 getaway win.

Lincoln only had one worrisome inning, the fifth. Aramis Ramirez singled, and with two out, Starlin Castro lined a double just over Garrett Jones' big mitt, putting Cubs on second and third with two out.

But Lincoln showed some poise and struck out lefty pinch-batter Tyler Colvin on a hook, and that was pretty much the Cub's last hurrah; they would only get two more hits over the final four frames.

Before that, it was a case of the big hit that wasn't for Pittsburgh. The Pirates had two on with one out in the fourth, but Dewey grounded into a double play. Pedro Alvarez and Lastings Milledge hit back-to-back singles to start the fifth, but with two outs and the bases loaded, Andy LaRoche rolled out to short.

The Cubs would soon come to the Pirate's aid, though, and for a welcome change they accepted opportunity with open arms.

LaRoche was given a one-out gift when A-Ram dropped his bouncer to third. Andrew McCutchen followed with a single, and Garrett Jones' doubled home a run.

Chicago intentionally walked Doumit to load the bases, and brought on LHP Sean Marshall to face Alvarez. Good move; he struck Pedro out. Milledge didn't have a two-out hit up his sleeve, but hey, with the bases juiced, he did draw a walk to make it 2-0 Pirates.

Joel Hanrahan struck out two of three hitters he faced, and Octavio Dotel gave up his obligatory hit before putting Chicago to bed and ring up his sixteenth save - and seven have been against Sweet Lou's boys.

For Lincoln, it was a nice follow-up to a decent performance last outing. This time he tossed the out pitch when he needed it, and even coaxed a couple of DP balls. Bad Brad also showed that he can miss some bats this afternoon, and that's a welcome sign.

Cole Hamels will match up against Daniel McCutchen tomorrow night, as the Bucs return home for a quick four-game stand against the Phils. They'll visit Houston and Milwaukee before coasting into the All-Star break.

-- Bobby Crosby is expected to be ready to go tomorrow after his collision with Lastings Milledge put him on ice for three games.

-- The Nat's trade from last year is beginning to look like a win-win. Joel Hanrahan has become a back end force, compared to Sean Burnett's mid-game slot.

Lastings Milledge is hitting .273/.344/.373 with a homer, 20 runs, and 24 RBI. Nyjer Morgan is at .251/.312/.324 with 35 runs scored and 12 RBI (and Nyjmo has 75 more plate appearances). The Pirates got a six-hole hitter, Washington got a leadoff guy, and both sides probably got what they wanted.

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors featured the deal today; here's how he summarizes it:
I'd rather have Hanrahan than Burnett at this point, and the Pirates' reliever is under team control for an extra season. Morgan's last two months have been discouraging, but he might be better than Milledge defensively and is under control for an extra year. While the Nationals are ahead 0.9 in WAR, this challenge trade remains something of a toss-up a year later.
-- C Erik Kratz was the only player from Indy to be selected for the International League All-Star team. Kratz went into today hitting .306 with 27 doubles, eight homers and 30 RBIs in 47 games.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Soriano Outscores Pirates

In the first, the two run-challenged teams tried to stage two-out rallies; both fizzled after a pair of singles. But the Cubs drew first blood in the second when Koyie Hill stroked a high heater off the plate the opposite way into the left field corner for a double, moved to third on Dewey's passed ball, and scored on a sac fly.

Ted Lilly was putting on a clinic over the first three frames; he threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the 11 hitters he faced, and was credited with an amazing 29 strikes out of 34 tosses. Jeff Karstens wasn't far behind; 9 of his first 12 batters were started off with strikes, and he threw 32 strikes out of 41 pitches.

The futility continued; Garrett Jones singled, but was caught trying to go to second on a ball in the dirt. Lastings Milledge walked afterward, but a Pedro fly to center ended the action.

With two away in the fourth, Karstens saw a first-pitch curve jerked into the left center field seats by Alfonso Soriano; that's Karstens' curse, his twelfth dinger surrendered in 65 innings. Hill followed with another double on a first pitch heater. After an intentional walk, he got Lilly to pop out. It was 2-0 Cubbies after four.

Dewey got one back in the fifth when he pulled one up the line on a 3-2 pitch for his seventh of the year; Cedeno tried to match him, but flew out deep to right center. Lilly got Karstens and Jose Tabata routinely, but the Bucs were at least on the board, down 2-1.

Soriano made up for that with two away in the sixth, when he pulled Karstens' high cutter on the inside half of the plate into the left field stands, his second long ball of the game, making it 3-1.

The Pirates banged the ball around a little in the seventh. Pedro got a one-out single to the shortstop hole, and Ryan Doumit doubled into the left field corner to put runners at second and third.

But Cedeno popped out on the first pitch, an inside heater, and pinch hitter Ryan Church (.175) whiffed, swinging at balls Manny Sanguillen couldn't hit.

How many guys have been stranded at third this year with less than two outs? With Bobby Crosby and Neil Walker out, JR's hands are tied in the late innings; he only has a three man bench to work with. Crosby may return tomorrow; it'll still be a couple of days before Walker's status is determined.

For Karstens, it was a line of six innings, three runs (two earned), seven hits, one walk (intentional) and two K's.

Javier Lopez came on. He gave up a double to Starlin Castro on a ball hit to left center, then got Xavier Nady and Kosuke Fukudome. JR went for the righty-righty matchup, and brought in Brendan Donnelly to face Ryan Theriot. He walked him in a hard fought, eleven-pitch at-bat, but came back to strike out Derrek Lee.

Ted Lilly went seven innings, giving up a run on six hits, a walk, and five strikeouts. Sean Marshall replaced him in the eighth. He gave up a one-out single to Andy LaRoche, but McCutch pounded a down Broadway heater to second for a 4-6-3 DP.

DJ Carrasco held the fort. No matter. Carlos Marmol blew the Bucs away in the ninth, ending the game by striking out Pedro, who swung and missed two pitches he couldn't have hit with sand wedge. And the beat goes on.

Brad Lincoln goes against Tom Gorzelanny tomorrow afternoon, an interesting contrast of Pittsburgh's next big thing vs. one of its past big things.

-- Today was the first appearance at Wrigley Field for Brendan Donnelly. He's pitched in 32 ballparks during his seven-year career; make it 33 now.

-- Zach Duke is expected to miss another pair of starts with a stiff elbow. That puts his return date on July 11th or so. Daniel McCutchen is still here, so it looks like he'll get at least the next spot.

The Pirates seem content to leave Charlie Morton in Indy until he proves his success is repeatable, a pretty sound idea. CM had a rough outing tonight, working three innings and giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits with three walks and three K's.

-- The dismal Pirate record has been a combination of several things, with fielding high on the list. They have committed errors in six of their past seven games, are second in the NL in errors, and last in double plays turned.

-- The Pirates are one of two teams in MLB without a complete game in 2010; the other is the LA Dodgers. Paul Maholm's eight inning outing yesterday was the Bucs' longest stint of the year.

-- Has anyone noticed how much the Pirate attack has sputtered since Neil Walker went down?

-- The Pirates are in a quandary with Steve Pearce. He's tearing it up at Indy, but Garrett Jones and Lastings Milledge are now the everyday tandem, so there's no place to put Pearce when he returns. We wonder if they're trying to build his value in AAA. We'll see soon; his rehab is up July 4th, but he still has an option.

-- Five Altoona Curve players made the Eastern League All-Star roster. They are catcher Hector Gimenez (.324, 11/40), first baseman Matt Hague (.299, 6/43), infielder Josh Harrison (.313, 1/41), right-handed pitcher Derek Hankins (5-1, 1.60) and left-handed pitcher Rudy Owens (7-3, 2.74).

-- LHP Jack Taschner, who opted for free agency earlier this month after being DFA'ed by the Pirates, signed with the Dodgers and been assigned to AAA Albuquerque.

-- Ramon Vazquez got chopped by Seattle; now he's Astro's property, playing for AAA Round Rock.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thank God For the Cubs!

Well, Paul Maholm made it out of the first today, though the second gave him a little problem. A-Ram singled to lead off the inning and made it to third after Geovany Soto doubled on a pop fly just inside the right field chalk with one out.

The two-bagger came with a little drama when Lastings Milledge kneed Bobby Crosby in the process. Hey, you RF's, give the second basemen a little love! It'as not like there are that many on the roster to spare.

A slow roller to third brought him in, and almost set up a big frame when Pedro threw it wide trying to cut down the lead man at home, leaving runners at second and third. He made amends when he held the runner on the next ball hit ball to him, and Maholm closed out the frame without further ado.

At any rate, we found out that Andy LaRoche doesn't have the 2B position down yet; Delwyn Young got the call to replace Crosby in the third after he exhibited the dreaded concussion-like symptoms trying to run out a grounder.

The Bucs took a two-out gift in the third when Jose Tabata singled, stole second, and trotted home when Andrew McCutchen's liner got lost in the lights and was turned into a triple instead of a hard hit out. Garrett Jones got that when he roped one to center that hooked back to a sliding Marlon Byrd.

And actually, Randy Wells was trying to help out the Bucs; he walked four in the first four innings. But with 5 K's, there weren't many balls being put in play to move those runners along.

The game became a pitching duel; Wells left after six, and two relievers held the Bucs off the board in the seventh. Maholm got himself in a pickle, though. With one out, he gave up a ground ball double over first, followed by an 0-2 rope into left. But with runners on the corners, he got a 6-4-3, with Young turning a perfect pivot.

The Pirates made some noise in the eighth, getting runners to second and third with two gone. But Pedro went down swinging against Andrew Cashner's 98 MPH heat.

They tried it again in the ninth. Dewey led off with a single, was bunted to second, and pinch hitter Ryan Church walked. Then Tabata almost doubled into disaster off Carlos Marmal; his slicing ball landed at the base of the wall, but Doumit was heading back to second to tag up!

He beat the throw home by a half step; Dewey didn't even slide. That, on top of last night's escapades, might have driven JR to the brink. But score he did, and the Pirates took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

Maholm was sharp tonight, working his heater and curve with great command. He went eight innings - and did the bullpen need that break! - giving up a run on seven hits, with 2 K's and no walks.

Octavio Dotel took the hill for the ninth. The start was a little dicey; he fell behind Aramis Ramirez 3-1, and after a couple of fouls, drilled him in the shoulder. But then he got down to business, and nailed the next three Cubbies swinging, on a slider and two heaters.

So hey, the streak is broken.

Jeff Karstens faces Ted Lilly in the second game tomorrow night.

-- Neil Walker passed his MRI but still has concussion-like symptoms. he'll be examined by a specialist tomorrow. The Pirates will have to make a decision soon. They can't play two men down if Crosby and/or The Pittsburgh Kid are hurt for any appreciable amount of time, and they are starting to run short of second basemen, too. Maybe Aki's in Indy sticking pins into voodoo dolls; how else can you explain the sudden rash of crashes?

-- Paul Maholm broke a 38 at-bat hitless streak dating back to last year when he fisted a ball into left in the fifth frame, just in front of a charging Alfonso Soriano. He also became the first Pirate starter this year to work more than seven innings, 76 games into the season - how's that for a streak?

-- The Pirates are now 8-2 against their long time tormentors, the Cubbies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

You'd Have To See It To Believe It

Nothing like throwing the ball around to get a game going. In a scoreless third, Ross Ohlendorf walked the nine hitter (yah, Pittsburgh has a lot of respect for the bottom of the order.) Ohlie caught him leaning, and made a quick toss to first; a toss on the base had him.

But it was a little offline, toward right field, and got away from Garrett Jones. With the big foul area, Cliff pennington was flying to third. Jones' throw - and he does have an outfielder's arm - was just a tad late, bounced off the runner, and that quick, it was 1-0 A's.

In the fifth, Pittsburgh tried to hand the game over to Oakland. The first batter walked, McCutch had a ball clang off his glove after a long run, and Ohlie didn't cover first on a grounder to first, and made things worse by walking in a run.

The bases were still juiced with no one out, but a pop-up, soft liner off the bat handle, and another soft liner into center ended the frame without any additional mayhem.

After six, Ohlie had given up two hits, but walked four. Two were leadoff walks that scored; the other was with the bases loaded. Still, a clean game in the field would have the teams in a scoreless deadlock instead of a 2-0 A's lead.

He left then with two unearned runs scored against him and three K's. He looked better, but his command still isn't there, as his 105 pitches showed.

The Pirates also drew four free passes in six innings off of Gio Gonzalez; two were stranded at first and two were erased on DP's. Different strokes...

But hey, hope springs eternal. Lastings Milledge finally threw the monkey off his back when he led off the frame with his first homer over the 362' mark in left center, putting the fork in Gonzalez. Andy LaRoche singled into right, advanced to third on a pair of ground outs, and came in on Jose Tabata's double to tie it up 2-2.

But hey, this is the Pirates we're talking about. With two outs in the eighth, Kurt Suzuki hit a foul pop between Jones and Jason Jaramillo; it was in no man's land and though it appeared that Jones waved for it, JJ stuck his mitt under the ball - and it popped out. Two pitches later, Suzuki pulled an Evan Meek heater down the line for his tenth homer and the A's regained the lead.

Pittsburgh didn't quit. Delwyn Young started off with a single, but the star-crossed Jaramillo bounced into a DP; talk about a bad coupla minutes. Pedro came up to pinch hit, and drew a four pitch walk. Tabata then banged a ball that was headed into right field, but it clipped Alvarez's back heel as he headed to second; end of game.

Oakland had three hits, and won 3-2. The Pirates gave up three unearned runs on four errors and four more walks, hit into three double plays, and were 1-for-9 with RISP. And the streak goes on.

The guys are playing with the weight of the world on their shoulders, and it shows. Every mistake comes back to haunt them, and they're making plenty of them. The team doesn't need any more meetings; it needs to relax.

When they land in Pittsburgh Wednesday, the team bus should head straight to Atria's instead of PNC. A band and a couple of cold ones would probably do the squad more good than extra BP or grounders at this stage of the season.

Paul Maholm takes on Randy Wells at Wrigley tomorrow evening.

-- Pedro got the day off against the lefty Gonzalez, a good move by JR to let the kid take a deep breath. Andy LaRoche got the start at third. He also used Ryan Doumit as the DH, so it does seem the first base nonsense is done.

-- Luke Adams of MLB Trade Rumors notes that "D.J. Carrasco could be traded before the deadline. Carrasco's numbers this season haven't been overly impressive (4.12 ERA, 1.76 K/BB)...but the right-hander should draw some interest."

Helping fuel the speculation is the league-wide perception that the bullpen market is quite thin this summer; DJ won't be the only reliever that the Bucs dangle; Javier Lopez has to be high on the list, too. We'd venture that everyone not named Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan is fair game.

Another Day, Another Loss

The A's and Bucs were looking good, sporting their throwback polyester unis. Oakland even started off like the old A's, plating a run with a lead off check swing single, stolen base, and double, but Daniel McCutchen came back to get the next three hitters, holding it to a 1-0 hole after one.

It didn't get any better in the second. With a runner at first and two away, Coco Crisp, who's hitting the Pirates almost as well as Josh Hamilton did at Texas, hit a liner right at Bobby Crosby, but a quick tail at the end carried it past him. Then a Daric Barton double, his second and on an 0-2 pitch, brought them both home.

In two frames, Crisp had a pair runs scored while Barton had 3 RBI. That's a nice job for the 1-2 hitters, hey?

But DM settled in, and put up a couple of zeroes until two out in the fifth, when Kurt Suzuki lifted a heater over the 388 mark to make it 4-0. That's six home runs in 17 innings for McCutchen, and a major part of his troubles in Pittsburgh.

He went six innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with two walks and a K. And if he had a do-over on a pair of two-out fastballs to Barton and Suzuki that tailed back over the plate, it would have been a nice outing.

Justin Thomas came in, and was bitten by the Crisp-Barton tag team; he walked Coco and Daric doubled him in to make 5-0 after seven.

Trevor Cahill was merrily mowing down the Bucs. He ran out of gas in the eighth, giving up a single and walk. Cahill left after 7-2/3 innings, yielding two hits, three walks, and striking out a career high ten; his previous best had been seven.

The Pirates went down quietly; they had four well hit balls the entire game - Milledge lined a single and flew out to the 400' mark, as did Garrett Jones, and McCutch smoked one to center, but right at Crisp.

Pedro had another rough night; two K's and a grounder to short. He's a notoriously slow starter, but we'd really like to see some contact, even fouls; right now he's swinging through everything.

Ross Ohlendorf will go against Gio Gonzalez tomorrow afternoon.

-- Neil Walker will miss the rest of the Oakland series with a concussion, and is day-to-day beyond that after taking a Ryan Church knee to the noggin last night. He'll get another exam Monday in Pittsburgh, so he'll likely miss the Cub series, too.

It doesn't seem like he'll have to go on the DL - we'll know about that early next week - which isn't a problem at Oakland, but leaves the team one player short when NL action picks up again Monday.

Bobby Crosby will slide to second, and Ronny Cedeno is back at short; guess Andy LaRoche isn't quite ready for prime time yet.

-- Lastings Milledge made it back into the lineup, even with a righty on the hill. Church has a good mitt, but he's hitting like Aki - and look what happened to him.

-- As expected, Steven Jackson was sent back to Indy and replaced on the roster by Daniel McCutchen.

-- The Pirates have now lost 16 straight road games, the longest stretch of futility since a 19 game streak by the 1985 team.

-- Pittsburgh isn't the only team that can't pack the fans in. Texas, with their long winning streak, had a crowd of 19,567 on Thursday and Oakland only drew 11,154 last night. Oakland brought in 25,000 tonight, but it was their championship celebration; PNC sold out for its 1960 party.

Kinda makes one appreciate the job they do in St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee in keeping their parks filled.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

We Stayed Up All Night For This?

The Pirates gave Brad Lincoln a quick 2-0 lead; like last night, it wouldn't last. Pittsburgh jumped ahead on an Andrew McCutchen double to plate Neil Walker and a boot to score McClutch.

A ground ball single and walk came home to tie it in the A's half of the frame when with two outs, Walker botched a ball to let one tally in and the next batter singled in another.

Dewey doubled McCutch, who was on first after a sac bunt attempt went awry, in to go ahead 3-2 in the third. The Bay Area club came back with another pair of ground ball hits and a walk, followed by a line single and sac fly to go back on top 4-3.

The A's tacked on another run in the fourth when Coco Crisp tripled against another counter-intuitive defense; the lefty was being played well into left center by McCutch, and hit one tinto right center that McC was too far over to run down. A sac fly brought him home.

Walker brought the Bucs a run closer when he belted his third homer over the right field scoreboard, his first as a lefty and the team's first in the fifth inning, according to FSN's Tim Neverett.

Bad Brad kept it together long enough to go six innings, throwing 107 pitches. He gave up eight hits, five runs (three earned) while walking a pair and whiffing one, the last hitter he faced. Lincoln did a better job of keeping the ball down, but his control is still an issue, as is his ability to miss bats; we suspect the two are interrelated.

Ben Sheets would join him, going six frames, giving up four runs on eight hits with a walk and nine K's.

The seventh started with a diving Walker getting run over by Ryan Church when both went after a foul fly; The Pittsburgh Kid went down and had to leave the game. Kevin Kouzmanoff, given new life, dumped a pop double into the same spot except on the other side of the chalk.

DJ Carrasco got himself into more trouble when he was caught spectating on a grounder to first and allowed himself to be beat to the bag - by the A's catcher Kurt Suzuki! First and third, no one out. Ryan Sweeney lined a double over first base just past the mitt of Garrett Jones, and the game was approaching fat lady time.

Javier Lopez came on, and got a grounder with the drawn-up infield to keep the runners anchored. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but JR kept his fielders in. Cliff Pennington, a .219 hitter from the right side, banged a potential DP ball through the defense to plate a pair.

We understand why JR had the infield up; he could have just as easily kept the middle back and corners in, and may have been out of the inning. Ah, hindsight.

Brendan Donnelly was the third pitcher of the inning; two singles, a walk, a wild pitch, and an around-the-horn double play that wasn't turned later, and it was 12-4 Oakland.

But it's not to be totally unexpected that the bullpen is going to get rocked; Pirate pitchers rarely get into the seventh, and the relievers, despite JR's best efforts, can't catch their breath. Maholm's one inning start only exacerbated an already volatile situation.

Justin Thomas made his debut in the eighth; he gave up an infield single, a triple on a 3-2 pitch when he threw a BP fastball, and a sac fly to make it 14-4. He was up all inning, perhaps because of butterflies, or maybe that's where he works; it's too soon to tell.

The Bucs went down quietly, and 14-4 was the final count. And if the Pirates rotation doesn't come around soon, there may be a lot more like this down the road.

Daniel McCutchen faces Trevor Cahill tomorrow. A good showing by DM and he'll probably get another start; a bad day at the office could be Charlie Morton's ticket back to the 'Burgh.

-- Neil Walker was taken to a local hospital after his collision with Ryan Church for overnight observation to see if he has any concussion-like symptoms; he probably hasn't taken a hit like tonight's since his Pine-Richland gridiron days. He walked off the field under his own steam and was alert and talking to the Oakland team doctors in the clubhouse.

-- Positions 1-5 in the batting order cranked out nine hits tonight; 6-9 had zero (Bobby Crosby finally had an 0-for). With Pedro going through growing pains - his swing looks long, and the league is working him away, at least until he shortens it up some and can get to the outside corner in time - we wonder how long JR is going to insist on a right field platoon.

Lastings Milledge is hitting .263 against righties; Ryan Church .190 going into tonight's game (and Church was 0-for-4). It doesn't take a SABRE-tician to figure out that Pittsburgh is more dangerous, relatively speaking, with Milledge at the dish. Church is a better right fielder, but Milledge played left OK; there's no reason to believe he won't figure out right, too, given some time.

Milledge at 26 is still young enough that the team should be evaluating his worth down the road; there are no OF'ers that are MLB ready in the system now that Jose Tabata has been called up. So they should be working him to determine if he'll be the 2011 RF, if Garrett Jones should return to the pasture, or if the team needs to go free agent next season.

And that decision will affect the Pittsburgh careers of Steve Pearce and Jeff Clement. The dominoes will fall once they decide what Milledge's future holds and where Jones fits in, and they can't figure that out with Milledge collecting splinters.

Friday, June 25, 2010

This 'N' That...

-- Oakland is the only AL team that the Pirates have never beaten in interleague play. The Pirates were swept in Oakland in 2004 and broomed by the A's at PNC in 2002.

The Pirates have lost 15 of the last 17 games; the A's have lost 7 of their last 8 and 11 of the past 14. A clash of Titans, hey?

-- And, by the way, the Bucs are a pretty popular good luck charm. The White Sox have won 13-of-14 and nine in a row since sweeping the Pirates. The Rangers, as we well know, have won eleven in a row and 14 of their last 15 games, including their just-concluded sweep of Pittsburgh. Are the Pirates running into red hot teams or the reason the teams are red hot?

-- Bobby Crosby is 10-for-15 in his last four games.

-- In case you're wondering when rehab ends for Charlie Morton and Steve Pearce: The Pirates have until July 5th to decide whether to bring Morton back to Pittsburgh or option him to Indy. The Pirates can run Pearce's rehab work to July 6th.

If they option either one to Indy after the rehab deadline passes, they have to stay in AAA ten days before being eligible to return to the big club.

-- Aki Iwamura will split time playing second and third with Indy; he'll alternate at those spots with Jimmy Negrych.

-- The Phils will be playing a three game away series against Toronto - in Philadelphia! The venue got switched because the fine burg of Toronto is hosting the G-20 convention. Geez, didn't stop the Buccos from playing at PNC last year, even with hippies dangling off the bridge.

-- Gorzo is lookin' good as a new Cubby starter. Seems like the Big Z pulled a looney on soft-spoken Carlos Lee over a missed grounder and got yanked for Gorzelanny. And you thought only Pittsburgh had psycho pitchers.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Only In Horshoes...

Scott Feldman started off the way every pitcher dreams of, by striking out the side on the first. His problem was the guys that actually hit the ball; he was down 4-0 before the Rangers could get to the bat rack.

Jose Tabata singled, Andrew McCutchen walked, and Garrett Jones singled in a run. But punchouts of Neil Walker and Ryan Church had them anchored at first and second with two away. No problem; Pedro brought them both home with a double over third base, and Dewey singled him in.

Lastings Milledge looked at strike three - you gotta be alert with Joe West calling balls and strikes - but a 4-0 start is just what the doc ordered for the struggling Pirates.

The Bucs gift-wrapped a run for the Rangers, and only a nice job by Jeff Karstens kept them to one tally. Bobby Crosby muffed a routine grounder, and Milledge misplayed a fly into a double. But Karstens got a pop up and two weak bouncers to limit the damage.

One thing we've noticed about Pedro is that he pulls up on balls hit toward the hole, conceding them to the SS. It led to a one-out single in the third; the big guy will have to learn to be more aggressive at the hot corner, one of many lessons he has yet to absorb.

The Bucs got another run in the fourth, thanks to breaks both good and bad. Dewey started off with an infield single when the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Milledge lined a single into right, and a Crosby bunt loaded the bases when the ump ruled the second baseman didn't touch the bag; replays were inconclusive.

Bases loaded, no outs - all good, right? Well, no. Tabata hit a ball right on the nose, but also right at the left fielder. A Walker sac fly brought in a run, and when Josh Hamilton dropped the ball while trying to make the throw in, the runners advanced.

But Joe West rung up McCutchen on a pitch that didn't look close to the plate. Hey, we'll take the run; two big innings in a game is just too much to expect.

The fourth is apparently the frame of reckoning for Pirate pitchers; Karstens began grooving the ball, and a single, double, and two flies to the track later, it was a 5-3 game. Almost every ball was tattoed.

But Karstens hadn't hit the wall yet, just a bump, and he got through the fifth handily. Not so the sixth; a single and walk sandwiched around a strikeout was enough for JR; he called for Brendan Donnelly to go after the bottom of the order.

Well, part of it, anyway. BD whiffed the righty Matt Treanor, and Captain Hook called on Javier Lopez to deal with lefty Julio Borbon. Lopez got a comebacker tapped to him.

The Bucs refused to add on. They put the lead runner on five times in the first seven innings, but two DP's and two caught-stealings help put a damper on the fast starts. And five is a bad number to be stuck on against a team that averages six runs per game at home.

As Evan Meek quickly proved. He struck out Elvis Andrus, but West missed the call (no surprise there), and he singled two pitches later. Then Michael Young hit one into right, fair by inches, and Milledge took a bad route, dove and missed it, allowing the ball to roll for a triple. A hung curve and single later, and it was a 5-5 game.

In the bottom of the eighth, Andrew McCutchen made a sweet sliding catch at the track to save extra bases; Borbon made one just as clutch in the ninth, when with runners on the corners and two away, he flat outran Walker's drive to the fence.

Steven Jackson came on in the ninth, and the knock against him is his control. With one away, he walked Andrus, Young got a ground ball single through the hole with the infield cheating toward the middle for a DP, and Bad Vlad roped a two-out liner into left on a 1-2 pitch - and it was well off the plate - to win it for the Rangers.

For the Pirates, they may have lost it when they couldn't take full advantage of loading the bases with nobody away in the fourth, or the two balls Milledge misplayed (and the wind may have caused both botches; Hamilton in left for the Rangers had problems with a couple of flies that looked like they moved on him), or the Crosby boot, or walking the most accomplished runner on the team...

Games are determined one pitch, one swing, one catch, one call, at a time. They say victory has a thousand fathers. Well, so does defeat.

Brad Lincoln will face Ben Sheets in Oakland tomorrow night.

-- The pitcher-go-round: LHP Justin Thomas and RHP Steven Jackson got the call to replace sore-elbowed Zach Duke and Dana Eveland, who allowed nine earned runs on 15 hits in 9-2/3 innings with Pittsburgh. It's the third time Eveland has been designated for assignment this year.

One of the call-ups will go back Friday to make room for Saturday's starting pitcher. It's lookin' a lot like Daniel McCutchen (4-5, 3.86 ERA) will go on the weekend, as Charlie Morton pitched tonight (and well) while Brian Burres threw last night.

We'd expect them to keep Thomas; he's a second lefty to replace Jack Taschner and been brilliant at Indy. The 26-year old southpaw was 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA, putting up a line of 19 hits, 3 walks (he's beaned more, with four) and 34 K's in 34-2/3 frames. His WHIP is an unreal 0.635.

-- We missed it on TV (maybe it wasn't shown or maybe we were on a beer run) but the beat guys reported that Lastings Milledge had some words with Gary Varsho on the bench, presumably about the bad routes to fly balls, and an animated one-way discussion with Bobby Crosby after the pair missed a hit-and-run; somebody got their signs crossed and Milledge was easily thrown out at second.

Doesn't sound like a huge thing, though one never knows how the management will take an outburst. We're surprised with their play of late that their hasn't been a little more growling; maybe the team's as laid back as their skipper.

-- Garrett Jones had a twelve game hitting streak broken last night; he started on a new one in his first at-bat tonight.

-- The Pirates have dropped their last 14 games away from PNC Park, dating to May 25th. They're 2-10 in interleague play this year, beating only the Indians. And they go to Oakland after tonight's game; they're 0-6 against the A's. Of course, Oakland has lost 6 of the past 7 games, so some streak has to come to a halt.

--It'll look like a softball game Saturday at Oakland. It's 70s throwback night, so the Bucs will be in black and gold and the A's in Kelly green and gold. Maybe Pedro can channel Pops.

-- Charlie Morton pitched a complete game victory tonight, giving up a run on two hits with four K's and a walk.

-- The Pirates promoted reliever Dan Moskos and OF Alex Presley to Indy. Neither is a reach, as both have been sharp at Altoona and deserved the call.

-- Tony Sanchez will get surgery for his broken jaw. It will cost him most, if not all, of the remaining 2010 season. So much for fast tracking him this year, hey?


Let's see...Paul Maholm, Mr. Dependabiltiy, gets rocked. Dana Eveland gets rocked. Zach Duke is on the DL; he'll miss two more starts. Ross Ohlendorf hasn't recaptured his 2009 form. Brad Lincoln is a raw rookie. Jeff Karstens, who didn't make the original 40-man roster, is the only starter beside Maholm to have a sub-5 ERA and has been the team's stopper.

Charlie Morton, Daniel McCutchen, Brian Burres, and Hayden Penn are the cavalry at Indy now that Kevin Hart and Donnie Veal are hors d' combat for 2010.

Geez, Tom Gorzelanny would look good about now.

(EDIT - and they cut Eveland today, after giving up middlin' prospect Ronald Uviedo to Toronto for him. So in effect, they've lost two pitchers. Good job of evaluating, hey?)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rangers Play Long Ball

Hey, nothing a quick start to a game; Neil Walker doubled and Garrett Jones dinked him home with a two-out single to center. Nothin' like a fast 1-0 lead.

The only ominous sign early on was that though the Pirates had five hits off Tommy Hunter in three innings, four were two-out singles. Gotta get those innings started a little sooner, guys.

However, Ross Ohlendorf was on from the git-go. He retired the first nine Rangers he faced, six on ground balls, and was avoiding the middle of the plate religiously.

The Pirates tried it the opposite way when Pedro Alvarez and Dewey led off the fourth with singles; Pedro got into third on a risky but successful dash. He scored when Lastings Milledge's roller to first was thrown wide of home, leaving guys on first and second with nobody out and a 2-0 lead.

But Bobby Crosby fouled a pair of bunts and struck out on a slider; Jose Tabata and Neil Walker both roped balls after that, but right at outfielders. The Pirates had stranded six and gone 1-for-7 with RISP in just four frames.

Unfortunately for Ohlie, his heater started to catch the plate in the fourth. With one out, Michael Young belted one into the right field stands, followed by Ian Knsler lining the next pitch, a fast ball, into left; it was held to a single on a nice hustle play and throw by Tabata.

Vlad Guerrero hit another yet heater on the nose, but right at Pedro, who doubled up Kinsler at first. But like so many promising Pirate outings, once a crack shows, the performance is ready to fall apart.

In the fifth, Ohlie gave a double to Josh Hamilton, scorched over Andrew McCutchen's head. He came back to get a ground out and pop up, and then lost it. He walked eight hitter Matt Treanor, a righty, and got the lefty Julio Borbon, who took a changeup over the fence. Two outs, bottom of the order...

An infield single was followed by a wild pick-off throw and another walk; JR gave him the hook. It was the latest in a series of bad starts for the Texan; he lasted 4-2/3 innings, gave up four runs on five hits with two walks (after going through the Ranger order perfectly through three frames) and one K. He's 0-6 with a 5.43 ERA.

The Bucs got one back in the sixth, when a Milledge double led to a Ryan Doumit throw-out at the plate after he was inexplicably waved home by Tony Beasley. Crosby followed with a two-out double to score Milledge, making it 4-3. Another chance squandered.

The Rangers put that run back in one swing when Josh Hamilton lifted a DJ Carrasco cutter into the batter's eye in center.

Carrasco sandwiched a pair of walks around a bunt in the seventh, and Captain Hook came to get him. Javier Lopez did the job, getting a DP roller to end the frame.

He wasn't quite up to the task in the eighth. A leadoff single, a walk, and a base-advancing bouncer ended his night. Brendan Donnelly came on and gave up a sac fly, making it 6-3 with one at-bat to go.

The Pirates didn't cause much trouble in the late going. The Rangers retired nine of the last ten batters, and 6-3 was the final.

The Rangers are now on a nine game winning streak, and the pitching will have to come up big to stop them. It didn't tonight; three homers to go along with six walks is giving Texas too much opportunity.

Paul Maholm takes on Dustin Nippert tomorrow night.

-- The Pirates announced that the Dewey experiment at first has ended, by mutual agreement.

-- Garrett Jones extended his hitting streak to 12 games.

-- This was the first time ever that the Pirates played in the Ballpark at Arlington.

-- Zach Duke, who missed tonight's start, is still being evaluated for his elbow stiffness; he may go on the 15-day DL.

-- Aki Iwamura is still a Bucco; the suits couldn't find any takers, and rather than give up his contract, Aki will report to Indy on Friday. It'll be interesting to see if they play him at second or try to up his value some by returning him to the hot corner. There's been a big vacancy there since last week...

-- Bradenton catcher Tony Sanchez was taken to the hospital today after being struck in the face by a pitch. The CT scan showed what may be two small fractures in his jaw. A specialist is scheduled to review the scans for a second opinion. Sanchez had already missed time earlier this month when he was beaned and suffered concussion-like symptoms.

-- Bradenton shortstop Brock Holt will have surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee, and is out for the season after Pirate officials denied a local newspaper report that he had torn the MCL. Either one was plenty to kiss 2010 goodbye.

Contract Status

OK, the Bucs have about drained their minors. That means there may be a bit of a lag before additional cavalry arrives from within the system, but it also means that the team has a pretty wide window as far as player control goes. The contractual status of the team now is:

Free agents 2011: Brendan Donnelly (contract ends 2010), Octavio Dotel (contract ends 2010; club option 2011), Bobby Crosby (contract ends 2010).

Free agents 2012: Ronny Cedeno (3rd year arb 2011), Ryan Church (contract ends 2010, 4th arb year 2011), Ryan Doumit (contract ends 2011; club options 2012-13), Zach Duke (contract ends 2010; 3rd arb year 2011), Paul Maholm (contract ends 2011; club option 2012).

Free agents 2013: Pedro Alvarez (contract ends 2012, club options 2013-14), DJ Carrasco (contract ends 2010, 4th arb year 2012), Javier Lopez (contract up 2010, 4th arb year 2012).

Free agents 2014: Brian Burres (3rd year arb 2013), Joel Hanrahan (3rd arb year 2013), Jeff Karstens (3rd arb year 2013), Andy LaRoche (3rd arb year 2013), Evan Meek (3rd year arb 2013), Lastings Milledge (3rd arb year 2013), Delwyn Young (3rd arb year 2013).

Free agents 2015:
Dana Eveland (3rd arb year 2014), Jason Jaramillo (3rd arb year 2014), Charlie Morton (3rd arb year 2014), Ross Ohlendorf (4th arb year 2014).

Free agents 2016: Garrett Jones (3rd arb year 2015), Andrew McCutchen (3rd arb year 2015), Steve Pearce (3rd arb year 2015).

Free agent 2017: Jeff Clement (3rd arb year 2016?), Brad Lincoln (3rd arb year 2016), Jose Tabata (3rd arb year 2016), Neil Walker (3rd arb year 2016).

(Note: "4th year arb" represents players that qualified for Super Two status and earned an extra season of arbitration eligibility. We used the end date of guaranteed contracts as the free agency trigger, and noted if there were any options involved to possibly extend the date.)

Obviously, they're not keeping all their arb-eligible guys or picking up every option, and the roster won't stay static. But they do have enough control that if the heart of the team performs as hoped, they can begin to start filling in pieces instead of the endless position switching, call-ups, deals, and waiver wire dumpster diving.

The first financial test may come in 2012, when Doumit and Maholm enter their option seasons; that will be a $17M hit if the Bucs keep them both, a big maybe right now. They pocket $8.05M in 2010.

All the Indy guys they called up are under team control up to 2016-17; that's a golden widow of opportunity. But they'll hit arbitration en masse in 2013-14; that's when we'll see if Bob Nutting is willing to put his wallet where his mouth is.

(GW thanks Cot's Baseball Contracts for the data.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

July 2008

Pat Andriola of Fangraphs revisited the July 2008 deadline deals; of five major trades, the Pirates were involved in two, and here's his take in hindsight:

The Bay deal:
Dodgers receive: LF Manny Ramirez
Red Sox receive: LF Jason Bay
Pirates receive: RHP Bryan Morris, 2B/3B Andy LaRoche, OF Brandon Moss, RHP Craig Hansen
Winner: Red Sox, Dodgers

It was time for Manny to leave Beantown, and although the deadline seemed to have passed, these three teams were able to work a deal that would shake the baseball world. Jason Bay found the postseason in Boston and had a huge 2009, putting up 5.0 WAR. Manny said hello to L.A.-L.A. land and was unstrasburgly for the Dodgers, hitting .396/.489/.743 for the boys in blue in 2008.

The Pirates, well, they decided to go with quantity over quality, and it bit them. After a nice year from LaRoche in 2009 (2.6 WAR), he's been awful this season (-0.6 WAR), and doesn't project to be the line drive hitter he once was. Craig Hansen has had health issues and Brandon Moss was below average, but Bryan Morris does seem to be a promising prospect. Still, Pittsburgh could have done better for Bay.
And the Nady deal:
Yankees receive: OF Xavier Nady, LHP Damaso Marte
Pirates receive: OF Jose Tabata, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Jeff Karstens, RHP Daniel McCutchen
Winner: Pirates

While Nady hit pretty well with the Yankees (.270/.319/.469), Marte's inability to stay healthy and his mediocre pitching gives this to Pittsburgh. The Pirates decided to go with both quality and quantity here, getting a bunch of players who will help them in the long run, highlighted by Jose Tabata. At worst, Pittsburgh can always put Ohlendorf, who majored in Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton, in the front office.
Win some, lose some.

The Pirate PR Machine

Hey, with an off day, we thought we'd visit one of the Pirate backroom operations, its PR tub-thumping.

Frank Coonelly would have you think that keeping mum is the way business is run in MLB, and some in the blogosphere agree with him. But a successful team needs a connected fan base, one that passionately cares about what's happening on and off the field. There's no bond between the team and its followers now, just an arms-length business relationship.

Listen, they do a pretty decent job of getting people into the stands, with bobbleheads, fireworks, doggie nights, bands, give-aways, yada yada, considering the product; a few wins will make it an easier sale. But when it comes to personnel matters, they are alternately as secretive or as blunt as the KGB in its heyday.

Let's start with the intro of the Indy guys. It wouldn't have hurt to announce Pedro's debut 24 hours earlier; selling a few ducats is the name of the game, right?

Be aggressive and tie it in with Brad Lincoln starting, Jose Tabata leading off, Walker and McCutch... Maybe they could have generated a little buzz, perhaps even planned a mid-season campaign around the transition. To us, it's not about protocol and creating undue expectations, but feeding a little hope to the City.

Not announcing the extensions of the manager and GM, and then "no commenting" the local writers about it? Beaucoup stupid, especially when the national media gets wind of it and makes the local beat guys look like slackers. The front page article about the fired perogi is, in our mind, a shot across the bow because of that slight, and it generated an ocean of national bad ink.

And for what reason? The suits thought that the media and fans would just forget that JR and Neal Huntington were lame ducks? It had to come out, and it did, in the worst possible way.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to push the guys that are performing, either. With their unquestioned top gun, Andrew McCutchen, lagging so far behind on the All-Star ballot that he's part of the "also getting votes" list, you'd think they'd crank up a campaign to get him some love, even if in a losing cause, given the sad-sack team record. Lift his profile, and you lift the team's profile.

Could be that they're convinced that he'll be Pittsburgh's All-Star pity selection in 2010, so why add to the workload? And you wonder why players that come here don't do cartwheels?

And they like McCutchen - what about Matt Capps, Ian Snell, and Gorzo? They managed to wash their hands of that trio so thoroughly that they devalued them on the market, a mortal sin for a team that's trying desperately to restock its talent base. That blue-nosed train of thought goes way back to their first deal, involving Salomon Torres.

They couldn't move Capps because of a non-tender leak? Please; they had an entire off season to trade him instead of just letting him go for nothing. Bad mouth Snell and Gorzo before sending them down? Hey, why don't you just slap a blue light special tag on them? Love 'em or hate 'em, players are your only asset and the coin of the realm.

That's without dwelling on the spitting match they had in 2008 with Scott Boras, the one guy that any team generally will have to deal with to get over the top.

We're not asking that PT Barnum or Bill Veecks' ghosts get channeled. But the team needs to be more open regarding the everyday business aspects of the game, quit being thin skinned with guys that don't toe their line, and treat the fans and media like part of the gang. They really don't have to circle the wagons...yet.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eighth Inning Turning Point

Brad Lincoln didn't exactly get all the proud papas in the stands excited in the first inning; he was down 2-0 before the Bucs got to the plate. A walk to Shin Soo Choo was followed by a Carlos Santana (he has more hits than the band!) homer.

He threw 32 pitches, and had trouble keeping them down; the Pirates were saved from a big inning when they caught an out call on a stolen base that looked to be a good swipe. But Lincoln, a self-described strike thrower, has to learn to get the ball down and use all three pitches; his heater isn't that great to be his bread-and-butter pitch.

Justin Masterson, with a slider and sinker, came in with a rep as a ground ball machine, and that's what he was in the first. His problem was nobody could catch and throw with much success.

Jose Tabata started off with a soft roller to third that went for a single and error when the throw eluded Russell Branyan at first. Neil Walker rolled a grounder through the right side, putting runners on the corners.

Andrew McCutchen chopped one to the mound, but Masterson's throw got by Branyan. Garrett Jones then rifle a shot up the middle, and the Bucs had runners on first and second, no outs, and a 2-2 count on the scoreboard. But we know how these promising innings end, hey?

Masterson then took things into his own hands, K'ing Lastings Milledge on three sliders and a sinker, and then punching out Pedro on another sinker. He finally got a grounder to go his way 37 pitches later when Jason Jaramillo rolled into a 6-3 inning ender.

The same duo bit Lincoln again in the third, and much in the same way. He hit Choo on a 1-2 pitch, and Santana roped a doubled into right center to bring him home.

Bad Brad dodged a bullet in the fourth, when the 7-8 hitters singled and doubled with one away. The pitcher hit a fly to medium right, and Milledge threw a laser home to nail the tagging runner and keep the score at 3-2.

Masterson and Lincoln both left after six. The Bucs had two runs on five hits and a walk off the righty, along with seven K's. Lincoln gave up three runs on eight hits, with a walk, hit batsman, and a pair of whiffs. Lincoln mixed his pitches much better after the early going, but was still upstairs too much; he only got five ground outs in six frames.

Javier Lopez came on in the seventh, and did what no other pitcher has done this series: retire Carlos Santana. He had five hits and three walks in his previous eight plate appearances this series, and Lopez caught him looking.

The Pirates had another golden opportunity in the seventh, and did manage to milk a couple of Tribe miscues into the tying run. Jaramillo singled, and a Bobby Crosby bunt was thrown wildly to first, putting runners at first and second.

Andy LaRoche laid one down to get the guys to second and third, but Tabata tapped back to the mound for the second out. But a pitch in the dirt got away from Santana, who tried to pick the ball instead of smothering it, and JJ came in to make it 3-3.

Brendan Donnelly started skating on thin ice immediately in the eighth, when he was smoked for a single and double to start the frame. The 29,800+ fans got a little entertainment when JR was ejected for arguing the double, claiming it was foul (although it hit the chalk).

But a short fly into center, a roller to second with the infield in, and a grounder to short was enough to keep the score tied. The Bucs caught a break with Austin Kearns being the lead runner instead of one of the Tribe's speed merchants; a faster runner may have taken a shot at home.

The Pirates charged into the eighth. McCutch walked and Jones singled him to second. A Milledge bunt put runners at second and third, and set the table for Pedro. The Indian's brought in lefty Tony Sipp, and he quickly got ahead 0-2 on a pair of hooks.

But he hung the third one, and Alvarez ripped it to the track in right for the go-ahead sac fly. A walk and Crosby single put the Bucs up 5-3 with three outs to go.

Octavio Dotel didn't need the insurance run; he breezed through the ninth, striking out the last two hitters. For once, the Bucs took advantage of opportunity; let's hope it becomes a habit.

The Pirates are off tomorrow, and then go to Texas, where Austin native Ross Ohlendorf will face Tommy Hunter Tuesday night.

-- Bobby Crosby started again at short. At first, we thought it was just a message being sent to Ronny Cedeno, but it may a changing of the guard. We'll see if Crosby's stick plays well enough to win him a starting gig. Of course, there's always the chance that he's being showcased, too, with Andy LaRoche replacing him the new jack-of-all-trades.

-- Garrett Jones extended his hitting streak to a personal best eleven straight today with his first inning single.

-- Steve Pearce is tearing it up on rehab at Indy; he is en fuego going 5-for-7 with an RBI, 4 runs scored, three walks, a double, and a stolen base. That makes for a logjam when he returns to the big club. If Milledge or Milledge/Church become the RF mainstays and Jones gets a full-time gig at first, Pearce is the odd man out. Let the dealing begin!

-- The Pirate bullpen has made 211 appearances, just over 3 outings per game. They're pitching at about the same rate as the train wreck year of 2008, when the relievers also appeared 3+ times per game (it was 2.82 outings/game last year).

JR has made calls to the pen that seem odd at first blush, but so far he's done a good job of spreading out the work so that the guys aren't too burned out when the dog days roll around.

He has six pitchers who have made between 24-33 appearances, so nobody is in line to see 90 outings this year, a credit to him and the pen's depth. Now if the starters could get into the eighth or the bats pile up some runs...

-- Bradenton SS Brock Holt has a torn MCL, according to Alan Dell of the Bradenton Herald. He's expected to miss six weeks and probably will need surgery. The 22 year old, a ninth round draft pick in 2009 from Rice, was injured in a collision with second baseman Anderson Chourio. He was hitting .351 before the head-on for Bradenton.

There may be hope; other reports say it's not torn and requires rest, not the knife. So we'll see how it plays out.

(Will and Ron wish all the dads out there a Happy Father's Day...and hey, shouldn't it be celebrated every day?)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

M, M, Good...

OK, so the most recent weekend storm delayed the game an hour. Not a big deal, and it didn't take any sheen away from the 1960 Bucco welcome; the house was packed and the fans were rockin'. Maybe the current team can see there's still some passion left in Pittsburgh for baseball played the right way. Anyway, on to the game...

Maybe Jeff Karstens was unnerved by all the attention; he gave up a single and double to start the frame. A swinging bunt brought home one run, and with a runner at third, JR brought up the infield. It paid off.

Garrett Jones snagged a hard hit grounder, and double-clutched his throw home. But Ryan Doumit had home blocked off better than Fort Knox's gold and made the tag; the runner still hasn't touched the dish.

The Pirates stole a run in their half. With two away, Andrew McCutchen and Jones drew walks. Lastings Milledge hit a slow hopper up the middle, and beat the throw to first with a headlong slide. McCutchen never slowed down on the play, and his mad dash culminated in a cloud of dust and the tying run. As Steve Blass said, "speed kills." The crowd was back into the game.

The Pirates added a pair in the third, when Neil Walker and McCutchen lined singles and came around on Milledge's triple that Shin-Soo Choo dove for and missed badly. They had runners on the corners and one away for Dewey, but he popped to second; he hasn't had a hit since Tuesday against the Sox, the day he was dropped behind Pedro in the order. (He later singled on a grounder off the pitcher's mitt.)

With Pedro Alvarez, aboard with a walk, on the move, Bobby Crosby lined a shot into right, but straight at Choo. Another chance for a big number gone by the wayside.

But tonight, Thrilledge was a one-man wrecking crew. McCutch walked, Milledge doubled him home, and Pedro got his first hit and RBI with a slicing ground rule double into left, making it 5-1.

Let the good times roll? Nah, that's not the Bucco way. Karstens crossed his Rubicon in the sixth, when a pair of singles came home ahead of Russell Branyan's ninth home run to right that caught the foul pole. The long ball has been his curse this year; that was the eleventh he's yielded in 55-1/3 innings.

JR gave him the hook after that; he went 5-1/3 innings, giving up four runs on six hits with a pair of walks. DJ Carrasco replaced him, gave up a ground ball single up the middle to his only batter, and JR waved in Javier Lopez.

Lopez got his lefty, gave up a line single to the righty, and Evan Meek got the phone call. JR wasn't going to let this one get away if he could possibly help it; all hands were on deck tonight, even with a day game tomorrow. Meek walked the first hitter to load the bases, but got pinch hitter and regular DH Travis Hafner to tap back to the mound.

By the end of seven innings, the game was approaching three hours, with eight pitchers burned. And the Pirates? They had stranded ten and gone 3-for-13 with RISP. Nothin' comes easy for these guys.

They did add an insurance run in the eighth for Octavio Dotel to work with. With two away, McClutch hit a run-out-from-under-your-hat triple to right center, and Jones almost took off the pitcher's head with a shot into center to plate him.

Milledge came up with a chance for the cycle; he had walked his last at-bat. The bench, led by his running mate McCutch, all started to give him his "focus" sign, two fingers pointed toward the eyes, looking a lot like the Three Stooges in the process.

It didn't work; he was trying to jerk one out and the pitcher threw nothing but changeups and whiffed him. Still, a breakout night for Lastings.

Milledge had three hits, a walk, four RBI and a run scored. McClutch had two hits, three walks, fours runs scored, and a stolen base. Pretty sweet night for the Sunshine Boys, and 38,008 fans left PNC with a good taste in their mouth.

Brad Lincoln will make his third start tomorrow afternoon against Justin Masterson. The Pirates are off Monday, then open a nine-game road trip starting with the Rangers, then to Oakland, and closing at Wrigley Field.

-- The beat guys report that Zach Duke will miss a start with a mild elbow sprain. Wonder if that's what was bothering him last time he had his turn delayed by a couple of days earlier in the month?

-- Jen Langosch of tweets that "LHP Jack Taschner has refused his outright assignment to the minors and has declared free agency."

-- If you're curious: Pittsburgh lost 13 straight in 2006, in 1916-17, and in 1890 while losing 14 straight from September 1954 - April 1955. The Pirates also have seven losing streaks of six games or more against AL teams since interleague play began in 1997. We're glad that we don't have to look up those records any more.

The longest losing streak in franchise history of 23 games happened in 1890, when the Pittsburgh Alleghenys were really lousy (23-113). It began with a loss on August 12, 1890, and the twenty-third loss came on September 2, 1890, one day after they were swept in a triple-header. That record should be one for the ages.

-- Steve Pearce is at Indy now for his rehab assignment after a short stay with the Bradenton Marauders. His ankle must be OK; he legged out a pair of infield hits and added a ground rule double.

-- Charlie Morton news: He started at Indy tonight, and lasted 5 innings, giving up six hits, three runs, three walks, and whiffing five. He threw 91 pitches, 55 for strikes, so control is still an issue. Morton didn't figure in the decision.

-- The Indians sent C Adam Davis to the Pirates in a straight cash deal yesterday. Davis hit a combined .216 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 31 games between Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron. The 25 year-old Davis was the Tribe's third pick in the 2006 draft.

Maybe this foreshadows a move up to Altoona for Tony Sanchez. Hector Gimenez (.331/10/38) is hitting well there, but at 27 years old, he's long in the tooth for AA ball.

-- Tim Kurkjian of ESPN has a piece about all the good young players entering the league this year; he includes Pedro and Neil Walker in his starting nine.

-- Finally, a bit of Oakland trivia even GW didn't know. Forbes Field's old home plate is in the foyer of Posvar Hall, a Pitt library. We always thought that's where it was when the field existed, but FSN's Steve Blass said that they decided to move it there because its actual on-field location was in the middle of the library's ladies room!

Pirates Extend GM, Manager, Fire Perogi

Hey, we know you can't run around bashing the boss, but don't tell the perogis that, according to Dan Majors of the Post Gazette.

Andrew Kurtz, 24, one of the rotating cast of PNC racing dough balls, wrote on Facebook that "Coonelly extended the contracts of Russell and Huntington through the 2011 season. That means a 19-straight losing streak. Way to go Pirates."

Not very brutal compared to a lot of what we've heard, but more than enough to get a $25/game dumpling boiled in hot water.

Now we know why the Pirates have an IT officer; Kurtz was found out and canned within hours. You can sneak a gimpy-kneed infielder past the suits without a second glance, but they're all over a sassy Sauerkraut Saul.

And geez, he wasn't even DFA'd, just released outright. No problem; Pirate management assures us that there's enough room in the budget to eat his salary and there's a number one draft pick designated perogi at Indy ready to come up; he's finally figured out how to swim in butter and onions.

We're not blaming the Bucs; apparently the kid didn't show up for work one day, either, so they had valid reasons. We've all worked at places that would let you go for less. But the things they keep quiet and the things that get out of the bag are kinda without rhyme or reason.

Lawdy, if I was the PR flack for this team after this week, I'd have to seriously consider a leap off the Clemente Bridge. Then again, the Allegheny might toss him back.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Next Up - A Baker's Dozen

Put together two teams that are swinging whiffle ball bats and match them up against the best pitcher either can offer, and you have an idea of what tonight's game was all about.

The Tribe threatened first, and it took them until the seventh to do it against Paul Maholm. Jhonny Peralta took a changeup into right for a double, and an out later moved to third on a ground ball single by Anderson Hernandez.

Jason McDonald brought home the run with another groundball single past a lunging Garrett Jones, who was drawn up to cut off the run. Maholm threw the pitch he needed, but as it's been going lately, couldn't get the ball to cooperate.

After striking out the pitcher, Trevor Crowe lined a two-out single into left, and it was 2-0. Shin-Soo Choo four-hopped yet another ground ball single into right on the first pitch, and the game was getting out of hand. JR gave Maholm the hook after 6-1/3 innings, responsible for four runs on seven hits, two walks and five K's.

Joel Hanrahan came on and gave up a double to Carlos Santana (no doubt called up from Woodstock) to allow another run, though a Ryan Church-Neil Walker-Ryan Doumit mash up nailed the back runner. Still, it was 4-0 with nine outs to go and just two singles to show for the opening six frames; heck, no one even made it to second.

The Bucs started off the seventh like they meant business against Fausto Carmona when Walker legged out an infield single to the shortstop hole and Andrew McCutchen walked. Garrett Jones rolled a single into right, and the bases were juiced with nobody away.

Then the long overdue Church took a changeup for a called strike, and got a second one in the same spot. Fool me once, shame on you... He ripped that one to the Notch to clear the bases, and sat at second with no outs representing the tying run.

Lefty Rafael Perez came on to face Pedro, in yet another clutch spot. He lofted one deep enough into right to move Church to third and bring up Dewey, now turned around to his weaker right side. Dewy didn't; he popped out to short, seeing nothing but changeups at the knees.

Righty Frank Herrmann was called on to challenge Ronny Cedeno, who flew out to medium center to end the rally after being fed five straight fast balls, all but one pretty much down the middle. Runner on second, no one out...

Brendan Donnelly took the ball in the eighth, and pitched a clean frame. Chris Perez climbed the hill for the Indians. He got Delwyn Young on a borderline called strike three. Jose Tabata took a two-strike heater into left center for a one-out double and some life, but Walker flew out to right and McCutch popped out.

Octavio Dotel worked the ninth, and provided his usual drama, but got out of the inning stranding guys at second and third. Kerry Wood came on to close for the Tribe.

The Bucs last shot featured three lefties batting against the righty Wood, who had an 8.03 ERA and in 12-1/3 innings had given up 16 hits and seven walks. So much for match-ups; they went down 1-2-3, and he got his fifth save in the 4-3 win.

No problem dissecting tonight's game; the Indians scored three times with two outs, while the Pirates refused to bring guys at second around. And the 7-8 hitters for Cleveland had four hits, which is four more than the 6-7-8 batters for Pittsburgh collected.

So it's a dozen in row, in front of the 1960 World Champions gathered on the field and the 28,000+ in the stands. Will thirteen prove lucky tomorrow?

Jeff Karstens and David Huff get it on Saturday night.

-- They still have Dewey taking balls at first. If Garrett Jones is going to get the lion's share of work there, why don't they get Doumit back in the outfield where he has a fighting chance?

They keep trying to force square pegs into round holes, and it's apparent that the brass would rather have Ryan Church in the outfield than Steve Pearce back at first; otherwise the move makes no sense.

-- Andy LaRoche is taking grounders at second. By all reports, he's making the transition fairly well and working on the pivot now.

-- The Pirates signed fifth round pick Tyler Waldron from Oregon State, a RHP with a fastball-slider combo, and twelfth rounder Vincent Payne, a 19 year-old RHP from Cypress College who was a wild child this year with a lotta K's, a lotta walks, and a sky-high 7.03 ERA. Both project to be relievers down the road.

I Read The News Today, Ho Boy....

Jots and thoughts:

-- The Associated Press reports that the Pirates didn't request a physical for Aki Iwamura, instead depending on the scouts' eyeballs.

A little sloppy, but dunno if it would have made much difference. Apparently Iwamura did little or no conditioning during the off-season, and a lot of his problems seemed to be mental rather than physical regarding his achy knee. The Pirates need to question if his brace was a medical necessity or a crutch; either one reflects poorly on them.

The Pirates may have had some timing issues; Iwamura had a contractual drop-dead date to become a free agent that they were fast approaching. The suits said they believed they were competition for him and so under pressure to pull the trigger, although with Jesse Chavez being the lure, just how serious could the other offers have been?

We're also wondering a bit about his commitment to Pittsburgh; we notice he hit the ball a heck of a lot better when he was being showcased than he did as an everyday player.

Still, as we said, it's sloppy. No physical, a seemingly bad evaluation by the scouts, and no follow up in the off-season...hopefully they'll learn something from the Aki fiasco before they try to fill a hole by bringing in someone else "proven" from outside the organization.

As is, fans (and bloggers) weren't very impressed with the team's evaluations of outside talent; this only adds another log to the raging bonfire.

-- Bobby Crosby got a couple of starts at short because JR thought he needed the work, not because Ronny Cedeno was hurt - or in a monumental slump. Hey, OK with us. It's time there was some competition on the diamond, and what better way to send the message? You can't always say it with flowers.

-- By the way, the Pirate boss men said that JR has managed 86 players since his arrival; that's three full rosters and some change. Geez, you'd think he'd have no trouble making up a lineup or setting up a rotation with all those choices.

-- 3B/SS Jarek Cunningham, a pretty highly regarded prospect a couple of years ago, has a 17-game hitting streak at West Virginia.

Cunningham, an 18th-round high school pick in the 2008 draft, has hit .373 with six doubles, two triples, three homers, 12 RBIs, and 13 runs since the streak began on May 31, with an overall 2010 line of .316/6/22. He missed 2009 with a torn ACL in his knee.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It Keeps Right On A'Hurtin'...

Ah, the Bucs. Ross Ohlendorf hasn't recaptured the lightning in a jar he had last year, and that's a big hole in the Pirate rotation.

In the second, he gave up a leadoff double; a single and sac fly later, it was 1-0.

To start the third, he gave up a single and hit a batter; his bacon was temporarily saved by a diving stop by Pedro and strong throw to first for out number one. But another sac fly and a two-out double, and it was 3-0 before the parrot could take his first lap around PNC.

By the end of the third, the Pirates had two hits; both were with two away and the bases empty. The Sox got two leadoff guys on, and both scored. Hmmm...sounds like a plan the Bucs may want to adopt.

The Pirates tried to make some noise in the fourth. Garrett Jones doubled off the wall in center (and Alex Rios mitt), and went to third on Lasting Milledge's one-out liner into short center. Pedro came up with ducks on the pound, took a mighty cut at the first pitch heater, and...bounced sharply into a 3-6-3 DP. Pittsburgh must rub off on these guys.

In the sixth, Neil Walker gave the guys a shot in the arm when he took an 0-2 curve that caught too much of the plate into the third row, making it 3-1.

Ohlie couldn't keep them hanging around, though. A leadoff double over Jose Tabata's head, a sac bunt, and a gapper triple got him the hook. The Big O went 6-1/3 frames, giving up five runs on nine hits with four K's.

Joel Hanrahan came on, and gave up a routine grounder that got through the drawn-up infield to close Ohlie's book.

The Pirates had some fight left in them, though. In the eighth, an Andy LaRoche pinch-hit double, Tabata walk, and Walker single loaded the sacks with one away. McClutch lined a single into left for one, Jones hit a towering fly to right that he got just under to plate another, and Lastings Milledge singled home a third run.

Up stepped Pedro, and three 96 MPH heaters from lefty Matt Thornton later, he was back on the bench. But it was a game, 5-4, going into the ninth. The Pirates, though, had run out of pixie dust.

Bobby Jenks sandwiched a sweet sliding catch by Juan Pierre between a pair of K's to notch the save. For Pittsburgh, too little, too late.

Wonder what the brass would have said if you told them in March that by June 17th Charlie Morton would be in the minors and he, Ohlie, and Zach Duke would be a combined 4-22, none with an ERA under five? Probably nothing printable in a family blog.

Another interesting thing we noticed is that the AL teams steal, hit-and-run, bunt, run suicide squeezes, hit sac flies, go from first-to-third, show patience at the plate, and do all the things NL teams are supposed to do but so often don't.

Jimmy Leyland and Ozzie Guillen may not be known as small ball guys, but their teams sure don't waste many runners.

Paul Maholm will take on Fausto Carmona and the Indians tomorrow night, starting the 1960 World Series celebration weekend. It could be awhile before they celebrate another one, so party while you can.

-- Tonight's Pedro watch: 0-for-4, with three K's and a DP. He's been a slow starter at every level, and his MLB debut has been no different. But in the field, he was night and day from last game. He made a couple of nice reaction plays and showed a rifle for an arm. He turned from Richie Hebner into Pie Traynor in 24 hours.

-- Jose Tabata isn't showing his youth at the plate. He's hitting .259, but with a .355 OBP, and stings two or three balls per game while showing some patience. Jose will fish, but not often, as shown by his six-game on-base streak. At first blush, he could be the leadoff guy the Bucs have been looking for.

Huntington, Russell Contracts Extended, But...

Frank Coonelly's statement about the contracts of GM Neal Huntington and skipper John Russell:

"...while we have demonstrated in the past that a contract will not prevent us from making a change if one is appropriate and thus contract status truly is irrelevant, we will confirm that during the off-season we exercised the Club's 2011 option on JR's contract and added a fourth year (2011) to Neal's contract.

We understood that returning this once-proud organization to championship baseball would not happen overnight and that the progress that we were making towards reaching our goal made such extensions appropriate."

So they were signed through 2011 back in October in hush-hush talks (even Cot's Contracts missed it), but like Aki Iwamura, can be cut loose anytime.

Thanks, Frank, that sure cleared up matters. Any other lil' things you guys forgot to mention in the meanwhile? GW is wondering if Coonelly actually came from the Commissioner's Office or the CIA. And heck, the CIA probably wouldn't have been as tight-lipped about Pedro's first game in Pittsburgh as the Pirate brass were.

Sometimes we're surprised they let the game times slip out.

At any rate, the GM and manager aren't lame ducks, and just about everyone who could be called up from Indy has been. It's a new day, so let's move on to new stories, starting with Pittsburgh getting this losing streak out of the way and becoming a team once more instead of a national punchline.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's The Same Old Song...

Pedro got the usual weekday introduction to PNC; another sparse crowd of 15,218. Many appeared to be late walk-ins; maybe the suits could have made the announcement a day sooner instead of keeping everyone guessing and not cost themselves a good gate. But there is protocol to follow...

For three innings, it was a pretty well pitched and played game. But Zach Duke found trouble in the fourth, his nemesis frame.

A dink single was followed by a triple, single, walk, and another single, all well hit; it was 3-0 without an out, and still two aboard. He got out of it without anymore damage thanks to a short fly and 4-6-3 DP, but even with Pedro around, that's a lot of runs to make up for Pirate bats.

They picked up one in the fifth, but in true Pirate fashion, let a big inning die an agonizing death. After an Alvavrez walk and Lastings Milledge double, the Bucs were in business with runners at second and third with nobody away.

A broken bat bouncer to short froze Milledge and scored Pedro. Then the Zachster hit a soft liner back to the hill, and Milledge was doubled off (though this time there was nothing he could do about it except curse the baseball gods).

The Sox plated another pair in the sixth. A double past Alvarez with one out started it. The knock was followed by a soft RBI single to center and a blast that missed going yard by a gnat's eyelash brought in the second. After a flyout to the track, JR brought in Javier Lopez to close out the frame.

Duke went 5-2/3 innings, giving up five runs on eight hits with a walk and a pair of whiffs; he's been lost on the hill lately.

The game ground on from that point until the eighth, when the crowd saw what it was there for, a bullet home run by one of the young guns. So what if it was Jose Tabata instead of Pedro?

But that was OK. Soon the fans were abuzz in the ninth...about The Three Stooges act the Pirates pulled in the field. Brendan Donnelly gave up a pair of runs - on four errors! Walker made the first when hurriedly bobbled a swinging bunt by Juan Pierre, putting runners on the corners.

Pierre took off for second, and Ryan Doumit's throw bounced off Walker into center, allowing the run to score. Pierre broke for third while Alex Rios was taking ball four, and Doumit threw a strike right on the bag.

Unfortunately, that's not where Pedro's glove was, and the toss went into short left. Bobby Crosby's one hop-throw home got by Doumit, and that's four errors, and six for the game; 7-2 was the final.

You know it's a long day when you commit more errors than you have hits; the Pirates only collected four knocks, two by Milledge.

Hey, it's been a tough two days on the puppy hitters. After seeing power arms and a lot of fastballs in Detroit, Ozzie Guillen sent a pair of soft tossers against them. The Pirate batters weren't aggressive early in the count, and fell behind too often. Time to start absorbing those lessons; there aren't many craftsmen working in AAA.

And Pedro? Like the other guys from Indy, he seems to have a good eye, and went 0-for-2 with a whiff, a line out to left, and a walk, plus a run scored.

The first ball that was hit to him, a big one-hopper, was turned into an around-the-horn DP. But Pedro didn't show much range or a quick glove at third tonight, so we'll be watching how his leather plays as the season rolls along.

Ross Ohlendorf goes against Jake Peavy in the finale. Make that Mark Buehle; Peavy has a sore right shoulder

-- Aki Iwamura was the loser when Pedro came up; he was DFA'ed. There's a chance he could end up at Indy, since he has all his options yet, but in a couple of interviews he said he wasn't sure if he'd report if unclaimed.

-- Steve Pearce, off since May 25th with an ankle sprain, will report for rehab tomorrow, a couple of days behind schedule, with the Bradenton Marauders.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

OK, po' Pedro has had his day stepped on already by Fox Sport's Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, who say the suits are discussing JR's future (as in does he have one?) with the Buccos.

They even mention possible successors: Bench coach Gary Varsho, Indy manager Frank Kremblas and Altoona skipper Matt Walbeck as leading internal candidates, with former Indians manager Eric Wedge, who previously worked with Pirates GM Neal Huntington, and Cardinals bench coach Jose Oquendo in the mix.

Frank Coonelly has denied that Russell's job is in imminent danger, often the omen of a quick kiss of death. Still, dissecting a manger's performance is to be expected, especially with the record Pittsburgh has, but it's not time to pull the rug out from under him - yet.

It's true that JR has no fire to speak of, and makes decisions bordering on the outre on the field and with the lineup. But here's what we say: let the manager show what he can do now with the pieces are beginning to arrive at PNC.

He's not the guy who broke up the old Bucs, and he's not the guy who brought in a collection of mostly AAAA players. But he is the guy who had to cobble together a lineup and rotation, for better or worse. And he certainly didn't get the '27 Yankees to work with.

We're not fans of his position shuffling, and think that he plays up to the vets a little more than he should. But JR hasn't had the luxury of many players not named Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones stepping up to claim an everyday MLB job, either.

Remember, Neal Huntington said that Neil Walker was a utility man, but Russell rewarded his strong play with a starting gig. So we think performance does matter to him, no matter he bizarrely he sometimes shows it.

Now that he's got a couple of young guys going well, he's managed to put together a decent enough order from 1-5; the bottom half is still brutal, but he can't do anything about that with the players he has. Ditto with the starting pitching (and he's handled the bullpen as well as can be expected, considering their load.)

Now he's pushing his horses a little; they're stealing bases and he's calling hit-and-runs to try to get some energy into the team and maybe manufacture an odd run or two while living with the growing pains of young players.

Are we saying give him another three years? No way; like the players, he should sink or swim by how he performs, and that's measured solely by how his club performs. But because JR is stoic doesn't mean he lacks smarts or a passion for the game.

If he can turn these guys around, we're all for picking up his option; after all, he looks to be more a scapegoat right now than anything else. And if he can't, well, Bobby Bragan got canned with a team a lot like JR's, and Danny Murtaugh came in to lead them to the promised land.

A rush to judgment isn't called for, although a judgment has to be made; we hope it's based on what he does with the guys he has now, not what happened in the past with a team in constant upheaval because of the suits' wheelin' and dealin'.

And if the decision goes against JR, we hope that they don't bring in anyone that's now on the bench with him; they're as complicit in the blame as he is. We'd kinda lean towards Frank Kremblay, who knows the guys from Indy and at 44 can identify with the players.

Short of total catastrophe, just wait until September to hold that discussion.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Do We Hear Ten?

Ah, a great start for Brad Lincoln and the Bucs. After a quiet top of the first, the Bucs pounced for a pair off of Freddy Garcia, when a bunt single by Neil Walker and a walk to Andrew MCutchen became runs thanks to a Garrett Jones double that barely missed clearing the Clemente Wall.

The celebration was premature, though. Lincoln walked the leadoff hitter, and back-to-back doubles knotted the score in the second. We guess the good news is that he stemmed the bleeding, not allowing another runner to plate.

Lincoln escaped another jam in the third. He got the first two outs easily, but for the second time in three innings, he plunked a guy with a hook with two outs. Mark Kotsay then singled to center, and Walker was lined off as the cutoff man to second

But McCutchen made an ill-advised throw to third, putting Sox on second and third. An Alexei Ramirez liner to short ended the frame without any additional damage.

The Bucs tried a little two-out action themselves, when Jones walked and Dewey singled to put runners on the corners. Ryan Church put a charge into a ball hit into left center, but between Juan Pierre and Alex Rios, the odds aren't great for a ball to drop in - and it didn't.

The Sox added a pair of small ball runs in the fourth. Lincoln walked the leadoff hitter, then Gordon Beckham hit a high hopper than cleared a leaping Andy LaRoche's mitt by inches and was played clumsily in left by Jose Tabata, allowing the run to score. A sac bunt and suicide squeeze brought home the second tally. Two leadoff walks, two runs. Notice a trend developing here?

Pittsburgh tied it in the fifth thanks to the McClutch show. Walker singled, stole second, and came around on a McCutch liner to left. McCutchen then stole second and third, setting up Jones with one out and the infield in.

He tried to lift one, and popped to third. But Ryan Doumit picked him up with a two-out lob into short left to plate McCutchen.

Chicago went back up in the sixth with an infield single, walk, and two-hopper through the shortstop hole. That would be the last frame for Lincoln, who notched six innings, giving up five runs on six hits, three walks, and K'ing a pair on 96 pitches.

He looked better today, even with the results. The majority of hits were of the seeing-eye variety, but he really needs to sharpen his command. He walked three; two scored and the other put an eventual run in scoring position.

The Pirates again tried for some two-out lightning in their half with a pinch double by Aki Iwamura, who seems to be thriving now that his knee isn't being worn down by the daily grind, and a ten-pitch walk to Tabata. A wild pitch moved them to second and third. Walker, facing Sergio Santos, went down swinging through a 96 MPH heater.

McCutchen beat out an infield single to open the seventh, bringing on lefty Matt Thornton. After watching Jones suffer through a bad at-bat, hacking at high heat, and then Doumit being called out on an iffy strike, he stole second.

But Church bounced out to end the inning, the fourth time in seven innings he had that honor. Kinda curious thinking on the part of Mr. Match Up, JR, who didn't call on Lastings Milledge or Delwyn Young to hit against the fireballing lefty, especially as Church is hitting .179 overall and just .160 against southpaws.

Meanwhile, former White Sox pitcher DJ Carrasco held the fort for two innings, striking out a trio and walking one. Then JR made another odd decision, bring in Octavio Dotel in the ninth, even though down a run; maybe he thought OD needed the work.

That was probably so; he walked, of all people, leadoff man Juan Pierre. Pierre didn't have to steal a base; Dotel's pickoff throw somehow twisted Jones into a pretzel even though it was on line, glanced off his glove, and after a few strides, Pierre was at third.

An out later, he scored against a drawn up infield when a spanked grounder got under a diving Cedeno. If you're keeping count; Pierre was the third batter the Pirates walked to open an inning; all three scored.

Not that Chicago actually needed an insurance run, gift-wrapped or not. Their four relievers threw 3-1/3 innings, giving up two hits and striking out six. The Bucs played just well enough to lose again, for the ninth straight time, 6-4. Think of the money the team is saving on those post-game victory firework celebrations!

Zach Duke and John Danks face off in the second game tomorrow night.

-- The beat guys report that Pedro will join the team tomorrow, when Indy has a scheduled off day. What a long, strange journey - don't the suits have a PR bone in their body? We won't mention that now he'll start against a lefty rather than a soft throwing righty. Anyway, let the El Toro lovefest begin; about time.

-- We noticed tonight that Jose Tabata isn't locked into the infamous North Side Notch positioning. Might be that with his speed, Gary Varsho plays him more traditionally, as he did with Nyjer Morgan.

-- Omar Vizquel wore #13 for a couple of decades, and Ronny Cedeno sports the same number in his honor. They're the latest in a long line of Venezuelan shortstops, dating back to Chico Carrasquel and Louis Aparicio; Vizquel now wears Aparicio's #11, taken out of team retirement with Aparicio's blessing.

Tuesday Batting Cage

-- All this yap about Garrett Jones and solo homers suggesting that he's not clutch is a little misguided this season (though a good case could be made for 2009). Jones has hit 5 of his 10 homers with men aboard, is batting .274 with RISP, exactly his season average, and .287 with runners on going into tonight.

129 of his 230 at-bats have come with the bases empty, so the majority of time, there just isn't anyone on for him to drive in. We'll see what the retooled top of the order will do for him; he should get lots of RBI opportunities if they keep on keepin' on, so we should find out what kind of run producer he really is.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweets that neither Charlie Morton nor Steve Pearce have a free pass to return to Pittsburgh after their rehab. We sure hope this doesn't mean that the Ryan Doumit-at-first-base brainstorm is still alive and kickin'.

He added that the Braves sent Jesse Chavez to AAA; he was 0-1 with a 7.33 ERA and gave up 5 homers in 23-1/3 innings.

-- Seattle DFA'd Ian Snell today. The 28-year-old right-hander is 0-5 with a 6.41 ERA, 5.1 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9 in 46-1/3 innings. They'll eat the remainder of his $4.25M contract; they're off the hook after that, as 2011-12 were team option years.

-- A lot of family love for guys with local ties was shown in this year's draft. Patrick Leyland, Jim's son, who caught at Canevin, was drafted by the Tigers. Mark Tracy, who played at Duquesne, was drafted as a catcher by the Rockies, the team his dad Jim manages.

Lloyd McClendon's boy Bo (OK, mom, Justin) from Valparaiso was also taken by the Tigers, where Lloyd serves as hitting coach. John "T-Bone" Shelby, who is a first base coach for the O's now, had his son Jeremy from Grambling selected by Baltimore.

Spikes Set Lineup

The State College Spikes are ready for business now that the draft's concluded. Here's some of the guys that will there:

Recent college draft choices OF Justin Bencsko (20th round: Villanova), SS Kelson Brown (34th round: Linfield), IF Chase Lyles (32nd round: Northwestern State), C Matt Skirving (30th round: Eastern Michigan), Justin Ennis (33rd round: Lousiana State-Shreveport) and Kevin Decker (39th round: College of Charleston) are apparently signed, since they're now at State College's mini-camp.

They're in good company. 2009 second-round choice RHP Brooks Pounders, fourth-rounder LHP Zack Dodson, and sixth-rounder RHP Zack Von Rosenberg, all 19 years old, will be featured members of the Spike rotation. Other 2009 draft picks playing at SC are SS Walker Gourley (13th round), RHP Ryan Beckman (18th round), LHP Zac Fuesser (34th round), and RHP Teddy Fallon (43rd round).

International players are 2B Gift Ngoepe, Panamanian LHP Eliecer Navarro, and Dominican 3B Andury Acevedo. Right-handed pitchers Mitch Fienemann and Jarryd Sullivan, both 20 years old, will be the first two Australian players to suit up in State College.

-- Here's the rest of the roster in .pdf format
-- The State College release
-- All-time State College roster (and don't be afraid to look; the team only started in 2006, so it's not exactly War and Peace)

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Future Approaches

Hey, it doesn't take a baseball lifer to see that 2010 was the year the Pirates would finally transition from a never-ending cattle call into the core of the team the suits have long envisioned.

All the guys we've seen with their foot in the door - Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce, Neil Walker, Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata, and yes, soon Pedro Alvarez, are finally getting their chance.

Oh, it won't make for any better baseball in the short run; too many guys learning their craft at once makes for a rough genesis. But for once, the swirling mist is forming into something solid that we can all see. By 2011, the starting lineup should be consistent, and by 2012, they could lose their baby teeth and bare their fangs.

A guarantee? No way; look at all the "can't-miss" flops Pittsburgh has pegged its hopes on that did miss; remember Brandon Moss? But the lineup's drawn-from-a-hat days should be over.

For one thing, the batting order should be settled. Tabata leading off, Walker next (and right now, Walker is the two-hole guy and should be, given the make-up of the team, but ideally he'd be in a better RBI spot), McCutchen third, Garrett Jones and Alvarez in the middle, Dewey sixth, Pearce seventh, and Cedeno ahead of the pitcher sounds like a fairly stable and sustainable order.

We think Jeff Clement will be back, and can see him and Pearce platooning at first. Otherwise, the team should have an everyday lineup, based on the big if that the puppies perform as predicted.

Being able to pull guys like Lasting Milledge and Andy LaRoche off the bench (and why they haven't been drilling him as a utility infielder all year with Pedro looming large is one of the team's great management mysteries) is a big plus, and should help mitigate the inevitable growing pains that will surely come.

The fielding behind the pitch-to-contact staff should improve, too, both physically and mentally. Tabata and McCutch can cover some acreage in the pasture, allowing Gary Varsho to plot even more exotic shifts, while Walker and Pearce are infield ball-snagging machines. And given time to play together as a unit, the invisible game of positioning, cutoffs and communication can only get better.

There are holes to be filled for sure; right handed power, an everyday banger at first and a steadier shortstop than the competent but streaky Cedeno top the list, and there's no one on the farm to fill those job descriptions, at least in the near term.

They could and should be looking to move Ryan Doumit, too. His bat doesn't play well enough to make up for his glove and his health is always a question. They may take their chances with Jason Jaramillo and Eric Kratz or a free agent during the 2011 campaign with the hope that Tony Sanchez becomes a fast-tracker.

They may also have to do some shifting if Pedro does move to first sooner rather than later, but that's a question that will be answered down the line rather than now.

The next wave of baby Bucs isn't ready for prime time; Sanchez, Starling Marte, and Jarek Cunningham lead what's left of the position up-and-comers, and of the top dozen prospects in the system according to The Scouting Book, five are in or near Pittsburgh and two were just taken in the 2010 draft.

The fly in the ointment will be the pitching. The Pirate staff is populated by #3 and lower starters; there is no ace here and none on the horizon. Lincoln's upper limit seems to be as a #2 guy, and he probably fits more comfortably in the three hole.

Still, three guys like Lincoln, Ross Ohlendorf, and Paul Maholm can eat innings and keep games competitive when they're on; good glovework and some crooked numbers on the scoreboard should make the staff better even without attrition.

They may have to look outside for that top gun. Kevin Hart and Donnie Veal both went under the knife, and Charlie Morton is...well, who knows? Bryan Morris, Tim Alderson and Rudy Owens are starting to bubble to the top, but the trio don't offer any immediate help; youngster Zack Von Rosenberg holds promise, too.

Top pick Jameson Taillon has an outside shot of joining that list, but that's a lot to expect from an 18 year-old who in all likelihood will join the system too late to pitch in 2010. And we do expect him to sign; there's a lot of risk involved in going to college for a couple of seasons, and not much upside. After all, he can't improve his draft position by more than one position no matter how well he pitches.

The last two draft classes have been loaded with young arms, but they're seasons away if they do make it. Maybe by 2012-13 the organization will have some internal solutions, but that's not a sure thing at this point.

But hey, the gray clouds are beginning to break up. And it's been a long time since Pittsburgh has let the sunshine in. As the old chestnut goes, it's darkest right before dawn. The future is beginning to dawn over Pittsburgh.