Sunday, February 27, 2011

Camp Basics

OK, we know that the Bucs have a couple of competitions in camp - fifth starter, bullpen, and bench. They're all around the periphery of the team, and will be well documented as the weeks go on.

More importantly, can Clint Hurdle and company change the baseball culture of the Pirates? That's an ongoing process, but here's what they're emphasizing so far:

Flip the count: Both Ray Searage and Gregg Ritchie have noted that the Pirates spend a lot of time on the wrong end of the pitch count. The pitchers are behind and the batters are in the hole way too often. Both are making it a point to stress aggression early.

Good idea. Searage may have a better shot at it than Ritchie; he works with the pitcher's strengths while Joe Kerrigan preferred to attack a batter's weaknesses, which may or may not match a hurler's stuff. If that system works, we'll see guys get a handle on their pitch counts and maybe get deeper into games.

Ritchie wants his guys to take fewer watermelons early in their at-bats. That's a good idea, too, but one that Don Long preached without success. He does have a couple more professional batters with Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz, so maybe they can show the way. After all, it's a heck of a lot easier to look for a 2-1 pitch than flailing away at a 1-2 slider.

Stretch the bases: It would seem scoring from second on a single and going from first to third are givens, but not in Pittsburgh. The staff may improve that marginally, but good luck at creating a go-go Bucs squad.

They team, in fact, has gotten slower this year. Overbay doesn't run as well as Garrett Jones, Diaz and Jones don't motor as well as Milledge (tho hopefully with a little more intelligence), Chris Snyder is slower afoot that Ryan Doumit (or about anyone else in a big league uni) and Pedro is pretty much a station-to-station guy.

That leaves McCutch with world-class speed, Jose Tabata with good speed, and Ronny Cedeno and Neil Walker with average wheels. Not much to build on; just ask Tony Beasley how hard it was to get most of the guys going.

But he is working hard on McCutch and Tabata's base-stealing, which JR never really developed, and Jones, Walker and Cedeno could swipe an occasional sack. Still, if they can get runners on first to third on a single to right, that alone will be a plus.

The bench may or may not help a bit, depending on its eventual composition. Corey Wimberly has plus speed, and Alex Presley has good wheels. But neither is a lock to go north with the team.

Tweak the Lineup: Hurdle has shown that he's open to moving McCutch to the third spot and Tabata to the top of the order with Walker between them. Jones is sitting in the six hole, which is probably where he belongs.

The staff has to not just set up but also protect Pedro, who will bat clean-up. Diaz will bat fifth against lefties, which we like, but there's no true lefty banger on the team to help him against righties. In the early going, Hurdle batted Lyle Overbay fifth; there are really no good options in camp right now beyond him.

Otherwise, it's another back-to-basics boot camp; pick-off moves, bunting, situational hitting, yada, yada. Hey, little things help win games, but not as much as a few guys with talent.

What may pay dividends down the road is that at first blush, the new staff is trying to replace a tentative, almost defensive, mental set on the team with a more aggressive, don't be afraid to try, ethos. And with a young team, that could help, especially down the road.

No comments: