LHP Paul Maholm (6-9, 2.96) matches up with Astro RHP Bud Norris (5-6, 3.46) tonight at 7:05 PM. Norris was the last pitcher to beat the Pirates. The game will be aired on Root Sports as the Bucs go for their fifth straight win at Minute Maid Park. Funny how much friendlier that field has become since Lance Berkman left town.
The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Chase d'Arnaud SS, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Brandon Wood 3B, Mike McKenry C, Paul Maholm P.
Wood is starting at third today; typical righty lineup. Looks like the Jones in the three hole experiment was short-lived.
One thing that's beginning to be noticed is the Pirates upgrade in team speed. Some of it has to do with the recent call-ups - Chase d'Arnaud and Josh Harrison can run circles around Ronny Cedeno and Pedro Alvarez/Brandon Wood - but its' mostly by design. Alex Presley is fast, but so was the guy he replaced, Jose Tabata. Xavier Paul bumped John Bowker. Pedro Ciriaco took Josh Rodriguez's spot. McCutch always had plus speed.
It appears the FO, no doubt nudged along in the process by Clint Hurdle, has scrapped their AL template of big guys that can belt three-run homers and are trying to build a team along the more traditional NL lines. Seems to working, too. Speed kills, or at least causes some havoc, right?
The Buc performance so far has also started a raging debate between those who believe in on-field results and those who swear by Sabermetrics. One group believes what their eyes see; the other predicts a great regression crash. It's sorta like the predestination - free will argument for those of you that stayed awake through Sunday School and CCD classes. And like that great unknown, the Pirate faithful won't know which is right 'til it's over.
- The Pirates are on a 13-6 roll, and have won seven of their last ten games.
- Andrew McCutchen has driven in 16 runs in the 14 games in which he's hit cleanup.
- Jeff Karstens became the first Pirate pitcher to win at least five consecutive games in a season since 2006, when Ian Snell won five in a row and Matt Capps notched eight straight. His efficiency last night (83 pitches, 70% first-pitch strikes) was epic. It was the lowest pitch count for a complete game this season (and there have been 116 tossed) and only the sixth time a pitcher has gone the distance with 83 pitches or less since 2002. In fact, Karstens is averaging 14.01 pitches per inning, second lowest in MLB for guys with at least 75 IP, behind only the Rays' James Shields (13.96).
- Evan Meek began a tossing program at Pirate City; he's not expected back until August.
- Donnie Veal was put on the minor league DL with arm fatigue as he tries to work his way back into shape after TJ surgery.
- Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reported that "The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed minor league free agent Yunesky Sanchez, and have assigned him to Altoona." He's a 27 year old utility infielder out of the D-Back system and an organizational depth player. They released OF Jose Hernandez, a 2009 draft pick who was hitting .165 for the Curve.
- Michael Sanserino of the Post Gazette has a piece on Donnie Kelly of the Tigers, who earlier this month became the only active MLB player to have played all nine positions on the field when he caught for Detroit. Kelly played on Mt. Lebanon's 1998 state championship team, then at Point Park, and later for Pittsburgh during the 2007 season.