They left as part of a huge wave of injuries, and they're returning in a big splash, too. Joe Beimel was just the tip of the iceberg of returning players from the DL. Five more players should be at least physically ready to return for the big St. Louis series starting Friday, although for various reasons the FO may bring them back piecemeal.
Beimel's return earned Danny Moskos a ticket back to Indy.
The man Pirate fans love to hate, Ronny Cedeno, will also be back. His glove will give the Bucs a big boost in the dirt. Chase d'Arnaud may be more exciting, but his line at the plate is .225/.250/.292 with a UZR of -4.4; Cedeno's numbers are .252/.311/.346 with a +4.3 UZR. RC's WAR is +1.2; d'Arnaud's is -0.2. That's a pretty big upgrade. His return will cost Pedro Ciriaco his roster spot, as the beat gang reports that he was spotted packing his bags after Wednesday's game.
Another member of the group who spent all of 2010 recovering from knee surgery is coming from the Phillies organization; that would be RHP Jason Grilli, who is supposed to be a physical away from joining the bullpen after opting out of his minor league deal to sign with the Bucs.
Grilli is a middle innings power pitcher who throws a 93 MPH sinker and has regained his mojo at AAA Lehigh Valley, where he had a 1.98 ERA in 28 outings, with 43 strikeouts in 32-2/3 innings and an OBA of .217. He adds some stability to the pen with parts of eight seasons in the show, and worked a couple of years under Hurdle at Colorado. When he comes aboard, it's widely thought that Chris Leroux will be sent down and Evan Meek will be switched to the 60 day DL to open up 25 and 40 man spots. (Meek has just begun throwing, so going on the 60 day won't affect his timetable at all.)
Steve Pearce is also due back, if the Bucs think he's had enough time in the field. The first baseman has reinvented himself as a utility guy, playing the corner infield and RF. He was hitting .291/1/10 before a late May calf injury derailed him, and he's been swinging it at Indy, with three homers, a slugging % of .633 and OPS of .900 in seven games. A small sample, to be sure, but he's done a workmanlike job as a role player the past two seasons and has a strong glove.
It's a little trickier to guess who gets the boot for Pearce. Brandon Wood is the closest equivalent player, but doesn't have any options. So the betting line is that Josh Harrison will be saying his goodbyes when Pearce reclaims his jersey. Chase d'Arnaud remains a possibility because he both needs the work and isn't as well suited to a bench role as Harrison, though he does fill the middle infield spot better.
Jason Jaramillo is just about ready to make the jump. He was out about a month with a bum elbow, but spent a week in the GCL and is on Indy's roster now. He'll replace Eric Fryer, and we're guessing pretty soon, depending on when the FO thinks he's seen enough pitches behind the dish to refresh his receiving skills. JJ's spent parts of the last three seasons in Pittsburgh, has a good mitt, and knows most of the staff.
The fifth player physically ready to return is the biggest question mark, Pedro Alvarez. After a dreadful start this season (.208/2/10), he injured his quad on May 19th. El Toro had a slow recovery, reinjuring himself, and was finally taken off the DL after his rehab games on July 9th. In a surprise move, he was optioned to Indy. Alvarez is hitting .370/2/10 after 13 games there, and his bat is considered one of the keystones of the Pirates' new age.
The FO said he had some things to work on, but it was pretty obviously a brick-through-the-window message to him and the entire organization . Whenever the brass believe that message has been received is when he'll be back. Again, the closest guy to his skill set is Wood, but the line is that whoever is left of the Harrison/d'Arnaud pair will go. That will leave the team shy a backup infielder again, though, and that may have some influence on who gets moved down.
A couple of guys may be ready just before the July 31st trade deadline or in early August. They include Jose Tabata, who just reinjured his quad again today and Ross Ohlendorf, who is currently pitching his rehab for Class A Bradenton. Ryan Doumit may start his rehab assignment soon, and make a mid-August return.
Meek appears weeks away from coming back, and Chris Snyder hopes to at least get in some September games. We haven't gotten any reports regarding Kevin Hart and don't believe he plays into any 2011 Pirate plans.
And hey, don't take any of this to the bank quite yet. Pittsburgh is trawling for players, and anyone they do pick up in the next week-and-a-half will have a domino effect on the roster as it's constructed internally. But whether they fill from entirely within or bring a couple of more pieces aboard, the team you saw on the field today will bear just a passing resemblance to the team that will be playing in August.