Monday, April 30, 2012

Bucs Win 9-3; Meek Sent Down To Indy

Didn't look like a very auspicious start tonight for the Buccos. Michael Bourn singled off James McDonald to open the Brave first after the Pirates had gone down in order. He was nailed stealing by Rod Barajas on a bang-bang call, and good thing - a walk and a Freddy Freeman first-pitch homer quickly made it 2-0, and that's a mountain for Pittsburgh's offense to climb most nights. Fortunately, tonight wasn't one of those evenings.

The Pirates came back to put runners at the corners with no outs when Casey McGehee doubled and Neil Walker beat out a bunt single. But Mike Minor bore down, and a Yamaico Navarro pop out and 6-4-3 by Pedro Alvarez kept Pittsburgh off the boards. The Braves countered by putting runners on second and third with one away after an Eric Hinske single and Tyler Pastornicky double - can't anyone get him out? - set the table. But J-Mac whiffed his mound opponent and got Bourn on a bouncer.

Pittsburgh wouldn't be denied in the third. Barajas walked, and after a McDonald K, Jose Tabata doubled. Josh Harrison dropped a soft single into left to plate one run and a Cutch sac fly tied the game. J-Mac found his rhythm and struck out two of the three Bravos he faced.

Alvarez gave the Bucs the lead in the fourth when he crushed number five over the right field wall following a Navarro knock to make it 4-2. Even better news is that the pitch he smacked was a first-pitch fastball off a lefty. Atlanta got one back when Dan Uggla led off with a two-bagger, went to third on a grounder and came in on Hinske's knock. Both clubs went down in order in the fifth.

In the sixth, the Bucs put up another two spot when Neil Walker singled, stole second, and trotted home after Navarro pounded his first homer of the year over the wall in left to make it 6-3 to break the five run curse at long last. They shattered it next inning.

JT walked and was bunted to second, bringing on Chad Durbin. A Cutch single sent Tabata to third, and he scored on a passed ball. McGehee walked, and a single by Walker plated a run and sent the back runner to third. A Navarro bouncer brought McGehee in, and it was 9-3. Hinske doubled to open the Bravo half, but J-Mac wasn't about to let up. He K'ed the next three hitters.

Both sides left a runner on in the eighth, with Livian Hernandez on for Atlanta. McDonald left the bump for Chris Resop after two were away. J-Mac went 7-2/3 frames, giving up three runs on seven hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts, tossing 114 pitches. His had trouble with his heater today, but his hook and slider were on.

The Bucs went down quietly in the ninth, and Resop worked out of a minor jam caused by a single and his own error, ending the game by getting Matt Diaz swinging.

It's good to see the bats finally catch fire. Now to see if it carries over at St. Louis, where the Bucs now head for a three game set. Charlie Morton takes on Adam Wainwright in the opener.

  • In post-games news, Evan Meek was optioned to Indy. The Pirates are expected to call up a lefty, either Doug Slaten or Danny Moskos. Slaten isn't on the 40-man roster but has been throwing well, so the Bucs could DFA one of the fringe pitchers (Duke Welker, D-Cutch) or move Jeff Karstens to the 60-day DL.
  • McDonald's 10 strikeouts were a career high. The last Pirates righty to strike out at least 10 in a game was Ross Ohlendorf on September 5, 2009 against the Cards with 11.
  • Every Pirate position player had at least a hit plus a run scored and/or RBI.
  • Neil Walker's 3-for-5 led the Bucco hit parade. Eric Hinske went 4-for-4 for the Braves; he had half their knocks.
  • The 10-12 Pirates have alternated wins and losses for 11 consecutive games.
  • Atlanta again had trouble getting runners home. They were 1-for-10 with RISP.
  • RHP Gerritt Cole notched his first win for Bradenton tonight. He went six shutout innings, giving up a hit and a walk with 6 K.

Lineup, Pre-Game Notes

RHP James McDonald (0-1, 2.78) takes on Atlanta LHP Mike Minor (2-1, 3.42) at 7:10. J-Mac tossed a one-hitter last outing while Minor has held opponents to a .208 BA. The game will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata RF, Josh Harrison SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Casey McGehee 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Julio Navarro LF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, James McDonald P.

Kinda odd lineup; Josh Harrison is at short and Yamaico Navarro in left. Alex Presley and Clint Barmes are sitting against the lefty Mike Minor. The oddity is that Pedro is in the lineup against a southpaw. Guess Clint Hurdle figures that it's time for the next step, and El Toro did double off Jonny Venters yesterday..

  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes, under the note title of "Pathetic Pirates" that "Rival execs actually like the top of the Pirates’ order - outfielders Alex Presley, Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen. But from there things deteriorate..."
  • Prospects LHP Justin Wilson (Indy of the International League) and RHP Jameson Taillon (Bradenton of the Florida State League) were named their respective league's Pitchers of the Week today.
  • Indy's LHP Jeff Locke went 7 scoreless innings today, giving up three hits and four walks to go with 2 K.
  • Baseball Prospectus' Ken Funck has another look at the Miguel Sano fiasco through the story told by the movie "Pelotero." The flick rightly or wrongly casts stones at Pirates' Latin scout Rene Gayo.
  • This day in history: 125 years ago in 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys played their first National League game, defeating the defending league champion Chicago White Stockings, 6-2, in front of nearly 10,000 fans at Recreation Park. They wouldn't become the Pirates until 1890, when they "pirated" the services of second baseman Lou Bierbauer from the Philadelphia Athletics.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bucs Lose Ugly 4-3

The Bucs tried to give Tim Hudson a warm welcome back to the hill in the first but fell short. With one away, a Jose Tabata knock and Cutch HBP set up the Pirates, but they were stranded. Road warrior Kevin Correia gave up a leadoff single to Michael Bourn, but a quick DP erased him and so the opening frame was quiet.

Pittsburgh did get on the board in the second. Pedro Alvarez led off with a knock, and an out later, Mike McKenry followed suit. KC mover them up a base. Alex Presley walked and JT rolled a two-run knock into right to put the Bucs up 2-0. The Braves mustered a one-out single. So far, all seven batters have hit the ball on the ground for Atlanta, a good sign for Correia.

Neil Walker chipped in a one away double in the third, but Hudson got Alvarez and Clint Barmes swinging to keep him there. The Bucs took the field, but forgot to bring their gloves with them.

After a ground out, Tyler Pastornicky got aboard when Cutch dropped his fly into center, and Michael Bourn drew a walk. Martin Prado spanked a possible DP ball to Alvarez; he booted it to load the sacks without a hit and the meat of the order coming up. Freddy Freeman got good wood to the ball, and his deep fly to center plated a run and moved the other runners up a notch. It was a big out for KC. He had fell behind 3-0 and it took eight pitches to retire Freeman. Brian McCann drilled the ball hard, but right to short and KC escaped with just a run.

The Bravos tried to make up when Mike McKenry got aboard on a boot, but he died at second. Atlanta scored with two away to knot the score.

A leadoff walk to Dan Uggla cost KC when he eventually came around on Pastornicky's double. The Bucs keep working on the rookie SS, and he's come up strong for the Braves so far this series out of the eight hole. That's the second time in three games that he's driven in a two-out run with first base open. And worse news; Correia is already at 77 pitches, so it looks like no rest for the pen today.

Jones doubled with an out in the fifth, and Walker battled Hudson for a walk. Alvarez bounced out to first to move the runners up a station. Barmes pulled a 3-2 curve that was outside to third to end the inning. The Pirates have already stranded 8 and are 1-for-10 with RISP.  Hudson, like KC, has tossed a lot of baseballs. His pitch count is up to 96.

Bourn led off with a single, and a walk to Prado brought Ray Searage to the mound for a visit while the pen heated up. He again retired Freeman on a long fly to center. McCann walked on five pitches; the last two appeared over the plate but didn't get a call from Doug Eddings. Clint Hurdle let KC in to face Uggla. On his 101st pitch, he walked him to gift the Bravos a run. That run is probably more on Hurdle than KC.

Brad Lincoln climbed the hill to face Chipper Jones, and Josh Harrison went to short in the inevitable double switch. Corriea went 4-1/3 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on four with five walks and no K. Lincoln caught Jones looking at a heater, and Jason Heyward bounced out to second to limit the damage. It's now a 3-2 Atlanta lead. The Bravos have had their chances, too, stranding seven and 1-for-8 with RISP. They've scored three runs on four hits, two errors and five walks through five frames.

Chad Durbin took the ball for Atlanta; the Pirates haven't dented the Braves bullpen yet in this series. They still haven't. The Bucs went down in order on nine pitches. Bad Brad returned the favor, though it took him eleven tosses. Eric O'Flaherty shut the Bucs down in the seventh, and the Braves added an insurance run when Prado led off with a dinger off Lincoln. Tony Watson closed the inning out against the lefties Jones and Heyward.

Johnny Venters took the bump in the eighth. Alvarez hit a one-away opposite field double, and McKenry laid off enough to draw a walk with two down. Venters never threw Harrison a strike, and still got him swinging to end the frame.

Evan Meek's number was called. He put away Eric Hinske and Wilson, but Bourn followed with a single. Meek had trouble finding the dish against Prado, but he hacked his way into a swinging K. Meek's velocity is returning. At 93-94, it's not quite there yet, but it is building.

Closer Craig Kimbrel took the horsehide in the ninth. After K'ing Presley, JT punched a running heater into right for a double. Cutch tapped back to the hill. Jones swung at a wild pitch that may have hit his foot. The bad news was that it was strike one; the good news was that JT scored to make it 4-3. No matter; that's how it ended.

It wasn't a very pretty game from either teams' perspective. For the Pirates, it was a case of walks, errors, spotty umping and lost opportunities costing them a winnable game. But the Bucs can take solace in that JT and Pedro have started swinging the bats; they had five solid hits between them. Now if the rest of the team can join them.

James McDonald faces Mike Minor in the series-ender tomorrow.

  • Alex Presley's 12 game hitting streak ended this afternoon.
  • Justin Wilson, Juan Diaz, and Doug Slaten combined to throw the Indy Indians first no-hitter since 2005. Wilson went 7-1/3 innings giving up two walks and K'ing nine.
  • Bradenton's Jameson Taillon had a nice outing too, going six shutout frames while giving up three singles, a walk, and fanning four.

Lineup, Game Notes

RHP Kevin Correia (1-0, 2.00) faces the Braves' RHP Tim Hudson, who is making his first start since November back surgery. The game will start at 1:35 and be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, Kevin Correia P.

  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe noted that the Angels have shown some interest in Bucco closer Joel Hanrahan. Seems like the rumor mill is off to an early start this season.
  • Pittsburgh is 9-2 when they score more than a run. 
  • The Pirates' 14 K performance last night was the most strikeouts tossed by a Bucco staff in 9-inning game since June 26th, 2004, when they whiffed 15 Reds. Ollie Perez K'ed 13 and Jose Mesa added a pair in a 1-0 win that Randall Simon clinched with a ninth inning homer. 
  • Speaking of Ks, Jason Grilli now has 15 strikeouts in 8 innings of work this year. Grilli’s 16.8 strikeouts per 9 innings average ranks second in the Majors among relief pitchers, behind Atlanta’s Johnny Venters (17.6).
  • Juan Cruz is off to a nice start, too. He hasn't been scored on in his first nine appearances, covering 8-1/3 innings.
  • Twenty games, 17 different lineups. The only constant has been Cutch, playing center and batting third.
  • DL'ed pitchers Jeff Karstens and Chris Leroux should start soft-tossing next week.
  • Jack Wilson is now a Braves' infielder. Only seven players remain on the club after Wilson was dealt on July 29th, 2009: Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Jeff Karstens, Nate McLouth and Charlie Morton, who was Wilson's teammate for six weeks.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bucs' 20 game 5-or-less run streak is the longest start-of-season streak by any big-league squad since the Brewers started the 1972 season with a MLB record of 31 consecutive games scoring five-or-fewer runs. So still a ways to go.
  • Manager Jim Leyland of the Tigers notched his 1,599th victory yesterday, tying Tommy Lasorda for 17th place for all-time MLB wins. He goes for #1,600 against the Yankees this afternoon.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bedard Gets The W In Bucs 4-2 Win

Pittsburgh was looking to give some support to hard-luck lefty Erik Bedard tonight, who has seen three runs scored behind him in four outings. And hey, they did.

The Bucs scored in the first when Alex Presley led off with a single the opposite way off of Randall Delgado. JT advanced him a sack on a bouncer to second, and he went to third on a wild pitch. Cutch walked, and Garrett Jones brought Presley home with a sac fly. Neil Walker earned a two-out pass, but Pedro whiffed.

Erik Bedard got into a little hot water in the first, giving up a one-out knock to Martin Prado and walking Dan Uggla with two away, but escaped. The Pirates went to work in the second.

It started out quietly enough. Rod Barajas singled with an out and Bedard bunted him to second. Presley collected his second knock of the night, doubling to left to score the catcher, followed by Jose Tabata's hard single to right, plating Presley, who was helped by a weak throw. The Bucs were up 3-0. Bedard surrendered a two out single, and it was off to the third.

Pittsburgh tried hard to add on. Walker lined a single with one away and went to third on an Alvarez double to left. Delgado got a big out, striking out Clint Barmes, and walked Barajas to get to the pitcher. Bedard caught a good piece of the ball, but lined out to center. The only bad omen is that the Bucs have already stranded six runners.

The Bravos cut into the lead in their half. Prado doubled with one away (Cutch tried for a diving catch and missed, playing a single into a two-bagger), and Uggla brought him home an out later to make the score 3-1. Both sides went in order in the fourth.

Pittsburgh would get that run back in the fifth and chase Delgado. Walker and Alvarez hit back-to-back doubles with an out to make it 4-1, and that brought on Livian Hernandez. He retired Barmes on a fly to center, with Pedro taking third after the catch. Barajas drew his second intentional walk, and Bedard again put the ball in play, but his roller to second ended the frame.

Things got dicey for Bedard. He walked the pitcher Hernandez to open the fifth, followed by a Michael Bourn infield knock. The lefty got the hot Prado to pop out. A Barajas passed ball on a high heater that crossed him up put runners at second and third. Freddy Freeman battled Bedard, but finally went down swinging after nine pitches, missing an outside fastball. It didn't get easier with Uggla up, but the lefty struck him out swinging at a curve. Great work, but Bedard was now at 96 pitches.

The Pirates went down 1-2-3 in the sixth. That was it for Bedard; Chris Resop took the bump. The lefty went five frames, allowing a run on five hits with two walks and nine Ks, the Bucs' season high for a starter.

Jason Heyward greeting him with a double off the center field wall on the second pitch, an 88 MPH heater, and stole third. Resop fought David Ross, falling behind 3-0 before getting him to pop out on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. Juan Francisco rolled the next pitch to first, plating Heyward and making it 4-2. Tyler Pastornicky battled Resop through eleven pitches before rolling a single to right. Tabata overran the ball and Pastornicky ended up at third.

The Braves sent up Chipper Jones to hit for Hernandez, but Resop had enough in the tank to get him to bounce out weakly to second on a curve. It took Resop 28 pitches to get through the inning, 20 of them to Ross and Pastornicky. Christhian Martinez came on for Atlanta. The Bucs went down in order again.

Juan Cruz got the call, and Casey McGehee went to first as part of a double switch. Facing the top of the Brave order, he gave up a lead-off knock to Bourn. He fell behind Prado 3-1, but got him to ground a 3-2 cutter to Walker for a 4-6-3 DP. Freeman bounced out to short, and Martinez returned to the mound.

Barmes struck out swinging on three pitches for the second time tonight. Barajas bounced out and McGehee went down swinging at a change. It was Jason Grilli's turn on the hill. He was nasty, striking out Uggla, Heyward and Ross swinging.

The top of the Pirate order was up to do battle with Martinez. With two away, Cutch turned on a change-up and doubled to left. Nate McLouth batted for Grilli and flew out to right, making it Hanny time.

He got to face the bottom of the Atlanta order. Hanny got Francisco and Pastornicky swinging at sliders. Pinch hitter Eric Hinske drove a fly to deep right that JT had to climb the wall to snag, and with that grab Erik Bedard finally got his first Pirate win.

It wasn't a cakewalk. Pittsburgh was shut down once Delgado left the game, going scoreless for the final 4-2/3 innings. The Braves had ample opportunity to make a game of it, but went 1-for-9 with RISP. That's the upside of having some power arms; that performance is the result of 14 K registered by the Bucco staff.

Kevin Correia goes against Tim Hudson tomorrow afternoon. It's Hudson's first start of the season after back surgery in November.

  • Alex Presley now has an 11 game hitting streak. 
  • Erik Bedard finished with 9 K tonight, the most for a Pirate lefty since Paul Maholm had 10 on 8/8/08 at Philadelphia.
  • Rod Barajas drew the Pirates' first intentional walk of the year tonight (he got two, actually). Pittsburgh was the last MLB team to be paid that honor. In a couple of other season firsts, Jose Tabata collected his first RBI and Neil Walker smacked his first extra-base hit. And Bedard, of course, notched his first Pittsburgh victory.
  • It's already starting. Dan Mennella of MLB Trade Rumors posted an article "Trade Candidate: Erik Bedard." Geez, can't we wait until July?
  • Indy's Rudy Owens tossed seven shutout innings, allowing six hits and a walk, while striking out six.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Walks, Brave Leather Whip Bucs 6-1

First innings have suddenly become quiet. The Pirates went down in order against Tommy Hanson, and after a lead off knock, AJ Burnett whiffed the next three Bravos. The second was also pretty calm, with Alvarez lining into a DP after a Neil Walker knock. In the third, the Bucs had Alex Presley and Casey McGehee at first and third with two away, but Clint Barmes popped the second pitch to first to end the frame.

Atlanta struck first in their half. Tyler Pastornicky drew a five pitch walk to open, and a bunt and bouncer moved him to third. Martin Prado lined a heater into right, and it was 1-0 Braves.

The Pirates tied it in the fourth, but left a lot on their plate. Cutch singled, stole second, and came in on Garrett Jones' knock to right. After an out, walks to Pedro Alvarez and McGehee juiced the bases, but Rod Barajas spared Atlanta any further damage by grounding into a custom-made 5-3 DP on the first pitch, a slider that Hanson hung and got away with.

Atlanta regained the lead in their half. With two outs, Jason Heyward walked after falling behind 0-2, stole second and came home on Pastornicky's single with the pitcher due up next. The Bucs failed to answer in the fifth. Presley had a one-out bunt single, but was nailed trying to steal when the Braves' pitched out.

Burnett got into a fifth inning jam. Michael Bourn singled and Prado walked after Burnett was ahead 1-2 on him to start the inning. He got a line out to right, with Jones diving to make the grab, and bouncer to Walker, moving the runners to second and third for Dan Uggla. Burnett caught him looking at a sinking fastball, and it remained 2-1.

Both sides stranded a runner in the sixth. That would be it for Hanson, who left for a pinch hitter after throwing 102 pitches. Ditto for Burnett, who gave up a pair of runs on six hits and three walks with 8 K after 94 pitches. A good outing, but he hurt himself with walks and the bottom of the order.

Dipping into the pen isn't a break for either club; both relief corps are tough. Kris Medlen took the bump in the seventh., and survived Barajas taking another hanger to the wall and a Nate McLouth parachute that was speared by a diving Uggla. Tony Watson came on for Pittsburgh.

Watson had a tough outing. Bourn flew out to the track, Prado singled through the hole, and then Watson issued back-to-back walks. Evan Meek surprisingly came on in a high leverage situation, inheriting a fire. It quickly became an inferno when Uggla dropped a looping double into center and Chipper Jones lined a knock the opposite way to make it 6-1.

Medlen and Meek stayed on for the eighth and put up zeroes, with both surviving a couple of rocket outs. Medlen got to work a third frame, and outside of a two-out walk to Alvarez, the Bucs didn't make a peep.

Atlanta banged ten hits of the Bucs, but the only extra-base knock was well placed rather than well hit. But Burnett and Watson walked five Bravos, and four of them scored.

The Pirate walks were only one side of the equation; the other was Atlanta's infield. Chipper Jones may have turned the game around when he turned Barajas' one hopper over the bag into an inning-ending DP with the bases loaded in the fourth and also stabbed Cutch's liner on a diving play in the eighth. Dan Uggla made a leaping grab of Alvarez's liner in the second to turn a DP and robbed McLouth in the seventh with a skidding catch.

Erik Bedard takes on Randall Delgado tomorrow night. Bedard has struggled some, but kept the Pirates in games (2.63 ERA); Delgado so far has just struggled (5.74 ERA), although he is 2-1 behind the NL's top offense.

  • Alex Presley now has an eleven game hitting streak when a hard one hopper to second bounced of Dan Uggla's chest and was ruled a single. He also bunted for a knock.
  • AJ Burnett has over 1,800 K in his career. Root Sports noted that he's twice whiffed four men in one inning. AJ has also tossed a pair of 14-K games.
  • OF Josh Bell underwent surgery today on the meniscus in his left knee. He's expected to return later this season after injuring his knee while running the bases earlier this week. The 19 year old was the Bucs' $5M second round pick from last year, a high school kid with power who was hitting .274 with a homer, five doubles and 11 RBI in 15 Class A games. He also K'ed 21 times in 62 AB. He should miss just  a few weeks.
  • Thank God that five run thingie has finally ended. Now if the Pirates can only break the ceiling, too...

Lineup, Pre-Game Notes

RHP A.J. Burnett (1-0, 0.00) goes against the Braves' RHP Tommy Hanson (2-2, 3.38) tonight at Turner Field. Hanson has won 2 out of his last three starts, and AJ opened his season by putting up nothing but zeroes. The game starts at 7:35 and will be shown on Root Sports.

You should remember the last time the Pirates visited the Ted. They were tied for first in late July of 2011, and split a four game series, losing a pair of extra inning games (thank you, Jerry Meals) to fall 1-1/2 games out. Pittsburgh then went on to drop 10 in a row, and daddy took the T-Bird away.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Clint Barmes SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Casey McGehee 1B, Rod Barajas C, AJ Burnett P.

Clint Hurdle is looking for a little more thump. Jose Tabata sits for a second game and Casey McGehee gets in the lineup.

  • AJ Burnett is two K’s shy of becoming the seventh active MLB pitcher with at least 1,800 strikeouts.
  • RHP Jared Hughes made history as the first 26th man in MLB history when he appeared against the Rockies in the opener of Wednesday's twin bill. The dugout lineup card is actually going to be exhibited in Cooperstown at the Hall of Fame. The extra man is allowed for doubleheaders per the most recent CBA.
  • The kids are alright: Brad Lincoln is holding opponents to an .071 BA (1-14) and Tony Watson's opponent BA is .136 (3-22). Hanny (.100, 2-20) and Jason Grilli (.154, 4-26) have also held their foes to under .200.
  • The Pirates were 57-26 when they scored 4+ runs last year; they're 5-0 this season.
  • The Bucs have put together a streak of 45 consecutive innings without an error. 2011's longest stretch of mistake-free ball reached 64 frames.
  • 21 year old RHP Stetson Allie was sent down to short-season State College after two outings at Class A West Virginia, where he walked eight of the twelve batters he faced. He also hit another hitter and uncorked three wild pitches.
  • West Virginia SS Alen Hanson extended his league-best hitting streak to 16 games.
  • RHP Daniel Cabrera made his first Pirate appearance with High Class A Bradenton. The veteran righty was signed to a minor league contract after missing 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, and was in Pirate City strengthening his arm before returning to action.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Big Country Back In The Show

Bucco fans should remember Brad "Big Country" Eldred, the monstrous (6'6", 270 lb) first baseman who could launch a baseball as far as Cape Canaveral launched rockets. Hey, it's only fitting since he was born in Fort Lauderdale.

Eldred was selected by the Pirates out of Florida International University in the 6th round of the 2002 draft. He signed quickly and reported to short-season Williamsport, moving on to to Class A Hickory the following season, where he bombed 28 homers.

In 2004, the big guy really broke out. Playing for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats and AA Altoona Curve, he hit .301 with 38 home runs and 137 RBIs. The Pirates named him their minor-league player of the year, which unfortunately even then was likelier to be a kiss of death than a fast track to stardom.

He started 2005 at Altoona and was promoted to AAA Indy, and Eldred hit a combined .297 with 28 home runs and 75 RBIs into late July. The big team called him up on July 21st. Big Country hit .221 with 12 home runs and 77 strikeouts in 55 games, and was a star on the rise. The FO sent him to the Arizona Fall League in the off season, hoping he could tighten his strike zone.

He needed the extra swings because Eldred had one small problem. Although he whacked 104 home runs in the minors to this point, he also whiffed 446 times, a 31% K rate. But hey, gotta take the good with the bad, right? A few whiffs scattered around 30 homers is a deal most teams would take.

He missed virtually all of the 2006 season after thumb surgery, but came back strong (.303/6/13 in spring training) and made the roster in 2007, adding outfield to his repertoire. First base was a logjam that season, with Adam LaRouche, Ryan Doumit, Steve Pearce, and Josh Phelps all getting shots at the position.

With LaRouche locked in at first and all that competition for the back-up spot, Eldred couldn't afford to stumble out of the blocks. But he did, hitting only .109, and was demoted to Indy on May 20th. That would pretty well end his Pittsburgh era; Pearce had passed him on the depth chart. It didn't help that he had a terrible year at Indy at 2007, and so he became a travelin' man, making a new AAA stop every year.

In 2008, he signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox. Playing for the Charlotte Knights, Eldred hit 38 home runs with 100 RBIs to lead the International League in both categories. He also hit just .244 and K'ed 144 times, and the Sox allowed him to walk at the end of the season.

Next was a stop with the Washington Nationals and their top affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs. Big Country had a mediocre year, hitting .269 with 17 home runs and 59 RBIs, and then it was off to the Rox in 2010 and what seemed to be a perpetual minor league hamster wheel.

Colorado Springs helped rejuvenate his bat. He hit .269, but he had 27 HRs and drove in 104 for the Sky Sox. On July 7th, he got the call when Todd Helton went on the DL. Eldred played off the bench, and in 24 AB hit .250 with a homer and 3 RBI to go with his 10 strikeouts.

The performance didn't impress the Rockies' management, so in 2011 he found himself a Giant. They gave him an invite to spring training before sending him down to the Fresno Grizzlies during camp, where he hit .278 with 23 bombs and 57 RBI.

At 31, the flame was still dancing in his heart if flickering a bit, and the Detroit Tigers signed him to a minor league contract. It helped that Jimmy Leyland knew and liked him from back in his days as a Cardinal scout based in Pittsburgh. And hey - Big Country tore up the IL for Toledo, batting .388 with 13 homers and 38 RBI in 20 games.

Sometimes patience pays. The Tigers released veteran utility guy Brandon Inge today, and Brad Eldred is back in the show.

It'll be interesting to see how Leyland uses him. The offensively-challenged Tigers have already penciled in seven players at DH, where Eldred mostly saw his Mud Hen action. He also sipped a coffee at first base and right field, not that there's much chance of him knocking Prince Fielder out of a job. But he can still move a little. He stole nine bases last season, so he's not entirely one dimensional.

Jimmy Leyland has always been an instinctive coach, and may be up for playing the en fuego Big Country just to roll the dice while they're hot. After all, Eldred never had an everyday gig in the majors; it could be scary if he got regular at-bats and carried his mojo to Motown.

But no matter what happens, it's always nice to see a guy get rewarded. Nothing is as thankless as being a club-to-club AAAA player, especially when you have a wife and a couple of kiddies in tow. Garrett Jones was in the same sort of rut at age 28, and he rode a hot bat into a major league paycheck that he's still collecting. So here's to ya', Big Country. Go for it.

Cory Giger of The Altoona Mirror also has an excellent piece on the Curve legend.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bucs Ride Sun, Bombs Into 5-1 Nightcap Win

RHP Jhoulys Chacin (0-1, 4.80) for Colorado faces RHP Charlie Morton (0-1, 3.60) in game #2. The Bucco lineup: Alex Presley LF, Nate McLouth RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B,  Yamaico Navarro 2B, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, Charlie Morton P. Neil Walker and Jose Tabata took seats for the second match.

And hey, no runs in the first again. The Bucs had Cutch and Garrett Jones on the corners with two away and Pedro up, but after ripping a long foul, he bounced to Todd Helton at first to end the frame. The Bucs continued to flounder in the second.

Yamaico Navarro, starting at second, walked and Clint Barmes dropped a parachute double into short left to put runners at second and third with no outs. Rod Barajas, with the infield back and conceding the run, let a belt high, outside corner cutter go by for a strike and then popped up, golfing an ankle-high curve. Morton K'ed on three swings, and Alex Presley flew out. Three RISP in two frames and nada to show for it.

The game moved along quietly enough. The Rox loaded the bases in the fifth, when a one-out roller into center by Michael Cuddyer was followed by a two-away HBP as Morton clipped Jonathan Hererra's back foot. Chacin legged out an infield hit when he got the call on a bang-bang at first after Alvarez made a diving stop and strong throw to no avail. But CM got Marco Scutaro to bounce to short for the force and keep the game scoreless.

In their half, the Bucs broke out, thanks to the baseball gods. After Morton flew out to the wall, Presley doubled up the right field line. Nate McLouth hit a can of corn to left that Cargo lost in the sun, and it fell for an RBI double. Cutch hit a liner to left center that was catchable by Gonzalez, but he lost that one in the sun too, and it dropped, scoring McLouth. After Cargo switched shades, Jones and Alvarez bombed back-to-back dingers (Pedro's off the foul pole in right) and it was 5-0. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

Morton was gassed after two were down in the seventh. Ramon Hernandez pounded a long blast off him that landed in the Pirate hedges, and  Herrera singled. He fell behind Tyler Colvin 3-0, but came back to get him on a soft chop to short to finish the frame. Morton went seven, giving up a run on six hits and a walk with two Ks, throwing 101 pitches.

Chad Durham and Edgmer Escalona shut down the Bucs over the last two innings, while Brad Lincoln threw a pair of clean frames with two K's to close out for Pittsburgh. The sun followed by some thunder was plenty enough for the Bucs to wash out the taste of the opening game defeat as they took the nightcap 5-1.

The Bucs are off tomorrow as they head to Atlanta for a four game set, followed by a trio at St. Louis.

  • OK, we can quit now - the Bucs set the record for most season-starting games with neither team topping five runs at 18. Any more are gravy.
  • All four of Pedro's homers have been on off speed pitches.
  • The Garrett Jones and Alvarez homers were the first back-to-back blasts by Bucco hitters since Lyle Overbay and Brandon Wood did it on 7/16/11 at Houston.
  • Clint Barmes came out of his slump against his old mates, collecting six hits against the Rox and raising his average 90 points.
  • Alex Presley's hitting streak is now at ten games.
  • Jeff Karstens will visit Dr. James Andrews when the Bucs go to Atlanta to see when he can begin throwing again. He's been down with shoulder inflammation.

Little Things Bite Bucs In 2-1 Loss

Well, J-Mac didn't have the usual Bucco first inning blues. After getting Marco Scutaro to fly out, he blew heaters past Tyler Colvin and Carlos Gonzalez.The Pirates fizzled too, but in an entirely different manner.

Alex Presley lined a single the opposite way and held as JT flew out to the track in right. He went with Cutch at bat, but an easy pitch to handle and bad jump combined to nail him at second. The Bucs are now just 11-of-19 in stolen base efforts. McCutch doubled to right center, but the inning ended on a Neil Walker swinging K. Lotta smoke, no flame.

The game settled down after that. McDonald allowed his first runner with two away in the third when he walked Nicasio on a 3-2 pitch; the Rox hurler never offered a cut. J-Mac countered by slapping an infield single in his at-bat.

The Pirates tried to catch some two-out lightning in the fourth. Casey McGehee legged out an excuse me bouncer and after falling behind 0-2, Pedro Alvarez lined a rope to left, but it was run down at the track. Both guys were dealing at this point. J-Mac had 4 Ks and Nicasio had 5, both using their off-speed stuff with great success.

McDonald started off the fifth with some control issues. He plunked Jason Giambi and walked Michael Cuddyer on four pitches to open the frame. But a quick DP and swinging strikeout of Chris Nelson calmed the waters.

The Pirates again got two hits in the sixth without scoring. JT singled to left center to open the frame, but was thrown out trying to stretch it on a play so close even the replay camera couldn't make the call. With two outs, Walker legged out an infield single, the third of the game for the Bucs, but was left stranded.

The Rox started to work it in the seventh. A four pitch walk to Cargo was followed by the first Colorado knock, a grounder by Troy Tulowitzki that glanced off a diving Alvarez's mitt. J-Mac crossed up McKenry, and the result was a wild pitch, moving the Rockies up 90'. Giambi had the green light on a 3-0 pitch, and drove it to the track in center, bringing in a run and moving Tulo to third.

He came back to get Cuddyer and Wil Rosario on strikes. J-Mac went seven, giving up a run on one hit and three walks with eight Ks, tossing 101 pitches.

Like yesterday, the Rox lead was short-lived. Alvarez led off the seventh by shipping a change up over the wall in right center that left PNC in a hurry. Clint Barmes followed by golfing a knock into left with two strikes.

But he was on base for just two pitches; he was caught stealing on a pitchout on another play that was bang-bang. He may have sneaked a toe in under a high throw, but was rung up and become the third Pirate tossed out on the bases. With two away, Yamaico Navarro walked and went to second on a wild pitch, but Presley was caught looking on a back door curve served by reliever Matt Reynolds.

Chris Resop climbed the hill. After a K, speed burner Eric Young walked into a curve, taking it on the elbow. Scutaro followed with a knock into left center, putting runners on the corners and bring on Tony Watson with two lefties due. Colvin lifted a ball into medium right; Young scored under the tag when JT's two-hop throw was slightly up the third base line and McKenry was well in front of the plate, regaining the Rox lead at 2-1.

Esmil Rogers made the Bucs look bad in the eighth, striking out the side. Cutch and Walker went down swinging at balls in the dirt, and neither made an effort to jog to first, a sure sign of frustration from two of the team's leaders. Jared Hughes worked the ninth and put up a zip, overcoming a pop double by Dexter Fowler that fell among three Bucco fielders. Rafael Betencourt earned his sixth save by putting down the Bucs in order easily in the ninth.

Pittsburgh did all the little things wrong, and it cost them the game. The winning run scored on a poorly played pitch-and-catch play at the plate. The first run was set up by a walk and wild pitch. The Bucs had nine knocks, but lost three guys on the basepaths, continued to pull outside pitches and K'ed ten times.

Charlie Morton takes on Jhoulys Chacin in the second half.
  • The Pirates lead the league in infield hits, so they're not at the bottom of every offensive category. 
  • Alex Presley's first inning knock stretched his hitting streak to nine games.
  • J-Mac joined Kevin Correia as the only Pirate pitchers to throw a clean opening frame this season.
  • SS Alen Hanson at Class A West Virginia extended his hitting streak to 15 games this afternoon.

Game One Lineup, Notes

The first game features the Rox RHP Juan Nicasio (1-0, 6.19) taking the bump against RHP James McDonald (0-1, 3.45). Nicasio has given up ten runs in his last two starts, while J-Mac has had his struggles but held the opponent to three or less in his outings. The game begins at 12:35 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, James McDonald P.

No big surprises. This is Hurdle's usual lineup against righties, with McKenry getting the night-day start behind the dish and the hot McGehee getting the nod at first; we expect Garrett Jones to get the game two start.

  • Jared Hughes was the extra player called up for today's game. Under the new CBA, doubleheaders allow for 26 men on the roster to ease the pitching burden.
  • Alex Presley extended his career-high hitting streak to eight games last night, the fourth longest current string. He has hit safely in 13 of his 14 starts this season.
  • James McDonald led the Pirates in starts (31) and strikeouts (142) last year.
  • The Bucs have won four of their last six games.
  • In 12 of their first 16 games, either the Pirates or their opponent have scored in the first inning.
  • The Rockies brought up RHP reliever Zach Putnam from AAA Colorado Springs as their extra player for today.
  • You can return home again: Hurdle was the Rox old skipper (2002-09), while Jim Tracy was the Bucs' field boss once upon a time (2006-07).
  • LHP Jeff Locke won his second straight game for Indy, going six innings and allowing a run on three hits and two walks with 6 K. He is 2-3/3.86 on the year.
  • RHP Jameson Taillon pitched for High A Bradenton last night. He went five scoreless innings, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out six. He has a 1.93 ERA on the season with 24 K in 18-2/3 innings.
  • RHP Aaron Pribanic (right shoulder) and INF Jarek Cunningham (left wrist), were placed on the DL for AA Altoona.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bucs Rally Late To Win 5-4 Slugfest

Hey, if you're coming out to watch a Bucco game, make sure you come early. The first inning scoring continued unabated tonight.

Dexter Fowler of the Rox started the early action against Kevin Correia, lining a one-out knock into center. Carlos Gonzalez made it hurt when he yanked a 3-2 heater over the wall in left to make it 2-0 before the beer guys emptied their first tray.

The Bucs cut into the deficit when Alex Presley banged the second pitch from Old Man River Jamie Moyer for a double, and a bunt followed by a bouncer later, the Pirates had manufactured a run to make it 2-1.The next few frames went quickly. The Pirates left three runners in scoring position, and all three were set up with two away and Correia at bat. He K'ed both times.

In the sixth, Casey McGehee led off with a walk. Neil Walker moved him to second with a sacrifice (don't ask) to bring up Yamaico Navarro. He rolled a ball into left to put runners on the corners. Rod Barajas flew out to medium right and McGehee held at third. It came as no surprise to see Clint Barmes walk, as Moyer gave him nothing near the plate to bring up Correia.

Clint Hurdle pulled his plug and brought Josh Harrison in to hit. He pulled a change-up to third, and that bouncer ended the frame. Can't complain about Correia at home tonight. He went six innings, giving up a pair on four hits with four strikeouts, throwing 93 pitches.

Juan Cruz, who closed last week, came on to work the seventh and faced the 5-6-7 hitters of Colorado. He brushed Ramon Hernandez with two away, and left him at first to put up another zero. That was it for Moyer; lefty Rex Brothers climbed the bump. He throws, oh, about 20 MPH harder than Methuselah, hitting 95-96 on the gun.

Presley legged out his second double of the day on a ball drilled toward the Notch as a greeting. JT dropped a single into right to put runners on the corners with no outs and Cutch at the dish. He drilled the first pitch off the wall in left center for a two-bagger, and the Bucs claimed the lead for the first time, 3-2. Brothers worked around McGehee, walking him on four pitches. RHP Josh Roenicke took the ball.

Neil Walker lined an 0-2 pitch just foul past first; Todd Helton, who was watching the line, snagged it. Navarro caught a ball flush, but it ended up a 395' out, hauled in at the track. Barajas hit the ball sharply on a 3-2 cutter, but lined it to left fielder Cargo to end the inning. Lots of hard hit balls, and two runs to show.

Jason Grilli took the hill to face a pinch hitter and the top of the order. He got Eric Young swinging at a heater. Marco Scutaro went with an outside fastball and lined it into right for a double. Fowler fought off a couple of two-strike fastballs, but was caught looking at a slider. Gonzalez stepped in, and Hurdle tapped his left arm for Tony Watson to get the lefty-on-lefty match up.

Didn't work; Cargo mashed a 1-1 slider away and belt high over the fence and into the bullpen for his second long ball of the day and gave the Rox the lead again at 4-3. Watson got Troy Tulowitzki, but it was too little, too late. Matt Belisle took over for Colorado up a run.

The lead didn't last long. On a 2-0 pitch, Barmes pulled one down the line for his second homer and tied the game at fours. Garrett Jones grabbed a bat and walked on five pitches. Presley bunted and Belisle mishandled the ball to put runners at first and second with nobody away, the same situation the Pirates had last inning. Nate McLouth replaced Jones at second after he was almost picked off by Belisle.

JT tried to move them over, but popped up behind the plate to waste the at-bat. Cutch rolled out to the mound, resulting in a force at second. Belisle fed McGehee three sliders away. He took the first pair for balls and lined the next one into right to plate McLouth and send Cutch to third.

Mike Reynolds trotted in to face Walker. The Kid bounced the first pitch to third to end the frame, but the Bucs had the lead again to hand over to Hanny.

Helton went down on a fly to center after falling behind 0-2. Michael Cuddyer also fell into an 0-2 hole and flew out to right. Hernandez went down swinging at a slider, and the Bucs came back twice to snatch victory from the Rox.

Five runs is an explosion for the Pirates, but in the early slogging, they showed their impatience at the plate. Moyer stayed away from them and the batters couldn't wait to pull the trigger, rolling everything to the pull side. But hey, maybe it synced their timing when the hard throwing Rox pen took over.

The Pirates did get 11 hits, with five doubles and a long ball. They set up tons of opportunities, but finished 4-for-16 with RISP. It's a start, and we'll take it. And in an oddity, Tony Watson gave up a homer to lose the lead, was credited with a blown save - and got the win.

Tomorrow will feature a get-away doubleheader. J-Mac and Charlie Morton will go for Pittsburgh against Colorado's Juan Nacasio and Jhoulys Chacin in an all-righty match up. The first game is at 12:35 and both will be televised.

  • Clint Barmes and Alex Presley had a pair of doubles while Jose Tabata added a couple of singles. Barmes was 3-for-3 with a homer and walk to go with the two-baggers. And beside his game-winning single, Casey McGehee drew three walks.
  • Cargo's two homers were his first long balls of the year.
  • Yep, the Pirates tied their own 1965 NL record of consecutive opening games with neither team going north of five runs tonight at 16. The MLB record is 17, set by the 1943 Tigers.
  • The Pirates and the Rockies will become the first teams in MLB history to add an extra player to the roster for their twin bill at PNC Park. The new CBA allows teams to carry 26 on the active roster for doubleheaders to save all the movement that calling up an extra pitcher entails. Both sides, with a travel day Thursday and the rotations OK, will likely bring up a reliever.

Lineup, Game Notes

Colorado's LHP Jamie Moyer will take the mound against RHP Kevin Correia at PNC Park tonight. Both guys have been serving up excellent ball to open the year. The match starts at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Casey McGehee 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Yamaico Navarro SS, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Kevin Correia P.

Navarro gets the nod at third with Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez getting a blow against the lefty Moyer. This is the situation where we liked having Matt Hague around; he and McGehee could have manned the corner instead of plugging another middle infielder's bat into the lineup.

  • Alex Presley will carry a seven game hitting streak into tonight's game, the longest of his career.
  • The Rockies have 14 stolen bases in 14 games; the Pirates have 10 in 15 games.
  • Jamie Moyer made his first start against the Pirates on 8/11/86 at Wrigley Field, losing to Rick Rhoden. Moyer’s first start in Pittsburgh was a 7-0 loss to Rick Reuschel at Three Rivers Stadium on 6/27/87.
  • The Pirates have retired the side in order in the first inning just once this year, turned by tonight's starter Kevin Correia against San Francisco on 4/15 .
  • Jim Callis from Baseball America was asked about Pedro Alvarez in his recent "Ask BA" column. He started his answer with "I thought Alvarez was the best player in the 2008 draft, but he certainly hasn't played like it." and ended it with " could argue that he's the biggest waste of hitting talent in draft history." Ouch!
  • The Mets put Jason Bay on the 15-day DL with a broken rib.

Don't Hit The Panic Button...Yet

OK, the Bucs are on pace to win 65 games. But we wouldn't hit the panic button quite yet; there's still plenty of time for that.

People tend to forget that this is a team that was projected to finish in the 75 win range, and they've just went through a pretty brutal stretch of games. Pittsburgh has played five series. Two were against division leading squads, and overall the five are 49-35 as of this morning, a .583 winning %.

The Bucs, who we also knew were gonna be challenged offensively, have gone up against the NL's top arms. Pittsburgh has faced the number #3, 4, 5 and 7th ranked staffs so far. (Washington and the Pirates are the NL's two top ERA clubs, at 2.34 & 2.63) .

As predicted, the Pirate pitching has been good and the hitting hasn't. Both will regress as the season goes on. Pittsburgh isn't likely to finish 2012 with a 2.63 ERA, nor with a .202 BA and 300 runs scored. The five weeks beginning on May 1st will tell a better tale.

Not only will we have a better sample size after two months, but Pittsburgh gets its first - and only - stretch of first-half NL Central games. During that span, they'll play three games against every team in the division, and nine against Cincinnati. The non-division foes are Washington, Detroit, Florida, and the Mets, who are kinda bundled in the middle of May.

Now we do know a couple of things. The bullpen looks like it will hold up again, and the rotation is the deepest it's been since the Coonelly/Huntington era, even with the young guys still feeling their way and Erik Bedard looking for his fastball. With the exception of Garrett Jones at first, the defense has been strong, although Clint Barmes has had some early year problems.

The hitting is a potential black hole. The team doesn't have much power, and the OBP's of the back half of the order promise a lot of 1-2-3 innings. They're also at the bottom of the pack with walks; a quick course in plate patience and pitch recognition should be high on Clint Hurdle's syllabus.

But it's too early to be shoveling dirt on the team. As we said, regression will begin to rear its head, and by the early days of June, we should have a better grasp of just what kind of team the Pirates have this year. To us, the 75 win projection still looks solid.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bucs, Rox Washed Out; DH Wednesday

Tonight's 7:05 Pirates-Rockies game at PNC Park has been postponed due to the nasty weather. The game will be made up as part of a DH on Wednesday, starting at 12:35. The second game will follow the first by 1/2 hour. It was easier to play two Wednesday than use up the Thursday travel day.

Root Sports was already scheduled to show the 12:35 game Wednesday; no word on whether they'll carry the second game yet.

The Bucco pitchers for the series against Colorado will be Kevin Correia (Tuesday), James McDonald (Wednesday #1) and Charlie Morton (Wednesday # 2). The Rockies' starters slated for the set are LHP Jamie Moyer followed by righties Juan Nacasio and Jhoulys Chacin.

The Rox are 8-7, and just took 2 out-of-three from the Brewers at Milwaukee. The Pirates are 6-9, and just lost 2 out-of-three to St. Louis here.

The Pirates are off Thursday, and then travel to Atlanta for a four game series and St. Louis for a three match set.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cards Take Series 5-1

The Pirate sticks took yet another day off and wasted a decent effort by Erik Bedard to drop the rubber game to the Cards 5-1 this afternoon in front of 30,437 chilled fans.

Bedard took awhile to find a rhythm.  In the first, Rafael Furcal golfed a low, two-strike off speed pitch into center and Tyler Greene bunted for a knock with Pedro Alvarez playing back. Matt Holliday fell behind 1-2, and watched the next three pitches miss to load the bases. Carlos Beltran grounded into a 5-4-3 DP, giving St. Louis a 1-0 lead.

The Cards wasted a led-off double in the second, and opened the third with a Furcal double and Greene walk, again after falling behind 1-2. A fly ball moved Furcal to third, and a passed ball put Greene at second. Carlos Beltran struck out, but David Freese, after falling into an 0-2 hole, worked the count full and lined a heater into right to put the Cards up 3-0.

Bedard tightened up after that, issuing two works and surrendering two knocks over the next four frames, but his teammates provided no help. The Bucs never had more than one runner aboard through the first seven innings, and the score stayed 3-0 into the eighth.

He went seven, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits and four walks with seven Ks. Chris Resop threw a clean eighth, and the Pirates mounted their only offense of the day in their half. McKenry led off with a double on a 1-2 sinker and Casey McGehee singled him home. In came Mitchell Boggs, and he got nate McLouth on a liner to center and polished off the frame when he turned a Jose Tabata comebacker into a DP.

Evan Meek climbed the hill, and the Redbirds made sure there was no late inning drama. After an out, he gave up a walk and back-to-singles, followed by a first-pitch, two-out knock by Holliday, and it was 5-1. Meek threw 26 pitches, and only a dozen were strikes. Kyle McClelland shut the door in the ninth.

Not much good to take out of today's game. Bedard again managed the game OK, but he had several opportunities to put guys away when he was ahead of them in the count and didn't. The Pirate offense shows no sign of improving, collecting six hits and no walks against the Cards.

The Bucs played five guys that were hitting under .200 today. In fact, pitcher Bedard's .125 average is higher than Clint Barmes (.089) and Pedro Alverez's (.108) BAs. Pittsburgh averages two runs scored per game; the NL averages four.

The team went into today with a line of .203/.253/.283. That's last in every category in the NL, and not by a small margin. The league line is .242/.310/.378. heck, they're even last in walks drawn, with just 25 in fifteen games.

RHP Kevin Correia is expected back on the bump tomorrow against the Rockies' ageless wonder, LHP Jamie Moyer. The Rox, 8-7, just took 2-out-of-3 from the Brewers at Milwaukee.

  • Bedard became the first Buc to toss a hundred or more pitches in a game this year with 102 offerings.
  • The Pirates have scored three runs for Bedard in four outings. That explains how a guy with a 2.63 ERA is 0-4.
  • Chase d'Arnaud is still out of action with a concussion he received after being beaned last week.

Lineup, Notes

LHP Erik Bedard goes against Card's RHP Kyle Lohse at 1:35. Bedard has had a hard luck start with an 0-3 record but a 2.65 ERA. Lohse has been tough, with a 2-0 mark and 0.89 ERA. The game will be on Root Sports, as the networks are carrying the Pens today.

The lineup: Nate McLouth LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, Erik Bedard P.

We find it kinda odd that Clint Hurdle finds spots to work in his bench except in Barmes' case (can't blame him for penciling in Cutch and The Kid every day). Yamaico Navarro and Josh Harrison have pretty much been spectators so far this season. Hurdle didn't sit Cedeno much last year, so he either likes a regular pair in the middle or doesn't have much faith in his bench infielders, ala Pedro Ciriaco in 2011.

  • Alex Presley has hit safely in a career-best seven straight games, tied for the fourth longest current streak in the NL. He has a hit in 12 of his 13 starts.
  • Andrew McCutchen ranks fourth in the N.L. with a .377 batting average and fifth with a .431 OBP. He has reached base safely in 12 of the first 14 games.
  • Today's lineup is the twelfth different batting order used by Clint Hurdle in fifteen games.
  • From Elias Sports: A.J. Burnett became the first pitcher to work at least seven shutout innings with seven+ strikeouts in his Pirates debut since Nick Maddox, who did it on Sept. 13, 1907.
  • With a snow warning in effect, tomorrow's game against Colorado may be pushed back to Thursday, a scheduled travel day for the clubs.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Odd Couple Cage Birds 2-0

Man, talk about a pair of unlikely heroes. AJ Burnett, who was supposed be tossing for the Altoona Curve tonight, and Pedro Alvarez, whose BA was barely higher than the temperature, teamed up to defeat the Cards tonight 2-0.

Burnett started off like a AA pitcher, loading the bases with nobody out thanks to a single sandwiched between a pair of free passes. But he came back to whiff Carlos Beltran and David Freese swinging, and skipped home free after Yadier Molina lined out to Clint Barmes.

The Cardinals never had another runner in scoring position against Burnett, who retired 12 batters in a row and gave up just two more hits in his seven innings of work. He walked a pair and struck out seven while serving up 76 pitches, with 24 coming in the opening frame.

The Pirates didn't exactly swat Jake Westbrook around. They drew first blood in the fourth inning. Cutch and Neil Walker had back-to-back knocks to put runners on the corners. Pedro Alvarez smoked a two-strike change up to third that Freese could only knock down to make it 1-0.

The sixth inning starred the same cast. With an out, McCutch doubled the opposite way off the Clemente Wall and Walker took a four pitch base on balls. With two outs and runners on the corners after a force out, Alvarez rolled another change up into right, and it was 2-0. That would prove plenty, though not without a nervous few moments in the last two innings.

With Burnett gone, Juan Cruz climbed the hill in the eighth. Shane Robinson and Tyler Greene led off with singles and Rafael Furcal bunted them up a sack. Tony Watson took the ball, and K'ed Matt Carpenter swinging.  Matt Holliday faced Jason Grilli; same result.

Hanny made it interesting in the ninth. After a K, he walked the next pair of Redbirds. Then he fell behind 3-1 to Erik Komatsu, but rallied to nail him swinging on a foul tip. Robinson bounced the first pitch he saw to the hot corner, and Alvarez capped his night by stepping on the sack to seal the victory.

Kyle Lohse goes against Erik Bedard in the rubber match tomorrow afternoon.

  • Burnett got 17 of his 21 outs with three pitches or less. 
  • Best tweet of the evening, by Andrew McCutchen: "The fans had me weak wen yall were screamin at A.J. Burnett not to bunt." Burnett said after the game about that bunt attempt "I didn't know what the noise was about til I figured it out a couple pitches later. I think that's awesome."
  • Tonight was Joel Hanrahan's first outing since a 31 pitch effort Sunday against the Giants when he tweaked his hammy.
  • The Pirates drew 25,218 on a miserable night, another decent showing by the fans. After all that lovely March weather, the City is under a winter storm warning for tomorrow night.
  • This is the first time the Cards have been held under two runs this season. They were hitting .287 coming into the game, but were limited to five knocks, all singles.
  • Clint Hurdle told reporters that Kevin Correia was held out merely as a precaution, and it will be a game day decision on Monday whether KC or Brad Lincoln will get the start against the Rox.
  • Fourteen games played, and fourteen times neither Pittsburgh nor its foe could crack the five run ceiling.
  •  West Virginia Power SS Alen Hanson had three more hits tonight, bringing his average up to .420.

Lineup, Notes

Tonight's pitchers are the freshly recalled RHP AJ Burnett for the Bucs against RHP Jake Westwood of the Cards. Burnett was due for a rehab start at Altoona this evening, but the slated starter, Kevin Correia, has unspecified left side pain and was scratched. Westbrook is off to a smokin' start. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA. The game will start at 7:05 under pretty gloomy skies (the front should move through by six or so) and be shown on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Rod Barajas C, AJ Burnett P.

Hurdle is sitting Garrett Jones against Westbrook tonight for Casey McGehee, going against the grain of his usual lefty-righty match ups.

  • Cutch, Presley and Walker have been in all 13 games for Pittsburgh. Barmes and Jones have missed one, McGehee and Tabata a pair (we're counting games played, not started).
  • The Buc staff has posted a 2.73 team ERA so far and rank fourth in MLB behind Philadelphia (2.20), Texas (2.38) and Washington (2.38). To even it up, the Pirates have scored two runs or less in nine of their 13 games.
  • In 10 of their first 13 games, either the Pirates or their opponent (or both) have scored in the first inning.
  • The Bucs drew 23,000+ last night, not bad considering the local hockey club was playing a few blocks across the river.

Bucs Make Pitching Moves; Burnett Back, KC Out

Well, the pitcher-go-round continues. AJ Burnett, scheduled to pitch for Altoona tonight, was instead recalled and will go in place of Kevin Correia, who is experiencing pain on his left side. Jared Hughes was sent down, and that may explain why Clint Hurdle used him for three innings last night, as the bullpen will be a man short for at least tonight.

That would make the Pirate rotation as of this week Burnett, Erik Bedard, Brad Lincoln, James McDonald and Charlie Morton, with Jeff Karstens already on the 15 day DL.

The FO looks kinda bright right about now. Last season, the Pirates floundered when they were hit by a rash of pitching injuries late in the year. This time around, they built a little pre-season depth, and it's paying off. We'll see what other moves are up their sleeve, depending on Correia's condition.

If KC is DL'ed, Hughes will probably return. If Correia only misses a start, Lincoln may get to stay as the long man, or may go back to Indy to remain stretched out. If only the hitting were so deep...

Birds Drop Bucs 4-1

Well, probably a good thing that Root Sports aimed its cameras at the Pens instead of the Bucs tonight. The Pirates didn't provide much compelling sports drama after the first batter, Alex Presley, led off with an inside the park homer, falling to the Redbirds 4-1.

The Pirates' lead lasted an at-bat. In the second, Charlie Morton missed tagging the base on a pitch and catch with Garrett Jones on Carlos Beltran dribbler, and Beltran came around to score on Yadier Molina's one-out double.

In the fifth, Pittsburgh missed getting a call, and it cost them the lead. Matt Holliday caught a break on a safe call at first that would have ended the inning. Instead, there were runners on the corners and Beltran brought home the go-ahead run when he rolled a single softly into right.

That would be Morton's last frame. He did an OK job, going five innings and giving up two runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts, aided by a twin-killing. Evan Meek pitched a clean sixth, throwing just five pitches, followed by Jared Hughes.

Hughes threw a pair of scoreless innings, but the Cards added two insurance runs off him in the ninth. Daniel Descalso homered to right and Rafael Furcal drilled a RBI double to plate Shane Robinson, who had reached on a Neil Walker boot. It was the fourth Pittsburgh misplay of the night, with Clint Barmes adding a pair of wayward throws to the box score; two of St. Louis' runs were unearned.

As for the Pirates, they collected just three more hits and a pair of walks after Presley's out-of-the-gate sprint around the sacks. They couldn't do anything with them, as two DPs and a caught stealing kept the bases barren as the Bucs stranded just two runners. Presley was the only Bucco to touch second safely.

Cardinal RHP Lance Lynn, now 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, went seven innings allowing one run on four hits and a walk with four Ks. RHP Kevin Correia takes on the Cards' RHP Jake Westbrook tomorrow night. In two starts, Westbrook is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA, and Correia is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA. The bright spot tonight was that the Pirate pitching did keep it tight until the end, and hopefully KC can keep it going tomorrow long enough to give the bats a chance to wake.

  • Alex Presley's leadoff inside the park homer was the first for a Pirate to open a game since Omar Moreno hit one in 1980, and the first at PNC since Jack Wilson's in 2004.
  • Skip Schumaker, who just came off the DL today, had to leave the game after Presley's dinger. He crashed into the wall after a futile leap to grab it, and had the wind knocked out him. He was removed as a precautionary measure.
  • The streak continues. The Pirates have yet to score or allow more than five runs in any game for the thirteenth straight time this year.
  • AJ Burnett is making what is probably his last rehab start tomorrow for Altoona.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lineup, Pre-Game Notes

RHP Lance Lynn of the Cards faces RHP Charlie Morton tonight at PNC Park. Lynn is Chris Carpenter's replacement (he's out indefinitely with nerve issues) from the bullpen, and has given up just a run per start in his pair of outings. Morton is making his second trip to the bump after returning from hip surgery. The game will start at 7:05 PM and be radio only, as the Penguins and the Flyers will fill the spot.

The Lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones 1B, Rod Barajas C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Charlie Morton P.

  • The Pirates are last in runs scored at 26, and they've had to work for those. 15 of the 26 (58%) have come with two outs.
  • Injured closer Joel Hanrahan will be a game-day decision to play tonight.
  • Speaking of relievers, the Pittsburgh bullpen ERA of 2.18 ERA ranks second in the NL, trailing only the San Diego Padres with a 2.03 mark.
  • Cutch is the main attraction among the eight Bucs on the recently released All Star ballot. Joining him on the slate are Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and Rod Barajas.
  • Lance Berkman has gone on the 15 day DL for the Redbirds with a calf injury. Skip Schumaker is expected to return to the active roster for tonight's game. 
  • Old Bucco farmhand Brad Eldred made Baseball America's "Prospect Hot Sheet" as a Blast From the Past. The 31-year old is tied for second place among active minor leaguers for home runs with 235.
  • MLB and  MLBPA have agreed to end future personal service deals and milestone bonus clauses,'s Jayson Stark reports. They were considered contractual loopholes by MLB because their money didn't count against the payroll, and therefore, toward the luxury tax.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Juan Cruz

Hey, who is that crafty righty who has just notched back-to-back saves for the Buccos? It's none other than the well traveled Juan Cruz, the latest in a line of steady veteran relievers the Pirates have brought in the past three seasons. The FO works that market about as well as any team (even if the occasional Joe Beimel slips through), and usually gets pretty good bang for its buck.

He's always shown outstanding stuff and owns a fair-sized arsenal of pitches. Cruz's heater sits at 92-93, and he has a cutter, slider and change, which is a nice toolkit for a back-end reliever. The string bean (6'2" - 165 lbs) has become primarily a fastball/cutter pitcher in the past couple of seasons, with a healthy dose of sliders.

Cruz has put together some excellent K rates (633 K's in 625-1/3 innings), but he also walks hitters by the truckload, too - 4.7/nine innings. Cruz gives up under 8 hits per game, but his walk rate has inflated his WHIP to 1.394. His splits are pretty equal at .225 RH/.251 LH. The righty is a fly ball pitcher, but his HR rate is pretty normal, with a 9.5% fly ball to homer ratio.

His major concern recently has been durability. He had a terrible 2009 and was shut down for its final two months, eventually losing 2010 to shoulder surgery. But he got into 56 games last season, so the Buc docs seemed satisfied that he's recovered.

The Bonao, Dominican republic native was first inked by the Cubs in 1997. In 2001, he debuted in the show. Back then, he was primarily a starting pitcher. Cruz yo-yo'ed back and forth between roles. He had a strong season for Atlanta out of the pen in 2004, becoming part of the Tim Hudson trade with the A's, but it wasn't until 2007 that he became a full-time reliever.

The 33-year-old Cruz has worked around the league, pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Oakland Athletics, Arizona D-Backs and the KC Royals. He went 5-0/3.88 ERA in 48-2/3 frames with Tampa Bay in 2011. In his eleven seasons in the show, he's 37-35 with a 4.13 ERA. And he was available for the cost of a minor league contract, right up the Pirates' alley.

When the Pirates signed Cruz at the end of January with an invite him to spring training, he was just one of 20 non-roster players on the way to camp. He became the only one to crack the active roster.

He was almost immediately anointed as this year's Jose Veras, 2011's workhorse reliever who was swapped out for Casey McGehee in the off-season. Veras was deemed the second coming of Octavio Dotel, who became the Pirate closer in 2010 and was turned into James McDonald and Andrew Lambo at the trade deadline. Notice a trend developing?

It's almost certain that clubs are casting eyes at Joel Hanrahan, who has emerged as a primo closer and may soon be too rich for the Bucco purse, especially as a bullpen arm, an area where they traditionally don't like to tie up big money. His tweaked hammy has given the Bucs a chance to audition a closer for life without Hanny.

They could have used Jason Grilli or Chris Resop to fill the role, and may hope that Evan Meek recovers enough arm strength down the road to compete for the spot. But the guy they choose was Cruz. In his two opportunities, he went six up, six down.

So the question is whether Cruz is seen as a longer term asset or deadline trade bait. It'll be interesting. He's affordable, earning $815,000, and still fairly young at 33. But the Bucs have guys that can make the jump to the show in Bryan Morris, Danny Moskos, Daniel McCutchen, Tim Wood and maybe Justin Wilson. They also have that history of turning over guys for prospects.

Check in July 31st.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bucs End On High Note With 2-1 Win

The Bucs looked like they had something going on in the first against Danial Hudson. Alex presley walked, stole second, and went to third on Clint Barmes bouncer. Cutch follwed with another free pass, and neil Walker was waiting on a 3-2 pitch. McCutch was off on the pitch, and Walker hit it right up the middle, straight into the glove of the shortstop Willie Bloomquist, who was covering the bag and got a gift 6-3 DP.

J-Mac kept the Pirate first inning woes going. He gave up a lead-off triple to Bloomquist after Garrett Jones got a dead hop off the right center field fence. After a soft lineout, Jason Kubel lined a single into center to make it 1-0. A walk and a long fly put runners on the corners, but J-Mac escaped by getting Lyle Overbay on a can of corn to left. Still, McDonald had three balls of on five of the six Snakes to bat, and it took him 33 pitches to get out of the frame.

The game settled down after that. Both sides went in order in the second. The Bucs got a leadoff single from Mike McKenry in the third, but small ball enthusiast Clint Hurdle had J-Mac swinging away instead of bunting, and he bounced into a DP. McDonald gave up a two out knock to Kubel on a 3-2 pitch. It was the sixth batter in three frames that had run up a full count, bringing J-Mac's pitch count to 68.

Cutch and Walker teamed up again in the fourth. After easily legging out an infield single, McCutchen was the front end of another DP when Walker hit a one hard hopper back to Hudson to start a 1-6-3 twin killing, the Pirates third in four frames. J-Mac had a 1-2-3 inning.

The Snakes tried to give the Bucs a run in the fifth, but they wouldn't accept it. Casey McGehee reached when third baseman Ryan Roberts backed up on a ball and let it spin off him. An out later, Pedro Alvarez drew a five pitch walk, his first of 2012. McKenry followed with a perfect DP grounder to short, but Aaron Hill dropped the ball on the relay to put runners on the corners. Nate McLouth hit for McDonald, fell behind 0-2 but eventually hit the ball on the nose, lining out to right.

J-Mac went four innings, giving up a run on three hits and a walk with a pair of Ks, but threw 78 pitches.  Brad Lincoln claimed the hill. Ten pitches, three outs, including a four pitch swinging K of Bloomquist.

Presley lined a knock to right to open the sixth, and Clint Barmes dropped a bunt to move him along. But the middle of the order didn't have the answer to Hudson. Cutch whiffed, swinging through a fastball and Walker popped out.

The Snakes blew a golden opportunity in their half. Hill tripled to left center to open the frame. Lincoln struck out Kubel swinging at a hook, and then walked Miguel Montero. Ryan Roberts ripped a ball to third, and Alvarez gloved it smoothly and started a 5-4-3 DP to allow Lincoln to escape the jam.

Hudson made both Jones and McKenry look bad on swinging strikeouts as got them to fish. But in between, Alvarez got J-Mac off the hook when he belted a 2-0 change into the right field bullpen to tie the game at 1-1. Lincoln got through the frame, even though he walked a pair. He was helped mightily when AJ Pollack, a number one pick making his MLB debut, was caught stealing after oversliding second. Bad Brad went three innings without a score, giving up a hit and three walks (one intentional) while whiffing four.

With two down in the eighth, Barmes and Cutch spanked back-to-back singles, ending Hudson's day. Righty David Hernandez took the bump to face Walker. The Kid dropped a parachute into right, falling between three Snakes and scoring Barmes to put the Bucs up and runners on the corners. McGehee got ahead in the count 3-0, but given the green light with the slumping defensive replacement Jose Tabata behind him, popped the anticipated heater behind the dish to end the frame.

Chris Resop got the first out of the eighth on a comebacker, but Aaron Hill rolled an infield single to second. With a pair of lefties due up, Hurdle called on Tony Watson. He got Kubel to roll a sinker to second, and the 4-6-3 finished the inning.

Brad Ziegler put down the Bucs in the ninth. Juan Cruz came out to save the game for Lincoln, but gave up a knock to a battling Montero on a 3-2 cutter to open the frame. Justin Upton came in to run, but never got to second. Roberts K'ed, Overbay lined out, and Barmes made a nice play on a slow hopper hit by Pollack to get a force at second and ice the win.

The Pirate pitching has been pretty solid, although catching the Snakes without Chris Young for two games and Upton during the series hasn't hurt the cause.

J-Mac is still a question mark. He's battled through the past three starts with just his heater; his secondary pitches just haven't come around. His curve and change are both plus pitches if he can ever regain the feel for them. Lincoln was more aggressive on the hill and showed a sweet curve, but losing those two guys in his third inning of work is a red flag. Still, considering the offense, 5-7 isn't a bad record.

The Bucs are off tomorrow, and host the first-place Cardinals over the weekend at PNC Park.

  • It took Brad Lincoln 40 pitches to go three innings; it took J-Mac 78.
  • The Pirates have won three of the last four games after dropping five in a row on the coast.
  • Technically, Pedro Alvarez has a .000 batted ball in play average. Both his hits were homers, and a four-bagger isn't considered in play by stat heads. 
  • Root Sport's Lacee Collins reports that "Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says Kevin Correia will start Saturday, and most likely Brad Lincoln will start on Monday."
  • The Pirates have given up first inning runs in eight of twelve games. James McDonald has yielded opening frame scores in all three of his starts.
  • Happy birthday, Steve Blass. He was born in Canaan, Connecticut, in 1942; you do the math. 

Lineup, Notes

This afternoon's 3:40 game will match RHP James McDonald against RHP Daniel Hudson of Arizona at Chase Park. J-Mac has struggled but kept his starts in hand so far, while Hudson is off to a tough start with an 8.71 ERA. Root Sports is scheduled to air the game, shoehorned before the Penguins 7:30 playoff match.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Clint Barmes SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Casey McGehee 1B, Garrett Jones RF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, James McDonald P.

The mad scientist, Clint Hurdle, is mixing it up again. It's a no-brainer with the way the Pirates are hitting to keep McGehee and Jones, who has started to square up on the ball, in the middle of the lineup. Jose Tabata starts his second game on the pine, and Rod Barajas gets a night-to-day match beauty rest.

  • The Pirates ran their season-opening streak of neither scoring nor allowing more than five runs a game to 11 games last night. The last NL team to have a longer streak were the 1965 Pirates, who did so for their first 16 games.
  • Pittsburgh is off tomorrow, and then face the Cards at home over the weekend for a three game set.
  • Dan Durorio of Fangraphs sees a Pirate future with Juan Cruz as the closer.
  • RHP Tim Alderson is in the midst of a comeback; he was just promoted to Indy.

Karstens on DL, Lincoln Up

Hey, for once the Pirates took the mystery out of their moves. They just announced that Brad Lincoln has been recalled from Triple A Indianapolis and Jeff Karstens has been placed on 15 day DL with right shoulder inflammation.

Lincoln was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Indy with 9 Ks in 12 IP and a .833 WHIP. So he didn't pout when he was one of the Pirates late cuts in the spring and worked his way back in a hurry. It also calms the immediate worries of a long man for today's game after the bullpen served up eight innings last night. This is Lincoln's scheduled day to pitch, so he'll be ready and able if J-Mac has a short outing.

This move temporarily solves the Bucco conundrum of what starter to stow in the bullpen when AJ Burnett returns. Lincoln will pick up JK's start on Tuesday and then is likely to work out of the pen, depending on Burnett's performance and return date, along with Karsten's recovery schedule.

Burnett is scheduled to throw a side session today and then start Saturday in a rehab outing with Altoona. His comeback work has been spotty, and Lincoln's presence allows the team to bring him back slowly if need be.

As for Karstens, we'll have to see. He's had durability issues before with four trips to the DL, and missed his last couple of 2011 starts with arm fatigue.  If Kevin Correia keeps on, this latest setback may end up with JK returning to his long man/spot starter role, although that decision is down the road and will be based on several moving parts.

He was 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA last season, his breakout year in the rotation, and is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts this year, although his abbreviated outing last night skews those figures.

Bucs Win 5-4; Karstens Out

The games started out in what's becoming a Pirate MO - with two outs in the first, McCutch, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones bopped back-to-back-to-back knocks, and the Bucs jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Arizona ace Ian Kennedy.

In what's becoming another MO, the lead vanished before long. The D-Backs had two away against their nemesis, Jeff Karstens, when Chris Young doubled down the left-field line. Miguel Montero singled him home, followed by a Jason Kubel double that gave Arizona a 2-1 lead. It would get worse.

Karstens made the last out for the Pirates in the second, but didn't take the bump. He was pulled with a bum wing, later described as shoulder inflammation, and left the rest of the night to the bullpen. Jared Hughes came on. He walked Aaron Hill with an out, and a two-down double by Willie Bloomquist put the Pirates in a 3-1 hole.

But Pittsburgh kept the two-out mojo going in the third. Cutch singled, went to second on a balk, and came in on Walker's single against a distracted Kennedy, who was still steamed over the call. Jones doubled The Kid in, and it was a new ballgame.

In the next frame, Pedro Alvarez caught a Kennedy slider and drove it into center, where he was robbed by Young, who made a wall-crashing grab. But it came at a price. Young left the game with a bruised shoulder, and the already short-handed Snakes (Justin Upton and Geoff Blum were out) had to shuffle positions across the board.

The D-Backs made some noise in their half. Ryan Roberts and Lyle Overbay opened the frame with singles. A DP ball looked like Hughes' savior, but he walked the pitcher to put runners on the corners. In came Anthony Watson to face Bloomquist, and he got the swinging K.

The fifth saw no scoring, and Jones opened the sixth frame with a homer, his second of the season, to give the Bucs a 4-3 lead. The seventh saw Craig Breslow and Evan Meek take the hill. The Pirates wasted a Jose Tabata lead-off walk with misfired small ball when Alex Presley popped out trying to bunt and a batter later, JT was caught stealing. Arizona went down in order.

Cutch and Walker led off the eighth with singles against Joe Paterson, but the D-Backs caught a break when Jones' dink into right turned into a force-out at second, and McCutchen eventually died at third. Arizona tied it in their half when John McDonald lifted a 3-2 Jason Grilli heater over the left field wall.

But Pittsburgh's two-out juju was about to curse Bryan Shaw. Presley legged out an infield knock, and pinch-hitter Casey McGehee rolled one up the middle to send The King to third. Cutch dropped a 1-2 offering softly into left, and the Bucs had a 5-4 lead.

With Hanny on ice, Juan Cruz came on to perform the closing chores and put the Snakes down 1-2-3. Nice team effort. The Bucs rattled out 13 hits, and five guys came out of the bullpen to pitch two run, four hit ball with a couple of Ks over eight innings.

The Bucs send James McDonald against Daniel Hudson today. And if ever J-Mac had a seven or eight inning outing in him, this afternoon would be a fine time to dust it off.

  • Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones went 10-for-14 with five RBI and four runs last night. Now that's a middle of an order.
  • Juan Cruz earned his fourth career save, his first since 2009 with the KC Royals.
  • Seven of the nine runs came on two-out knocks. That's pretty clutch for both sides.
  • Joel Hanrahan is out with a tight hammy. He's day-to-day, and the Bucs hope that he'll be ready for the Cardinal series beginning Friday at PNC.
  • Last night marked the eighth time in eleven games the D-backs have scored in their first at-bat. The Buc staff is a good match. They've given up first inning runs in seven of their eleven games.
  • The Rox Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to earn a win, turning away the Padres at the age of 49 years, 150 days. He broke the previous mark held by the Brooklyn Dodgers' Jack Quinn, set in 1932, who was 80 days younger.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lineup, Game Stuff

RHP Jeff Karstens goes against RHP Ian Kennedy tonight at 9:40 in Chase Field. The game will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup:  Alex Presley LF, Nate McLouth RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones 1B, Rod Barajas C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Jeff Karstens P.

The Bucs are scheduled to see five straight righties starting tonight, so get use to this lineup with a tweak or two for the time being. We are curious to see where Clint Hurdle uses Casey McGehee; he can't sit him down for five games. And Jose Tabata, Mike McKenry and Josh Harrison will all sneak in, too, maybe even Yamaico Navarro will get a look at short.

  • Clint Hurdle likes to shake 'em up. He's used nine different lineups in the first ten games, with five different guys batting second and five more fifth. Neil Walker has hit out of both spots.
  • Jeff Karstens should feel pretty comfortable in Phoenix. In his first MLB start against Arizona on 8/6/08, he took a perfect game into the 8th inning before Chris Young doubled to left field with two outs. Karstens faced just two batters over the minimum in winning a 2-0. JK's got a 1.83 ERA and .169 opponent BA in 20 innings of work at Chase Field.
  • This day in Pirate history: In 1955, Roberto Clemente made his MLB debut against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Forbes Field. In his first at bat, Clemente singled off Johnny Podres for his first of 3000 career hits.

Yamaico Navarro

Yamaico Navarro Perez was born in San Pedro de Macorís in the Dominican Republic and was signed by scout Pablo Lantigua as an 18 year old. He began his pro career in 2006 with the DSL Red Sox, and hit .279 in 53 games.

The next season, he advanced to the short-season Lowell Spinners, hitting .289 and was put on a pretty quick track for a teen Latino player. Navarro played at both A levels for the Greenville Drive and Lancaster Jet Hawks the next year, hitting a combined .304/11/77 in 125 games.

In 2009, he was assigned to the High A Salem Red Sox and then to the AA Portland Sea Dogs. He hit .319 in A ball, but in 39 AA games could only manage a .185 BA. Navarro then suffered a broken hamate, and was limited to just 67 games in total that year.

He was added to the Red Sox 40 man roster in the off season, and hit .275/11/61 in 104 games with the Sea Dogs and AAA Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010. Navarro was called up in August when Dustin Pedroia went on the DL and made his MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays that same day. But he was a fish out of water, hitting just .143 with 17 K in 42 at-bats.

Navarro was rated as Boston's #12 prospect in 2011 and began the year in Class AAA Pawtucket, where he hit .258, but with a respectable OBP of .362. Boston gave him reps at all three outfield positions to add a little more glitter to his package. The jack-of-all-trades program provided a pretty healthy hint that the Red Sox were beginning to consider him utility material in the show rather than a potential starter.

He was called up in July, replacing Mike Cameron, and popped his first (and so far, only) MLB dinger. But in 40 Boston AB, the infielder hit just .216.

On July 30th, Navarro was traded to the Kansas City Royals, along with Kendal Volz, for SS Mike Avilés. He was on the KC MLB roster for less than a week before being optioned to the Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers to clear a space for Johnny Giavotella. His stroke did come around some with regular swings, even if just for a week (Navarro started the six games he played at KC, hitting .304). He finished with a .250 BA in 60 AB between his two MLB teams, and hit .272 at Omaha.

Navarro was traded to the Pirates by the Royals in December, just before the Rule V draft. KC got back 2009 second round pick RHP Brooks Pounders of West Virginia and IF Diego Goris, who was playing in the DSL. So the Pirates thought he was worth something, though the price may have been driven up because Seattle and Houston also showed interest in Navarro. While he doesn't glove as well as Pedro Ciriaco, he was deemed a considerable upgrade offensively.

The 24 year old makes good contact and is a line drive hitter with decent power for a middle infielder, putting up a .430 slugging % in the minors. His eye isn't the best, and he needs to show more consistent discipline at the dish, but that is an area where he's been improving in the past three seasons. Navarro is a fire plug at 5'11" and 215 lbs. As you might expect, he has just average speed with a 64% successful steal rate in the minors, although he did swipe 18 sacks in 2010.

He has the physical tools to excel in the infield, especially a strong arm. But he's been accused of Ronny Cedeno-itis, making the great play and then falling asleep on the routine one. In his big league career, he's mostly split time between short and the hot corner, with a handful of outings in the pasture and at second base. Some, though, question how his bulk will affect his range as he gets older, perhaps making him iffy as a SS.

Navarro doesn't project to turn into an every day player, but he does provide defensive versatility and some offensive upside from the bench. The Pirates are crossing their fingers that if he matures, he could spell Clint Barmes at short until someone in the system is ready to take over. Of course, that hope didn't pan out with Cedeno, but if at first you don't succeed...

Buc Bats Missing In 5-1 Loss

Hey, looked good in the desert at the start. The Pirates took the early lead  for the third straight time when Cutch, Casey McGehee and Neil Walker connected on consecutive two-out knocks in the first. Rod Barajas followed with a walk to juice the bases, but a Josh Harrison fly ended the frame.

Pittsburgh wouldn't have more than one baserunner aboard in any following inning, and only once would a runner reach second base the rest of the way out.

The edge didn't last long.With one away, Aaron Hill hit his third long ball of the season on an 0-1 heater. It was the first homer Erik Bedard has surrender so far this season. The game settled down after that. Joe Saunders was putting Bucs away without a sweat while Bedard was dodging raindrops. He faced 13 hitters between the second and fourth innings, and 10 of them worked him for 3-ball counts. Bedard worked out of jams in the second and third innings.

He finally paid when he issued two-out walks to Paul Goldschmidt and Jason Kubel in the fourth, and Ryan Roberts gave the D-Backs the lead with an RBI single dropped softly into right. Bedard, who struggled mightily, still kept the game in hand, leaving after five innings and 97 pitches. He allowed two runs on three hits with 4 walks and 3 Ks.

In came Evan Meek in the sixth, and Arizona made its move quickly on him. Miguel Montero dumped his first offering into center, and Chris Young drilled the second pitch he saw, a slider, over the wall in left. Three pitches, two runs. Young has been one of the league's hottest hitters, and the blast gave him five homers on the year, one more than the Pirate team. He finished the night 3-for-4 with a .404 BA. His bomb opened the score to 4-1, and the Fat Lady was ready to take the stage.

Chris Resop came in to work the seventh, and pinch hitter Gerardo Parra banged the first pitch CR threw, a fastball, and it ended up splashing down in the Arizona pool beyond the right center wall to end the scoring for the night.As usual, the Fat Lady was right.

Bedard is 0-3, although he has yet to give up more than two runs and has a 2.65 ERA. Pittsburgh has scored twice behind him.

The Pirates are now 1-6 on their road trip and 3-7 on the season. Clint Hurdle has a rep as a solid hitting instructor, and he better put that to use. Nineteen runs in 10 games is pretty dismal. A team line featuring a .188 BA, .237 OPB and .263 slugging percentage is even more dismal. And with Ian Kennedy on the hill today, it's not getting any easier. Of course, everyone looks like Cy Young lately. Jeff Karstens will hook up with him at 9:40 PM.

  • Last night was Bedard's 21st start against a NL club, and the 19th time he did not allow more than two earned runs. 
  • Pirates are the only team without a 100-pitch outing from a starting pitcher yet this season.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Pirates are the first MLB team since the 1988 Rangers to go through their first 10 games of a season without scoring or allowing more than five runs in any contest. The Pirates were the last NL team to accomplish the feat when they went a league record 16 games to begin the 1965 season.
  • AJ Burnett went four frames and gave up five runs on seven hits with four walks in his rehab outing at Indy last night. The good news is that he did throw 81 pitches and hit 92 on the gun.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Line Up, Notes for Arizona

It's a battle of lefties tonight, with Erik Bedard going against the D-Back's Joe Saunders at 9:40 PM. Bedard has been solid in his two appearances with a 2.25 ERA, but is 0-2 to show for it. In his last outing, Saunders tossed seven shutout innings against the Padres. The game will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Casey McGehee 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Rod Barajas C, Josh Harrison 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Erik Bedard P.

  • Both Arizona and Pittsburgh have already been in six one-run games. In fact, the D-Backs 5-2 win over the Rox yesterday was the first game they've played this year that hasn't been decided by two or fewer runs.
  • The Pirates have a 2.57 team ERA, fifth best in MLB. The starters have worked to a 2.96 ERA and the pen has put up a 1.78 ERA. 
  • From John Perrotto: "The Pirates are first NL team since 1968 to neither score nor allow more than five runs in first nine games of a season. The Dodgers and Mets did it '68, the Year of the Pitcher." 
  • Yesterday, Kevin Correia became the first Bucco starter to win a game since September 24th, 2011 when Brad Lincoln and friends beat the Reds 4-3. It was Correia's first win personally since July 28th of last season when he whipped the Braves 5-2. He lost the next three decisions before going on the DL with an oblique injury on August 22nd.
  • Pittsburgh has seen alternating lefty/righty pitching since opening day. That oddity will end at Arizona this series. They'll face LHP Saunders and RHP Ian Kennedy before RHP Daniel Hudson breaks the streak on Wednesday. 
  • Joel Hanrahan picked up the first Pirate save since he closed out a 9-8 win against the Brewers on September 26th, 2011.
  • A little history note: On April 16th, 1985, Jose DeLeon tied the Bucco record for most strikeouts thrown in a game by a right-handed pitcher as he whiffed 14 Mets at TRS. He gave up four hits without a run or walk in 8 innings of work.  The Pirates went down 1-0, victims of a Ron Darling/Jesse Orosco one-hitter. Candy took the loss.
  • Jim Callis of Baseball America likes SS Alen Hanson,  RHP Nick Kingham and LHP Zack Dodson as breakout candidates from Low A West Virginia. Hanson is tied for fourth in minor league baseball in hits with 19 and is in a four-way tie for the most extra base hits with ten. The 19 year old Dominican switch hitter has a line of .404/4/9 in 11 games for the Power.