Thursday, May 31, 2012

Who To Trade For...That's The Question

OK, there's been a clamor to bring a bat to Pittsburgh. So we thought we'd take a spin through the web and blogosphere rumor pages...geez, that took awhile! - and see who is speculatively available. Right now, there's not exactly a bumper crop being offered, even in rumor.

First base does have a some possibilities, mostly old and well paid. There are a couple of big names, with Justin Morneau of the Twins and Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox leading the list. Morneau, 31, has a couple of negatives, like a concussion history, a $14M salary this year and next, and more time at DH than the bag, all which combine to make him a more likely AL trade candidate, where he can hang out at the bat rack.

Youk, 33, may be on the downside of his career, and he's working on a $13M deal with an option. The Sox aren't sure yet if they want to move him, though they do have a logjam with Adrian Gonzalez, Big Papi, Will Middlebrooks and Youkilis being one too many corner/DH types, and they need pitching, so....

The 'Stros will listen for offers on Carlos Lee, 35, who is making $18.5M and has a 14-team no-trade list.  Ditto with the Dodgers and their 28 year old first sacker James Loney, who is making $6.375M with an arb year to go and not playing much better than what the Bucs already have.

The Cubs have Bryan LaHair, 29, who has been tearing it up but has uberprospect Anthony Rizzo lurking in AAA. The Cubbies could move him to the OF when Rizzo is ready, but at his age, he may be shopped to rebuild a weak farm system, and that makes for a possible match. He won't be moved until at least late June, the earliest that Chicago would call up Rizzo. And LaHair won't even be arb-eligible until 2015. He could be a late bloomer, or become a Windy City version of Garrett Jones.

There's a batch of outfielders on the market, but many are of the fourth man type - Jeff Francoeur of KC, Seth Smith of Oakland, Reed Johnson and David DeJesus of the Cubs, Mark Kotsay of San Diego...hey, this one looks familiar - Nyjer Morgan, et al. They're more role players than the everyday guy the Pirates need.

Also, the Red Sox have a flock of outfielders that could come available closer to the deadline, suggests Nick Cafrado of the Boston Globe, if a couple of their injured guys return on schedule. The list includes Cody Ross, Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney, Scott Podsednik, and Marlon Byrd.

Ross, 31, is a nine year vet who's been a pretty steady hitter and has a one year, $3M deal.  Nava, 29, is a journeyman who only has 82 MLB games under his belt. Sweeney, 27, has seven years in the show mostly as a fourth OF'er and is a good on-base guy (.286 BA, .346 OBP career). He makes $1.75M and will enter his second arb year. Posdednik, 36, looks to be on the down slope, as does Byrd, 34. 

You can add Oakland's 32 year-old Coco Crisp to the list after Yoenis Cespedes inked a deal with the A's. He's working on a $7M deal with a $7.5M option/$1M buy-out, though he's not a big bopper, but a good OBP/speed player.
Carlos Quentin  of the Padres is interesting. He's 29, put together four 20+ HR years in a row, and is making $7M and some change with a year of arbitration left. San Diego got him for a couple of minor league pitchers, both fringe top ten in their system, so the price might not be too terribly brutal. He's not much of an average guy (.254 lifetime) but does draw his share of walks (.347 OBP) with a nearly .500 slugging %. His major drawback is that he doesn't have much of an arm and would have to play RF for Pittsburgh.

Josh Willingham of the Twins is a popular rumor target, but so far Minny has shown no signs of moving him.

If the Bucs are looking, big, it's thought that Alex Gordon, 28, of KC could be had for a prospect package. He just signed for $6M/2012, $9M/2013, $10M/2014, and $12.5M/2015 with an option year.

The Cubs Alfonso Soriano is also on the block, but age (36) and contract issues $18M through 2014) will keep him off the Pirate radar. 

And one other thought: what if the Twins' Ryan Doumit, 31, could be had, although he's avoided the gossip columns so far. Yah, yah, we know it sounds way too Freudian, but he can hit a ball, and would provide steadier offense than Garrett Jones in right field, where Dewey really belongs. And hey, he's only making $3M this year. Of course, Nate McLouth may have proved that you can never go home again.

Shortstop? Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports wrote that Yunel Escobar, 29, could be available. He said "Once prospect Adeiny Hechavarria arrives in the majors — which could happen any day now — the Blue Jays will have the flexibility to move Escobar for pitching. The A’s, Mariners and Pirates are possible trade partners." He makes $5M this year and next with two team options for the same in 2014-15.

Josh Bartlett, 32, is also on the market, and the Pad is likely to stay there with a $5.5M contract and $1.5M buyout in 2013.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale stoked a little firestorm by suggesting that Chicago's Starlin Castro might be available in exchange for your firstborn and the family Maserati, but we figure Theo Epstein will build around him. And even if he were on the block, the Pirate system has just a handful of elite prospects; it's not really deep enough to pay for Castro without putting a big hurt on the MLB club's future. The Cubs are rebuilding and will want a boatload of Top 100 youngsters to move Castro.

They do have a AA shortstop named Junior Lake, 22, who is effectively blocked by Castro, so the Cubs are working him at third. But he may be on the radar, too, with the potential to be an OK field, good stick shortstop. He should hit AAA when Rizzo gets the call to Wrigley, so he could be in play as early as mid-summer 2013.

Kurt Suzuki, 28 year old catcher of the A's, isn't being actively shopped, but Oakland does have a couple of guys in the system and the thought is that he could be had. He has a fair stick, and is signed through 2014 - $5M now, $6.45M in 2013, and a $8.5M option in 2014, with a $650K buyout.

Another catcher available is Kelly Shoppach, 32, of the Red Sox, and that would be in a back-up role. The eight year backstopper hasn't had much success at the plate since his Indian days, though he's had a revival of sorts (.270) as a reserve this year. The price is right at $1.135M, and he's about due to be replaced by Ryan Lavarnway.

One problem the Pirates face is that their key chips are some young Turks who may or may not all be on the table, plus Hanny, Erik Bedard and a bullpen arm or two. The market is saturated with pitchers, both starters and closers, so the Bucs will be working in a very competitive environment trying to make a deal.

And just to keep it all in perspective: these are the names going through the rumor mill now, but by no means is it exhaustive. Who knows - the FO may have an eye on a AAA guy, or may be trying to cobble together a traditional baseball trade where both sides fill a need with players currently flying under the wheelin' and dealin' radar.

They've hinted that they've been kicking tires in the league parking lot; and while the sooner they fill a hole the better, we'd guess the first real trade action will come in late June when the call-ups of the minor league mighty make a couple of veterans expendable. Unfortunately, their need is now, but the later the game goes on, the more leverage they'll have and the more options will open for them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Burnett Outduels Cueto 2-1

Beautiful night for a ballgame. Cincy enjoyed it in the first. Zack Cozart started out by bouncing a double over the wall, and when Pedro booted the following bunt attempt by muffing a barehanded try, the Reds had runners on the corners without an out against AJ Burnett. An out later, a sac fly brought Cozart in to make it 1-0. The Bucs managed Jordy Mercer's first MLB hit, a single off Johnny Cueto, but he never advanced past first.

The Reds went down in order in the second. The Bucs got an opposite way, one-out triple off Garrett Jone's bat when the ball took a crazy kick off the wall. Matt Hague became a key out when he hit a weak roller to third to freeze Jones. Rod Barajas was walked intentionally and Burnett accidentally to load the bases, but JT rolled the first pitch he saw - it was down the pipe - to second to end the frame.

Burnett kept dealin', and had retired nine straight Reds after three. The Pirates went down on three grounders. AJ put the Reds down in order again; his off speed stuff and fastball location are on so far. Pittsburgh hit a couple of balls hard, but were put away 1-2-3, as Cueto now has seven ducks in a row.

AJ is cookin'; after five, he's downed fifteen consecutive Reds. Burnett is doing it all; with an out, he blooped a single into short center, and was forced out by JT. Tabata was caught leaning and dead to rights on Cueto's pick-off throw to first, but Mike Constanzo lost the ball on the tag, allowing JT to get to second. Mercer paid the price; Cueto K'ed him on three pitches.

With two away in the sixth, the Reds broke their runnerless streak when Drew Stubbs was issued a five-pitch walk. Jay Bruce shot a grounder past Neil Walker - he short armed it and was charged with an error - to put runners on the corners. Brandon Phillips drilled a hot shot to third, and Pedro played the shorthop cleanly to get the out and keep the game 1-0.

The Bucs followed the same template, and went one better. With two away, the batters started to show some patience, and Walker drew a free pass. Jones bounced a seeing-eye single into right on a 3-2 pitch, chasing The Kid to third. Hague, who had stranded Jones in the second with one away, came up big when he spanked a 2-1 fastball off the Xfinity sign in right center to bring both runners home - Jones was chuggin' - and put Pittsburgh up 2-1 after six. Gorkys Hernandez entered the game, going to left while JT went to right, ending Jones day.

Burnett was wearing down, but gutted out the seventh. Chris Heisey opened the inning with the Reds' second hit, a liner into center. A roller up the middle by Todd Frazier was gloved by Mercer, who made a high flip to Walker on the pivot, getting The Kid upended after the relay, but it still worked for a 6-4-3 DP. Costanzo walked after a seven pitch at-bat, and pinch hitter Ryan Hanigan got ahead 2-0. It took AJ seven pitches and a talking to by Barajas to finally get him on a routine fly to left.

Burnett was done after that, having gone seven innings and giving up an unearned run on two hits with two walks and three Ks after 103 pitches. Cueto put down the Pirates; he went seven also, giving up two runs on five hits with four walks and four whiffs, throwing 105 pitches.

More wheels turned; Casey McGehee took over at first for Hague and Jason Grilli climbed the bump. After two outs, he walked Drew Stubbs after being ahead 0-2. But he came back to blow a heater past Jay Bruce, his second K of the frame.

Lefty Sean Marshall came on; after a one out walk to Walker, he was yanked for righty Logan Ondrusek. He got Hernandez to roll into a force. Gorkys stole second, but McGehee popped out foul behind the plate. It was Hanny time.

He was back to adding a little drama. With an out, Chris Heisey bounced a ball past Pedro, whose dive couldn't get to the hole from his no-doubles spot on the line. Joey Votto came off the bench and sliced a single the opposite way into left. The Cincy excitement ended when Miguel Cairo swung through a high heater and Hanigan missed badly on a slider. Hanrahan had his 13th save, and AJ Burnett his fourth win.

Nice game, won by some sweet pitching and a two-out, two-run double from a guy that was Indy last week. The Bucs are back at .500 and have an off day before traveling to Milwaukee to take on the Brew Crew Friday.

  • Tonight's attendance was 16,782. Except for the Cub series, nada going on  for the Bucco gate this homestand, even with their surprising 25-25 start. Wonder if all the negative coverage of their hitting woes is affecting the fans, or if it's just the usual pre-June blahs. And it's not all bad - the Bucs are getting 22,000+ per game in 2012, up from about 19,000 last year at this time.
  • Matt Hague has a six-game hitting streak after tonight.
  • AJ Burnett's single was his first hit since 2005 as a member of the Marlins.
  • Joey Votto was off tonight after starting 176 straight games for the Reds. Dusty Baker looked to get a two-day break for his ironman star as tomorrow is an off day, but had to use him in the ninth to pinch hit.
  • While scoring more, the Bucs hit just .211 in May, coming into tonight's ballgame.
  • Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk takes notice of James McDonald. Seems like a long time since we've seen a national article on the Pirates that didn't involve Cutch or losing baseball.

Lineup, Notes

RHP Johnny Cueto of the Reds goes against RHP AJ Burnett tonight in the rubber match. Cueto has had a couple of rough starts recently as his off speed stuff hasn't been as nasty as usual, while Burnett for the most part has been hanging tough and keeping runs to a minimum.  He'll be challenged by a Cincy club that's been pounding the ball recently, J-Mick's Monday start being the exception. The match begins at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Jordy Mercer SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Matt Hague 1B, Rod Barajas C, AJ Burnett P.

Mercer gets his first MLB start tonight; Clint Barmes has been shut down temporarily to work on his swing. Josh Harrison is sitting for Garrett Jones, so they look like the next platoon. 

  • Burnett has faced the Reds seven times in his career, the last outing coming in 2008 for the Blue Jays during interleague play.
  • Matt Hague has a five game hitting streak.
  • Brad Lincoln has retired the last 15 batters he's faced.
  • The Reds won their 1,000th game against the Pirates yesterday. The Buc still lead the all-time series, 1,038-1,000.  What veteran fan can forget the days of the Big Red Machine rivalry in the early seventies, one of the best in baseball?
  • Today marks Cincy's twentieth straight game without a day off. They'll get one tomorrow, as will the Pirates.
  • Jim Callis of Baseball America has a quick hit on some the strategies available to teams in the draft under the new CBA, plus some old loopholes that are now slammed shut.
  • Point Park was eliminated from the NAIA World Series yesterday; the Pioneers went 2-2 in the double elimination field. Congrats on a great year; Manager Loren Torres' club went 53-11 this season.
  • This day in history: The Pirates set a MLB record in 1925 by hitting eight triples against the St. Louis Cardinals at cavernous Forbes Field. The Bucs went on to win the World Series that season.

Bucs Washed Out 8-1

Ah, we'll save you the gory details. The Pirates and Reds game didn't start until 9 because of the thunderstorms. Cincy drew some inspiration from the lightning bolts and added a couple of their own as they hammered the Bucs 8-1 tonight.

Charlie Morton went four forgettable frames. He was hit hard, again living high in the strike zone. After a 1-2-3 first inning, he gave up four runs on six hits with a walk and wild pitch in the next three. He's gone 11 innings in his last two trips to the bump and managed but one whiff.

The Pirates cut the lead to 4-1 in the fifth when Casey McGehee singled home Matt Hague, as the Bucs stringed three of their four hits together (the other was a first inning, two-out triple by Cutch). But Chris Resop gave that run back the next inning and Jared Hughes was lit up for three more in the seventh to make it a laugher. On the plus side, Doug Slaten, Brad Lincoln and Jason Grilli all worked perfect frames.

Homer Bailey started tonight with a line of 5-0/1.94 ERA against the Pirates, and that slash got better with his complete game victory (his second lifetime; the other was also against Pittsburgh). Heck, he even went 2-for-3 with an RBI single.

AJ Burnett and Johnny Cueto take the hill tomorrow.

  • With Clint Barmes on the bench - Clint Hurdle said he'd get a couple of days off to work on his swing -  tonight was the first Bucco lineup of the season where every position player was north of the Mendoza line.
  • Both Doug Slaten and Jordy Mercer made their Bucco debuts tonight. Slaten tossed a 1-2-3 frame while Mercer had one at-bat, a ground out to short.
  • JT made a nice over the shoulder grab in the OF, but loafed another ball into a single. We're wondering if after hurting his leg Monday if he has just one good run per game in him; maybe he needs a day or two off to rest his wheels.
  • On a dark and stormy night, the paid attendance was 12,077 with maybe half actually filling a seat.
  • At Indy, LHP Rudy Owens went 6-2/3 innings, giving up a run on five hits and a walk while fanning seven in a 3-1 win.
  • Remember LHP Phil Dumatrait, who pitched for the Bucs in 2008-09? He just announced his retirement after a career derailed by a couple of surgeries. He last played for the Twins last season.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lineup, Notes

The Reds RHP Homer Bailey (3-3, 4.19) takes the bump against RHP Charlie Morton (2-5, 4.27) tonight, weather willing. Bailey has been workmanlike for Cincy, while Morton has had his ups and downs trying to get his sinker to sink. Charlie was a Red-killer last year, going 3-0/1.93, but lost to Mat Latos earlier this year 5-0. The game begins at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Matt Hague 1B, Rod Barajas C, Charlie Morton P.

Harrison is in for Clint Barmes, with Jones patrolling right field tonight. Newcomer Jordy Mercer isn't in the order He arrived at the clubhouse at 3:15 or so, welcomed by the press and manager Clint Hurdle. 

  • Tonight will be Rod Barajas' 1,000th game behind the plate. 
  • Jeff Karstens will pitch Thursday night for Indianapolis in his third rehab outing. He'll  be aiming for 80 pitches.
  • As Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror noted, "Eleven players from the 2010 Curve Eastern League title team have reached the MLB: Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, Matt Hague, Jordy Mercer, Gorkys Hernandaz, Chase d'Arnaud, Danny Moskos, Mike Crotta, Tony Watson, Jeff Locke and Jared Hughes."
  • The Pirates have won four games in row. The team matched that three times last season, and haven't won five in a row since 2010.
  • Movin' around: The Yankees have acquired RHP Ryota Igarashi off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. He was sold to Toronto by the Pirates at the end of camp and has been picking up some travel miles lately.

Mercer Up, Navarro Down

Well, we knew it was coming - after all, GM Neil Huntington mentioned it during his Sunday radio show and Indy reliever Duke Welker let it out of the bag prematurely on Twitter earlier this afternoon. The Pirates have officially announced that infielder Jordy Mercer has got the call to the show and Yamaico Navarro will go to the Tribe for some steady playing time.

Mercer, 25, was a third-round draft pick in 2008 out of Oklahoma State. Playing primarily as a shortstop, he's also logged considerable time at second and third. He got off to an ice-cold start at the dish this year, but a strong May has brought his average to .303/3/22 with 11 doubles and a .379 OBP. He's considered a decent fielder and a gap hitter, with 30+ doubles in four straight seasons..

Navarro, 24, came to Pittsburgh from KC in exchange for Brooks Pounders and Diego Goris during the off season. He's played second, third, short, left and right, but was hitting just .178 off the bench in his third MLB season.

The sidebar: it's popularly believed that Mercer is slated for a utility role in Pittsburgh, taking Navarro's former role. And that may be. But it would make more sense to use him as a challenger of Clint Barmes, especially if Josh Harrison and Garrett Jones are going to split time in right field. Might as well find out whatcha got, right?

Monday, May 28, 2012

McDonald Masters Reds 4-1

Good start for J-Mick. Two Ks, a Joey Votto single and a bounce out. The Bucs drew first blood against Bronson Arroyo. A one-out knock by Neil Walker got him to third after a grounder and wild pitch. Pedro battled, and on a 3-2 count took a sinker away to left for a two-bagger, just missing the top of the fence by inches, and 1-0 lead. Garrett Jones brought in another when he took an 0-2 heater on the inside edge to right to plate El Toro. Nothin' like two-out, two-strike lightning.

Jay Bruce led off the second with a liner to center for a single. Chris Heisey cleaned that up when his grounder to Pedro started an around-the-horn DP. He left a pitch up to Miguel Cairo, but his shot to center was hauled in by Cutch.

Rod Barajas fouled off pitch after pitch against Arroyo, and the ninth one was a curve that hung a bit, and Hot Rod spanked it into left for a leadoff knock. Clint Barmes didn't show the same patience, popping out on the first pitch. McDonald hurt his own cause when he bunted into a forceout at second. It worked out the same when JT walked. The Kid followed by drilling a changeup at the knees into right for a double, scoring J-Mick. Cutch poked at a two-strike slider and popped out, but thanks to the two-out thunder, the Pirates were up 3-0. And Arroyo is at 50 pitches after two.

The Reds made some noise in the third when Ryan Hanigan doubled to left on a ball that the less-than-100% JT couldn't quite get to. That was followed by a four pitch walk to Arroyo. But a bunt that went astray - J-Mick got the force at third - a K and a Votto fly out ended the frame without any damage. Pedro started the Bucs off by rifling a juicy changeup to right for a double. Two fly outs later, the Bucco two-away mojo struck again as Barajas lined a slider to right to score Alvarez and make it 4-0.

J-Mick threw a clean fourth, and has been efficient at only 49 pitches. JT rolled a one-out single to center. Walker and Cutch both took balls to the track, and the noisy outs ended the two-out run-scoring streak.

Cairo opened the fifth with a ground knock into left. Hanigan bounced a ball up the middle to put Reds on first and second. Mike Costanzo batted for Arroyo and popped out on a 3-2 pitch on a fastball that may have been the only strike thrown to him. Drew Stubbs went down on strikes. Wilson Valdez bounced out, and J-Mick continues to dance through the raindrops. Alfredo Simon took the bump for Cincy.

He worked Alvarez hard with heat, and Pedro became the third Bucco in a row to have one caught at the track when he bombed a fastball to straight center, taken off the wall by Stubbs. It may have been trapped, but the play was not reviewable, so nice catch. Hague doubled with two away off Stubb's mitt. Barajas fell behind early, but worked a walk. But the two-out magic was gone; Barmes bounced out.

McDonald got through Votto, Brandon Phillips and Bruce quietly in the sixth. Simon sez worked for Cincy, too - the Bucs went down 1-2-3. Down in order went the Reds in the seventh; the Bucs got a single from Cutch, but Pedro bopped into a 4-6-3 DP, so it was still 4-0 going into the eighth.

And it was three up, three down for J-Mick again, aided by a nice grab in left by Gorkys Hernandez, who was just subbed in this inning, ringing up twelve Reds in a row. McDonald is at 103 pitches; the question is whether Clint Hurdle will let him go for the complete game shutout and win.

JJ Hoover climbed the hill for the Reds, and put the Bucs away neatly. And that was it for McDonald, who went eight innings, giving up five hits and walk with five whiffs. We expected to see newcomer Doug Slaten, but Tony Watson came on to finish up.

After eight pitches, he lost Votto on a borderline call, and he took second on defensive indifference. He got Phillips and Bruce, but on a 1-2 pitch to Heisey, Watson left a sinker up and he dropped it into left to ruin the shutout. That brought Hanny in; it's a save situation now. Hanrahan got Cairo on two pitches, so at least he didn't burn him up today and got him a gimme twelfth save.

Hey, great pitching, early clutch hitting and overall a nice way to get back to .500, even if Hurdle couldn't resist overmanaging at the end. The Bucs are three back and have their first four game winning streak of the year, so everything's good going into tomorrow night when Homer Bailey faces Charlie Morton.

  • The Pirates have to be disappointed with today's holiday crowd. With the Reds in town and J-Mick on the hill, they drew only 14,792.
  • RHP Brian Bass, who pitched a bit for Pittsburgh in 2010, was signed by Houston to a minor league contract. The Bucs were his last MLB stop; he had been pitching in Korea before the 'Stros called.
  • RHP Ryota Igarashi, who the Bucs sold to Toronto in the spring, lasted two outings and one inning for the Jays before being sent back down after a recent call-up.
  • Jim Callis of Baseball America thinks the Bucs will draft a position player. He leans toward Arizona State SS Deven Marrero, but also adds prep OF Albert Almora and Florida C Mike Zunino as possibilities. 

Holiday Lineup, Notes

The Reds send RHP Bronson Arroyo (2-2, 3.22) against RHP James McDonald (3-2, 2.51) this afternoon. Should be an interesting three days, as the Pirates go from playing the NL Central's cellar dwelling Cubs to the first place Reds (Cincy leads the Bucs by four games). Chicago came into town ice-cold and in a hitting slump while Cincinnati has won eight of its last nine and has been pounding the horsehide. And we all know that the Bucs (23-24) approach a .500 record like a soldier goes after a rolling grenade. The contest starts at 1:35 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Garrett Jones RF, Matt Hague 1B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, James McDonald P.

JT got the OK to go after cramping up yesterday, and Josh Harrison is getting a day off.

  • Neal Huntington said on his radio show yesterday that the next call-up may be IF Jordy Mercer, who would likely be swapped out with Yamiaco Navarro. The move is being considered in part because of Mercer's play and in part because the FO thinks Navarro would benefit from getting steady work at Indy.
  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports joins Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune Review in calling for a Bucco move to pick up a bat, writing that "If ever a team should consider trading pitching for hitting — similar to what the Mariners did in the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero exchange — it’s the Pirates." We're hoping that the FO can pull off a legit baseball trade rather than a desperation deal; they have the pieces.
  • First, Pine-Richland's Blake Lalli of the Cubs had a homecoming; this series it's the Red's Devin Mesoraco of Punxsutawney. Mike Waterloo of Ohio Valley Athletics has his story.
  • Thanks and hoorah to all our servicemen and women. When the going gets tough, they're who you really want to share a foxhole with. They're always clutch.

Slaten Up, Cruz On Restricted List

Well, the Bucs got that second lefty for the pen today when they brought up the red-hot Doug Slaten from Indy after placing Juan Cruz on the restricted list.

Slaten, 32, went 2-0 with eight saves and a 0.36 ERA in 25-1/3 IP at Indy. He's also pitched in 206 MLB games for Arizona and Washington to a 3.60 ERA. The lefty has a 24-inning scoreless streak (earned runs; he did give up one unearned) and an opponent BA of .161. He's not a power pitcher, with just 15 K, and is known as a ground ball guy. Slaten, like Tony Watson, is not necessarily a LOOGY, tho he'll be used as one, and best suited in a middle inning role. He can go multiple innings if need be.

The Pirates signed him after he was non-tendered by the Nats in the off season. This was a timely move; Slaten would have been able to opt out of his contract if not on the 25-man roster by June 1. No roster moves were needed to add him; he took Nate McLouth's spot on the 40-man and Cruz's spot on the active roster.

Cruz is going back to the Dominican Republic, where the Pirates say he has personal issues that need his attention. Clint Hurdle expects him back sometime during the Brewer series this weekend.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cubs Clubbed 10-4

It wasn't an auspicious start for Erik Bedard, as he walked leadoff hitter David DeJesus on five pitches. But he followed with a pair of groundouts, the second a 4-6-3 DP with a nice feed by Neil Walker and pivot by Josh Harrison to end the frame quietly.

JT got the Bucs off to a good opening when he rolled a slider away up the middle for a knock. Harrison laid down a bunt; Matt Garza threw it away to put Buccos at second and third. Cutch bounced out to third on a 3-2 pitch, and JT, breaking on contact, was nailed at home. It didn't hurt; Pedro got ahead 3-1 and crushed a changeup over the Clemente Wall to put Pittsburgh ahead 3-0. It was the first three-run blast by a Buc this season. After Neil Walker hacked into a strikeout, Garrett Jones doubled the other way to the bullpen. He was stranded when Matt Hague pulled a slider down and away to short.

The usually free-swinging Alphoso Soriano led off the second with a walk. Bedard finished the rest of the inning in order, never allowing a runner to reach second. JT stayed hot, spanking a two-out triple to left center, but Harrison K'ed, bunting a one-strike pitch foul and then swinging through a high heater.

After two K's in the third, DeJesus dinked a two-strike curve and legged out a single. Starlin Castro flied out to end the frame; Bedard is starting to find the strike zone after going deep in the count during the early slogging. The Pirates went down without a peep in their half.

Joe Mather opened with a single to left, the third leadoff hitter to reach for the Cubs in four frames. Bedard cleaned up nicely again, getting Soriano to bounce into a 6-4-3 twin killing. Even though plate ump Jerry Layne is squeezing the bottom of the strike zone for both pitchers (and did so even when the game was out of hand), they're still getting their outs on the dirt.

With one away, Hague lined a knock up the middle for the Bucs. But other than that, Garza is in rhythm. He struck out the side and now has six K in four frames.

With an out, Bedard lost Darwin Barney, missing inside on a 3-2 heater. Koyie Hill rolled out softly to Neil Walker as Barney became the first Cub to hit second base safely. Garza bounced out, and the Bucs had the top of the order due up in the fifth. With two away, Garza tried to sneak a fastball on the inside half past Cutch, but instead watched it disappear into the left field seats to put Pittsburgh up 4-0. Good thing five frames are in; radar shows a fair sized green, yellow and red blob cruising just north of the City.

The top of the Cubby order stepped up against Bedard. DeJesus walked on a 3-2 pitch to start the sixth inning. Bedard got away with leaving a couple of pitches up, as Castro and Mather flew out deep before Soriano bounced out to end the frame.

The Kid decided to look at a couple of pitches during this at-bat, and drew a four pitch walk. Garza grooved an 0-2 changeup to Jones, thigh high on the outside half, and he planted it deep over the Clemente Wall to put the Pirates up 6-0. That brought Rafael Dolis out of the pen and on the mound. He walked Hague on four pitches. It took Mike McKenry five pitches to get the same result.

Dale Sveum saw enough. He tapped his arm and brought in Mike Bowden. Bedard bunted the guys up 90'. Gorkys Hernandez batted for JT, whose left leg cramped up. Gorkys made his first MLB hit count, lining a single into center to score a pair, his first two big league RBI. Harrison walked on a 3-2 pitch. Cutch beat out an infield knock to load the sacks. Pedro lifted a fly to fairly deep center to bring Hernandez home. Walker, who opened the frame, sliced a single the opposite way to score Harrison, and the Bucs had their first ten-spot of the year.

Chris Resop came on for Pittsburgh. Bedard had thrown 90 pitches, giving up two hits with four walks and three K over six frames. Resop got three fly outs. Blake Parker climbed the hill for Chicago. McKenry singled with an out and was erased on a Yamaico Navarro DP ball as both benches were emptied.

Chicago got back-to-back singles by Hill and Blake Lalli to open the eighth. Tony Campana bounced out to first, bringing home the first Chi-Town score. Castro quickly brought home a couple more with a blast into center to make it 10-3. Randy Wells took the bump for the Cubs, and he put the Pirates away on a half dozen pitches. Juan Cruz worked the ninth.

Jeff Baker greeted him with a double. An out later, Barney also whacked a two-bagger to make it 10-4. He got the next pair, and the Bucs wrapped up their first broom job of the year.

The Pirates just beat the storm clouds, but they provided thunder and lightning a'plenty today on their own, with three long flies plating six runs. And if the bullpen was due for a bad day, this was a good one to choose. Let's hope lack of drama and adrenaline was the cause.

The Reds come to town tomorrow night, with Bronson Arroyo facing James McDonald.

  • The last time the Pirates scored 10 runs before today was July 3rd, 2011, in Washington against the Nats.
  • This was the Bucs' first series sweep, and first at PNC Park since 2010. For Chicago, it's their twelfth straight loss. Lotta work ahead for Theo Epstein.
  • There were 27,486 in attendance today for a total of 95,532 during the three game Cub series.
  • Michael Waterloo of Ohio Valley Athletics has a piece on the rock-steady upbringing of Pedro Alvarez by his parents in Washington Heights with an emphasis on education.
  • Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror has an article on when to expect the promotions of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon to AA. The brass say it's a matter of "fastball command and (pitch) sequencing."
  • In his Sunday radio talk show, GM Neal Huntington kept his draft cards close to his vest, saying the FO had interest in both position players and pitchers in the first round, and would take the highest ranked player on their board. He added that the flap over Drew Sutton's one-day stay was much ado over nothing. The Bucs were thinking of calling up Jordy Mercer, and Sutton would have replaced him at Indy.
  • Fan fav Freddy Sanchez, now with the Giants, may have run his last lap. He got an epidural for lower back pain, and is still recovering from shoulder capsule surgery.
  • Old Bucco reliever Jesse Chavez was called up by Toronto, who had the day before refused his request to play in Japan.

Notes And Lineup

LHP Erik Bedard (2-5, 3.52) faces RHP Matt Garza (2-2, 3.72) this afternoon. In seven of its eleven straight losses, Chicago has scored two runs or less and has lost six one-run ballgames. Pittsburgh will be going for its second three-game winning streak of the season and first series sweep. The game starts at 1:35 and will be aired by Root Sports.

The Lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison SS, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Matt Hague 1B, Mike McKenry C, Erik Bedard P.

Harrison is at short today; Jones goes to right to add a lefty bat against Garza.

  • Cutch has reached base safely in 33 straight games against the Cubs and in 39 of his 42 career games against Chicago.
  • With his run-plating single last night, Pedro now has 19 RBI, equaling his 2011 total.
  • Before last night's plunk of Matt Hague, the Pirates’ previous walk-off win via a hit batter came compliments of Tony Womack on April 15th, 1997 against the Padres.
  • In a bit of an oddity, the Pirates first and last runs were book ends of hit batters. JT was bopped to eventually open the scoring in the third.
  • For all their offensive woes, the Pirates are 22-24 and just 4 games behind the Cards in the division race, tied for third place.
  • The Bucs have played 22 one-run games, the current MLB high. Their record in them is 13-9.
  • John Grupp of the Tribune Review has a piece on the Bucs and strikeouts, and it isn't pretty.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bucs Win 3-2 On Walk-Off Beanball

OK, the much anticipated Paul Maholm vs Kevin Correia matchup, broadcast live across America by Fox Sports, is underway. Good start for KC; he put the Cubbies down in order. With two away in the Pirate half, Cutch beat out an infield knock and went around to third on a wild pitch by Maholm. There he stayed as Pedro K'ed.

A leadoff single in the second by Brain LaHair was quickly erased thanks a 6-4-3 DP banged into by Alphoso Soriano. Another grounder brought the Pirates to the dish. Neil Walker led of with a single and stole second, and an out later, Rod Barajas walked. PM, though, had little trouble mowing down the 8-9 hitters, Clint Barmes and Correia.

Correia found himself in two out trouble in the third when Maholm singled and David Dejesus reached on a throwing error by KC, putting runners at second and third. Starlin Castro rolled one weakly to the hot corner. Pedro had no play at first after barehanding the ball, but alertly fired a bullet home to nail Maholm and keep the Cubs off the board.

JT started the Buccos off by getting plunked; Josh Harrison bunted him to second. With a base open, Maholm intentionally walked McCutch, so that bunt effectively took the bat out of the hands of the Pirates two hottest hitters. Pedro ruined the strategy by singling to center, scoring Tabata and chasing Cutch to third, where he scored on a Walker sac fly.

In the fourth, the Cubs cut the lead in half when Soriano took a heater yard, driving it over the center field fence. The Pirates went down 1-2-3.

Once again with two away, the Cubs stirred in the fifth. A DeJesus double was followed by a Castro triple, a slicing drive to right that fooled newbie OF'er Harrison, and the game was tied. Cutch walked to open the Pirate half, stole second, and went to third on a Pedro grounder. But The Kid popped out, and after a Matt Hague walk, Barajas flew out.

Both sides went quietly in the sixth, as Casey Coleman replaced PM.

With one away in the seventh, Pine-Richland's Blake Lalli walked. That brought on Tony Watson. Correia went 6-1/3, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks with a pair of K after just 76 pitches. Watson promptly gave up a double to right to Adrian Cardenas, but Lalli, the Cub catcher, was cut down at the plate Harrison to Walker to Barajas, who made a nice pick of the wide relay and slid across the dish to block it. Dejesus got a free pass, and Hurdle wasted no time bringing in Brad Lincoln. Bad Brad did his job, K'ing Castro.

With Shawn Camp on the hill for Chicago, Cutch lined a one out single and stole second. Pedro poked a ball to left that Soriano ran down, and Walker was intentionally walked to get to Hague. The rookie got ahead in the count 2-0, but pounded a sinker to short to end the frame still tied. He's 1-for-3 on the night with a walk, and hit the ball hard all three times.

Joe Mather and Lincoln battled to open the eighth, with Brad getting Mather to pop out to first on the ninth pitch, fighting off a 96 MPH heater. It only took him three pitches to tuck away the next pair of Cubbies. Barajas gave a first pitch Camp sinker a ride to center, but it was caught on the track in front of the bullpen fence. Barmes K'ed on three pitches. Garrett Jones came up to pinch hit, and he fanned too, caught looking. Onto the ninth, tied 2-2.

Hey, tied game and Clint Hurdle brought in Hanny, who he likes to keep up his sleeve for the save. Good call; he got ahead 0-2 on all three hitters, retiring the side in order with two whiffs.

Rafael Dolis took the ball for Chicago to face the top of Pittsburgh's lineup in the ninth. JT started it off with a knock up the middle. Harrison showed uncharacteristic patience at the dish and drew a five pitch walk to bring up Cutch. He went down swinging. Pedro drove a fastball to straightaway center, but it was hauled in at the track, moving JT to third. Harrison jogged to second a pitch later without a play. The Kid walked; so far the key to the inning has been Cub catcher Lalli, who has blocked four balls in the dirt. If any one gets by him, the game would be over. But it would be a wasted effort.

Matt Hague became the hero when he took one for the team on a 2-2 pitch, providing the first walk-off hit batter of the season...or maybe ever (Elias will let us know). That's taking the aka of "Hit Collector" to extremes, but hey, whatever works. At any rate, the packed house will really enjoy their fireworks tonight.

The Bucs overcome a 1-for-12 effort with RISP and 13 stranded runners by throwing out two Cubs at home and getting a clutch bean job. Now they're set up for the sweep, with Erik Bedard taking on Matt Garza tomorrow afternoon.

  • Josh Harrison, with a sac bunt and walk, saw his 10-game hit streak end.
  • 38,132 fans came to PNC Park tonight. It was 2012's third sellout and the first since the season opened with back-to-back SROs.
  • Jeff Karstens second rehab start at Altoona went an inning too long. In 4-1/3 frames, he gave up five runs (four earned) on two hits, two walks and a wild pitch with two K throwing 59 pitches. All the runs were scored in the fifth inning.

Saturday Notes, Lineup

LHP Paul Maholm (4-3, 4.73) of the Cubs faces RHP Kevin Correia (1-5, 4.50) today. Maholm had a four game winning streak snapped last outing, while KC has lost 5 in a row, mostly mismatching up with other team's top guns and not getting more than two runs of support in any of his first eight starts. The game starts at 7:15 and will be shown nationally on Fox Sports as part of "Baseball Night In America."

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Matt Hague 1B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Kevin Correia P.

Get used to this order; we suspect Clint is gonna use less bench and more everyday people for awhile.

  • Josh Harrison's ten game hitting streak is tied with the Rox Jordan Pacheco as the longest current string going on in the NL.
  • Jason Grilli's mark of 19 appearances with a K is the second longest current steak in MLB.  Cincy's Aroldis Chapman is on a 20 game roll. The previous leader, Cleveland’s Vinnie Pestano, had his streak ended at 21 games earlier in the week.
  • The Pirates have played in a MLB-leading 21 one-run games (47%) this season. 27 of their first 45 games (60%) have been decided by two runs or less.
  • This day in history: In 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched twelve perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium, only to lose on an unearned run in the 13th. The Kitten's effort was the closest any Bucco hurler has come to tossing a complete perfect game. 
  • This morning, Sean Casey’s Clubhouse Foundation and Pirates Charities opened the Miracle League Field of the South Hills, located in Upper St. Clair's Boyce Park. Stuff like this is what defines "big league."
  • You can add prep outfielder Albert Amora to the list of guys Pittsburgh is sniffing around for the draft, according to Baseball America's Jim Callis.
  • Point Park won its opening round game in the NAIA World Series, reports Jason Mackey of the Tribune-Review.

Buc Bullpen: Under Pressure

Everyone knows how to set up a bullpen. Long guy, couple of bridge guys, LOOGY, couple of set up guys, closer. Each step up the ladder ratcheted the leverage level a little higher, with ERA conversely dropping as the ninth inning got nearer.

But thanks to the Bucs inept offense and solid starting pitching, suddenly everything, from the sixth inning on, had the game hanging in the balance. High leverage at-bats and tight scores trickled down into the earlier innings so that now everyone needed to perform like a back-ender if Pittsburgh was to compete.

What is leverage? It's complicated mathematically, but at essence a measure that combines the inning and game situation as it affects a team's win probability. So the later the game, the tighter the score and the more runners on, the greater the leverage level. The average game consists of about 20% high leverage situations, with medium and low leverage situations at 40% each.

So we took a look at two stats: appearances when the game score was within a run either way, and high leverage situations faced (both from Baseball Reference). Here's the result:

Tony Watson (65% +/-1 run, 35% hi leverage)
Juan Cruz (63% +/-1 run, 45% hi leverage)
Joel Hanrahan (59% +/-1 run, 37% hi leverage)
Jared Hughes (59% +/-1 run, 29% hi leverage)
Jason Grilli (53% +/-1 run, 42% hi leverage)
Chris Resop (44% +/-1 run, 27% hi leverage)
Brad Lincoln (30% +/-1 run, 21% hi leverage)

As a unit, the bullpen has appeared 56% of the time in one run games and 33% of the time in high leverage jams. That's not too surprising, as 21 of the Bucco games (47%) have been decided by a run and 60% by two runs.

Everyone but Resop and Lincoln have made more than half their outings when the game was on the line, and all of them were above the high leverage norm. And more telling, every reliever but Lincoln was called on to work in the eighth inning or later during a one-run game.

The back-of-the-envelope analysis shows us a couple of things. First, Hanny, Cruz and Grilli have worked the same number of close games, and Hanny actually has the lowest high leverage percentage of the trio. In fact, the set-up men have faced double the standard of high leverage situations and still thrived. Hanny is the undisputed closer, but by performance, you'd have a hard time picking one over the other.

It also shows how much trust Clint Hurdle has in his young arms, Hughes and Watson. Together, 62% of their outings have been in games when the score is within a run, and they have worked over league average (32%) in high leverage situations.

A lot of credit for the Bucco bullpen success has gone to the back-enders, and they deserve huge props. Hanny, Cruz and Grilli have worked in tight, game-deciding situations more often than not with dazzling results. But the reason they're so successful is because the rest of the pen is doing yeoman duty in getting the ball to them in manageable game situations.A great late inning crew isn't worth much if the team's down by three or four before you can get to them.

How long can this team effort continue? Well, at Fangraphs, the pitching table shows that Grilli is the only reliever whose xFIP matches his actual ERA; the rest are all overachieving. Ditto for the strand rate, which is somewhere around 73% leaguewide. Six of the seven Pirates are above that, with five at 87% or better. And except for Cruz and Grilli, the Batted Ball In Play averages are way low. So yah, regression is always lurking around the corner, as we saw late last year.

But for now, the bullpen, from top to bottom, has captured lightning in a jar. They're feeding off one another, and hey - who knows how far and long they can carry the club? Pressure has brought out the best in them during the opening two months of the season. Let's hope they don't regress, at least until the Pirate bats progress.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Burnett, Bullpen Baffle Cubs 1-0

AJ Burnett got the game rollin'. Starlin Castro legged out an infield knock with an out, rolling one up the middle that The Kid gloved but couldn't turn. Joe Mather followed by dropping a single into right to put runners at first and second. No prob; Brian LaHair and Alphonso Soriano went down swinging. The only bad thing was it took AJ 27 pitches to get through the frame.

The Bucs went quietly against Ryan Dempster. JT lined a ball to right, where David DeJesus made a nice over-the-head grab. Josh Harrison flew out, and Cutch, facing a shift, tried to go the opposite way but popped up to short center.

Darwin Barney singled with one away in the second and swiped a sack, just getting under the tag. A grounder moved him to the hot corner, where he died after Burnett K'ed his mound opponent.

Pedro lined a single to right to open the Pirate half. An out later, Matt Hague tapped back to the mound. Dempster bobbled and then dropped the ball, turning a routine DP into a 1-3. It bit him in a hurry when Rod Barajas singled sharply to right; Alvarez went back door on his belly and swiped the plate with his hand to score against a strong throw and put Pittsburgh up 1-0.

DeJesus lined a knock to right to open the third.  He was going on a 3-2 pitch to Castro, who topped the ball right in front of the plate and was tagged out. He couldn't believe it wasn't foul (and it wasn't) and spent a good part of the inning talking to himself on the bench. A strikeout and grounder kept the Cubs off the board. AJ could use an easy inning; his pitch count is sitting at 60.

JT started off by reaching on a boot by third baseman Adrian Cardenas, his second error of the game. Harrison then banged a ball off Cardenas' chest and traded places with JT on the bases on the forceout. He stole second, but Dempster K'ed Cutch and Pedro swinging to end the inning without damage.

Burnett threw a clean fourth inning with a pair of whiffs. Hague singled into the second base hole with an out, but was stranded thanks in part by a nice running grab by Soriano on a ball slicing away from him off Barajas' bat.

The streak of eight straight Cubbies down was broken when Dejesus drew a two-out, 3-2 walk. Castro followed by dumping a soft knock into left center; he has two hits without hitting the ball hard enough to scramble an egg. With runners on the corners, Castro stole second; with two outs, the Pirates opted not to defend against it. That strategy nearly paid off for Chicago when Mather shot a hard one hopper towards the SS hole, but Pedro dove to cut it off and fired a bullet to save AJ's bacon. But he's up to 93 pitches on a muggy night and is due to lead off, so it's decision time for Clint Hurdle.

Burnett will get another go; he popped out. JT lined one to first, and Harrison drilled a two-out knock into left and stole second. Cutch walked on a 3-2 pitch. Pedro battled to a full count and then nubbed a ball a foot or two in front of home for the inning-ending 2-3.

Well, AJ actually isn't going to finish the sixth. After an out, a Soriano knock followed by a walk to Cardenas ended his day. He went 5-1/3, surrendering six hits and a pair of walks to go with six K while tossing 105 pitches. Jared Hughes took the ball. He went 3-2 on Darwin Barney and AJ caught a break when a Barney bouncer to third was broken up by Soriano, who plowed into Pedro. The interference call put runners at first and second instead of second and third, and the point became moot when Koyie Hill grounded out.

With two away, Barajas beat the shift by dumping a single to right. Clint Barmes followed with a line shot to left. But the two out lightning faded quickly when pinch hitter Casey McGehee, first pitch swinging, bounced out on a routine grounder to short.

It was Jason Grilli's turn to climb the hill. He struck out the side, just as he did against the Mets during his last outing on Wednesday and now has seven straight punchouts. Dempster almost matched him, putting down the Bucs in order while striking out Harrison and Cutch swinging.

Out trotted Juan Cruz for the eighth. He fooled Mather on a fastball, but he got enough of it to roll it the opposite way for a knock. After a strikeout of LaHair, Cruz picked a dancing Mather off first. Just on time, too, as Soriano dropped a flare into center and pitch runner Tony Campana stole second on a pitchout when Barmes tag was high; he is that fast. With Campana going, Cardenas rolled one to The Kid to end the frame.

With one out in the Buc half, Neil Walker doubled high off the Clemente Wall. Dempster was sent to the showers, and lefty James Russell came on to face Garrett Jones, who rolled out to short on the first pitch on a check swing. Barajas popped out, and it was Hanny time.

With two strikes, Barney fought off a tight heater and sliced it into right for a knock. Hill tried to bunt and bounced a one-hopper to Hanrahan, who got the force. It was a huge play when pinch hitter Reed Johnson slapped an outside heater into right to put runners on the corners. Hanny reached back and got DeJesus looking at a backdoor slider, and then got Castro swinging at a down and away slider. And hey - for a change, the Bucs won 1-0. It was Burnett's third win and Hanny's 11th save.

Burnett didn't have command, but he did have poise tonight. And the Pirate bullpen is proving to be the MLB version of the Marines; they race toward the gunfire and quiet the noise. The teams combined for 17 hits, but the Pirates stranded nine and the Cubs eleven. In essence, the game hinged on a pair of comebackers; Dempster bobbled his chance, and Hanny didn't. That's the way it goes when runs are at such a premium for both clubs.

Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia get the call tomorrow.

  • Josh Harrison has a ten game hitting streak going on.
  • Jason Grilli has the season-starting record for relief appearances with a K with 19. That also ties him with Octavio Dotel for the Bucco record of most consecutive outings with a K from the pen.

Cubbie Notes, Lineup

The Cubs send RHP Ryan Dempster (0-2, 2.28) against RHP A.J. Burnett (2-2, 4.78) tonight. Dempster is on a 16-start winless streak, amazing for a guy with his ERA, but the Cubbies have scored three or less times in all but one of his starts this year. Burnett has been a stalwart for the Bucs minus one horrendous outing. The game begins at 7:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The Cubs are on a nine game losing streak, their longest since May of 2002, and have a record of 15-29. They're in the NL Central basement, and it's a good time for the Bucs to catch them. On the other hand, the boys from the Windy City have to think that a visit to Pittsburgh may be just what the doc ordered, and they are, if nothing else, due.

And finally, for all you guys who follow the club thru your techie toys, tonight's game is the team's first Social Media Night. Fans who follow the Pirates twitter feed or like the Facebook page get $10 off an outfield box seat, along a chance for some other goodies and a free tee.

The Lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Matt Hague 1B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, AJ Burnett P.

  • Jeff Karstens makes his second rehab start at Altoona tomorrow, looking to reach the 60 pitch mark. He tossed three scoreless innings in his first outing earlier in the week.
  • RHP Ryota Igarashi, a 2012 Pirate spring camp invitee, has been called up to join the Blue Jays today, according to Bluebird Banter. The reliever was sold by the Bucs to the Jays before the season started.
  • Today in history: Babe Ruth hit his 714th and final home run at Forbes Field in 1936, a career record that would stand for almost 40 years before Hammerin' Hank claimed the crown. The Bambino went four for four, hitting three home runs and driving in six runs. One cleared the right field roof, and by local lore didn't quit rolling until it stopped near Boundary Street.

Matt Hague Called Up, Nate McLouth DFA

Well, it was kinda a move. The Buc's DFA'ed Nate McLouth, proving Thomas Wolfe right, and called up Matt Hague.

Nate was hitting .140 and was 0-fer since May 6th. Hague, after a hot camp and a slow start to his Indy season, had a .278/1/15 slash line for the Tribe. It's an anticipated shuffle. Hague has played first and third during his minor league career and is starting at first tonight. He was 1-for-9 in his brief time earlier this year in the show.

So it looks like Josh Harrison, who is starting in right, will get some OJT in the pasture, and the recall leaves Casey McGehee in the lurch at the moment; Hague may get an opp to slide into the first base platoon. Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects tweeted that Hurdle plans to give him a "string of at-bats," so Garrett Jones is on the hot seat, too.

Minors, Draft Notes

 A quick hit at some minor league news and draft notes:
  • Indy's Doug Slaten has pitched 24 innings straight without surrendering an earned run. The 32 year old LHP has 8 saves and a 0.36 ERA. The Pirates have one lefty in the pen. A match made in heaven? Not quite - the vet (206 MLB games; 3.60 ERA) has an opt-out clause that kicks in June 1st. To complicate things a bit more, he's not on the Pirates 40-man roster. So unless there's some movement via trade or injury in the next week, he'll be moving on.
  • RHP Duke Welker, sorta the mystery man on the 40-man roster, has been promoted to Indy. The 26 year old RH closer had a 2.31 ERA at Altoona with 19 K in 23-1/3 IP, and can buzz the radar at 98.
  • LHP Jo-Jo Reyes of Indy was palced on the minor league DL  with a strained hammy.
  • Indy, btw, is leading the International League's Western Division with a 26-20 slate, 3-1/2 games ahead of Toledo.
  • Bradenton's CF Mel Rojas celebrated his 22nd B-Day in style. He went 3-for-3 with a 2B, 3B & HR and collected 3 RBI.
  • Jim Callis of Baseball America says OF Josh Bell would be "...a top 10 pick, battling Albert Almora to be the first high school outfielder selected" in this year's draft. The 2011 second round pick was signed for way over slot at $5M last year, and is out now after knee surgery for a torn meniscus.
  • Yesterday, Jonathan Mayo in his mock draft for had the Bucs selecting high school LHP Max Fried; the other gurus so far have been unanimous in picking Arizona State SS Deven Marrero, who has to tools to stick at the position but has some issues at the dish. The Pirates pick in the eight hole this year.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Time To Trade? When The Market's Right...

OK, the Bucs have three guys hitting .250+, and just a pair with an OPS over .631. They're not just at the bottom of the pack batting for this season; they're approaching historic futility levels, going all the way back to the dead ball era in some categories. The fans are rightfully in a snit, as the pitching has been been more than competent and they can sniff a competitive squad, if only the bats would cooperate.

So why no movement on adding a stick or two?

Well, first there's history, often cited by the FO. And there is a reason the trigger isn't pulled this early in the season. It's because most teams are still in an evaluation period and trying to determine who is really dead weight versus who is just off to an Adam LaRoche type spring.

In Pittsburgh, the evaluation part is pretty easy now that they're almost two months into the season. Cutch, Neil Walker (tho off to a slow start, especially in power numbers) and super utility guy Josh Harrison are the only Pirates who seem to have any idea of a Louisville's purpose. Still, that doesn't mean that the FO is looking to make wholesale changes, for various reasons.

Jose Tabata will get a chance to build on his .221 BA. His peripheral line of grounders, flies and liners matches with his career numbers. The only major discrepancy is his batted balls in play (BABIP) average, which at .256 is 50 points under his lifetime norm of .307, so hope exists that he'll find a little more grass in the coming months.

Ditto with Pedro. His slugging and ISO (isolated power) are a little above his career norms and he's hitting more fly balls than ever, but discipline has been really lacking. His strikeout rate is at a career high and his walk rate at a career low. That mirrors personal highs in swings at pitches outside the zone (35%), which he misses 54% of the time. But on a team woefully lacking in power, he'll be given every opportunity to become a fixture in the middle of the order.

Clint Barmes is on a long leash, having signed the richest Pirate free agent contract ever and with next season guaranteed. In addition, the Pirates may feel that with Harrison and Jordy Mercer that they have internal candidates who should perform around league average. Throw in a weak marketplace, and SS looks like a spot they'll have to survive for awhile.

The catchers, Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry, are actually kinda doing as much as the FO could have reasonably projected - low average, lower OBP, but with occasional home run power and good D with room to progress to their norms. Tony Sanchez isn't exactly fast tracking it at Altoona and may never develop into more than a defense-first catcher. Everyone in the league is looking for depth behind the plate, so this is another area that is what it is.

That leaves the two likeliest spots they'll look to beef up. One is the third (and fourth) outfielder. With Alex Presley and Nate McLouth fizzling while Starling Marte is trying to tighten up his game at Indy, the need is pretty obvious. Gorkys Hernandez is on the roster now, but as a glove-first guy, making him better suited for a bench rather than everyday role. Internally, no one is ready to step into a starting role today.

The other spot is the first base tandem of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee. On paper, they looked like a good team. In real life, not so much.

Jones, who finally is being used as a true platoon player, is still hitting just .221 with a mere 3 walks to go with 28 K in 95 at-bats. McGehee has been a most pleasant surprise defensively at first, but is batting .189 with 18 hits to go with a dozen walks and no homers. An everyday first baseman should be high on the list for the FO. Matt Hague or maybe Jeff Clements are internal candidates. Hague is projected as a James Loney or Casey Kotchman type player, while Clement may be, like Jones, a late blooming stopgap.

The second reason teams don't deal early is because they have long-term internal fixes, who for service time reasons are held back until mid-June. That's not the case for the Pirates. Marte was the only really fast tracked guy in the minors, and he's hitting .260 with a raft of Ks in AAA, although a hot month could land him in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later. First base doesn't have an elite thumper in line, either.

Another key reason teams don't deal early is because of leverage. The deeper into the season, the more teams that are buying will overpay to get who they want.  And with the wild card, theoretically there should be more buyers than sellers this year. How this dynamic will work out for the Bucs is iffy, given their current straits. Whether there's more value to be gotten from a deal by holding on until the dog days or by dealing quickly so the trade partners can maximize a player's use is a case-by-case scenario dependent on the perceived urgency of each team's needs.

The Bucco strength is pitching, and it's widely assumed Joel Hanrahan's contract and the rental status of Erik Bedard will put them in play as key trade pieces. The Pirate bullpen is deep, too, and they could probably deal one of those arms.

We'll assume for the sake of debate that AJ Burnett and James McDonald, along with Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia are off the table, along with Cutch, Walker and Alvarez, though it could well be, as the FO is fond of saying, that they'll listen to an offer for anyone. We picked those guys because they are the core group of the 2014 roster (except for Burnett, who we think has more current value as a Pirate), which coincides with the seventh year of rebuilding, the MLB benchmark for a top-to-bottom organizational redo.

So the Pirates are in a position to deal some pitching, whether now or in July, as the market dictates, and can offer some youngsters as sweeteners - remember, you can't hoard players forever; sooner or later the 40-man roster comes into play. That's a good thing; pitching is always a commodity that's highly sought.

That segues into the final reason deals aren't cut early - desperation, the trailer trash relative of leverage. Pittsburgh may have begun to investigate the market; as Clint Hurdle told the media after this afternoon's game: "For all you know, we’ve been looking for two weeks." It doesn't take a genius of a GM to figure out the Bucs are over a barrel as far as hitting talent is concerned, and are trying to pull a Jesse James act on Neal Huntington.

That sword cuts both ways; injuries can catapult a club into this category, giving Pittsburgh an edge in some cases. No matter what the cause, the Pirates have to be careful to keep their focus down the road, not on instant gratification.

Whatever move the Pirates make shouldn't be in the Derrick Lee mold, at least now. Competing deep into the 2012 season is viable for a couple of reasons (weak division, wildcard, strong pitching), but it can't be at the cost of lowering the Pirate window of opportunity that should pop open in a couple of seasons.

As noted, the positions likeliest to be addressed are first and corner outfield. Nobody is breaking down the doors in Pittsburgh's minors to claim those spots, so the Pirates should stick to their guns and hold out for guys that can keep the job instead of a baby sitter. Ideally, they should be searching for someone who is blocked or redundant for another team, can provide at least a couple of year's worth of value and whose best days aren't in the rear view mirror.

We'd assume that's what Huntington is looking for, and that's why putting a deadline on a deal is such a tricky proposition. Several things have to fall in place for an early season deal - and they can; teams are already shopping guys - but in this situation, we'd hope that the FO weighs both the short and long range implications before pulling the trigger. There are way too many holes in this team to fill en masse, but they can fill in the first six spots in the lineup.

Hey, there's no doubt this club needs shaken up at this point, and we would prefer that it happens sooner rather than later to keep the season interesting. We just want to see the pieces fit into the big puzzle.

Same Ol - Bucs Go Down 3-1

The first couple of innings were rough against Buc righty Charlie Morton, but he survived pretty well. Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled with one away in the opening frame, went to second on a wild pitch and scored with two outs on a Lucas Duda ground single to right. The Bucs went quietly in their half against Jon Niese.

In the second, Ike Davis and Ronnie Cedeno began things with back-to-back singles. Rob Johnson banged one to short and the Pirates got a force out when The Kid had a hitch in his turn. Niese bunted Johnson to second, but Mike Baxter left the ducks on the pond. Casey McGehee walked with one out and Yamaico Navarro legged out a roller an out later, but nothing further developed.

Nieuwenhuis led off the third with a bunt single, but was erased on a 6-4-3 DP. The Pirates, as is becoming mind-numbingly common, went down 1-2-3. In the fourth, both teams were retied in order. The fifth saw the Mets pad their lead.

Johnson singled into right and Niese advanced him with a bunt. Baxter singled him to third, where a Nieuwenhuis sac fly plated Johnson. David Wright ripped a two-out two-bagger to right to push Baxter home, and it was 3-0 NY. For Pittsburgh, Barmes singled with two out, but Clint Hurdle sent Morton to the dish, where he bounced out to short.

Morton put down NY in order in the sixth, and Josh Harrison opened the Bucco half with a double. After an out, Cutch singled into left and Pittsburgh was on the board. Good thing, too, as Walker banged into a DP to end the frame. The Mets went 1-2-3 in the seventh, as did Pittsburgh. At least Barajas and Navarro banged a couple of deep flies to center; even noisy outs are noteworthy anymore.

Morton went seven, and gave up three runs on eight hits with a K. Jason Grilli took the ball in the eighth. Welcome back; he K'ed the side. Barmes singled to start the Bucs; two outs later, Gorkys Hernandez drew a 3-2 walk. That was it for Niese; Bobby Parnell climbed the hill to duel Cutch. Parnell had Gorkys dead to rights as he led off first, but Met 1B Davis forgot to catch the pick-off toss and both runners moved up 90'. No prob for Parnell; he busted a 98 MPH heater under the hands of Cutch to get him on a check swing.

Brad Lincoln got the call for the ninth, and put the Mets down where they stood. Frank Francisco came on for NY, looking to close out the Bucs for the second straight time. Walker was caught looking at a curve. Garrett Jones took the bat from McGehee, and flew out to center. Barajas followed with a swinging whiff and the Bucs went down to the Mets again today by a 3-1 tally.

Pretty much the same ol'. Can't hit, and there's not much more tale to be told.

The team is off tomorrow, then AJ Burnett will host the Cubs' Ryan Dempster.

  • Jason Grilli has fanned at least one batter in each of his 18 appearances, with 30 K in 17 IP.
  • Josh Harrison extended his hitting streak to nine games; Rod Barajas' ended at eight.

Getaway Lineup, Notes

The Mets send LHP Jonathon Niese (2-2, 4.85) against RHP Charlie Morton (2-4, 4.35). Neither guy has been very consistent this season (Morton has has lost three of his last four starts), so it'll be interesting to see just what the pair of offensive-challenged teams will come up with at the dish this afternoon. The get-away game is scheduled for 12:35 and will be radio only.

The lineup: Josh Harrison RF, Gorkys Hernandez LF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Casey McGehee 1B, Rod Barajas C, Yamiaco Navarro 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Charlie Morton P.

Some odd combos today. Hernadez gets his first MLB start while Harrison gets his second career OF gig and will man the corners, while Navarro goes to third. Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and some random outfielder (who the heck is the Pirates regular left fielder?) are on the pine.

  • RHP Jason Grilli has returned from the Bereavement List and LHP Jeff Locke has been optioned back to Indy.
  • Dan Wade of Fangraphs has a post featuring James McDonald and wonders " his level of production, or something close to it, sustainable?"
  • SS Chase d’Arnaud left the game at Indy yesterday with a strained left hip flexor, and LHP Jo-Jo Reyes suffered a right hammy injury.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bucs, Mets Play Hot Potato In NY 3-2 Victory

Well, guess J-Mick is feelin' it early. Three Mets up, three Mets down, all swinging. The Pirates got a one-out double from Josh Harrison, but the knuckleballin' RA Dickey induced grounders from Cutch and Pedro to escape.

Daniel Murphy drew a one-away walk on five pitches, as McDonald stayed away from the lefty and couldn't nick the black. Ronny Cedeno also kept the bat on his shoulders following another K and drew a four pitch walk as J-Mick lost the battle with the ump on a couple of calls. On a 1-2 pitch, Mike Nickeas, who was in an 0-for-17 slump, dropped a slider that caught too much plate up the left field line. A run scored while Nickeas was tossed on a strong throw by JT out trying to stretch his hit into a double.

Walker, who opted to bat righty against the RHP Dickey, nubbed an infield single to open the second, but died on the bases. Both sides went down in order in the third and ditto in the fourth. Dickey has five strikeouts, J-Mick has seven.

Cedeno battled during an eight pitch at-bat to open the fifth, finally lining a heater into center and running J-Mick's pitch count up to 70. Nickeas hit into a force and Dickey moved him to second. Mike Baxter got ahead 2-1 and roped a fastball, but Barmes made the grab to finish the frame. With one down in the Bucco half, Rod Barajas lined a two-bagger to left, but was left there after breaking Dickey's streak of ten consecutive outs.

The Mets went down 1-2-3 in the sixth. Harrison had no problem with the knuckler; with one away, he tripled thanks to Nieuwenhuis' misplay in center. Cutch knocked a dancer into fairly deep right, and the sac fly tied the game. Pedro followed with a single the opposite way. Walker ended the frame as Dickey's ninth strikeout victim of the night.

Cedeno again proved a pest, fouling off three pitches and then legging out an infield knock to the left side with two away before McDonald could tuck NY away. The seventh would be J-Mick's curtain call. He went seven, giving up a run on four hits with two walks and eight K after 104 offerings. Dickey kept on, striking out a pair - he's got 11 now, which is his career high, and this is his 10th year in the show - and getting a pop to the catcher.

Juan Cruz took the bump for Pittsburgh. With one out, Baxter blasted a double to straightaway center on a liner that froze Cutch and then clanked off his mitt. For the second time this inning, Cruz got ahead 0-2 only to run the count full. he K'ed Torres the first time, but walked Nieuwenhuis this time around. That brought up David Wright, who went down swinging.

Cruz fell behind Lucas Duda 2-0, and he singled hard to right off Garrett Jone's glove to give the Mets the lead. That was it for Cruz; Resop came on to face the lefty Daniel Murphy. McLouth came in to man left, Tabata went to right, Harrison to short and Barmes to the pine. Murphy took a pitch the opposite way; El Toro booted it, and it was 3-1 Mets before Resop cleaned up the inning. Giving a team five outs is usually a bad thing, and it sure was this inning.

Jon Rauch climbed the hill for the Mets with the Bucs needing a bloop and a blast. They fell short by a blast. JT fell behind, fouled off a couple to stay alive, and then dropped a double to right with one away. Harrison tapped out on a curve. Cutch made amends when his playable pop into right glanced off second baseman Murphy's mitt to bring home Tabata. Tim Byrdak came in to face Pedro, lefty-on-lefty. McCutch stole second, but Pedro went down swinging.

Resop put the Mets down in order in the ninth. Frank Francisco took the hill to close for NY. Walker grounded out to second. Jones fouled off five straight pitches before K'ing on a ball in the dirt. Barajas hit a can of corn to center to ice the Mets a 3-2 victory.

It's a broken record. 13 K's and an inning in the field where they treated the ball like a ticking WMD (as did the Mets, handing Pittsburgh both its runs). It was pretty much a mirror image of the series-closer they lost in Detroit on Sunday.

Well, they'll strap 'em on again tomorrow afternoon, when Charlie Morton takes on Jon Niese in the get away game.

  • Alvarez's error ended the team's flawless fielding streak at 72 innings, the Bucs' longest since a 72-inning stretch from July 17-25, 2009. 
  • Rod Barajas and Josh Harrison both extended their hitting streaks to eight games.
  • Jason Grilli is expected back for tomorrow's game, so Jeff Locke looks to be headed back to Indy.

Lineup, Notes

RHP R.A. Dickey (5-1, 3.75 ERA) of the Mets squares off against RHP James McDonald (3-2, 2.68) tonight. Knuckleballer Dickey has been steady for NY, while J-Mick is having a breakout season to this point. The game begins at 7:05 and will be broadcast by Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil  Walker 2B, Garrett Jones 1B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, James McDonald P.

Looks like a case of meet your new right fielder, Josh Harrison.

  • Rod Barajas enters tonight’s action with a seven-game hitting streak with two doubles, three homers and five RBI. So does Josh Harrison, who has three doubles, a homer and four RBI during his streak.
  • With his next home run hit in Pittsburgh, Garrett Jones will tie Adam LaRoche for sixth place
    on the all-time list for homers hit at PNC Park at 35.
  • Adam Rubin of ESPN tweeted per the Elias Sports Bureau that before last night's rally, the Pirates had lost the last 160 games when they fell behind by 4+ runs, second-longest streak in MLB history. Thx to James Santelli of Neon Sports and Pittsburgh Sports Report, who also noted that the last Pirate four run comeback was also against the Mets at PNC in June of 2009.  
  • Today in Bucco history: At Wrigley Field in Chicago, Bucco Hall-of-Fame slugger Willie Stargell
    hits three home runs and just missed a fourth in a 13-6 victory over the Cubs. ‘Pops’ also smacked a single and a double that bounced off the railing of the left field fence and back onto the playing field. 
  • Kent Tekulve and Mike LaValliere will be the Pirate reps/mouthpieces at this years' draft.
  • In case you were wondering where Jason Bay was last night, he's on the DL with a broken rib and rehabbing in Florida.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bucs Rally From 4-0 Hole To Win 5-4

Erik Bedard and Johan Santana met in the battle of lefties, both pitching well and neither getting much offensive help from their club. Bedard got the Bucs off on the right foot, with his only opening inning blemish a walk to David Wright. The Bucs were treated much the same by Santana, with Cutch lining a two-out single to center, his first career knock off the southpaw.

Vinnie Rottino singled with an out in the second. Ronnie Cedeno got his first at-bat against his old mates and smacked a 3-2 fastball down the middle off the wall in right center for a run producing two bagger. Josh Harrison, making the start in right, may have had a shot at it but took a crooked route to the ball. Mike Nickeas, hitting .188, drew a five pitch walk when Bedard didn't get a couple of calls on hooks that crossed his knee, and Santana bunted the pair up.

The wild streak continued as Torres drew a four pitch free pass. It cost, as Justin Turner blooped a first pitch curve into left over Clint Barmes, plating a pair and sending Torres to third when no one covered the bag. Wright got ahead 2-0, and a couple of pitches later dropped a soft liner into center to make it 4-0. before the frame ended, Bedard was already up to 51 pitches. The Pirates went down in order, with the soft tossing Santana picking up a pair of whiffs.

Cedeno dropped a pop in front of Harrison on a two out, 3-2 pitch for the only Met damage in the third. With one away, Bedard bounced one into left. Two pitches later, JT tapped back to the mound to trigger a 1-6-3 DP. The Mets went down cleanly in the fourth.

Harrison led off the Pirate half with a double to dead center. Cutch followed with a first pitch two bagger to left, and the Bucs were on the board. Pedro got ahead 2-1, was served a hanging slider, and ripped it into right for Pittsburgh's third straight double, making it 4-2.

We have no idea why, but Neil Walker made the first out when he popped up a bunt try. Casey McGehee got aboard on a throwing error by Wright, with Alvarez holding. Barmes walked on five pitches, his second free pass of the season, to juice the sacks. Control your enthusiasm; McKenry bounced into a 6-4-3 DP to end the frame.

Bedard retired the first two Mets before Lucas Duda dinked a cutter 6" outside along the left side for an infield knock. He left him there, but is done after 97 pitches. He went five, giving up four runs on six hits with three walks and four whiffs. And hey, Gorkys Hernandez stepped up to bat for him, making his first MLB at-bat. He fit right in, swinging at and missing balls four and five to K. Two bouncers followed to end the frame. After five, it was 4-2 Mets.

Chris Resop climbed the hill for Pittsburgh in the sixth. He K'ed the pesky Cedeno looking on three pitches with a heater that was up but got the call to open a 1-2-3 inning. With two away for Pittsburgh, The Kid doubled into left off Wright's glove, but McGehee whiffed to end the inning. Resop's walked Justin Turner with one out in the seventh, followed by a Wright knock to left. That brought in Tony Watson to face the lefty Ike Davis. He K'ed him and polished off the frame.

Barmes opened the Bucco half with a knock, and McKenry followed with a blast into the left center field seats over the 383 mark, his third of the season, to knot the score. Yamiaco Navarro whiffed, but JT drew a four pitch walk, and that ended Santana's night as he gave way to Bobby Parnell. Harrison reached on an error by Wright. Parnell got a huge out, getting Cutch to chase high heat for the strikeout. Lefty Tim Byrdak took the ball from him to match up with El Toro. He fed him a diet of sliders and got him swinging, too.

Jared Hughes climbed the mound for Pittsburgh. Kirk Nieuwenhuis greeted him with a single to left on a two strike mistake pitch served over the heart of the plate. Cedeno missed on a pair of bunt tries and grounded out sharply to Alvarez, who made a nice diving stab to keep the ball from going into the corner. A wild pitch moved him to third. Hughes struck out Nickeas. Lefty Mike Baxter grabbed a stick and was intentionally walked. Working Torres down and away, Hughes got a grounder to second to end the frame still tied.

Jon Rauch was called out for the bottom half. Nieuwenhuis dropped Walker's routine fly into left center after playing "who's got it" with LF Baxter, and The Kid made it to third on the miscue. McGehee got a high fastball, but grounded it to third to freeze the runner. No prob; Barmes took the first pitch to medium right, and The Kid slid home to beat the rap with the lead run.

It was Hanny time. McLouth took over in left, with JT sliding to right. As it ended up, Hanny didn't need any OFs; two grounders and a K put the Mets away. Hanny notched save #10, closing out Jared Hughes' MLB first win.

Hey, it's nice to see a team give the Bucs a game for a change. And all the Buc runs prior to Walker's were the result of extra base hits, so that's encouraging too. Never underestimate the pen, either. They put together another four innings of zeroes.

RA Dickey takes on James McDonald tomorrow night.
  • The Pirates have gone seven consecutive games without making an error, the longest active streak in MLB. It's probably a good thing that mental errors aren't kept in the book. 
  • Jeff Karstens worked three shutout innings of rehab work at Altoona, giving up two hits with a K while tossing 37 pitches. He threw a short side afterwards to reach his goal of 45 pitches.

Lineup, Notes

The Mets' LHP Johan Santana (1-2, 2.89) faces LHP Erik Bedard (2-5, 3.07) at PNC Park tonight. Santana has been murder on Pittsburgh during his career with an ERA under 2. Bedard has been dependable for the Pirates, so it should be a good opener to a nine-game home stand. The game starts at 7:05 and will be aired by Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Casey McGehee 1B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, Eric Bedard P.

Josh Harrison is in right field tonight and The Fort is catching.That keeps the ratio at about 2:1 between him and Rod Barajas, which was the plan going into the season. El Toro continues to play against all comers, even a tough lefty like Santana. 

  • Drew Sutton, the infielder the Pirates purchased, has already been traded again; the Pirates sent him to Tampa Bay for cash/PTBNL. Very strange, especially as he's headed to the Rays' big team, not AAA..
  • Erik Bedard hasn't pitched against the Mets since 2006. 3B David Wright is the only player still with the team who played in that game. 
  • Jeff Karstens will go three innings or 45 pitches at Altoona tonight in his first rehab start since coming back from a shoulder injury. Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror has JK's story.
  • David Manel of High And Outside compared the Pirate individual offensive projections for 2012 against the actual's not pretty.

Mix Pitching-Heavy Drafts With Poor Market Choices, And...

One big reason the Pirates are having such dire offensive problems right now has its roots in the past: since 2008, the FO has drafted for pitching, not hitting. Checking out the top ten choices by year, 25 of the team's top 40 picks in the Neal Huntington era were used on pitchers, and of those 15 hitters, seven were selected in 2008. Only 8 of the last thirty top ten picks have been spent on field players.

And just one of their positional draftees, Pedro Alvarez, is on the current 25-man roster.

Three are on the Indy roster: SS Jordy Mercer, SS Chase d'Arnaud and 1B Matt Hague. (OF Alex Presley was drafted in 2006, 2B Brian Friday in 2007 and OF Starling Marte was signed as an international free agent in 2007, all during the Dave Littlefield era).

There are several at Altoona, with IF Brock Holt, CF Robbie Grossman, 3B Jeremy Farrell and C Tony Sanchez being top ten selections and 1B Matt Curry being added in the 16th round. 

It didn't start that way as their first draft was hitter-heavy. In 2008, they drafted Alvarez, Mercer and d'Arnaud 1-2-3 on their board, and Hague was the ninth selection. They were all college players and are at their appropriate level now. Other top ten picks were Farrell, Grossman and SS Benji Gonzalez from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. High school 2B Jarek Cunningham was taken in the 18th round, too.

C Tony Sanchez, OF Evan Chambers and 2B Brock Holt were brought aboard in 2009. OF Mel Rojas was the only 2010 top ten pick that played the field, though prospect 1B Matt Curry was selected in the 16th round. They addressed this imbalance somewhat last year, adding OF Josh Bell and 1B Alex Dickerson in the second and third rounds with 3B Dan Gamache & OF Taylor Lewis also top ten picks.

The point is not that the Pirates have a particularly bad eye for drafting hitters, but that they just don't take enough of them to fill the system. Six of the seven players they took in 2008 are scattered between Pittsburgh, Indy and Altoona. Two of the three they chose in 2009 are in AA. That's not unusually slow progress; it's just that there aren't enough bat-first bodies to go around.

We understand that the Pirate philosophy is that a team never has enough pitching, and that's true. It's also true that seven of their twelve top three picks during the four year span were hitters, including two of the team's four #1 picks. And there is a wildcard in that several Latino players are making some noise in the system, like Marte, SS Alen Hanson, C Ramon Cabrera and OF Adalberto Santos. Losing Miguel Sano, though, sprung an Exxon-sized leak in that pipeline.

What really aggravates the situation are the trade/free agent results. Jose Tabata is the only guy that's holding down a regular position, along with Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, barely, from other systems, along with the Garrett Jone/Casey McGehee hybrid.

But Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Aki Iwomura, Lastings Milledge (OK, he's a stretch), Ronny Cedeno, Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske and company were guys that were supposed to help fill in the pieces while the Pirates developed players.

Those outside markets worked to carry the the pitching through the developmental stage, with a light at the end of that tunnel, but came up far short in the spots around the mound.

The bottom line is that if you draft for pitching, you end up with pitching. It's a simple numbers game. Tearing down and rebuilding a minor league system is a time consuming task, and the Pirates went about it by stocking up on arms.

They say it takes seven years to fill an organization from top to bottom. Pittsburgh needs to draft a couple of more bats, on a regular basis, to fill theirs. Judging from last season, they recognize that imbalance. We'll see.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bucs Loading Up At Indy - Is A Move Imminent?

The Pirates obtained AAA middle infielder Drew Sutton from Atlanta today for cash. The 28 year old RH has spent parts of 2009-10 in the show, putting up a .258/.322/.403 slash line and striking out a lot. Sutton is a lifetime .280 hitter in the minors and joins corners guy Jeff Larish as a recent addition to the Indy crew.

This could be a move that addresses Indy's recent offensive woes; they've been mirroring the parent club the past few days. They are carrying guys like Anderson Hernandez, Miles Durham and Brian Friday who are all hitting under the Mendoza line. The trio are organization troopers and can be dropped a level or released to add a little punch to the attack. And it would be cheap injury insurance, as both Sutton and Larish have some experience, though not recently, in the majors.

Then again, it may be that the Pirate lineup may be about ready to undergo a change or two itself, as they're not exactly setting the world on its ear with their lumber. There are a handful of guys at Indy that are worth a look at the big league level. After all, there are a whole lot of players drawing major league paychecks in Pittsburgh that are under performing big time.

In that scenario, the Pirates adding a shortstop and corner fielder to Indy's lineup would suggest that Jordy Mercer (Chase d'Arnaud is barley hitting his weight) and Matt Hague/Jake Fox (who isn't on the 40-man roster) would be in line for a call. But a call is only half the battle; Clint Hurdle is nothing if not loyal to his players.

Gorkys Hernandez, who logically would have started Saturday against a lefty, has rode the pine since his arrival in Pittsburgh. Mercer would have to play through Clint Barmes and Josh Harrison, and Casey McGehee would present a battle at first base. So the dynamics of a roster shake up are far from predictable in regards to playing time.

At any rate, it's an interesting acquisition with possible implications at a couple of levels. We'll find out pretty quickly if the trigger was pulled to shake up the Tribe - or the Pirates.

(Edit - so much for try to add 2+2 where the FO is concerned. Less than 24 hours after acquiring Drew Sutton, the Bucs swapped him to Tampa Bay for a PTBNL. Oh, and he went to the Rays' active roster, not AAA. Go figure. We'd guess after the Pirates loaded up the Indy roster, Tampa made a call to Neal Huntington this morning inquiring about who was available, and apparently Sutton was.)

Bucs Go Down 4-3; K 17 Times

OK, we thought it would be a hitter's day with KC and Max Scherzer on the hill. We were wrong. Correia went strong into the seventh, and Scherzer whiffed a career-high 15 Pirates in Detroit's 4-3 win (and maybe that is a lot of runs for the two clubs). Heck, Max even whiffed Cutch three times, each time swinging at an offspeed offering. In fact, every one of his strikeouts was recorded swinging, so Cutch was well in tune with his teammates today.

The Bucs' drew first blood in the fifth when Rod Barajas knocked the first pitch he saw yard. It also broke up a string of five consecutive punchouts by Scherzer. Jhonny Peralta tied it in the Motown half with a homer of his own, only the second hit that KC had surrendered. Neil Walker got the lead back just as quickly when he pounded one out of Comerica in the sixth.

Then came the seventh. It started when Prince Fielder hit a pop into left. Nate McLouth couldn't quite get to it, and then Clint Barmes gave the ball a good kick to turn the bloop into a double.  Maybe Gorkys might have run it down, but that's kinda tough to tell from the bench. Delmon Young singled him home to tie it. KC headed for the showers and Tony Watson came on.

A soft roll out followed by a walk set the stage. Barajas allowed a passed ball, moving the runners up 90'. That also brought the infield in from DP depth. Alex Avila rolled a ground-ball through the middle of the infield ; Watson waved it going by, Barmes dove and it went under him, and a pair of runs scored. It would have been no worse than a force and maybe a DP without the passed ball and the infield back.

So the Pirates kept their errorless streak intact at 40+ frames, but couldn't make a play or two when they needed one to fall behind 4-2. Brad Lincoln and Jared Hughes kept the Tigers at bay the remainder of the game, retiring all five Detroit hitters they faced.

In the eighth, the Bucs had two on and two out against Octavio Dotel to set up Pedro, but he went down swinging on four hooks from lefty Phil Coke. Pittsburgh added a run in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit on a Josh Harrison double, short wild pitch and Barajas sac fly. The Pirates lost the game and the series to Motown.

Kinda sad to keep seeing the Bucs on the top of the headline board, first for being one-hit Friday and today for going down 17 times. It doesn't appear to bother the FO too much, though.

The Pirates come home to face the Mets tomorrow night, with Johan Santana going against Erik Bedard.

  • Cutch, Pedro Alvarez and Nate McLouth went down on strikes three times apiece while Garrett Jones, Neil Walker and Josh Harrison fanned twice. JT was the only Pirate not to K.
  • Rod Barajas now has a seven game hitting streak.
  • Max Scherzer's 15K were the most rung up against the Bucs in one start since the Giant's Tim Lincecum did it on July 27th, 2009. In all, 17 whiffs were recorded against Pittsburgh, equaling the season high set against the Reds a couple of weeks ago.
  • Today was Pittsburgh's first loss this season in 14 games when leading after six innings. 
  • Mike Sanserino of the Post Gazette tweeted that "The Pirates have faced either the opposing team's opening day starter or the starter with the lowest ERA in every series this season."
  • Daniel Cabrera & Jo-Jo Reyes are MLB vets putting up nice numbers at Indy. If there's no room  for them in Pittsburgh, GM Neal Huntington told Tom Singer of that "The trade value there is limited; those guys typically don't bring you a lot in return. You don't want to hold somebody hostage, so the right thing to do is try to place them elsewhere." In other words, they are more likely to be released to seek opportunity elsewhere than get dealt.