Friday, August 31, 2012

Karstens Reinjured and Ripped; Bucs Go Down 9-3

Mark Rogers didn't have much problem in the first frame; after a fly out, he fanned JT and Travis Snider fishing for sliders. Nyjmo gave Jeff Karstens fits. After fouling off some balls and laying off high waste heaters, he poked one the opposite way for a double. Ricky Weeks followed with a first pitch knock to right, and there were Brewers at the corners in a hurry. Ryan Braun whiffed as Weeks stole second. It was a short reprieve as Aramis Ramirez singled them both in. He got ahead of Corey Hart 1-2, left a meatball down the middle, and Hart cranked it over the left center wall to put the Brewers up 4-0. Jonathan Lucroy followed with a knock; everything JK is tossing is down the middle this inning.

That was it for Karstens; the Bucs sent out the trainer and Kyle McPherson got the call. JK maintained all week that his groin was OK; apparently that wasn't the case, or it maybe popped again. K-Mac toed the rubber, and though he paid some attention to Lucroy, he still stole second, his third swipe of the year. It seems the Brewers have gamed for a go-go night, or inning at least. The Fort threw away a pickoff toss; The King booted the backup try and Lucroy galloped to third. Carlos Gomez K'ed; Jean Segura walked - and stole second. Geez. Rogers rolled out on a 3-0 pitch. Just another nightmare inning at Miller Field - four runs, five hits, three stolen bases.

It was another 1-2-3 frame for Rogers in the second, with another K. Nyjer Morgan had a pesky at bat, fouling off a half dozen McPherson offerings before taking an outer-half ball the opposite way for a knock. Weeks got hit with the next pitch. After an out, A-Ram reached on a 3-2 walk; K-Mac's breaking ball hasn't come near the plate so far tonight, and as a result, he's tossed 31 pitches to get three outs. To help matters, McKenry whiffed on the next pitch, letting a run in and advancing the other guys 90'. Hart got bopped with the next delivery, loading the bases again. It took nine more pitches, but Lucroy went down swinging at 95 MPH heat and K-Mac punched out Gomez on three more heaters, hitting 96. It was 5-0 after two innings that took over an hour to complete.

Josh Harrison dropped a bloop hustle double into center on an 0-2 pitch to open the third. Two outs later, Presley joined him on the basepaths after a five pitch walk. JT tapped back to the mound to end the first mild Buc threat. K-Mac had staggered through his outing, and it was Kevin Correia's turn on the hill. We can't draw much off McPherson's outing; we're sure he wasn't mentally or physically warmed up for a first inning call. Our bigger question is why he batted with a runner on second and a full bench (if Walker is available) if he was gonna get yanked? With two outs, Nyjer Morgan collected his third hit, the opposite way, natch. It took four pitches, but he stole second. KC whiffed Weeks to leave Nyjer there.

GI Jones pumped a little life into the Buccos in the fourth when he belted a 2-0 pitch yard to right, landing in the second deck. Pedro followed with a knock to center. The Fort dropped a two-bag flare to left, putting Bucs at second and third. A fly or better yet, a hit, would make it interesting, but Harrison popped out in a pretty undisciplined at-bat in a key situation. Clint Barmes couldn't pick him up, fouling out behind the plate. It's not the bottom of the order for no reason.

A-Ram knocked a 1-2 pitch to center in the Brew Crew half after a long fly out by Braun, followed by a Hart single. Lucroy bounced out, moving the runners to second and third. KC caught Gomez looking. The pen has done a good job, but so far its four innings, three pitchers and 105 pitches during just under two hours of play. They may have to call up all of Indy's staff after tonight.

After KC flew out to open the fifth, Presley singled, moving to third on a ground out and wild pitch. Snider waged a nine pitch battle, but flew out to center to make the Pirates 0-for-6 with RISP after five. Correia was close to working the first clean inning for the Bucs, but lost Morgan on a 3-2 pitch with two down before getting Weeks on a roller.

Pedro drew a one out walk in the sixth after falling behind 0-2. That was it for Rogers. He was at 106 pitches, and Kameron Loe got the call from the pen. He caught a call against The Fort, who was rung up on a pitch closer to hitting him than the plate. Harrison bounced a comebacker, and the Bucs put up another goose egg. The Brewers put on a two-out runner against KC again when Hart singled. He cleaned up with a Lucroy grounder.

With one away in the seventh, Gaby Sanchez came off the bench and banged a double, moving to third on a wild pitch. Presley bounced out to second, bringing him in to make it 5-2. Jared Hughes climbed the hill as the Bucs shifted people around. Sanchez went to first, Jones to right, Snider to left and JT to the pine. The two down karma continued. after a pair of ground outs, Travis Ishikawa singled. The Bucs could have used one of those two out knocks. Morgan grounded out, and the Pirates were down to six outs.

Jim Henderson took the ball for the Brew Crew. Snider opened with another long at bat, but he was caught looking on a 3-2 pitch that just caught the inside black; gotta protect. After Jones flew out, Pedro singled the opposite way. The Fort looked at two pitches down the middle and swung through one above the letters.

Hisanori Takahashi  took over the pitching duties in the eighth. He gave up a one out infield knock to Braun. Takahashi came inside to A-Ram with a heater, and Ramirez iced the game, crushing it out of the park off the CF scoreboard. He whiffed Hart, and then lost Lucroy on four pitches. It cost when Gomez rattled one off the wall in left center, plating Lucroy, on a ball that Snider misjudged, the downside of switching guys all over the lot. Segura singled him in, followed by another four pitch walk to Jeff Bianchi. Nyjmo fanned to bring the frame to a merciful conclusion.

Harrison singled to open the ninth off Jose Veras. Barmes whiffed swinging through a high heat.Gaby grounded out to third. J-hay moved to second, and Presley singled him in. Jordy Mercer grabbed a bat for Takahashi, and was called out on a pitch that was way tight; after three hours and forty minutes, even the umps were ready for the hot water.

The offensive struggle was predictable with both Cutch and The Kid on the bench. But Karstens has to take the blame for this runaway; it's hard to believe he didn't know he wasn't 100% while warming up. We understand the warrior ethos; we also understand that if you're injured and take the field, you both hurt the team and turn nagging injuries into trips to the DL. It seems to be an ongoing problem for the medical staff that the players either give them bad info or talk Hurdle into letting them play. Remember Snider's hammy tweak and the early indecision on Marte's oblique injury? Someone has to be the grownup.

KC probably would have absorbed this start if JK begged off, and he worked four scoreless innings in relief. It might have been an entirely different game, but...

AJ Burnett takes on Marco Estrada tomorrow night.

  • Jeff Karstens left the game because of right hip flexor discomfort. 
  • Pedro and J-Hay remained hot; both had a pair of knocks tonight. Alex Presley also added a pair of hits.
  • Jones' homer was number 22 this season, a single-season career-high. He hit 21 in both 2009 and 2010.
  • The Bucs missed a golden opportunity to gain some ground; both the Cards and Braves lost while LA was down.
  • The Pirates signed ex-Phil IF Hector Luna and assigned him to Indy. Luna, 32, has a career .262/.314/.385 slash  in 794 big league at-bats.

Lineup, News, Notes - Cutch Gets Day Off, Presley, K-Mac Up

Milwaukee sends young RHP Mark Rogers (2-1, 4.28) against RHP Jeff Karstens (5-3, 3.47) tonight. Rogers went five innings while shutting out the Bucs 7-0 on Sunday. He's a guy who can miss both a bat and the plate, so discipline is a key to solving his stuff. JK shut out the Brew Crew 4-0 last week, and has gone 7-of-10 games getting into at least the seventh inning. The game begins at 8:10 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley CF, Jose Tabata LF, Travis Snider RF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Josh Harrison 2B, Clint Barmes SS, Jeff Karstens P.

Cutch isn't hurt; he's just getting a day off. Walker apparently still is as he misses another game

  • As expected, the Bucs activated Alex Presley and Kyle McPherson, sending Jeff Clement (who cleared waivers) and Chase d'Arnaud back to Bradenton (that makes them eligible to return without the ten day wait). Presley & McPherson are playoff eligible. K-Mac told reporters he was going to work out of the pen, which means Bedard's spot will be probably go to LHP Jeff Locke.
  • Buc pitchers shut out the Cards for 21 consecutive innings, the longest zippo streak since 2009. They've got to buckle down to get the record; the longest shutout streak for Pittsburgh, which is also the MLB mark, is 56 innings by the 1903 Pirates.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers unveiled a statue of their Hall of Fame radio voice Bob Uecker at Miller Park's Home Plate Plaza this afternoon. He threw out the first pitch and bud Doc Severson played the pre-game National Anthem.
  • There's one less Bucco alum at Atlanta. The Braves released the oft injured SS Jack Wilson, who may be at the end of his road. He's hit the 100-games played mark just once since 2007.

Players Moving All Over...

There's lots of movement between levels as the Bucs prepare for their playoff roster and top affiliate Indy gets set for their post season, too. The Cards and Dodgers both lost on the Bucs' off day, so the game is on; this year's roster construction is more than an academic exercise.  Whomever the Bucs call up today are eligible for the post-season; September 1st call-ups aren't, so it's a big deal 24 hours. Here's what's going on:

  • Reports have placed RHP Kyle McPherson and OF Alex Presley in Milwaukee with the Pirates.  That means both players will be eligible for the playoffs. No mention yet of who will be sent down, but recent call ups 1B Jeff Clement and SS Chase d'Arnaud are the prime suspects to rejoin Indy for their playoffs. The Pirate reinforcements are likely to be internal; there's been no smoke regarding any kind of deal to bring in someone from another team.
  • The Pirates haven't determined, at least publicly, who will take Erik Bedard's lineup spot. Kevin Correia is in the mix, and Kyle McPherson had reportedly joined the big team. But since his turn won't come up until the Houston series (Monday or Tuesday), virtually any starter at Indy is a candidate and Jeff Locke is certainly in the conversation, as the start doesn't come up until early next week. The Bucs are expected to dip heavily into the pitching; they've already sent AA pitchers Phil Irwin and Gerrit Cole to Indy as reinfircements.
  • Possibilities to be called up tomorrow: LHPs Justin Wilson & Jeff Locke along with RHPs Chris Leroux, who isn't on the 40-man roster, & Evan Meek. RHP Daniel McCutchen was sent down August 25th, so he can't be recalled until September 4th at the earliest. C Eric Fryer, 1B Matt Hague, utilityman Drew Sutton, and 3B Dallas McPherson (who isn't on the 40-man roster) all have a chance, too. They can't take all of the guys, off course - Wilson, Locke and Fryer seem the likeliest to get the call. The Bucs brought up four players in 2011 - LHP Jeff Locke, LHP Aaron Thompson, LHP Daniel Moskos and 3B Pedro Alvarez.
  • And if you're looking for hot stove moves over the off season, Keith Law of ESPN said this of Hanny "I'd absolutely try to move him, since closer performance is so unpredictable anyway. One solid prospect, a potential everyday guy or mid-rotation starter, would be fair." (scroll to page bottom)
  • Indy's International League playoffs start September 5th; they could potentially last until September 15th, so that may factor into the who and when of the big team call-ups Saturday.
  • Speaking of the IL, Indy OF Starling Marte and RHP Tim Wood were named to the All-Star Team.
  • Gustavo Nunez, this year's Rule 5 pick from Detroit who is on rehab assign after a lingering ankle injury, hasn't been setting the minors afire during his return (.238). The Pirates will have to decide whether to carry him in September or return him to the Tigers after his rehab clock runs out in September.
  • Both RHP Gerrit Cole and 1B Matt Curry were promoted to Indy. The Bucs are bolstering the roster for the Tribes' playoff run even as they call up guys for their stretch run in September. IF Brock Holt, who was sent from Altoona to Indy ahead of them, posted his fourth straight three-hit game last night and is batting .440 with 40 hits in his 23 games with the Tribe.
  • Brock Holt (.322) was named Altoona's MVP and RHP Phil Irwin (4-7/2.93) was the Curve's Pitcher of the Year. Both are playing at Indy now.
  • West Virginia OF Gregory Polanco (.324/16/84) and SS Alen Hanson (.313/16/62) were selected as 2012 South Atlantic (Sally) League All-Stars.
  • The Pirates will send Brandon Cumpton (RHP), Tyler Waldron (RHP), Matt Curry (1B), Gift Ngoepe (IF) and Adalberto Santos (OF) to the Arizona Fall League.
  • The Dominican Summer League Pirates will play for the DSL Championship. The series starts on Saturday. The Gulf Coast League Pirates have already claimed the GCL championship, sweeping two playoff series.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Does Attendance = Belief?

In the article "Fans Send Mixed Message" by The NY Times, writer Hillel Kutler questions whether the Pittsburgh fans believe in their team, and used the attendance for the Cardinal series (53,590) as the main argument. Well, there's a little more to it than the draw for a weekday series, even if it is the big matchup of the week.

Let's start with the Pirate season ticket base. They have around 5,000 full packages sold. That's it; the rest have to be lured in by performance or promotion. They do have a pretty fair partial ticket plan, for 40, 20 or 10 games. But as you can imagine, they're purchased for weekend games and special promotional events like fireworks, bands, t-shirts, bobbleheads, etc. And the jury is out on the Pirates first-year variable game day pricing for single game tickets, based on opponent attractiveness. It hasn't hurt weekend sales, but you have to wonder if it's a brake on ticket sales for a weekday series like this.

We know the FO would like warm fannies in the seats, but they have cornered the market on couch potatoes. Fifteen of the twenty highest rated Pirates telecasts on Root Sports/FSN Pittsburgh have been aired this season. In fact, the Pirates' TV ratings surpassed those of the Penguins, whose 2011-12 viewing numbers were the best of any NHL or NBA team. That interest will eventually, if the product remains attractive, translate into more spins of the PNC turnstiles.

The past 25 years places the Pirate baseline for attendance at 20-25,000.

For all the years Forbes Field existed (1910-70), the magical 1960 campaign was the only season it went over 20,000 in average attendance. Three Rivers Stadium had just two seasons when attendance reached 25,000 (1990-91). During their seventies powerhouse Lumber Company years, the team never drew 20,000, topping out at 17,000+ in 1979, although they did hit 20,000 the next year on the strength of that club.

PNC Park started off with a bang, drawing 30,000 in its first season. That was during a run of ten 20,000+ seasons between it and TRS, ending in 2009-10 with a pair of dismal teams and the North American record for losing seasons. Even then it dropped to just over 19,000, thanks to die-hard fans and some great marketing, putting glossy lipstick on a pig. Last year, the glimmer of hope that broke through the clouds for a few glorious months brought almost 24,000 fans to the ball yard on average.

The team is bringing in almost 27,000 per game this season, 70% of PNC capacity and on the road to a 2,000,000 fan year+, which has been done just three times in club history (1990-91, 2001).  Remember that the Penguins drew a record gate last year, averaging 18,566. Now the two teams aren't comparable (the hockey guys have a five-season string of sellouts and a brutal ticket cost), but it's the club the Bucs get compared to the most often. And the Pirates beat them in both TV ratings and live attendance, despite the undeniable fact that the NHL club has offered a far superior product for quite a while.

And that's where the belief comes into play. The fans have supported a national laughingstock for years. They had their hopes dashed with a summer crash last year that the 1929 stock market couldn't match. And their boys of summer rolled into this series after losing 5-of-6. There's a lost generation  that has no concept of a playoff race's ebb and flow, much less Pirate participation in a stretch run. Forget school starting and that the papers are headlining Steeler camp news (X Hurt! Y Reports! Z Cut!) ahead of the latest Pirate game story. All Pittsburgh fans need is a reason to believe.

Give them that reason. The fans will start leaving their living rooms and bar stools and the park will rock every night as long as hope can stay alive - and this year, it finally may.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wandy, Pedro Tag Team Cards 5-0

Hey, must be a big game; ESPN is here and there's not a football in sight. And except for Jon Jay, Wandy seemed to like the spotlight; he walked him to open the game and then with two outs in the third.  It was quite a battle both times; Rodriguez used up 19 pitches on him in the two at-bats. The second one caused some consternation when Carlos Beltran singled him to second. But he got Matt Holliday to fly out to to the opposite field, so he had his third goose egg on the board.

The Bucs drew first blood when Garrett Jones doubled off the Clemente Wall in the opening frame, driving home Travis Snider, who had doubled up the third base line off Joe Kelly an out earlier. Snider scored easily thanks to Kelly's indecision. After Lunchbox's two bagger, Cutch hit a comebacker. Kelly had a shot at Snider going to third, but took the sure out. Cutch's wheels may have brought him in after GI's double, but a slow jog home by Snider beats a mad sprint by Cutch any day.

In the second, the Bucs wasted a Rod Barajas knock. With two down in the third, Snider walked, stole second, and that was followed by another free pass to Jones, both on four pitches. Kelly fell behind Pedro 3-1, gave him a curve and watched it disappear into the City twilight, landing in the top row of right field just missing the Pirate Charities sign. You think after Alvarez's showing last night that he'd see another one wide with J-Hay on deck; another bad decision by Kelly. Well, maybe not; Harrison singled. Hot Rod flew out, and after three, the Buccos were up 4-0.

Freese got the second knock off Wandy, an infield single, with one down in the fourth. No prob; Wandy got a pair of routine outs to tie up the inning. The Pirate action consisted of a two out walk to JT, but no fireworks followed like last inning.

After Houston went down in the fifth, Cutch opened the Bucco half with a knock. GI went down swinging at a 3-2 change up, and with Pedro up, Cutch was caught stealing. Bad move in front of El Toro; Alvarez bombed a double to right on a 2-0 meatball heater. But it wasn't wasted; Josh singled him home, and took second on the throw to the plate. 5-0 after five has a nice rhythm to it.

With two down in the sixth, one compliments of a nice McCutch grab on a Holliday drive, Freese collected his second hit, a single to center, and stayed there as Skip Schumaker flew out. Trevor Rosenthal took the bump for the Red Birds. Clint Barmes greeted him with a single, slapping a 2-0 fastball to right. That was it for Wandy; Jeff Clement batted for him and rolled a ball to the right side, moving Barmes up 90'.  Another bouncer got him to third, and the next grounder sent him to the dugout. Wandy tossed six goose eggs, giving up three hits, three walks and notching three Ks on 96 pitches, leaving with a 5-0 lead.

Tony Watson jogged in from the bullpen to face the bottom of the Cardinal order in the seventh. Tony Cruz opened with a knock to center. It was elementary for Watson after that; he got a fly out and fanned a pair. Rosenthal had the same results. With an off day coming up, why not work the big dogs? Jason Grilli took the hill in the eighth, and a couple of K and a long fly to right later, the Red Birds were down to three outs.

Rosenthal got three routine outs in the ninth. He's a kid who has yo-yo'ed back and fourth from AAA, but give the devil his due: after three frames, he was still bringing it at 97-98. And it was Hanny time at PNC Park. With two down, Cruz disappointed the fans, who were on their feet, by legging out an infield knock. But they were satisfied plenty when Raffy Furcal flew out with a full count; Hanny has to provide just a little drama.

Winning baseball is keyed by good starting pitching, and the Bucs had their first back-to-back shutouts of the season against the Cards, putting together 21 consecutive goose eggs. They were much more disciplined at the plate, and of course The Bull is on a rampage. And guess what? The Bucs will enter September playing games that count instead of being a spoiler. Cool.

The Bucs are off tomorrow and get it on again Friday at Milwaukee.

  • Pittsburgh took the series from St. Louis 8 games to 7, the first time they've won the season set from the Cards since 2008 and only the second time this century. Their last plus series before that was in 1999.
  • Steve Berthiaume of ESPN noted that Pedro Alvarez's 7 HR and 23 RBI vs the Cards this season is the best showing against them by a Bucco since Ralph Kiner had 9 long balls and 23 RBI against them in 1950.
  • Pedro, GI Jones and McCutch are the second NL trio with 70+ RBIs; the Cardinals have four. 
  • Neil Walker is in the clubhouse and feeling better, but he hasn't taken a swing yet. His achy back is still inflamed and a couple-to-a-few days from recovering after tightening up on Monday. There is no point in DL'ing The Kid with IF Chase d'Arnaud now in the dugout and the rosters expanding Saturday. Josh Harrison, subbing at second, has been 6-for-14 starting the last four games and turned a pair of DP yesterday, so the club hasn't missed a beat yet.
  • Tonight's attendance was 19,398. 
  • More interesting news: the Bucs have promoted Gerrit Cole from Altoona to Indy according to the Altoona Mirror's Corey Giger. That gets him some high level playoff experience and provides an arm to replace whomever the Bucs call up Saturday. 
  • Yadier Molina said that he felt J-Hay banging into him at home last night was a "clean play," and that he thinks he'll be back Thursday or Friday. That's good news; for our money, he's the NL's top guy behind the plate, although Buster Posey has got his foot in the door.
  • Joey Votto played his first rehab game last night. Cincinnati expects to reactivate him Saturday, September 1st to both give him an extra day or two and save some paperwork headaches.

Lineup, Notes For Cards Rubber Match

The Cardinals send RHP Joe Kelly (4-5, 3.26 ERA) against LHP Wandy Rodriguez (8-13, 4.01 ERA) tonight. Kelly is taking Lance Lynn's rotation spot after being bumped himself by Jaime Garcia. The last time Kelly faced the Bucs, he gave up an unearned run over 5-2/3 innings in the 19 frame game at St. Louis. As for Wandy, it's time for him to step up. His only Bucco win was in relief, also during that 19 inning affair. The rubber match begins at 7:05 and will be shown by both ESPN nationally (outside our area) and Root Sports regionally.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Josh Harrison 2B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Wandy Rodriguez P.

Neil Walker ends up missing the series, with J-Hay taking his spot. The only other change is the battery, with Hot Rod catching Wandy.

Tonight's not a must win game, but sho'nuff a biggie nevertheless. For the Cards, it's another game down in a road trip that started at Cincy,came here, and concludes at Washington. 

  • Pedro Alvarez has five multi-homer games, tying him with Richie Hebner & Aramis Ramirez for the most in team history by a third baseman, according to the Elias Sports Bureau
  • The Pirates confirmed that the other starters will pitch on their regular day after Erik Bedard's release. Jeff Karstens, AJ Burnett and James McDonald will go against the Brewers this weekend. Because of tomorrow's off day, the Bucs can wait to fill Bedard's spot until September, when the expanded roster allows them some options.
  • Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs goes in-depth about Erik Bedard.
  • After tonight, Pittsburgh and St. Louis will have 32 games left. Nine of the Buc games are against winning teams, with a home-and-home series with the Reds and a home set with Atlanta. the remaining games are against Houston, the Cubs, Milwaukee and the Mets. The Red Birds play 14 games against winning clubs with a home series against Cincinnati, a home-and-home series against Washington and a four gamer in LA. Their other 18 games are against the Cubs, Astros, Mets and Padres.
  • A couple of recently promoted guys are making their moves count at Indy. RHP Phil Irwin tossed six scoreless frames, giving up three hits and a pair of walks with seven whiffs. Infielder Brock Holt went 3-for-4 to bring his AAA average up to .417.
  • The Pirates are sending OF Adalberto Santos (Altoona), INF Gift Ngoepe (WV), INF Matt Curry (Altoona), RHP Brandon Cumpton (Altoona) and  RHP Tyler Waldron (Altoona) to the Arizona Fall league, with a couple more prospects due later.  
  • The GCL Pirates won the rookie league's championship today against the GCL Red Sox 5-2, backed by good pitching and Luis Urena's three-run HR. Congrats.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

J-Mick, Pedro Overwhelm Cards 9-0

James McDonald opened the game with a 1-2-3 frame, whiffing a pair. The Bucs, for the second night, took an early lead. Jose Tabata was walked on a 3-2 sinker by Jake Westbrook and was singled to third by Travis Snider. After a Cutch whiff, Garrett Jones lifted a fly to right to bring home JT. Pedro bopped one to center, putting Bucs on the corners with two down. Pittsburgh had to be satisfied with one, though, after Mike McKenry bounced out to third.

With two down in the second, Yadier Molina knocked a full count single to center, but J-Mick left him stranded as he punched out David Freese. Josh Harrison opened the Bucco half with a 3-2 knock to left. Clint Barmes fouled out to first, and McDonald laid one down to move him to second. JT singled to right, on one hop to Carlos Beltran who fired the ball home on the fly.

In a play-off worthy crash at the plate, Molina held his ground to tag out Harrison after a shoulder to the noggin, looking a little worse for wear. Josh might have a better chance going down under the throw instead of plowing home full steam ahead. But Molina got the out, and that's what counts. The crowd and J-Hay applauded the Card catcher as he wobbled to the bench. But Tony Cruz came on to catch; Yadier still had cobwebs.

It was another clean frame for J-Mick in the third. After Snider whiffed looking at a borderline strike, Cutch sent a slider off the wall in left for a double. GI bounced out, but Pedro made up for McCutch's near miss by taking an inside sinker yard the opposite way, over the Notch 422' away. The Fort grounded out, but the Bucs were on top 3-0.

McDonald kept dealing, putting the Cards away on two grounders and a K in the fourth. The Red Birds apparently thought J-Hay's collision at home was clean; they pitched to him instead of at him, as Westbrook retired him on a 3-2 grounder. Barmes lined out to first, and J-Mick kept things alive with a 3-2 walk. Westbrook went full on JT, and he walked. Snider flew out the opposite way to end the frame. Both sides are seeing a lot of pitches; Westbrook is already at 77.

Beltran drew, what else, a 3-2 walk to open the fifth. Cruz banged the second pitch to short, and a 6-4-3 DP cleaned the base paths for McDonald. David Freese drove a ball to deep left, but it was hauled in by Tabata a step from the fence to end the inning. Cutch and GI hit back-to-back singles; Pedro doubled a run in on a two-bag blast off the Clemente Wall. The Fort kept it going with a single through the left side, with another run scored and their Bucs on the corners.

Josh got banged with a pitch to load the sacks, causing quite a bit of yapping from the Buc bench, especially Hot Rod Barajas and Clint Hurdle. The ump warned both benches, again like at Cincy when the Pirates hadn't plunked anyone. Anyway, Barmes answered best by singling a pair home. J-Mick bunted with two strikes, moving the runners over to second and third. JT bounced out freezing them, but Snider walked to load the sacks with two down. Cutch bounced out to third, and the Pirates were done after running up a 7-0 lead.

With two down in the sixth, Jon Jay doubled the opposite way to left. No prob; J-Mick whiffed Skip Schumaker looking on three pitches for his sixth K; he got a call on the third strike. Brandon Dickson took the ball for the Red Birds. After a fly out by Jones, Pedro got a heater and launched another bomb, this one 469', earning a curtain call and stepping out of the dugout flashing the Z. The Fort singled to left center, but his happy feet carried him a little too far as he was tossed out at second trying to stretch it. Harrison provided no drama this at bat, grounding out to short.

The Cards were sat down in the seventh by J-Mick. The Cards officially raised the white flag, taking out Raffy Furcal, Matt Holliday and Beltran. Jeff Clement, with one down, reached on a boot. An out later he scored on Snider's triple, making it 9-0.

J-Mick went seven scoreless frames, giving up two hits, a walk and collecting six K using 97 pitches, and Chris Resop toed the rubber in his stead. Cruz and Freese welcomed him with back-to-back singles. Resop bore down and got Matt Carpenter swinging. Dickson batted for himself, and dribbled an infield knock to juice the sacks. Resop got ahead of Jay 0-2, wasted a pitch and got him to bounce to Pedro to start an around-the-horn DP; El Toro is doing it all tonight. Dickson struck out the side swinging in the eighth; looks like the Bucs are ready to enjoy their post game brew a little early.

Hisanori Takahashi trotted in from the pen for the coup de grace. Delivered it nicely, too, striking out the last two batters to send the scattered few and proud fans home happy.

J-Mick tossed seven scoreless frames while Pedro went 4-for-5 with two homers, three runs and four RBI and every Pirate position player had at least a hit with one of their more disciplined games at the dish of the season. That sure provides a pulse, hey? And if that's not enough, how about a playoff run sweetened by a little bad blood with the last game of the season series show nationally on ESPN? Good times.

Joe Kelly goes against Wandy Rodriguez tomorrow night. It's time the lefty to show why the Bucs traded for him.

  • Pedro's sixth inning bomb measured at 469', the longest ever blasted by a Pirate at PNC Park and the fourth longest ever. Sammy Sosa launched a 484' drive in 2002 off Dave Williams. The previous Bucco big belt was Matt Lawton's 463-foot blast against the Colorado Rockies on May 20th, 2005 off Jamey Wright.
  • The diagnosis on Yadier Molina is an upper-back/left shoulder/neck strain. He's considered day to day, although the Cards pulled their AAA catcher mid-game tonight.
  • 17,492 fans were at PNC Park tonight; we'd expect tomorrow to be a good crowd.
  • Steve Pearce went to the Yankees, where he'll bat cleanup tonight, sheesh! And to make room, the Bronx Bombers sent Casey McGehee to the minors.

Lineup, Notes, d'Arnaud Recalled

RHP Jake Westbrook (13-9, 3.67 ERA) stares down RHP James McDonald (11-6, 3.73 ERA) today. Westbrook is a ground ball guy who depends on a sinker and downward movement on his other offerings.  The Pirates usually do OK against him, though he was sharp in St. Louis when the Cards hosted the Bucs.  

J-Mick is still looking for his pre-All Star mojo. If he can kick it up a notch, the Buc chances to be part of the September fray are much improved. And what better team? McDonald tossed six scoreless innings in his last start against St. Louis on August 17 and has gone 2-1 with a 2.54 ERA in five career starts against the Redbirds. The game begins at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Josh Harrison 2B, Clint Barmes SS, James McDonald P.

As you know, Erik Bedard was released; the Bucs called up SS Chase d'Arnaud, who played some last year in Pittsburgh (.217 with 12 SB). He was hitting .247 at Indy, but been on a little tear the past ten days, and he does upgrade the running game by about 1000%.  No word on what they're gonna do about Bedard's rotation spot. He was scheduled for the Thursday off date, so the Bucs can skip his next turn all together. If so, they can use a September call-up, as his following scheduled start wouldn't be until September 4th. 

  • Neil Walker saw another doctor this afternoon and is day to day. We wouldn't expect him to be available for tonight's game.
  • The Pirates are 68-60, the exact opposite of where they were at this point last season when the Bucs were 60-68.
  • The GCL Pirates beat the rookie Red Sox today 5-2 in game one of the best of three GCL Finals. One down, one to go.

Reports: Bedard Released

According to the little birdies chirping to the Trib's Dejan Kovacevich and the Post Gazette's  Mike Sanserino, the Erik Bedard era is over in Pittsburgh. (EDIT - The Pirates officially confirmed the reports later in the morning).

The Bucs signed the lefty in the off season for $4.5M, and the deal was considered a coup if he could stay healthy. He lived up to the hype with a quick start (3-5/3.12 ERA), but the last three months have been tough on the 33 year old as he put up ERAs of 6.58, 6.49 and 5.91 from June through August. So as it ended up, he never became the hoped-for upgrade over Paul Maholm.

He's now 7-14, with a 5.01 ERA and 1.472 WHIP; the 14 losses are tied for the lead the majors, with Tim Lincecum. The Pirates have been working with an off-and-on six man rotation since the Wandy Rodriguez deal (his 13 losses are the second most in the majors), and it was a resounding flop, helping neither the starting staff nor the bullpen, so this addresses that by removing the weakest link.

The only thing curious about the release is its timing; the Pirates' roster expands in another four days, so they could have kept him through September. Maybe after the whole Kevin Correia to-the-bullpen thing, the Bucs thought it was just less of a mess to entirely cut ties. It could also be that they want to promote someone from the minors and want to get him on the 25-man roster prior to 8/31 (to be eligible for the post season).

The Pirates can return KC to the rotation. At 9-8 with a 4.53 ERA, he's a modest upgrade. In that case, Chris Leroux or Justin Wilson are likely long man replacements for Correia from AAA.

They could also bring up LHP Jeff Locke from Indy (10-5/2.56 ERA) if they want to have two lefties work every five days. They haven't released any information yet and have a couple of ways to wiggle, though we'd expect some sort of announcement before too long.

Now maybe they'll get moving on that bench...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cards Take Opener 4-3

Looks like this is one big series that gonna start between the raindrops as it's a drizzly night in Pittsburgh.

It wasn't the greatest start as Pedro threw away Jon Jay's bouncer to open the game. But after getting Matt Carpenter to fly out, AJ kept the runner close and picked him off. Matt Holliday beat out an infield knock to second; Josh Harrison made a nice play but couldn't get the finish. Allen Craig tapped back to the mound, and the Bucs picked up Pedro pretty well. JT opened by rolling a Kyle Lohse curve to short; Travis Snider bounced a slider to second. Cutch squared up and lined out to center, and it was a scoreless first frame.

AJ tossed a clean second frame. Ditto for Lohse. And it looks like the lefties are gonna have to hack; their outside zone goes beyond the black, as Pedro discovered when he went down looking. The third was another routine inning for AJ, and Lohse had no trouble with the bottom of the Bucs lineup. Hopefully the Pirates will adjust to a little wider zone; Lohse has three K, and two were looking at pitches a little off the black; only Burnett went down swinging. Usually hacking isn't a problem with the Pirates...

Ahead of Carpenter 1-2 to start the fourth, AJ lost him with pitches away. Two outs later, he was on second after advancing after a nice barehanded play by Pedro on a slow roller by Craig. AJ fanned Beltran swinging as he kept going further downstairs with every pitch.  JT took a fastball away to right for the Bucs first knock. Snider got the second, yanking a 3-1 change up away to right to put Bucs at the corners. Cutch lined a single to center, and the Buccos had their first run. Jones couldn't move the runners up, flying out to center on a full count. Pedro singled to right to load the bases. Harrison fell behind 0-2, but lined a ball to left to bring home Snider after a nice running grab by Holliday. Barajas flew out to right, but the Bucs were on the board first and up 2-0.

Yadier Molina began the fifth with a 3-2 knock the opposite way. On a 3-2 pitch, Skip Schumaker rapped a fastball to center to plate Molina as Cutch had trouble getting his footing in the wet pasture (he later said he turned his ankle on the play). AJ is falling into the same trap as Lohse faced, falling behind guys. Maybe the big strike zone lulled them into a false sense of security.

After a wild pitch moved Schumaker to third, AJ fanned Raffy Furcal on a full count slurve. It was of no value, though, after Lohse rolled a ball past Burnett into center to knot the score. Carpenter doubled off the wall, but a pair of strong throws by Cutch and Harrison cut down Lohse at the plate; it's 2-2 going into the bottom of the fifth. Amazing how quickly two pitchers that were cruisin' can lose it.

Clint Barmes opened the Pirate half with a two strike knock to right. AJ popped out trying to bunt, but it worked out when Carpenter's throw to first got away and Barmes ended up on second anyway. JT flew out to right on a slider away and Snider pulled a bouncer to first.

Holliday got ahead 3-0, looked at a heater and went with the next, homering over the wall in right. Barmes threw away Craig's soft bouncer, allowing the runner to get to second. A Beltran grounder moved Craig to third. The Bucs decided with an open base to pitch to rather than walk Molina. That decision hurt when he got what he was looking for, a 1-2 pitch belt high and away, and went with it to right for a sac fly. And with that, the ground crew pulled the tarp over the field as the rains fell, a few pitches too late.

AJ went 5-2/3, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits and a walk with three K after 93 offerings. Jared Hughes took over after a 34 minute delay, not too bad a hold up but enough to end the starters' night. Schumaker greeted him with a single to right, but he coaxed a comebacker from Furcal. Lance Lynn toed the rubber for the Red Birds. He got into an eight pitch battle with Cutch, getting him eventually to fly out to center on a 3-2 pitch. So did GI and Pedro, and so it was 4-2 Cards after six.

With an out, Jay tripled to left; JT didn't get a very good jump on the ball. We're hoping that groin thing isn't still on his mind, though it's more likely a case of wet grass and slick footing. But Hughes bore down and got a grounder followed by a K to keep the score manageable.

Harrison opened with a soft single to short and went to second on Furcal's misthrow. He stayed there as Hot Rod was jammed and popped foul to first. Lynn stayed away from Barmes, who took a 2-1 heater to right for a double to cut the Card edge to a run. Jeff Clement grabbed a bat and flew out to left on a change up; the only heater he saw was a waste pitch. Fernando Salas trotted in from the pen to match up with JT. He fell behind 3-0, but came back to get a bouncer to first. It's 4-3 St. Louis with two frames to go.

Jason Grilli climbed the bump for the eighth. Craig started the ball rolling with a double. Beltran fouled out to Hot Rod for the first out. Molina flied out to Cutch, moving Craig to third. David Freese came up to hit for Salas, and Grilled Cheese sent him packing, swinging at a slider down to keep the Cards off the board.

Mitchell Boggs took the ball for the Red Birds. He whiffed Snider on a foul tip. Cutch yanked a slider to left to put the tying run aboard. GI bounced into a force. Mike Methany went to lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face Pedro. It kinda worked; he held him to an infield single. Methany must have a headset to Tony LaRussa; he brought on Jason Motte to face Harrison. He got a jump on a four-out save by getting Josh on a force.

Tony Watson got the phone call for the ninth to face the 8-9-1 hitters. After two tappers back to the hill and a bouncer to second, it was up to the bottom of the order/bench to scratch together a run. Motte got Barajas on a fly to fairly deep left center. Gaby Sanchez came up for Barmes, who had two hits while Hot Rod has none. He flew out to right, and The Fort was Pittsburgh's last chance. He went down swinging at a two strike heater outside the zone, and the Cards won game one 4-3.

It was a playoff type game. The Bucs hit the ball fairly well, but couldn't get enough to drop, a pity with the bullpen doing such a fine job after the rain delay. Now they're in a hole, and the next couple of games could go a long way to deciding how September plays out.

The Pirates haven't been able to cobble together a top or bottom of a lineup. The 1-2 hitters have a .244 BA/.283 OBP and 7-9, not including pitchers, have a .223/.282 slash. It's tough to score when you're giving two out of three innings away every night.

Jake Westbrook and James McDonald get it on tomorrow.

  • Neil Walker was a late scratch from the game with back tightness. Josh Harrison, who was starting at short, moved to second and Clint Barmes was added to the lineup. We'll know more tomorrow; Walker was sent home after an exam.
  • On a rainy Monday nite, 16,700 showed up at the game tonight.
  • Expect Starling Marte back later rather than sooner. He's eligible to return in a week, but hasn't swung a bat since he landed on the DL with an oblique injury.
  • Gerrit Cole went 6-1/3 frames giving up four runs on six hits with six walks and four K's, and throwing 110 pitches, a real rarity for AA starters.Worry about the walks if you will but not the runs; the Curve committed three errors behind him, and all the scores were unearned.
  • Bradenton 1B prospect Alex Dickerson was named the Florida State League Player of the Year, hitting .299 with 12 HRs and 88 RBI in 124 games.
  • The much traveled  Steve Pearce went from Houston to the Yankees for cash.
  • Surprise, surprise. Jerry Meals missed a call at 1B that broke up a no-hitter for Oakland's Brett Anderson. He did get to escape the heat tho, as Anderson gave up another knock for a two hitter.

Lineup, Notes, News As Cards Come To Town

The Cardinals send RHP Kyle Lohse (13-2, 2.61 ERA) to take on RHP AJ Burnett (15-4, 3.63). Big series for the Bucs, needless to say, and it's appropriate that a couple of aces kick it off. The two pitchers have been on opposite ends of the spectrum this month. Lohse has gone at least six innings in all four of his starts and surrendered no more than four hits in any of them, putting up a 1.01 ERA and 0.863 WHIP. AJ has gone 2-1 in August, but with an ERA of 5.27 and WHIP of 1.537. The game starts at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

It's pretty simple - if the Bucs want to exorcise the ghosts of 2011 and knock down the cobwebs of the past two decades, this series is the place to start. And as usual, AJ is on the hill as their stopper.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Josh Harrison SS, Rod Barajas C, AJ Burnett P.

Harrison is being rewarded for his three hit night with another start.

  • The media guys reported that Gaby Sanchez was taking grounders at third base. Maybe the FO is looking to give Pedro some off nights against lefties and want a bigger bat at the hot corner than Josh Harrison or Jordy Mercer provide.
  • Karen Price of the Tribune Review talked to Neal Huntington regarding the makeup of the playoff roster. Kinda wish the GM was spending more time tinkering with the August lineup.
  • Michael Sanserino of the Post Gazette has an update on C Tony Sanchez,who is fast developing all the necessary defensive and leadership skills behind the dish at Indy. It's when he's at the plate (.222) that things go downhill.
  • Another zippo outing for Altoona's Jameson Taillon last night. He went six innings, giving up an infield hit and fanning seven on 69 pitches. He faced one batter over the minimum and punched out the last five hitters. His heater was mid-nineties with a sweet hook. The youngster was named the Eastern League Player of the Week today after back-to-back scoreless outings.
  • The GCL Pirates won their semi playoff qualifier 1-0 over the Cardinals. Next they'll play a best-of-three final with the Red Sox for all the rookie league marbles.

Bucs: Back To The Basics Of Discipline & Focus

The Cardinals have won 5-of-6 games since that 19 inning loss to the Bucs, including 2-of-3 from the Reds. Pittsburgh has lost 5-of-6. It's time to start reversing those numbers if the season is to be salvaged. And there is time, with 35 games left and a soft spot in the schedule coming up, but they have to get it gear before the clock runs out. Regression has played a big role - the defending WS champ Cards were due to play better, and the Bucs to crash some - but some plate discipline and a return to tossing the ball with a purpose is what Pittsburgh needs more than a return to the mean.

What we mean by plate discipline isn't particularly taking a raft of pitches. It means simply laying off pitcher's pitches and balls off the dish to go after stuff in the hitting zone. The Bucs of late have been looking at good pitches, particularly the first strike, and getting themselves into positions where they have to expand the zone to stay alive. More often than not, a little targeted aggression rather than pointless patience is the key.

The team BA and OBP testify to the five-run homer mentality. The team is hitting .245 with a .303 OBP and averaging eight whiffs per game. That was more understandable in April, when they were up against the elite of the league. It's less understandable now, when they're facing the usual gamut of August arms, some top notch and others belonging to minor leaguers on audition.

It would help to get Cutch, The Kid and GI hitting in sync instead of taking turns being hot. We can't help but wonder if as team leaders, they're trying to play beyond themselves to put the club on their back during the stretch. The trio can carry the team through September by simply being themselves.

As for the pitchers, their focus should be on getting the third out and sitting down the bottom of the order more regularly. But that's easier said than done. Yesterday, the Brewers broke on top with two outs. An 0-2 single was followed by a pair of first pitch knocks, one carried the fence. In prior games, the top of the order drew walks to set up the middle, or the pitcher reached to keep innings alive. We have to think that has as much to do with concentration as delivery; guys get mentally worn down in the dog days as well as physically.

The Bucs have to get back to basics, the kind that help a team grind out the wins when they count. Swing at your pitch and stay aggressive on the mound. If they can simplify their approach, this can still be a September to remember.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

FO At The Deadline: Meh!

OK, we've had a month to check out the results of the FO's efforts to keep the Bucs in the hunt at the deadline. They were busy, pulling off deals with Houston, Toronto, Miami and the Yankees along with calling up Starling Marte. But the question is did they construct a roster built for two months of grind it out baseball?

Travis Snider, in a small sample, looks like he could plug the RF gap for the Bucs. He's hitting .304 with a homer and six RBI. He's misplaced at the top of the order but adjusted to it, compiling a .372 OBP, his career high mark, at the cost of some power. Lunchbox has banged lefties, so he could be everyday material. And if you can get a starting position player for a reliever, albeit a multi-role guy like Brad Lincoln, it's a good deal.

Shane Victorino would seem to have been a better short-term fit at the top of the lineup, but his asking price was reportedly the same for two months and done. The Pirates opted for the long term. And so far it's not a bad decision; the Flyin' Hawaiian is just hitting .236 with a .337 OBP for LA.

We would just as soon keep Garrett Jones in right than add Hunter Pence to the outfield mix. As for Chase Headley, he was kinda a man without a position for Pittsburgh, which would have likely converted the third sacker to 1B/OF. And San Diego, from all appearances, was trawling the waters to try to gauge his value more than actively seeking a deadline deal unless a real overpay was offered. The action on him will take place during the off season, and now the Friar brass have a starting point for their talks.

With Jones and Starling Marte's call up, the Buc outfield seemed solid enough, especially with JT (since recalled) and Alex Presley in reserve at Indy.

One thing that they whiffed on was adding a veteran utility infielder, a guy like Mario Scutero or Willie Bloomquist who play everywhere and get a hit from the pine. That's a missing piece in their bench. 

There were a couple of toss-up deals for Gaby Sanchez and Chad Qualls. The Pirates overpaid some on Gaby, giving up Gorkys Hernandez and a high supplemental draft pick just after the first round. They could have used that selection after missing out on Mark Appel. Sanchez had worked his way out of favor in Miami, but caught the Bucs' eye with a good AAA showing and a .297 BA against lefties.

Gaby made Casey McGehee expendable, and the Bucs sent him to the Bronx Bombers for Chad Qualls, who the FO had pursued as a free agent for the past couple of seasons. Qualls was having a rough go in NY after starting the year poorly with Philly, and was said to be a heartbeat from being DFA'ed. So the Bucs grabbed him in an exchange of not-so-shiny spare parts.

Then there's Wandy. The FO wanted to slot a dependable guy behind AJ, J-Mick and Jeff Karstens. Wandy Rodriguez seemed that steady presence, though in June and July his ERA and WHIP jumped. We assume that Pittsburgh did its due diligence in scouting his outings, and concluded that the toxic atmosphere in Houston was more the culprit than his pitching. So they sent Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman and Colton Cain to the rebuilding Astros. They had the pitching depth, and Grossman, 22, was a player the Bucs couldn't agree on regarding upside, though he is playing well for Houston's AA Corpus Christi club.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez's woes continued into August; he's got a 4.86 ERA and nary a win in the rotation after five starts (though he did pick up a W in relief). And he caused one huge construction problem for the Bucs. They now had six starters, three of whom were having problems, and kept them all. Kevin Correia spot started and was slotted as a long man while Wandy and Eric Bedard stayed in the rotation.

And that's where the construction problems began. The Pirates shouldn't have kept all six starters, even if they gave one away in a Casey McGehee type deal. They had enough depth at Indy to cover a spot start or take a fifth man role. To make matters worse, they went to a six man rotation, alternating between a short pen and a short bench, hardly the way to play through August.

The bullpen had been carrying the team all season. They removed Brad Lincoln and replaced him with Chad Qualls and added KC, who is a slow starter out of the gate and hadn't pitched relief since 2009. The result was that for a month, the Buc bullpen was a jumble with roles shifting, Correia in and out, and just plain work overload.

They finally seem to have realized the problem, bringing in 37 year old lefty Hisanori Takahashi off waivers today. But they're still carrying one starter too many and three that aren't very effective, and this is a month later. They aren't going to address the issue further, we suppose, until September call ups, which you may note is after the big series coming up with St. Louis.

We understand that the FO was walking a tightrope between selling out for 2012 and planning for a future that's falling nicely into place, and they weren't going to bring home a big shiny rental. But they have to get out of collector mode sooner or later and start become builders, fitting pieces together into a unit. They still judge too much on player value as in salary, rather than player value as in filling a team need.

They added Snider and Marte to the lineup, swapped out McGehee for Sanchez on the bench, and created chaos with the pitching staff. The hitting and to some degree the pitching were due to regress, but the FO didn't help soften the blow. Let's hope that after their first real taste of playoff body snatching (2011 was just a dry run) that they develop a better battle plan next time around.

Brew Crew Cruises 7-0

OK, Eric Bedard got the memo. The Buc lefty tossed a scoreless first, walking, perhaps wisely, Ryan Braun, but otherwise runner-free. The Brewer's Mike Rogers got the first two Pirates routinely, then lost Cutch on a 3-2 pitch, and did the same to Garrett Jones. That brought up Jeff Clement, making his first start since 2010, who went down swinging.

After striking out Corey Hart to open the second, Bedard walked Jonathan Lucroy on five pitches; there's a real strike zone in effect today after last night's anything-in-the-zip-code calls. Carlos Gomez bounced into a force, and stole second two tosses later. Jean Segura went down swinging, so it's still goose eggs for the Brew Crew.

Not sure why, but the Bucs are sure taking a lot of 90-ish fastballs. Pedro struck out swinging after looking at two strikes, as did Clement before him, and Rod Barajas went down without ever taking the bat off his shoulders. Josh Harrison isn't afflicted with any paralysis by analysis; he legged out a first-pitch infield knock. Bedard rolled a ball to first, where Hart muffed the play, putting Pirates on the corners. Travis Snider worked the count full, but his drive to right fell just short of the wall for a loud third out.

Bedard tossed a clean third, getting three groundouts. With two down, Jones banged a double off the wall, but a Clement fly to left ended the frame, still scoreless after three. With the pace of the game so far, it may finish under the lights.

Hart singled on a 1-2 pitch with two away in the fourth for the Brew Crew's first knock, and Lucroy followed with a first pitch single to right to put runners at first and second. Gomez took advantage of the two out lightning by bombing a first pitch curve over the wall in left center to make it 3-0 Milwaukee. In Pittsburgh's half, Harrison singled to center with two down; at least he's turning the order over.

Rogers led off the fifth by doubling off the Clemente Wall. A grounder moved him to third, where Week's single to center scored him. Bedard struck out Braun. But he fell behind Ramirez 2-0, tossed him a meatball and watched it disappear into the Pittsburgh skyline to make it 6-0. That was it; Bedard went 4-2/3, giving up six runs on six hits and two walks with three whiffs on 84 pitches. Bedard wasn't the only one walking; a lot of the huge crowd was also heading elsewhere to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon.

KC took the hill, and Hart greeted him with a single. A Lucroy single chased him to third before Gomez flew out deep, looking for his second tater of the day. Snider opened with a walk. After a Walker fly out, Cutch bounced one up the middle for a tag 'em out, toss 'em out DP.

Segura led off the sixth with a triple, followed by a walk to Travis Ishikawa. An Aoki sac fly brought home another run. Weeks and Braun bounced out as the score mounted; it's now 7-0. Manny Parra came on and struck out the first pair of Bucs before Pedro singled. Barajas followed with another knock. Harrison squared up on the first pitch and banged it deep to center, but like Snider's ball in the second, it was an ooh-and-aah out.

KC got through the seventh frame surrendering just a two-out knock to Lucroy and a long out to Gomez, who is really seeing the ball well today. The Bucs first two hitters went down quietly to Parra before Walker reached on an error. Cutch bounced out, and it was on to the eighth.

Hisanori Takahashi took the bump; the Bucs didn't waste any time getting him in action. Looked good, too, tossing a clean frame. Jose Veras took the mound for Milwaukee. After striking out the first pair of Pirates, he lost Pedro. But he came back to catch Hot Rod looking.

Chris Resop came in for mop up duty. He walked Weeks, but got Nyjmo to bounce into a DP. Good thing, too - Jeff Bianchi came off the bench and doubled. Martin Maldonado grounded out, and it was last dibs for the Pirates. Kameron Loe took the ball. he got a pair of grounders before losing Snider on a 3-2 pitch. Walker banged an 0-2 pitch to third; it was tossed away to put Pirates at first and third. Cutch K'ed, and the last rites were official. It's not the end of the world yet, but the Apocalypse is approaching if Pittbsurgh doesn't find another gear soon.

The Bucs have seen a long line of ho-hum pitchers and treated them like Cy Young candidates. It only makes sense; they are second in the league in Ks, hit .240 with RISP, and their BA (.245) & OBP (.303) are near the bottom in the majors, so they don't have that many runners to waste. They're not gonna smack three run homers every game. The batters overachieved big time for six glorious weeks, but now it's the home stretch. The stretch is a grind, and grind 'em out games are decided by pitching and defense. 

We're getting a little bored with the pitching drama. Bedard isn't adding anything to the staff. Let him get a jump on free agency and cut him loose to bring up Jeff Locke. He's another lefty, and can't do much worse. If the FO still has the heebie-jeebies about disturbing Indy's playoff run - and our understanding is that they are still a big league feeder system - put KC back in the rotation (if you decide to keep him; he could go, too) and bring up Chris Leroux. Yah, we know September is just around the corner, but the Bucs management has cut cautious corners for too long.

A lot of the recent series have swung on a pivotal one-run or extra-inning game, and the Bucs have been coming up short because a team is as strong as its weakest link. Give the guys a fighting chance and show them the FO hasn't quit on them, even if it is a month overdue.

  • Jose Tabata is available off the bench today. He passed all his tests, but the Bucs are giving him an R&R day.
  • The Pirates left 12 men on base. Eleven of them reached after two outs.
  • On his radio show, Neal Huntington said they weren't planning to call up Tony Sanchez in September, making Eric Fryer a pretty likely candidate as a third catcher next week.
  • The game drew 36,626, which is the 16th sellout at PNC. There were 17 full houses last season, and the record is 19, set when the park opened in 2001.
  • The Pirates have had 10+ strikeouts in 7-of-8 games. The opposing starters: Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis, Mike Fiers, Shaun Marcum and Mark Rogers. Two had just come off the 60 day DL and two others were spot starters.

Qualls On DL

Clint Hurdle said they were evaluating players before opening up a roster spot for Hisanori Takahashi. We assume he meant both health and performance-wise. Both JT and Jeff Karstens said the injuries they suffered last night were minor, and both Chad Qualls and Jared Hughes have been spotty coming out of the pen.

Well, they made their decision. The Pirates put Chad Qualls on 15 day DL with irritation of left big toe to make room. Funny how those little hangnail maladies suddenly pop up, and he'll be on ice until September's expanded roster is in full bloom.

We wonder if maybe Neal Huntington dropped a bat or bag of balls on his foot just before Hurdle was gonna call him in the office?

Lineup, Notes, News For Rubber Match

LHP Erik Bedard (7-13, 4.76 ERA) squares off against RHP Mark Rogers (1-1, 5.02). It's a big start for Bedard; the Bucs need to win series again, and he's the man in the spotlight in this afternoon's rubber match. The lefty has been a hometown hero - in 11 starts at PNC Park this season, Bedard has a 2.63 ERA; it's near seven on the road. Rogers earned his first big league win in his latest start on Monday, a 9-5 win over the Cubs. He was the fifth overall selection in the 2004 draft, but has gone under the knife four times since then. The game starts at 1:35 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Travis Snider LF, Neil Walker 2b, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Jeff Clement 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Josh Harrison SS, Eric Bedard P.

JT is out, as expected. Jeff Clements gets the call at first against the righty, and Clint Barmes gets a day off with Josh Harrison plugged in the middle.

  • No roster move announcements yet; we'll post when they're made. But everyone is on the field for pre-game warm ups, including JT, Jeff Karstens and Hisanori Takahashi.
  • Cutch has hit safely in five of his last six games and leads the NL in hits with 160. The last Pirate to lead the league in hits was Andy Van Slyke in 1992, with 199 knocks. McCutch is on pace to collect 206 hits this season. The last 200 hit guy for Pittsburgh was Freddy Sanchez in 2006, who reached 200 on the nose. The club record is 2007, collected by Paul "Big Poison" Waner in 1927.
  • LHP Hisanori Takahashi was 0-3 with a 4.93 ERA and 41 K’s in 42 games for the Angels, but was on a little roll, not allowing a run in six of his last seven appearances with the Halos.
  • The Bucs start today 8 games behind the Reds in the Central Division. They're 3-1/2 games behind Atlanta, 1 behind St Louis and 1/2 game behind the Dodgers for the two wildcard spots. 
  • On Monday, the Pirates host St. Louis in a three-game series, capped by a nationally televised game Wednesday night on ESPN. The Bucs and Cards have split the first dozen games of the 2012 head-to-heads, and won't meet one another again in the regular season after that three-game set.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Karstens Does It All In 4-0 Win; JK & JT Hurt

Jeff Karstens and Shaun Marcum put on a clinic. Soft stuff, kissing the edges - Doug Edding has a quite generous strike zone - and after four, it was scoreless with each side held to a knock apiece.

Aramis Ramirez had the only Brew Crew hit, a knock to open the second that was quickly erased via the DP, smartly started by Clint Barmes. A-Ram started off the fifth with a two bagger and stayed there. Karstens was throwing a slow curve and a 90 MPH heater and was at just 53 pitches after five.

Neil Walker got aboard in the Bucco half when center fielder Carlos Gomez dropped his fly, bringing up Pedro. He was ahead of a Marcum change up and popped out. But not The Fort; he ripped a double to The Notch to put the Bucs up 1-0. He came around an out later when JK singled to right to make it 2-0; The Lord helps those...

And the Bucs piled on; JT smacked a Notch-bound two bagger to plate Karstens. And holy smokes, Snider singled him home. Gotta love two out lightning! Cutch chopped one to short, but that didn't end the fun; Jeff Bianchi booted it and Snider rolled into third. The inning ended on a patently Pirate play; Cutch was caught stealing. Still 4-0 is a good start. Tabata was taken out with left groin discomfort, close enough to the quad that landed him in hot water earlier in the year. Garrett Jones went to RF, Snider to LF, and Gaby Sanchez to first.

After an out in the sixth, the Brewers' bats woke up. Travis Ishikawa and Norichika Aoki stroked back-to-back knocks to put runners at first and second. Ricky Weeks whiffed swinging at a curve to bring up Ryan Braun. The Pirate killer popped out to first to keep the Bucs up by four.

Jose Veras took the hill in the sixth. GI Jones legged out an infield knock to open the frame. After an out, Pedro took an 0-2 slider away to left for a single, putting runners at first and second. Veras escaped easily, and it was nine outs to go. Make that six; JK tossed a 1-2-3 seventh, and is at an amazingly efficient 76 pitches. Livian Hernadez did even better for the Brew Crew; he struck out the side.

Bianchi opened the eighth by taking a curve off his shoetop and rolling it into left for a knock, his first big league hit. Nyjer Morgan beat out an infield knock to bring up the top of the order. JK tossed a ball to Aoki, then grabbed his right hip. Karstens went 7 innings, giving up seven hits and fanning four on 84 tosses. Tony Watson came on to toe the rubber with Jason Grilli heating up for the righties.

He got Aoki to bounce into a force to short, putting Brewers on the corners. Watson did his job against the lefty, and Grilli climbed the bump. He fanned Weeks and got Braun on a bouncer to keep the tally at 4-0. Hernadez got the Bucs out cleanly again, survivng a Walker drive to the fence in right.

Clint Hurdle brought on Hanny the one time he had his option of arms; guess he wanted Chad Qualls fresh. Hopefully, it won't bite the team tomorrow. A-Ram greeted Hanrahan with a knock. Corey Hart banged into a force and Martin Maldonado lined to left. But what's a ninth without a little Hanny drama? He walked Jonathan Lucroy on four pitches and Bianchi singled to juice the sacks. The curtain fell with Nyjmo's swinging K, missing a slider, and the Bucs got back on the winning track with a 4-0 win.

We won't even harp on the 10 whiffs tonight; ya gotta be hacking when Doug Edding is calling the plate. The Bucs did that enough to put together one frame, and it was good enough. More worrisome are the injuries to JT and JK. Tabata's last bout with a bad groin got him sent to Indy, and Karstens' rehab was delayed considerably when he injured his hip at Altoona. Alex Presley is the obvious choice if Tabata is Dl'ed; Karstens could be replaced in-house by KC or by Indy's Jeff Locke.

There may be no action at all; Karstens says he doesn't think he'll miss a start, and JT said he felt OK after the game and was waiting to see how it feels tomorrow. So we'll see what the docs say after some poking and probing.

Mark Rogers faces Erik Bedard in the rubber match tomorrow afternoon.

  • Tonight's attendance was 37,460, the Bucs 15th sellout of season.
  •  Starling Marte is due back from the DL on September 3rd, but we haven't heard of him involved with any baseball activity yet, so the Bucco OF is thin, especially if JT goes on the DL.
  • Indy RHP Kyle McPherson went seven scoreless frames, surrendering two hits, two walks and punching out five.
  • The Altoona Curve won its 1,000th game tonight, 3-0 over the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Kris Johnson picked up the win, going seven frames of three hit ball with two walks and five whiffs.

Lineup, Notes

Brewers RHP Shaun Marcum (5-3, 3.39 ERA) takes on RHP Jeff Karstens (4-3, 3.79). This is Marcum's first start in a couple of months; he's been on the DL with elbow issues. JK has been steady; in his last ten games, he's gone 7+ innings seven times, and hasn't given up more than eight hits or four runs since July 30th. The game starts at 7:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike Mckenry C, Clint Barmes SS, Jeff Karstens P.

Today is a pretty big game; the Bucs are playing a stretch where they have to start taking their series to keep their heads above water, which would translate into 20 wins in the next 32 outings. And they'll have to finish up the Brew Crew games without AJ or J-Mick, who are due for the Red Birds' set starting Monday. Not to mention, of course, that they've lost four in a row and 11-of-15, so that nagging little voice reminding the players of last season needs shushed. There are no more moral victories; the marathon is approaching the tape and it's time to grind out some wins.

  • LHP Hisanori Takahashi is scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh this evening, so no more roster movement until tomorrow.

And in Wall Street v Main Street news:

Talk about your blockbuster deals! If the reports hold true, the Red Sox will send 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Josh Beckett, OF Carl Crawford and IF Nick Punto to the Dodgers for 1B James Loney and four minor leaguers. Those prospects are said to be RHPs Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, 1B/OF Jerry Sands and IF Ivan De Jesus, Jr., though one or more of them could be announced as players to be named later and be sent to Boston after the season. The Sox will cover just $12M of the roughly $271.5M left on the contracts. Geez, did they replace grapevines with money trees in la-la land? And yes, contrary to popular wisdom, it does look like you can fire an entire team.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hughes Implosion Enough For Brew Crew To Hold Off Bucs 6-5

Holy Molly, a scoreless first! Wandy walked Ricky Weeks with one away, but got Ryan Braun to bang one to short for a 6-4-3 DP.  Mike Fiers got the Bucs on three groundouts, not a very good sign. That's what the guys did against Andrew Werner last game, another soft tosser, either rolling over or getting ahead and bouncing to their strong side. Let's hope they adjust to a 80-ish pitcher a little more quickly tonight.

Aramis Ramirez opened the second with a knock to center. Corey Hart brought him home on a double to center off a curve and went to third on a throwing error by Clint Barmes. Well, so much for that scoring first thing for the Bucs. Jonathan Lucroy singled him home, and it was 2-0 in a hurry. Carlos Gomez bounced a ball to short; Barmes muffed it. Jean Segura walked on a 3-2 pitch, and the sacks were full of Brewers, still with nobody out. Fiers, who was 0-for-20, helped by whiffing. Norichika Aoki kept the Bucs alive by tapping an 0-2 pitch back to the hill for a 1-2-3 DP, and the Bucs dodged a big bullet, even though down a pair. The Pirates went down in order.

With an out in the third, Braun spoiled a boatload of deliveries and drew an 11 pitch walk, Wandy's third. A-Ram and Hart both flew out, so Rodriguez survived another frame. The bottom of the Pittsburgh lineup all went down on strikes.

Rodriguez tossed a clean fourth. JT broke up Fier's streak of nine-in-a-row with a knock to center. Travis Snider sent a 2-2 hook into right for a double, with JT hitting the brakes at third. Cutch was clutch, lining a 2-1 curve into left to tie the game. GI went fishing and K'ed swinging.  Walker banged one back to the box and Fiers made the stop to turn two, finishing the frame.

After fanning Fiers to start the fifth, Wandy gave up a crushed double to right to Aoki, who stole third. Weeks fell behind 0-2, ran the count full, then smacked a curve to short, freezing Aoki. Braun was walked intentionally. Ramirez got ahead 0-2, fouled a couple off, then bounced to Pedro, so some smoke but no fire was generated by the Brew Crew. With one away, Hot Rod took a 1-2 heater to center for a knock. Barmes tried to turn on a slider, but was a little behind and flew out deep to center. Wandy whiffed and it was on to the sixth.

Wandy got ahead of Hart 0-2 to start the frame, but a couple of pitches later left a heater just below the belt on the outside half and watched it get knocked into center. He worked over Hart with a half dozen tosses to first while Lucroy was at bat, and keeping him close worked. He jammed the catcher and got a grounder to third that Pedro gloved to start an around the horn DP, the third in six frames. Gomez tried Pedro again, and became the third out.

JT had his third good at-bat of the night, drawing a 3-2 walk on a high change up. It was a quick trip to first; he was caught stealing three pitches later. To make things more frustrating, Snider worked a walk, taking a tight 3-2 fastball. Fiers got Cutch swinging at a slow curve and GI waved at one that was high and tight to finish an inning that never quite took off.

Segura caught a Wandy heater that he left up and drilled it deep into center, but Cutch was there to wrap leather around the ball. Fiers dropped a bunt down the third base line and earned his first MLB hit when the ball hugged the chalk and refused to roll foul. Aoki forced him at second, on a 9-6 as Jones threw the pokey pitcher out from right field. That was it for Wandy.

He went 6-2/3, giving up three runs on six hits with four walks (one intentional) and three K, tossing 100 pitches. We notice he likes to work up in the zone and doesn't get many swings-and-misses; seems like a correlation there. Anyway, Jared Hughes came on and plunked Weeks to set up Braun, who he lost on four pitches; it was Braun's third walk of the night. His second pitch to A-Ram was a heater, inside corner on the knees, and Ramirez cleared the bases by blasting it to right center by the Xfinity sign for a double.

Cutch went down as he slid into the wall trying to save the inning. His knee was OK, but the Bucs weren't; it was 5-2 Brew Crew. Hughes got ahead of Hart 0-2, ran the count full, and gave him a heater that he banged into center for another run. Hughes stayed in, got up on Lucroy 0-2, and got him to roll out to short. But Milwaukee was up big now, 6-2. And it all started with a bunt that wouldn't take a left turn.

After Walker and Alvarez struck out looking, Hot Rod was determined to swing the lumber, and he turned on a knee high slider and belted it over the wall in left, his first long fly in five weeks. That brought on Jim Henderson, who got Barmes to bounce out.

Chad Qualls toed the rubber and put away the bottom of Milwaukee's order routinely. Francisco Rodriguez took the ball to face Josh Harrison and the top of the order, which he retired 1-2-3. Clint Hurdle called on Hanny to pitch the ninth, a curious call though he probably could use the work. He worked a clean inning, although a couple of balls were squared up.

John Axford came on to close it out for the Brew Crew. Cutch worked him for a 3-2 walk to open the frame. Jones joined him on the bases five pitches later as Axford was having problems locating the strike zone, tossing four high and wide to GI. After getting ahead 2-0, Walker fouled off a heater and took the next into left, plating Cutch and putting Bucs at first and second for Pedro.

He became the first out, swinging through a 3-2 heater that was borderline black, a pitcher's pitch he couldn't take with two strikes. Jeff Clement hit for Hot Rod, and went down swinging at a 96 MPH fastball up in the zone. Mike McKenry, in an 0-for-21 slump, was the Buc's last hope. He fought Axford for eight pitches before singling to center off a heater, scoring Jones and moving The Kid to third.

That hit chased Axford, setting up a Kameron Loe-Gaby Sanchez match. Loe tossed him four heaters for an even count, and then snapped off a hook to get him swinging. The Bucs fought hard, but again dug themselves too deep a hole to get out of.

They need to get back to the disciplined approach they had in July; they're becoming pull happy. It may have to do with the string of soft tossers they've seen as the hitters seem to handle the power guys pretty well. But against the nibblers, they're yanking too many weak grounders and strikeouts; they went down another 13 times tonight. One thing that can't be said about this team is that they lack heart, but they better rediscover the approach that made them so dangerous for six weeks. There is an opposite field.

As for the bullpen, it's never regained its equilibrium since Brad Lincoln left and the Pirates decided to carry an extra starter. To add to the reconstruction job, it looks like the Pirate management isn't very confident of throwing the young guys in the fire. Hisanori Takahashi, 37, should join the team tomorrow as the second lefty. If we were wagering, we'd guess Jared Hughes goes down; he's in the midst of a long overdue regression and the FO seems to have a jones for Chad Qualls.

Shawn Marcum takes on Jeff Karstens tomorrow night.

  • Until tonight, Wandy Rodriguez had never lost four consecutive starts in his career.  But since beating Milwaukee 6-3 on July 7th, he's gone 0-7 in his last eight starts.
  • The Pirates have gone 36-12 this season when scoring the first run of a game, but have done that in only three of their first 22 games in August. 
  • The Pirates have now struck out 10 or more times in 43 games this season, tied with the Nats for the most in MLB.And yep, it happened again - Mike Fiers tied his career high w/10 strikeouts.
  • The attendance  was 37,197, the Pirates 14th sellout.
  • For all the complaints about the base running, the Bucs have the MLB's second fewest men thrown out on the bases with 30 and are in the top five in taking the extra base, which they do 43% of the time. Now if they could only steal a sack... (Thx to Tom Singer of for providing the link.)
  • At Indy, LHP Jeff Locke threw six shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk, and striking out six.
  • RHP Luis Heredia tossed five innings for State College, giving up a run on three hits with four K.

Lineup, Notes, News; Clement Gets Call Up

Milwaukee RHP Mike Fiers (6-6, 2.90 ERA) takes on LHP Wandy Rodriguez (8-12, 4.00) tonight. The rookie Fiers was mowing down the opposition in his first dozen starts, even flirting with a no-hitter earlier this month, but has been beat up for 12 runs in seven innings during his last two outings. Wandy, who won the Cardinal all-nighter in relief, is looking for his first Bucco win as a starter. The game starts at 7:05 and is on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Wandy Rodriguez P.

The teams have split six games this season, all in Milwaukee. The Brewers have won one game on the road in their past 15, and are 19-38 away from Miller Field this season, so this is as good a time as any for the Bucs to start makin' hay.

  • The Pirates have brought up 1B Jeff Clement and optioned IF Yamaico Navarro back to Indy.  Clement hit .276 with 35 doubles, 16 HR & 57 RBI this season in AAA. He was added to the 40 man roster, which still has an opening.
  • The Pirates claimed LHP Hisanori Takahashi off waivers from the Angels. The 37 year old was 0-3 with a 4.30 ERA, but his peripherals are fairly solid (1.167 WHIP, 8.8K/nine, 2.1BB/nine) and he had two strong back-to-back seasons in 2010-11 for the Mets and Halos. He was a soft-tossing starter in Japan, but was moved to the pen when he signed with NY. No word yet on his assignment (he was in AAA) or any corresponding roster moves.
  • IF Jordy Mercer is back after paternity leave - congrats, his new son, Maverick, arrived Tuesday, weighing in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces - and RHP Daniel McCutchen was returned to Indy.
  • RHP Juan Cruz passed through waivers and was released; we'd expect him to land with another contending club looking for bullpen depth before September.
  • Scott Miller of CBS Sports assures us that "Nothing Is Wrong With McCutchen."
  • The Cards, who just pulled ahead of the Bucs in the wildcard after a sweep of Houston, will have their work cut out for them in what could be their biggest road trip of the campaign. They begin a 10-game swing tonight in Cincinnati with visits to Pittsburgh and Washington.
  • The Pirates are expected to play the AL West in 2013 with Detroit as their rivalry team, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review.
  • Altoona Curve SS Brock Holt, now promoted to AAA Indy, was named an Eastern League post-season All Star. Holt hit .322 for Class AA Altoona and still leads the batting race in EL.
  • Congrats to the Indy Indians. Their win over Louisville coupled with a Columbus loss cinched the AAA International League Western Division crown, their first since 2000. RHP Phil Irwin tossed the decider, going six innings and giving up a run on five hits, a walk and nine K's. 
  • Ditto to the rookie league GCL Pirates, tied for first and guaranteed a playoff spot in the Gulf Coast League North.

Now It Gets Interesting

Hey, all you glum, bummed Bucco fans - pick up your heads and fasten your seat belts. Your team, the one GW picked as a 78-80 win club in the pre-season (o blogger of little faith!), is growing up in front of your eyes. The pitching is as strong as it's been in decades with the pipeline full, and slowly a core of players - Cutch, The Kid, GI Jones, yes, even Pedro, along with Starling  Marte and Travis Snider (crossed fingers) - are developing at the big league level.

Yah, yah, we've heard all about the future ad nauseam, but is it ever gonna arrive? Guess what, dudes - it's here. Hey, maybe Cincy is running away with the division; they are eight games ahead of Pittsburgh and seven in front of the Red Birds with 38 games to go. They just keep on keeping on, with a .603 wining %, second best in baseball right now.

The Bucs have fallen a game out of the wild card race behind St. Louis and 3-1/2 games in back of  front-running Atlanta. But don't let the August blahs fool ya. Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner, former Bucco 2B, Astro manager and Oakland A's consultant, said this on Sportsradio 93-7 of August dog day struggles " seems like you get a second wind almost.  If you kind of get through August without going too far under water, it’s almost like you get to September, and man, you can see the finish line and you pick up strength."

The stretch run schedule can be a funny thing. This year's works out well for the Bucs in the race for the wire.

The Bucs play 28 straight games against the Central Division beginning tonight. Now they don't have much chance to make up ground head-to-head with the Reds and Cards; they only play them three times each during that stretch. But that means that they play Milwaukee nine times (six at PNC) with thirteen games against the Cubs and Astros, having home-and-home series with each club. So there's a lot of room to pad the record in that span.

If they hang in for the next three weeks til the middle of September, the Bucs have a 14 game run against the Cubs, Brewers, Astros and Mets, all of which will be playing for 2013. Then it's really showtime - three games with Cincinnati and three with Atlanta, the wild card leader, at PNC Park to close out the campaign.

And there is reason to believe. AJ Burnett has traditionally struggled in August and rebounded strongly in September. Garrett Jones is zeroed in. The Kid has been rock-steady. Travis Snider looks like a keeper. Jeff Karstens is fresh. Cutch is due for a autumn MVP run. Even with a forgettable 2011, Pedro's been a September monster. heck, Clint Barmes, a notorious fast starter, is reversing that line. The bullpen remains masterful at the back end. And even if management remains inexplicably obstinate in using their minor league talent to bolster the big boys, the September reinforcements from Indy are only a week away.

So don't take to the bridge yet - leave that to the faithful in Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland. We know that being a Pirate fan is pretty much akin to being the straight man in a long running burlesque skit, with a shaving cream pie to the face chased with seltzer spritz as the inevitable finale. But the schedule sets up quite nicely for the Pirates, and this should be the most exciting September to rock PNC Park, well, ever.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Inning Blues Do In Bucs 4-2

Andrew Werner had a good start to his major league career - in his first frame, he got a pair of grounders to third and K'ed the league's leading hitter, Cutch, swinging. Guess the Bucs decided to come out swinging; they weren't looking at many pitches; he tossed nine.

And they should; J-Mick walked leadoff hitter Everth Cabrera on five pitches in what looks to be a pretty tight strike zone tonight. Cabrera stole second despite getting lots of attention and oversliding the base with the tag on. Then Will Venable walked after a pesky, nine pitch at bat. Hey, guess what - Chase Headley walked too. Carlos Quentin took a ball, then banged a heater of the wall in left center to bring home a pair. Mark Kotsay lifted a sac fly to center; at least there was an out now. Make that two; Quentin was caught trying to steal third. Logan Forsythe's grounder made three, but it was 3-0 Friars; we're beginning to hate first innings. And it took 30 pitches to get through it.

Garrett Jones continued his one man attack, leading off with a two bagger. Gaby Sanchez bounced out on the first pitch - it was down the middle - moving GI to third. Pedro took a walk to put Pirates at the corners. The Fort rolled the first pitch to short for a 6-4-3 DP, and pffft went another rally. When you're hot...with one out, Jeff Baker smacked one to The Kid; he muffed it. But young Mr. Werner decided to swing away, and rolled the first pitch to Pedro, who began an around the horn DP.

The Bucs went down in order in the third; Werner, who replaced Ross Ohlendorf in the rotation, has been tossing balls down the middle, and the Pirates can't do anything with them. Cabrera led off with a bunt single. With an out, he stole second, his 24th straight swipe without being nabbed, and Headley drew another walk. Quentin and Kotsay went down routinely to end the frame.

With an out in the fourth, Cutch legged out an infield knock and GI walked on five pitches. An out later, Pedro singled to right. Cutch came in, but Jones was nailed easily trying to go to third - now where is it that you never make the first or last out at again? But at any rate, it's 3-1 now. J-Mick opened by losing Forsythe, and Cameron Maybin singled him to second. McDonald punched out Baker and Werner, who fouled off two bunt tries and then looked at strike three. Cabrera bounced out to second to end the fourth without any added damage.

The Fort opened with a long fly out to left, extending his cold streak to 0-for-20. After a Barmes fly, J-Mick drew a five pitch walk. Didn't help; JT grounded out to short for the third time. Venable opened with a double, the fourth leadoff batter to reach in five innings. An out later, Quentin singled him home, and it was 4-1.

Three Bucs up, three weak Buc groundouts in the sixth. Werner has found a bit of a groove; he's been keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate since the fourth.  Jared Hughes came on for Pittsburgh. McDonald went five, giving up four runs on five hits and five walks with two whiffs, tossing 92 pitches. It definitely was not a step forward for the righty. After an out, Hughes walked Baker; his sinker isn't going to get many low strike calls tonight. Werner muffed another bunt as Baker was forced out at second, and Cabrera grounded out.

Gaby did good on a first pitch this time; he knocked a change up yard to open the seventh, and Pedro followed with a 3-2 walk. That was it for Werner; Brad Brach took the bump. McKenry flew out and Barmes went down swinging. Hurdle sent up Travis Snider, who lined out to left to end the frame. Chris Resop toed the rubber in the SD seventh and tossed a clean frame.

The Bucs sent up the top of the order in the eighth against Luke Gregerson, and he put them away handily. Jason Grilli tossed  1-2-3 frame, helped by a sweet catch of a foul by Tabata who was a step from crashing into the wall. Tom Layne, who the Padres called up from AA yesterday, came on to close with Huston Street hurt and Dale Thayer used up. With an out, Sanchez tried to knock a second ball out of Petco, but his fly was hauled in short of the fence in left; it's the third ball he's squared up on tonight. Pedro went down looking, and San Diego broomed the Bucs 4-2.

The starter and closer (first win, first save) were AA San Antonio Mission pitchers earlier this month, yet the Pirates are afraid to call their players up *sigh*. After a bad 4-7 home stand, the Bucs fell flat after their 19-inning win at St. Louis to finish the road trip 2-4. Tomorrow is an off day, and hopefully it will charge their batteries, with 28 straight NL Central games on tap.

  •  The Pirates will re-evaluate Starling Marte Friday to see if he can begin light physical activity. He's out with an oblique strain.
  • SD pitcher Andrew Werner is quite a story. He attended Indianapolis University, went undrafted, and pitched for the Evansville Otters of the indy Frontier League before being signed by SD after a tryout. The 25 year old had four starts at AAA before getting the call for today's game.

Lineup, Notes, News

RHP James McDonald (11-5, 3.61) goes against LHP Andrew Werner (0-0, 0.00) today. J-Mick has been looking like his old self, but last time against SD he took a 7-1 lead into the fifth inning before allowing six runs in a 9-8 loss. Werner is getting his first MLB start. The game begins at 6:35 and will be aired by Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Clint Barmes SS, James McDonald P.

SD is going for the broom; AJ couldn't slow them down so it's on J-Mick to salvage one game from the series. The Bucs are 7-1/2 behind the Reds and in a real dogfight for the wildcard, so every win is a big one - as is every loss.

  • J-Mick has been charged with zero/one earned run 10 times out of 24 starts this season.
  • The Pirates were the only team left in the majors without a loss in extra innings before last night.
  • The Padres are on a 17-3 run against the Pirates.  
  • The Bucs will return to Pittsburgh following today’s game and begin a six game home stand against Milwaukee and St. Louis after a travel day Thursday. Friday will also begin a streak of 28 consecutive games against teams from the NL Central Division.
  • Jordy Mercer will rejoin the team in Pittsburgh on Friday.

Reconstructed Pen Fizzles, Bucs Fall In Ten 7-5

Hey, it was time for the ol' AJ magic dust to waft over those unbeatable (to the Bucs) Padres. But there was no Tinkerbelle to the rescue as Burnett continued his rough August and the revamped bullpen couldn't finish off the game. And as is becoming commonplace, the Bucs were 1-for10 with RISP and had 12 more whiffs, all combining to a gut wretching 7-5 loss in 10 innings.

It started off badly from the git go.The Bucs stranded a runner at second in the first and the Padres plated a pair. Everth Cabrera and Will Venable led off with ground ball singles. The Pirates staved off the first effort at scoring, throwing out Cabrera at the plate. It was a short reprieve; Carlos Quentin blasted a heater to right for a double that chased both Friars home.

The second was quiet enough, and the Bucs got on the board in the third. JT and Travis Snider hit back-to-back singles and a Cutch force out brought Tabata home. With runners on first and third and tow down, McCutch was caught stealing to end the frame. The Padres had their chance to get it back, loading the bases on a bunt single, ground knock and walk, but AJ got Yonder Alonso to bang into an inning ending 4-6-3 DP.

The Bucs returned the favor in the fourth when Garrett Jones was thrown out cleanly at home on a two-out Clint Barmes double, probably worth rolling the dice with that part of the lineup. The Pirates got a walk and hit batter in the fifth, but couldn't do anything with them. The Friars were frustrated, too, leaving the bases juiced after a double and two walks. It was not a very pretty game through five.

The Bucs caused some damage in the sixth, primed by Jones' one out blast to right off a Marquis slider. A walk and single ended the night for Marquis; Nick Vincent took the bump and was greeted by a Hot Rod Barajas double, plating a run. AJ K'ed, JT walked, and with the bases jammed, Snider bounced out. But the Bucs were up 3-2.

San Diego tied it quickly with three consecutive singles and a Jones error. AJ hung tough, fanning Headley on a 3-2 slurve and coaxing an around-the-horn DP from Quentin. Brad Bach took the hill in the seventh, and stranded two runners by whiffing Barmes. AJ, who was running on empty, loaded the bases with an out, and Tony Watson came on, giving up a sac fly to give SD the 4-3 lead. AJ went 6-1/3 innings, giving up four runs on a dozen hits and five walks with seven K on 110 pitches.

The Bucs went down in order to Luke Gregerson, the first 1-2-3 inning for either team, in the eighth. The Friars padded the lead off Chad Qualls, who gave up a leadoff double to Venable. He scored a classic small ball run, moving to third on a grounder hit behind him and a sac fly.

The Bucs still had some magic left, though. Dale Thayer came to close it out. Cutch was on first with two outs when Thayer fell behind Jones 2-0, came in with a two-seamer and watched it get absolutely crushed over the center field wall to tie the game. Jason Grilli worked the ninth, getting the first two batters routinely before giving up back-to-back hits, the latter a bloop into left. JT made a late throw to third (good decision, btw - the runner behind him going to second made no difference), but Grilled Cheese shut the door. Well, actually Cutch did, with stunning running grab of a Cabrera shot to right center to take the game to overtime.

Miles Mikolas replaced Thayer, and got through the tenth with just a Barajas knock. Daniel McCutchen, freshly recalled from Indy, took the hill. Venable walked on six pitches and stole second. D-Mac fell behind Headley 3-0, and ran the count full instead of walking him with an open base as logic would demand. McCutchen dropped a 3-2 meatball change up over the dish - at least, that's what we'd call an 84 MPH offering that was exactly in the middle of the plate. Headley's eyes lit up and he pounced, cranking the delivery 426' over the right field wall, and the Padres had the Bucco number again.

Why no Joel Hanrahan against the meat of the order? Hey, don't be silly - Hanny doesn't appear on the road unless it's a save situation. We think it's part of his contract.

The Bucs were more bitten by bad karma than bad swings tonight. Pittsburgh hit the horsehide fairly well, even with the whiffs, and had more than their share of at 'em balls. On the other side of the coin, SD found several holes with their grounders; AJ was, despite the hit total, still getting balls beat into the dirt. That's how it seems to go against the Friars.

But there's no sense in ignoring the obvious. The Pirates aren't playing with their best dozen pitchers for whatever reason. Ever since they traded Brad Lincoln and added KC, Chad Qualls and now Daniel McCutchen - and we'd take Juan Cruz over that trio in a heartbeat - the relief corps has been in an state of chaos, entirely self-created by the FO. There's really no point in developing a minor league system if you don't have the confidence to use it.

SD called up Andrew Werner, who's slash is 5-10/3.70, split between AA and AAA, to take on James McDonald Wednesday afternoon.

  • Jamison Taillon had a pretty sharp debut at Altoona. He went five shutout frames, giving up four hits and K'ing six after tossing 67 pitches.
  • On Wednesday, August 29th , the Pirates-Cards will be the ESPN game.