Wednesday, April 30, 2008

lucky 13

nate the great

It's not often that you score seven runs on three hits, but the Pirates found the magic touch this afternoon. Sit back and wait for a strike was their battle cry in the second inning, and 5 walks, 3 hits and 1 sac fly later, Ollie Perez and Nelson Figueroa had handed their former teammates a lead even they couldn't blow.

After tacking on five more tallies in the sixth - on three doubles, a single, and two Met errors - the only question left was how long Gorzo would go. Five innings was the answer, his balky back giving out after 84 pitches. Hopefully, it's nothing serious; we'll find out in a day or two.

Surprise - Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth led the barrage, both collecting three hits.

It's nice to be the laugher instead of the laughee for a change.

On the Pirate front: Jack Wilson, at long last, is set to begin a minor-league rehab stint Friday at AA Altoona if all continues to go well with his calf. Since he was injured, three different shortstops have taken the field for Pittsburgh - Luis Rivas, Brian Bixler, and the last two games, Chris Gomez.

Wilson's return is tentatively planned for next Tuesday, when the Pirates come home to host the Giants.

A water main break outside of Shea delayed the start of this afternoon's game. The field was too wet to play on Monday and today they couldn't water the infield dust down. Ya just can't win.

The Mets wanted to make up the game as a day-night twinbill today, but MLB nixed the idea. We guess they were concerned about the long trip Pittsburgh had ahead of it on getaway day - to Washington, D.C.! The Bucs will make it up as a one night stand on Monday, August 11th.

McLouth's latest streak, leadoff home runs, ended at two when he failed to launch one in his first at bat today against Perez. He went yard yesterday against Johan Santana, was off Monday, and led off with a four bagger against the Phil's Brett Myers Sunday.

Who do you think got the better of the Ollie Perez - Xavier Nady swap? They were dealt for one another on July 31, 2006 (Roberto Hernadez was traded to NY too, but he wore a Met uni for just two months and left as a free agent.)

Perez has been 18-14 since then (not counting today's outing), with a 4.00 ERA. He's struck out 239 in 241 innings. Nady has hit .290 for the Bucs, with 27 HRs and 118 RBIs during that span, coming up to bat 735 times. Is it better to have a middle of the rotation arm or an everyday bat?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

no, you take it...

piarte logo 1997

Coulda, shoulda...the Bucs had a chance to steal a victory against an uncharacteristically wild Johan Santana, but in true team fashion, they failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them and lost 5-4 in eleven innings.

The loss went to John Van Benschoten, but he shouldn't have been in that position. If Ian Snell could have handed the ball to the bullpen in the 7th instead of the 5th, he wouldn't have been in tonight's game. Snell lasted 4-1/3, giving up 4 runs, 5 hits and 5 walks. The Pirates need Snell to step up to last year's level.

John Russell bringing JVB in with Evan Meek and Matt Capps still available for duty is a puzzler to us. He would have been our last option, given the fact he's a mop up man and hadn't appeared in a game yet this year, but Russell elected to throw him in the fire from the git-go. The results were predictable.

The Bucs had plenty of chances to take the game. They left the bases loaded in the sixth when Adam LaRoche popped out. The had runners on first and third in the seventh, and Jose Bautista was caught at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch.

The bases were juiced again in the eighth with a run in, but Bautista bounced into a forceout at home and pinch hitter Ronny Paulino swung at the first pitch and popped it up for the third out.

The Bucs were clutch in the ninth when Freddie Sanchez' two-out single tied the game. Pittsburgh wasted a double in the 10th a single in the 11th. The money hit wasn't on the menu today.

Nate McLouth and Jay Bay both homered early to plate the other trio of Pirate runs.

They say it's a team game, and the loss was a team effort today.

On the hot stove front: Devan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has an article on Buccos available to the highest bidder: Pirate Trade Pieces Raise Stakes

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes that most teams wait 40 games to determine their needs, but as April draws to a close, the trade market already is beginning to take shape. Xavier Nady and Jay Bay are virtually certain to be available before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, he sez:

Nady is off to his usual fast start, and the Pirates should begin exploring the market for him immediately. Bay, too, is hitting, but his defense in left field draws as much disdain from rival executives as Dunn's. (We guess Rosenthal hasn't watched Bay much this year; he's much improved in LF now that his wheels are turning.)

Both players are under control through 2009 — Nady is earning $3.35 million in arbitration this season, while Bay is signed for $5.75 million this season and $7.5 million in '09.

The Pirates' new front office was largely inactive last off-season, gambling that Bay, in particular, would restore his value. As the deadline nears, the team figures to turn more aggressive.

Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said Monday the club is discussing internally whether to pursue Matt Morris, though it's unlikely given the right-hander's performance. Morris, 0-4 with a 9.67 ERA, will clear waivers Wednesday.

The Rockies, Cardinals and Mariners attempted to acquire the veteran at the trading deadline last July. Barry Axelrod, Morris' agent, said Monday his client would need a few days to clear his head before making decisions about his future, according to the Denver Post.

The Bucs offered Morris a job in the organization when they released him.

It all could be academic. According to Justin Rodriguez of the Times-Herald Record, Matty Mo has retired. He said that he has no desire to battle his way back or work out of the bullpen.

On the college front:
Phil Axelrod of the Post Gazette has a nice recap of the local collegiate scene, including Duquesne's shot at the A-10 crown: Duquesne Eyes First Baseball Title

Monday, April 28, 2008

splish splash...


It's raining, it's pouring...the Bucs and Mets were postponed until August 11th. Not that we were looking forward to Pittsburgh crossing swords with Johan Santana that much anyway. Ah, we'll see what happens tomorrow.

Our rotation now sets up this way: Ian Snell will pitch tomorrow night, and Tom Gorzelanny will go Wednesday afternoon. Zach Duke will start Thursday in Washington, with Phil Dumatrait, Paul Maholm and Snell slated to hurl the other three games against the Nats.

On the hot stove front: Jenifer Langosch of reports on Xavier Nady and the possibility of the Bucs's offering him a long-term contract:

Nady has one more year of arbitration before he can become a free agent, making it likely that both sides would be wary of any type of deal. The Pirates aren't going to invest the type of money in Nady that he could likely garner in the free agent market, especially if he has a breakout year in 2008 to go along with a solid 2007 (.278, 20 HRs, 72 RBIs.)

On the other side of the coin, with Scott Boras as his agent, Nady will almost certainly want to test the free agent waters. So he's a strong candidate to be moved this season, while his value is up and he still has a year to go before free agency.

MLB Trade Rumors reports that David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News quotes Phillies GM Pat Gillick as saying he's still looking for lefthanded relief help. Recently signed lefty Steve Kline, now in AAA, is in the mix to fill the role, but isn't a lock.

It speculates that John Grabow would be a nice addition to the Philly pen. Damaso Marte is also probably available, along with a half dozen other possibilities. Then again, they could just pick up a lower-cost guy like Ray King or Mike Stanton.

The Pirates are beginning to become a little concerned with Chris Duffy's slow recovery. Nate McLouth has grabbed the CF bull by the horns, and with Andrew McCutcheon on the horizon, Duffy is pretty well blocked in the Buc's near future.

The Pirates would like to trot him out and see if they can get something for the oft injured 28 year old CF'er. But they can't move him until he hits the field and is showcased to the rest of the league as a healthy and productive player again. It's been nearly a year since he's played a game.

On the MLB front: The Red Sox released ex-Bucco reliever RHP Dan Kolb, 33 years old, from his contract with Triple-A Pawtucket.

There is no definite guesstimate for 34 year old RHP Kris Benson's recovery from the strained groin he suffered Saturday in an extended spring-training game. He's listed as day-to-day.

Benson can opt out of his Philly contract May 15 if he pitches at least 10 minor league innings or June 1 if he doesn't. His worrisome shoulder has been fine.

Anna is reported to be healthy and rarin' to go.

After showing some optimism for a return this week, outfielder Moises Alou's timetable could change after a C.T. scan taken Friday in Florida on his left ankle revealed what GM Omar Minaya called the "potential for a slight fracture." He'll have a MRI taken today.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

a game to cheer about...

paul maholm

Management finally bit the bullet and let the team know that guaranteed money doesn't mean you have a guaranteed job. It's a sea change from the McClatchy/Littlefield era, and the Pirates took it to heart.

Paul Maholm pitched masterfully, throwing a two hit, 99 pitch complete game against the Phils. His record evened at 2-2 and his ERA dropped to 3.26. Everyone chipped in today.

Xavier Nady made a nice diving catch, Jose Bautista speared a shot at third, and Jay Bay ran down a ball in left center with ease, making a play that he couldn't have last year on his gimpy wheels. Not a misplay was made in the field. Luis Rivas even turned a pair of double plays.

Nate McLouth hit a pair of homers and drove in three runs, while Bautista was let out of the doghouse and came through with a three-hit day. Rivas, Bay, and Adam LaRoche kicked in a pair of hits. The Pirates even scored first.

Today's performance may just be the result of a long overdue strong start. But we wonder how much of a weight the Morris saga had become in the clubhouse. The team seemed lifeless in the field for him last night but clicking on all cylinders today.

It's not to say Matty Mo wasn't a popular figure among the Bucs - he was. But it's hard to take the field when you know that you're going to be behind the eight ball and in a hurry.

Maybe now they feel like the front office will do their part in turning the team around, at long last. As we said, it could just be the hidden vigorish, as the Gunner used to say. But maybe it was an attitude adjustment, too.

We can only hope.

On the Pirate front: The news concerning Freddie Sanchez' shoulder has all been positive of late. The theory is that the warm weather has finally loosened it up, and Sanchez is beginning to throw better, with much less pain. Now about that .216 average...

Xavier Nady's 14 game hit streak ended today. He was out about every way you could be, lining out to left, flying out to right, bouncing out to second, and striking out. The X Man is hitting .327 with 4 HRs and 23 RBIs, a pretty fair start to the year.

Paul Meyer of the Post Gazette noted that Nate McLouth's second home run yesterday (they were both off Brett Myers) was the 500th hit by a Pirates player at PNC Park. John Vander Wal hit the first by a Buc on April 11, 2001, off Cincinnati's Elmer Dessens.

news flash...

Matty Mo from Pittsburgh
(photo by Gene Puskar, AP)

A bit of breaking news: Matty Mo was released, Phil Dumatrait, 26, will take his spot in the rotation and John Van Benschoten was called up from AAA Indy for bullpen duty.

The story as written by George Von Benko of

Morris plans to return to his home in Jupiter, Fla., and indicated that his career is over.

"Once you mentally turn it off, it's hard to turn it back on," Morris said. "When you lose your edge competing and the confidence is down, it would be hard to pitch again."

Morris pitched for 11 years in the Majors, with stops in St. Louis, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. A two-time National League All-Star, he has a career record of 121-92 with a 3.98 ERA.

"I'm proud of my career," Morris said. "I didn't mean or want for it to end this way, but I always said the other team will let you know when you're done, and with the outings I've had, some of the fan appreciation has not been so great. But it's all part of it and it's time to move on."

The Pirates recalled right-hander John Van Benschoten from Triple-A Indianapolis to replace Morris on the roster. Van Benschoten was 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA. He will work out of the bullpen in long relief.

Lefty Phil Dumatrait will take Morris' spot in the rotation. Dumatrait is 0-1 this season with a 4.32 ERA.

The decision to release Morris means the Pirates will eat $11,037,283 in salary, including a $1 million buyout for 2009.

Sean Burnett continues to sit and stew in Indianapolis. 28 year old Van Benschoten may be on audition for Dumatrait's spot on the staff. Another righty would help balance the rotation. Then again, he may just be insurance in case Dumatrait doesn't work out or simply be the freshest arm available from Indy.

More importantly, the suits have finally delivered a message to the troops that a big league contract doesn't guarantee a big league job - only a big league performance will do that. And it's a message that's long overdue.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

it was over before it started...

piarte logo 1997

Hey, it was a pretty good game if Pittsburgh could claim a mulligan on the first inning. Matty Mo got the first two Phils out, and then came a team meltdown.

A single, a Ryan Howard homer on a 1-2 pitch (after he had been benched for a coupla days because he couldn't hit a beach ball), another single, a Xavier Nady error, a hit batter, a Brian Bixler error (he booted two tonight; so much for looking comfortable), and presto: 5-0 before the Bucs came to bat.

He got two more outs at the cost of another run before he got the hook. 1-2/3 innings, 6 hits, a walk, a beaned batter, 71 pitches to 15 batters...

Here's a suggestion, free of charge: eat Morris' $10M contract (why oh why, Dave Littlefield, did you do this?), start Phil Dumatrait, and call up Sean Burnett.

The Pirates have now lost 9 of the past 11 games. We wonder just how patient the new bosses are going to be if the Bucs continue to play like the 1950s Rickey-Dink teams.

On the bright side, the Pirates drew OK again, with 24,791 on hand to collect their Tom Gorzelanny bobble heads.

On the Pirate front: Buster Olney of ESPN wrote that the Mets and Indians are both a good fit for Xavier Nady. He thinks the Bucs will hold on to him for the time being both to stay somewhat competitive and to try to leverage a better deal for him towards the trade deadline.

Nady extended his hitting streak to 14 games against the Phils tonight.

Jack Wilson could rejoin the Pirates in time for the start of a home series against San Francisco on May 6, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, if there are no further setbacks to his calf.

The Bucs are a hit in the community, if not the field. Nate McLouth will launch his year long community initiative dubbed "Nate's Lucky 13" (his uni# is 13.) McLouth will host a different group of 13 children during each homestand throughout the 2008 season.

Nyjer Morgan will visit a group of RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) kids at the Pirates Charities Community Baseball Center located in the East Liberty/Shadyside Boys & Girls Club.

Ian Snell will continue his Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which he started last season, by hosting two kids from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and their respective "Bigs" to a day at PNC Park.

On the former Buc front:
Ty Wiggington, who broke his thumb on April 5th, is starting his rehab next week as he tries to get ready to rejoin the 'Stros.

Brett Lillibridge, 25-year old SS traded to the Braves last year as part of the Adam LaRoche deal, earned raves in the spring and today got his call-up. Yunel Ecsobar bruised a finger and will be out for the short term, and Lillibridge will get his first start.

He played the field flawlessly against the Mets, but disappeared at bat, going 0-4 with 3 Ks. He wasn't alone in his futility; the Mets pitching gave up just 6 hits and mowed down 11 Brave batters in the 4-3 win.

The Met's Moise Alou is also getting ready to return from rehab. He was one of the stars of the Pirate farm system back in the day, but in 1990 became part of the Zane Smith deal that helped the Bucs hold off the Mets and win the division.

Contrary to urban legend, he wasn't dealt because of a waiver screw up (that happened a couple of weeks later when Wes Chamberlin was lost to the Phils), but the problem arose when his named was blabbed as the "player to be named later." That slip almost hit the fan as a major, deal-breaking blunder.

Buc GM Larry Doughty wasn't supposed to identify Alou because he hadn't cleared waivers and thus couldn't be traded yet, but he did. The Pirates did waive him, and the Expos, not wanting to take a chance on losing him to another team, claimed Alou, and that's how the story started.

In his 16 seasons, Alou has hit .303 with 332 HRs and 1,278 RBIs.

Friday, April 25, 2008

and we were worried about the bullpen...

piarte logo 1997

OK, no deep analysis needed here. If Zach Duke gives the Bucs a quality start, they raise the Jolly Roger. He didn't. Six innings, six runs, another loss.

Duke is now 0-2 with a 5.34 ERA. The league is hitting .344 against him. He's closing in fast on last year's ERA of 5.53 and opponent batting average of .356.

The Pirates dug themselves out of a 6-0 hole to pull within one. They played about as well as they could, but the starting pitching continues to drag them down.

The Pirates converted 3-6 scoring opportunities, and Tyler Yates, Damaso Marte, John Grabow and Matt Capps shut the Phils down. The Bucs were again flawless in the field. Xavier Nady's hitting streak has reached a lucky 13 games.

And young Mr. Bixler is looking more comfortable at shortstop and starting to lay off the sliders everyone's throwing him a bit more. We suppose he's finally reading from the same book as the opposing pitchers.

The fans even came through, with 23,930 of them unlucky enough to not score Penguin tickets in attendance tonight. Oh, and it was fireworks night, and quite a few Phil fans found their way to PNC, too. Still, a nice crowd considering everything.

The bottom line? The Pirates played well enough to win. Zach Duke didn't. And Matty Mo takes the hill tomorrow. Good luck, Bucs.

On the MLB front: Ryan Howard, who is hitting .176 with 34 strikeouts in 85 at-bats, was not in the starting lineup for yesterday's series finale against Brewers righthander Jeff Suppan.

He wasn't penciled in against Pittsburgh Pirates lefthander Zach Duke at PNC Park, either. "I figure the time had come where it didn't really matter who was pitching," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. "It's time for him to take a break."

Mike Gonzalez, 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery, pitched in an extended spring-training game on Tuesday, as reported by the Augusta Chronicle.

He then threw a one-inning simulated game on Thursday and is scheduled to pitch another inning on Saturday. Gonzo could return to the Braves by the middle of May, and is expected to reclaim his spot at the back end of the bullpen by the second half of the season.

On the local front: You may have noticed that one of the candidates for the PA House in the West End's 27th District was old high school fireballer Ryan Douglass, who put up a creditable showing for his first time out as a campaigner.

Douglass led Canevin to the WPIAL and PIAA championship games in 1997 and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 13th round of the MLB draft. Douglass had a full scholarship to Ohio U. but decided to turn pro instead.

Major League Baseball matched that scholarship offer for him to use at a future date, and he's been cashing in by attending night school at Pitt.

The big lefty reached the AA level for KC and Montreal, and closed out his career with the Washington Wild Things in 2005, pitching in the Frontier League All-Star game. He went on to work for retired legislator Tom Petrone, and keeps his baseball jones going as a player/coach for Elliott in the Federation League.

Douglass also runs a Field of Dreams baseball clinic, which he started in April of 2007. He works with eight athletic associations around the Pittsburgh area and passes on what he learned during his playing days.

Douglass, born and raised in Elliott, now lives in Crafton with his wife Kim. They're expecting their first child.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ok, so they lost again...

piarte logo 1997

It was a beautiful night for baseball. If the Bucs could whip Joel Pineiro, of the 8.10 ERA, they could pick up a game on the entire NL Central, less Houston. But it wasn't to be.

Tom Gorzelanny, last year's ace, walked 7 and left after five innings down 3-1. Gorzo threw 94 pitches, barely half for strikes. Phil Dumatrait came on to give up another pair, and Saint Louis was on its' way to a 6-2 win.

Dumatrait could be on the verge of giving up his Pirate uniform after yielding six hits in two innings. He hasn't been able to transition from starter to the pen, and if Sean Burnett keeps pitching lights out in Indy, someone's got to go.

Burnett, manager Trent Jewett told Jenifer Langosch of, has done all the things the Pirates asked of him as he switched from starter to reliever. He's pitched multiple innings, with his longest stint lasting three innings. He's thrown on back-to-back days. He's learned to get loose in the pen quickly.

He's tossed 11 innings and allowed just one run on three hits. He has struck out 12. His ERA and WHIP are the same, 0.82. He's got three saves and a hold. Burnett is close to being ready, with his only red flag being six walks. Watch out, Phil.

And if we were Frankie Osoria or Evan Meek, we wouldn't be looking forward to a call to visit the manager, either. Sooner or later a couple of Bucs are gonna walk the plank...the new bosses are pushing that accountability thing, remember?

Pineiro quieted the Bucco bats, giving up just 4 hits in seven innings. The Pirates made some noise in the ninth, but Jason Isringhausen put an end to that.

The only good news with the lumber was that Xavier Nady had a ninth inning single to keep his 12-game hitting streak alive, and Adam LaRoche banged out a pair of hits. He hit the ball on the nose last night, too, and as May approaches, maybe the kinks in his long, arcing stroke are at long last smoothing out.

The Pirate errorless streak also ended when Brian Bixler couldn't get the ball out his mitt cleanly. That's 22 games and 9 SS errors, if you're keeping score. Funny, but the Bucs play two flawless games and win; boot a ball and they lose. Hmmm, do we detect a trend...?
The attendance was 9,544 tonight, and judging by the boos, they did not seem to be enjoying their PNC experience. With the Penguins in town Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Bucs and Phils could be playing to a little league gate this weekend.

On the Pirate history front: Looking at the empty seats, we got to wondering what the biggest gate of Bucco history was.

On October 1, 2000, a crowd of 55,351, the largest ever to see a Pirate baseball game in Pittsburgh, watched the Bucs fall to the Chicago Cubs, 10-9, in the final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

The largest World Series crowd was 51,377, spinning those stiles to watch the O's on October 14, 1971. That was the 4-0 Nellie Briles victory in game #5 at TRS.

The largest crowd, 59,568, to ever watch a baseball game in Pittsburgh was during the 65th All-Star Game on July 12, 1994 at TRS, a ten inning 8-7 NL win.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

they may never lose again...

Image from NASA

God put on a pretty nice fireworks show before the game, with lighting bolts filling the sky. Then St. Louis put on a fireworks show of their own in the first inning, scoring four times on Ian Snell.

But the ultimate fireworks came from the Buc bats as they thundered in the last five innings to pound out a 7-4 victory.

Snell started off as funky as the weather, walking a pair and allowing six of the first seven hitters to reach base. But after catching his breath, the will of the wisp righty settled in and threw five goose eggs at the Redbirds.

It wasn't pretty - Snell gave up 8 hits, walked four, beaned one and only had one K to show for his 113 pitches - but he left with the team tied after six.

He saved his best pitch for last, when with two on and two out in the sixth he threw a nasty full-count change up to Albert Pujols and got him to meekly pop to first. Damaso Marte and Matt Capps faced the minimum over the last three innings, Marte getting the W while Capps collected his sixth save.

The Pirates even brought their mitts tonight, playing flawlessly in the field (two games in a row without an error!) and picking up Marte, first with a great grab of a line shot by Xavier Nady in the seventh and then when Ryan Doumit caught a would-be base stealer in the eighth.

Pittsburgh got back in the game in the fourth, when Freddie Sanchez and Jason Bay singled and scored on a Doumit base knock and a Nady sacrifice fly to the track in center. They had the bases juiced with one out, but Brian Bixler and Snell struck out to kill a promising inning. No matter.

The Bucs tied it in the fifth when Sanchez scored ahead of a Bay homer that just made it into the first row of seats in the bleachers. Hey, no one ever said a home run had to go 500' to count; as long as the ball goes an inch higher and further than the wall, it'll do.

It stayed even until the eighth when the Bucco two-out black magic weaved its' spell. Jose Bautista singled home Doumit, and after a Bixler double, Doug Meintkiewicz, batting for Marte, singled to center to drive in the insurance runs.

Capps got three fly outs to close it, and the Bucs concluded another successful if unscheduled fireworks night at PNC.

On the Pirate front:
Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette wrote that the Pirates are last in attendance in MLB, drawing an average crowd of 14,766 before tonight's game. This evening's gate of 10,487 didn't help that number any - weather and product are keeping people home. Then there are those pesky Penguins, too...

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review dug out a scary fact. The Bucco D has only turned 66.2% of the balls put into play against them into outs. That's not just the worst record in MLB, but one of the worse fielding jobs of the past half century.

With Nady's performance last year and hot bat this year (he's now on an 11 game hitting roll), we'd hope there's some thought being given to keeping the 29-year old outfielder and focusing on moving the 28-year old LaRoche of the annual slow start and contractual impasse.

Both Nady and uberprospect Steve Pearce started at first and were pretty good gloves there. We'd guess they're looking to see if Nady can last an entire season without his twitchy leg acting up.

After losing seven games in a row when the opponent scored first, the Bucs have come on to win the last two nights after the bad guys had drawn first blood

The A's picked up outfielder Rajai Davis from the Giants. The G-Men had DFA'ed him. He's expected to be a bench player in Oakland. Maybe they'd like Matty Mo, too...?

The Cards brought a pair of ex-Bucs to town with them. 38-year old lefty Ron Villone, who was with the team back in 2002, is in the Redbird pen while Cesar Izturis, another curious Dave Littlefield pick up at the end of last season, is the StL starting shortstop, though he was out tonight with an elbow bruise.

On the Card front: Albert Pujols is on track to collect 154 walks this year, a Bond-esque number, as the league's pitchers continue to work around him with runners on. He wasn't walked tonight, although Snell did plunk him with a pitch.

Tony LaRusso continues to pencil his pitcher in the 8th spot of the lineup, using the Pony League concept of a double leadoff by batting a real hitter ninth. Tonight Aaron Miles, batting .295, was the nine hole hitter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

how sweet it is

Xavier Nady from Pittsburgh
photo by Brian Kersey AP

The Pirates rode a strong performance from Paul Maholm and some timely hitting to a 3-2 win over the Marlins and an merciful end to their ugly six game skid.

Maholm went 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and a run while striking out 6. He was yanked after throwing 94 pitches. Tyler Yates and Damaso Martes struggled to collect four outs until John Grabow and Matt Capps came on to ice the game.

The Bucs did all their damage in the sixth inning. Nate McLouth walked, and with one out, stole second. Well, he beat the throw in the eyes of everyone but second base ump Scott Barry, and he's the one that counts. Barry rung him up.

McLouth was popping up before Dan Uggla tagged him, and Uggla had the ball squirt out of his glove after the tag to add insult to injury. His batting streak also ended at 19 games this year, 20 overall, when he went 0-2 with a pair of free passes.

But with two away, Freddie Sanchez and Jason Bay lined singles into left. Ryan Doumit doubled Sanchez home with a soft liner that just ticked off of the mitt of a diving Josh Willingham.

Xavier Nady capped the inning by dropping a ball into left to plate a pair. Don't start counting yet, but Nady now has a 10-game hitting streak.

When the Pirates were winning, the two out hit was their calling card, and it came through again tonight. Nothing like a clutch hit and a clutch pitching performance to get the team headed back in the right direction.

And breaks do even out. The game would have been tied in the seventh when Hanley Ramirez appeared to beat Doug Mientkiewicz's throw to first on a soft roller with two down and a runner at third. But ump Mike Winters saw it differently.

Winters banged out Ramirez, and tossed frustrated Fish manager Freddi Gonzalez for good measure. Hey, whatta ya want, instant replay for safe/out calls, too?

On the Pirate front:
The three games prior to tonight ballooned the Buc's ERA to 5.93, a full run worse than the NL's next most battered staff, the Washington Nats (4.87). Pirate pitching had given up almost 12 hits per game with a WHIP of 1.70.

The Bucco sticks, though in the bottom third of MLB with a .242 batting average and .311 OBP, were in the middle of the pack in the stat that counts, runs scored. They had 85, about 4-1/2 runs per game, the same as the Yankees.

If 30-year old Fish CF Alfonso Amerzago seems vaguely familiar, it's because he was a Pirate for a cup of coffee in 2005. He appeared in 3 games here after being claimed off waivers from the Colorado Rockies.

The Bucs cut him in May, and after the season he moved on to Florida, where he's been a .260 hitter while getting some regular at bats in the Marlin's outfield rotation.

It's April, and the Pirates have already finished the season series with Florida. They ended up 2-3 against the Fish.

Penguin forwards Adam Hall and Jeff Taffe were on the field taking in BP before tonight's game, playoff beards in full bloom as they await the Rangers on Friday night.

On the draft front: The Saber scouts predict the Bucs will pick either power arm Aaron Crow of Missouri or five tool 3B Pedro Alvarez of Vanderbilt at the two spot.

Crow, a RH, has hit 98 on the radar. His only drawback is an unconventional release, and given the recent Pirate history of top picks going down with arm problems, that could raise a red flag to the scouts.

Crow's record is 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA, and he's struck out 79 batters in 64-2/3 innings. He also ripped off a 40 inning scoreless stretch earlier in the year.

Alvarez tore the cover off the ball last year, but missed the first half of this season with a broken hand. He's hitting .292 with 3 homers and 12 RBIs with 65 at bats. Alvarez hit .386 with 18 HRs and 68 RBIs in 2007, and had a 24 game hitting streak.

Besides the injury (which is 100% healed now), his biggest drawback is former Pirate brass' anathema, agent Steve Boras.

Monday, April 21, 2008

welcome home

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Matty Mo was beat down again. In four innings, he gave up 9 hits, including two that went yard, and 8 runs. And it took him 99 pitches to get that far. His ERA is now 9.15, opponents are batting .380 against him, and his record is 0-3.

But let's not lay all the blame at Morris' feet. The early Pirate performance has been a true team effort.

The starting pitchers not named Snell are usually gone by the fifth inning, and people are wondering about Gorzo's shoulder.

The tattered and overworked bullpen can count on Matt Capps and John Grabow to hold the fort, and after them John Russell has to cross his fingers and hope for a clean inning or two.

The offense consists of Nate McLouth (19 games and counting), Xavier Nady, and Doumit/Paulino. Three starters are hitting below the Mendoza line. The Bucs have committed 25 errors.

Pittsburgh is 6 games back already, although the Reds and Astros are piling up losses almost as quickly as the Pirates. That qualifies as the good news.

Tonight makes six losses in a row. Watching these Pirates in April is more painful than filling out tax forms. It's looking more and more like the only excitement in store for Buc fans is waiting to see what Nady, Bay, and Marte bring the team when they go.

On the Pirate front: After optimistic projections yesterday, the Pirate management is now saying that Jack Wilson will be out at least a week longer than hoped and won't be back until early May.

The Associated Press reported OF Nate McLouth was caught stealing for the fourth time this season (actually, it's in his big league career - he's 36 of 40 stealing bases in three years) against the Cubs on Sunday.

They noted that he has yet to be thrown out by a catcher. All McLouth's caught stealings were because of pick-offs.

Pittsburgh has lost its' last three games by 13-1, 13-6, and 10-4 tallies.

Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reported that last time the Pirates surrendered double-digit runs in three straight games was June 13-15, 1994, against Montreal - losses of 10-2, 12-7 and 13-2.
The losing pitchers were Denny Neagle, Zane Smith and Paul Wagner. Hey, records are meant to be broken.

On the minor league front: The independent Newark Bears signed 1B Randall Simon of sausage-swatting fame to a one-year contract. He joins ex-Bucs Bobby Hill and Ruben Mateo on the Jersey roster.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

i wanna go home...

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What can you say? The Chicago Cubs treat Pittsburgh like they're the Harlem Globetrotters and the Bucs are the Washington Generals. Even the team's body language screams "Here we go again." Enough about today.

Our Pirate starters have been plenty bad, with the exception of Ian Snell. There's a theory floated by Sabermatic bean counters that 30 extra innings pitched from one year to the next is a red flag for young pitchers.

Of course, there are competing theories that say you should increase the workload by 30 innings for the young guns to build their arms. Roll the dice and take yer chances.

We personally think that pitch count is the key, and more particularly that high counts in an inning are the real arm killers. But hey, we don't have pitching charts and if we did, we wouldn't dig through them. Everyone has a theory.

Actually, except for Gorzo and maybe Matt Morris, the starting pitching is pretty much as it was last year. Snell has a 4.07 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and averages 6 innings per start compared to 3.76, 1.33, and 6-1/3 innings in 2007. The thirty inning rule? It should have bit him last year, and instead he had a breakout season.

Zach Duke has improved a bit, but his bar wasn't set very high after last year's debacle. He's got a 4.37 ERA, 1.73 WHIP and 5-2/3 inning shelf life this year (although today's performance skewers those stats to Kingdom come.) Last year, it was 5.53 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, and 5-1/3 innings per start.

Though he's considered the poster child for the Sabermatic 30 inning rule after crashing last season, his workload in 2006 was 215 innings, and he worked 193 innings the season prior, both in the bigs and AAA. So no foul there.

Paul Maholm has a 5.28 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and lasts 5 innings per start so far in 2008, while in 2007 the numbers were 5.02 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 6 innings per game. So he's slacking off just a bit from last season.

Maholm has no issues with the 30 inning limit. He's pitched 161, 176, and 177 innings over the past three seasons, which is probably how you would plan it.

Gorzo has been horrible in April. His ERA is 9.35, his WHIP 2.13, and he goes just 4 innings an outing. Last year his ERA was 3.88, his WHIP 1.39, and he gave the team 6-1/3 good innings per start.

This is the year the 30 inning theory should grab him, as he went from 162 innings pitched in 2006 to 202 last year. Maybe it does hold water in his case.

Matty Mo? He's making 2007 look like a highlight film so far this year. He has a 7.02 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, and gives the team 5-1/3 innings when he hits the hill. Last year's Buc numbers were 6.10 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and 5-2/3 innings per outing. There are no 30 inning considerations for dinosaurs.

How about the bullpen, you ask? Well, it's not exactly been a shining beacon in the early going. Would Solly Torres and Shawn Chacon have helped? Maybe. Would they have made a difference? No.

No one has seven trustworthy arms to back up the starters, and John Russell has been forced to the well way too often and way too soon. He needs some 7 inning performances from his rotation, and that will make the pen 100% more effective.

18 games is admittedly a very small sample size to draw on. Whether you believe in talent, innings pitched, pitch counts, or a defense that puts out fires instead of starting them, the Bucs will go as far as their starters take them. And that's not very far in the first three weeks of the season.

On the Pirate front: If his recovery work goes as planned, Jack Wilson will make his return to Pittsburgh around the first of May.

Russell set next weekend as the projected time in which Wilson will be ready to join either Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis for what is expected to be 2-5 games, with a possible stop for some work with the GLC Pirates first.

John Mehno of the Beaver County Times says that the Evan Longoria signing will have no effect on the Pirates and their contract policies. He believes the suits will still avoid signing youngsters on potential alone and look for proven production before inking a player for the long run.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

aye carumba!

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Mama said there'd be days like this. "It's just one of those games where you get your butt kicked," John Russell told the Associated Press. What else would you say after a 13-1, well, butt-kicking?

Tom Gorzelanny, a suburban Chicago native, hopefully didn't leave too many tickets for his friends and family. He left after 2-2/3 innings, charged with 7 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks.

Tyler Yates walked four more batters, one with the bases loaded, and there were ten free passes in all for the Cubbie hitters (seven scored.) Chicago must have stolen a page from Pittsburgh's "patience at the plate" playbook.

The Bucs left more runners on than the Cubs, 9-8. But it was no biggie. Even if they all came in, Pittsburgh would have lost by a field goal anyway.

And the hitters have K'ed 10 times in back-to-back games at Wrigley. Rich Hill and Jason Marquis looked like the second coming of Koufax and Drysdale judging from Pittsburgh's performance against them.

We do like Brian Bixler getting a shot at short. He looks like his nerves in the field are settling down, and he even has a couple of hits. Bixler's batting .190, Luis Rivas .196. Let the kid play a bit without looking over his shoulder until Jack Splat gets back.

The only riveting story line is Nate McLouth, who doubled to keep his streak alive. Um, let's see...oh, Pittsburgh 's streak of errorless ball ended at one game, even with Rivas on the pine.

The Cubs have won eight straight from the Pirates dating back to September 9th. The Bucs are on a four game slide after showing signs of life against Cincy. It seems so long ago.

And here's another odd number from the start of the season that sounds more like a hockey stat than baseball: The Pirates are 7-3 when they score first; 0-7 when their opponent does. (Thanks to Jenifer Langosch of for discovering that tidbit.)

On the minor league front: The stats of the Big Three: Steve Pearce - .263 (4HR, 13 RBI), Andrew McCutcheon - .237 (4HR,
10 RBI, 14 RS), Neil Walker - .173 (2HR, 7 RBI).

A couple of other names of interest: Kevin Thompson - .313 (1HR, 3 RBI, 10 RS), Josh Wilson - .179 (2HR, 7 RBI, 7 RS), Craig Wilson - .162 (1HR, 5 RBI).

Dejan Kovacevic added this in today's Post Gazette notes: The Indianapolis defense, unlike that of the parent club, has committed only five errors through 17 games, making for the best fielding percentage in the International League. The Indians have allowed just one unearned run.

The Pirates have committed 22 errors with a fielding % of .969, the worst in the majors, and allowed 11 unearned runs. Hmmm...

The Giants signed 27 year old RHP Josh Sharpless to a AAA contract. He'll report to Fresno. Sharpless has all the tools, but he's never been able to throw strikes with any consistency.

The G-Men also DFA'ed 27 year old OF'er Rajai Davis, so we'll see where he lands. That means in effect that SF gave us Matt Morris. Go figure.

The Giants considered Davis a LF'er, not a CF'er as in Pittsburgh, and he lost the job to Fred Lewis. Davis was batting .056, Lewis .326. The Bay City Bombers hope he clears waivers and goes to Fresno, where he can get some at bats.

MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Astros have signed RHP Alay Soler to a one-year deal for $400K. Soler was originally inked by the Mets in 2004 after defecting from Cuba but didn't begin pitching in the U.S. until 2006 when he made eight starts for the Mets, going 2-3 with a 6.00 ERA.

He was released and signed by the Pirates last season. He made 14 appearances at AA Altoona before asking for and given his release. Soler was 1-1 with an ERA of 6.00 with the Curve, used both as a starter and out of the pen.

Friday, April 18, 2008

three in a row...

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Not much to say about today's game. The Bucs went down quietly to the Cubbies, 3-2, at Wrigley. Ian Snell gave the team 6 innings, and kept them in the game by pitching out of trouble all day.

The Cubs had him on the ropes in every inning but the fifth. He hung tough and worked his way out of the jams, except for the backbreaking fourth frame.

A triple, single, double and infield hit (generously scored; Luis Rivas double pumped the throw - and yes, it did cost Pittsburgh a run eventually) to start the inning led to three runs, and that was enough for the Chicago pitching to carry the day.

Only a couple things worth noting - Nate McLouth homered in the eighth, and his streak is now 16 games. What a start for a guy the management challenged in the spring.

And the Bucs had their first errorless game, although Rivas' miscue could have easily been ruled one. Why is John Russell batting him second? He's hitting (.200) about as well as he's fielding. Hmmm...we wonder if Abraham Nunez is still available?

On the Pirate history front: The Bucs have a long history of color blindness in signing their players.

The Pirate's toyed with signing Homestead Gray's catching legend Josh Gibson before Jackie Robinson broke the color line. (according to local folklore, Commissioner Kenshaw Landis wouldn't approve the contract, and Gibson died of a broken heart because he couldn't get a shot at the show.)

Danny Murtaugh put the first all-black line-up in MLB history on the field in 1971. The team to a man wore number #42 in LA a few days ago to commemorate Jackie Robinson. But do you know who the first black Bucco player was?

Second baseman Curt Roberts became the first African American to play for the Pirates in 1954, seven years after Jackie Robinson arrived on the scene, when he took the field on opening day.

He was a slick fielder, but couldn't hit worth a lick. He played three seasons here and batted .223 for his career. After the 1956 season, he was traded to the KC Athletics, and the next season to the Yankees, but never got out of the minors for either.

Not that he had anything to be embarrassed about. KC's second sacker was Billy Martin and the Bronx Bombers had Bobby Richardson. And he lost the second base job in Pittsburgh to a pretty good looking rookie named Bill Mazeroski.

an off day...


The Buc's were off, and we're joining them. Today's blog will take a spin around the real media to see what's up with Pittsburgh.

First, Dejan Kovacevic at the Post Gazette takes a look at the early season woes of third baseman Jose Bautista:
Pirate Hot Corner Ice Cold

The Tribune Review's Rob Biertempfel examines the Buc's always curious financial situation:
Profitable Pirates To Pay Down Huge Debt

The Trib also has Keith Barnes explanation of what it takes for Damaso Marte to succeed - he just has to fuhgetaboutit!
Pirate's Marte Clears His Mind

Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors touches on the Matty Mo story: Matt Morris Tough To Move's Jenifer Langosch likes the Pirate's boatload of lefthanded pitching:
Buc Lefties Display Quality, Quantity

Ol' Bucco Josh Fogg may be on the ropes with the Reds, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Fogg's Future Cloudier

Thursday, April 17, 2008

and the award for the best comedy...

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Ah, there's something about that big ol' HOLLYWOOD sign in La-La land that brings out the show biz hambone in the Bucs. Tuesday they looked liked Bela Lugosi. Last night they did their best Bad News Bears imitation.

We'll spare you most of the gory details of the 8-1 whupping, but we have to share the first inning. It was Mack Sennett at its' most hilarious.

It started off when Adam LaRoche fielded a bunt and tried to shovel the ball to Paul Maholm. It dropped harmlessly to the ground, and there's no telling if it would have got Rafael Furcal anyway.

Then Maholm's foot got in the way of a double play ball, and it ricocheted into right. Following a conventional single, the next Dodger rolled another DP ball to second. But inexplicably, Freddie Sanchez was darting behind second base, playing with the runner.

Xavier Nady came up on the ball, fired it in to Brian Bixler, and the Pirates had Matt Kemp hung out to dry between second and third after he took an ill advised wide turn. Jose Bautista got the relay, went to tag him, and Kemp dropped to the ground, backwards.

Admiring his move, Bautista failed to lay a glove him. Kemp dusted himself off, raced to the bag, and there were now runners on second and third. That was the only physical error charged in the inning, as the NL fortunately doesn't count mental miscues.

That was followed by a wild pitch and a bunt single that worked when Maholm got to first base late. And hey, it's 4-0 with one legit hit and that's all she wrote for Pittsburgh.

Other highlights? Nady was easily thrown out at home plate to end the second inning trying to score from second base on catcher Ronny Paulino's single with the Pirates already trailing 4-0 and third base coach Tony Beasley giving him the stop sign.

In the third, Maholm turned to throw to first base in an attempted pickoff of Nomar Garciaparra, but first baseman LaRoche was already charging in, expecting a bunt from pitcher Brad Penny. Maholm was charged with a balk. The laughs never stopped.

The Pittsburgh pitchers are doing a pretty poor job of holding runners and fielding their position, and that's hurt the team's D just as much as Luis Rivas, Bautista, and the gang. Pitcher, short and third have committed 16 of the team's 21 errors.

Nate McLouth keeps chugging along. His streak is now at 15 games, and he's got Al Oliver lined up next. Scoops hit safely in his first 18 games in 1972.

The Pittsburgh Baseball Club has the day off. The fans may need it more than they do.

On the minor league front: Early though it may be, the Buc's that aren't holding their own in the pen - yah, we mean you, Evan Meek and Phil Dumatrait - might have to watch their backs. We know it would take a lot, as the Bucs would most likely lose either one if they were sent down.

But there are five pitchers in Indy that have a WHIP (walks + hits per inning; a measure of how many runners allowed on base) of under 1.00 - John Van Benschoten, Marino Salas, Sean Burnett (in fact, he's given up more walks than hits and is still under 1!), Jesse Chavez, and Jonah Bayliss.

Their ERA's range from Van Benschoten's 2.92 to Salas and Bayliss, both at a perfect 0.00.

It might not mean that much in April, but if they get into May and still have those numbers, and the Bucs that are in the bigs still have theirs...well, it could get interesting.

On the college front:
Pitt beat Duquesne 17-6 at PNC to claim the City Game bragging rights for this year (they won an earlier match 9-8 at Pitt's Trees Field.) The Dukes did their best to play like the Pirates, committing five errors.

Don't cry for them. They're 15-17 overall, but in first place in the Atlantic Ten by a game with a 10-2 conference record with the heart of their schedule coming up. Pitt is 11-21, and the young team is 11th in the Big East with a 3-9 slate.

Pitt fireballer David Kaye (1-1), from Riverview High, held Duquesne to one hit over the final 41/3 innings to notch the win. The freshman was was drafted in the 30th round by the Toronto Blue Jays after high school and has a chance to be a good one for the Panthers.

Old Bucco skipper Jim Tracy and his wife Debra were in the stands. No, they're not a new scouting duo. They came to watch their son Mark, who transferred from Pepperdine to the Dukes, play ball. He's an outfielder hitting .277 for the Bluff nine.

College baseball will have some odd scores this year, particularly the colder weather schools. To help them get as many games in during the year as their southern counterparts do, the season was shortened by the NCAA.

Conference games are usually weekend twin bills with exhibitions on weekdays and little time off. And everyone saves their aces for their league. So there are some wild games Monday through Friday as the young and second string arms do their thing.

And a tip of the cap to the managers, Joe Jordano of Pitt and Mike Wilson of the Dukes. Their teams are always fundamentally sound, play hard and compete well, especially in conference.

That's not an easy thing to accomplish in these chilly, damp climes when you're going up against the Florida teams for baseball talent. Sun, sand, and surf are in short supply in Pittsburgh, along with dry fields.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

back to earth with a thud

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Watching a game that Matt Morris starts is kinda like watching one of the Alamo movies. You know the good guys are gonna hang around for a little bit, but it always ends up the same. The troops eventually get overwhelmed.

It's a mystery of sorts how he can nibble away and keep his stuff down for three or four innings, and then suddenly everything he throws comes in at the belt with the usual disastrous results. Worse yet, when it happens, he looks like he's fighting himself, not a good sign from a guy signed to be a veteran leader.

Morris doesn't have much room at all for error, and when he makes a mistake, you can bet a slew more will follow. He's become the team's stopper, but in the wrong sense.

That was the plot line of last night's game. He was a batter away from getting through the fifth with the team still in it, down only 3-1. But Morris couldn't get that third out, and by the time he and Phil Dumatrait were done throwing some gasoline on the fire, it was 8-1 just like that.

Evan Meek couldn't build on his last good outing, and by the time the smoke cleared, it was the Pirates that were smoked, 11-2.

There were a couple of positives to take from the game. Nate McLouth pounded out two more hits, and his batting streak is now 14 games. The back end of the bullpen got a well deserved evening to kick back and save their arms for another day.

Jose Bautista couldn't get a ball out of his mitt, allowing a runner to reach base and giving the Bucs their majors-leading twentieth error of the season. We're number one! And that's about it.

Paul Maholm will match up against Brad Penny tonight, for those hardy enough to stay glued to the radio after the Penguin game.

On the Pirate front: Chris Duffy's shoulder isn't coming around, and he got a cortisone shot today to see if that will loosen it up. Recent pain during his long-toss rehab sent him back to his surgeon, Dr. Lewis Yocum, who gave him the shot. If that doesn't work, then he's getting an MRI next, according to the team.

McLouth's 14 game streak is the hottest start a Buc has had in over 30 years. The last Pirate to open a season with hits in 14 consecutive games was Pops Stargell in 1976.

BTW, the longest modern day hitting streak by a Pirate is 26 games, by Kenny Lofton in 2003 and Danny O'Connell in 1953. The longest ever is 27 games, rung up by Jimmy Williams in 1899.

And the reward hitting coach Don Long earned for getting McLouth up to speed? When he doubled in the eighth, his bat splintered, most of it flying into the Buc bench. Long caught a faceful of wood, and ended up with ten stitches in his cheek.

On the MLB front:
Many players in the league wore #42 yesterday to celebrate the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line in baseball on April 15th, 1947.

Los Angeles starter Hong-Chih Kuo had a weird streak himself last night. After walking three batters in a row, he came back and struck out the next five. He figured it out pretty quick - taking notes, Matt?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ya had to see it to believe it...

jose bautista
Jose Bautista from Pittsburgh

Nate McLouth was in a position battle with Nyjer Morgan? Puh-lease! The player Jack Wilson nicknamed "Mighty Mouse" kept his 13-game hitting streak alive in dramatic fashion last night.

McLouth lined a three run, two-out, game winning homer into the right center field seats at Dodger Stadium to stun Takashi Saito and the Blue Crew 6-4. He laid off a first pitch curveball and then turned on a heater that Saito left on the inside half of the plate to give the Bucs their fourth consecutive win.

A batter before, the flu-ridden Adam LaRoche stroked a pinch hit single up the middle to keep the inning alive. Brian Bixler was already on base, running for Jose Bautista whose one out hit started the ball rollin' in LA. He was the first runner to reach safely against Saito this young season.

(And congratulations to Bautista - his brilliant around the horn doubleplay on Sunday against the Reds was the ESPN webgem of the night. Not very often does a Pirate make an appearance on that feature. The last guy we recall getting big time webgem love was Turner Ward running through the wall at TRS.)

Bautista also had a two run shot in the second, staking the Pirates and Zach Duke to an early 2-0 lead. Like McLouth's, it was with two outs. Pittsburgh's last four homers have come with 2 away and accounted for 10 of the 15 runs scored in the past pair of games. Earl Weaver would love coaching this team!

Still, the Bucs are no where near hitting on all cylinders. The rotation has to get them deeper into games. John Russell has done a nice job with the bullpen, but they need a day or two off sooner rather than later. Part of the trust he's been showing the starters - and he's left a couple hung out to dry - is because he needs to rest his finishers.

Duke was an example of that last night. He didn't get the greatest support - Xavier Nady misjudged a ball that fell in for a triple and eventually a run, and another score was tacked on thanks to an infield single, balk, passed ball, and routine grounder.

But he didn't have a lot, either. Like Gorzo last night, he had no heat to speak of, and relied almost entirely on off-speed stuff. Duke didn't have a punchout, and even Vin Scully chimed in about that. He was right. It is tough to win in the majors if you can't throw the ball past anyone.

When he got his pitches up in the sixth, Russell kept him in, and probably didn't have much choice in the matter. He can't get 4 innings out of the pen every night, and the starters are going to have to work through it. Hopefully, those innings won't catch up to the staff down the road.

John Grabow, Tyler Yates, and Matt Capps finished another game. The Pirate pen has made 47 appearances totaling 53 innings in 13 games, and that's a load. It averages out to 4-5 pitchers per game, and no one's that deep.

One other problem that may be on the horizon is the team's lack of depth. The bench is good enough to give a starter a blow, but there are no replacement players on the pine. In Wilson's absence, the Rivas/Bixler shortstop combo is hitting .236 with 6 errors in 10 games, certainly not up to Jack Splat standards.

And we're a little curious why they continue to use long-time 2B Luis Rivas at shortstop and long-time SS Chris Gomez at second base. It seems like a bit of twisted logic to us.

Freddie Sanchez' arm continues to be a concern, though he won't come out of the lineup without a fight. But eventually he's going to have to get his wing fixed, and whether that takes rest, surgery, or whatever, it probably won't be pretty for the team to deal with. Pittsburgh may face long spells without its' two middle infielders together or at least playing at 100%.

The team, as we've said, is competitive if it stays healthy and gets some starting pitching. That they've hung around .500 without either happening is a credit to the players and staff. We wouldn't count on it happening forever.

On the Pirate front: Kevin McClatchy, the Buc's CEO up until October, a key ownership figure when the team was bought in 1996, and the dude that nursed and nudged PNC Park to completion, was named as an inductee to the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He'll be honored with ten other sportsmen on May 3rd at the Warrendale Sheraton Four Points Hotel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

remaking the bucs


While the Bucs are taking BP and we're watching the Penguins win again, we thought we'd take a look at the reshuffling of the Pirate organization so far.

Here's the names, ages, and positions of the players the Pirates added to the roster, particularly in AAA Indy and AA Altoona as the new suits try to rebuild the upper level farm system.

There were a handful of guys we couldn't track. If you know where they ended up give us a yell at The Green Weenie.

Major League Roster:

Phil Dumatrait (26) LHP
Chris Gomez (36) IF
Evan Meek (24) RHP
Doug Mientkowicz (33) IF
Luis Rivas (29) IF
Tyler Yates (31) RHP

40 Man Roster:

Jimmy Barthmaier (24) RHP - Altoona
Ty Taubenheim (25) RHP - Indy
Kevin Thompson (28) OF - Indy

Minor League Roster:

T.J. Beam (27) RHP - Indy
Adam Bernaro (31) RHP - minor league camp
Mike Burns (30) RHP -
Raul Chavez (34) C - Indy
Jorge Cortes (27) OF - Indy
Luis Cruz (23) SS - Altoona
Jason Davis – (27) RHP - Indy
Melvin Dorta (26) SS - Altoona
Emilis Guerraro (22) RHP - Hickory
Corey Hamman (28) LHP - Altoona
Michel Hernadez (29) C - Indy
Josh Hill (24) RHP - Altoona
Miguel Perez (24) C - Altoona
Kevin Roberts (23) RHP - Altoona
Marino Salas (26) RHP - Indy
Gabriel Suarez (23) SS -
Mike Thompson (27) RHP - Indy
Anthony Webster (25) OF - Altoona
Craig Wilson (31) 1B/OF - Indy
Josh Wilson (26) IF - Indy


Kim Byung-Hyun (29) RHP - released; free agent
Hector Carrasco (39) RHP - released; free agent
Elmer Dessens (37) RHP - released, free agent
Casey Fossum (30) LHP - released; signed with Detroit, sent to AAA Toledo
Jose Macias (34) OF/IF – released, free agent
Mauricio Mendez (22) RHP – released; minor league Rule 5 pick
Ray Olmedo (26) SS - DFA, claimed by Phils, now free agent
Steven Suarez (25) C - 2 years Pioneer League, out in 2007
Jorge Velandia (33) SS – released, signed minor league deal with Toronto
Jaret Wright (32) RHP - released; free agent

Sunday, April 13, 2008

break out the broom *yay*

jason bay
Jason Bay from All Posters

On the face of it, the Pirates 9-1 win over the Reds this afternoon should qualify as a laugher. But in reality, it was anything but a blowout. The game pivoted on the 6th and 7th innings.

The Bucs were holding a 2-0 lead in a pretty well pitched and played game, thanks to a second inning Ryan Doumit long ball and Luis Rivas two-out double in the third. Then Ryan Freel opened the sixth by reaching on Brian Bixler's throwing error. Why can't Pittsburgh get one stinkin' clean game from short?

After a sacrifice and ground out, Tom Gorzelanny still looked to be in complete control, cruising along on a three hitter, even without a fastball. But Brandon Phillips and Jeff Keppinger both walked on full counts. Edwin Encarnacion came up with the bases juiced, and a hit would make an entirely new ball game out of it.

John Russell, who has shown a great deal of trust in his pitching staff so far (not that he has much choice, given the innings his bullpen have thrown already), elected to let the struggling Gorzo work out of it.

And he did, getting Encarcion on a grounder to Rivas, playing at second today (and he looks much more comfortable there than at short.) Unlike the past couple of skippers, Russell will never be accused of being Captain Hook, and we think his pitchers will respond to that trust. Either that or their arms will fall off.

The Pirates sure took notice and responded in their half of the inning. Nate McLouth led off with a double to left. An out later, Jason Bay legged out an infield hit, and Doumit brought in McLouth with a fly to right. With two away, Xavier Nady blasted his 4th homer, and the game had gotten away from the Reds.

They tried to come back in the seventh. A one out triple and a walk brought Frankie Osaria into the game. He promptly served up a run scoring single, and was looking at two on, one out, with Cory Patterson and Ken Griffey Jr. on deck, licking their chops. He got them both on come-backers, and the Reds had blown their last opportunity to make a run at winning this game.

Two infield singles and a walk led to another Buc marker in their half of the seventh. Then with two away, Bay launched his third dinger of the season, all in the past four days, and the final nail was driven into Cincinnati's coffin.

In those two innings, the Reds stranded five runners. The Pirates plated five runs with two outs. That kind of clutch performance by the pitchers and the batters will turn any game into a laugher.

On the Pirate front: Pittsburgh is back at .500 with a 6-6 mark thanks to the sweep of the Reds (it's so much more enjoyable being the broom instead of the dust!) The Bucs are three behind the Cards, and more importantly, aren't letting the division leaders get too far out of sight.

As to be expected, the Pirates are dropping a bit in the runs side of the NL and gaining ground on the pitching list. They're 6th in runs scored with 54, although only 9th in average, hitting .252. Being 4th in walks, with 46, is helping the cause.

The pitching was the worst in MLB a week ago, but is on the upswing. The Pirates are 13th in the NL in ERA at 4.71 and 14th in runs yielded at 64. You can take those stats a couple of ways - as bad as it is, last year the team ERA was 4.93. Yah, we try to forget, too.

After the Atlanta series threw the staff into a abyss, they're slowly clawing their way back to respectability. Maybe if the Bucs didn't lead the majors in errors, the ascent would be a bit more noticeable.

A not so pleasant thought - Jack Wilson is still hobbling and may need more time to come back than originally thought. Freddie Sanchez' arm is still a big issue, too. We're taking a guess, but it seems likely that once Wilson gets back from the DL, there's a fair chance Sanchez may go on it.

And what were the MLB schedule makers thinking? The Bucs will make 3 trips to the West Coast this year, all solo series. Pittsburgh goes to LA (4/14-16) next, and they don't visit the G-Men (9/3-7) and Padres (9/26-28) until September. San Diego is the Bucs last series of the year, in fact.

On the MLB front:
A construction worker told the papers that he buried a Red Sox jersey in concrete while working on the new Yankee Stadium, hoping to put a curse on the Bronx Bombers. The Yank brass laughed it off and denied it all.

But after talking to a couple of other hard hats, they broke out the jackhammers and 5 hours of digging later, they unearthed a David Ortiz jersey. The curse has been exorcised from the Stadium, but a new one may be at hand for the talkative cement worker. The Yankees are considering suing him.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

red alert!

nate mclouth
Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh

Fundamentals, fundamentals - it's the song we've been singing all season. And tonight the Pirates were far from perfect, but did enough things the right way to whip the Reds again, 4-3.

First, Ian Snell got the game into the seventh even though he was struggling throughout. Then Damaso Marte, Tyler Yates, John Grabow and Matt Capps brought it home. Snell got the win, Capps the save, and the rest of the gang got holds.

In the first, the Pirates kept the Reds off the board when Xavier Nady threw out Cory Patterson, trying to score on a fly ball. The much maligned Ronny Paulino made the tag, both catching and hanging on to the ball while blocking the dish.

The Bucs drew first blood in the second when Joey Votto let a ball get under him and into right. It put Pirates on 2nd & 3rd, and Paulino scored them with a shot to the opposite field. He hit behind the runners and they both came in. Sweet. 2-0, good guys.

The Reds tied it in the fifth, but the Pirates came right back in their half of the inning when Nady drilled a two out single to plate Nate McLouth. 3-2, Bucs.

Cincy rallied to tie it in the sixth. Then the Pirates wrestled the lead back in their half of the inning with some classic small ball.

Brian Bixler got his first MLB hit - fittingly, it bounced off a diving Brandon Phillip's glove for an infield single - and was bunted to second by Snell. McLouth scored him with another two out single. 4-3, Pittsburgh.

The Reds loaded the bases in the seventh with one out. Marte struck out Adam Dunn, and Yates came in to nail Edwin Encarcion on a fly to left. In the eighth, Cincy had two on with one out. Grabow got Patterson on a fielder's choice and Jeff Keppinger on a fly to center.

The ball was hit between Jason Bay and McLouth, and visions of another mash up like in Atlanta briefly flashed before our eyes. But *whew* that lesson was learned. It was a routine play tonight.

The ninth didn't start out much better. Ken Griffey Jr. (who made a couple of nice plays in right and had a pair of hits) led off with a broken bat single into right, and the speedy Ryan Freel came in to run for him.

But Capps got Phillips to roll one to Freddie Sanchez, and Bixler made a nice turn on a high feed to complete the double play. Another hopper to second base, and it was all over.

Once again, Cincinnati did everything but win the game. They stranded 11 more runners and committed three errors. But hey, it's two in a row. Let's enjoy the streak.

On the random thought front: After reading about the eye doc who warned the Penguins that their goalie, Marc Andre Fleury, was giving NHL shooters a great target by wearing bright yellow pads, we saw Ronny Paulino's catching gear in a different light.

Hmmmm...bright yellow highlights on the knees and mid chest protector. A nice little triangular target for our strike-challenged staff, perhaps...? Every little bit helps, even it is just some serendipity caused by the team colors.

We'd really be impressed if someone in the organization actually planned it that way. Maybe Ryan Doumit would like a set of the garish gear, too.

Kent Tekulve, FSN analyst, said recently that he doesn't consider Pirate errors to be a weakness in fundamentals, but just part of the game. We agree, but only to a point.

Making the routine play, to us, is a keystone of fundamentally strong baseball. And to the Bucs credit, they still work on pre-game fielding drills just as if they're back at Pirate City.

On the MLB front:
Nice to see Mike Lincoln back in the bigs. He was a rising star for the Pirates in 2002, appearing in 55 games with an ERA of 3.11. Then, while in Pirate City during 2003 camp, he stepped on a golf ball while doing his outfield running (there was a nearby golf complex) and fell, bruising his shoulder.

Lincoln, a righty, was never the same (in fact, he went on the 60 day DL after his tumble), and after moving on to the Cards in 2004, he had Tommy John surgery for an unrelated elbow injury - twice! The hard throwing 33 year old is just now returning to the majors with the Reds after a four year sabbatical from the game.

And you may remember Cincy SS Jeff Keppinger. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round in 2001. He was shipped to the Mets with Kris Benson in 2004 for Jose Bautista, Ty Wiggington, and Matt Peterson. The Mets in turn traded him to KC for Ruben Gotay in 2006, and he landed with the Reds last year.

The 28 year old infielder has hit .309 over four seasons in the show, and is hoping to lock up the Red's SS job this year.

The Reds are wearing "Nuxy" patches to commemorate their long time broadcaster, Joe Nuxhall, who died of cancer in November.

He was the youngest player ever to appear in a modern era MLB game when he pitched as a 15 year old high school sophomore in 1944 for Cincinnati, back when the rosters were decimated by the Second World War.

(Fred Chapman was the youngest pro baseball player. He pitched five innings at the age of 14 on July 22, 1887 for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association. It was his only appearance in the majors. Chapman was born in Little Cooley, Pennsylvania, in nearby Crawford County.)

Nuxhall returned to Hamilton (OH) High and graduated. He then went through the regular minor league drill and ended up pitching 15 years with the Reds, winning 130 games for them and earning the moniker "The Ol' Lefthander," part of his broadcast sign-off.

Friday, April 11, 2008

joy in mudville

paul maholm
Paul Maholm from Pittsburgh

Paul Maholm - thank God the Bucs didn't use him when he was in the bullpen yesterday - carried the Pirates into the sixth, and John Grabow, Damaso Marte and Matt Capps did the rest, going the last 3-2/3 innings yielding one hit and bringing home the win, 1-0.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty, but for once the Pirates made the pitches when they counted. Pittsburgh started off on a bad note when Maholm botched the first ball of the night, and an inning later Luis Rivas let a throw get through him, too.

But Maholm, who had 12 ground outs in 5-1/3 innings, induced a double play after each error, finally picking up the team instead of folding the Bucco tent. The Reds twice loaded the bases and ended up stranding a dozen, but the Pirate pitchers wouldn't give in.

He scattered 6 hits, walked a couple and beaned one to go with the two miscues, but danced through the raindrops, both literally and figuratively. Maholm didn't get the win - he was yanked after an hour plus rain delay - but hung tough and handed the ball to the terrible trio who nailed down the victory. Grabow got the W, Marte a hold, and Capps notched his 2nd save.

The game's only run came on a sixth inning blast (it went 435') by Jason Bay, who really used those two days off to jumpstart his season. We may have to eat our words about him being a bad fit for the three hole. After an abysmal start, his average is up to .281 with a pair of homers.

Xavier Nady finally got an evening off, pinch hitting in the eighth inning. The X Man had played every inning until tonight for the Bucs. His replacement, Nyjer Morgan, made a leaping catch after a long run to end the game, barely avoiding a head on collision with RF Nate McLouth.

In true CF'er fashion, they both went after the shot by Ken Griffey Jr. into right center aggressively, and McLouth *whew* let the center fielder take it, even though he called it first. Maybe some of the fundamentals are beginning to sink in at long last (or self preservation; both work for us.)

Morgan is still very unpolished - besides running off McLouth, he threw a ball to God only knows in the third inning, a moon shot that landed somewhere in short left field, and got caught stealing when he overslid the bag. We still think he's trade bait, much like Rajai Davis, for a team in love with speed.

McLouth made a sweet grab in the sixth inning, saving the Pirates two runs. Now if the infield will only get with the program...

One glaring and costly weakness that needs addressed is the infield's glovework. The Pirates lead the majors in errors with 16, all made within 90' of home plate. The pitchers have committed 5 of them, Rivas has missed 4 chances, and Jose Bautista has misplayed 3 balls. That's 75% of the miscues. Giving up those extra couple of outs every game doesn't work.

24 year old Edison Volquez looked sharp again for Cincy, giving up just three hits in his 5 innings of work, lowering his early ERA to 0.87. Like Maholm, he left early because of the rain storm, throwing just 75 pitches and getting a bushel load of ground outs. He's got a rep as a power arm, although he didn't show it last night.

But it was the Buc's night, and it was nice to see the Jolly Roger get hoisted for the first time this year at PNC. Finally.

On the MLB front: Nelson Figueroa, who pitched a bit for the Bucs in 2003-04, won his first game since 2003 after a four year layoff from the bigs when the Mets beat the Brew Crew 4-2 tonight.
He's a real feel good story this season, only making the team after Pedro Martinez went down. He had surgery in 2004 and has floated around the continent playing ball since, looking to land another shot in the show.

Figueroa took a perfect game into the fifth inning, ultimately allowing two runs over six innings. The 33 year old Brooklyn native had a 7-17 record with a 4.68 ERA in his six year career until being called up by his home town Mets, the team that originally drafted him in 1995.

Also, we took a peek at the SF Giants to see how Jose Castillo and Rajai Davis were doing for the G-Men. Castillo has started every game at 3rd, batting .268. He leads the team in at bats so far, with 41. Six of his 11 hits have been doubles, and he has committed 3 errors, the same as Bautista.

Davis is a bench player, carrying Aaron Rowland & Randy Winn's water in center field. He's only gotten 11 AB's in 6 games, and managed one hit for a .091 average. But Davis is 3-3 in the base stealing department.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

break out the brooms *sigh*

piarte logo 1997

OK, it's time for the Green Weenie to dust off one of its' favorite theories. Baseball teams, no matter how awesome, will lose about 1/3 of their games. Baseball teams, no matter how pathetic, will win about 1/3 of their games. The difference between the playoffs and the number one pick in the amateur draft are those 55-65 games that are up for grabs.

And that's where Pittsburgh is hurting right now. They lost tonight because of a five spot the Cubs rang up in the sixth inning. Matt Morris walked his only batter of the night. He scored. A Cub is thrown out at third and Jose Bautista dropped the throw. He scored, and prolonged the inning.

John Russell brought the infield in, and Brian Bixler let a hard hit one hopper get under him. Cubby Reed Johnson not only got an undeserved RBI, but he scored when they hit another home run. Chicago got five outs and scored five runs. Ballgame over.

Call on the bullpen again? Russell opted to give it another day off, even putting Paul Maholm on duty. Sweet Lou Pinella, on the other hand, brought in Jon Leiber in the fourth, who won his second consecutive game against his old team. Manager's decision, and one we won't quibble with. His guys have worked a lot so far.

Teams win those coin toss games by making the key play, throwing the right pitch, or getting the clutch hit. In other words, they play fundamental baseball. Teams lose by doing the opposite, and that's where Pittsburgh is at now.

It's not all negative, though we have been hard on the Pirates. Their eight regular position starters are competitive, especially now that Bay and LaRoche are making some contact. The sorest spot in the everyday lineup is Jose Bautista, who so far shows no signs of going to the next level with his play.

The starting pitching has a track record, albeit not one proven over time, and should straighten out. The bullpen, except for a shaky start at Atlanta, has been better than advertised.

Even Evan Meek got through two innings tonight. Alphonso Soriano apparently didn't read the book on him, went fishing, and struck out. It was like a load dropped off of Meek's shoulders. After that, he kept the pitches down, and suddenly the radar was registering 93-94 MPH instead of 89. The gun even clocked one pitch at 97 MPH when he punched out Derrick Lee.

But the one place the Pirates have no depth has come back to bite it. Our middle infield is bereft after Wilson and Sanchez. Sanchez still isn't throwing crisply, and Jack Wilson on the DL has become a disaster. Shortstop play has been terrible in his absence. Luis Rivas couldn't catch a ball in the spring and still can't.

Bixler hasn't shown anything here, either, although he can be given the benefit of the doubt because of his inexperience. But the stars better get out of his eyes soon. He looks skittish at the plate and in the field. It's obvious why the Bucs wouldn't pull the trigger on a Wilson deal; they couldn't. There's no one else in the system.

Our bench is built for a spot start, not the long term. Those players are at Indianapolis. And none of them are ready to play up the middle at the level of Wilson or Sanchez yet, if ever.

Another ten days and he'll be back. Wilson said on TV that if everything is on schedule, he'll go to Indy after the LA series and get a couple of rehab games under his belt. Let's hope the Pirate's can stay within hailing distance until then, and keep the rest of the club out of the tub.

On the MLB front: The Indians and Fausto Carmona announced on Thursday that they have agreed to a four-year, $15 million pact, through 2011. The deal includes individual club options for 2012, '13 and '14. If the contract maxes out, Carmona will make $43 million, with the potential to make another $5 million in escalators and bonuses.

Not a bad deal for a guy who just reached two years of big league service time this past week. In 2007, he went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 32 starts. The 24-year-old Carmona would have been under the Indians' contractual control through 2012, new contract or not.

As was the case with the Grady Sizemore deal of 2006, the club decided to keep its' core in place and have some cost certainty down the road. We wonder if this kinda move is gonna be in the Pirate playbook?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

a broken record...

piarte logo 1997

If Pittsburgh only practiced what its' coaches and management preached - fundamental baseball - there's no telling what its' record would be today.

The good news - Bay and LaRoche homered, the Bucs battled from behind twice, Zach Duke was strong and got the Pirates to the eighth, and the bullpen notched seven more strong innings. But Phil Dumatrait was the goat tonight, giving up four runs in his three innings.

Two of them were compliments of an Aramis Ramirez homer. Remember him? We wonder where Bobby Hill is now (Actually, we don't. But if you're curious, the 30 year old is playing for the Newark Bears in the independent Atlantic League along with former Buc and MLB outfielder Ruben Mateo.)

But its' what the Pirates don't do that mark this young season. The runs in the 15th were set up by a wild pitch (two outs, first and second, wild pitch advances them, intentional walk, single, goodnight. Sound familiar?)

The eighth inning is the Pirate's 2008 storyline. Two outs, runner on second, and Frankie Osaria pitching. He gets a hard grounder smashed up the line to LaRoche. LaRoche gloves it nicely and tosses a strike to first, a play that must have been practiced a hundred times in camp.

Osaria missed the throw; it ricocheted off the end of his glove. He didn't just drop it; he swatted it far enough along for the runner to come around and score.

So the Bucs came to bat down 2-0. The first two batters reached base. Luis Rivas got the call to pinch hit for pitcher Damaso Marte. He squared around to lay down a bunt, but instead popped the ball in the air, and goodbye big inning - it's caught and turned into a double play. The next hitter, Nate McLouth, doubled in a run, but the Buc's golden opportunity was by the wayside.

Please remind me again why the Pirates cut Ray Olmedo instead of Rivas. He had trouble at short in Pirate City, and hasn't gotten any better.

Another night, another self-inflicted loss. It's the same old song so far this season.

On the minor league front: The Tigers signed left-hander Casey Fossum, who will report to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens. He was a Pirate cast-off in camp, and opted for free agency rather than an assignment to Indy. We guess the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

a little of this, a little of that...

craig wilson
Craig Wilson from Pittsburgh
(Gene Puskar, AP, photo credit)

The Bucs have been busy the past couple of days:

On the player front: Craig Wilson is back. The Pirates signed the 31 year old 1B/OF to a one-year, minor-league contract with Class AAA Indianapolis yesterday. If he makes it back to the show, Wilson gets $500,000 in salary with another $500,000 on the table, depending on the number of at bats he gets.

He'll play first at Indy, which was trying to get by with Adam Boeze when Steve Pearce was plopped in the outfield. Wilson gives them an insurance policy there. He's far from a prospect, but the Bucs are betting that he's still a major league role player.

His long, strange journey started when was traded by the Pirates to the Yankees in July 2006 for Shawn Chacon. They released him after the season, just as Pittsburgh did to Chacon after 2007. So we won on that deal - two years of Chacon and Wilson returns. It may be Littlefield's best trade, hehe.

In 2007, after flopping with the Atlanta Braves, Wilson had a 'scope done on his arthritic right shoulder in June. A month later, he signed with the White Sox and batted .180 in a short stint at its' AAA affiliate, Charlotte.

He signed a minor-league contract with Cincinnati this year, but the Reds cut him on the opening day of spring training after Wilson failed his physical. Now he's almost back full circle. Talks to bring Wilson back have been going on since March, and the Pirate brass finally got him to sign for what they consider to be value.

For his career, Wilson is batting .262 with 99 HR's and 292 RBI's in seven seasons.

The Pirate's also re-signed 29 year old LH reliever Juan Perez to a minor-league contract after releasing him in spring training. He has a torn ligament in his elbow and may or may not need surgery. This move was just to restructure his contract after he was dropped from the 40 man roster after the injury.

Stopping in Pittsburgh for a coupla cups of coffee, Perez has worked 15-2/3 innings, giving up 19 hits, 9 walks, and striking out 13 with an ERA of 5.17. Perez pitched OK last year after being roughed up in his first appearance, but wasn't going to break camp with the team even before he was hurt.

On the minor league front:
The Indianapolis Indians have signed a four-year extension with the Pirates. The new agreement will run through the 2012 campaign. The Pirate's affiliation, which began in 2005, has been a success so far.

Pittsburgh's 2008 opening day roster included 11 former Indianapolis Indians - Matt Capps, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Franquelis Osoria, Ian Snell, Ryan Doumit, Ronny Paulino, Jose Bautista, Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan.

The Indians hosted 586,785 fans at Victory Field last year, averaging 8,383 per game. And the field is supposed to be top notch, so it sounds like a good deal all around.

The players? It's really way too early to tell, but the Big Three aren't exactly on fire yet. RF Steve Pearce (.240), CF Andrew McCutchen (.208), and 3B Neil Walker (.118) haven't swung the bat worth a green weenie so far. Sean Burnett? Three innings, three strikeouts, two walks, no hits.

On the "He Talks Too Much" front: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told the Detroit Free Press over the weekend that Roberto Clemente was not Puerto Rico's greatest ballplayer. That would be Ivan Rodriguez, followed by Roberto Alomar.

I-Rod gets his nod because Guillen thinks catcher is a more difficult position, and he gave Pudge extra credit for catching in the Texas sun (what, they don't have night games there?) Whatever would make a guy from Venezuela stick his tongue out at Puerto Rico's national icon?