Saturday, May 31, 2008

Moving the ball around...

We haven't seen Ian Snell pitch for awhile. Today, he had a sharp slider and a heater that was hitting 92-93 all day with fair control. No difference; he still got slapped around and was gone after four innings. And it's not hard to see why.

We know this is a mantra of Pirate followers, but you have to pitch inside. Snell won't, and doesn't even seem to have the inclination to do so. Even on weak hits, the batters are tracking the outside of the plate, slapping and dumping great sliders into right field.

Snell's wasting the pitch if he won't throw hard and inside to hitters to keep them honest. It's not just a matter on intimidation, but of making the hitters guess and cover the whole plate, every at bat.

Home plate is only 17" across, pretty small to begin with. You can't make a living in this league by ignoring half of it. Can you think of a great power pitcher that didn't own the inside black? And if the ump is squeezing the plate, well, that's even more reason to use all of it.

He had one sequence where he jammed the only lefty and got him to foul out, and later that inning he came inside on a righty, got him to roll the bat over, and was rewarded with an easy ground ball double play. It works if he comes inside.

The other problem? Way too many belt high heaters. It seems that he's enamored of his four seam (straight) fastball and doesn't go to the two seamer (sinker, in his case), especially when his slider's on, and it costs him dearly. There's not nearly the margin of error for straight heat as there is for a ball that moves.

Our advice to Snell? Use all your pitches, Ian, and the whole plate, and you'll be back in business. You have the stuff; trust it and come up with a game plan that uses both sides of the black.

As far as the game, the Cards showed why they're hanging around with the Cubs. They made three or four top notch, inning-killing plays in the field. The highlight reel catch of the day was Ricky Ankiel's diving, back to the plate grab of an X-Man drive in the second that may have changed the course of the game.

They also turned a couple of DPs, and the Pirates, though hitting the ball on the nose all day, could never put a big inning together, stranding 11 and dropping a 7-4 decision.

Jack Splat was a last minute scratch again. Let's hope his wheels don't become a chronic issue with him.

On the Pirate front: Jack Splat has some tenderness behind his knee, and the team is hoping it's just a bit of inflammation. John Russell says he has no plans to rush Wilson back into game action until his leg is good to go, though he's penciled in for today's tilt.

>Ryan Doumit is wearing a splint on his broken thumb and plans to continue using it for the remainder of the season. He's recovering nicely, catching bullpen sessions and batting left-handed, which puts less pressure on his injured thumb. He'll start hitting right-handed this week.

The brass are debating whether or not to send him out for some minor league rehab when he's ready. Doumit is lobbying hard against it.

On the minor league front: Neal Huntington told the Hardball Times that "Steve Pearce is one of our best prospects. While we believe he has quality upside, he is not a finished product.

The reality is for Steve to fulfill his potential we have some work to do outside of the batter’s box. Steve has worked hard to improve his defensive abilities to allow him to play adequate defense in the outfield.

At some point this season we will re-introduce first base to Steve and thus give him two potential major league positions. Steve is progressing nicely. He continues to mature as a hitter and has made quality strides with the gloves and with other parts of his game."

Reading between the lines, it sounds to us like Pearce has a better chance of replacing LaRoche if he's moved than taking the place of Nady. We thought he was having some problems converting to the OF. Too often we've checked on Indy and Pearce has been the DH.

>OF Anthony Webster hit a grand slam for Altoona, his fourth HR of the year. The 25 year old minor league vet signed with the Bucs as a FA this year to add depth to the organization. He's hitting .228 as a Curve. Webster is in his 8th season of pro ball.

>At Lynchburg, 3B Jim Negrych went 3 for 3 with an RBI and walked twice. The 23 year old Pitt grad is hitting .364 for the Hillcats this year.

On the draft front: Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette writes of Thursday's draft: "there are strong indications, internally and externally, that they (the Pirates) favor Vanderbilt University third baseman Pedro Alvarez."

That's somewhat contrary to recent national reports. But there's no question he fills a need - he plays third base and he's a left handed power hitter, seemingly custom made for PNC Park. Will he overcome a poor playoff and Scott Boras? We'll see soon.

On the Pirate history front:
Tony LaRussa just overtook Red Schoendienst as the longest tenured manager of the Cards. The top five managers for the Pirates by games coached are:

Fred Clarke (2,427 games, 1,422-969), Danny Murtaugh (2,068 games, 1,115-950), Jim Leyland (1,716 games, 851-863), Chuck Tanner (1,398 games, 711-658), and Frankie Frisch (1,085 games, 539-528).

(The GW will profile the three likely suspects for Pittsburgh on draft day this week. Tomorrow, we'll feature Florida State catcher Buster Posey, Tuesday will be high school phenom Tim Beckman's turn at bat, and Wednesday we'll write up Vandy's 800 pound gorilla, Pedro Alvarez.)

It must be raindrops...

Pittsburgh must love playing in the rain. The Pirates carried over their ninth inning lumber from last night through a driving rain squall and pummeled a couple of the Card's minor-league call-up arms, 14-4.

How about Luis Rivas, who must be channeling Pops lately, blasting his first ever grand salami? Freddie Sanchez and Ronny Paulino, another unlikely duo of sluggers, added two run shots and the X-Man unloaded the bases with a three-run double.

Paul Maholm gave the Bucs their third consecutive quality start, going 6-2/3 innings and giving up 1 run, 4 hits, and striking out 5. He's now 3-5 with a 4.74 ERA. The win was Maholm's first on the road since last August, a span of six starts. He came into the game 0-4 and with an 8.57 ERA away from PNC Park.

Pittsburgh was in cruise control the entire night. The only suspenseful moments were when the thunder boomers and rain threatened early on, but after the fifth, even that little bit of mystery was inconsequential. The Bucs finally had an easy night.

Luis Rivas is still a work in progress at SS, but it looks like the work is paying off for him. He seems much more comfortable both at the plate and in the field, even though he did boot another one this rainy evening.

Joey Bats appears to have held off the Doug Mientkiewicz challenge, as Mientkiewicz is hitting just .205, even worse than Bautista, who went 4-5 tonight for his first career four-hit game and is up to .247.

Nate McLouth did go to the head of the class on the lineup card tonight, and Sanchez moved to the three spot. We'll never pretend to understand how John Russell fills in an order, although it's sure been working so far this year.

The last 10 Pittsburgh runs came with two outs. The Bucs were nothing but clutch tonight.

The big question is the condition of Jack Splat's wheel. He was scratched from the lineup about an hour before the game, hopefully as a bad-weather, day game after nightcap precaution.

On the Pirate front: Jack Splat was visibly pained by his balky calf for a couple of innings of yesterday's game, wearing frustration all over his face but hanging in for seven innings. Wilson favored the leg while running, and made a couple of throws flat footed instead of stepping into them.

He said it was just tightness that he has to play through for the time being. Maybe it was just a cramp caused by the muggy St. Louis weather. We hope that's all.

>Ryan Doumit's thumb injury was supposed to give Ronny Paulino a chance to strut his stuff. But in the 14 games since then, including 11 starts, Paulino has hit just .174 with 2 RBIs, and opened a wide door for Raul Chavez to hawk his wares instead. Chavez' play is making Paulino eminently movable as they jockey for a back-up spot to Doumit.

>We spoke too soon when we said Nate McLouth was gonna replace Freddie Sanchez and his .239 average at the top of the order. The FSN guys speculated that the move is on hold until Doumit gets back in action. As for us, we're keeping quiet until we pry our foot out of our mouth.

On the minor league front:
Hey, a pretty good day for the wanna-be Buccos. Three of the four teams won, with only low A Hickory coming up with the short end of the stick. Unfortunately, the teams in the system are like the big guys in one aspect - none of them have a winning record.

>RHP Jimmy Barthmaier made his Class AAA debut after being called up from Altoona to take Bryan Bullington's place, and it was a good one. He won, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits in seven innings. He struck out 4 and walked 1 in the victory.

Barthmaier will return to the Curve after the start (the Pirate suits have been true to their word about advancing guys too quickly), and the Indians are expected to seek a free agent to fill the final rotation spot. Anyone have Jared Wright's phone number?

>At Lynchburg, LHP Danny Moskos (3-3, 5.22), last year's top pick, gave up 1 run on 5 hits in five innings, ending a streak of tough starts. He struck out 4 and walked 4.

RF Jamie Romak, who Pittsburgh got as part of the LaRoche deal, hit his 8th home run, his fourth in 4 games, and went 2 for 2 with two walks. His average is up to .287.

>C Andrew Walker is finally beginning to find his swing at Hickory. He went 3 for 4 and is now batting .250. 3B Bobby Spain singled to extend his hitting streak to 20 games.

On the draft front: Keith Law of Scouts Inc. says: "The Rays are down to (Buster) Posey and Tim Beckham, equally strong choices. Posey probably will cost them more but reach the majors faster, while Beckham is the better long-term prospect.

The Pirates' decision also is down to Posey and Beckham, plus (Pedro) Alvarez, whom team president Frank Coonelly is said to covet in order to send a message to fans that the decision to pass on Matt Wieters last year won't be repeated.

However, Alvarez scuffled in front of the Pirates' key decision-makers at the SEC tournament, and they might be waffling on their earlier commitment to him."

An old man's musing: Smack a home run, trot around the bases and point to the heavens. Drop a bunt, high five everyone in sight. Strike out the seven hitter, hit your knees and start fist pumpin'. We call it the ESPN syndrome.

But we'd really like to see how long the celebration would last if Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Don Drysdale were still on the mound. Not long, we'd wager - just to the next at bat.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Three plays shy of a load...

Tonight's game was a tale of four plays, three that Pittsburgh didn't make and one that St. Louis did. And they made all the difference.

Xavier Nady led off the second with a single, and the next hitter, Adam LaRoche, smoked a shot into right. OF Joe Mather, making his MLB debut, dove fully extended and gloved a ball that was destined to rattle around in the corner, drive in a run, and leave LaRoche at second, maybe third. The Cards saved at least a run.

In the home half of the second, Zach Duke fielded a sac bunt, turned to first, and panicked when he didn't see Freddie Sanchez standing on the sack (he was a step away.) He tried to hold the throw, but instead weakly spiked it into right field. It gave the Cards a run.

Down 3-1 in the 7th, the first Card to face Tyler Yates dinked a hump-backed liner into left, a hop, skip and a jump in front of Jay Bay. He hesitated a moment, then charged the ball, dove - and came up empty. It ended up a triple and eventually turned into another run scored.

Later that inning, Raul Chavez air mailed a ball into center on a steal. That runner got to third and became the second run. The Cards tallied a gift wrapped run, maybe two that inning.

Did it make a difference? Well, Jason Michael's bases-loaded double in the ninth made the final 5-4. So yes, they made huge differences. If the Pirates made one of those three plays, they might have raised the Jolly Roger instead of walking the plank again, victims of their own folly.

Todd Wellemeyer and Zach Duke put on a pretty nice show on the mound tonight. It was good to see the Zachster throwing inside, using his fastball along with the slider and curve. He may be finally turning the corner.

But pitching and fielding are joined at the hip. You can't have one without the other, and way too often Pittsburgh has had neither. Before you can win games, you have to learn how not to lose them.
On the hot stove front: Trying to read the chicken entrails for a sign, it seems like the Buc brass isn't planning on breakin' up the Pirates. Sounds more like they're gonna go a piece at a time and try to stock up while remaining somewhat competitive. We'll see - the record will have a lot to do with that, although the position players have been doing their part.

We still think Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche are goners because of their contracts, and probably Ronny Paulino, Joey Bats and maybe the Zachster and one of the lefty set up guys, too.

We'll know for sure if they choose Buster Posey (who isn't chiseled in stone to catch - he started at FSU as a SS, but we do know Doumits can move, too) or Pedro Alvarez, though we think he may have dropped a bit because of Boras and concerns about his hand after a sub par SEC tournament (3-21, .143.)

Most pundits seem to think the Buc's will take whomever Tampa lets ride, either Posey or high school SS Tim Beckham.

This is almost as much fun as waiting for the Steeler draft!

>Paul Hagen of the Philly Daily News: "Mets general manager Omar Minaya reportedly is making inquiries about available first basemen, leftfielders and righthanded relief pitchers with Kevin Millar, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady rumored to be some of the names under consideration." Maybe they want to give Ollie back.

>Jason Stark of ESPN threw a new name in the trade hopper, Tyler Yates. He thinks he and Damaso Marte are on a lot of MLB buyer's lists. Are the Pirates selling? That's the million dollar question.

On the minor league front: OF Kevin Thompson stole home in Indy's 8-5 loss on Thursday. Nyjer Morgan pulled off the same trick last season at Indianapolis.

>1B Jason Delaney went 2 for 3 with two walks for Altoona last night and is batting .315 for the Curve.

>At Lynchburg, SS Brian Friday went 3 for 5 to lift his average to .319.

>RHP Brad Lincoln, 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA, gave up two runs and five hits while K'ing 5 in a six inning outing and was tagged with his first L. In 16 innings since bouncing back from TJ surgery, he's walked just one batter. 3B Bobby Spain went 1-4 to stretch his hitting streak to 19 games. He's hitting .329.

On the history front: Jimmy “Scoops” Cooney's career was shortlived - just six seasons - but he nevertheless made the history books on May 30th, 1927, while playing short for the Cubs against the Pirates at Forbes Field.

He snared Paul "Big Poison" Waner’s line drive with the hit and run on, and stepped on second to force out Paul’s brother, Lloyd. Cooney then tagged out the Waner brother’s brother from another mother, Clyde "Pooch" Barnhart, to complete his unassisted triple play (that step brother thingie we can't verify, so caveat emptor on that.)

On the ex-Pirate front: Josh Fogg moves back into the rotation for the Reds tomorrow. Bet Phil Dumatrait would look good to them about now, hey?

>KC Royals outfielder Jose Guillen, quoted in the Philly Daily News, on his teammates: "Too many babies in here. They don't know how to play the game. That's the problem here. Now I know why this organization has been losing for a while. Things are going to change here, I can tell you that. I promise you that. Soon."

Sounds like Guillen is trying to worm his way out of a bad situation.

On the high school front: Never let it be said that we are sexist pigs...well, OK, maybe we are. But.........

>Latrobe rode Alexsa Bryson's arm and won the AAAA softball championship yesterday afternoon with a 1-0 victory against Shaler at Cal's Lilly Field. She struck out 17 and hasn't allowed a runner to score throughout the playoffs.

Latrobe was the defending champ - and guess who was the winning pitcher last year, too? Bryson is da man...errr, woman...ah, you know what we mean.

>Ellwood City won a walk-off 5-4 victory against defending AAA champion Belle Vernon. It was a rematch of last year's title tilt. Maybe they'll stage a rubber match in 2009.

>Riverside rolled to a 10-2 victory against South Park to take all the marbles in AA. The title was the Panther's fourth, winning previous crowns in 1994, 1996 and 2001.

>Vincentian took a hard fought 3-2 victory against Leechburg in the Class A championship, scoring the game winner in the 11th on a suicide squeeze. The third time was the charm for them, as the Royals were runner ups in 2006 and 2007.

>Perennial girls powerhouse Perry won the City league crown with a 4-2 victory against Brashear at Pitt's Trees Field.

An old man's musing: We couldn't help but notice during the Pirate's last series that the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati was half empty. We recalled the times when TRS and Riverfront rocked whenever the Big Red Machine and the "Fam-A-Lee" would get it on.

Stargell and Perez. Sangy and Bench. Conception and Mad Dog. Morgan and Scrap Iron. Riveting, no holds barred baseball by two awesome clubs. Whatever happened to those days?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ghost Rider of Great American...

A couple of ghosts were exorcised at Great American Ball Park tonight by Phil Dumatrait.

First was his personal demon, his brief career in Cincinnati, where he went 0-4 with an ERA of 15.00. Not only did that September performance haunt him (he served up homers to the first three batters of the game in one forgettable start), but the Red management had so little faith in him that he was cut a month later. Bad on them, good for Pittsburgh.

And Matty Mo, the friendly ghost of Pirate pitching, was laid to rest. He was blocking Dumatrait from the rotation at the season's onset, but now his spot is in good hands. The Bucs have won 5 of the 6 games he's started since Morris has departed.

And the nine game home winning streak of the Reds had a stake driven through its' heart.

There are several story lines tonight - Jay Bay and the X-Man homered (we'll really miss them when they go), Pittsburgh banged out 13 hits (8 for extra bases), and the Bucs turned two double plays the hard way.

Raul Chavez gunned out a runner on a strike 'em out, throw 'em out DP, and Xavier Nady made a sliding grab in right and doubled off a wayward runner at second. In fact, the only 6-4-3 attempt the Pirates had went astray when Freddie Sanchez bounced his pivot throw into short right field to let in the first run.

But there is only one story tonight. Dumatrait went 7 innings, giving up 2 infield singles and an unearned run while striking out 9. Today's outing evened his record at 2-2 and dropped his ERA to 3.52. It's his second straight strong start since Chavez has become his personal caddy. And face it - he's now Pittsburgh's ace.


On the Pirate front: The Bucs called up Bryan Bullington from AAA Indy and optioned reliever Marino Salas back to the Indians.

Bullington, 27, was 3-6 with a 5.68 ERA after an absolutely brutal start at Indy. But he's won three of his past four outings and was just named International League pitcher of the week. Salas, 26, had a 7.00 ERA in seven outings with the big club.

The move was made to give the Pirate's bullpen a fresh arm after Ian Snell and Gorzo lasted a total of 4-2/3 innings over the past two nights.

>It looks like Nate the Great will return to the leadoff spot now that Jack Splat's back. That should really help fill in some holes in the lineup, at least until John Russell gets to the seven-eight spots. And it will look even better when Ryan Doumit returns, possibly in a couple of weeks.

On the minor league front: Andrew McCutcheon went 3 for 5 for Indy, and his average is now .304.

>2B Shelby Ford, 23,the Pirates' third-round pick in 2006, just came off the DL at Altoona. He missed 39 games with a hip flexor injury. Returning as a DH last night, he went 3 for 5 with three RBI and has a spiffy .368 batting average.

>Eric Krebs, a reliever at Lynchburg, was drilled in the head by a line drive Monday night. He's not thought to be seriously hurt, but will be laid up on the DL for several weeks while he recovers. RHP Krebs, 23, has a 2.87 ERA in 13 games for the Hillcats.

>Also at Lynchburg, DH Jamie Romak, 22, hit his 7th home run and went 3 for 5 with a double and two RBIs, raising his BA to .280.

On the ex-Pirate front: Jody Gerut hit a three-run, pinch-hit homer in the 8th inning last night to give the Padres a 5-2 victory. The oft injured OF played in 4 games for Pittsburgh in 2005 and just revived his MLB career at SD this season. He came to the Steel City from the Cubs in exchange for Matt Lawton.

>Rockies minor league catcher Humberto Cota was suspended for 50 games yesterday after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. He hasn't been on a major league roster since June 15, 2007, when he was released by the Pirates. Cota blamed a med that his doctors gave him during the off season to treat a bum shoulder as the cause for his positive drug test.

He was a Bucco from 2001-2007 and played in 196 games while hitting .233. The Pirates got him from Tampa in 1999 as part of the Jose Guillen deal.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Can't get out of the first inning blues...

After a while, it's almost comical. Gorzo took the mound, and couldn't even get out of the first inning. With two out and only a run in, his wheels completely fell off, the Reds scored a half dozen times, and another game was over before it began.

John Russell threw in the towel in the fourth, when Bronson Arroyo walked Doug Mienktiewicz and Ronny Paulino with two outs and the score 6-1. Russell let Frankie Osoria bat instead of opting for a chance at some two out lightning, and the game was officially mailed in. It ended up 9-1.

We know that pitching coaches don't actually pitch, but Jeff Andrews sure makes us miss the good ol' Spin Williams days. But given the fragile egos of the staff, maybe Ziggy Freud is the man the Bucs need.

On the minor league front: Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette said today that two Lynchburg coaches were fined for allowing Daniel Moskos to go over his pitch limit - by a half dozen throws. The suits are as serious as a heart attack regarding pitch counts, serious enough to relieve two coaches of 3 days pay.

Kyle Stark, director of player development, said that the Pirates' pitching primer at the lower levels sets pitch limits for an inning, a game and three-game sequences. A pitcher who performs well over three starts can raise the pitch count for his next game. Three poor starts will lower the count.

The team tracks what it calls an "effective" pitch count, based on an system created by Kent Tekulve. By that count system, 100 pitches through seven innings is less stressful on your arm than 85 pitches through four innings. D'oh!

"The point of pitch counts is, one, to protect our arms and, two, to promote our philosophy of being efficient, pounding the zone, getting ahead of hitters and not pitching away from contact," Stark explained.

Neal Huntington adds "The quick answer to our pitchers who don't like the pitch count: Pitch more efficiently."

Sounds good to us.

>Some of the lower level players are coming through for the Bucs. In Altoona, RHP Pat Bresnehan (1.88 ERA) pitched a scoreless inning of relief and RHP Evan Meek (2.57 ERA) threw the last two in its' shutout victory yesterday. They polished off RHP Josh Hill's (4-5, 3.62) six scoreless innings. First baseman Jason Delaney added a home run and a single, good for 2 RBIs.

In Lynchburg, OF Jamie Romak hit his fifth and sixth home runs of the year and went 2 for 3 with a walk and four RBIs. 3B Bobby Spain, now batting .331, is trying to make a name for himself at Hickory. He went 3 for 5 with an RBI, extending his hitting streak to 18 games.

>Why, you wonder, did the Reds wait until now to call up Jay Bruce, the hottest prospect not to be in MLB, especially as the guy he replaced, Corey Patterson, was hitting .201?

Because by keeping him down this long, they avoid possible "Super 2" status, which allows a player that excels to start his clock a little sooner and get 4 years of arbitration rather than 3.

According to Peter Bendix of Beyond the Box Score, by waiting until now to call up Jay Bruce, the Reds likely ensure that Bruce will only be arbitration eligible for three years.

So in 2011, Bruce will likely make the league minimum of approximately $450,000, rather than somewhere around $10 million. That’s a huge difference, and is well worth his spending two more months in the minors. It's like getting a season for free out of Bruce.

Additionally, the Reds are missing out on production of age-21 Jay Bruce for two months this season; in exchange, they are only going to paying age-24 Jay Bruce league minimum.

Last season, Ryan Braun wasn't called up until May 25, although he too was mashing in triple-A. It'll be interesting to see when Andrew McCutcheon gets the call for Pittsburgh. Nutting did put his purse in the hands of a couple of top flight bean counters...

On the hot stove front:
Peter Gammons of ESPN compiled a list of 10 pitchers likely to be on the market before the trade deadline. Zach Duke is one of them, although we can only wonder what his value would be.

>Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports gives the Pirate braintrust props for holding on to Jay Bay during the off season, noting that there are now a couple of hitting challenged AL clubs that would love to have his bat. MLB Trade Rumors thinks he could be a more attractive, and valuable, asset than even slugger Adam Dunn because of his friendly contract and ability to play the field.

On the high school front: Congratulations to West Allegheny and Beaver, winners of the WPIAL AAA and AA titles. West Allegheny defeated Trinity, 4-1, while Beaver rode a 4-run first inning to a win over a gritty Bishop Canevin nine, 4-3.

WA's Zak Sinclair (8-1), who threw a three-hit, eleven K victory against Trinity yesterday while flashing a 92 MPH heater, was also the winning pitcher in the WPIAL championship last year. Talk about money.

In the past three seasons, Sinclair's record is 20-3. He's a North Carolina State recruit, but WA coach Bryan Cornell thinks Sinclair could go in the top 10 rounds of the MLB draft on June 5th.

Cornell said. "He throws three pitches, (and) he throws all three for strikes."

The games were played as a doubleheader at Consol Energy Field, home of the Washinton Wild Thing, yesterday. Today the park will host the A title game between Rochester and Carmichaels, followed by the AAAA tilt between Plum and the defending champ, Peters Township.

Peters Township successfully defended its WPIAL Class AAAA crown with a 10-4 win over Plum tonight. PT Pitcher Jordan Jankowski struck out 11, allowing four hits, all in the first three innings.

Carmichaels captured its third WPIAL Class A title by defeating Rochester, 4-3, in a thriller that ended with a bases loaded K by pitcher Joby Lapkowiczfor the final out. He struck out 13 in the win.

Allderdice and Perry will battle for the City crown at PNC park this afternoon. Carrick was the 2007 champ.

The Dragons won the City League championship, beating Perry, 10-2.

On the ex-Pirate front: Shawn Chacon lobbied hard and sold himself as a starting pitcher when he was on the FA market last winter. The Astro's took him at his word, and he's paid off in spades for them.

Though his record is only 2-0, his ERA is 3.95 and he's given them 68-2/3 innings. He went 9 straight games without a decision at the start of the season, which means that the Astro's have been in contention in every game he's started for them, much like Dumatrait has been for Pittsburgh.

He signed with Houston just before the season started, inking a deal for 1 year, $2M plus incentives. Chacon pitched for Pittsburgh in 2006-07, and was 7-7 with a save and a 4.44 ERA as a spot starter and set up/long relief guy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And the walls came tumbling down...

It's a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse, and Ian Snell went from the heights to the pits in just an inning.

After working out of a first inning jam by whiffing the last two batters, Snell was on cruise control through four. He had 6 punch outs, twice striking out the side while giving up 3 hits and ahead of the struggling Reds 3-0. The end came quickly.

With one away in the fifth, he walked three straight batters. Snell almost got away with minimal damage after giving up a sac fly, but the red hot Adam Dunn launched one into the seats 454' away with two outs, and suddenly it was 4-3.

In the sixth, the Reds juiced the bases with one out and in came Damaso Marte. Money in the bank, right? Wrong. Marte allowed 4 of the 5 batters he faced to reach base in one of his few poor outings, and the game was over.

The Pirates made their characteristic ninth inning run, sparked by Adam LaRouch and Ronny Paulino long balls, but when the smoke cleared, the final was 9-6, Cincy.

The Bucs had Johnny Cueto on the ropes, but couldn't deliver the knockout blow against him. He gave up 9 hits and walked three in 5 innings, but got away with only three runs, and one of those was unearned. The Pirates stranded 13 runners during the game.

Red's wunderkind Jay Bruce started his first game tonight, batting second and manning center. He went 3-3 with a double, two walks, a RBI and a run scored. Pretty sweet debut.

The Bucs will have to play catch up to the Reds in retooling with youth. Bruce has plenty of company with 1B Joey Votto, pitchers Cueto and Edinson Volquez and SS Paul Janish as Cincy is getting young in a hurry. Homer Bush is still lurking at Louisville.

Jack Wilson returned from his calf injury at last. He hit from the two hole and went 3-5, and looked fine in the field.

Meanwhile, the questions about Snell and his 2008 season abound. He's now 2-4 with a 5.46 ERA and an opponent batting average of .310. After signing a three year contract, he was being counted upon to be a keystone of the Pirate rotation. Now Snell is it's greatest mystery.

On the Pirate front: The Pirates have come from behind in 14 of their 24 wins, third-most in MLB (behind Boston and Houston) according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As pointed out by Dejan Kovacevic in the Post Gazette, also consider that they've either tied or won a game in the ninth inning 7 times this year. You can almost hear the Gunner's ghost cap off another improbable win with the call of "We had 'em alllll the way."

And chalk up another reason the Pirates will go only as far as their starting pitching takes them.

A quality start almost guarantees a W for Pittsburgh. But we wouldn't really know - the last 10 Buc wins have come because they've scored five or more runs, and generally needed every one. It'd be nice to take a 3-1 or 4-2 decision every so often.

The bullpen has by and large held up its' end of the deal. Going into Memorial Day, the Pirate relievers have pitched the most innings in the NL (180 2/3). They have a 13-5 record, while the starters are 11-21. The pen's 4.07 ERA shames that of the rotation, which has compiled a 5.53 ERA.

And remember that the back end of the bullpen has been manned by Sean Burnett, Marino Salas, JVB and Evan Meek. Matt Capps, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Frankie Osoria and Tyler Yates have been better than advertised so far this year.

>The Bucs, despite the injuries, fielding misadventures, and pitching woes, are two games better today than where they stood last year. The Pirates were 22-28 after 50 games in 2007; 24-26 this season.

>Jack Splat should be back today. Since his April 3rd injury, the Buc shortstops had only hit in the mid .220's with 2 HR's, both by Luis Rivas Sunday. Rivas, Brian Bixler and Chris Gomez have committed a MLB high 14 errors at SS trying to fill Wilson's shoes.

Bixler will be the odd man out, heading back to Indy to see if he can find his stroke.

>Phil Dumatrait had a large bruise above his right knee from where he was struck by a line drive in Saturday night’s game. But he expects to make his next slated start May 30th in St. Louis.

Good thing he's a tough guy - Zach Duke has been bumped back a day, and Dumatrait will start in his place tomorrow. Since the Bucs had Monday off, he'll be pitching with his regular rest.

>Jay Bay played 663 career MLB games without a walk-off hit, then delivered the game winner two days in a row. We guess all things do come to those who wait.

>For those of you still holding vigil for Chris Duffy, his rehab work continues to be stuck in neutral. Some members of Pirates management have recently expressed frustration with his lack of improvement, according to Jenifer Langosch of

Since being given a cortisone shot in mid-April, Duffy has resumed throwing, but hasn't been able to throw 120 feet yet on a consistent and pain-free basis. There's no expectation for him to be back with the Pirates this season.

On the ex-Pirate front:
Eric Gagne & David Riske are on the DL, Derrick Turnbow is MIA, and Seth McClung moved into a starting role recently for the Brew Crew. They must be getting desperate to rebuild their bullpen, because yesterday they dumpster dove and came up with Julian Taveraz, who was DFA'd by the Bosox. He has to pass his physical today to close the deal.

It goes to show that no matter how many arms you have, it's never enough. Pitchers often have the life span of May flies.

At least it's a low cost risk. They only have to pony up the MLB minimum, about $130K, while Boston shells out the remainder of the $3.75M contract they signed with him for 2008. Maybe Tavaez will give them some innings. His arm is certainly fresh enough. He hasn't pitched in 2 weeks and only had 12-1/3 innings before that.

Solly Torres has become the Milwaukee closer through default at last look.

>Washington signed 2B Pokey Reese to a minor league contract this weekend. He'll report to AAA Columbus. Reese, 34, is a vet who played MLB for 8 seasons. His last appearance in the bigs was in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox.

The Nats say they have no intention of calling him up, but signed him because of a lack of minor league depth. Reese played in Pittsburgh from 2002-03, hitting .254 and swiping 18 bases in 19 tries.

>"Willie Randolph is our manger now and hopefully for years to come," Met GM Omar Minaya told the New York Post.

The ex-Pirate second sacker and current Met manager has been under fire because of the underachieving NY nine that are 23-25 and 5-1/2 games out of first going into today.

We don't know if that comment by Minaya was meant to squelch the controversy or was Randolph's kiss of death. After all, it's a baseball truism that it's easier to fire the manager than the whole team.

The South Carolinian was drafted by the Pirates in 1972 and was a benchwarmer during his rookie season of 1975. He was then sent to the Yankees as part of the Doc Medich deal, and spent 13 of his 18 big league years in pinstripes. He was a lifetime .276 hitter.

Randolph was effectively blocked from playing in Pittsburgh by Rennie Stennett.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The system...

Have a great Memorial Day. Hopefully, the Bucs are out grilling burgers and guzzling beer like their fans. Everyone needs a holiday.

We thought that we'd take the off day to sneak a peek at the Pirate minor league crop. As you'll see, Dave Littlefield didn't leave much for the new suits to work with.

His drafts favored college guys, which means the lower levels of the system are longer in the tooth than you'd like. He chose infielders that could hit rather than field.

And then he went for finesse pitchers rather than power arms, creating staffs that depended on good glovework to get them through the day from infielders slick with their bats, not leather. Not a very good mix, hey?

Here's the prospects, as best we can figure (if we've missed any give us a yell - the Pirates, too, hehe.)


Andrew McCutchen, 21, OF (Indy) Small on stature, but huge in Pirate plans, McCutcheon will be Pittsburgh's CF and leadoff man in 2009.
Steven Pearce, 25, OF-1B (Indy) He's getting his at bats in AAA now and learning the OF trade, but should be playing RF or 1B for the Pirates next year.


Brian Bixler
, 25, SS (Pitt - Indy) Needs work with the stick and projects as a 2B or utilityman in the show.
Shelby Ford, 23, 2B (Altoona) Switchhitter that runs and throws well, better bat than glove.
Brian Friday, 22, SS (Lynchburg) He runs well and could end up as a leadoff hitter. He has a good arm, but inconsistent otherwise. He could also end up a Bixler clone.
Brad Lincoln, 23, RHP (Hickory) Threw 98 MPH when drafted in 2006, just returned from TJ surgery and had a couple of good outings since his comeback.
Nyjer Morgan, 27, OF (Indy) Started baseball late, has great speed but not instinctive. Role player.
Daniel Moskos, 22, LHP (Lynchburg) Last year's first round selection, timed as high as 97 MPH while at Clemson. Has a good fastball and slider, will start this year.
Neil Walker, 22, 3B (Indy) The converted C is learning 3B on the fly in AAA and struggling at the plate, but the he's still very much on the Buc's radar. Bye-bye, Joey Bats.
Duke Welker, 22, RHP (Hickory) 6'7" 2007 draftee (2nd round), needs to improve his work habits. He was hurt much of last year. Throws 92-94, needs another pitch.

We haven't included Indy's AAAA pitchers Jonah Bayless, Bryan Bullington, Sean Burnett, Brian Rogers or JVB. You know everything you need to about them.


Jimmy Barthmaier, 24, RHP (Altoona) Highly touted Astro prospect, battled elbow problems last year. The starter has very so-so stats so far for the Curve.
Charles Benoit, 23, LHP (Lynchburg) Has an average curve and a fastball with good life, and could be a back-of-the-rotation starter. Being converted to relief with little success.
James Boone, 25, OF (Altoona) Good power, lotsa K's, injury prone.
Pat Bresnahan, 23, RHP (Altoona) Reliever with some upside, currently on DL.
Justin Byler, 22, 1B - Broke his arm, out for 2008. No field, good hit, though not for power. Back to A next year.
Jesse Chavez, 24, RHP (Indy) Short reliever with a WHIP of 0.86. Came from Texas for Kip Wells. He's a fairly hard thrower, usually in the low 90s but sometimes touching 96.
Brad Corley, 24, OF (Altoona) Former pitcher, is a switchhitter with good power from the right side.
David Davidson, 24, LHP (Altoona) Set up man, was at Indy last year so the 24 year old's star is dimming.
Marcus Davis, 23, OF (Hickory) Davis has some upside. He has some tools, but came out of Alcorn and is very raw, and his age works against him.
Jason Delaney, 25, 1B (Altoona) Will go as far as his bat carries him. He doesn't run well, converted from OF. Good power numbers.
Yoslan Herrera, 27, RHP (Altoona) Cuban national player had 3-year layoff. This is probably his make or break year.
Jared Hughes, 23, RHP (Lynchburg) Littlefield pitcher, lotsa groundballs and high WHIP. Projects as possible back of the rotation type starter, but already has 7 losses in A ball.
Quincy Latimore, 19, OF (GCL) The youngster was drafted out of HS in 2007. It was a curious decision to not start him at low A ball this year, but he has upside. Athletic though not speedy.
Steve Lerud, 23, C (Lynchburg) OK bat, but huge liability behind the plate.
Juan Mateo, 25, RHP (Altoona) Mateo throws a fastball that ranges from 90-95 and figures to be used in relief role. Was on Cub's fast track until injuries slowed him in 2007.
Evan Meek, 25, RHP (Altoona) Rule 5 power arm finally at right level.
Luis Munoz, 26, RHP (Indy) Starter with spotty results for the Indians.
Jim Negrych, 23, 3B (Hickory) Pitt product, good line-drive bat, but slow and not a good fielder. Bobby Hill utility type player.
Alex Presley, 23, OF (Lynchburg) Looks like a tweener, lacking the speed for CF and the power to play corner OF.
Kevin Roberts, 24, RHP (Lynchburg) Fastball-curve pitcher, working on a change up. Moved a level at a time, has some upside in the bullpen if he conquers control issues.
Jamie Romak, 22, OF (Lynchburg) Needs better plate discipline, but learning to use all the field and showing some power. Defense and foot speed are below average, just had elbow surgery.
Marino Salas, 27, RHP (Indy-Pitt) Pirates have remade his windup, fastball, curve, slider pitcher, middle-relief potential, especially tough on RH hitters.
Romulo Sanchez, 24, RHP (Indy) Throws heat and is seen as a future closer/set up type despite his average strikeout numbers. Has control issues and needs another pitch.
Keanon Simon 23, OF (Hickory) Hit well at State College after being drafted last year, no power, some speed.
Ty Taubenheim, 25, RHP (Indy) A finesse pitcher who throws the four standard pitches, including a high 80s fastball, with good control. He adds rotation depth to the system.
Justin Vaclavik, 25, RHP - He throws a 90-94 mph fastball and a good slider. Was a closer, and is being converted to long man/starter. On the DL, should go AA upon return.
Andrew Walker, 22, C (Hickory) The TCU product is sputtering with the bat in low Class A. Decent receiver, weak arm, was drafted for organizational depth.
Tony Watson, 23, LHP (Lynchburg) His effectiveness depends on a killer changeup. He also throws a curve, and is brutal against LH batters.

Read 'em and look forward to the draft. The Pirates need a good one even more than the Steelers did. Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has an interview with the suits about the upcoming draft Pirates seek deep draft, and the Latino players and any upcoming deals will factor into restocking the system, too.

(We ranked the players from various public scouting reports we found. The ratings, of course, are fluid. Some guys will break out, some steadily move up the ladder, and others just kinda hang out. Feel free to comment on their potential or add whatever guys we may have overlooked.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Old Man Sun...

Ah, the home field advantage. The brutal afternoon sun got in Alfonso Soriano's eyes, and Nate McLouth's two-out fly ball bounced of his wrist, scoring Brian Bixler with the tying run and setting the stage for another Jay Bay extra inning game winner.

The story line was pretty simple. Paul Maholm went 8 innings and threw 121 pitches, and after last night's extravaganza, every pitch counted. His final line wasn't so hot, but if you take away the third inning, when he gave up 4 of his 5 runs and 4 of his 8 hits, he did a pretty creditable job (were it only that easy.)

Luis Rivas hit two home runs (no, that's not a misprint) and the X-Man added another as the Bucs outlasted the Cubs in eleven, 6-5. Frankie Osoria and Damaso Marte shut the Chi-town bats down for the final three innings, and the Pirates actually took a series from Chicago. It was even sweeter as they finally got to their nemesis, old Bucco Jon Lieber, thanks to Bay.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bay is the first major leaguer to decide extra-inning games with hits on successive days since Albert Belle of Cleveland homered in the 14th inning on Aug. 30, 1995, and again in the 10th inning a day later, against Toronto.

Now let the Memorial Day fun begin...

On the Pirate front: We were wondering what was up yesterday when the usually manic Doug Mientkiewicz jogged home to tie the game instead of chugging down the line with his usual all-out, elbows akimbo gallop.

It ends up the Mientkiewicz wasn't in the lineup due to the flu, and he had to be summoned from the clubhouse to pinch hit in the ninth. Because the Pirates were out of position players at that point, he was forced to stay in the game, too.

"He was about as sick as you can be," John Russell told "I thought he was going to pass out a couple times on the bench. He gutted it out and played. ... He felt terrible, so I can't say enough about him staying in the game."

What's that say about Jose Bautista, outplayed by a flu-ridden bench player?

Another guy that deserves some love is Jay Bay. After suffering the slings and arrows of the fans last year without once making an excuse, and while bearing the public brunt of the new suits' "underachiever" charges, he quietly went out this season and showed just how much his knee injury had taken from his game.

He never used his bum knee as a crutch against the criticism, and even went out and played 145 games on it. Quiet guys can be tough guys, too. The now healthy Bay could easily become the NL Comeback Player of the Year.

On the minor league front:
Evan Meek has thrown three times for Altoona since the Bucs got him back from the Rays. He's gone 5 innings, striking out 4 and walking 2 with a 3.60 ERA.

On the hot stove league front:
Indians GM Mark Shapiro will soon be talking to every team in an effort to upgrade his roster, according to MLB Trade Rumors. While Shapiro concedes that major trades don't usually occur so early in the season, he's already apparently ready to consider all options:

"We will get on the phone with every team in the league, although sometimes a trade of magnitude comes down the road. We will explore everything at this point."

If you recall, the Pirates and Indians almost pulled the trigger on a Jay Bay deal back in December. Could be interesting, especially with Bay's value again approaching 2005-06 levels.

On the ex-Pirate front:
The Dodgers DFA'ed Esteban Loaiza today. The team now has ten days to either trade him or release him unless Loaiza accepts a demotion to AAA Las Vegas.

Loaiza is guaranteed at least $7M in 2008, plus has a $375K buyout on a 2009 option. The 36-year old righty has been on the DL since early May due to a shoulder problem.

He was 27-28 for the Bucs from 1995-1998 at the start of his career. Loaiza has been fairly ineffective since 2005, when he was a Nat. In 14 years, he has a 126-114 record with a 4.65 ERA.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stop the presses...

Praise the Lord, the Bucs knocked off the Cubbies. It took awhile - they started an hour before the Penguins game and ended an hour after it, but hey, Jay Bay made sure that if he and his teammates were gonna play for 4-1/2 hours, they were gonna win.

The Cubs lost for the first time in five outings in Pittsburgh, where they have played games of 12, 15 and 14 innings this season. At least the Pirates make them earn it at PNC.

If Tyler Yates hadn't imploded in the eighth inning, Pittsburgh would have walked away with a well played, well pitched 3-1 win. But he did, so the Bucs rode 3 scoreless innings from Matt Capps and three more from John Grabow for a 14 inning, 5-4 win. Let's hope the bullpen isn't called on much tomorrow, although Capps got by with a very efficient 32 pitches.

And give some props to C Raul Chavez, who made a huge play when he picked Alfonso Soriano off second after he had doubled to start the ninth. Chavez may have some miles on the meter, but he catches a nice game.

Bay hit his 12th homer in the fourth and Luis Rivas, of all people, tied it in the ninth with a sac fly. After the bullpens traded zeros almost to the witching hour, Bay finally drove home Freddie Sanchez with the winner.

Phil Dumatrait pitched pretty well and might have stayed in the game longer he hadn't begun the sixth by stopping a line drive with his knee. He shook off the bruise, but walked two batters and allowed a single to load the bases with two out. In came Frankie Osoria, who needed just three pitches to strike out Mark DeRosa.

Damaso Marte added another scoreless inning before Yates gave up his three spot. He walked the first batter, though he could readily gotten the call on a couple of the pitches. Yates also gave up two ground ball hits, with Derrek Lee's double to center being the only well hit ball off of him (and it was smoked!) But the Bucs picked him up tonight.

As good as Bay was - he went 4-6 with 3 RBIs and even stole a base - that's how bad Jose "Joey Bats" Bautista was. He left five runners on, hit into two DP's and struck out looking. He also held on to a ball long enough at third to let a runner easily beat the throw on what should have been a routine out.

John Russell mercifully yanked him after 8 innings. Bautista had done enough damage.

The Pirates had a very respectable crowd of 29,900 on hand, especially considering the Pens were on TV and 13,000 were at the Arena to watch the Stanley Cup final on the big screen. Never underestimate the power of a bobblehead.

On the Pirate front: Going into today's game, Pittsburgh is 1-9 against the Cubs and 21-17 against the rest of the NL. Someone call Ripley.

Remember the hand-wringing when the Pirates broke camp with the questions about their bench? The Bucs ranked third in both pinch-hits (18) and pinch-hit RBIs (nine) in the NL heading into tonight's game.

One of the odder moments in yesterday's game was when Freddie Sanchez' bat shattered - while he was taking practice cuts in the on deck circle. We hope that MLB takes a long look at the fragile maple bats before someone gets speared or blinded by one.

On the minor league front: How are the big three doing at Indy? CF Andrew McCutchen is hitting .293 (6 HR, 21 RBI, 15 SB), OF/DH Steve Pearce .241 (4 HR, 26 RBI - and we wonder if the organization wouldn't be better off playing him at first when Nyjer Morgan, who's hitting .224 with 7 SB's, is in the lineup), and 3B Neil Walker checks in at .211 (6 HR, 25 RBI.)

All three strike out about once every 5+ AB's. OF Kevin Thompson has slowed down some, now batting .295 (4 HR, 12 RBI, 12 SB.)

RHP Brad Lincoln (2-0, 1.80), in his second start for A Hickory since returning from TJ surgery, allowed 1 run and 4 hits in five innings. He K'ed 2, walked 1 and got 8 ground ball outs. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

You think Pittsburgh is bush league? John Odom was released this spring from the Giant farm system, and caught on with the Calgary Vipers, an indie team. And then he was traded to the Laredo Broncos for 10 maple bats.

It ends up he couldn't get work papers from Canada because he was in a fight as a teen and had a record. So the Vipers shipped him to Laredo, where he could continue to ply his trade.

The original deal involved a player swap, but the Bronco's man refused to move to Canada. The teams then worked out an alternate deal for the bats, valued at about $650. Gotta love the indie teams. We wonder if Laredo ever plays the Wild Thing?

On the ex-Pirate front: Julian Tavarez has opted for free agency after being DFA'd by Boston, and Colorado, Milwaukee and Baltimore are poking at his tires.

The Bosox are eating his $3.75M contract after barely using him out of their pen this year, where he compiled a 6.39 ERA in 12-2/3 innings. Tavarez hasn't had a strong season since 2005 with the Cards. The 35 year old RHP has been in the bigs for 16 years and has a career 4.44 ERA.

He pitched in Pittsburgh in 2003, where he was 3-3 with a 3.57 ERA as a reliever.

The Buc's roadplan...

What should the new brass be aiming for when they blow up the team this summer and draft in a couple of weeks? We think they should be considering a 2011-12 time frame to introduce a bright, shiny new team to Pittsburgh.

For the current roster, that means precious few players should be off limits. Nate McLouth is 26, Ryan Doumit is 27, and they should be the only untouchables, along with perhaps Matt Capps, 24. The starting pitching ranges from Phil Dumatrait at age 27 to Zach Duke at 25, and some hard decisions will have to made there both in terms of talent and cost.

The middle infield is untouchable, too, unless a replacement player is dealt for, not because of age or ability issues, but simply because there's just no one else in the organization ready to man the center of the diamond.

As far as the draft, we believe that going after Georgia SS Tim Beckham, an 18 year old high school player, is a no-brainer if he's available. If they fast track him, he could be in the show in 2011, just when Jack Wilson's contract runs out.

Pittsburgh already has Shelby Ford, 23, in Altoona and he looks like the heir apparent to Freddie Sanchez, whose deal runs concurrent with Jack Splat's.

Pedro Alvarez may be more major league ready, but the Bucs are still a punt, pass and a kick away from becoming a team ready to take a flag. We'd stick with high school talent to stock the skill challenged farm system, at least for a couple of years, before we'd start bringing in college kids.

That way, they can get all the levels back to snuff in three or four years with some luck and foresight. The bean counters get to delay the contract clock by a couple of ticks, too. Both the business and operations people should be happy.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to get to the point where the system is self sustaining. It would be a welcome change to be able to reload instead of rebuild.

We'll find out in a few weeks what formula the new Pirates are gonna use. We hope they're looking down the road a bit and not just filling in the blanks. Pittsburgh has more needs than one toss of the dice can overcome, and we think the focus should be three or four seasons in the future.

It would be nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel instead of the usual onrushing train.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Too Much Carlos

Carlos Zambrano went seven innings, giving up a pair of runs while striking out six, and easily won his seventh game, 12-3. He also went 4-5 at the plate. Zambrano's batting average is now .343, which is higher than any Pirates starting player except the injured Ryan Doumit.

Zach Duke had his usual day, unable to sneak a ball past a batter (he faced 23 hitters in four innings and struck out one) and watched helplessly as ground balls rolled past, through, and off his infielders.

Sean Burnett and Marino Salas pitched the final five innings and gave up seven runs. More AAAA pitchers, we're afraid, unless the Cubs are the 21st century Murderers Row. And you couldn't prove otherwise after the way Chicago has pounded our pitching all year. The Cubs have outscored the Pirates 81-41 this season, averaging 8.1 runs per game against the staff.

In each of the first six innings of tonight's game, the Cubs' leadoff man reached base and scored. They say the third out is the hardest to get, but for the Bucs, it seems to be the first one.

God bless the 32,600 that attended tonight's game. We hope they really enjoyed the fireworks - Zambelli's, that is, not Zambrano's.

The Cubs again...?

Hey, the Bucs banged out a win. The Brewers copied a page from Pittsburgh's playbook last night and stranded 14 runners, blowing their best opportunity to sweep a series at PNC by an 8-4 count.

Nate McLouth got 4 hits, Jay Bay and Xavier Nady homered, and Chris Gomez chipped in with another hallmark two-out, bases loaded dink to carry the attack.

Gorzo was just OK, as all the starting pitching has been lately, but tonight the Pirate bats had enough life to bring home the win.

Tonight's game will feature the rematch of Zach Duke and Carlos Zambrano. We'll see if Zambrano can refrain from breaking a bat over his body at PNC.

And we give a tip of the cap to John Russell. Even though Jack Wilson has been out of the lineup all year, with Ryan Doumit recently joining him, he's managed to piece together an efficient lineup, even with more holes on the card than hitters.

When the Pirates score four or fewer runs, they're 6-21. But they're 16-4 when they score at least five, and their last 8 wins have been earned by putting together at least a five spot or better.

His starting pitching has been horrid, even by Pirate standards, and their 5.51 ERA is MLB's worst. We won't even talk about the fielding. But he's managed to cobble things together enough for the team to stick around most nights.

Yah, we know he hangs pitchers out to dry way too often - one part tough love and another to save his bullpen - and made some on-field moves that leave us scratching our heads. He'll never be one to coach by the book.

The season could have started off as a train wreck, but he's juggled his handful of bats and arms in the pen about as well as can be hoped. Russell's kept the team playing hard, if not well, nine innings a game so far this year.

Of course, the key is to see what he can do with a real team. And that test won't come this year.

On the injury front: Jack Splat is slated to be back in a Bucco uniform on Tuesday. Ryan Doumit is taking some swings at the air now, and may not be gone quite as long as first thought. That's good news, though it cuts down on the time Ronny Paulino has to audition for the rest of the league.

On the homeboy front: 6'5" Milwaukee lefty Zach Jackson, who pitched a couple of innings last night, is a Seneca Valley HS grad. The 25 year old was born in Latrobe and brought up in Cranberry.

Jackson was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004 after completing his junior year at Texas A&M. He pitched well, jumping to Triple-A in his first year. The Blue Jays traded him along with Dave Bush and Gabe Gross to the Brewers for Lyle Overbay and Ty Taubenheim in December 2005.

He started 7 games for the Brew Crew in 2006, going 2-2 with a 5.36 ERA. Jackson's had a rough couple of years at AAA Nashville and his star has lost a lot of its' shine.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When's bobblehead night...?

The Brew Crew came to Pittsburgh staggering, but they'll leave swaggering.

The Pirates spanked 11 hits of Brewer ace Ben Sheets, but except for Xavier Nady's solo shot, only one Buc runner reached third base and Sheets earned a complete game, 4-1 victory tonight. Pittsburgh has now fallen into the Central cellar, at least until the results of the Cincy-LA game are in.

Nady's blast tied it in the fourth, but Ian Snell gave up a pair the next inning thanks to an error and single sandwiched around Ryan Braun's triple. Milwaukee never looked back.

Pittsburgh is in a stretch of 22 straight Central division games that could define the season, and are off to a 3-5 start.

After drawing 11,000 last night, the Pirates played in front of 8,800 this evening. It may be fewer tomorrow. But hey, the weekend will rock, even if the Buccos don't - there are Zambelli fireworks Friday night and a Matt Capps bobblehead give-away Saturday. Ya gotta give the fans some reason to come out.

On the draft front: Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette wrote that the Bucs are down to a handful - and maybe a just a pair - of players to call on June 5th.

One is Florida State catcher Buster Posey, who was named ACC player of the year after batting .471. But the feeling is that Tampa Bay is leaning towards picking him. The Rays need a catcher, and he's the top gun available.

The other four on the Pirates' wish list are Vandy third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Georgia HS shortstop Tim Beckham, San Diego State LHP Brian Matusz and likely Missouri RHP Aaron Crow.

The baseball gurus suspect they're debating the merits of Alvarez or Beckham, both great matches for Pirate needs.

Alvarez, 20, hit .338 with 7 HRs and 25 RBIs. He's almost major-league ready, too. He is represented by Scott Boras and will be looking for huge bucks. He's also recovering from a broken hand, and how that affects the process is yet to be seen. Some think it may have sapped some of his power.

Beckham, 18, is a senior at Griffin HS and is thought by many to be a five-tool shortstop. He's batting .500 with 5 HRs and 13 RBIs. He's committed to Southern Cal, so he hasn't hired an agent yet. The question is what kind of deal will it take to lure him away from the Trojans and next year's draft? Still, this isn't a strong draft, and it'll be hard for him to move much higher on the board.

It's an interesting hand that the brass had dealt to them this year. You can expect Doug Mientkiewicz to play a lot of third this season. The word - and the lineup card - indicate that the Bucs have finally tired of waiting for Jose Bautista to blossom. Neil Walker has been struggling at Indy, and Alvarez could just leapfrog over him to claim the hot corner in Pittsburgh.

Jack Splat's time on the DL has shown how really thin the Bucs are up the middle. He's signed through 2009 with an option year, and Beckham could be ready by the end of that deal, maybe teamed up with 2B prospect Shelby Ford, who's hitting .286 at Altoona now.

Wilson should still have some value then (although he's talked of retiring after the contract's done.) The Pirates could have made a nice haul moving him this year if they had someone to take his place. The thought of Beckham and Andrew McCutcheon together in the batting order must have the suits salvitating.

Kovacevic's scenario seems pretty sound to us.'s
Jonathan Mayo still thinks the Buc's will draft Alvarez, due in a large part because he believes that Beckham is going to the Rays. He likes Posey and Matusz here, too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blow 'em up...

It's only one more loss out of many we've seen, but it's time. Blow them up and bring in some players. There are too many black holes in the lineup for a handful of guys to carry and too many back of the rotation/bullpen arms on the staff. Too often they look as if little leaguers have absorbed the fundamentals of the game more than they have.

We thought the Bucs would be competitive this year, and they still may be. There are some pieces here and sparsely scattered throughout the system. But there's a world of difference between competitive and championship. Forget .500 and get to work on a team built for a pennant.

On the minor league front: Chris Hernandez was promoted from AA Altoona to AAA Indianapolis yesterday. He had a better than 7:1 K:BB over 20-2/3 innings with a 2.61 ERA, .195 BAA and 0.87 WHIP. Hernandez had a 4-0 record and 4 saves in 14 appearances. The 27 year old righty could get a look as a middle reliever if the bullpen in Pittsburgh should falter later in the season, according to RotoWire.

On the draft front: John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times has chimed in with his draft day prediction:

"Though it smacks of Moses breaking one of the 10 commandments, Coonelly has given the Pirates’ front office to go-ahead to draft who they think is the best player when they select second behind Tampa Bay on June 5.

The players the Pirates are considering include Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez; Tim Beckham, a high school shortstop from Georgia; San Diego left-hander Brian Matusz; Florida State catcher Buster Posey and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.

None of the five will come cheap and Alvarez, who is being advised by superagent Scott Boras, is said to be seeking a major-league contract worth at least $8 million.

Alvarez is the guy the Pirates want and appears they will get as Tampa Bay is leaning toward picking Beckham or Posey.

This time, the Pirates won’t make the same mistake. Alvarez will be their man, they will sign (him) and he could very well be their starting third baseman next season."

He also rubs a little salt in the wound by reminding the Pirate nation of the guys the past Bucco suits have considered and then passed on:

Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters last year, Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir and B.J. Upton in 2002 (the excuse - they were high school players), and Stanford left-hander Jeremy Guthrie. They actually drafted the Boras-represented Guthrie in the third round of the 2001 draft, but never signed him. He was the Oriole's opening day pitcher this year.

If you're wondering if the Bucs can shore up their lack of depth up the middle in this year's draft, don't hold your breath. With a couple of exceptions, the middle infield is thought to be pretty pedestrian this year, and several of the top young guns are projected to end up in different positions by the time they reach the show because of size or range issues.

With the MLB draft being televised live for the second straight year, each club has been asked to send at least one team ambassador to Orlando, to represent the organization.

Chuck Tanner has long been one of the faces of the Pirates franchise, while Steve Blass is currently one of the voices for it. The team has selected the pair to be the club's spokesmen at the draft. Good choices, we think. Now if the draftees are only as good as the drafters...

On the ex-Pirates front: Salomon Torres tops the Brewer's bullpen staff with 28-2/3 innings pitched so far this season. He's had eight outings of at least two innings in his 22 games this year. Solly's record is 3-1 with a save and an ERA of 3.14.

He was a Pirate from 2002-2007, appearing in 358 games with a 26-28 record and 26 saves. Torres was traded to the Brew Crew during the off season for Marino Salas and Kevin Roberts after a spat with management over his baseball camp.

Jeff Suppan is slated to start Thursday for the Brew Crew. He's 2-3 with a 4.78 ERA, and shares the team innings pitched lead with Ben Sheets at 52-2/3. He has a 14-15 record overall in his second campaign with Milwaukee.

Suppan pitched in Pittsburgh in 2003, going 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA and netting the Bucs Freddie Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox in one of Littlefield's better deadline deals.

Jason Kendall is the Brewer's starting backstop, hitting .269 in 40 games. A first round draft pick of the Bucs in 1992, he played here from 1996-2004 and led the team in career games caught while batting .306. His salary was then dumped on Oakland, and Pittsburgh got Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes back.

He's done a nice job behind the dish, throwing out 16 of 34 base stealers, a 47% caught stealing rate (Ronny Paulino, by comparison, has only tossed out 20%.) Kendall's allowed 3 passed balls, one less than Ryan Doumit.

Padre GM Kevin Tower threw a hissy fit after San Diego's last loss and threatened to bring up a new group of players, en masse, to rejuvenate the team. Brian Giles could be on the list to go, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Giles is hitting .311 and has a .403 OBP, but hasn't smacked over 23 dingers since leaving Pittsburgh, although his power numbers would look a lot better away from Petco. He earns $9M this year and has a $3M buyout for '09. He can block trades to eight teams and gets a $2M increase if dealt, and that could be a deal breaker.

But if the Padres are seriously looking to remake their lineup, he'd be an attractive player to dangle.

Giles was sent to SD late in 2003 for Ollie Perez and Jay Bay after 5 seasons as a Buc. Pittsburgh got him in 1999 from the Tribe for Ricardo Rincon - hey, not of all our deals were terrible. Giles hit 169 HR's and drove in 524 runs, never hitting under .299, during his Pirate years and made two All-Star games.

Infielder Abraham Nunez, 32, agreed to a minor league contract with the New York Mets and was assigned to Class AAA New Orleans. Nunez spent from 1997-2004 in Pittsburgh as a utility man, batting .238 in 630 games. He played another year for the Cards and for the past two seasons in Philly.

On the "Stan the Man" front:
It took long enough, but on Sunday St. Louis dedicated Stan Musial Drive, renaming the street in front of Busch Stadium in honor of the franchise's greatest player. Musial, 87, was born in Donora. He's in the Hall of Fame after a 22-year career with the Cards, batting .331 lifetime with 475 homers and having both scored and drove in over 1,900 runs. Stan was indeed the Man.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Taking a little break...

The Pirates are off today, getting ready to take on the Milwaukee Brewers tomorrow night. It's a big homestand for them as the Central division is beginning to split into two tiers, with Chicago, St. Louis and Houston bunched together and Pittsburgh, the Brew Crew and the Reds lagging behind.

The Bucs host the Cubs next, visit Cincy and the Cards, and then spend the majority of June at home. They have a tough interleague schedule looming, meeting the O's, White Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays.

The next five weeks will tell the tale on the season, with 16 straight games with Central division rivals leading into interleague play with the Nats and D-Backs in between. And the Pirate's starting pitching will be the story.

The Bucs have outscored their opponents in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings by a 68-40 margin according to the Tribune Review's Rob Biertempfel. Is it any wonder why starting pitching is so key to this club? If the Pirates are close or ahead going into the seventh inning, they've been closing the deal.

The team ERA of 5.34 is easily the NL's worst. Too many times, good bullpen work hasn't been enough to make up for a starter getting shelled after four or five innings. It's time for them to turn it around, or the fire sale will begin sooner instead of later in Pittsburgh.

On the Jack Splat front: Jack Wilson will suit up for Altoona in Akron tomorrow to continue his rehab, and should play with the Curve for a couple or three days, or maybe a bit longer. Wilson got four games under his belt while at Indy and is still looking to find his legs and stamina. He received treatment for his bum calf and worked out at PNC Park this morning.

On the minor league front:
Brad Lincoln, pitching for the first time in over a year after TJ surgery, gave 1 run on 4 hits while whiffing 3 in five innings for A Hickory as he defeated Rome. A promising beginning for the Buc's top pick in 2006.

On the ex-Pirate front: Cub bench player Daryle Ward was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bulging disc in his back. Ward hit 27 homers for the Bucs in 2004-2005.

According to ESPN's Buster Olney, free agent Kenny Lofton "is still waiting and hoping for a chance to play." Why can't the 41 year-old outfielder find a job? With an .818 OPS last year, he still has a knack with the bat. Is Lofton sitting at home for lack of interest, or is he asking for too much in terms of money or playing time?

He'd be a nice piece for the right team - maybe the A's, Cubs, or Braves could take a chance on him. Lofton did a nice job for Pittsburgh in 2003, hitting .277 with 18 stolen sacks in 84 games before he was sent to the Cubs with A-Ram for Bobby Hill.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I'm walking...

Hey, if Phil Dumatrait could have hit the broad side of a barn after the second inning, the Bucs would have romped. But he couldn't, walking seven batters in his last 2-2/3 innings, and the Pirates went down 4-3. All four Cub tallies were scored by runners that reached base via the free pass.

Adam LaRoche had a big day with a home run and 3 RBIs, but the Pirates' and Cubs' bullpens owned the last three innings of the game. Each struck out 5 opponents, and the Pirates threw perfect ball over the last 3-1/3 innings. The Cubs weren't far behind, giving up just 1 hit and 2 walks over three.

It was a bad day to lose a tight one as everyone else in the division, other than Milwaukee, won today and picked up a game on Pittsburgh. The Bucs are off tomorrow and host the Brew Crew on Tuesday at PNC. Manny Parra will hook up with Paul Maholm.

On the Pirate front: The Pirates today conclude an unusual eight-day stretch that has them playing seven daylight games. After Saturday's win, the Pirates are 8-8 this season in day matches. Four of those losses have come in afternoon contests at Wrigley Field.

Some of the players see early starts as a distinct advantage for the Cubs, who play under the sun all the time at home and don't have to alter their routine. Others believe that like the weather, both teams have to adjust to it and so it's no big deal.

The Cubs are 18-8 at home, 8-9 away. They spend much of June and early July on the road in what could be a telling stretch of games for them.

On the MLB front:
No one would have guessed it two months ago, but going into today, the Yankees, Tigers, Padres and Brewers are all in last place of their divisions.

On the local bookworm front: If you feel the urge to curl up with a new book while waiting out the spring monsoons, you could do worse than grabbing John McCollester's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".

As the blurb says, the book is filled with "Pirates highlights, lowlights, wonderful and wacky memories, legends and goats, the famous, and the infamous." Dr. McCollester is a Lutheran minister raised in Scott Twp. and has written several Bucco books. And we all know the Pirates could stand a little Divine intervention.

There's also a recently released book about New Brighton's Terry Francona, former MLB player whose career was shortened by injuries and current Bosox manager, called “Red Sox Rule.”

The book is written by Point Park University grad Michael Holley, now a radio talk-show host in Boston. It tells the tale of Francona's new-school managerial skills, a must for a Theo Epstein hire, and Boston's Sabermetric road to two World Series crowns in the past four years.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who woulda thunk it?

Nate McLouth from
(photo by Keith Srakocic, AP)

No one said it would be easy, but the Bucs finally got the Cub monkey off their backs today 7-6. But someone needs to hose down Alfonso Soriano with some very cold water and soon, because he's on fire right now.

He was 5-5 with two more long balls, a double, and added three RBIs and three runs scored, collecting extra-base hits off of three of today's four Buc hurlers. Soriano has 20 hits in his last 37 at-bats (.541) with seven homers, four doubles and 15 RBIs, raising his average to .295 after a brutal start to the campaign.

Damaso Marte, who got the win, was lucky enough to miss facing him in the eighth inning.

It took a Pirate three-of-a-kind to trump Chicago's ace.

Pittsburgh upped the ante with Freddie Sanchez, Nate McLouth, and Adam LaRoche. Together, they collected eight hits, including a homer, two doubles and four RBIs along with five runs scored to offset the Cubby wild card, Soriano.

McLouth's two run shot that just nestled into the right field netting in the ninth brought home the win, set up by a hustling infield hit by Sanchez. Pity poor Carlos Marmol (1-1). He's allowed just two homers this season, both by McLouth.

The Bucs almost iced it in the fifth inning. Starter Carlos Zambrano was so frustrated by his strikeout while batting in the fourth that he snapped a bat over his leg. Ouch. And that may have been the key to getting to him with the next at-bats.

The Pirates got their first five runners aboard and had the bases juiced with no one out and two runs already in against the flustered and perhaps hobbled Zambrano. Mike Wuertz came on, and Xavier Nady lifted a medium foul fly to right to bring another run home and set up runners on the corners.

Doug Meintkiewicz, starting at third base again, blistered a shot up the line. Derrek Lee, playing in front of the runner, squeezed it and doubled up LaRoche on first. If the ball got past him and into the corner, Pittsburgh would be on the road to a potentially huge, Soriano-proof, inning. But at least it didn't come back to bite them.

Duke again kept the Pirates in the game with another adequate effort, going 6-1/3 and giving up four runs. The bullpen carried Pittsburgh the rest of the way, although staggered by an Alfonso homer and two-out, ninth inning double that led to the Cubs' final run and a few new gray hairs on John Russell's head.

Phil Dumatrait (1-1, 3.96 ERA) takes on Jason Marquis, a free agent bust so far this season for the Windy City nine (1-3, 5.26 ERA) in the series clincher tomorrow.

On the Pirate front: Though Russell put Mientkiewicz in the lineup at third base for the third straight day, the manager maintains that he is not yet looking at a platoon situation with him and Jose Bautista playing out in the near future. Maybe he should.

Both infielders' season and career numbers favor a long look at platooning. Bautista has hit right-handed pitching at a .204 mark this season (.229 overall), while Mientkiewicz has a .264 average off right-handers in 2008 (.271 career).

The difference is even more striking against lefties. Mientkiewicz's .100 average against southpaws this season (.265 lifetime) is dwarfed by Bautista's .294 mark this year (.262 career).

Jack Wilson went 2 for 2 with a double and an RBI in his second rehab game at Indy. He played six innings and fielded three balls. He should be ready to return to the bigs late next week if all continues to go well.

Indy's off Monday, and it's unknown whether he'll stay put, visit the docs, or go to Altoona to get an extra game in.

Nady made a great diving catch near the right-field warning track to rob pinch hitter Ronny Cedeno leading off the seventh inning. The grab was good enough to make ESPN's Top Ten Plays of the Day segment.

Equally as nice was Ronny Paulino's block of home and tag on Geovany Soto in the third to end the inning and keep the Cubs off the board. It ended up being a big run.

It looks like that extra work with Manny Sanguillen and the other coaches on plays at the plate in the spring is paying dividends now. The questions about Paulino's heart have been put to rest so far this season.

On the minor league front:
RHP Brad Lincoln, 23, will be making his first start since 2006 tomorrow when he takes the mound for the Class A Lynchburg Hillcats. Lincoln, who had TJ surgery on his right elbow in April of 2007, will climb the hill after back-to-back 80-pitch outings in extended spring training.

He was selected by the Pirates as the fourth overall pick in 2006 out of the University of Houston. (Lincoln went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings while walking 32 at UH. A two-way player, he also hit .295/.368/.536 with 14 HR as a 1B/DH for the Cougars. He came out of school as a junior.)

Lincoln went from college to the GCL rookie league to Class A Hickory that season, where he went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA and 10 strikeouts. Some baseball people believe that the 160 inning workload that year may have led to his elbow problems.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Home run derby...

Tom Gorzelanny's first pitch was hammered into the left field bleachers by Alfonso Soriano, and the game went downhill from there. Gorzo gave up 6 runs in the first two innings and four long balls before his day was through as the Cubs beat the Bucs for the tenth straight time, 7-4.

Gorzo had yielded just 3 home runs before today. But the Cubs own the Evergreen Park, Illinois, native this year - he's started three games against them, and left all three after giving up seven runs. That's no way to treat a native son.

Jay Bay and Doug Mientkiewicz both homered late for the Pirates, but it was too deep a hole for the club to dig out of today.

The Cubs have whupped Pittsburgh 7 times this year, by scores of 10-8, 6-4, 7-3, 3-2, 13-1, 13-6, and 7-4. It adds up to 28 tallies for the good guys versus 59 for the Chicago side. That's 8-1/2 runs per game for the Big Blue Machine against the Pirate hurlers.

Zach Duke will try to stop the merry-go-round tomorrow. It won't be an easy chore. He's matched up against Carlos Zambrano, 6-1 with a 2.02 ERA. Maybe the hidden vigorish will finally rear its' head at Wrigley tomorrow. We can only hope.

On the draft front: Baseball America has chimed in with its' prediction for the June 5 baseball draft. They say the Bucs go for...

2. PIRATES. After Pittsburgh passed on Matt Wieters last year to take the less expensive Daniel Moskos, the new front-office regime could make amends with the fan base by taking the top player on their draft board and paying whatever it takes to sign him. The Pirates have taken pitchers with their top choice in eight of the last 10 drafts, and six of those hurlers required major surgery soon thereafter. So they'll likely focus on shoring up their lineup, and while they like high school SS Tim Beckham, they're interested in more immediate help. Vandy 3B Pedro Alvarez, FSU catcher Buster Posey, Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso all could be fits.

Projected Pick: PEDRO ALVAREZ.

On the bad news front: Sports Illustrated picked its' All-Time, All-Scandal team, and the Pirates had a pair of representatives:

Dave Parker - The Cobra, a two-time batting champ and the 1976 NL MVP, was one of the biggest names in baseball's cocaine scandal of the 1980s. After testifying at the trial of one of suppliers, Parker was sued in Federal court by the Pirates, who were irked by the fact that they were on the hook for $5.3 million at a time when the slugger was proving that cocaine was not exactly a performance-enhancing drug. (His production had tailed off and he'd become bloated and prone to injury.)

The Pirate Parrot- The bird became embroiled in baseball's cocaine scandal of 1985 when it was revealed before a grand jury in Pittsburgh that he'd introduced assorted members of the Pirates to a local drug peddler and had even distributed a little Peruvian coco powder himself. The Parrot avoided prosecution by cooperating with the FBI.
He squawked, hehe.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I wish it would rain...

Jason Bay from

Sunshine, blue skies, please go away...hey, who knew the Bucs were mudders? Keyed by a Jay Bay pinch hit blast into the bullpen and another Jason Isringhausen implosion, the Pirates started slowly but eventually built up a head of steam and took the rubber match from St. Louis today, 11-5, in the drizzle and rain.

Ian Snell was rocked again, giving up 5 runs on 11 hits in just 4 innings of work. But Frankie Osaria, Sean Burnett, John Grabow, Damaso Marte and the Mad Capper shut out the Redbirds over the final five. Grabow did yeoman's work pitching out a jam inherited from Burnett and notched his third win for his effort.

There were heroes galore. Nate McLouth and Bay went yard, and Ronny Paulino, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Chris Gomez collectively batted 8-13 and scored eight times from the 6-7-8 spots. Jason Michaels chipped in with a pair of RBIs.

Good thing, too, since Adam LaRoche and the X-Man had a horse collar hung on them in the middle of the order, going 0-9. LaRoche is down to an April-ish .197 average.

Tony LaRusso watched his team strand 14 more runners - that's 29 left on base in the past two games - and his bullpen get smacked around some more. He may have to give up his title as "MLB's Most Brilliant Manager" if this keeps up, hehe.

Did you notice that his pitcher, batting eighth, stranded 5 runners last night? Maybe that's one reason why so many Cards are left standing on the sacks after every inning.

Our only question - why didn't John Russell give Freddie Sanchez the day off? It was a chilly 55 degrees and raining after a night game, surely not the best situation for the gimpy armed second sacker.

If the Bucs continue to be efficient with their attack, and if the staff can pitch to their PNC standards (3.71 ERA at home, 6.17 on the road), well, it could be interesting for awhile.

We'll see soon enough - the Pirates are off to Wrigley to meet the Cubs that have handled Pittsburgh like a red-haired step child so far this year. If the Bucs want to hang around the Central race a while longer, that's the team they have to beat.

On the minor league front: The Bucs sent Evan Meek and newly acquired Juan Mateo to AA Altoona. The Curve staff has been short of arms with three pitchers on the DL (Ron Belisario, Pat Bresnehan, and Derek Hankins) and now they're back to a standing room only compliment of 13 hurlers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Baby, gonna shut you down...

Well, you're not gonna win many games when you're held to four hits, and that's what Todd Wellemeyer and the Card pen did to the Bucs tonight. Wellemeyer went into the eighth inning, and the 29-year old journeyman gave up just a pair of singles while running his record to 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA.

Paul Maholm struggled, but it was just 2-0 after five. He gave up three straight hits to open the sixth, and in either a vote of confidence for Maholm or lack of confidence in the middle-inning relief, John Russell stuck with him. Two sac flies later, it was 4-0 and that was the ballgame.

As much as Maholm danced between the raindrops, he could have gotten out of the sixth without a nick. We suspect that two of the hits that got by SS Luis Rivas would have been gobbled up by vintage Jack Splat...OK, even Brian Bixler.

Most nights, his performance would have been good enough to keep the team in the game. Not tonight. They made a couple of plays - Rick Ankiel reached over the fence to rob Adam LaRoche on one dazzler - and Pittsburgh didn't. C'est la vie.

They'll be right back at it this afternoon as the Bucs and Cards decide the series on get-away day.

On the Pirate front: The Bucs called up catcher Raul Chavez, 35, to take Ryan Doumit's spot today.

Chavez has a .212 batting average and 4 HRs in 169 career MLB games, last playing for the Baltimore O's in 2006. He hit .306 with 3 home runs and 13 RBIs at Indy. Chavez is a good defensive player with a reputed rifle for an arm. He's thrown out 33 of 81 guys that ran against him in the bigs, a 41% gun-out rate.

He was added to the 40-man roster, and now it's filled again. Didn't take long.

Jack Wilson is going to Indianapolis tomorrow to begin his rehab instead of Altoona because of rainy weather and soggy field conditions there. He'll play four games with Indy before his calf is poked and probed by the medicos on Monday.

Wilson said that because of the long layoff, he'd anticipate needing at least a week to 10 days of game action, so he's not at all likely to be ready to make the jump from Indy to Pittsburgh after playing this weekend. He may head to Altoona next week.

The Pirates completed a deal with Tampa to reclaim RHP Evan Meek. The Pirates will send the Rays cash. Tampa was under the gun as its' 40-man roster was filled, and apparently Pittsburgh was the only team with any interest in Meek - and that includes Tampa.

On the old Pirate front:
The WPIAL announced its' second Hall of Fame class yesterday, and Dick Groat of old Swissvale High was named to it. He was a three-sport jock in high school who went on to big things in basketball and baseball.

He played hoops at Duke in the 1950s, where his number was retired. Groat was twice an All-American and was voted as the Helms National Player of the Year in 1952 after averaging 25.2 points per game.

He put in a year with Fort Wayne of the NBA before entering the service and then joining up with Branch Rickey's Bucs (he signed a deal with them after his college graduation) following his discharge.

Oddly, he didn't play baseball at Duke. But he played roundball and baseball at Fort Belvedere and led the base to Army championships in both sports.

Groat made his rep as a shortstop, spending nine seasons with the Pirates, winning a NL MVP, a batting title, and the 1960 World Series as a Bucco. He and Billy Maz formed one of the more lethal DP combos known to baseball, and he was a terrific hit and run guy, batting out of the two hole behind Bill Virdon.

Groat won another World Series in 1964 with the Cards and was a NL All-Star 5 times. In a 14 year MLB career, he had a .286 batting average with 2,138 hits, 39 HRs, 829 runs, 707 RBIs, and 352 doubles in 1,929 games.

It's nice to see the region recognize its' own.

On the ex-Pirate front:
Reds SS Jeff Keppinger was placed on the 15-day DL today because of a fractured left kneecap. He was hitting .324 with 3 HRs and 21 RBIs for Cincy so far this season.

He fouled a pitch off of his left leg in the second inning of yesterday's Marlin game, but hung in until he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fourth. An X-ray revealed the fracture, and an MRI exam was scheduled for today to determine the full extent of the injury. (EDIT - 4 to 6 weeks out is the prognosis.)

Keppinger was part of the 2004 Met deal with Kris Benson, going to NY for Jose Bautista, Ty Wigginton, and Matt Peterson. The 28 year old may end up the best of the bunch.

The Mets have announced that 34 year-old RHP Nelson Figueroa was DFA'ed with another pitcher, Jorge Sosa. They've been replaced by call ups RHP Claudio Vargas & RHP Matt Wise. Figgy was 2-3 with a 5.12 ERA for the Mets. He pitched for Pittsburgh in 2003-04.

On the draft front:
From Jonathan Mayo of

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt

Yes, that's right. I'm putting it in print. The Pirates have said they would spend more money in this draft and take the best available player. If that's the case, then Alvarez is the guy, despite a broken hamate bone in his hand that took away more than a month and has made it somewhat slow for him to regain his timing and power this spring.

Alvarez can flat-out hit and will hit for power while staying at third and getting to the bigs in a hurry. In other words, he's exactly what the Pirates need. But there is a difference between spending more money and meeting the possible bonus demands of a Scott Boras advisee. If the Pittsburgh braintrust decides that leap can't be made, or that Alvarez's hand is a true concern, there are other options.

Both Tim Beckham (HS SS from Georgia) and Buster Posey (C - Florida State) will get serious consideration if passed on by the Rays. If the Bucs decide that pitching is the best way to go, Brian Matusz (LHP - U of San Diego) profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter as does University of Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow.

This fits in with previous predictions that the Bucs will be looking hard at Alvarez or Crow. We still think the brass will go with an arm, but let's face it - they could throw a dart at the names of the top half dozen prospects and find a player they can use. Matusz is the top pitcher on the board according to most gurus.

Other highly rated hurlers are Andrew Cashner, RHP, TCU; Shooter Hunt, RHP, Tulane; Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Fresno State (EDIT - he was just reported as suffering from a stress fracture of his shoulder, and that should drop him down some); and Cody Satterwhite, RHP, Mississippi, who's considered the biggest stretch of the group.