Thursday, April 30, 2009

El Toro, Achy Breaky Bucs, and Occham's Razor

-- The Pirates officially opened the team's 46-acre Latin American headquarters and baseball training complex in El Toro, the Dominican Republic, today.

The campus style complex features 2-1/2 fields, covered batting cages, bullpens, a clubhouse, weight rooms, trainers' rooms, classrooms, conference rooms, recreation rooms, administration offices and a dorm big enough to house 90 players and staff.

Buc owner Bob Nutting hosted the grand opening ceremonies, and had on hand Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington, Dominican Republic President Dr. Leonel Fernandez Reyna, Sports Minister Felipe Payano, scout Rene Gayo, and family members of Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente including wife Vera and sons Luis and Roberto, Jr.

The Pirates and the Clementes unveiled a four-foot tall stone monument featuring a bronze replica of Roberto Clemente's Hall of Fame plaque with his stats and bio written in both English and Spanish.

It was a big deal in the Dominican, and we hope the start of a pipeline to Pittsburgh.

-- The MLB Pirates aren't the only ones dropping like flies; the bush league Bucs are taking a whupping, too. Jose Tabata is the latest casualty; he'll be out 4-6 weeks with a bad hammy. RHP Bryan Morris will miss another month with a shoulder impingement, SS Brian Friday has vertigo caused by an ear infection and missed the last 10 days, and SS Jarek Cunningham blew out a knee and is out for the year.

There's a ray of light, though. If there's no setback today, Nate McLouth plans to be back in the lineup tomorrow for the Reds series.

-- GW is a little curious as to why the Brew Crew seemed to be getting the benefit of the ball/strike calls in the series just past. We can understand the first game; a Cy Young winner like Jake Peavy will and probably should get the calls on the black. Tuesday's game was OK; the plate was tight for both teams.

Yesterday, though, was a puzzler. Mind you, GW didn't see the game, being hard at work (are you reading this, Mr. Boss?) and it wasn't televised anyway. But the reports made it seem like Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo was getting a more generous zone than Ian Snell.

It doesn't seem like the Buc batters beef anymore than anyone else, and God knows JR doesn't ride the umps. Heck, in two seasons, he probably hasn't met half of them yet for all he comes out of the dugout.

Could it be that their reputation for nibbling and wildness has preceded the Pittsburgh staff, even affecting the borderline judgment of the men in blue? Dunno, but that's our working theory right now. We can only hope that as the season goes on, the plate becomes the same size for both sides and that the last series was just an anomaly.

Then again, for those to subscribe to the ever popular Occham's razor theory, maybe the Pirate batters just have really bad eyes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More Of The Same

Today was get-away day at Miller Park, but don't be surprised if the Brewers try to get the Bucs to stay another day and play tomorrow, too. They swept the Pirates by a 1-0 score to sweep the series and take their 15th straight from Pittsburgh.

Yovani Gilardo did it all today. He went eight innings, yielding two hits and striking out eleven. And to add an ocean full of salt to the wound, his solo homer in the seventh, his second, was the only run of the game. Why you would throw a change-up to a pitcher is another question, but give Gilardo credit; he did what all the other Brewers do with a Pittsburgh mistake.

Ian Snell did his part. He gave up just the one run on five hits, going seven innings, striking out five and walking four. And again, we have to wonder if JR is over-protecting his pen. Snell ended up throwing 131 pitches, with John Grabow, Tyler Yates, and Matt Capps fresh in the bullpen and an off day tomorrow.

He kept Paul Maholm in an inning too long last night, and we have to believe that his confidence in the brige part of reliever corps is so fragile that Russell won't go to them in a winnable game, crossing his fingers that the starter will dodge raindrops until the seventh or eighth frame so his back-enders can take over.

Danged if you do, danged if you don't, we suppose. Still, when your starters give you five or six good innings, you shouldn't hang them out to dry by giving them one more distant bridge to cross.

The Pirates are off tomorrow, and take the field Friday for a three-set match against the Reds and another pair against Milwaukee. Maybe they should bring Pedro Cerrano to the clubhouse to offer the voo-doo gods a chicken before the Brew Crew rematch.

The Pirates - Reds matchups are Zach Duke LHP (3-1, 2.43) against RHP Bronson Arroyo (3-1, 6.48), Ross Ohlendorf (2-2, 3.24) versus RHP Micah Owings (1-2, 3.78), and Jeff Karstens (1-0, 5.40) will finish against RHP Johnny Cueto (1-1, 2.19).

-- Chico Harlan of the Washington Post writes that the new Nat closers will be ex-Pirates Julian Taveras and Kip Wells. Are things that bad in the Capital or does Manny Acta know something the rest of the MLB missed?

-- Hey, we all enjoy the hot stove league and speculating on who's out there that could turn the local sad sacks into contenders. But we often forget - although Pittsburgh, of all places, should appreciate - the crap shoot nature of free agent signings.

Tim Dierkes of Major League Trade Rumors put together a list of guys that are early flops after pocketing some big bucks this off-season, led by the Evil Empire's big three:

•Mark Teixeira, Yankees: .206/.363/.381 in 80 plate appearances. This contract runs through 2016, so it's barely begun.
•C.C. Sabathia, Yankees: 4.73 ERA in 32.3 innings. So far we haven't seen the expected walk and strikeout rates. This one runs through 2015.
•A.J. Burnett, Yankees: 5.47 ERA in 24.6 innings. Home runs and walks have been the problem so far. He's signed through 2013.
It's only a month into the season, and all these guys may, and probably will, end up closer to their MLB norm than their current slow starts show. Still, it's kinda reassuring in a "misery loves company" way to know that Derrick Bell, Pat Meares, and that crew aren't unique to Three Rivers.

-- Speaking of Operation Shutdown, Bell couldn't even get anyone to meet his price when he tried to auction his Blue Jay World Series ring on E-Bay. No crocodile tears are being shed by GW for Mr. Bell, who has no one to blame for his woes but himself and a spoon, but it's still sad to see a guy that had it all swirling around the drain.

-- LHP Patrick Shuster of Port Mitchell HS in Florida had his streak of four consecutive no-hitters brought to a screeching halt by Gaithers High in the Sunshine State playoffs. His no-no stretch ended after 28-1/3 innings, and he took a 9-4 loss. He finished 8-1 with a 1.35 ERA in 25 appearances this season, giving up just 12 hits in 60 innings with 115 strikeouts. A senior, the 18 year-old will attend Florida in 2010.

Schuster would have become the fourth high school pitcher to throw five consecutive no-hitters. Two players have thrown six in a row. Chris Taranto of Notre Dame High School in Biloxi, Miss., did it in 1961, while Tom Engle did it in 1989 in Lancaster, Ohio.

Taranto was taken by the Houston Colt .45s and Engle was drafted by the New York Mets. Arm problems ended both their careers. Let's hope this kid doesn't end up with a burned-out arm, too, always a possibility when you're too good too young.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Curse Continues

King Tut don't have nothin' on the Brew Crew when it comes to curses. The Bucs dropped their fourteenth straight game to Milwaukee tonight 6-5 after staking ace Paul Maholm to a 5-1 lead.

But Maholm didn't have anything going. He struggled through the first two innings, giving up a run, left the bases loaded in the third and fourth frames, and was charged with a pair of runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. Maholm gave up a five spot on seven hits and five walks in 5-1/3 innings.

Curiously, JR decided to keep an obviously laboring Maholm in the game in the sixth. He let him lead off the frame, and face three batters in the home half of the inning, giving up a leadoff homer and a single that Freddy Sanchez probably wishes he had back sandwiched around an out.

Our guess is that Russell was hoping to get another inning out of Maholm before dipping into the bullpen again; it didn't pan out. Jesse Chavez came on and gave up a blast on his second pitch, and that was all the fat lady needed.

Without Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit, the Bucco attack has been surprisingly effective. Eric Hinske had a two-out, two run double in the third, Brian Bixler used his speed to create another run in the fourth, hustling to second for a dink double and later scoring on a short sac fly, and Jason Jaramillo doubled home another pair in the fifth.

But the Pirates are approaching a danger zone. The starting pitching is leaving too many innings open, exposing the bullpen like it did last season, and the staff is either nibbling at the plate or losing command - they've walked 17 batters in the past two games at Miller Park.

Ian Snell (1-2, 4.50) goes against Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 3.71) in tomorrow's get-away game before the Bucs come home for a Friday date with the Reds. It's his turn to become a stopper, at least for this series, and staunch the bleeding.

Eleven of Pittsburgh's next fourteen games are against Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Saint Louis. The next two weeks could go a long way in determining if the Pirates can hang with the big dogs in the Central.

Monday, April 27, 2009

They Were Due...

-- Hey, the pitching has held the Bucs together so far in the early season; it was due to drop a bomb sooner or later. And boy, did they bomb tonight. Of course, that's not unusual in Miller Park, where the Pirates have lost sixteen straight dating back to 2007.

Jeff Karstens gave up homers in the first, second, and third innings, and left the Bucs behind 5-3 after five frames. Jesse Chavez and Evan Meek put up zeroes, but Tyler Yates found the strike zone to be an elusive target.

He walked Bill Hall, beaned Jason Kendall, who was just trying to bunt, gave up a sac bunt, and then, with the infield in, gave up a rocket to Ricky Weeks. Freddy Sanchez knocked it down, but couldn't get Hall, and that was all she wrote.

If Yates keeps this up, he and his 9.95 ERA will make it an interesting coin flip when the Pirates have to decide who to cut when Craig Hansen returns.

John Grabow came in, and the runs kept piling up. Cory hart blooped a double into right that Brandon Moss may have run down, but Eric Hinske couldn't. Prince Fielder hit what looked like a DP hopper to the right of Sanchez, but he couldn't catch up to it and it gently rolled into center field. When the smoke cleared, it was 10-5, the eventual final tally. Ouch.

The Bucs banged out 11 hits and drew 4 walks, but 11 K's kept them from causing more damage as they stranded ten. Sanchez, Nyjer Morgan, and Adam LaRoche had a pair of knocks apiece.

A couple of guys had particularly rough games, and may bear watching. After singling home a run and driving one to the warning track, Craig Monroe didn't see another fastball anywhere near the plate and struck out his next three at-bats. That off-speed book will get around the league like wildfire.

And Brian Bixler had the deer-in-the-headlights look again, and was a perfect 4-for-4 at the dish, fanning every at bat. It could be a case of jet lag after going from Columbus to San Diego to Milwaukee in 24 hours, or...

Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.03) will try to get the Pirates back on track tomorrow against Pittsburgh-born Dave Bush (1-0, 3.86).

-- Whassup with Nate McLouth? Tough to tell. He told everyone within earshot that he was ready to go today, but the suits seem content to keep him down until they return to PNC on Friday to face the Mets. So hey, we'll call it day-to-day.

-- Phil Dumatrait was shut down again, but the team says it doesn't have anything to do with his rehab. They think he's just hit a "dead-arm" period in his recovery program.

-- Tim Dierkes, writing for Roto Authority, thinks the Pirate pitching staff is due for a fall, based largely on weak strike-out rates.

-- A couple of ex-Bucs led the Bosox to a 3-1 win over Cleveland. Tim Wakefield threw 7 shutout innings, and Jay Bay broke a 0-0 tie in the ninth with a three run shot off Kerry Wood.

-- Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post thinks Ollie Perez may be headed to the pen, or maybe AAA Buffalo. Perez is 1-2 with a 9.31 ERA. The headline of his article is "Putrid Perez." That's one tough crowd in the Big Apple.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mr. April, Adam LaRoche

After the first coupla innings, it looked like the Bucs had a long day in store for them at Petco Park. Jake Peavy was throwing 94 MPH and had every pitch in his arsenal painting the corner at the knees, at least according to plate ump Larry Vanover.

Meanwhile, the Big O was having command issues. Adrian Gonzalez cracked the longest homer ever hit in Petco off him in the first, traveling 458' and staking the Padres to a 2-0 lead. Two guys walked in the second, and only some nice work blocking balls in the dirt by Robinzon Diaz kept them anchored without any further damage.

But Ross Ohlendorf's sinker starting biting, and after a trip around the lineup, the Buc hitters got aggressive against Peavy.

Diaz got a huge clutch hit in the fourth inning. The Pirates had runners on second and third with no one out, but two outs later, they were still standing on the sacks when Diaz hit a soft liner into right, scoring them both and tying the match at 2-2.

An inning later, Adam LaRoche launched a three run shot into right, and the rout was on. He would add another in the ninth, his fifth of the month, and Brian Bixler slashed a two-run double in the eighth.

Ohlendorf went into the eighth when a lead off homer by Edgar Gonzalez, Adrian's brother, chased him. He left with a six-hitter, and got 15 ground outs in seven innings with his sinking fastball. The Big O is now 2-2 with a 3.24 ERA.

The offense was a thing of beauty again, even if it was equal parts starters, bench players, and Indy call-ups on get-away day. Every position player had a hit and either scored or drove home runs. It added up to an 8-3 victory.

There were only a couple of bummers for GW. We've defended John Russell's laid back demeanor, but there are times you have to stick up for your team. Peavy was getting all the calls early, either because everything he threw was around the plate or from veteran courtesy given to him by Vanover.

Either way, Eric Hinske was called out on a 3-2 pitch that was well inside. It would have loaded the bases with nobody out. Hinske beefed, but not a peep was heard from the Pittsburgh manager.

Hey, you have to at least protect your player, right? It may not help, but it would show that the skipper has his mens' backs, and let the men in blue know that he could see what was going on and didn't like it. Save the rant if you like, but say your piece.

And then JR allowed John Grabow to pitch two innings in a 8-3 game, with a big series against the Brewers coming up. It ended up OK; he got six outs on 18 pitches. But hey, you have Evan Meek and Donnie Veal to mop up. Let them earn their paycheck and let the big guys pitch when the game is on the line.

Watching Brian Giles was pretty sad, too, especially with the memories of him from back in his Pittsburgh days. He's a shadow of the guy that wore the Bucco colors, both in the field and at bat. Here's hoping Giles can relive some of his glory days during the summer before it's time for him to hang 'em up.

The final bummer note: it looks like Nate McLouth is going to miss the Brewer series, and he's still up in the air as far as hitting the DL. An oblique is a serious injury, and even a tweak is cause for concern. The bright side is that Nyjer Morgan is playing well in center. He's looking more and more like a keeper.

Give the suits credit. Last season, the team would have been crippled by this run of injuries. Look what happened when Jack Splat went down. They've shored up the talent level enough now that they can still compete, and that's a pretty good year's work.

The pairings for the Milwaukee series: Jeff Karstens (1-0, 3.60) against RHP Braden Looper (2-0, 2.12); Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.03) versus RHP Dave Bush (1-0, 3.86); and Ian Snell (1-2, 4.50) closes the series against RHP Yovani Gallardo, RHP (2-1, 3.71).

Wilson on DL

Jack Splat's sprained middle finger is no longer day-to-day; the Bucs have put the veteran shortstop on the 15-day DL after last night's game, where he joins Ryan Doumit and Craig Hansen.

Wilson was an ironman until the end of 2006, when he missed a couple of weeks thanks to a swollen knuckle, followed by an ear infection. He played 142 games.

In 2007, Splat got in 135 games, missing time with a hammy strain and slight concussion suffered in a basepath collision.

Last year, Wilson played in just 87 games, going down at the season's start with a calf tear and at the year's end with a broken finger (no, it's not related to this season's injury - this one was on his right hand). Now he's gone again with the finger sprain.

Pittsburgh called up Brian Bixler to take his place. Bix was hitting .327 at Indy, but we're still a bit surprised that Luis Cruz, who started the year on the 25-man roster, didn't get the nod. He's been red hot at Indy, hitting .429 in the week or so since he was sent down to clear room for Delwyn Young.

Still, Ramon Vazquez, we would assume, will be slated to get the lion's share of playing time, at least against righties, in Wilson's absence.

His fat 2010 contract option and recent injury history makes the popular Wilson even less likely to finish out his career in Pittsburgh. $8M+ is a lotta loot for a guy that's having trouble getting and staying on the field.

Big Zach Attack

OK, so GW isn't that great at prognosticating. We thought this was going to be a small ball, tightly played series with the Padres. A 10-1 Bucco romp hardly qualifies. We added that AA pitchers of talent should be MLB ready; the Padre's young relievers looked like they were, well, a AA staff.

We said that Brandon Moss would eat up the innings in left because of all the Padre right handers. Shoulda checked with John Russell; he put Craig Monroe in left, and all he did was bang out three hits and drive home three runs.

But hey, we'll take being wrong if all ends up right with the Pirates. Zach Duke spun 8-1/3 sweet innings, giving up six hits and one run while running his record to 3-1 and dropping his ERA to 2.43.

The Bucs needed the pick-me-up after using up the bullpen in yesterday's 11 inning loss. Duke provided the bulk of the work, and Evan Meek came on to get the final two outs on two pitches.

The offense crossed the plate ten times, but it was small ball that led to the outburst. Twice they started off innings with runners on second and third; twice they brought them all home a station at a time. Another four runners crossed the dish after two outs. The attack was brutally efficient, paced by Monroe's and Freddy Sanchez's three hits.

It was even more impressive considering that Pirates are dropping like flies. Ryan Doumit (wrist), Nate McLouth (oblique), Jack Wilson (sprained finger), and Craig Hansen (neck & shoulder spasms) were all MIA tonight.

But this year's Pirate club has a bench that can step up. Monroe, Jason Jaramillo, Eric Hinske, and Ramon Vazquez combined to go 8-16 with three doubles, four RBI, and five runs scored against SD. Pretty good day for the pine riders, we'd say.

The Big O, Ross Ohlendorf (1-2, 3.00), will try to take the rubber match, with San Diego countering with Jake Peavy (2-2, 5.13), who is off to an uncharacteristic slow start.

-- The injury report: Doumit and Hansen are on the DL (Robinzon Diaz and Evan Meek took their spots), McLouth should be back sometime during the Brewer series early next week, and Wilson is day-to-day with a swollen finger that just won't heal.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another Day On the Left Coast

-- LHP Zach Duke and RHP Sean Hill square off tonight in San Diego.

The two teams actually match up pretty well. SD (10-6) is hitting .262 with 71 runs scored, and Pittsburgh (9-7) .264 with 73 tallies. The Bucs have a slight edge in pitching, with a team ERA of 3.38 to the Padre's 4.19. We expect a close-fought series, playing out just like yesterday's game.

-- In some late news, the Pirates put RHP Craig Hansen on the 15-day DL due to shoulder and neck spasms. RHP Evan Meek was recalled from Indy.

-- The Bucs ain't talking about Nate McLouth's oblique tweak. They're crossing their fingers that it's day-to-day. He'll be on the pine again for tonight's game, and was held out of BP and warmups, so he may be out for at least the series, maybe longer.

San Diego has all righties slated to go against the Bucs, and a bullpen that's entirely right-handed. So look for the same alignment if Nate misses the Padre series, with left-handed hitters Brandon Moss in left, Nyjer Morgan in center, and Eric Hinske in right.

-- Ryan Doumit's surgery went well, according to the Pirate suits. He had a screw inserted into his wrist, and will rejoin the team in Milwaukee as an interested bystander until he's ready to go in mid-to-late June if all goes by the book.

-- Garrett Jones (.321-2-14) has an 11-game hitting streak at Indy, with a homer, double, and 5 RBI in last night's 9-7 loss to Columbus. On the other side of the coin, RHP Jason Davis is now 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA. After a solid camp, Davis has given up 20 hits during his three starts and 9-2/3 innings for the Tribe.

-- Altoona LHP Tony Watson was sent down to short-season State College, a sure sign that he needs a major-tuneup. He was on the Pirate's short-list of starters to watch, but was 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA in three starts for the Curve. RHP Jared Hughes, who was pitching on loan from State College, now takes his place full-time on the roster.

-- Jay Bay (.288-4-13) hit a two-run, two out bomb over the Green Monster in the ninth off Mariano Rivera to tie the game against the Evil Empire and eventually lead to a 5-4, eleven inning win for the Bosox. Walk years are soooooo interesting.

-- The Blue Jays, who just placed two pitchers on the DL, called up ex-Bucco top pick RHP Brian Bullington, who they claimed on waivers last year. He was 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA in four relief appearances for AAA Las Vegas, where he fanned 10 batters and walked one in 9-2/3 innings of work.


After nearly four hours of baseball (GW feared that his local watering hole was gonna close before the game ended!), the question is still unanswered: Who had the toughest night? Was it Matt Capps, Jack Splat, or FSN?

Capps came on in the eleventh inning, and walked pop-gun hitters Chris Burke and David Eckstein. And he paid when Brian Giles lined a two strike, two-out rope into right to win the game, 4-3.

Wilson went 0-5 at the dish, batting second in a juggled lineup that was without Nate McLouth, who "tweaked" an oblique. Let's hope that's all it is; Pittsburgh can hardly stand another hit to its lineup with Ryan Doumit already out.

San Diego intentionally walked Nyjer Morgan with two outs to load the bases and get the chance to pitch to Wilson. He made Bud Black look like an Einstein by striking out, flailing at a pair of pitches in the dirt and a foot outside.

Called on to bunt in the ninth, he popped out with Morgan on first. Morgan was then promptly picked off trying to steal the base Wilson was supposed to sacrifice him to. To make matters worse, he let a double play ball bounce of his chest in the home half of the frame, though it didn't cost the Bucs.

And FSN? After losing the second period of the Penguin playoff game yesterday, it lost the bottom of the ninth and the entire tenth inning last night (OK, today to you purists). Oddly, the commercials aired just fine; we only missed the game.

Still, the Bucs can't complain too much. They scored twice when the Padres couldn't glove a pair of catchable fly balls. And the pitching looked good.

Hey, Ian Snell struggled, but in a very promising sign, he didn't cave in. He gave up three runs in five innings, and was a pitch away from letting the game get out of hand several times, but controlled himself and the damage.

Jesse Chavez was impressive, hitting 96-97 on the gun and throwing strikes. Ever since that triple play saved his bacon against the Reds, he's been lights out. Sean Burnett and John Grabow were strong, too.

The Pirate mission: figure out how to put up some runs without Doumit for the long term and McLouth day-to-day, we hope. A lot of small ball is in their future; they best get those bunts down and turn those double plays.

-- If you didn't notice, the Padre bullpen that shut down the Bucs consisted of a lot of guys that were in AA last season. The jump from the bushes to MLB isn't always step-by-step; AA prospects in many organizations are considered to be a phone call away from the bigs; look how many are gobbled up in the Rule 5 draft.

When that's true for Pittsburgh, you'll have a good indicator that the suits have finally closed the minor-league talent gap they inherited from Dave Littlefield and Mickey White.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Warmup Tosses

Hey, with the first pitch not due in San Diego until sometime around 10 or so, it's almost like another day off in the blogger world. Here's a coupla tidbits to tide you guys over until the action starts:

-- Tonight's game will pit Ian Snell (1-2, 4.24) against RHP Kevin Correia (0-1, 4.09). Saturday will match Zach Duke (2-1, 2.95) versus RHP Shawn Hill (1-0, 3.60), and the series closer will feature Ross Ohlendorf (1-2, 3.00) and RHP Jake Peavy (2-2, 5.13). Here's the dope on the six scheduled hurlers.

-- Joe Frisaro of The Fish Pond and Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette report that the Pirates have lost LHP Dave Davidson to the Florida Marlins, who claimed him off waivers and assigned him to Class AAA New Orleans.

Davidson, who turns 25 this week, was replaced on the 40-man roster by Delwyn Young late last week. He had a 4.15 ERA in three appearances with Indy so far this season, and went 4-2 with a 3.34 ERA for Class AA Altoona in 2008. Man, we just can't seem to keep those Canadians on the roster.

-- John Perrotto of the Pirates Report has a piece on new Bucco Delwyn Young and his baseball bloodlines. His dad was a long-time minor league player, and his grandpap played in the Negro Leagues and then worked as a scout.

-- The Pirates announced that their staff, players and fans raised $76,103 for the Fallen Heroes Fund from donations gathered during the club's home opener and through an online auction of autographed, game-worn caps and jerseys.

-- In this week's "Prospect Hot Sheet," Baseball America has this to say about Andrew McCutchen:
Triple-A Indianapolis CF Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) is doing the things he needs to do to earn a callup. In his repeat of the International League, the 22-year-old leadoff man last week batted .391/.417/.783 (9-for-23) with two doubles, two triples, a home run and six runs scored. On the year, McCutchen is batting .322 with power, walks and a perfect 3-for-3 stolen base ledger.
Ya hate to mess with a good thing, but GW wonders what the Pittsburgh lineup would be like with Cutch in center, Nate McLouth in right, and Freddy Sanchez batting sixth while Ryan Doumit is out, with Morgan and McCutchen topping off the order.

Yah, we know Craig Monroe and Brandon Moss offer a lot more pop. Just sayin'...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Up, Up, and Away

A couple of thoughts and the farm report while the Bucs loll in San Diego:

-- Hey, it's great to see the Pirates playing a solid brand of winning ball early in the season. It's even creating a little buzz among the fans. But a quick start doesn't guarantee a thing.

On this day in 1962, the Bucs had stormed out of the gate, winning ten straight games to start the season. They were home at Forbes Field against Casey Stengel's expansion Mets, in their first season of existance and losers of all nine games that they played.

Money in the bank? Nah. The Mets romped, 10-1, behind a complete-game five-hitter by the ex-Red Jay Hook. Pittsburgh would go on to lose 13 of the next 17 ball games.

Just a little reminder for the 2009 Pirates - you're only as good as your next game.

-- Before the season everyone, including GW, looked at Nyjer Morgan as a placeholder for Andrew McCutchen. Well, Morgan is off to a sizzling start, batting .323 with 10 runs scored, nine RBI, six stolen bases and a .371 OBP.

Brandon Moss, on the other hand, was thought to be a potential breakout player. He's platooning with Craig Monroe, and hitting .225 with no RBI. It's early, but maybe we had our placeholders mixed up.

-- We thought that this would be a good day to take a look at how the Buc's prospects were starting off their year. The top guns, according to Baseball Prospectus:

7. Brad Lincoln, RHP: He's 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in three starts. Lincoln has 14 K's and 2 walks in 14 innings of work.
6. Quinton Miller, RHP: Will start in June at short-season State College.
5. Robbie Grossman, CF: The high-school hot shot is batting .216 with an RBI and 21 K's in 51 at-bats at West Virginia.
4. Bryan Morris, RHP: Who knows? The injury-cursed righty has a shoulder impingement, and is out until June.
3. Jose Tabata, OF: He's hitting .234 at Altoona, with 4 RBI and 6 runs scored.
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF: Cutch is batting .315 with a HR, 4 RBI, and 14 runs at Indy. He's struck out 6 times and walked just 5 in 54 at-bats, with 3 stolen sacks.
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B: Pedro is hitting .267 with 3 HR, 17 RBI, and a .489 slugging %. He's shown a good eye, striking out 10 times in 45 at-bats with 9 walks. The big guy has also booted 6 balls at third and looks like a first baseman playing the hot corner so far.

The guys at Indy? Tearing it up are SS Brian Bixler (.346-0-8, 15 runs scored), OF Garrett Jones (.314-1-9), and OF Jeff Salazar (.308-0-4). 1B Steve Pearce (.243-2-10), 2B Shelby Ford (.211-1-4), and 3B Neil Walker (.204-2-9) need a quick visit from Donny Long.

RHP Juan Mateo has pitched 10 innings without giving up a run on three hits and striking out six. RHP Dan McCutchen is 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 20 K's in 16 innings. RHP Evan Meek has a 1.23 ERA in five outings, giving up only 2 hits and striking out seven in 7-1/3 innings. But he's also yielded seven walks, and that's worrisome.

LHP Gorzo is still in a deep, dark, funk. He's 1-0 with a 4.48 ERA, with 16 Ks and 7 walks in 16 innings of work.

Other prospects: 2B Jim Negrych at Class AA Altoona is hitting .333, with a .422 OBP. He's committed fives errors on the young season, two last night, but his troubles seem correctable - he's not muffing the chance, but throwing the ball away. Footwork, Jimmy, footwork.

RHP Ronald Uviedo (0-1, 1.20) pitched five shutout innings while allowing two hits Wednesday for High-A Lynchburg. So far, his conversion from closer to starter looks like a plan. The only concern is that he doesn't have much of a K rate yet; just 6 in 10 innings. We'll keep an eye on that.

SS Chase d'Arnaud (.361-1-8) and 1B Calvin Anderson (.311-2-9) are providing the firepower for Class A West Virginia.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fish Out Of Water

Hey, we had a little role reversal going on today; Paul Maholm pitched like he was human and Adam LaRoche hit the ball like it was August. And it worked out fine, as the Bucs sent the Marlins back home with their flipper between their fins, 7-4.

Maholm was perfect for three, but gave up eight hits and four runs by the end of the sixth, striking out four and walking one. But the Buc bats picked him up, banging out ten hits, working Florida's pitchers for five walks, and stealing three more bases.

LaRoche the elder led the offensive surge, going 4-for-5 with three doubles, two runs scored and a RBI. He's hitting .304 now, a hundred or so points more than his usual April fling. His lil' bro Andy got in on the act, with two RBI today thanks to a double and a sac fly.

Nyjer Morgan and Freddy Sanchez scored three times from the top of the order, and Morgan had two of the stolen bases, with Fast Freddy the other. Their lead-off work has kept the Pirate attack at full throttle so far this year.

The Pirates are 9-6. Who woulda thunk it? They're off tomorrow, and on the way to San Diego for a three game set starting Friday, with Ian Snell going against RHP Kevin Correia.

-- In case you're wondering how Adam LaRoche's start compares to his usual April, here's the dope, from Matthew Pouliot of NBC Sports:

2004 - .214/.254/.339, 1 HR in 56 AB
2005 - .206/.324/.365, 2 HR in 63 AB
2006 - .200/.294/.453, 4 HR in 75 AB
2007 - .133/.255/.265, 3 HR in 83 AB
2008 - .163/.247/.225, 1 HR in 80 AB
2009 - .304/.350/.589, 3 HR in 56 AB

With Doumit gone for the foreseeable future, a big stick from LaRoche is crucial to the Pirates efforts to keep on keepin' on. So far, so good.

-- Phil Dumatrait is still in extended spring training, and threw 76 pitches in five controlled innings. The Pirates plan to have Dumatrait make two more outings to get his pitch count into the 85-90 range.

If he gets through those games without any flare-ups, the Pirates blueprint is to send him to the minors for some rehab work. They'll decide on the team and number of starts after they determine his fitness level. They have the luxury so far of not needing to rush him along, and who woulda guessed that in March?

Jen Langosch of has the tale of his comeback trail.

-- Ryan Doumit will have his wrist surgery tomorrow, and is currently on the 15-day DL. There's not a lot of difference between the 60-day and 15-day DL; on the 15-day, a player has 20 rehab days in the minors versus 30 with the 60-day, and he doesn't come off of the 40-man roster if placed on the 15-day, just the 25-man one.

-- After today's game, the Pirates had the best runs against number in the NL, giving up just 3.4/game, nosing ahead of LA with 3.43 (Seattle's 3.36 is MLB's best). They're the only two squads in the senior circuit yielding under 4 runs per outing.

-- SS Brian Friday was hitting .500 at Altoona; now he's on the DL. Not to worry; he has an inner ear infection that needs some doctoring.

-- Ex-Bucco RHP Jon Lieber has retired. He compiled 131 wins, including 20 in '01. Lieber finishes his career with a 4.27 ERA in 2,198 innings of work for the Pirates, Cubs, Yankees, and Phillies.

-- Yah, we know it's only April 22, but you can vote already on-line for the All-Star teams starting today. The ballot is here. Vote early and often, as Davey Lawrence used to say.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Karstens, Sanchez, Reel In Fish

-- Much better played game today, and with the same happy result - the Pirates beat the Fish, 3-2. Jeff Karstens went six innings, giving up a run on three hits, and the Bucs had enough early punch to make a well-deserved winner out of him.

Freddy Sanchez had three hits, including his second homer in the third frame, to pace the offense. Adam LaRoche singled home Nyjer Morgan with two outs in the first, and Jason Jaramillo doubled home Andy LaRoche in the second. It wasn't much, but it was enough.

The Bucs turned three DPs tonight, and Tyler Yates, John Grabow, and Matt Capps closed it out. Yates gave up a booming homer to make it exciting, Grabow worked out of a two-on, one-out jam by striking out Ross Gload after going 3-0 against him, and Capps gave up a hit on the way to his fourth save, but it just served to add a little drama to the outcome.

Pittsburgh is now 8-6, the first time they've been two games above .500 in the John Russell era. Heck, for all GW knows, it may be the first time in 15 years.

The Pirates drew well under 10,000 warm bodies again, a combination of the Penguin nation being glued to the TV and the raw weather. Still, it's a worrisome trend for a team that's playing surprisingly well, and may bear watching if the slim turnouts continue, even with April being a notoriously slow month for PNC attendance.

LHP Paul Maholm will try to complete the sweep against RHP Ricky Nolasco in tomorrow afternoon's get-away game.

-- *Ouch* Ryan Doumit has a fractured scaphoid bone in his wrist that needs cut and pinned together, and it's estimated that he'll be out 8-10 weeks. Get used to Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz behind the dish for the foreseeable future.

Doumit, at his request, will remain with the Pirates during his time off, attending meetings and doing some PT. He'll probably have another CAT scan in four or five weeks. If that provides good news, he'll begin his rehab work. If not, he could be out for longer than expected.

That makes filling out the middle of the order even more challenging for John Russell. We're guessing that we'll see a lot of Craig Monroe trying to fill the hole at the clean-up spot, at least in the early going.

For the star-crossed Doumit, this marks his sixth visit to the DL since 2006. A Gumby he isn't; he's more like Mr. Bill.

--Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated reports:
"Yankees outfielder Xavier Nady has been diagnosed with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, but he will avoid surgery.

The Yankees feared originally Nady could be lost for the season with a completely torn ligament, but a review of multiple X-rays revealed that the ligament is only partially torn. He will likely need to rehab the injury for a period of weeks, perhaps a month."
-- The Nationals placed ex-Bucco and Duquesne grad Joe Beimel on the 15-day DL with a left hip flexor strain, and recalled RHP Saul Rivera, who they just sent down.

Beimel, 32, was hurt while making a diving stop yesterday. In eight appearances this season, he has a 1.23 ERA as Washington's set-up guy and was their most effective back-end reliever.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April Showers...

-- The Big O shrugged off a start as nasty as the weather and finished like a spring breeze as he two-hit the Marlins over seven innings in an 8-0 win.

Ross Ohlendorf came to Pittsburgh touted as a power arm, but his offspeed stuff carried the day. He leaned on a nice slider and change-up tonight, striking out five and walking one in notching his first victory as a Pirate.

The Bucco pitching dominated the game. In the final eight innings, the Fish sent up the minimum 24 batters. A hit and walk were erased by a sweet Andy LaRoche DP and Jason Jaramillo throwing out a wanna-be base stealer.

Young LaRoche must have paid attention to Perry Hill; he started the DP on one knee after a diving stop, and earlier threw out the human bullet Emilio Bonifacia on a bunt. His footwork has noticably improved from the beginning of the year.

The Pirate bats did their job, too, capped by a 433', three-run shot by Nate McLouth that bobbed in the Allegheny after landing on the River Walk. Nyjer Morgan and Freddy Sanchez continue to be the league's hottest top of the order, getting on base four times and scoring three runs, and Adam LaRoche added a pair of knocks.

The Marlins looked nothing like the highly praised club that came into Pittsburgh. Maybe nine wins against the Nats and Chipper-less Braves were more a matter of serendipity than ability.

The outfield was lackadaisical, the pitchers ignored runners (the Pirates had three stolen bases, including third twice), the batters didn't show much discipline, and catcher John Baker let three balls get by him for wild pitches that all could have been blocked. No wonder they like Ronny Paulino.

Hey, maybe it was just a bad day at the shop for Florida. Still, we wouldn't complain if the malaise lasted a couple of more days.

Too bad the weather was so miserable. The game was played in front of one of the smallest announced crowds in PNC history, 8,790, and there were less than 5,000 actually in the house. And it was a match worth watching tonight.

Jeff Karstens will take on Anibal Sanchez tomorrow, if the stormy heavens permit.

-- The annual Ryan Doumit injury report has its first entry of the season. Doumit felt a "stretch" in his wrist yesterday. He got a MRI today and is scheduled for a CAT scan tomorrow. Jason Jaramillo will catch, while Craig Monroe will get the start tonight in RF and take his place in the middle of the order.

If he's out for any length of time, Pittsburgh will be forced to juggle the roster and call up Robinzon Diaz. There is no third catcher on the roster, unless John Russell is getting ready to mount a comeback. Recently demoted Luis Cruz was the emergency backstop.

-- The Nat's just DFA'ed three members of their sad sack bullpen. Kip Wells will take one of the vacated spots. Nine lives, hey?

-- And why do grown guys want to play a kid's game? Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald came up with a few million reasons:
"The average salary of an American League player is $3.37 million. In the National League, it is $3.12 million. By division, the AL East, with an average salary of $3.85M, is tops, followed by the NL Central ($3.4M), AL Central ($3.15M), NL East ($3.13M), AL West ($3.04M) and NL West ($2.79M).

Overall, 86 players, or 11 percent of the Opening Day payrolls, earn $10 million or more for a total of $1.18 billion. That portion of total payroll accounts for 44 percent of the total amount spent on player payrolls.

All salary figures are according to the Associated Press and"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Put The Brooms Away

-- Hey, the rough three-run first inning was the kind that a guy like Zach Duke, who pitches to contact, will have sometimes. A ball off a glove, a broken bat hit, a parachute into left, one ball spanked up the middle, and the Braces were up 3-0.

He didn't really get killed in the sixth, either, though he had the same bad results. A fielders choice on a bad decision and worse throw to second, a bunt single, and a home run that dropped gently into the first row of seats. Ah well, momma said there'd be days like this.

One thing that can be said for the Zachster, though, is that his command was way off. He was pitching from behind in the count to virtually every hitter, and it showed. GW thought that letting him throw 119 pitches last outing was OK; now he's not so sure.

Craig Hansen and Donnie Veal came in to sprinkle a little gas on the fire. Hansen gave up a three-run homer to David Ross, and Veal gave up a run in his two innings of work while walking four. He threw 16 strikes out of 40 pitches.

Nyjer Morgan and Freddy Sanchez had a pair of knocks. Javier Vazquez kept pumping in strikes when given the big early lead, and struck out eight in six innings. Hey, if you're gonna lose, get it all out of your system, right?

When the smoke cleared, the final was 11-1. Funny, but when Chipper Jones is in the lineup, the Braves are 6-1; they're 0-5 when he's out.

-- The pitching match-ups for the Marlin series: Monday night: LH Andrew Miller, (0-0, 6.43) vs. RH Ross Ohlendorf, (0-2, 4.91); Tuesday night: RH Anibal Sanchez, (1-0, 1.64) vs. RH Jeff Karstens, (0-0, 6.75); Wednesday afternoon: RH Ricky Nolasco, (1-1, 6.60) vs. LH Paul Maholm, (2-0, 0.87).

-- How far is Donnie Veal from prime time? Well, yesterday John Russell used Jesse Chavez and Sean Burnett to finish off the 10-0 Pirate win. It would have been a perfect, no-pressure spot for Veal to get in some work, but with a shutout on the line, he sat.

Veal has one appearance so far this season; in an inning he has three K's, to go with three walks (he worked two innings today). It's feast or famine for the big lefty, and it looks like they're going to take their time with him and keep his early role purely as a mop-up man. Maybe last season's Evan Meek fiasco is still fresh in their minds. On the bright side, they have 151 more games to coach him up - or hide him.

-- Speaking of relievers, Evan Meek, Chris Bootcheck, and Juan Mateo have worked 19-2/3 innings for Indy, giving up just two runs, one earned, on seven hits with seven walks and 18 strike-outs. But with the way the Pirate pitching has been going, they may get to cool their heels in the minors a little longer than they expected.

-- Paul Lukas of ESPN's "Second Page" talks about the business of Pittsburgh baseball with Frank Coonelly and chief marketing dude Lou DePaoli. It's an interesting chat, covering the bases from Steeler comparisons, the overall economy, and all-you-can-eat days (did you know that college kids come to the game early to have chow-down contests?).

-- Hey, we were all law and order when the Nats slapped Elijah Dukes around a bit for being late to the ballpark. Well, guess what? According to the Associated Press:
On Saturday, Washington outfielder Elijah Dukes was benched, fined $500 and threatened with a demotion to the minor leagues after he showed up to the park a mere five minutes after the team's usual reporting time.

OK, so rules are rules, but sometimes there are exceptions that should be made and Dukes' excuse would seem to qualify him for one — he was doing charity work for the Nats at a local Little League.
GW agrees; sorry, Elijah.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Snell's Bells and Mighty Mo

Hey, the Penguins unleashed their two-headed monster, Sid the Kid and Gino, on the Flyers, and the Pirates followed suit today.

Ian Snell threw seven goose egg innings in his second consecutive strong start, and Craig Monroe pounded two three-run shots off of a pair of Brave pitchers to lead the Bucs to victory against Atlanta, 10-0.

Snell gave up four hits, walking three and striking out a trio, in notching his first win. He was also pretty efficient, using 94 pitches to get those 21 outs while the Bucs turned three DPs in his support.

Monroe showed his spring power burst wasn't a fluke. He iced the game with a two-out, three run shot off Jo Jo Reyes in the sixth, and then lit up Buddy Carlyle in the seventh, again with two on and two out, to turn what had been a five inning pitching duel into a laugher.

He wasn't alone in the hitting heroics category. Ryan Doumit had three doubles, Andy LaRoche had three hits, including two doubles, Freddy Sanchez had two knocks, one a triple, and Nate McLouth added a pair of singles. The Bucs banged out 13 hits during the day, nine going for extra bases.

With a big cushion, John Russell turned to Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez to turn out the lights, and they each threw a 1-2-3 inning to close out the day. The Pirates team ERA is now 2.63; let's enjoy the work while we can.

Tomorrow afternoon's pitchers will be Zach Duke and RH Javier Vazquez; then the red-hot Florida Marlins come to town.

-- Jack Wilson was out of the lineup for the third time in four games because of a strained left middle finger, and hopes to be back on the field tomorrow.

Ramon Vazquez played in his place, his sixth infield start of the season. Vazquez is hitting just .143, but he's only made one error in the field. Remember the iron glove combo of Brian Bixler and Luis Rivas killing the Pirate staff with their hapless defense when Jack Splat went down last season?

-- And for those of you intent on firing up the Jack Wilson trade boards again, Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowry may be facing the knife for a broken wrist that won't knit back together. If so, the Bucs have already scouted their system, and unless Boston plans on giving the SS reins to Julio Lugo...just sayin'.

-- Baseball America posted its first "Prospect Hot Sheet" of the year, and guess who's on it? No, not Andrew, Pedro or Jose, but Altoona SS Brian Friday, listed at #7.

The Curve may be 0-8, but don't blame Friday, the third round pick in 2007 - he's hitting .500 going into tonight's game.

-- Ex-Bucco backstop Raul Chavez was recalled from AAA Las Vegas to take Michael Barrett's place on Toronto's 25-man roster. Barrett tore a muscle; he may be out of action for awhile.

-- Boston overcame a seven run deficit to beat the O's yesterday, 10-8. Jay Bay helped spark the comeback with his third homer; he drove in three against the Birds.

--In the "ya can't win" category: After sending down Lastings Milledge, at least in part for attitude problems, the Nats sat down his replacement, Elijah Dukes, and fined him for reporting to the ballyard late. They warned him that if it happens again - it's the second time he's been tardy already this season - he'll join Milledge in the bushes.

Washington may be putting together the MLB version of the Cincinnati Bengal roster in an effort to upgrade their talent. To their credit, they're dealing with it before it becomes an issue.

Why Not Young?

Hey, GW has heard from some of his Bucco buddies, and their drawers are bunched over the Pirates picking up another outfielder. But it's really no mystery - Pittsburgh is a marginally better team with him, and Young is just another small piece of the puzzle the Pittsburgh suits are trying hard to solve.

Young wasn't a primo prospect, ala Andy LaRoche, though he was the fourth round pick for LA in 2002. To be generous, his arm is average, his defense is average, and his speed is average. But there is one thing he can do, and that's hit.

He's projected as a guy that potentially can bat .280 with 30 doubles and 15 HR's if given an everyday role. Young's a switch-hitter (although he hits lefties far better than righties, which will limit him), and had 14 pinch hits last season.

He's versatile, but will never be mistaken for a Gold Glove. Though he's been playing outfield since 2006, he started out as a second baseman and has over 500 minor league games at the position.

It wasn't a sudden Pirate brainstorm to work him as an infielder - the Dodgers did the same thing with him in the spring, drilling him at second and third. In fact, at one point a couple of seasons ago, it was thought that he had a chance to take Jeff Kent's place at second; it's said that the bat was willing, but the glove was weak.

And he'd still be in Dodger Blue if the LA suits had a crystal ball and could see that Doug Mientkiewicz was going to separate his shoulder a day or two after they DFA'ed Young.

What the Pirates got was a guy with good lumber that's going to be 27 at the end of June. He was for all intents and purposes taken to fill 32 year-old Andy Phillips slot as a utility man.

Young may have some upside left, unlike Phillips, and at best could compete with Shelby Ford and Jimmy Negrych when second base opens up. At worst, he's a decent stick off the bench (in fact, he may be best suited to DH), gotten on the cheap.

It wasn't a big move, but it was one that makes some sense for the Pirates, still trying to fill the talent gap inherited from the ghosts of Pittsburgh's past.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Maholm Da' Man

Ya know, the Pirate suits are lookin' smarter and smarter for locking up Paul Maholm for the next three or four years. The lefty spun another gem tonight as the Bucs beat the Braves, 3-0. Atlanta misses Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar, both day-to-day.

Maholm (2-0) went seven innings, giving up four hits and three walks while striking out a pair. Cool as the winter wind, he got out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the second inning with a broken bat pop-up and a 1-2-3 DP, then ran on cruise control for the next five innings, helped by some fine glovework by Andy LaRoche and Nate McLouth.

He didn't have the greatest command, throwing 102 pitches, and only 57 for strikes. Besides the walks (one being the opposing pitcher), he also beaned Brian McCann twice. But he didn't crack.

Good thing, too. Jair Jurrjens went 6-2/3 innings, and only gave up a run on four hits and two walks. He struck out seven. The Pirates scored the only run they'd need in the second, when Brandon Moss tripled and came in on a ground out by Andy LaRoche.

The duel was ultimately decided by the bullpens, and Pittsburgh is in pretty good shape when a starter can turn a game over in the eighth. John Grabow gave up a couple of hits, but kept the Braves scoreless in the eighth, and Matt Capps nailed Atlanta 1-2-3 to seal the deal in the ninth, notching his third save.

The Brave bullpen has been a train wreck this year, and former Bucco Mike Gonzalez gave up a two-run homer to McLouth in the eighth frame to bring on the Fat Lady.

Ian Snell takes on lefty Jo Jo Reyes tomorrow afternoon. It'll be the first appearance of the season for Reyes, who was called up from AAA to take Tom Glavine's spot in the rotation.

-- The Pirate roster shook out today. Delwyn Young reported, and Luis Cruz was optioned to Indy. Andy Phillips was then dealt to the White Sox - Young made him a fifth wheel - for 23 year-old RHP pitcher Mike Dubee, who will add some depth to the Bucs' lower level pitching.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Out Lightning Strikes Bucs

Hey, we expected Jeff Karstens to be rusty; the guy hasn't pitched in 16 days. And he was - Karstens lasted four innings, throwing 87 pitches and giving up three runs on four hits and five walks. But for him and Sean Burnett, it was all about getting the third out.

JK got the hook after the fourth inning, when he gave a two-out triple to Jeff Keppinger and then an RBI single to opposing moundsman Russ Ortiz. But Burnett's day was much worse.

Burny zipped through the first two batters in the sixth frame, and then Michael Bourne legged out a dink double. He got ahead of Miguel Tejada 1-2, but eventually lost him on balls.

Lance Berkman also got into a quick 1-2 hole, and Burnett tried to bounce a slider to Elvis. Except it didn't come up short; it caught the dish and in one big uppercut swing, the horsehide left the yard and a 3-3 game turned into a 6-3 Astro lead. That's how it would finish.

Nyjer Morgan (.400) continues to be en fuego. He singled, doubled, and tripled, scoring once and driving home a run. Adam LaRoche had two more hits, both doubles, and he's batting .294 in mid-April, quite a turnaround from his previous opening weeks.

But for all their ten hits and three walks, the Bucs could only scratch together three runs, and none after the second inning. It's feast or famine right now for the Pittsburgh hitters.

But hey, the Bucs are 4-5, the same record as Tampa Bay has cobbled together so far. And this is a transitional season, as will be next year. It's time to evaluate and see what the future holds.

It should be a sterling matchup tomorrow when Paul Maholm takes on Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens. The Pirates are home for six more games, three against the Braves and another trio against the Marlins. It doesn't get easier...

-- Delwyn Young should join the team tomorrow. His elbow is supposed to be 100%, and he's ready to go. The Pirates plan to work him at second and third base, as well as the corner outfield. Given that, Luis Cruz appears to be on his way back to Indy when Young arrives, where he'll join Andy Phillips and Brian Bixler, who both look to be bumped out of a quick call-up possibility with Young's addition.

Young looks like a man without a position now, but both Pittsburgh and LA were high on him. The Pirates didn't get him to be a utility guy; they're gonna try to coach him up to the point that he gets regular at-bats and competes for a starting job somewhere on the diamond.

Remember, he became the odd man out for the Dodgers only after bumping heads with Manny, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp, all pretty fair ballplayers. The Pirates need more low-risk, high upside guys in the organization, regardless of position.

-- Xavier Nady was put on the DL today; they still don't know if his elbow will need the knife or not. Chris Carpenter will be out from 4-8 weeks for the Cards.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Slumber Company

-- Ya gotta score to win, but the Bucs didn't put up a run until Adam LaRoche homered in the ninth, and Houston won 4-1 in front of 20,690 fans who couldn't get tickets to the Penguin game. Actually, it was "Buck Night," and the promotion seemed to work out pretty well, except for the final results.

Pittsburgh's best shot to make a game of it came in the sixth when with runners on first and second, Ryan Doumit sent a two-out liner to the left field corner. Carlos Lee made the grab at the wall to end the inning and for all intents and purposes, the game. Lee killed the Pirates with more than his glove; he had 3 RBI tonight, too.

The Big O couldn't match Mike Hampton, who went six innings giving up four hits, walking one, and striking out eight with an assortmant of junk. Ohlendorf lasted five frames, and was touched up for eight hits - four doubles - and four runs.

Jesse Chavez, Craig Hansen, and Sean Burnett shut down the Astros for the final three frames, but the Buc bats didn't have an answer. They got nine hits, but eight were singles and except for the sixth inning, Pittsburgh never threatened.

The Bucs have lost four games; three of them were by 2-0, 2-1, and 4-1 scores. Pirate pitching has given up four runs or less in seven of the eight games played, but Pittsburgh is only 4-4. The arms have held up; now it's time for the bats to make some noise.

Tomorrow's Businessman's Special will mark the 2009 debut of Jeff Karstens. The Astros will counter with Russ Ortiz.

-- Delwyn Young will report to the Pirates Friday, and that's when they'll have to pare someone off the 25-man roster.

-- Of all the ballplayers that hit 100+ home runs since the 50's, who do you think hit the most opposite field blasts? If you guessed Roberto Clemente, you win.

Jeremy Greenhouse of The Baseball Analysts pulled the figures, and The Great One hit 54% of his 175 taters over the right field wall. I was around during that era, and I can guarantee you that his HRs weren't oversized pop-ups that plopped inside the 300' right field line. Clemente's balls were screamers, and usually cleared the wall near right center (375')...and in a hurry, too.

-- Xavier Nady left yesterday's Yankee game in the seventh inning after experiencing sharp pain in his elbow after a throw, a real concern as he had Tommy John surgery in 2001 on the 'bow. He'll undergo a MRI exam today to determine the extent of the injury; the Evil Empire is making noises like it could be a bad one. We wish the X-Man the best; pity it had to happen in his walk year.

-- In the Central, the Cards announced that RHP Chris Carpenter "will be out for a while" after exiting his second start early with a strained ribcage. You might recall his first start - it was a one-hitter against our hometown heroes. St. Louis is waiting on Thursday MRI results to determine how long he's going to be gone.

-- Hey, the Buc suits aren't the only tough-love bossmen around. Ala Gorzo, the Nats sent Lastings Milledge down to AAA. Apparently, bad juju coupled with bad performances both at bat and in the field made it an easy decision for Washington. He shouldn't have been playing ahead of Elijah Dukes anyway. Still, kinda interesting that one bad boy takes over for another.

Wednesday Weenie

-- The Dodgers must love seeing the Pirates come courting. We're sure the Pittsburgh scouts do their due diligence, but with Bryan Morris being hurt again, this time with a shoulder impingement, Andy LaRoche struggling with a bum thumb last year and back spasms caused by a protruding disk this season, and LA trying to get Jack Splat during the off-season for Delwyn Young, who they just DFA'ed...oh, wait a second, this just in...

Ken Gurnick of reports in an early morning post: "The Dodgers have traded switch-hitting outfielder Delwyn Young to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two players to be named later, according to a baseball source."

The Pirates DFA'ed LHP Dave Davidson to make room on the 40-man roster.

We're curious who the PTBNLs are, and who goes bye-bye on the 25-man; Craig Monroe is a likely suspect, though Luis Cruz would be on the short list, too, especially if they see Young as having some potential at 2B, the position where he started his pro career.

-- We thought we'd visit our favorite baseball geeks at Baseball Reference and see how the Pirates were stacking up league-wise after the first seven games. Not too badly, as it ends up:

Pitching, the Bucs are second in NL ERA (2.70) to the Cards (2.62) and fourth in runs given up per game at 3.29, behind St. Louis (2.88), Los Angeles (3.00), and San Diego (3.25). And Holy Joe Kerrigan, they're sixth in fewest walks allowed, with 26. The league average is 27.

At 3.7 walks per game, they're on course to yield 599 free passes. Last season, the staff walked 657 batters (4.0/game). There's still lots of room for improvement; the bullpen has walked 12 guys in fifteen innings.

One last pitching tidbit: The Pirates have the second youngest staff in the NL, at 26.7 years old, behind only Florida, whose staff averages 26 years. The NL norm is 29.2 years old.

Hitting, the Pirates are about at the league average. The Pittsburgh line so far is .259/7/34/.424 slugging %; the NL's is .257/8/33/.422. They draw about a walk less per game than the league norm, though, and because of that, the OBP is about 15 points lower than the NL standard.

The position players average age is about at the league norm, too. The Bucs are 28.5 years-old; the NL average age is 29.1. We expect that number to drop in 2010.

Ah, stats, don't you just love 'em?

-- FSN just threw a hipcheck into Pirate fans TV plans. The games tonight, Friday and Tuesday have been removed for the Pen's Stanley Cup games and the Thursday businessman's special has been added. Hey, what can you say besides "Let's Go Pens!" Hopefully, they'll bump the Bucs a lot more in the next couple of months.

Of course, when Pens games clash with Pirate home dates, nothing good can happen for the Bucco attendance. And in this depressed economy, that could be a concern.

-- You can save a couple of bucks on the scorecard if you're going to the game tonight. Everyone, from players to coaches to the bullpen catcher, will be wearing #42 to commemorate the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line.

Bud Selig made it voluntary last year, and nine teams decked out the troops in #42, including the Pirates. This year, he didn't give the clubs a choice.

The only guy that still wears #42 is Mariano Rivera. The number was officially retired 12 years ago by Selig, and Rivera is the only one left that had the number before it was taken out of circulation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday Side Session

-- The beat reporters tell us that Bryan Morris and Jimmy Barthmaier are both hurt, and are going to miss several weeks. Fortunately, neither injury looks like it will need the knife to correct.

Morris' has right shoulder pain, described as significantly restricted range of motion without structural damage (an impingement; no ligament damage, as first feared) that will keep him out four to six weeks. Barthmaier's right elbow injury, suffered Friday, was diagnosed as inflammation with a strained flexor mass, and will keep him out for up to a month.

Morris' injury is of concern; you may recall that an impingement in Phil Dumatrait's shoulder didn't come around after rehab last season and led to surgery. He's still out.

Morris will be shut down from throwing for two weeks, and Barthmaier for three. Yoslan Herrera was promoted from the Curve; he'll go to the pen while Ty Taubenheim takes Barthmaier's place in the rotation; no word yet on how Altoona will shuffle their pitching, though Dan McCutchen was put on their roster after his last start just as a temporary paper move. Lefty Chi-Hung Cheng replaced Morris in Lynchburg's rotation

-- The Pirates covered a lot of bases with the pre-game stuff for the opener. They had a moment of silence for the three officers slain in Stanton Heights, followed by pipers playing "Amazing Grace" and a flyover of Apache helicopters.

Nate McLouth was presented with his 2008 Golden Glove Award. Steve Blass celebrated his 50th year as part of the Pirate organization by throwing out the first pitch to Manny Sanguillen.

Honor was paid to recently departed organist Vince Laschied, and the late Guy Buzzelli, Pirate ticket salesman, received the Pride of the Pirates award for raising money for muscular dystrophy.

-- Just a thought...Ben Sheets will be available to sign without giving up a draft pick in June. If the Pirates are still in the hunt after a couple of months, GW can think of worse ways to bulk up the staff than to take a shot at him.

-- Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, whose brilliant rookie season with the 1976 Tigers made him a national story, died in a truck accident on his Massachusetts farm at age 54.

Fidrych won 19 games that season, and his 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games were the best in the Major Leagues. He was the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and finished second in voting for the Cy Young Award.

The 21 year-old Bird would crouch down on the pitcher's mound and smooth out the dirt with his hands, talk to both himself and the ball, aim the ball like a dart, chase wind-blown wrappers across the infield, pace around the mound after every out, and throw back balls that "had hits in them," insisting they be removed from the game.

After throwing one ball back, he explained "That ball has a hit in it, so I want it to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it'll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time."

But by July of 1977, he had blown out his arm and pitched just 16 more times before being released at the age of 25; he retired at 29. It took them until 1985 to discover he had a torn rotator cuff, far too late to repair the damage.

-- Harry Kalas, the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, died Monday in Washington. He was found unconscious in the broadcast booth.

Kalas was inducted into the broadcaster's wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2002, after winning the Ford C. Frick Award, which is presented to announcers who made major contributions to baseball.

Kalas, 73, was a MLB broadcaster for 44 years, spending the past 39 years with the Phillies. He also did some work for NFL films.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Zach Zips 'Stros

Home Opener. 38,411 warm bodies in the house. How many times have the Pirates been on that stage only to bomb? Well, not today.

Zach Duke spun a four-hit, complete game shutout and the middle of the order banged the ball around as the Bucs throttled the sad sack Houston Astros 7-0.

Duke struck out five and walked three, throwing 119 pitches. His fastball is setting up his off-speed stuff beautifully so far in 2009. It's almost a replay of 2005, and wouldn't that be sweet? If he finishes the year with an ERA that starts with a three, one big hole in the Pirate rotation will be plugged.

And we like that John Russell allowed him to finish the game. Duke deserved the shutout, and while he threw a lot of pitches, the 120 mark isn't outrageous as long as it doesn't become a commonplace occurrence. After all, it didn't seem to hurt CC Sabathia last season either arm-wise or contract-wise.

Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Adam LaRoche went 6-for-13 with two homers, five RBI, and three runs scored, set up by Freddy Sanchez's three doubles. And they'll need more days like that if they want to put a few tallies on the board. For all that, Pittsburgh was 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded eleven.

The coin of the MLB realm is pitching. So far, so good. That's six quality starts in seven outings with a team ERA of 2.70 (if GW did his math right, never a granted), and that's why the Pirates have their head above the .500 mark. The bullpen hasn't been exposed yet, unlike last year when the relief guys had as many innings as a respectable rabbit has baby bunnies. And that's a lot.

Now the Astros aren't exactly the 1961 Yankees. They've lost five in a row. But the sign of a good team is that they jump on squads that are down. And so far, the Pirates haven't shown any signs of greatness...but they have been good.

There are 155 games left to prove just how good.

-- Ross Ohlendorf takes on Mark Hampton in Wednesday's game. Hampton is the first lefty the Bucs will face; Andy LaRoche should be back in the lineup and maybe Craig Monroe will get his day in the sun.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Harang Harumphs Bucs

-- The Bucs were stymied by Aaron Harang today, losing 2-0 at Great American Ballpark. Harang pitched the complete-game shutout, giving up just three hits, walking none, and striking out nine as he dominated the Pirates.

Ian Snell deserved a better fate. He gave up two runs on five hits in six innings, walking three and whiffing seven in a reversal of his opening outing. Snell hung tough today, twice pitching out of jams to keep the game close. His one mistake was a two-out, two-run, first inning long ball yielded to Brandon Phillips. That was the game.

John Russell still has us shaking our heads over his decision to bring in Jesse Chavez in the eighth inning of a 2-0 game. Hey, it's one thing to show confidence in a guy, but isn't that a little early to be waving a white flag?

Chavez gave up a hit and a walk to the first two batters, but kept the Reds off the board when Edwin Encarnacion hit into a triple play.

The runners on first and second were off on the pitch when Jack Wilson ran down the soft liner in short left, flipped to Sanchez at second for a force, and he made the turn to Adam LaRoche to catch the second runner. It would have been more memorable in a win.

The middle of the Pirate order is still in a deep funk; the 3-4-5-6 hitters, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and the LaRoche boys, are 11-for-81, a .136 average.

-- The Pirates have six outfield assists in six games. Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss have picked off a pair of runners, and Nyjer Morgan and Eric Hinske both claimed a victim.

-- Tony Jackson of Inside The Dodgers reports that "Delwyn Young is drawing some trade interest. The Indians, Pirates and Phillies all have had scouts in Albuquerque this week to watch him."

The 26 year-old is a switch-hitting corner OF, on DL rehab with an elbow impingement, and he's out of options. His 2008 line with LA was .246-1-7 in 126 at-bats; his career average is .267.

-- Ya think Jay Bay isn't making it hard on the Red Sox to reup him? He has two homers, six RBI, and a .333 average after four games. He and the Bosox agreed to disagree on a long-term deal during the spring; the suits think the free agent market depressed his value. Bay obviously thinks otherwise.

-- Albert Pujols doesn't just kill the Pirates. He hit a grand slam and a three-run homer last night against the Astros. That's seven RBI in two swings, one more than any Bucco has driven home in six games.

-- Hey, you may not have known that the Durham Bulls and Norfolk Tide were going at it yesterday, but the scouts sure did. Baseball America’s top two rated prospects, Tampa Bay's LHP David Price and Baltimore's C Matt Wieters, faced each other in the AAA International League battle.

Price struck out Wieters on three fastballs in the first inning, and then Wieters drew a walk in the third during a twelve pitch at-bat. So the clash of the titans ended up a draw. We expect them to have many more anticipated match-ups in the AL instead of the IL, and soon.

Week One Farm Report - Drought Warning

-- The Pirate farm teams are not exactly sprinting out of the gates. Outside of High A Lynchburg, which is 2-1, the Bucco system has yet to notch a win: AAA Indy is 0-3, AA Altoona is 0-4, and A West Virginia is 0-3.

Indy lost 16-5, 4-2, and 5-4 to Toledo on the road. 3B Neil Walker (.385), 2B Andy Phillips (.364), and CF Andrew McCutchen (.308) are off to good starts at the plate. RHPs Evan Meek and Chris Bootcheck have been strong out of the pen, and RHP Ty Taubenheim pitched five good innings.

RHP Jimmy Barthmaier injured his elbow; the severity won't be known until an MRI is taken early next week. RHP Juan Mateo was called up from Altoona to replace him.

Altoona started by visiting the lakefront and was swept by Erie 8-7, 10-7, 2-0, and 2-1 for the worst start in its history.

RHP Jared Hughes went six innings of no-hit ball, and RHP Mike Crotta threw five shutout frames in the last two losses. SS Brian Friday is hitting .667 and 2B Jim Negrych .412; CF Jose Tabata (.235) had a three-game hitting streak stopped yesterday.

Veteran RHPs Josh Hill, who pitched for the Australian team in the WBC, and Jean Machi were promoted from State College to Altoona to replace Mateo and RHP Derek Hankins, who is on the DL with the stomach flu.

Lynchburg has taken 6-5 and 14-7 wins, and was dealt a 2-0 loss against Potomac at home. RHP Ronald Uviedo was sharp in his first try as a starter, going six innings and giving up one earned run on seven hits, with three whiffs and no walks.

Just about everyone's hitting. OF Matt Hague is batting .417, SS Jordy Mercer is at .333, and 3B Pedro has returned to earth, hitting .231 but with a team-high 7 RBI.

The bad news is that uber-prospect RHP Bryan Morris was placed on the DL with right shoulder inflammation. He had foot surgery during the off-season and came off of TJ surgery before that; let's hope his body can remain in one piece after this bout.

West Virginia was swept in Charleston by Lexington 5-4, 6-3, and 13-2. OF Erik Huber (.429), 1B Calvin Anderson (.400-2-5), and CF Robbie Grossman (.364) lead the Power attack.

RHP Chris Cullen has been promoted from the Power to Lynchburg, and RHP Brad Hinkle was called up from extended spring training to take his spot at WVA.

Hinkle is an interesting project. The 23-year old, formerly Cleveland property, is 6'10" and throws a 91 MPH heater, but it's quite effective because of his downward angle. He was 1-1 with a 3.54 ERA and 56 K's in 48 innings for short-season Mahoning Valley last year.

Short season State College starts their season on April 19th.

-- John Perrotto of the Pirates Report has this take on the Bucs' minor league system.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bucs Redd Up

Hey, the Pirates looked like Pittsburgh's famous Redd Up Crew, raking the Cincy Reds like a lot full of litter on the way to a 10-2 victory.

The game wasn't comfortably cleaned up until a five run Pittsburgh ninth, primed by Ryan Doumit's grand slam, but Paul Maholm hit just one speed bump on the road to his first win of the year. The lefty spun seven innings, giving up three hits, walking a pair, and striking out three. He surrendered his only run in the seventh, when a lead-off walk, stolen base, and pair of ground outs cost him a shutout bid.

Nyjer Morgan looked like the energizer bunny on steroids today, banging out three hits including a triple, scoring twice, driving home a run, stealing two sacks, taking out 2B Brandon Phillips on a double-play ball to keep a big inning alive, and bowling over catcher Ramon Hernandez like he was dishing out a body check in his first love, hockey.

Besides Doumit's grand salami, Nate McLouth homered and had 3 RBI, and Adam LaRoche, after flying out to the fence and track in center, finally got one over the right field wall in the ninth.

It was a pretty well pitched and played game until the ninth. Jay Bruce threw out Freddy Sanchez at the plate, and Brandon Moss returned the favor by gunning out Joey Votto. Outfielders were running down balls all over the lot, and the infielders were making all the plays.

The game must have lasted an inning too long for the gray cells, though, as Jack Wilson got picked off first during the top of the inning with a nine run lead, and Bruce ended the game with a big-time bone-head play when he was doubled off first after McLouth ran down a shot to center and the Reds down by eight runs.

The Bucs send mystery man Ian Snell to the hill tomorrow to face Aaron Harang. Then it's finally home for Monday afternoon's lid lifter, with Zach Duke taking on the Astro's Brian Moehler.

The Old Charlies Turn On the Power

Hey, you Bucco fans that date back to the seventies should remember the ol' Charleston Charlies, Pittsburgh's AAA club from 1971-76; they took the International League title in 1973. Pirates that passed through the Charlies include Dave Parker, Richie Zisk, John Candelaria, Kent Tekulve, Gene Garber, and Willie Randolph.

The old roots are being restored through the newest addition to the Pirate system, the Class A West Virginia Power, located in Charleston and playing in the Sally League. With a field that's only five years old (Appalachian Power Park) and probably a little wink from Wheeling-based Bucco owner Bob Nutting, the Power took over the Class A reins from Hickory.

In fact, the Power came up with a new secondary logo. "Chuck" is a baseball wearing a jaunty derby hat, red bandanna underneath, and Bucco eye patch, reflecting the former Charleston Charlies and the renewed affiliation with the Pirates.

They brought most of the old Hickory staff south with them. Gary Green, formerly of Allderdice, was a cup-of-coffee utility guy in the majors. It will be his third year at the helm of the Class A Buccos.

Pitching coach Jeff Johnson rejoins him in his second year, and hitting instructor Edgar Varela is in his second year, too, coming from the rookie ball Bradenton Pirates of the GCL.

West Virginia Opening Day Roster

Pitchers - RH Ramon Aguero, RH Gabriel Alvarado, RH Gary Amato, RH Maurice Bankston, LH Tyler Cox, RH Chris Cullen, RH Brian Leach, RH Yoffri Martinez, RH Wilson Ortiz, RH Eddie Pena, LH Rudy Owens, RH Duke Welker.

The Watch List: Cox, Leach, Martinez, Owens. Tyler Cox was lights out in the GCL, but as a 23-year old, he has to keep on a fast track. Brian Leach throws at 92-93 MPH with OK control; we'll see if escaping State College improves his performance, which wasn't that bad there last year (1-3, 3.98 ERA).

Yoffri Martinez faces a make-or-break year at 23-years old; he has to find the plate. Rudy Owens is a young lefty (21) with good control, but has been erratic in his time with Pittsburgh.

Duke Welker was a second round pick in 2007, but hasn't lived up to the billing yet.

Not very much of a staff. The Pirates are going to have to start stocking up on young arms if they want the system to be capable of replenishing itself.

Catchers - Danny Bomback, Josue Peley, Andrew Walker.

The Watch List: Walker. Considered solid rather than toolsy, Andrew Walker does a lot of little things OK. If he can stay in one piece, he should be moving on to Lynchburg fairly quickly in a catcher starved Pirate system. He was noticeably hobbled last year, playing through a bum ankle.

The Bucs are so depleted in the lower-levels at catcher that both Danny Bomback and Josue Peley were converted from other positions just to have enough bodies available.

Infielders - 1B Calvin Anderson, 2B Adenson Chourio, SS Chase d'Arnaud, 2B Greg Picard, 3B Bobby Spain.

The Watch List: Anderson, Chourio, d'Arnaud, Spain. Calvin Anderson is a Southern U product, and has some upside, but is raw. It didn't help that he missed the last six weeks of 2008 with an ankle injury. Adenson Chourio is an ideal leadoff hitter, with a good average, eye, and speed, but the 22-year old has been a little long in the tooth at every level he's played at.

Chase d'Arnaud is a good glove guy with gap power, and plays third also. He may see some time at second, too. Bobby Spain is a poor man's version of Jim Negrych, but may be squeezed by the 2008 draft class, which was heavy on 3B; Matt Hague leapfrogged him to Lynchburg.

Outfielders - Andrew Biela, Edward Garcia, Robbie Grossman, Erik Huber, Quincy Latimore.

The Watch List: Biela, Grossman, Latimore. 20-year old Andrew Biela was drafted as a high-school pick in 2007, and has to add some power to be considered in the mix for a corner OF spot. 19-year old Robbie Grossman was the sixth pick out of high school last year, and some see him as another potential Nate McLouth.

Quincy Latimore, 20, is a 2007 high school pick. He's athletic, but needs to work on plate discipline. Austin McCune should join the roster after he returns from a bout of mono. He's a 21-year old drafted out of high school in 2006, with good speed, a good glove, and a project at the plate.

The Pirates aren't very deep in outfielders, but they have a stash of former high school picks, all age appropriate, at West Virginia. That's a good sign.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It Must Be Rainin' All Over The World

The Bucs and Reds were rained out tonight, with the game to be made up later in the season. Both coaches opted to keep their rotations intact by sending their fifth starters to the pen.

For the Pirates, that means Jeff Karstens will be the missing long man until his next start Thursday, and for Cincy, Micah Owings skips tomorrow's start and will join the Red's relief corps.

Paul Maholm will try to keep his good times rolling against Johnny Cueto tomorrow afternoon at the Great American Ballpark, if the clouds go away.

-- Jenifer Langosch of tells us that Jeff Karstens is going through a second adjustment to his delivery.

He tried the same thing once before in the minors without any luck, but hey, if Joe Kerrigan says try it, he will. We were looking forward to seeing how it worked out tonight, but it's probably better that Karstens gets a couple more days to iron out the kinks.

-- Adam LaRoche shares some personal favorites with Jeff D'Alessio of the Sporting News.

-- FSN Pittsburgh filled the dead air with a rerun of the 1990-92 Pirates seasons and the breakup later in the decade. We didn't hang around for 1992 (we know how that ends) or the sell-off, but we did catch a rehash of the 1991 spring training blowup between Jim Leyland and Barry Bonds.

Bonds wanted all the photographers cleared from the field, except, of course, for his personal guy. The Pirate PR suit got into it with him, and then Bill Virdon went jaw-to-jaw with Bonds. Leyland joined the fray, and told BB something like "I've kissed your *bleeping* butt for four years and ain't gonna do it anymore."

It went down in Pirate folklore, but Leyland says for the wrong reason. He wasn't trying to stand up to or embarrass Bonds, but just trying to get him to focus on the game and not the things off the field. The Bucs took it in stride. Apparently there were a lot of raucous Leyland chats with different players, every bit as loud and obscene, but that was the first one to be captured on camera.

Ah, for the gool ol' days.

Lynchburg - Prospect Launching Pad

Lynchburg, the Pirate's High-A affiliate, started the season with a 6-5 win over Potomac. The team features two of the bright stars of the Pirate constellation, 3B Pedro Alvarez and RHP Bryan Morris.

4,000 crammed into Calvin Falwell Field to catch Pedro, and Alvarez didn't disappoint. He homered and doubled in his first game, going 3-for-4, with 4 RBI. Nice debut, hey?

They're not the only pieces of the future to be toiling for the Hillcats. SS Jordy Mercer (3rd round - 2008), 3B Matt Hague (9th round - 2008), OF Marcus Davis (18th round - 2007), LHP Justin Wilson (5th round - 2008), and RHP Ronald Uviedo (#18 prospect - Baseball America) are also on the roster.

The manager is P.J. Forbes, who coached AA Reading last season in the Philly system. Wally Whitehurst (pitching coach) and Dave Howard (hitting coach) will assist him. All three are newcomers to the Pittsburgh organization; Whitehurst came from the San Diego system and Howard from Tampa Bay.

Lynchburg Opening Day Roster

Pitchers - RH Harrison Bishop, RH Tom Boleska, RH Christian Castorri, LH Chi-Hung Chen, LH Michael Felix, RH Matt McSwain, LH Paul Mildren, RH Dusty Molliken, RH Bryan Morris, RH RJ Rodriguez, RH Ron Uviedo, and LH Justin Wilson.

The Watch List: Morris, Uviedo, Wilson. Bryan Morris was the deal-maker for the Jay Bay trade, and this will be his second season after TJ surgery. Ron Uviedo was placed on the 40-man after recording 40 saves last season; the Pirates are going to try him in the rotation this year. Wilson helped lead Fresno State to the College World Series title in 2008, and signed late with the Pirates.

Harrison Bishop and Tom Boleska both had nice seasons last year, and are young enough to continue through the ranks. Michael Felix was the second round pick in 2006, but is still looking to put a solid season together.

Catchers - Joel Collins, Milver Reyes, Kris Watts.

The Watch List: All three have the look of organizational-type players. The Bucs are top-heavy with young catchers, but not very well stocked at the lower levels.

Infielders - 3B Pedro Alvarez, 2B Ray Chang, SS Jose De Los Santos, 3B Matt Hague, SS Jordy Mercer, 1B Kent Sakamoto.

The Watch List: Alvarez, De Los Santos, Hague, Mercer. Pedro is looking to move on to Altoona sooner rather than later. Jose De Los Santos is a good glove guy and a decent singles hitter with some speed, but is squeezed between Brian Friday and Mercer. He'll log a lot of time at 2B. Matt Hague will see some work as a corner OF as the Bucs are loaded at 3B, and Jordy Mercer is advancing through the Pirate ranks on schedule.

Outfielders - Marcus Davis, Miles Durham, Maiko Loyola, Eddie Prasch, Alex Presley.

The Watch List: Davis. Marcus Davis is 24, long in the tooth for the A level, and has to get it going this year. He played his college ball at Alcorn State, and missed some time because of a knee injury. Davis is considered to have some upside in a thin Pirate minor-league OF, but the clock is ticking on his efforts to turn from project into prospect.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Carpenter Saws Off Bucs

-- Hey, if the Cards and Pirates would have brought their gloves, they might still be playing. But the Cards overcame a rare burst of bad fielding by Albert Pujols when a double-play ball skipped under the glove of a diving Freddy Sanchez six innings later, and the Red Birds salvaged a split with Pittsburgh, 2-1.

The Bucs drew first blood when Ramon Vazquez began the third inning with a walk and scooted to third with one out when Pujols threw the ball away trying to get him at second on Ross Ohlendorf's bunt.

Vazquez scored when Pujols fielded Nyjer Morgan's grounder and threw to the first-base side of home plate, allowing a sliding Vazquez to sneak in with the run.

It stayed 1-0 until the seventh. Ohlendorf, who finished the day with a line of 6 innings, 2 earned runs, and seven hits with a K and a walk, gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Ludwick. Khalil Greene dropped down a bunt base hit, and then Yadier Molina hopped one past Sanchez, who was looking for another bunt.

If Sanchez comes up with the admittedly tough but makeable play (it was ruled a hit), the slow-footed Molina was a likely DP candidate. Instead, a run scored, and there were runners at first and third.

Sean Burnett relieved Ohlendorf, and pinch hitter Brian Barden greeted him with a RBI single to center. And that was the game.

Carpenter looked like he was channeling the old days; he only gave up one hit, a ground ball single to Vazquez with two outs in the seventh that just barely made it up the middle past the mitt of 2B Skip Schumacher.

The Big O was almost as tough, giving up just four hits over the first six frames. The Pirate rotation put together 3 quality starts in four games, and if that keeps up, the Bucs have a fighting chance in 2009.

What Pittsburgh really needs right now is to get the middle of their order going. Nate McLouth is batting .071, Ryan Doumit .125, Adam LaRoche .143, and little LaRoche is still looking for a hit.

He's been benched the past pair of games in favor of Ramon Vazquez after booting three balls in the first two outings. The beat writers were told that he's not in the ready position, with his glove closed and turned towards his body instead of open and facing the batter.

Two games seems like a mighty short leash for LaRoche, but hey, they gave him two months last year. Pedro may get here sooner than we think.

Jeff Karstens will face Johhny Cueto at Cincy tomorrow night. The weekend match-ups will both be day games.

-- The Pirates announced that they will honor three of Pittsburgh's finest who were fatally shot while on duty on April 4. They'll have a moment of silence followed by taps in honor of Officers Eric G. Kelly, Paul J. Sciullo II and Stephen J. Mayhle before Monday's home opener against the Houston Astros.

The Bucs will wear Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) caps throughout the game, as well as a commemorative PBP patch on the left sleeve of their uniform. The Astros will wear PBP caps during pregame introductions.

The Pirates will auction off the signed caps from both teams and the game worn Pirates player jerseys on All proceeds will go to the Pittsburgh Police Fallen Heroes Fund to support the officer's families.

Volunteers from the Pittsburgh Police Department will collect funds at the PNC gates prior to the game.

The Pens will honor them too, and we understand that they will wear the "They Stood Together - They Fell Together" tees under their sweaters during their annual year-end "Shirts Off Our Backs" fan appreciation give-away tonight. They'll also have a collection for the Fallen Heroes Foundation.

GW watched the memorial service. What a stupid, senseless act. A drunk son wakes up his mom, she calls 911, and three officers die. The shooter is planning on writing a book. A coloring book, we assume.

Police may be aggravating with their tickets, but everyone in the City should appreciate them and the out-of-the-blue risks they face every day. There's not much distance between calm and chaos, just a thin blue line.

Indy Opens Tonight

Hey, GW supposes the Bucs were serious about working Jason Davis as a starter - he's the opening day pitcher for the Indians tonight against the Toledo Mud Hens.

And in an interesting promo, for the third year in a row, the Tribe is offering free tickets for an April game to its fans if the weather isn't 60 degrees at the first pitch. They best be ready to pony up; it's supposed to be in the low 50s and raining.

The lid-lifter at Victory Field will mark the 123rd year of pro baseball in Indianapolis. A dozen Hall-of-Famers have passed through, and it seems like GM Max Schumacher has been there for all them. Well, in truth he might have missed a couple, but it's his 53rd year with the team. Ol' Max must be doing something right.

Frank Kremblas is the field boss after four years and three titles with the Brewer's PCL Nashville Sounds. He became the 58th manager in Indians history when he was named to the post in December 2008, replacing Trent Jewett. Kremblas played in Indy from 1993-96 when the Indians were a Cincinnati Reds affiliate.

He'll be joined by hitting coach Jeff Branson, who played in 139 games for Indianapolis during the 1997 and 1999 seasons and is his seventh season as part of the Pirate system. Ray Searage will handle the pitching chores. He's returning for a seventh season in the Buc organization, with stops at Williamsport, Hickory, and Altoona.

Indianapolis Opening Day Roster

Pitchers - RH Jimmy Barthmaier, RH Denny Bautista, RH Chris Bootcheck, LH Dave Davidson, RH Jason Davis, LH Tom Gorzelanny, LH Corey Hamman, RH Daniel McCutchen, RH Evan Meek, RH Jeremy Powell, RH Brian Slocum, RH Virgil Vasquez.

The Watch List: Bootcheck, Davis, Gorzo, McCutchen, Meek, Vasquez. The Bucs aren't very deep in arms, and have turned Indy's pitching roster inside-out from last year. Meek will be back in Pittsburgh as soon as he's healthy and stretched out.

The others all have to prove they belong, with Davis being the strongest candidate to pop up in PNC. But there should be plenty of opportunity if the performance is there.

Catchers - Robinzon Diaz, Erik Kratz.

The Watch List: Diaz. He lit it up with his bat in the spring, and may alternate in ther bigs with Jason Jaramillo to give each regular work in the minors while serving as Ryan Doumit's caddy in the show.

Infielders - SS Brian Bixler, 1B Jason Delaney, IF Anderson Machada, 1B Steve Pearce, IF Andy Phillips, 3B Neil Walker.

The Watch List: Bix, Pearce, Phillips, Walker. Brian Bixler will try to regain some luster as a prospect after a promising spring, and Neil Walker will work on his patience at the dish. Steve Pearce returns to the future at first base, and Andy Phillips will look to take Luis Cruz's utility role in Pittsburgh. Shelby Ford will be in the mix shortly; he's still out with a bruised wrist suffered in camp.

Outfielders - Larry Broadway, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Jeff Salazar.

The Watch List: Jones, McCutch, Salazar. Andrew McCutchen will join the show sometime this year. Jones and Salazar are insurance policies for Pittsburgh, Jones at first, Salazar in the outfield.

The Pirates did some major house-cleaning here from last year, but all in all, it's not a terribly imposing opening-day roster, particularly on the hill. Most of the Bucs' young guns are already in Pittsburgh, but if all goes according to plan, guys like Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, and Jeff Sues should be making their Indy debuts sometime this season.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bucs Batter Birds

The Bucs banged out 17 hits and played from ahead tonight to outlast the Cardinals 7-4.

Zach Duke looked sharp, with a fastball clocked at 93 at times, until hitting the wall in the seventh. He gave up three runs, one earned (Ryan Doumit had a bad day at the office. A passed ball on a called third strike and a catcher's interference call led to a pair of runs) in 6-1/3 innings on five hits, with two walks and four K's, even catching Albert Pujols looking on an inside heater. It may have been the first pitch any Pirate hurler has sneaked past Pujols so far this series.

The top of the Pirate order continued to sizzle. Nyjer Morgan had two more hits and Freddy Sanchez drove, dribbled, and dinked four hits in five at-bats. The bottom of the order was just as productive, with Brandon Moss adding three hits, Jack Wilson four, and even Duke contributed a double and two sac bunts.

The key blow was Nate McLouth's first hit of the season, a homer to right in the sixth frame that grew the Pirate lead to 7-2 and gave the Buccos all the cushion they'd need.

The bullpen needed the help. John Grabow struggled with his command through 1-2/3 innings, issuing a pair of walks, but not allowing a run. Tyler Yates came on in the ninth, and got one out while giving up a homer, double, and walk. His heat hit 95, but Yates needs to show a second pitch that he can get over the plate or the league is just going to sit on his fastball, as they did tonight.

In fact, the biggest play of the inning was a Bucco blunder turned into an even bigger Card miscue. Joe Thurston doubled into left, and Morgan came up throwing, but to second base, not third. The base was uncovered, and as the ball came in, Thurston sprinted to the hot corner. But Adam LaRoche was backing the play, caught Morgan's throw on a hop, and gunned out Thurston. It was a huge out.

Matt Capps came in to get his second save, and it wasn't a work or art. He was right down Broadway with his pitches, but Nate McLouth ran down a shot to the fence and Ramon Vazquez ended the game by catching a bullet lined to third. But hey, all's well that ends well.

It's only three games into the season, but a couple of red flags are blowin' in the breeze. One is the shaky bullpen; it hasn't given up many runs, but sooner or later all those runners and ropes are going to haunt the staff, especially if called on early in the game.

And the Pirates stranded 12 runners tonight, after leaving ten on base the first game. A lack of power and station-to-station base running is putting a big crimp in the Pirates' potential run production.

Five errors in three games isn't a good sign, either, especially with the Pirates' pitch to contact rotation.

But the glass is at least half-full. The Bucs have scored 16 runs in three games with little contribution from the middle of the order.

The Pirate batters have been disciplined at the dish this year, and the pitch recognition is much improved. Maybe it's because they're buying into Donnie Long's coaching, or maybe it's because Jay Bay and Xavier Nady aren't around swinging from the heels any longer. Either way, they're taking professional at-bats most of the time.

Jack Splat and Freddy Sanchez look rejuvenated. Wilson has dropped his hands a bit at Long's urging, and Sanchez is playing healthy and throwing sidearm to keep the pressure off of his shoulder, thanks to the work of Perry Hill.

Nyjer Morgan has made strides, too, proving once again that spring training results have no bearing on reality. His OF work is improved - he made a nice running grab tonight, and made it look easy because of his route - though his wayward throw shows he's still a work in progress. But he is progressing.

And while he's not dropping any bunts, he's hitting more balls up the middle instead of pulling everything. As long as Morgan is making solid contact, the Pittsburgh lineup is much more in balance with him at the leadoff spot and McLouth third.

We also like John Russell's use of the bench. Eric Hinske got a start, as did Vasquez, and he got Craig Monroe into the field tonight. He's keeping the whole team involved.

Hey, so far, so good. Tomorrow's get-away game will feature Ross Ohlendorf against Chris Carpenter, then off to Cincy. It'd be a nice start to come home with a winning record.