Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ground To Bits

Hey, after awhile you have to stop tipping your hat to over-the-hill pitchers and start looking in the mirror. Mike Hampton, who hasn't had a decent season since being injured after the 2005 campaign, embarrassed the Bucs and outdid Paul Maholm 2-1 this afternoon in front of 19,566 yawning fans.

After Nate McLouth led off with a homer, Hampton held the Pirates to just two more hits over seven innings. No matter what he threw, they beat it into the infield. Change-up? Ground out. Fastball? Ground out. Off speed? Ground out.

The Bucs didn't leave anyone in scoring position because, well, they didn't have anyone in scoring position. Inexplicably, pinch-runner Nyjer Morgan, who came in after Freddy Sanchez's two-out single, never moved off first base in the ninth.

His outfielders caught one ball in the air all day; he got 17 outs on the ground. Chris Sampson pitched the eighth; two ground outs and a K. LaTroy Hawkins came on for the save; he struck out Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young on balls in the dirt, his twist on the ground out.

He also gave up a ground ball single and'd you guess? A ground out.

It's tough enough to lose a game like that, but the way Pittsburgh lost is just as infuriating. A leadoff walk, tag to second on a deep ball to center, and a two-out ground ball single by the eight hitter brought home the first tally.

The game-winning run came on two excuse-me dinks into right, a passed ball, and a ground ball single.

Oh, that run was scored by Mike Hampton, who led off with a lob shot between Sanchez and Brandon Moss and came in later on a bloop just over Sanchez's outstretched mitt. Did we mention he was playing in because of the passed ball? And notice a trend here about not getting the eight-nine hitters?

Ah, well. Maybe tomorrow the ball will have eyes against the Mets. The pitching match-ups are here, from

-- The Pirates drew over 75,000 for the week-end set, so maybe the fan backing can be taken off life-support. Hopefully, the on-the-field product will match the efforts of the Bucs crackerjack marketing team.

Sunday Afternoon Notes

-- It's Nyjer Morgan's turn to get a day off. Nate McLouth will lead off, with Andy LaRoche in the two hole and Freddy Sanchez batting third.

Morgan's replacement, Craig Monroe, will bat clean-up. Robby Diaz is catching back-to-back, an oddity when a night game is followed by a day game.

And the Astros are moving Bucco killer Edwin Maysonet to leadoff from the eighth spot. Meteoric rise, hey?

-- Donnie Veal was placed on the 15-day DL with a groin pull that he suffered in his Friday outing when he slipped on the mound. It shouldn't have any bearing on his Rule 5 status; the draftee must be active for at least 90 days, and he's almost 2/3's of the way there.

Copacetic timing for the injury, with Tyler Yates and Craig Hansen out and Gorzo largely ineffective of late. The bullpen could use a fresh arm to eat a few innings.

We're guessing that the recently acquired RHP Steven Jackson (eleven appearances, 1-0-1, 3.10 ERA, fifteen Ks in 20-1/3 innings) will get the call from Indy. He was touted as a middle reliever while in the Yankee system.

But maybe not; Neal Huntington is always full of surprises. The beat writers are speculating that Virgil Vasquez or Chris Bootcheck may be in line for the job, too. We'll find out tomorrow.

-- John Perrotto of the Pirates has all the current trade rumors wrapped up in one neat column today.

-- Circle May 30, 2009, on your calendars. Yesterday marks the date of the first win for David Price of the Rays and the first hit for Matt Wieters of the O's. We expect a lot more to follow.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bucco's Skyblast 'Stros

Hey, the only thing you can tell about baseball is that you just never can tell. A guy with an ERA through the roof throws a complete game against you one night, and the guy with the best ERA in the league can't get through five innings the next.

That's what happened tonight as the Bucs evened their series against the Astros with a 7-4 victory. Wandy Rodriguez with the 1.71 ERA gave up five runs, nine hits, and walked three in 4-2/3 frames, while Jeff Karstens was tossing big ol' hooks all over the lot and setting Houston down.

Karstens gave up two runs in seven innings on six hits, and could have done better. JR shook up the lineup, with Eric Hinske, Craig Monroe, and Delwyn Young starting, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Brandon Moss sitting against a tough lefty, and Nyjer Morgan moving to center.

Both runs off Karstens came with two outs on long flies that could and probably should have been caught, but Young and Morgan couldn't come up with the grabs after long runs.

Still, the Bucs put up a three spot in the first, and added pairs in the fifth and eighth to lead comfortably going into the ninth, 7-2. Gorzo came on and got the first two outs handily; then the wheels came off.

He walked Edwin Maysonet - can't anyone get that kid out? - gave up a double and another walk. Out came the hook and in came bruised but unbowed closer Matt Capps. He plunked a batter for one run, and walked the next for another.

Carlos Lee was up, bases juiced, and was the go-ahead run. But a steady diet of sliders led to a roller to Steady Freddy, and the Bucs can take the series with a win tomorrow afternoon.

Hinske had three hits, and Sanchez, Andy LaRoche, and Robby Diaz added a pair. But it was a team effort at the dish; six guys had RBI, and six guys scored. The Bucs pounded out 17 hits, drew 5 walks, and were 7-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

-- Not only did JR shuffle the lineup, but he played with the order, too. Young LaRoche batted second, Sanchez third. Loading up the top of the order is never a bad thing. They went 4-for-8, each drew a walk, they scored three times and drove in a pair.

-- The Bucs drew a full house of 37,167 to Skyblast tonight, to go with 18,236 fans last night. It's a start.

-- Gorzo's command problem has become more apparent each outing; it's the kind of thing that a starter will have trouble with working out of the pen. He doesn't have the luxury of a couple of innings to find out what's working that night.

We're glad he's showing the old velocity, but it's about time to give a guy that's suited to relief work the call, especially if Yates is out for awhile, and let Gorzo get back to a regular routine in the rotation.

It's especially tough when they're carrying Donnie Veal, too. The Bucs haven't been exposed enough so far this year to have to trot him out ala Evan Meek in 2008, but his future is in the rotation, too.

-- We're beginning to think the Pirates are auditioning Hinske for the first base opening when Adam LaRoche rides out of town. Yah, he'll be 32 in August and hasn't flashed much power yet, but that may be due to so few regular at-bats more than anything else.

And both Steve Pearce (.272-6-29) and Garrett Jones (.289-6-32) are having productive starts at Indy. The Buc options look pretty good at first, and remember, a lot of folk believe that's where Pedro is gonna end up.

-- Tests confirmed that Tyler Yates doesn't have any structural damage to his elbow, just inflammation. He long-tossed today; still no return date.

-- No such good news for Craig Hansen. Tests done on his neck revealed inflammation of the nerve that controls the Trapezius muscle (it's a big muscle that runs from the neck down to mid-back and to the shoulder blade, like a stretched triangle). He'll be shut down from throwing for up to four weeks. Hansen has already missed a month.

High School Kings of Swat

Hey, in between the raindrops, the WPIAL and City finally crowned their 2009 baseball champions. The winners:

-- WPIAL - AAAA: North Allegheny beat Pine-Richland 6-3.
-- WPIAL - AAA: Moon defeated section rival Chartiers Valley 3-2.
-- WPIAL - AA: Shady Side Academy edged North Catholic 3-2.
-- WPIAL - A: Serra Catholic beat Carmichaels 7-1.
-- City League: Allderdice took care of Brashear 6-0.

And the girls decided their softball queens, too:

-- WPIAL - AAAA: Hempfield held off Shaler 3-2.
-- WPIAL - AAA: Franklin Regional nosed Trinity 2-0.
-- WPIAL - AA: Riverside rolled over Sto-Rox 8-0.
-- WPIAL - A: Vincentian Academy whipped Avonworth 3-1.
-- City League: Brashear beat Perry in a slugfest 6-4.

Congrats to all, and good luck in the PIAA tourney.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Houston Calling...

Let's see...Houston's on a seven game losing streak. In last place. The local paper is calling for the manager's head. The guy that's on the mound has an 8.13 ERA after seven starts.

Hey, just another day at the office for the Astros, and sadly enough, the Pirates. Houston outpitched and outhit the Bucs, taking an easy 6-1 win that could have been bigger if the 'Stros hadn't run the bases like hopped-up kamikazes.

The only noteworthy happening was a Donnie Veal sighting. He came on in the seventh inning, and gave up a run on three hits, with a walk and two strikeouts, in two frames of work. His heater was all over the place, but he showed a pretty nice hook.

And more importantly, he threw much better in his second inning than the first; the butterflies from his first appearance in three weeks had a chance to settle.

It just might be that they're getting ready to actually, you know, use him a little now that the pen is short, either as a long guy or mop-up arm. About time; the kid needs to face some MLB batters if he's ever to become a MLB pitcher.

-- Matt Capps was given the OK to pitch tonight if needed. Talk about dodging a bullet.

-- Ryan Doumit can begin strengthening exercises on his right wrist, fractured on April 20th. He'll begin warming up pitchers Saturday, though he won't be allowed to throw.

Doumit will be examined next on June 15th, and if that goes well, he can start a minor-league rehab stint. Still, the timetable seems to be about six more weeks for his return.

The Pirates don't seem to be in a hurry to rush him back and then have to shut him down again, and Robby Diaz and Jason Jaramillo are taking the sting out of Doumit's absence.

-- No news on Tyler Yates or Craig Hansen, who had tests done a couple of days ago. Guess they're not on a fast track to return, seeing how no one can quite figure out what's wrong with them. Ah well, someone has to keep Phil Dumatrait company.

-- Tom Verducci of SI's "Three Strikes" column says of Tampa Bay after the injury to 2B Akinori Iwamura:
"The Rays have hit a crisis point...If they do decide to make a trade, one scout suggested that they ought to pry away Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates. Sanchez is exactly the kind of player who fits well in the way Tampa stresses defense and grinding out at-bats."

-- Neal Huntington explained to's Jen Langosch all about his recent moves in building up the minor league pitching.

He explains that they need depth, guys with options, and don't need pitchers that won't buy into the program; so some of it is just addition by subtraction.

-- Speaking of signing pitchers, the Bucs inked RHP Scott Nestor and sent him to Altoona. Nestor was last in the Phillies organization. The 24 year-old has a power arm and no control; he has a minor league ERA of 5.07, averaging 10 K and 6 BB per nine innings. Pittsburgh continues to be a fastball flophouse for wild children.

-- The Pirates have traded Altoona IF Anderson Machado to the Cubs for a PTBNL or cash.

-- 2006 first-round pick RHP Brad Lincoln extended his streak of scoreless innings to 19 after tossing six shutout innings for the Curve on Wednesday. Lincoln is four innings away from matching the Altoona record for consecutive scoreless innings, 23, a mark that was set in 2006 by Franklin Perez.

Not to downplay Perez's achievement, but now he's pitching for the indie Atlantic League's Bridgeport Bluefish. Been there for three years, as a matter of fact. Sic transit gloria.

As for Lincoln, he made this week's version of Baseball America's "Prospect Hot Sheet" again. They think a call to Indy should be coming shortly.

-- And hey, forget about hot-stoving the Pirate draft. This year, every mock draft has the Pirates picking someone different, pitchers and position players. Should be an interesting call in June. GW will stick his neck out and scratch any Scott Boras clients.

-- Guess who's managing again? Jim Tracy is baaaaack. The Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle earlier today and promoted Tracy, who was Colorado's bench coach, to the top spot.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moneyball's Switch-Pitcher

Hey, when GW's eldest went to Central Catholic HS and played a little baseball, his coach was Gene Colamarino. Good guy, and his kid Brant was quite the jock. He was the QB for the football team, and pitched and played second for the Viking nine.

The 5'11" 200-pounder had one striking similarity behind the center and on the hill - he could deliver the ball with either hand! Now in football, that helps you avoid the rush and not much else, Ah, but in baseball...

What happens when a switch pitcher faces a switch hitter? A lotta switching gloves and batter's boxes, that's what. Well, Colamarino wasn't the ace of the CCHS staff, so it never became much more than a time-consuming conversation piece and an irritation to the umps.

He did it not particularly to befuddle opponents, but because he was a natural lefty and wanted to play shortstop as a kid. And baseball has an unwritten rule about lefties in the infield - if you're not at first base, you best be right handed.

So Gene hit Brant a zillion grounders, and he learned to throw naturally with both hands, though he only made a half-hearted effort to switch-hit; he could pound the ball left-handed.

A little switch-pitching got him noticed, but his bat made his name. He played for Shaler's Legion team for five years, and was a West Legion All-Star. Brant was All-Conference at Central in football and baseball, where he was the starting second sacker.

As a senior, Brant finished with a batting average of .520 in 1999. In 50 at-bats, he had 26 hits, 17 runs and 18 RBI with a .900 slugging percentage. Colamarino never struck out that season.

The Etna native made the move from Central across the street to Pitt. As a sophomore 1B/DH, he hit .337. But his 2002 junior year was one for the record books.

Colamarino led the Panthers in batting average (.384), runs (58), home runs (19), walks (40) and slugging percentage (.802). He made All-Big East and All-ECAC at first base.

Brant finished 8th in NCAA Division I in slugging percentage, right ahead of Brad "Big Country" Eldred. He tied Pitt's single-season home run record and set the runs scored standard.

He thought there was a chance he might get a call on draft day. And as Brant sat on the living room floor with his family, he fired up the computer, clicked on to, and read the glad tidings: the Oakland Athletics had drafted him in the seventh round (218th overall). Shortly thereafter the phone rang, confirming the news.

Because of his build (he looked more suited for sumo than baseball), few teams showed much interest in him despite the gaudy numbers. But the A's, in Billy Beane's first "Moneyball" draft, looked instead at his production and grabbed him. It's hard to tell who was happier.

After the A's drafted him, Oakland Assistant GM Paul DePodesta said, "No one else in baseball will agree, but Colamarino might be the best hitter in the country."

The former Pitt star was assigned to the Vancouver Canadians and hit .259/.348/.382 in 67 games. In 2003, Brant batted .259/.350/.426 for the Kane County Cougars with 19 homers and 80 RBI.

In 2004, Colamarino tore it up for the Modesto Athletics with a .355/.450/.601 line in 50 games. Promoted to the Midland RockHounds, he batted .272/.331/.434 in 78 games.

The next year, he split time between AA Midland (.321/.377/.594 in 46 games) and the AAA Sacramento RiverCats (.243/.297/.436 in 74 games). Overall, he hit 21 homers and drove in 92.

His scouting report read: "He will not win any races, but Brant Colamarino possess power potential and knows how to get on base. He likely profiles as a DH, first baseman or below average left fielder."

Back with Midland again in 2006, the then 25-year-old first baseman put up a .285/.364/.491 line with 35 doubles, 8 triples, 17 home runs, and 91 RBI. In 2007, Brant returned to Midland, hitting .241/.319/.377 in a down year.

But the swing was back in the post-season. He rejoined Sacramento for the playoffs and hit a 2-run homer and drove in three in the Bricktown Showdown, a one-game battle between the Pacific Coast League and International League champs.

It wasn't all roses; besides the disappointing 2007, he was blocked at AAA in the A's farm system. Colamarino was still considered a strong hitter with a good eye and some power, and was a plus defensive player at first in spite of being under 6-foot tall.

So the Syracuse Chiefs of the Toronto Blue Jays system picked Colamarino in the AAA phase of the 2007 Rule 5 Draft. "Slick fielding, excellent defense at 1B. Mashes RHP" was their report.

Even if he appeared destined to be a career minor-leaguer, he'd at least provide some capable depth for the organization and maybe land on the bench if needed.

But it wasn't to be. He tore up his shoulder, and missed the season. When you're 27 and hurt in the bushes, well, that's a career killer. And it was for him; Toronto let him go.

The Somerset Patriots of the indie Atlantic League signed him in March as he tried to mount a last hurrah at the age of 28, but he never made it to training camp; his shoulder was still too weak.

So hey, it may be the end of the trail, but he put up some nice numbers in the A's system. He has a .270 career batting average with 665 hits, 141 doubles, 21 triples, 91 home runs, and 427 runs batted in over 655 games. Colamarino finished with a .991 fielding average, with all but seven games at first base.

He's been coaching kids at different baseball facilities in the area as a sideline; guess he'll be looking for a day job, too.

But Brant's got plenty to tell his grandkids. Made it to AAA ball, got some love from Billy Beane, and even struck out a kid or two from both sides of the rubber. Pretty sweet career for switch-pitcher from the poor side of the Allegheny.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blame The Weatherman

Ah, it never rains when ya want it to. Last night it started too late; today, it never came at all. And so the Pirates wasted another strong Zach Duke outing, losing 5-2.

The Zachster went seven innings, dodging the figurative raindrops to give up just two runs on eight hits and a couple of walks. But with the game tied 2-2 and after Duke threw 105 pitches, it was time to send Jesse Chavez out to open the eighth, to see how he'd fare in prime time now that Matt Capps is gonna be off a little bit.

Eh, he fared not so well. With one out, he gave up a Reed Johnson blast and a Geovany Soto single. Sean Burnett, another guy trying to work his way up in the pecking order, came on to give up back-to-back doubles. Quick as a wink, it was 5-2.

And it wasn't even a nice, neat loss. The Bucs stranded 10 runners, and were 2-for-10 with guys in scoring position. In both the second and fifth innings, the Pirates put their first two runners on base without scoring.

It's an old song, but somebody has to pick it up with the bat and start banging some bodies home. Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche, we're talking about you and some RBIs, not that any one else in black and gold is threatening Hack Wilson.

And hey, start playing the game a little tighter. Delwyn Young got the start at second and threw away a DP ball that cost the team one run, and in the ninth, Freddy Sanchez led off with a walk and got doubled off first on a deep fly to right; he was on third when the ball was caught. His run meant nada; but the out sure did.

But hey, brain cramps don't only occur on the Pirate side. Carlos Zambrano got tossed out of the game when his tag of Nyjer Morgan, trying to score after a wild pitch, was ruled late (and the replay showed that it was the right, albeit a bang-bang, call).

He went nose-to-nose with the ump, they bumped, triggering the ejection, then Zambrano made his own out call towards the man in blue, threw a ball into the outfield, tossed his glove, and whacked the dugout water cooler a couple of times with a bat. Cool! It ain't often a Cubbie can be a bigger drama queen than Sweet Lou, but the Big Z managed it.

Heck, we thought Lloyd McClelland was back for a minute.

Ah, well. So much for the excitement. The Bucs are off tomorrow, and are home for three against the Astros and four against the Mets. Here's the pitching matchups for the 'Stros series from

-- Matt Capps will probably be back sooner rather than later. There's no substantial damage to his elbow, and the swelling went down enough to allow him to toss the ball around today, though not off a mound. He could be ready as soon as the weekend; if not, he'll probably be back in the saddle by early next week.

-- Tyler Yates' tests have all come back fine; but he hasn't pitched off a mound since being DL'ed, and we'd guess that his Sunday return date will be delayed at least a few days.

-- Latest Jack Splat rumor: off to Boston now. Yahoo!Sports Gordon Edes in his "Full Count Column" writes that "Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson also has attracted interest (from Boston)."

-- The Mets are looking for a corner infield or outfield bat; Joel Sherman of the NY Post says that "The Pirates would move Adam LaRoche or Eric Hinske."

-- In fact, a bunch of Bucs are on the market, according to Fox Sport's Jon Paul Morosi:
The Pirates are likely to make Sanchez available before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, multiple industry officials said Wednesday. In fact, it would be a mild surprise if Pittsburgh let the deadline pass without dealing at least one potential free agent.

Along with Sanchez, they can shop shortstop Jack Wilson, first baseman Adam LaRoche, outfielder Craig Monroe, left-hander John Grabow and infielder/outfielder Eric Hinske. Ramon Vazquez, a utility player signed through 2010, may also be moved.
Now the same outlet said yesterday that the Bucs weren't in salary dump mode, and carefully states that the guys are "available," not goners. The bench guys are one thing, but the middle infield is quite the conundrum. $16M in 2010 for two 30-something guys, or $1M for two unproven pups? Forget the bats; the pitch-to-contact staff needs some leather up the middle. What to do?

-- Recently DFA'ed OF Chris Duffy cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Class AAA Nashville. That suits the Brew Crew just fine; they like Duffy as a depth player.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Short Night In Chicago

Ian Snell has the best stuff of anyone on the staff - and the worst production. He's 1-6 with a 5.43 ERA after losing a 5-inning, rain shortened game tonight, 6-1. Jeff Karstens, who is the number five guy and holding on to that spot by a gnat's eyelash, is 1-2 with a 5.19 ERA. Go figure.

GW gives up; he has no idea whassup with Snell. Apparently, neither does Joe Kerrigan. And the suits thought Gorzo needed a boot in the pants? Snell refuses to build on his few and far between good outings, reverting to too many pitches, too many balls, too many two-out lapses, too many bottom-of-the-order runs, and too many losses.

We don't know if the Pirates' patience is wearing thin with him, but it's about time for a change, if not in performance, then teams. Or does Indy only take ex-Yankee pitchers?

-- X-rays taken of the right elbow of Pirates reliever Matt Capps, who was struck by a Geovany Soto line drive yesterday, were negative.

That's the good news; the bad news is that he was struck very close to the bruised bone that caused him to miss a week earlier in the season. So there's still an outside chance he could end up on the 15-day DL. Capps hopes to return over the weekend, according to the Associated Press, but "it's kind of out of my hands," he said

That puts John Grabow or perhaps Jesse Chavez in line to close for the Pirates; maybe Tyler Yates if Capps is gone beyond a week.

-- RHP Tyler Yates is scheduled to throw off a mound today for the first time since going on the DL May 17 with elbow inflammation. He's eligible to come back Sunday, though he may pitch a couple of rehab games first.

-- RHP Craig Hansen had more tests in Pittsburgh yesterday to see if the docs can figure out what's causing his neck and back spasms. Results are due today.

-- Who knows whassup with LHP Phil Dumatrait? Last we heard, he's still in Pirate City, rehabbing from impingement surgery.

-- C Ryan Doumit, who broke his right wrist on April 20, is scheduled for a CAT scan on Thursday. If the results of that are OK, he could quit cheerleading and start participating in baseball drills within days.

Jason Jaramillo (.288) and Robinzon Diaz (.321) have done unexpectedly fine jobs during his absence; it'll be interesting to see who goes down when Doumit comes back, and what the future plans are for the duo. We're sure rumors of a possible position switch for the fragile Doumit will fly again, at least among the fans.

-- Only one Bucco ever had a better day at the plate than Freddy Sanchez yesterday. That was 2B Rennie Stennett, who went 7-for-7 when Pittsburgh routed the Cubs, 22-0 on September 16, 1975, also at Wrigley Field. Sanchez credits his rejuvenated eye to shortening his swing and staying back on the ball.

Freddy joins a select group of seven Pirates who have gone 6-for-6 or better; Stennett, OF Hazen "Kiki" Cuyler (08/09/1924), OF Paul "Big Poison" Waner (08/26/1926), OF/1B Johnny "Hippity" Hopp (05/14/1950), SS Dick Groat (05/13/1960), and 2B Wally Backman (04/27/1990).

Six hits is a pretty big deal. The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown lists everyone that's done it in MLB history. There ain't that many.

-- Don't be in a rush to see Wilson or Adam LaRoche leave town, says Fox Sport's writer Ken Rosenthal:
Clubs that expect the Pirates to dump contracts out of financial desperation will be disappointed. The team is in strong enough position to maintain its payroll through the end of the season and still be aggressive in the draft and Latin America, according to one source with knowledge of the club's thinking.

The industry-wide shortage at shortstop has led to multiple inquiries on Jack Wilson, who is earning $7.25 million in the final year of his contract. The rap on Wilson is his low on-base percentage — .295 this season, .311 for his career. But he remains a quality defender.

Here's the problem: The Pirates are philosophically opposed to the idea of a low-revenue team sending money to a high-revenue team to secure better prospects in a trade, the way the Indians did last season when they moved third baseman Casey Blake to the Dodgers.

Most teams do not want Wilson at even the pro-rated portion of his current salary. Ditto for first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is earning $7.05 million.
-- The minor-league injury update: Altoona OF Jose Tabata (strained right hamstring) will report to Bradenton today to begin his rehab assignment. Lynchburg RHP Bryan Morris (right shoulder) is already in Pirate City, where he has made two starts in extended spring training. Morris has two more starts scheduled in Florida.

-- How about a little national politics to throw into the mix? President Barack Obama nominated judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Does the name sound familiar? It should; on March 30, 1995, she issued a preliminary injunction against the owners preventing them from unilaterally implementing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and using replacement players. For all intents and purposes, that ended the strike, and the 1995 season was played.

Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, and is supposed to be a big Yankee fan. Well, no one's perfect.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Buc bats continued to smoke as they drilled a season-high eighteen hits off the Cubbies. And they needed them all, hanging on for a 10-8 win at Wrigley.

The game had it all; the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good: Freddy Sanchez went 6-for-6, the first Pirate to do that since Wally Backman in 1990. He homered, doubled, stole a base, scored four runs and drove in three, and raised his average from .297 to .320 - in one game. Oh, did we mention three or four pretty sweet plays by Steady Freddy in the field, too? How quickly things turn; two days ago he couldn't hit a ball off a tee.

Also, six Bucco relievers held the Cubs to one run over the last five innings. Gorzo got the win, his second, and Burney the save, his first in the show.

The Bad: 13 runners left on base didn't help the cause. Andy LaRoche hit into a bases-loaded DP with one out when he swung at ball four and tapped into a 1-2-3 twin killing. It was on a 3-2 pitch after Ryan Dempster had just walked in two runs.

Paul Maholm struggled mightily; he gave up seven runs in four innings; his fastball was high and his change-up caught too much of the plate. Good thing the wind was blowing in tonight; 12 pitchers combined to give up 18 runs, 28 hits, and 11 walks on 371 pitches. The game lasted over 3-1/2 hours.

And a special mention to Mr. T; he did "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and his voice is definitely not A-Team musically. He did manage to snarl a "Pity the Pirates" when he was done. Mr. T did dress for the day, sporting a Stars and Stripes bandanna with matching MC Hammer harem pants.

The Ugly: Matt Capps took a line drive squarely off the elbow in the ninth; it hit him so hard that it almost ricocheted into the dugout. He was immediately taken to the locker room; guess we'll know more about the extent of the injury tomorrow.

So OK, the Bucs are 5-3 on this road trip, and can come home with a winning record for the 10 day trek away from PNC. We expect to see more rock 'em, sock 'em baseball in the next two days. The Cubs were due to explode after scoring just 5 runs in their six-game road trip, and the Pirates look like they've dumped the Slumber and returned to the Lumber.

-- We'll see how a day off affects Adam LaRoche. So far he's gotten his months mixed up; LaRoche hit .269 with 5 HR and 14 RBI during April, but so far in May he's batting .175 with 2 HR and 6 RBI. He's a notorious streak hitter; hopefully he's due.

He spent his day off by pitching a half-hour of BP to his teammates; it must have worked. Adam knows his way around a mound. His dad Dave was a long-time MLB pitcher, and hey, LaRoche probably throws as hard as Mark Buehrle.

-- Not a good sign for the Pirates: their average attendance is 15,668, way last in MLB and a couple of thousand less warm booties per outing than the next-to-last Oakland A's, who draw 17,772. And remember, in spite of TV and revenues, the gate is still the biggest cash generator for teams.

Last year the Bucs averaged 19,865 fans. But the gate is pretty much on pace with 2008's for the early part of the season; Pittsburgh traditionally doesn't draw well until the weather warms up, the kids are out of school, and those pesky Penguins finish their playoff run.

Ya sure can't fault the marketing people. Pittsburgh has more bobble heads, give-aways, concerts, fireworks, buck dog nights, and loaded tickets than you can shake a stick at. But if the attendance lags, Bob Nutting may have to tighten his purse strings as far as the draft and Latino signings are concerned, and that's not good.

As far as extending those 2010 $8M infielders Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez (if he doesn't vest) and Adam LaRoche, well...

-- Today is the anniversary of the Bambino hitting his final home run in 1936, number #714, at Forbes Field. It was said to be a monster shot, landing on Joncaire Street and rolling down to Panther Hollow, gleefully chased by a pack of youngsters. It was the final blast of three he hit that day (the second and third were launched off of Guy Bush) in an 11-7 Boston Brave loss.

-- Memorial Day is traditionally when teams take stock of their position in the pack and how it relates to earning a spot in the pre-season. Is it a good barometer? Eh, kinda, according to's Races Come Into Focus On Memorial Day."
Since 1995, about 60 percent of the teams leading the division or Wild Card on Memorial Day qualified for the postseason, revealed an analysis. Of 116 teams in first place, or leading the Wild Card race on the last Monday of May, 70 made it to the postseason.
The Pirates are six games back, both in the division and wild card races going into today.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fat Lady Changes Her Tune

Hey, there's a reason baseball is the only sport that's not hooked up to a clock. Today, Jack Splat was that reason.

In a game that the Bucs appeared destined to do everything but win, Wilson took Bobby Jenks deep with two outs in the ninth to tie the game, followed quickly by a Nyjer Morgan double and Delwyn Young game-winning single, and the Fat Lady switched outfits.

Three Matt Capp K's later, the Pirates avoided the broom and won an improbable 4-3 victory over the White Sox, sending 28,309 Chicago fans home to cry in their cookout beer.

If Wilson hadn't come through with his heroics, the Pirates would have had no one but themselves to blame if they lost. They pounded 12 hits off Mark Buehrle in seven innings, and scored just once.

And as it was, something like 12 of their 16 hits came with two outs and nobody on base. Except for Eric Hinske's first inning double, no clutch hit was to be had off Buehrle. (In fairness, GW must note that every run in the game scored after two were out; all four Pirate scores and two of Chicago's came after two out with nobody on.)

Pittsburgh also ended three innings on the basepaths, when Wilson was thrown out at third, Freddy Sanchez was doubled off second on a soft liner, and Brandon Moss was caught taking a needless wide turn at first. Those are little league mistakes.

Jeff Karstens did a nice job against the Sox, with a two-out exception in the second, when Carlos Quentin doubled and a 3-2 curve ball to the next hitter, Brian Anderson, dropped right down the middle and was launched into the left field seats.

The Bucs treated the highly touted White Sox bullpen like they were the Washington Nationals relief corps. Besides roughing up Jenks, Hinske homered off of Octavio Dotel in the eighth.

So now it's off from the South Side to the North Side as the Bucs take on the Cubs. Da Cubs have lost seven in a row; it would be nice to keep their streak going. Here are the probable pitchers for the Cub series, compliments of

-- Give JR some love for this win. He shook up the lineup, giving Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche the day off, and put Hinske at first, Craig Monroe at DH, and Young in right. They combined for five hits and three RBI.

-- Three home runs were hit today, by Brian Anderson, Eric Hinske, and Jack Wilson. It was the first of the year for all three.

-- How's this for home cookin'? Pittsburgh is settled in at their Chicago hotel, living the life of Riley, while the Cubs have to fly in from San Diego for the upcoming series at Wrigley. Ah, those MLB computers; gotta love 'em!

-- GW doesn't see many AL games (mostly by choice), but he was impressed by Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. He can do it all, and could easily become the next great AL SS.

-- GW was also impressed by the White Sox brand of ball; it has a lot of NL elements. Notably, they bunt, both for basehits and to move runners up, steal, and love to put men in motion on the bases, opening up the infield for their hitters. Running Anderson set up their third run today and led to a score yesterday. Thumbs up to Ozzie.

-- Hey, it's been 50 years since the Kitten hurled his classic. Here's the story:
Green Weenie: The Night The Kitten Roared;
Post-Gazette: In 1959 Harvey Haddix Pitched Perhaps The Best Game Ever - And Lost;
Trib-Review: Haddix Masterpiece Outing Turns 50 Fifty Years Since Haddix Masterpiece

-- From the Pirates Report, an in-depth and revealing look at Pedro Martinez by Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Second Verse, Same As The First...

Man, those White Sox must have the best dang pitching in baseball! Or not. Either way, the Bucs couldn't hit the broad side of a beach ball with a cricket paddle again and went down to the Comiskey Crew 4-0.

The Big O pitched well enough to keep the game in hand, but when the good guys don't cross the plate - again - well, even the Big Train would have trouble. Zero runs on five hits, four walks, and thirteen strikeouts isn't a very good day at the office.

It seems the Pirate philosophy of patience and working starters into deep counts works fine against teams like Washington that don't have a bullpen. Unfortunately, the Sox do.

When the Buc batters have two strikes, they're hitting .168 with an OBP of .228. They've struck out 299 times in 777 two-strike plate appearances, a .384 K average. And that doesn't include tonight. Maybe it's time to let the dogs loose.

Donnie Long has a lotta work ahead of him.

-- Tyler Yates started some light throwing, but still has pain in his elbow. He's due back May 31st; we're not sure he'll make it back by then.

-- We told ya that Dave Davidson's recall to the Marlins would be short, but geez. The Marlins DFA'ed the lefty when he gave up four hits and four walks in one inning against the Rays last night. Maybe Indy doesn't look so bad now.

-- Altoona will continue to be a Bucco affiliate for the next five years, at least, as the Pirates extended their contract until 2014. The Curve has been a Pittsburgh farm team since it started in 1999.

-- The Pirate Charities bandwagon continues to roll. Josh Gibson Field (the old Ammon Field) in the Hill District is set for its grand opening on Tuesday, May 26th. Donations from Pirates Charities and Ian Snell helped renovate the ballyard. Bob Nutting, Steve Blass, and mayor Luke Ravenstahl will be among the celebs present at the 4 PM ribbon-cutting.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Calling Doctor Long...

Let's see - the past couple of nights, it was all the Bucs could do to wring a run or two out of the Nats AAA pitchers. Tonight, Gavin Floyd of the 7.71 ERA was on the hill. Eight innings, two hits, two walks, eight Ks, no runs. GW spots a trend here.

One problem is that the top of the order, Nyjer Morgan and Freddy Sanchez aren't getting on at the Herculean pace that they started out on; in fact, Sanchez looks lost at the dish, something we've never seen before, even when he wasn't hitting .300.

But more than that, the team's falling into a pattern of watching the first pitch split the middle of the plate, and swinging at the second, which is generally bounced to the dish. Hey, we're all for patience, but there's a reason that the NL batters are hitting .327 when they go after the first pitch and .144 when it's 0-2.

At any rate, we understand that Long and JR had a pow-wow after the game; expect a little more aggressiveness from the Pirate hitters tomorrow.

The pity is that it wasted a brilliant effort by Zach Duke. The lefty gave up just six hits, walked a pair and struck out seven. His complete game gave the Buc bullpen a desperately needed day off, and if he could have solved Alexei Ramirez, who scored both runs, they might still be playing. But he couldn't, and lost 2-0.

The Big O, Ross Ohlendorf, takes the mound against LHP Clayton Richard. Richard has been up and down; he went seven innings against the Jays in his last start, giving up a pair of runs. The start before that, the As rattled him for seven tallies in four innings. We'll should see which guy we get early on.

-- RHP Craig Hansen was shut down in extended spring training after throwing just one side session. Hansen will return to Pittsburgh and have some tests run on his neck and shoulders. He may be on the DL for the foreseeable future; no one can figure out what's causing his neck spasms.

-- Baseball Weekly came out with this week's "Prospect Hot Sheet, and a Pirate pitcher finally made it. Altoona's Brad Lincoln was ranked #7, and here's what BA had to say about Pittsburgh's 2006 numero uno draft choice:
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.56, 16 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 3 BB, 11 SO
The Scoop: The fourth overall pick in '06, Lincoln had Tommy John surgery in April 2007 and missed that entire season. If you're an avid BA reader you know that already, but did you realize how effective Lincoln had been this season in jumping to Double-A? For a pitcher who compiled a 4.69 ERA in two A-ball stops last year, while striking out 6.5 per nine innings, Lincoln's early '09 performance has been a revelation. He ranks fourth in the EL with 40 strikeouts, ninth with a 2.31 ERA and third with 46 2/3 innings. Yes, it appears he's made it all the way back from surgery.

-- The Pirates sent RHP Eric Krebs to the Dodgers as the PTBNL in the Delwyn Young trade. Krebs was pitching out of the bullpen at AA Altoona, where he was 2-4 with a 4.86 ERA.

-- Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus chirped in with his mock draft (it's a subscriber-only article) and has the Pirates going with Missouri RHP Kyle Gibson, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review. Gibson is a 6'6" fastball-slider pitcher and is thought to have a high ceiling even if he's not ready for prime time yet.

-- After using the bullpen for 13-1/3 innings in a doubleheader Wednesday, the Marlins called up LHP Dave Davidson, who they got off waivers earlier in the season from Pittsburgh. His stay may be short, but they need arms tonight and are carrying 14 pitchers.

-- Remember the ex-Pirate tree involved with the Jody Gerut deal that we posted yesterday? Well, it goes on. The Brewers DFA'ed Chris Duffy to make room for Jody Gerut. So Duffy beat out Tony Gwynn for the last roster spot, and now he's the one out of a job. Baseball is a funny game.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ye Gods!

Ya know, sometimes it looks like the baseball gods have it out for ya. Take Ian Snell, who's self-inflicted enough wounds that he doesn't need divine intervention.

But he got it tonight. The gods apparently were tired of playing with the Nats, and started Snell off by having his AAA opponent, Craig Stammen, throw four perfect innings to begin his first MLB outing.

Then they had runs score off a ball that went off Adam LaRouche's glove, an excuse-me soft lob that Nate McLouth had to slide for to make the catch, allowing the runner to tag, and a two-out seeing eye RBI single that barely eluded the gloves of Snell and Freddy Sanchez before trickling gently into center field.

But in the seventh, apparently the gods got bored and changed channels. With his adreneline gone and his sinker up, Stammen got the hook, due greatly to a two-run shot by Adam LaRoche. The Bucs were up 4-3, and into the Nats bullpen.

But hey, the gods hit the remote, and tuned back into Nationals Park. Julian Tavarez shut the Bucs down for two innings, and Gorzo finally proved he was human, giving up a pair of runs in the eighth on four hits, only one of which was smacked hard enough to crack an egg.

The key was with one out, runners on first and third, and nobody in yet. Gorzelanny got Ryan Zimmerman, second in the NL in DPs, to bounce a ball to second. But it found the hole, and that was the beginning of the end. It was 5-4 before Jesse Chavez doused the flames.

Joel Hanrahan of the bloated ERA and save percentage came in, and like Matt Capps the evening before, coaxed a 400' fly out, this one off the bat of Adam LaRoche. Brandon Moss singled, but the gods had enough. He struck out the next two batters, the fat lady sang, and the baseball gods wandered off to their Valhalla sports bar, another night's work done.

Who woulda thunk that the Nats could make a couple plays in the field and get three innings out of their bullpen? It could only be the Ruthian deities.

The pitching matchups for the White Sox series, from

-- Despite the three runs, Snell pitched pretty well tonight. All three pitches were working, and it was the best outing he's had in quite a spell. He was calm and in command on the mound, and looks this close to turning it around.

-- OK, Jack Splat isn't going to the M's. Geoff Baker of the Mariners Blog says:
We mentioned the (Yuniesky) Betancourt-to-Pittsburgh for Jack Wilson rumors a couple of days ago. Well, I'm now told that's not going to happen. Why? The Pirates think Betancourt is too pricey.
Well, for Pirate purposes, he is. Yuni is a big-time downgrade with the glove, maybe a push with the bat, and is tied up with a guaranteed contract worth $1.5M for the rest of this year, $3M next season, $4M in 2011 and has a $6M club option in 2012 with a $2M buyout.

The truth is they don't want him that on the books that long and don't want on the hook for the $10.5M remaining on his deal. We're glad they saw the light.

-- According to Corey Brock of The Padres are bringing Tony Gwynn Jr. home to his native San Diego.

The Padres traded outfielder Jody Gerut to the Brewers for Gwynn Jr., who was hitting .309 with a .387 on-base percentage for Milwaukee's AAA Nashville or the PCL. Gerut, 31, was hitting .227 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 37 games with the Padres.

Gerut is an ex-Bucco; Gwynn lost his roster spot to another former Pittsburgher, Chris Duffy. Old Pirates never die, they just get recycled.

-- Ditto with old Pirate coaches. Joe Slusarski was fired as pitching coach for AA Frisco of the Rangers' organization. Jeff Andrews, who was working at the A level after spending 2008 as the Bucs' pitching coach, was named to replace him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Baseball's Homecoming Team

Let's see - a team gets eleven hits to go with three walks, and scores twice. It strands 13 runners and goes 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. And wins.

Such is the good life for Washington Nat opponents, and tonight the Bucs were the fortunate recipients, winning their fifth in a row 2-1. Manny Acta and his shrink (or maybe barkeeper) must be on first-name basis by now.

The big rally was in the ninth, when Delwyn Young led off with a pinch-hit single. Nyjer Morgan, of all people, couldn't bunt him over. Two more singles moved the guys station-to-station and juiced the sacks. A force at home was next, and with two outs, Adam LaRoche swung at the first two Joel Hanrahan sliders, missing them badly.

So hey, he tried two more. One bounced and was blocked; the next one ricocheted outside, through the catcher's five-hole, and all the way to the wall as Freddy Sanchez scampered home with the lead run. And that's how the Bucs hammered out the win.

Well, there was a little more to it. The Nats kept coming, but DPs in the eighth and ninth frames kept them at bay. Matt Capps came on to get the save when with two outs in the last frame, he induced Josh Willingham to hit a ball 400'. Nate McLouth put his back to the 402' mark, did a little leap, and the Pirates were home free.

And give Paul Maholm, who didn't figure in the win, lots of love for the victory. He kept the hard-hitting Nats to one run in six innings though his command was less than stellar. The lefty threw 114 pitches, but never gave an inch and got the outs when he needed them.

So another series is in the bag; it'd be sweet to break out the broom before visiting the North and South Sides of Chicago starting Friday.

-- GW knows that if anyone gave the tiniest dang about what he thought about baseball, he'd be pulling down a buck for his babble. But why does JR insist on bunting after a leadoff double? Unless the pitcher's up, let the batter hit. (Wonder if the check's in the mail, lol?)

-- And hey, no complaints this year about the third base coach, Tony Beasley. It's not a matter of everyone being waved home or to third safely, but taking a chance when it's called for.

The Pirates got their first run because Beasley windmilled Andy LaRoche home on a Jack Splat double to left, because he knew there were two outs and the pitcher was on deck. He scored easily (Adam Dunn basically rolled the ball back to the infield), but even if he was gunned, it's a heads-up call.

-- Ya know, everyone says that it's a risk to take a pitcher early in the draft; just ask Dave Littlefield. GW wonders why, then, does the Sporting News mock draft have 22 of 32 first-round picks being pitchers?

If the draft is right on through the first three selections, the Bucs could have RHP Alex White - or any position player they want with their choice. That should be interesting, no?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gorzo - Don't Forget About Me

Hey, we all know in the long run that it's better to be good than lucky. But every so often, we'll take a bouquet of shamrocks.

The Bucs blew a 5-0 lead by going six innings without a hit, while the Pirate pitchers tried like heck to give the Nats the game. Fortunately for the Bucs, the Nats wouldn't take it, and Pittsburgh escaped with an 8-5, 10-inning win tonight.

Jeff Karstens couldn't hold the lead because the third out proved elusive in the sixth inning. Up 5-1 with a runner on third and two down, he gave up three straight hits and left the game barely ahead, 5-4.

On a day when the overtaxed Buc bullpen had JR-mandated nights off for Jesse Chavez, John Grabow, and Matt Capps, the load fell on Evan Meek and Sean Burnett. They combined for 2-2/3 innings, and only gave up one hit. Of course, five walks and a hit batsman kept things interesting for the 18,579 DC faithful. They threw 59 pitches; 25 were strikes. And that ain't good.

Burney survived a couple of moon shot outs, and almost had one more, but a leaping Nate McLouth couldn't pull down a drive off the wall, Nyjer Morgan couldn't get a handle on the ricochet, and it was a lead-off triple in the Nat ninth. He was quickly wild-pitched in to knot the game at five.

With two down, Tom Gorzelanny strolled in from the pen with two guys on, and as he did the night before, struck out his batter. Given a new lease on life, the Bucs pounded Joe Biemel for a three-spot in the tenth. Biemel, who's spent the last two seasons as a left-handed specialist, was in his second inning, and was way over-exposed, a common occurrence for the Washington relief corp.

He almost got away with it, but with two away, Adam LaRoche jumped his first pitch and lined it into the RF corner, plating Ramon Vasquez and Freddy Sanchez. Brandon Moss followed with a single, and the Pirates took home one they probably didn't deserve after Gorzo cruised through the final three Nat batters.

The three keys to tonight's win were the Nat's inability to stick a dagger in the Bucco pitching (they were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position), sharp Pirate fielding (they turned two very clutch double plays, Adam LaRoche flagged down a probable double, and the OF covered the gaps all night), and a productive middle of the Pittsburgh order, a welcome sight if ever there was one.

The Pirate RBI's all come from the 3-4-5-6 spots: McLouth 1, Big Bro LaRoche 2, Moss 3, and little LaRoche added 2 on his second homer.

But hey, give big props to Tyler Yates' replacement, Gorzo. He's been called to duty twice, and struck out 3 of the 5 batters he's faced, without throwing more than two balls to any of them.

And ya know what? He has as many wins as Karstens so far this season. With Phil Dumatrait still rehabbing on the Gulf Coast, Gorzo may be making a case for himself when Craig Hansen returns. Just sayin'...

-- Morgan returned after three days off, and didn't miss a beat. He made a ridiculously long run to snag a fly late in the game, had a hit, scored a run, and laid down a sac bunt.

-- The Pirate Quiet Man, JR, was warned in the tenth not to come out to discuss a call that went against the Bucs. Gentleman that he is, he stayed cemented on the steps. But as soon as the game ended, he headed to the ump, Paul Nauert, like a heat-seeking missile to get his belated two cents worth in. Atta boy!

-- The Pirates have put together with a four game winning streak, their longest of the season.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ice The Keg...

Hey, no surprise. The Bucs rolled into Washington and a softball game eventually broke out. During the first 4-1/2 innings, it actually resembled a real baseball game, even with a couple of Nat boots by Cristian Guzman, and the Pirates were up 3-1.

Then the Big O got his pitches up, and before the Nats retook the field, it was 5-3. That was the good news for them; the bad news was that DC bullpen was now officially on the clock.

Pittsburgh answered with five runs the next at-bat, and came away with a 12-7 win. The Pirate bullpen wasn't particularly sharp; neither John Grabow nor Matt Capps had much command. But Jesse Chavez and, yes, even Gorzo (one batter, one K), held the fort for a couple of innings, and that was enough to make the difference.

The Washington bullpen worked 4 innings and gave up nine runs. 'Nuff said. The two staffs rolled through eleven pitchers, who tossed 363 pitches during the course of the evening.

And like any good mushball get-together, the ball was flying all over the lot. The two teams combined for 23 hits, and 15 were for extra bases - 11 doubles, a triple, and three long balls. The Buc hitting heroes were Jack Splat, 4-for-4 with a walk, and Craig Monroe, who launched a three-run shot. 14 RBI in 45 at-bats? Sick.

Hey, three in a row for the Buccos. We'll take it, and hope it keeps rollin'.

-- In the Ripley category, tonight was the first time two pitchers with the first name of Ross (Ohlendorf and Detwiler) started against each other. Both were drafted by the same scout, Mike Rizzo: Ohlendorf by Arizona in 2004 and Detwiler by Washington in 2007. Spooky.

-- Equally spooky: Freeswingers Guzman and Robinzon Diaz both drew their first walk of the season last night, if that's any indication of how bad the pitching was.

-- Wilson had a single, two doubles, a triple, and a walk. He also made a play that had to be seen to believe, ranging far into the hole and throwing a strike to first in the next motion to gun out hit machine Ryan Zimmerman.

-- Diaz looks like the second coming of Manny Sanguillen. He never met a pitch he didn't like, blocks balls in the dirt like a wall, frames pitches nicely, lets strikes bounce off his glove and has a very average arm. He's also pretty forceful with the pitchers; he handles them with confidence beyond his rookie status. Hey, maybe 20 years from now he'll be selling us BBQ.

-- Nyjer Morgan took another night off; the early official line was that the suits didn't want to risk his hammy in the cold, but the beat guys reported that he felt a little pinch while doing some pre-game running and decided discretion was the better part of valor.

Pre Game Yada

-- Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors says that there's some smoke regarding a possible Jack Wilson - Yuniesky Betancourt deal. He doesn't like it; neither do we. Betancourt isn't an improvement at the plate, a downgrade in the field, and a head case that was benched to boot. GW sniffs the fetid aroma of a possible salary dump.

-- Corey Brock of ran a survey of the league's most under-rated players, and the poll gave some love to Ryan Doumit.

-- Baseball America's latest Prospect Hot Sheet has Andrew McCutchen ranked #9. They say:
"McCutchen will have to suffice for Pittsburgher's looking for something to get excited about. He's clearly become a formidable leadoff man, and he has hit the same number of doubles (eight) as triples and enters tonight's game at Rochester coming off a four-hit game that followed a three-hit, three-runs, two-doubles effort."
-- The Pirates claimed RHP Steven Jackson off waivers from the Yankees, and gave RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, who just underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, his unconditional release to clear up a spot on the 40-man roster. Talk about adding insult to injury!

Jackson had a 1.88 ERA and one save in 14-1/3 innings for AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The 27-year-old has never pitched in the show, and he'll report to Indy's bullpen.

The 6'5" righty has a curve, a split finger fastball that he throws in the low 90's, and he's working on adding a slider. Jackson's a ground ball guy with a 3:1 K to BB ratio, and can work long, mid, or short relief.

Is no Yankee pitcher safe from the clutches of the Bucs?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Kingdom For A Glove...

Zach Duke had one bad inning, and the Bucco's were down 4-1 in the seventh. Things looked gloomy for the good guys.

But the spirits of Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, BF Jones and James Laughlin must have been in the ballyard today; at least that's the only way GW can explain the alchemy that turned the Rockies' gloves into iron in the seventh frame.

A dink into left bounced off a mitt. A soft liner into right found leather, then the sod. A ball hit to the Notch was just flat-out dropped. And even the Pirates know what to do with six outs, to the tune of ten runs.

Eleven straight batters reached without making an out, until Eric Hinske was called out sliding into third. And that was an iffy call (JR even came out to grump about it), but the umps were probably putting their own mercy rule into effect by that time.

The Bucs delighted Oliver Onion's 14,545 fans - his doll was today's giveaway - with a 11-4 laugher. The Pirates were 8-of-15 with runners in scoring position, and their 10-run inning was the first since 2003.

Hey, they're doing what they have to - try to get back into the swing by taking a series at a time. Now they're on a 10-game trek to Washington and Chicago, where they'll take on both the Cubbies and Sox in a rare bit of smart scheduling by MLB's computers. They have to keep on keepin' on.

The probable starters for the Nats series are here, compliments of

-- Yes, that was Gorzo you saw warming up today. The Bucs placed Tyler Yates on the 15-day DL with an elbow inflammation, and Gorzelanny got his reprieve from the bushes, where he was 1-1 with a 3.98 ERA. It's possible that they'll bump Jesse Chavez into Yate's spot, Evan Meek into the bridge role, and Gorzo will be the long guy. But that's probably not the scenario.

It's much more likely that he was brought up to fill a very short-term need for a long guy after last night's arm-eater; he was due to start at Indy today and could step in for three or four innings if needed. If he's not going to crack the rotation, which he isn't now, it'd seem fairly self-defeating to chain him to the pen here for any length of time.

-- The Pirates picked up OF Jeff Corsaletti from Boston and pitcher Randy Newsom from Cleveland, for a PTBNL or cash. Both are headed to Altoona.

Corso, 26, plays LF and CF, and hasn't hit worth a lick in AAA (.211), but has a career .284 average in AA. He was a 6th round pick in the 2005 draft.

Newsom is a 27 year-old reliever, and he's improved at every level he's pitched, with a career 3.18 ERA. He's a sidewinder and ground ball machine, and has a shot at making the show eventually if he can figure out how to get lefties out before it's time to take his pension. Ever hear of a LOOGY? Well, Newsom is a ROOGY.

Both look like they were added for some organizational depth; the Curve need a bit of help this season, and they're the first wave of cavalry.

-- Former Mt. Lebanon High INF Josh Wilson wasn't on the waiver wire long; San Diego picked up the 28 year-old. And ex-Bucco Abraham Nunez, 33, was signed from the indy league Newark Bears to a AAA contract by Arizona. Duaner Sanchez, 29, a pitcher for the Pirates in 2002-03, was DFA'ed by the Padres; his once awesome heater doesn't break 90 now.

-- Draft day approaches, and MLB Trade Rumors reports that
"...righty Alex White pitched in front of four GMs Thursday: Brian Sabean (Giants), Neal Huntington (Pirates), Jack Zdurencik (Mariners) and Mike Rizzo (Nationals).'s Jason A. Churchill reports that White did not impress."
White of North Carolina was supposed to be one of the guys on the Pittsburgh short list; they're looking to address pitching depth with this draft. Hopefully they address it a little better than Dave Littlefield did.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reverse Engineering

Hey, if what you're doing isn't getting the job done, it only makes sense to do the opposite, right? So the Bucs did a 180, and rode terrible starting pitching, a great bullpen job, and some productive hitting to a 7-4 victory over the Rockies.

Ian Snell was two innings into a three-run, forty-six pitch outing when the rains fell. By that time, the Bucs had overcome a three run deficit and were ahead 4-3, thanks greatly to a two-out, two-run knock by Delwyn Young just before the tarps were rolled out.

It took an hour and thirty-seven minutes for play to resume, and both starters were mercifully done for the night, or we might still be playing.

But that left seven innings to be covered by a bullpen that couldn't shut anyone down for two. Lo and behold, they came through.

Oh, the fact that the front end did their job was no surprise - Sean Burnett (who went three innings for the win), Evan Meek, and Jesse Chavez have been fairly dependable all season.

But could John Grabow and Matt Capps hold a 7-4 lead? Hey, they did, and with a minimum of drama. Grabow gave up a two-out walk, and Capps yielded a lead-off base on balls, quickly erased via the twin killing, on the way to his seventh save.

Now, let's see if Pittsburgh can put the whole thing together for a change. Hitting on all three cylinders sure beats sputtering along on one or two.

-- Young led off and played right for the Pirates, and probably will tomorrow, too. Nyjer Morgan felt a tweak in his hammy, and JR is sitting him down for a couple of games.

The Bucs lose some D and a lot of speed, but as far as getting on base, Young is Morgan's equal and more - his OBP is .400; Morgan's is .384. And that's the key stat for a leadoff guy.

-- No matter who catches, the beat continues. Jason Jaramillo took over for Robinzon Diaz, and went 1-for-3 with a walk and run scored. He's hitting .280 (.390 OBP, .420 slugging), and Diaz is batting .361 (.378 OBP, .528 slugging) as they've done a nice job of making life without Ryan Doumit (.244/.271/.467) bearable.

Ronny Paulino, BTW, is hitting .239/.352/.391 for Florida.

-- Hey, GW remembers posting about Brandon Moss and his slump of Biblical proportions not so long ago. Since then, he's raised his average nearly 50 points by going 9-for-16 at the plate. Let's hope his hitting streak reaches Biblical proportions, too.

With Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata lurking and Adam LaRoche probably on the move, this is his shot at showing what he's got and where he fits into future Pirate plans.

-- We don't know what pixie dust Perry Hill sprinkled on Andy LaRoche, but he's playing the hot corner like he belongs now after looking lost after camp.

His fielding range matrix is 3.18; the league's is 2.27, which means LaRoche makes nearly a play more per game than the average NL third sacker. (Fielding range equals put outs + assists/game).

He's hitting .255 with a homer and 13 RBI; Jose Bautista is batting .310 with a homer and 6 RBI at Toronto with about 35 fewer at-bats, and had a defensive range rating of 2.65 last year at third and 2.42 in 2009 (he's primarily an OF'er for the Jays now).

-- Joe Kerrigan and Capps reported to PNC early today and went to the movies. They compared Capp's 2007 delivery to his current one, and found that his arm was trailing his body. They spent the day in the bullpen trying to get him in sync. It worked tonight, and hopefully will carry through.

Give Capps props for being mentally tough enough to jump right back on the horse. It was even more impressive after the leadoff walk, which led the remnants of the rain-thinned crowd to noisily show their displeasure. Two batters later, the boos turned to cheers; such is life in the show.

-- The career of the Chief, RHP Romulo Sanchez, is done in Pittsburgh. The Pirates traded him for RHP Eric Hacker from the New York Yankees in a minor league deal.

Hacker, 26, was DFA'ed, and the Yankees opted to deal him rather than give him away. He's a four-pitch guy with good A and AA stats, but not so hot at AAA. That's not such great news considering his age, though in his defense he lost two full seasons to the knife. He'll join the rotation at Indy.

LHP Phil Dumatrait, still rehabbing in Pirate City, was moved to the 60-day DL to make room for Hacker - with a name like that, you'd think he was a batter, not a pitcher - on the 40-man roster for now.

-- RHP Craig Hansen may be a week or two away from being cleared for action after suffering a neck injury. He's expected to report to Bradenton Monday to work in extended spring training.

-- Freddy Sanchez and a boatload of local baseball celebs opened the Miracle League Field in Cranberry for special needs kids. It's a great concept; makes you wonder when Pittsburgh's gonna get aboard and put together a partnership to build one in the city, where one would assume it would be accessible to a lot more youngsters.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spilborghs, Capps Do In Bucs

Hey, for seven innings it was one heck of a ballgame. Bucs up 1-0, Paul Maholm and Jorge De La Rosa pitching beautifully, guys snagging baseballs all over the lot.

But after 103 pitches, Maholm sat down, and Tyler Yates took over. Bedlam ensued.

The first batter singled, and then a two strike bunt turned into a base hit when Robinzon Diaz's throw was wide of first. The runner kept going; Andy LaRoche came in to field the bunt and watched the play unfold; the end result was no Pirate infielder covered third.

First and third, no one out. A soft, sinking liner to left was speared nicely by Nyjer Morgan. He took a quick look towards home at the tagging runner, and tossed the ball to second. But hey, on appeal, plate ump Scott Barry rang up the runner for leaving the sack early, no matter that replays showed he didn't. Double play.

John Grabow came in to end the inning, and the Buc bullpen dodged its first bullet, but Pittsburgh looked that gift horse in the mouth. Big mistake.

In the ninth, Matt Capps was greeted with a couple of blasts; a leadoff double that bounced into the stands and a home run that dropped into the same. He'd give up another run on three more hits. Maholm gave up five hits in seven innings; Yates and Capps gave up seven knocks in two frames.

Capps still has his swagger, but until he gets his offspeed stuff over the dish, guys will sit on his pretty flat fastball. And that ain't good.

OK, how about Ryan Spilborghs contribution to the win? The left fielder reached into the first row to pull a rare Jack Splat homer back in, saving a run. Then he made an over the shoulder catch of an Adam LaRoche drive to the wall that saved two more tallies. That's three runs, and the final was 3-1.

The Bucs didn't show what it takes to win. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position; the only RBI came from Craig Monroe, starting for Brandon Moss. They stranded 13 runners in all. And of course, the day that Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, and Nate McLouth only reach base twice, the 4-5-6 hitters come through with five hits.

The bullpen is now 1-7, with only six saves in 10 opportunities.

And Perry Hill has to be pulling his hair; besides leaving third uncovered, the Bucs failed to cover first on a slow roller that Capps was lucky enough to get a tag for the out; thankfully, the Rox catcher was running.

The team's not in a funk because of bad luck or injuries; it's self inflicted. The defense has held up, as has the starting pitching, but without some run production and a bullpen to close out games, the Pirates will continue to sputter. GW thinks they're a better team than they're showing, but until they turn potential into performance, they're the Same Old Bucs.

-- The Buc run was manufactured by McLouth's legs; he singled with two outs, stole second and came sliding in on Monroe's single.

But small ball didn't work in the seventh, when Diaz's lead-off double went for naught when young LaRoche bunted foul twice before striking out. GW's question; if the guy's already on second, why not let LaRoche try to knock him in?

That's no guarantee, of course, but the runner is already in scoring position. Why would you waste an out to set up Jack Wilson and the pitcher with the RBI opp?

-- The Pirate's recent defensive alignment has Morgan playing in the gap towards the North Side Notch. It's been pretty effective, but tonight a couple of balls dropped in that Morgan may have run down in a more traditional set-up. They were against Capps; maybe he just wasn't hitting the spots.

-- Final word on Capps - it seems that he comes out throwing heat and doesn't use an off-speed pitch until the third batter or so. As we've said, his fastball doesn't have much movement; maybe a first-strike slider or two-seamer is what the doctor should order.

-- Young De La Rosa threw a fastball that registered between 92-95 MPH and a six-o-clock curve that was clocked at 74. When he has his control and gets ahead of guys, the kid's a killer pitcher.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bucco Bluster

-- Buc winning streak stops at two, losing 5-1 to the Cards. It's tough to go down by only scoring once after you get 12 hits and draw three walks. Going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, rolling into three DPs and having a guy thrown out at third with nobody out will do that. Where did those two-out knocks of April go to?

One thing that's still there is the glovework - since Jack Splat came back, the team's been playing lights-out defense, both up the middle and in the outfield. Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan have been running down everything, and Wilson and Freddy Sanchez have been brilliant.

Pre Game Post:

-- Eric Hinske is making his first start of the season at the hot corner, his original position, as 3B Andy LaRoche is getting a night off after starting 26 straight games. C Robinzon Diaz is getting his sixth straight start as JR decides to play the hot hand; we may not see Jason Jaramillo again until Saturday or Sunday.

--Ya think Sid the Kid had the Caps' number? Albert Pujols is 13-for-28 (.464) with three homers in eight games against the Pirates so far this season. Neither one ever takes a night off.

-- Despite the futility of the past couple of weeks that saw the team plummet from second place to the basement, the Pirates remain just 5 games behind in the loss column to division-leading Milwaukee.

-- The pitching matchups for the upcoming Rox series at PNC: Paul Maholm (3-1, 4.06) vs. LHP Jorge De La Rosa (0-3, 3.53), Ian Snell (1-5, 4.50) vs. RHP Aaron Cook (2-1, 5.03), and Sunday afternoon, Zach Duke (4-3, 2.52) vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (3-4, 4.73).

-- Former Bucco Kip Wells, part of the Washington Nat's closer-by-committee rotation, has 2 saves and a 4.40 ERA in 12 outings. He's also the only guy on the staff that hasn't blown a save yet. The DC bullpen is 1-10 and has muffed 10 saves in 16 opportunities.

-- Utility IF Josh Wilson, the pride of Mt. Lebanon High, was DFA'ed by Arizona today. The 28-year-old hit .231 with two RBI and one run scored in 11 games for the D-Backs this season.

-- Matthew Pouliot of Circling the Bases picked his Top 100 Free Agents for next season's hot stove leaguers.

He ranks current Pirates Adam LaRoche at #13, Freddy Sanchez at #40, Jack Wilson at #47, and John Grabow at #62. Pouliot also picks Jay Bay as the #3 FA - he's guessing that he's looking at a 5 year, $70M contract - and Xavier Nady at #41.

-- BTW, remember Pitt QB Kevan Smith, who quit football and joined the baseball team? The soph has a current 18 game hitting streak and is batting .348/.396/.483 while making 23 starts as a catcher and designated hitter. His skein is the longest for the Panthers since Jim Negrych's 19-game hitting streak during the 2006 season.

Smith was a standout catcher at Seneca Valley High. Sounds like he's taking a page of sorts from J.R. House.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Climbin' Back

Hey, while all the attention in Pittsburgh was turned to the Penguins, the Pirates basked in the glory of their twilight crowd of 10,494 and sent the Cards to their second straight defeat, 5-2.

The Big O continued his sharp pitching, holding the Redbirds to two hits and a run over six innings. He struck out five and didn't walk a soul; heck, he didn't even bean anyone.

The Pirates cranked out 11 hits, five of them doubles. Jack Splat led the parade with 3 bangs, and the MIA boys, Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss, added a pair, as did Steady Freddy.

The boys are enjoying the game again. As Pops once said "It's supposed to be fun; the man says 'Play Ball' not 'Work Ball' you know." And right now, they are.

-- A little bit of MLB history was made last night. Adam LaRoche's opening inning blast to right was called a home run by the first base ump, but upon further review, it was found to have bounced off the Clemente Wall railing and was correctly ruled a double.

It was the first time that a home run call was reversed since the replay rule was implemented last year, and to boot, it was the first review ever at PNC Park.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let The Sunshine In...

Hey, the Bucs finally got to line up and slap skin after a game, as they took out two weeks worth of frustration on the Redbirds tonight with a 7-1 victory.

It was April deja vu all over again. The pitching was outstanding, backed with some slick glovework and efficient hitting. It helped that Jack Splat was back; he made three sweet plays and rejuvenated his infield mate, Freddy Sanchez, who added a couple more. All three outfielders made nice running grabs.

And stop the presses! Brandon Moss had three hits, including his first homer. Adam LaRouche went long. The Pirates had eleven knocks and were 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

Zach Duke was the man of the hour. He pitched a strong eight innings, giving up just four hits and striking out five. Duke walked one and beaned a couple, earning the scorn of Tony LaRusso and both sides of the plate from the Card batters for his trouble.

But his key contribution came in the second inning. Behind 1-0, the Pirates had runners on first and second, two outs, and Duke up. It looked like another chance by the boards, but the Zachster softly dropped a single into center for the RBI, and his team mates grabbed their sticks and followed suit. It was 4-1 by the time the smoke cleared, and that was more than he needed tonight.

So hey, the Bucs are all a step quicker and a lot lighter with that gorilla finally off their backs. They can't make up for lost ground in one swoop, but if they can get back to winning a series at a time, they could still make it an interesting summer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Let It Rain

Hey, it's thundering out out and the gray skies are weeping, and the Buc season looks just as dismal. But it hasn't been all sturm und drang for the Pirates.

Looking for a few bright spots? How about the work of the rotation so far? It hasn't translated into wins, but the starting five for Pittsburgh have gone six weeks into the season and look like a pretty solid bunch of arms.

Zach Duke has led the pack, with a 3-3 slate and 2.79 ERA. The rest of the guys have had their ups and downs, but pretty well kept the club in the games into the seventh inning or so. Paul Maholm is 3-1 with a 4.06 ERA, Ross Ohlendorf is 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA, Ian Snell is 1-5 with a 4.50 ERA, and Jeff Karstens is 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA.

That's an 11-13 record and 4.04 ERA, not exactly Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale numbers, but hey - it was 5.10 last year. The NL norm is 4.62, so that end of the deal has held up fine.

And the bullpen's young 'uns have come up roses - Jesse Chavez (0-1, 2.19), Evan Meek (0-0, 2.79), and Sean Burnett (0-1, 3.14) have been very nice set-up guys, and are earning a little more JR trust when the game gets to crunch time.

Even the sick sticks have had a couple of bright spots. Nyjer Morgan is hitting .301/.376 OBP, and has 21 runs scored, 13 RBI and 9 stolen bases. Steady Freddy is eyeballing the dish like days of old, batting .317/.352 OBP, with 13 doubles, 3 HR's, 19 runs, 11 RBI and even has 3 stolen sacks.

Nate McLouth is following his breakout All-Star season in style, hitting .292/.378 OBP/.490 slugging %, with 5 HR, 22 RBI, and 16 runs scored.

The two-headed catching tandem of Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz have combined to hit .322/.347, with nine 2B's, a homer, and nine RBI, making Ryan Doumit's absence a bit more bearable.

Delwyn Young has only a small body of work so far, but he's been patient at the plate and centering the ball, and he's versatile.

Hey, even Andy LaRouche is picking it up some, hitting .255 after a miserable .166 debut in 2008. Now if he could find that longball stroke the suits were so in love with again...

Don't obsess quite so much on Adam LaRoche - he's been hitting the ball, at least, even if it's not dropping - Matt Capps, and John Grabow. They all have track records to fall back on, and should be fine as the summer heats up, if Capp's arm stays in one piece.

Now Brandon Moss, Tyler Yates, Brian Bixler, and Jack Wilson may end up different stories. Moss is in a slump of Biblical proportions and shows little sign of snapping out of it. Yates has a lifetime ERA of 5.15, and has been over it more often in his career than under.

Bix has been given two shots at short, and hasn't cut it at the plate or in the field. And Jack Splat? He's the Bucs' only MLB-caliber shortstop, but he has to show some durability; his body has just been breaking down too much lately.

As we said before, it's a season to evaluate. And in the balance of things, they're moving in the right direction. More worrisome is the slow starts so many of the prospects have had out of the gate in the farm; their slow development will throw a wrench in the team's progress more than the guys in the PNC clubhouse in the long run.

It's a long summer. Don't write it off quite yet. It's funny how a four or five game winning streak can revive a club - and its fans.

-- BTW, there's quite an impressive lineup of Pirate alumni playing for the indie Atlantic League Newark Bears. They include Bobby Hill, Shawn Chacon, Rob Mackowiak, and Abraham Nunez. And Daryle Ward signed with them briefly before the White Sox picked him up as AAA insurance. Old ballplayers never die...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blow Up The Bullpen?

Stop us if this sounds familiar: The Bucs squander (or don't get) early chances to score; the starter goes six innings plus, has one bad frame, and turns over a close game to the bullpen; the bullpen implodes and the Fat Lady sings her song.

That is the May version of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the beat went on today against the Mets, as they went down 8-4. The Bucs were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11. Ian Snell left behind 3-2; Sean Burnett got nicked and John Grabow got bombed, and that's how you lose twelve out of thirteen.

As much as the middle of the order has been criticized, and rightly so, the Buc bullpen is equally at fault. Grabow has been scored on in six straight outings, and his ERA is now 6.14. We know he has bone chips, but it's not his velocity that's hurting him; it's his location.

Tyler Yate's ERA is 8.71, and Matt Capp's is 7.56. The back end of the 'pen was thought to be the only dependable piece of the team going into the year; maybe they better think again.

The middle guys, Burney (3.14), Jesse Chavez (2.19), and Evan Meek (2.79), question marks early on, have held their own. Craig Hansen and Donnie Veal are works in progress, and GW still believes the Pirates want to hide Veal for the year and try to plug him in to their starting rotation down the road.

The Pirate suits will have to make some decisions next year if the gang doesn't straighten up. Grabow is in his walk year, Capp's $2.3M deal is done after the season and Yates has one more arbitration year remaining.

Will they bring them back? Well, all three have 4-1/2 months ahead of them to right the ship, but you can almost guarantee that Grabow and his $2.3M contract are gone. Yates is also on thin ice, making $1.3M this year and looking at a probable $1.5M in arbitration next season.

Capps is the wildcard. He has two more years of arbitration after this contract, and he'll be looking at well over $2.5M or more next season. He's been hurt for two seasons running now, so the questions are his durability and upside; does he have the stuff to match his makeup as a closer, and is his arm physically up to the task?

Internally, we suspect the Pirates are breaking Chavez in slowly to see if he can claim the closer's role. He certainly has the stuff, and after a rocky start, his control has improved to the point that he's now being used in late and tight situations. He may be having the most unexpected breakout of the season so far.

In the minors, the potential bullpen guys are having good years with the peripheral stuff, though the ERA's are bloated.

Indy's Chris Bootcheck is 0-1-4 with a 4.30 ERA, working 14-2/3 frames and yielding 14 hits, three walks, and whiffing 21 with a WHIP (walks & hits/inning pitched) of 1.16. Juan Mateo is 1-1-3 with a 5.19 ERA. In 17-1/3 innings, he's given up 16 hits, walked three, and struck out 14 with a 1.10 WHIP.

Romulo Sanchez (1-0, 3.60) and Denny Bautista (2-1-1, 3.55) are doing creditable jobs early on for the Tribe, too.

At Altoona, Jeff Sues is 1-1-1 with a 4.66 ERA. In 19-2/3 innings, he's given up 14 hits, walked seven, and K'ed 20 with a 1.09 WHIP.

So they do have some internal options if they want to retool the bullpen - and hey, every year there are a horde of decent arms desperately seeking a team. But we don't look for the suits to stand pat for another pitching implosion, even if it's from the relief corps in 2009 rather than the rotation.

For Pittsburgh, change is the only constant.

Sunday Brunch

-- The last verifiable Pirate win streak bit the dust yesterday. Pittsburgh had won its previous four Saturday games by a combined score of 38-9; so much for them being weekend warriors.

-- The Bucco pitching has taken a hit, particularly the bullpen, but it was due to fall back towards the league norm eventually. The ERA is still better than the NL average (Pitt 4.20, NL 4.58), and the walks are about at league average, too (Pitt 120, NL 116).

Two numbers stick out. The Pirate defensive efficiency (balls put in play that are turned into outs) over the streak has dropped from 75% to 72% (the NL average is 70%), partially because some dinks were due to drop and partially because Jack Splat has been on the DL, although Brian Bixler has statistically shown the best range at short.

The other area of concern is the K rate. The Pirate staff has struck out 159 batters; the league norm is 211. That means that every game, the Pirate fielders have to turn two more balls put in play into outs than the average NL defense.

-- But the Buc bats are most to blame for the team's funk. Without going into all the stats, they've dropped from just above the middle of the pack to near the bottom in most categories. Two obvious ones - their 19 homers are next to last in the NL (team average - 29), and their OPS, a good indicator of run production, is twelfth at .706; the league average is .745.

-- Doug Drabek's boy, Kyle, as you may recall, was a hot-shot prospect when he came out of Woodlands High of Victoria, Texas, in 2006 and was drafted in the first round (18th overall) by the Phillies. He had a heater that hit 97 MPH and a nice slider.

But he ended up with TJ surgery the following season, and his career was put on hold. Well, he looks like he's back on track, as Baseball America has him in their Hot List this week.

The 21 year-old has a 2.38 ERA with 15 K in 11-1/3 innings for High A Clearwater.

-- Some blowback from the Manny suspension: the silver lining for the Dodgers was the freeing up of nearly $7M in salary that Ramirez would lose over his 50-game ban that they could conceivably use to buy another pitcher, like Pedro or Paul Byrd. Not so fast, says Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball:
Ramirez's $25 million salary for 2009 is being paid in four installments — $10 million this season, then $5 million without interest in each of the following three years.

He will be docked in each installment. The Dodgers' savings will amount to about $2.73 million this season and about $1.37 million in each of the following three years.
Every silver lining still has a cloud wrapped around it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday Stretch

-- Step back, please, give the paramedics room. The train wreck known as the Pittsburgh Pirates were dropped again, 10-1, by the Mets. The pitchers are trying to be perfect, the batters are squeezing the lumber, and they all need to take a deep breath and relax a little.

Just a couple of suggestions. Play someone at shortstop that has just a little range, please. Don't bat a .176 hitter with 3 RBI fifth in the order. And never bring the infield in for the second batter of the game.

Personally, GW would bat the guys like this: Morgan, Sanchez, McLouth, LaRoche the elder, LaRoche the younger, Jaramillo/Diaz, Moss, Bixler, and the pitcher.

Yah, we give up three outs at the bottom of the order, but we don't kill any chance for a big inning by sprinkling them throughout the lineup.

Hey, we know it's a little league strategy, but going back to basics isn't such a bad thing. And we think that someone to protect Adam LaRoche's back a bit will ease the pressure that we're sure he's feeling right now at cleanup.

It's not like a trade for Bix's glove will hurt in the overall plan; Vazquez is hitting a lusty .167, and a seven hole hitter that draws walks and covers as much ground as a Maytag dryer doesn't really help the cause much. Besides, it's about evaluating the future, right?

-- The Bucs have lost six in a row; the Mets have won five in a row. Isn't it about time for the Gunner's "hidden vigorish" to kick in? (EDIT - Nope, not yet.)

-- Same old Bucs? The Pirates have the same record now after 29 games (12-17) that they had to start last season. The recent free-fall has seen Pittsburgh drop from second in the division to a last-place tie this morning with the Astros.

-- Matt Capps could come back today if push comes to shove; but it would probably make more sense medically to let him sit until Tuesday, after the Met series and a scheduled day off. But with the way the bullpen's going...

-- Jack Splat began his rehab stint with Indy last night; he remains on track for a Tuesday return to the roster.

-- Tests showed that Craig Hansen has no structural damage to his neck and back, but he's still not scheduled to throw off of a mound; there's no timetable for his return.

Could it be that the suits are OK with Evan Meek's job to date and so in no hurry to play with the roster quite yet? Or is Hansen another guy that's hurt more than the team is willing to let on?

-- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports revisits the deadline dealing that sent Jay Bay to Boston instead of Tampa Bay and some of the early-season blowback.

-- Cubby third baseman Aramis Ramirez dislocated his shoulder yesterday. It was an injury similar to one A-Ram suffered in late August of 2000 with the Pirates. The guesstimate for his return is four to six weeks, pending the results of his MRI.

-- Indy RHP Jimmy Barthmaier will have reconstructive Tommy John elbow surgery on Tuesday. So much for the initial diagnosis of tendinitis. He'll be done for the rest of the 2009 season.

-- LHP Kyle Bloom, who's been in Bradenton since being returned to the Bucs as a Rule 5 pick by Detroit, has been assigned to AA Altoona and will make his first start today.

-- San Diego State RHP Steve Strasburg did nothing to hurt his status as the run-away top pick in the upcoming player draft. He threw a 17-K no hitter against Air Force, facing just 28 batters.

-- Just read Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" again. Gotta love the clash of baseball cultures between the five-tool scouts, who believe their eyes, and the Sabermetric (named, BTW, after the Society for American Baseball Research) suits, who believe their spreadsheets.

Hey, both can fool ya. As Shakespeare warns, "All that glisters is not gold." On the other hand, Disraeli grumbles about "Lies, damned lies, and statistics..." Who to believe?

Still, tough to argue the geeks' underlying theme - the best measure of a hitter is his OPS (Onbase Plus Slugging) rating to determine his potential run production.

Of course, an argument can be made for the Undisputed Truth's words in "Smiling Faces" - "The truth is in the eyes 'cause the eyes don't lie.." Debates like this are why baseball is so endlessly fascinating throughout the generations. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mets Ambush Bullpen; Bats Still MIA

Let's see - the Mets bring up a kid from AAA Buffalo, lefty Jon Niese, of the 8.44 ERA and 0-2 record. He had a 1-1 record and a 7.07 ERA in three starts and 14 innings with the Mets last season.

Piece of cake, right? Wrong. Nothing is easy for Pittsburgh this month. Niese went six innings and gave up two runs, thanks more to usually sure-handed Carlos Beltran having a rare sloppy day in center than the Bucs actually hitting the ball with any authority.

He threw 95 pitches and struck out five, and the Pirates helped by going 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position. But Jeff Karstens was up to the task, going six innings and leaving with the score 2-2.

Used to be that the Bucco bullpen was money. Now it's a train wreck waiting to happen. Tyler Yates went an inning, and JR trotted him out for another. The Mets were waiting.

A single up the middle was followed by a walk of a guy that was trying hard to bunt the runner over. A dink hit barely over Andy LaRoche's head brought in a run and Sean Burnett. Carlos Delgado greeted him by launching a rocket into the right center seats, and the Pirates were on the way to their tenth loss in eleven outings, 7-3.

Donnie Veal got the last out. GW wonders why they're trying to hide him and his 4.15 ERA and yet trot out Yates and his 8.71 ERA when the game's on the line.

The top three hitters, Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, and Nate McLouth went 5-for-13, drew a walk, scored a run and drove in all three. The LaRouche boys, Brandon Moss, and Robinzon Diaz went 1-for-16 batting four through seven. (Bix had a couple more strikeouts, but he did have a pair of hits tonight.)

Can some of it be the absence of Ryan Doumit? For sure, but he's certainly not the savior. And the Pirates have gotten better-than-expected work out of his replacements, Jason Jaramillo and Diaz.

Doumit was hitting .244 in 45 AB, with 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI and 5 runs. His replacements have batted .295 in 61 AB, with 8 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI and 5 runs, not quite matching Doumit's run production, but more than holding their own.

No, the blame belongs middle of the order. The poster child for futility is Brandon Moss, who has 3 RBI in 81 AB, an RBI every 27 AB. The Pirate pitchers have 2 RBI in 54 AB; do the math.

The LaRoche brothers have 25 RBI in 192 at-bats, one every 7.7 at-bats. Nate McLouth has 19 RBI in 88 at-bats, one every 4.6 trips to the plate. You just can't have a gaping hole in what should be the most productive spots in the order, negating all the good work that the top three hitters have been doing.

Hmmm...the bullpen is understaffed and overexposed, and the money players are crapping out. Sounds like a bad recipe to us. Maybe they're one stopper and break-out game away from coming out of the tailspin. Then again...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Buc Bats - They Shouldn't Leave Home Without Them

Hey, JR gave it a shot. Some managers mired in a losing streak have resorted to pulling lineups out of their caps; he penciled in the bench. Guess what - different names, same results, as the Bucs went down 5-2 to the Cards for their ninth loss in ten games.

Eric Hinske, Craig Monroe, Delwyn Young, Robinzon Diaz, and Brian Bixler couldn't do any better than the real lineup, as it is, and they hadn't set the bar too high of late.

The highlight was Diaz going 2-for-3 with a long ball; the low light was Bix K'ing three more times. He's gone down on strikes twelve of his last 15 at-bats; Luis Cruz is looking better every day.

The losses are bad enough; it's the way they're losing that hurts. Nate McLouth turned Skip Schumaker's fly ball into a triple to open the first, and Albert Pujols lifted a sac fly an out later to bring him home.

The Pirates tied it up 1-1 in the fifth, but the Big O's wheels came off in the bottom half of the frame. He gave up a Jason LaRue homer, a single, a bunt single, two hit batsmen, a sac fly, and another single and before you could say mama, it was 5-1.

It's off to brand-spanking-new Citi Field now to take on the Mets. The matchups are Jeff Karstens (1-1, 5.85) vs. LHP Jonathon Niese (first start - up from AAA Buffalo; dang, we coulda used an Ollie Perez appearance about now), Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.97) vs. RHP John Maine (2-2, 5.20), and Ian Snell (1-4, 4.50) vs. RHP Livan Hernandez (2-1, 5.53). has the pitching breakdowns.

Let's hope that a minor-league call-up and two guys with ERAs north of 5 can hit a couple of bats and restore some thunder to the Bucco sticks, and that it's not too late to make a difference.

After all, the Pirates are still 12-16 and only 6 back in the loss column; they can still hang around if they can get back to playing efficient, fundamental ball like they did earlier. But if they endure a couple more brutal series, the trade rumors will begin to fly and it'll be August, 2008 all over again.

-- First A-Rod gets slimed in a tell-all potboiler that accuses him of everything short of being Osama bin Laden's BFF, and now Manny flunks his test, blaming his doctor. It's getting so a kid can't have a hero anymore. Where did you go, Joe DiMaggio...?

-- Did the Bucs play it too safe last year? Jason A. Churchill of ESPN's MLB Draft Blog (subscription article) writes:
I polled five talent evaluators on the idea of RHP Tanner Scheppers going in the top 10 in the draft, and I received a wide variety of responses. One club's special assistant was out to see Scheppers' first start for the St. Paul Saints and believes the former Fresno State star is a no-brainer pick. Another club's West Coast crosschecker offered the opposite opinion. In all, three votes went to yes, one voted no and one vote slid into the "let's wait and see" column.
Baseball America's Draft Tracker adds:
Late last month, Scheppers pitched in scrimmages at Golden West (Calif.) JC and was reportedly a little wild, but was sitting at 95-96 mph with his fastball, touching 98. On May 4, he pitched in his first game with the independent St. Paul Saints—an exhibition game against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.

"We saw him really, really good," an American League scouting director said. "Our guys said he's going in the first five picks, the top 10 for sure."
-- Michael Huang of The Sporting News has a mock draft posted. His Pirate selection is *tada*
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Alex White, North Carolina, RHP
Nasty slider and velocity that's suited to 'pen, White is safe, something the Pirates need.
White is a starter - even the Pirates wouldn't use the fourth pick on a reliever, would they? - with a 94 MPH sinking fastball, and a good slider. He'll need to develop a change-up for the show. And BTW, Huang doesn't have Tanner Scheppers going in the first round.