Monday, August 31, 2009

Second Verse, Same As The First

No need to bore you with the details. The Reds were up 3-0 after an inning, and though the Bucs put together one good inning to cut the score to 4-3, it was for naught as they went down 6-3, losing both ends of a twin bill to the Reds.

Paul Maholm's streak of strong pitching ended - hey, Pittsburgh's on the road, remember? - as he went five innings, giving up four runs on nine hits and three walks. Jesse Chavez, loser of the first game, put the finishing touches on the nightcap, too, giving up a two-run dinger in the eighth.

The stats tell the story of Pittsburgh's wayward tourists. The team ERA at PNC Park is 3.67; they hit .274 and average 4.6 runs/game at home. On the road, their pitching disintegrates. The ERA is 5.44. The hitters struggle, too, batting .242 and scoring 3.7 runs/game. They're 18-48 away from the Allegheny, a .272 winning percentage.

Well, at least they weren't as bad this August as last, when they went 7-21. The Bucs finish the dog days 9-19 this season. It's not much of a silver lining.

Game One...More of the Same

There's no place like home. That's not only true for Dorothy and Toto, but for JR and his Bucs, too. They dropped their fourth road game in a row, 4-3, to the Reds this afternoon.

RHP Daniel McCutchen made his first Pirate start, and after shedding some early inning butterflies, giving up three runs in his first three innings in the bigs, he settled down nicely and got ten of the next dozen batters. He worked six innings and allowed five hits, walked a pair, and struck out five.

The Pirates scored twice in the second with two away, when a walk and hit batter scored on hits by Jason Jaramillo and Daniel McCutchen. But that was all they'd get off of warhorse Kip Wells, who went six against his old teammates. He gave up just two hits (although he walked four) during his stint.

The Bucs tied it in the seventh, and looked like they had something cooking. Ronny Cedeno led off with a triple and came home on Jaramillo's single. Ramon Vazquez stepped in for McCutchen, and lined a shot towards right.

But instead of two on, no outs, and the top of the order up, the ball zipped into first baseman Joey Votto's mitt. He doubled Jaramillo off first, and that was it.

Joel Hanrahan threw two scoreless frames, but Jesse Chavez couldn't match him in the ninth. It appeared that he would work his way out of a two on, two out jam, but he uncorked a wild pitch, a slider away that went through Jaramillo's wickets, and the winning run trotted home.

And so the road blues continue.

-- McCutchen's place on the USA World Cup team was taken by Indy teammate Brad Lincoln, a much better choice for the assignment. McCutch was ready for some MLB action now; Lincoln might get a shot sometime next year, and could use the international competition as a springboard.

-- To make room for McCutchen, Brian Bixler was shipped back to Indy and RHP John Meloan, just claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay on August 12th, was DFA'd off the 40-man roster.

-- And just out of curiosity, if Andy LaRoche doesn't get red hot in the next week, why exactly is it that the suits won't be able to find any at-bats for 3B Neil Walker?

LaRoche's line is .246/7/46 in 426 at-bats; Brandon Moss' is .242/6/30 in 302 at-bats. Moss has been a part-timer for quite a while; LaRoche surely isn't outperforming him by much, so why the love?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Last Ninety Feet...

Twenty-one losses in a row at Miller Park. The sad part is that so many of them aren't beatings at the hands of the Brewers, but self-inflicted losses, like today.

At some point, the Pirates will figure out that with a runner on third and less than two outs that a run should score. For the eighth straight time they failed to do so, this time in the second inning.

With runners at second and third and nobody out, Andy LaRoche popped out behind the plate on the first pitch. Kenny Macha walked Ronny Cedeno, and Ohlendorf bounced into a DP. It had nothing to do with the Big O's at-bat; LaRoche killed the inning, just like Garrett Jones did in the first frame yesterday.

The team doesn't have enough firepower to pass up easy runs. It's obviously a matter of approach, and they best find one that works. Swinging aggressively and aimlessly sure isn't getting the job done.

In the first four innings, the Bucs had the leadoff runner on three times, and stranded six - and that's with two double plays. They hit into four twin killings in Suppan's six innings. Work soft and away against the Buc batters, and Pittsburgh will bounce out all night.

After trading home runs, the Brew Crew took the lead in the fifth, in an inning that mirrored the Pirate's second. A pop up that fell behind the mound and spun away from Ronny Cedeno (where were you, Ollie?), a two-hop double that ricocheted off the tip of Andy LaRoche's glove, and an intentional walk loaded the bases for pitcher Jeff Suppan.

It was the same situation as Pittsburgh had earlier: bases juiced, one out, and the pitcher up. But the results were decidedly different.

Suppan walked on a 3-2 pitch, and never took the bat off of his shoulders. Suppan was taking every pitch; Kenny Macha didn't want him to hit into a DP like his counterpart did. Then a two-out bloop single, after being ahead 0-2 on the count, plated another pair in an inning that would have been long over with a play or a strike.

So, just like yesterday, the Pirates fail to break out early, and it cost them the game. They're not going to win late; in the three game series, the Milwaukee bullpen has shut out Pittsburgh over a stretch of ten innings.

The Pirates continue on the road, going to Cincy for a day-night double header tomorrow. Here's the probable pitchers from (Daniel McCuchen will pitch the first game; they have it listed as TBA. Let's hope he doesn't know how badly the team plays on the road.)

-- The Bucs got their A team on the field today. Ronny Cedeno tested his achy finger out at short, and Ryan Doumit was let out of the doghouse and went back behind the dish.

-- The Pirates regained their senses and called up RHP Daniel McCutchen, who will arrive tomorrow. He was lights out at Indy, going 13-6 with a 3.47 ERA. The other McCutch was slated to pitch for the US World Cup team, which was a nice honor in itself.

But the Bucs need an arm now, with a couple of doubleheaders - one tomorrow, in fact, at Cincy - on tap and spot starts coming up when Ross Ohlendorf and Kevin Hart reach their inning limits later in September. McCutchen was the obvious choice to fill that bill.

The Pirates will have to take a guy off the MLB roster, probably for a day, and cut someone loose from the 40-man to make room for McCutchen. No moves have been announced yet.

-- Jeff Clement, who had a hot start at Indy after coming over in the Jack Splat trade, has a strained oblique. That will delay, if not prevent, his September arrival. He was hitting a combined .274-21-90 in AAA, but just .221 at Indy.

A Question Of Leadership?

One thing that's bubbled up in the Ryan Doumit affair has been a question of leadership. In Jen Langosch's article, Neal Huntington explains
"I think, given the moves, we are looking for some guys to step forward and candidly need guys to step forward. As you look at Paul [Maholm], Zach [Duke] and Ryan, they are in that group of players who are entering their fourth year and fifth year of service - we do need some leadership to come from somewhere. We have players who are getting to that point in their career where they need to step up."
We think that's a pretty disingenuous statement.

Leadership is a combination of experience, confidence, and personal connections. And the Pirates, as constructed, are pretty low on all three counts.

Let's start with the most obvious qualifier, experience. Among the everyday players, not one has been a full-time starter longer than two years - Ryan Doumit, Andy LaRoche, Ramon Vazquez (whose last starting season was 2003), and Ronny Cedeno, who started in 2006 and chunks of 2009, are the only grizzled, two-year starters in the clubhouse.

The service time approximations tell the story. Vazquez has seven years, Doumit and Cedeno four, and Lastings Milledge is in his third season. Three guys have two years under their belt (LaRoche, Delwyn Young, and Brandon Moss), while the other seven are rookies among the fourteen who have seen some time in the show this season.

The 2009 pitching staff isn't much grayer. The old man is Tyler Yates, who's in his fifth big league season. Paul Maholm and Zach Duke are in their fourth year, and Matt Capps, Jeff Karstens, Denny Bautista and Chris Bootcheck are three-year guys. Six hurlers are in their second season, and five more are first-year men by service time.

So out of the 32 guys currently in the system that have played this year, two have five years or more under their belt while twenty-one are in their first or second year. And one of the five year guys has been on the DL all season, and the other is a role player. Not much experience to draw on there, hey?

Personal connections? Hey, these guys are lucky if they know each other's names. Twenty two of the thirty two guys that have pulled on a Bucco jersey this season have been in the organization for two years or less. Seven have come through the Pirate system, and up to a couple of days ago, Doumit was the only one that started regularly.

The confidence to lead is another can of worms entirely. You can count on your nose the number of players assured to start 2010 where they ended 2009, that being Andrew McCutchen. Oh, some are odds-on favorites to retain their spots, but guys fighting for their careers tend to look out for their own interests first, and that's how it should be.

So is there a leadership vacuum? Well, maybe if you consider Doug Mientkiewicz to be your prototypical leader. We don't see it that way.

When the ballyard is filled in the morning with guys like Delwyn Young taking infield, Lastings Milledge taking outfield, Garret Jones in the cage, Ross Ohlendorf working on mechanics, and Andrew McCutchen providing energy and saying all the right things, we think the team's on a pretty even keel, which is a great tribute to JR and his staff.

After all, the point is to work hard, act professionally, and hustle. You shouldn't need a cheerleader to do that.

Now we do think that the team could use a graybeard or two to provide a shoulder to cry on and some direction. But that ain't gonna happen for at least a couple of more years down the road. Hey, McCutchen is just 22. By the time he's 25, no one will have any questions about who's leading the team; he'll carry Pops torch.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Road Kill

Ya know, Pittsburgh just doesn't react well to hopping a plane and leaving the cozy confines of the North Shore. Maybe they get air sickness or jet lag or airline food poisoning or just plain homesick; who knows? We vote for piling into a van.

But there really can be no other excuse for a team to go 35-29 at PNC, a 55% winning record, and 18-45 on the road, a 28% success rate. After looking quite competent at home, the wheels fall off when they bat first.

Take tonight, for example. The offense was held to three runs, and never really mounted a threat against Yovani Gallardo, other than a two-out, two-run homer by Andy LaRoche. And they rolled over like puppies once again to the Brew Brew bullpen.

Kevin Hart's pitching line looks OK - he went six innings and gave up six hits while striking out four. But throw in a pair of walks, two beaned batters, and a wild pitch, and the damage came to five runs.

In the third, with two outs and a run in, he gave up a bloop single to Craig Counsell with two outs to put runners at first and second. Then he plunked Ryan Braun on an 0-2 pitch, starting more whining over that bruisin'. Up stepped Prince Fielder, who he walked on five pitches.

Now we understand you don't want to challenge the big guy in that circumstance. But that's why you bear down before he gets up in a position to hurt you.

Another run scored in the fifth, when Delwyn Young threw a ball away. It was followed by a ground ball single and run-scoring DP.

Then, after getting the first two outs in the sixth, three straight hits by the bottom of the order and a wild pitch brought two more runs home. Admittedly, one was a routine roller to Brian Bixler, who returned to form by throwing the ball too high to first. (He also struck out three times in three at-bats) But a pitcher, like a hockey goalie, has to be able to weather the storm.

We'll admit freely that Hart had some bad luck and worse fielding to contend with, but he hurt himself with his lack of command during the evening. Putting four guys on base with walks/hit batsmen and uncorking a wild pitch was his undoing, not dink singles and a leaky infield.

Phil Dumatrait and Steve Jackson each worked an inning; each gave up a run. No surprise there, home or away.

So that's the Pirate road experience; forget how to hit, field, and pitch. Hey, it's time to hire a voodoo guy as a coach. Maybe he can light some candles or dig up a corpse or something to turn the Pirate's gray uniformed zombies back to ballplayers.

-- Ronny Cedeno sat again. He pinch hit for Bixler in the ninth, and smacked a double. How bad can his finger be? He's 3-for-4 off the bench since his injury.

-- Luis Cruz probably got the day off at short because of the lump on his noggin caused when a Garrett Jones hit drilled him during batting practice yesterday.

-- Ryan Doumit moped his way into another day on the pine. He ain't talking, and neither are the suits, although they do allow that players have to let the past go and get with the program. Sure sounds like a subtle hint to us.

Whassup With Ryan Doumit?

JR made an uncharacteristically bold move last night when he yanked Ryan Doumit in mid game for some unnamed transgression.

What could the poster child for hustle have done to earn Russell's rare pique? Well, contrary to some of the chat boards, he still runs out most of his balls, though with an occasional glaring bout of the dog thrown in, probably due more to frustration than temperament. He ran out a possible DP grounder last night and eventually scored, although he did jake a pop up to center.

He also nearly had a head-on with Steve Pearce on a foul pop. Doumit hit the brakes a step short of Pearce, who reached out and missed a ball that was his all the way. But that sometime happens when a ball's hit into no-mans' land.

His pitcher, Zach Duke, was raked at Miller and maybe the bench bosses had some head-knocking with his calls. But that's unlikely; his catching matrix is the best its been during his career, and the Bucs just came off a home stand that he caught virtually single-handedly while they pitched lights out.

Which leads us to attitude. Since he broke his wrist, the team make-up has completely turned around. His buds are gone, and the new face of the team is, and rightfully so, Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' unquestioned alpha dog.

The transformation from a clubhouse full of card-players to a frat house of hip bumpers happened while he was gone; it doesn't appear that he's exactly warmed up to the cultural change in Pittsburgh baseball.

There's little doubt that it isolated him somewhat; after all, he played in the minors with Nate McLouth, Gorzo, Ian Snell, and Sean Burnett and went to war with Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, John Grabow and company every day.

So the 2008 trades of veterans might not have been such a personal sea-change for him, but the 2009 wave hit close to home. He was said to be quite vocally opposed to the deals privately. Add in the frustration of hitting .182 this month, and it's pretty clear that Doumit's head isn't into the transitional Baby Buc era, where change is the only constant.

The contract he signed to make him part of the core, judging by recent practice, is nothing more than a negotiable paper, and it's logical to assume that his perceived spot in the Pirate future is a wisp.

And don't forget that Doumit has caught almost every game since he's been back, even the night-day getaway matches, and taken his fair share of shots behind the plate.

Maybe the suits were trying to showcase him - after all, they didn't really miss a beat with Jason Jaramillo and Robby Diaz behind the dish, and added Tony Sanchez to the mix - or maybe they just felt the threat of his bat made him an indispensable middle-of-the-order stick.

At any rate, Pittsburgh has a player that's tired, beat-up, and frustrated. Doumit's lost his leadership role - or did you miss that Ramon Vazquez has become the Bucs' new pappa bear? - and has become a stranger in his own land. He has no reason to believe the Pirate future includes him. A head case in the making? It sure has the right smell.

Is any of that an excuse in the baseball industry of this day and age? No. But Doumit has always been a player that runs on emotion, not calculation. What's crystal clear that he isn't performing up to expectations. We suspect this little demonstration by JR, triggered by an otherwise insignificant play or comment, is a last-ditch effort to get Doumit's attention.

If not, he'll be gone in the winter, and at a low value, to boot. The suits don't cotton to guys that don't buy into what they're selling, especially when they spend more time in the tub than the field. It would also purge the last of Littlefield's MLB postion players, which some feel has been a goal all along.

A change of scenery might be best for the team and Doumit - and hey, it may well be what he's looking for. After all, we haven't heard many complaints from the guys that left town, have we?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Games

Man, Milwaukee is desperate to get back on the winning track. In the first inning, with Andrew McCutchen and Delwyn Young on second and thrid with no one away, Garrett Jones popped to short on the first pitch.

Then Kenny Macha put on his thinking cap and walked Andy LaRoche intentionally to load the sacks, despite his 3-for-23 slump. Nothin' like tempting fate early. But hey, it worked.

Ryan Doumit got behind 0-2, and ended his at-bat with a one hop, 5-4-3 DP. A couple of minutes later, Prince Fielder came up with two on and one out and launched a hanging curve into the seats. It got worse.

A couple of ground ball singles, a walk on a check swing that was borderline, a shortarm effort on a force toss by Young to Luis Cruz...ugh. It was ugly. 41 Zach Duke pitches, seven hits, a walk, and it was 5-0 before the beer got warm.

The game started with a team that was down having a heel on their throat, and jsut like that, the worm had turned.

Manny Parra tried to give it all back the next inning, but the Bucs refused to bite. A single and two walks followed by a McCutchen double cut it to 5-2, but with runners on second and third and one out, Young flew to short center and Jones whiffed on a big roundhouse curve after swinging at a couple of balls out of the zone.

Jason Bourgeois opened the second with his first MLB home run, but the Pirates answered with two more in the third on a Steve Pearce one-out double. He was, of course, left there, but they had chipped into the lead, making it 6-4 after 2-1/2 innings. And that's with leaving the bases juiced, runners at second and third, and a guy on second, all with one out and all stranded.

The Brew Crew got another with three straight hits to start the third, but a nice play on a bunt by Pearce and a 5-4-3 DP limited the damage to a run. But that was it for the Zachster. He left after three innings, giving up seven runs on eleven hits with a walk.

Not that the difference was immediately apparent. Ryan Braun, the second batter Chris Bootcheck faced, went yard.

But the Pirates refused to go gently into the good night. Brian Bixler roped a pinch-hit double, and McCutch blasted one into the second deck in left, cutting the lead to 8-6 in the sixth.

McCutchen's tenth dinger would prove to be a double-edged sword. The sixth would be the last inning that the Bucs would get to swat around Manny Parra. And with Duke and Parra out, the second half of the game quieted down. It all boiled down to starting pitching, and for the first time in a while, the Bucs came up short.

The Brewers didn't score after the fourth, nor did the Pirates after the McCutchen blast. So it's 19 losses in a row at Milwaukee. And it was all decided in the first inning, when Jones popped out and Macha rolled the dice.

-- Ryan Doumit didn't come out for the fifth inning. He wasn't hurt; JR just sat him down. It'll be interesting to find out what that's all about.

-- Ronny Cedeno missed tonight with his broken pinkie; still no word on his expected return date. It could be soon; the papers say it doesn't bother his throwing as much as it does his ability to catch the ball. He's 2-for-3 as a pinch hitter since the injury, so it's apparently not affecting his stroke.

Friday Fillers

-- A vote of confidence in the Bucco plan, from, of all places, Milwaukee. "They all have pieces in place," said manager Ken Macha. "If you don't pitch well, or you give them extra outs, they'll beat you," he told the Journal-Sentinel.

-- OK, Pittsburgh has taken five of the last six from the Brew Crew at PNC. But as road warriors, the Bucs have been sadly lacking. The last time Pittsburgh beat the Brewers in Milwaukee was on May 3, 2007, and they've rung up eighteen straight losses since. The winning pitcher that day was Tom Gorzelanny; Jose Bautista hit a pair of taters and Ronny Paulino went yard to lead the attack.

-- RHP Daniel McCutchen won't show his stuff in Pittsburgh this year. He accepted an invitation to join the US Team for the World Cup, where he's expected to be a regular part of their rotation. McCutchen is 13-6 with a 3.47 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 29 walks in 142-2/3 innings. GW can't help but wonder if a little work in Pittsburgh instead of Europe wouldn't have been a better plan for the 26 year-old.

RHP Dusty Molleken will pitch for Canada. In 16 outings for the Altoona Curve, the reliever is 1-1 with a 5.01 ERA.

-- Pedro Alvarez hit his 11th and 12th dingers for Altoona last night, giving him 26 combined with his earlier Lynchburg output. He'll join McCutchen on the USA World Cup team. Wonder where he'd be now if they signed him in June instead of August last year...?

By the way, Baseball America gives Pedro a little World Cup love. It writes that "Team USA will have two of the best hitting prospects in the minor leagues when it competes in the World Cup next month, Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak and Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez."

The US, in case you're wondering, is the defending World Cup champion, claiming the title in 2007.

-- The Nymo magic is over for the 2009 Nats. Morgan will miss the rest of the season after breaking his left hand in Thursday afternoon's game. The injury occurred when Morgan jammed it during a head-first slide into third base.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Philly Falls to Buc Blasts

Man, Pittsburgh may not have a contender, but if they keep playing sets like this one, they should have no trouble keepin' PNC Park rockin'.

The place was hoppin' the whole series, thanks to some dramatic baseball and a few thousand cheering and jeering Phillie Phanatics sporting their red in the stands. The Bucs took the rubber match 3-2, keyed by Garrett Jones' two-run, two-out bomb into the center field greenway in the eighth inning.

Charlie Morton struggled during his six innings, giving up five hits and four walks while pitching behind in the count all night. With absolutely no fastball command, he still hung tough when he had to, and only two Phillies crossed the plate.

Denny Bautista came on to pitch the seventh and eighth, and pumping 96 MPH heaters with a big ol' curve, retired all six Philadelphia hitters he faced, striking out the last pair. He got the win, and deservedly so; it was a great outing by the Dominican Ichabod Crane clone.

Matt Capps came on in the ninth, and everyone held their breath. But no drama tonight; he got a pair of ground outs, sawed off a bat or two, and got a K while giving up a bouncing single up the middle that just sneaked past Luis Cruz.

JA (call me Jay) Happ was as advertised, going the distance. His fastball rarely broke 90 MPH, but he kept it low and on the corners or up and out of the zone. Happ was helped by a pair of DP balls and a run-saving gem by SS Jimmy Rollins, who dove to glove a ball ticketed up the middle with a runner on second.

It was a great showcase for a trio of potential Rookie of the Year candidates. Happ went the distance, giving up seven hits. Jones mashed his 15th long ball to go with 30 RBI, and Andrew McCutchen had a pair of hits, including a first-inning homer, his ninth.

It was an exclamation point to a fine home stand. The Bucs were 7-2 - what a turnaround from the miserable couple of weeks before they returned to the friendly waters of the Allegheny - and now they're off to Milwaukee and Cincinnati, the two teams that started their hot spell.

Here's the probable starters for the Brew Crew reunion, from

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Inning Too Long

Ah, we'll make it short and sweet tonight. Paul Maholm pitched his best game in months - and it wasn't enough. The Bucs went down 4-1 in ten innings to Cole Hamels and a pair of Philly long balls by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Maholm went seven innings, giving up a run on five hits, the damage done by Utley's first inning homer. The 1-0 lead held up until the ninth, when Brandon Moss went long off the bench.

But in the tenth, the depleted Bucco bullpen sent Steve Jackson to work. He walked the first batter, gave up a single to the next after falling behind 3-1, and was yanked for Phil Dumatrait. The big lefty got an out, and then watched Howard launch one into the netherlands.

The Pirates had their chances; they stranded nine and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. But Hamels spotted his heater and threw his slider and change when he got in trouble, and it was more than enough to thwart the Pirate bats. The Baby Bucs just can't stay back on the off speed stuff.

But hey, they're holding their own against a bona-fide nine. The starting pitching has carried its part of the deal, but the bullpen is basically Jesse Chavez and Joel Hanrahan after the wheeling and dealing. And the team can't be blamed for that; that was decided by the suits.

News Served Cold

Busy day yesterday, with a lot of little moves going on. Here's the Bucco's news of the past 36 hours:

-- Jeff Karstens has rejoined the team, but isn't active yet after his bereavement leave. His grandma passed away last week. EDIT - Karstens was placed on the 15 day DL because of a lower back sprain.

-- Ronny Cedeno is still day-to-day with his broken finger; he's gonna try to get back in the saddle tonight. EDIT - He was a late scratch; Luis Cruz gets the call again.

-- Jose Ascanio is supposed to throw this weekend. How his shoulder responds will go a long way towards determining if he'll pitch in September or get shut down.

-- Jeff Salazar cleared waivers and has returned to Indy, although he's off the 40-man roster now after being DFA'ed.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette says the US team has invited three Pirates: 3B Pedro Alvarez and RHP Dusty Molleken of Altoona, along with Indy RHP Daniel McCutchen.

-- State College Spikes' LHP Mike Felix, a second-round draft pick in 2006, was benched after blowing a .19 after a DUI stop.

-- The Pirates will send a half-dozen puppies to soak up the sun in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions: outfielder Jose Tabata, shortstops Brian Friday and Chase D'Arnaud, and LHPs Donnie Veal, Danny Moskos and Tony Watson. Veal will start while Moskos and Watson will pitch out of the bullpen. The Pirates are expected to add one more pitcher from their system to the roster.

Jeff Banister, the Pirates' minor league field coordinator, will manage the team. The AFL season runs from October 13th through November 21st, the date of their championship game. Should be an interesting league; the Nats are sending Steve Strasburg to pitch in it.

-- Curtis Pashelka of the Silicon Valley Mercury News reports that:
Still hampered by the strained left shoulder he suffered shortly after he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Freddy Sanchez was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the Giants on Tuesday. The move is retroactive, and the veteran second baseman said he hopes to play as soon as he's eligible to return on Sept. 2.

It's the first time Sanchez has been on the DL since the start of the 2004 season, when he missed the first three months after having a bone spur removed from his right ankle.

"It just one of those deals where I apologize to the fans, to the organization and to my teammates and everybody," said Sanchez, who played in 13 of a possible 25 games since being acquired for prized pitching prospect Tim Alderson. "I got traded here for a reason and that was to play. Like I said, I've always taken a lot of pride in going out and playing every game, and for me not to be out there hurts.''
There goes $8.1M.

-- Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that:
Center fielder Nate McLouth (strained hamstring) likely will rejoin the Braves on Monday, when he’s eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list. He’s eager.

“Heck, yeah, especially with the way the team is playing and the way things are starting to shape up with the standings,” he said. “The only meaningful games I ever played in September were in high school football.”

Before his years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, McLouth was a quarterback at Whitehall High School in Michigan.
-- Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News reports that:
Now, with Cincinnati pitchers falling like flies swatted by grandma in her rocker — Aaron Harang (appendectomy), Edinson Volquez (Tommy John surgery), Johnny Cueto (stiff right shoulder) — it is desperate measures for desperate times.

Hence, Kip Wells — called up August 10 to work out of the bullpen and used only three times in 15 days, (will start).

What it amounts to is that the Reds are skipping Micah Owings (6-12, 5.52 in 19 starts), who pitched Friday in Pittsburgh.
-- Jack Wilson is finally back for Seattle. He missed 12 games, dating back to August 12th, with a hammy injury.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That's Why They Play Nine Innings...

Hey, for eight innings, Pittsburgh and Philly were in a pretty nice little game. It was 3-2 Pirates, thanks to homers by Ryan Doumit and Steve Pearce, offsetting Jimmy Rollins' two solo blasts.

One reason it was so well pitched was because Ross Ohlendorf and Joe Blanton could live off the plate all day. Plate ump CB Bucknor was generous throughout the game, and the pitchers took full advantage.

Of course, clutch hitting, or the lack thereof, had something to do with it, too. Take the Pirates evening:

In the first, with Andrew McCutchen on third, one out, and the infield back, Garrett Jones struck out after getting ahead 3-1, swinging first at an ankle high pitch and then one that bounced in the dirt, followed by an Andy LaRoche pop-out to the pitcher.

The next inning, with Lastings Milledge on third and nobody out, Steve Pearce struck out on a 3-2 pitch. Yah, it bounced, too. Then, with the infield in, Luis Cruz hit a slow hopper to the shortstop hole. Milledge held. Why he wasn't off on contact with the pitcher up next is anyone's guess. The Big O struck out on three pitches to end the inning.

In the third, with Delywn Young at third, Garrett Jones took a called strike three, and LaRoche bounced out.

The fourth was a bit better; the Bucs only left runners at first and second with one out. Ditto for the eighth, when Jones and Ryan Doumit were on first and second with one away; Milledge and Pearce flew out.

Funny inning, the eighth. Jones walked to lead off and LaRoche bunted twice, eventually getting him to second. But Jones broke on both pitches, and LaRoche got a little talking to in the dugout. We suspect a hit-and-run was on both times, and LaRoche missed the sign. Ya would think Tony Beasley might have straightened him out after the first oopsie.

Then again, the Phillies returned the favor in the third, when Ryan Howard took a slow curve for strike three with Chase Utley at the hot corner and one away. Raul Ibanez then flew out. They did it again in the eighth, when Raul Ibanez lined a shot to a leaping Luis Cruz with the infield in and Chase Utley at third, then Jayson Werth swung through a heater to end the frame.

That gets us to the ninth, when the two most toasted closers in baseball, Matt Capps and Brad Lidge, would go mano-a-mano.

Capps, with a 3-2 lead to protect and a 6.38 ERA, got grounders to Delwyn Young to start and end the inning. But in between, aye carumba. He gave up a roped double to catcher Carlos Ruiz, the eight hole hitter. Then pinch hitter Ben Francisco nailed one to the North Side Notch. Nymo might have run it down, but Milledge didn't have a chance, and the game was tied.

Francisco tagged to third on a long drive to right, and came in when wunderkind Andrew McCutchen misplayed a Shane Victorino liner hit right at him. Two steps back, it's an out and the inning's over. But he took two steps in, and it became an triple. The Phils were up, 4-3.

But hey, Brad Lidge and his ERA of 7.33 came in to ice the game. He did, all right, but not exactly the way Charlie Manuel planned it. Lidge would face three batters and throw all of five pitches.

Cruz welcomed him with a single, and went to second on a wild pitch. Brian Bixler replaced him on the bases.

Pinch hitter Brandon Moss lined a single into right, and Bixler stopped at third. But RF Werth - in the game, ironically enough, as a defensive substitution for the leather-challenged Matt Stairs - bobbled the ball, and Bix beat the off-line throw home by a gnat's eyelash, with Moss steaming into second.

Then fielding goat Andrew McCutchen stepped to the plate and drilled a first pitch watermelon over the center field fence, giving the Bucs an improbable 6-4 victory over the world champion Philadelphia nine. Ah, sweet redemption.

We'll say this for this team - they at least generally play all nine innings, unlike the 2008 August version of the Pirates. And at this point in their development, you can't ask for much more. Sometimes, you don't need any more.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Boys...

OK, day off. With call-ups a week or two away, we thought it would be a good time to peek at the system. This list consists of the all the new guys that arrived via trade and the home-grown prospects:

-- RHP Nate Adcock (from Seattle) The 21 year-old is 3-0 at Lynchburg. In 14 innings, he's got an ERA of 3.21 with 10Ks and 4 walks.
-- RHP Tim Alderson (from San Francisco) The 20 year-old (he'll be 21 in November) has a combined 8-1 record with a 3.57 ERA in AA. He's started 17 times, gone 93-1/3 innings, and walked 21 while striking out 60.
-- 3B Pedro Alvarez (first round - 2008) The 22 year-old lefty has a line of .330-10-32 at Altoona; combined with Lynchburg's stats, he's .283-24-87.
-- 1B Calvin Anderson (twelfth round - 2008) At 22, Anderson is raw, but the 6-7 first sacker is hitting .282-12-61 at West Virginia, good power numbers for an A batter.
-- 1B Jeff Clement (from Seattle) The man without a glove, he'll come up in September and let Perry Hill teach him a little first base. The 26 year-old's combined AAA line is .280-21-88, and he's one of the very few Pirate power bats in the system.
-- SS Chase d'Arnaud (fourth round - 2008) In his first full season, the 22 year-old is hitting .285-6-54 between West Virginia and Lynchburg.
-- SS Argenis Diaz (from Boston) The 22 year-old Venezuelan better have a great glove. He's hitting .196 with 2 RBI at Indy, and doesn't have an extra-base knock in 28 games. His OBP is .260, and so far hasn't been much to write home about.
-- C Robinzon Diaz (from Toronto) After a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh (.295-1-18), he's the third catcher, and batting .275-3-14 at Indy. He'll be 26 in mid-September.
-- 2B Shelby Ford (third round - 2006) Ford was a fast tracker until he landed in Indy this season, where he hit a sickly .188. The 24 year-old is at Altoona now, where he's batting .260. Ford injured his wrist in Florida, so it's to be seen if this is an injury bump or if he hit the wall at AAA.
-- SS Brian Friday (third round - 2007) The 23 year-old has questions about his bat and durability. He's hitting .262-7-38 at Altoona, with a good eye and a .363 career OBP.
-- CF Robbie Grossman (sixth round - 2008) He's doing OK for a kid that was playing high school ball last year, with a .268-5-41 line at West Virginia. The switch-hitter has stolen 32 bases in 43 tries. He'll turn 20 in the middle of September.
-- IF Josh Harrison (from Chicago) The 22 year-old Harrison is now at Lynchburg, and has a combined .319-6-54 line with three teams. The fireplug has stolen 30 of 41 bases. He's played second, third and in left field, and is being groomed as a MLB utility guy.
-- 1B Matt Hague (ninth round - 2008) The 24 year-old is hitting .289-5-45 for Lynchburg.
-- CF Gorkys Hernandez (from Atlanta) He's hitting .256 at Altoona; his combined AA line is .282-3-42. Hernandez has stolen 17 bases in 30 tries, a mere 57% success rate. The Venezuelan is a highly regarded prospect who won't turn 22 for another ten days.
-- C Steve Lerud (third round - 2003) Lerud was thought of highly enough to be placed on the 40-man roster, but now is looking up at a slew of catchers. The 24 year-old lefty is hitting .247-3-22 at Altoona.
-- RHP Brad Lincoln (first round - 2006) After pitching lights out at Altoona, he's finding life not so sweet at Indy. The 24 year-old is 4-2 with a 5.72 ERA. In 50-1/3 innings, he has walked 10, and struck out 31.
-- LHP Jeff Locke (from Atlanta) Locke is 3-4 with a 4.69 ERA at Lynchburg. In 63-1/3 innings, he's struck out 42 and walked 16. Locke will be 22 in November.
-- RHP Brett Lorin (from Seattle) The 22 year-old lefty starter has pitched well in A this year, with a 5-5 slate, 2.44 ERA, and 100 K's and 33 walks in 107 innings.
-- CF Starling Marte (free agent) After a strong year in the Dominican league, marte's doing even better in the states. He's hitting .319-2-28 with 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts. Marte will turn 21 in October.
-- RHP Daniel McCutchen (from New York Yankees) He's the ace of the Indy staff, with a 13-6 record and 3.36 ERA. McCutch has struck out 110 and walked 24 in 136-2/3 innings. He's likely to come up in September, if he doesn't opt to play for the US. McCutchen will be 27 in late September.
-- SS Jordy Mercer (third round - 2008) The Bucs drafted him for his bat, and haven't been disappointed. He's hitting .254-8-70 for Lynchburg. mercer will be 23 this week.
-- RHP Quinton Miller (twentieth round - 2008) Drafted out of high school, he pitched well for short season State College, but has found the going a little rougher in West Virginia. He's 2-3 with a 5.49 ERA, and 27 Ks and 18 base on balls in 41 innings in A. But he's got time to master some control; he won't be 20 until November.
-- RHP Bryan Morris (from Los Angeles Dodgers) This has been a lost year for the 22 year-old Morris. Coming off injuries and a suspension, he's pitched well his last couple of starts, but his numbers are 4-6 with a 4.94 ERA, and 27 Ks and 24 walks in 58-1/3 innings.
-- LHP Danny Moskos (first round - 2007) Yah, yah, Matt Weiter, we know. The 23 year-old lefty has been transformed into a starter, and he's 10-9 with a 3.78 ERA at Altoona. He's pitched 131 frames, and walked 53 and K'ed 62. That's way too few strikeouts and high on the walk rate, too.
-- IF Jim Negrych (sixth round - 2006) Altoona's Negrych is out for the rest of the year. In 92 games, he hit .272-3-30. The 24 year-old Pitt grad is considered a Delwyn Young lite. He's a career .308 batter without a position to call his own.
-- LHP Rudy Owens (twenty-eighth round - 2006) The 21 year-old lefty burst on the scene this year. He's a combined 11-2 at West Virginia and Lynchburg, with a 1.89 ERA and in 119 innings, has struck out 110 and walked just 16 while holding opponents to a .212 BA. He's approaching his inning limit and won't work much in the final couple of weeks for the Hillcats.
-- RHP Aaron Pribanic (from Seattle) He's a combined 9-7 in A ball with a 3.11 ERA. Pribanic has gone 107 innings with 64 Ks and 29 walks, another guy with an iffy strikeout ratio. He'll be 23 next week.
-- C Tony Sanchez (first round - 2009) Hey, looks like a bargain so far. The 21 year-old is hitting .339-6-39 at West Virginia, and is the only 2009 draftee to start off in the regular minors.
-- RHP Hunter Strickland (from Boston): Strickland is a combined 8-5 with a 3.15 ERA in A ball, with 66 strikeouts and 16 walks in 111-1/3 innings. He'll turn 21 at the end of September.
-- OF Jose Tabata (from New York Yankees) The 21 year-old Venezuelan is hitting .333 at Indy in 18 games. He's shown little power, but hit over .300 at Altoona before being promoted and recovered nicely from the media storm his wife caused earlier in the season. The Bucs don't appear ready to call him up yet.
-- RHP Ron Uviedo (free agent) The 22 year-old Venezuelan (he'll be 23 in October) was added to the 40-man roster. He's being converted from the bullpen to a starter, and is 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA at Lynchburg, with 73 strikeouts and 23 walks in 89-1/3 innings.
-- 3B Neil Walker (first round - 2004) The switch-hitter is heating up now, after having another terrible start. His line is .255-12-62 at Indy. He'll turn 24 on 9/10. Walker is expected to join the big club in September.
-- LHP Justin Wilson (fifth round - 2008) The 22 year-old lefty has a 6-7 record and 4.33 ERA at Lynchburg, and has been pitching much better down the stretch as he's getting acclimated to the pro game. In 108 innings, he has 89 K and 48 walks, so he still has some command issues to work out.

Two things struck us. First, the prosepcts are very young; they won't be arriving at PNC for awhile. And secondly, for a team that loves big hulking hurlers, there are quite a few guys with less than sparkling strikeout rates.

It doesn't seem like the Pirates will call many guys up this September. Half of Indy is already on the Pirate roster, and no use starting the clock too soon. Our uneducated guess is that Clement, Diaz, Walker, probably McCutchen and Eric Hacker will get the call.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Snoozer

The Pirates were as dull and gray as the skies today, dropping an uninspired 4-1 game to the reeling Reds.

Kevin Hart started, and in five frames, gave up three runs on six hits with three walks, throwing 99 pitches along the way. Hart allowed the leadoff man to reach base four times in five innings, twice on walks, and three scored.

The Pirates bullpen gave up one run over the final four, but it took them 88 pitches to finish up. Pittsburgh hurlers threw the ball to batters 187 times today; the Reds added 150 more pitches. No wonder the game took 3-1/2 hours to finish.

The Bucs looked like they had Homer Bailey, entering the game with a 7.53 ERA and two wins, on the ropes early. They loaded the bases in the first, and had two on in the second. All it got them was five stranded runners, and from that point on, Bailey owned them.

After scoring twelve runs yesterday, JR made the curious decision to bench three of the guys that started. Hey, tomorrow's an off day; shouldn't you stick with the hot hand?

And another thought: we can't wait for the first strike philosophy to take hold with the Bucco pitchers. The pace of the game was snail-like, and it showed in the play.

We know the corollary to throwing strikes is working quickly. That's two rules every pitching coach since the days when baseballs were stuffed instead of wound has dished out to his charges. Working long counts and pitching at a molasses pace puts your fielders in a trance and shows indecision on the part of the pitcher.

We're fairly certain the staff has a plan; Joe Kerrigan gets them ready. It's up to them to believe in it, believe in their pitches, and believe in an attack mode.

Oh well, five out of six ain't too bad; maybe this is just an overdue clunker. But after tomorrow's play day, the big bad Phillies roll into town, and have Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, and JA Happ ready to go. We'll see how far the Baby Buccos have progressed after that series.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

JR And The Sunshine Band

"That's the way, uh-huh uh-huh, I like it..." The 32,570 Pirate fans began singing that song way before KC and the Sunshine Band hit the stage, as the Pirates showed off in front of the 1979 championship alumni with a 12-2 victory.

Outside of a couple of baserunning errors - Andy LaRoche and Garrett Jones both took off for second on singles; LaRoche scampered back to first , but Jones was easily tagged out at second - the Bucs were clicking on all cylinders.

They banged out 13 hits - every starter but pitcher Zach Duke had a knock - and went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position, stranding just six. The Pirate hitters didn't go down 1-2-3 until the eighth inning. They handed Duke a 3-0 lead after one inning.

And welcome back, Ryan Doumit. After pounding the ball last night with nothing to show for it, he homered into right, doubled, and singled. He had three RBI.

So did Garrett Jones, who's at long last discovered his swing with runners aboard. Jones now has 28 RBI in 44 games, and all three tonight were with two away.

Duke finally won his tenth game, going seven innings. The bullpen regulars got a blow, too, as Phil Dumatrait and Denny Bautista mopped up without allowing a runner.

Hey, we know it's just the Reds, who look like a walking MASH unit right now. Still, the win was the fifth in a row, and lifted Pittsburgh out of the cellar. And who woulda thunk that a week ago?

-- Ronny Cedeno has a hairline fracture of his right pinkie; he's expected back Tuesday, pending further testing.

-- Ya know, September might be interesting as a preview to upcoming position battles.

So far, Steve Pearce's struggles with soft stuff seem to be shutting the window of opportunity the suits have extended him. But before you pencil in Garrett Jones, expect to see a lot of Jeff Clement at first in September. And Pedro Alvarez still is a good shot to anchor the infield in a couple of years.

To make the saga more compelling, it's been reported that the Bucs have been working Lastings Milledge out at first base. To make the waters a bit muddier, will Jose Tabata be ready next season? Then what happens to Jones and/or Milledge?

As we said, now it's starting to get interesting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reds Sing The Blues

If there are two lineups with less ability to go long than tonight's Pirates and Reds, well, it'd probably be in a whiffle ball league.

But the Bucs rode a pair of homers - a three run shot by Garrett Jones and a solo liner by Lastings Milledge - to a 5-2 win over Cincy tonight. Maybe they channeled Pops and Bill Robinson while decked out in the gold and black of the 1979 champions.

Charlie Morton continued his schizophrenic ways this evening. He was untouchable in the first, striking out a pair and finishing the inning with a mere nine pitches.

He ran through the raindrops in the next three, stranding five runners, and cruised through the fifth and sixth. Then Morton left with one out in the seventh with two aboard. In 6-1/3 frames, he gave up two runs on six hits and walked three, with three Ks.

Jesse Chavez, Joel Hanrahan, and Matt Capps mopped up, and none of them had a clean inning. But they put up goose eggs, and that's what counts. When the night was over, the Reds had stranded ten runners and were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

The Pirates had all of five hits, and none after the fifth inning. But thanks to the long ball, they stranded just one runner all night. In justice, the Bucs centered up the ball pretty well against Micah Owings, scoring all five runs off him. Heck, half the outs Owing's got were roped.

But every so often, the baseball gods gotta throw a team a crumb. So it's four in a row, and the Bucs are now half a game from escaping the cellar.

-- LHP Phil Dumatrait is not going on waivers; he's coming back tonight. He'll have some breathing room on the 25-man roster as Jeff Karstens goes on leave to be with his ill grandma for a few days; he's expected back Tuesday. Evan Meek was moved from the 15 to 60-day DL with his oblique injury to clear a spot on the 40-man for Dumatrait.

-- Some weird scheduling: the Pirates play the Reds seven times in the next 13 days; they haven't played each other since early May. The teams have 13 games remaining against each other to duke it out for the bottom spot in the Central Division.

-- Tom Boswell of the Washington Post just loves Nyjer Morgan. He calls him the second coming of Juan Pierre, back when Pierre was da bomb.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pirate Pitching By The Book

GW took a little side trip to his favorite hardball resource, The Baseball Reference, to take a gander at the Pirate pitching before and after Joe Kerrigan and the staff shakeup. We selected a couple of key stats, mixed well, and the results (the NL average is in parenthesis):

Pitching Age: 2009 - 26.4 (28.6) Only Florida's staff is younger, at 26.1 years-old.
Pitching Age: 2008 - 26.5 (28.9) They were the youngest staff last season.
Draw: The staff remains among the NLs youngest.

Runs Given Up Per Game: 2009 - 4.65 (4.55) 9th in the NL, and a big jump forward.
Runs Given Up Per Game: 2008 - 5.46 (4.63) Last in the NL by a wide margin.
Thumbs Up: Giving up .8 runs less per game is a 15% improvement over last season, and it shows by how many games the pitching has kept the team in during 2009. Of all the stats you can apply to pitching, this is the only one that really matters.

ERA: 2009 - 4.55 (4.25) They drop to 12th in ERA, which shows how much the fielding has helped them this season.
ERA: 2008 - 5.10 (4.30) Only NL team to have an ERA of over 5.
Thumbs Up: They're making teams earn their runs against them.

Hits Given Up Per Game: 2009 - 9.4 (8.9) 14th in the league and still way over average.
Hits Given Up Per Game: 2008 - 10.1 (9.1) Dead last, by 1/2 hit per game.
Draw: They're a little more aggressive to the mitt, and the fielding has done the job. Over the course of the season, it comes to 113 fewer hits, but until they improve their abysmal strikeout rate, this will remain a problem.

HR per Game: 2009 - 1 (1) tenth in the league and about average.
HR Per Game: 2008 - 1.1 (1) Only three teams gave up more.
Draw: Middle of the pack, this year and last.

BB Per Game: 2009 - 3.6 (3.5) 8th in the league, a great jump from last season.
BB Per Game: 2008 - 4.1 (3.4) Tied with the Cards for last.
Thumbs Up: Getting from the basement to join the unwashed masses is a serious improvement, but there are still command issues to be resolved; too many 2-0, 3-1, counts.

WHIP: 2009 - 1.446 (1.385) Eleventh in the NL.
WHIP: 2008 - 1.573 (1.391) Last again.
Thumbs Down: Too many runners, plain and simple. But they did cut the margin between themselves and the league norm by over 50%, so they're headed in the right direction.

K: 2009 - 5.8 (7.0) Doesn't seem like much of a difference, but it's 160 Ks in total under the league average and last in the league. With a NL average of .298 for balls in play, that's an extra 48 hits given up, and 25 more runs.
K: 2008 - 6.0 (7.0) Next to last to the Cards in the NL.
Thumbs Down: Fewer Ks than last year? These guys gotta learn to get ahead of hitters and to finish them off.

The Dope: The staff stayed young, and showed some improvement, particularly in runs given up and walks (funny how those go hand in hand, hey?) But it's obvious why the suits are so in love with big bazookas who can throw the ball through a wall.

The strikeout rate was terrible last year, and worse this season. Applying the league averages, those extra balls in play convert into hits three times out of ten, and two hits roughly equal a run scored.

Joe got his guys to cut the base on balls, but he still needs to get them to the next level, where they can miss some bats. The walks are down, but the guys still are running up too many good hitters counts. If he can get the staff to be aggressive with first strikes and get batters into 1-2 counts, the strikeouts will come.

So he's taken the first step of slashing free passes. The next is to improve their command to where they can dictate to the hitter. And it is a step at a time process; next year will tell if Pittsburgh can start getting over the hump.

Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf have made great strides this year; Paul Maholm needs some consistency, and Charlie Morton and Kevin Hart have to prove that they're big-league starters.

Tim Alderson, Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, Jose Ascanio, and Phil Dumatrait are waiting in the wings if they falter. Donnie Veal, Rudy Owens, and Daniel Moskos may or may not be ready a couple of years down the line, along with a boatload of freshly drafted arms three, four, or more years away from PNC. So there is some depth to the unit, at least compared to last season.

The bullpen is another question. Jesse Chavez, Evan Meek, and Joel Hanrahan have stepped up; Matt Capps and Jeff Karstens, well, you're never quite sure what you're gonna get from them. But it is easier to build a pen, both internally and on the market.

We'll give Joe and the suits a B- grade this season; they've taken some steps, especially in cutting runs allowed and walks, while adding some systematic depth, but still have miles to go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brew Crew Broomed

For those of you that love crunching baseball numbers, here's a few that should warm even old school hearts: 2-4, 6-3, 5-4-3, 6-4-3. That's the line score for the DPs the Buccos turned behind Paul Maholm tonight in Pittsburgh's 3-1 win over Milwaukee.

Maholm channeled into his April stuff, and was masterful at PNC. He went 7-2/3 innings, giving up a run on eight hits. Of the seventeen balls his defense converted into outs, fourteen were grounders. Even half of his hits were rolled into the outfield.

More impressively, he went deep enough that the bullpen needed just four outs, and except for a tiny bit of drama caused by Joel Hanrahan's wild pitch, he and Matt Capps were perfect.

Good thing, too. The Buc offense sputtered, consisting of Ronny Cedeno's two-run jack and Delwyn Young's RBI double. They were done scoring after the third inning, and collected but five hits all night.

Andy LaRoche had a particularly brutal night at clean-up, wearing the collar and stranding five. Ya have to pity JR when he sits down before a game to make his lineup; there's not much to count on after Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, and Young.

At least Ryan Doumit hit a couple of fly balls today, and even laid off a curve or two; maybe his eye is slowly coming back. Ronny Cedeno continues to surprise as a productive eight-hole hitter. His homer, number four as a Pirate, came with two outs and Maholm on deck.

Now to see if the Baby Bucs can keep the momentum going against the equally sad sack Reds, who roll into town Friday. Here's the probable matchups for the series from

But hey, three in a row for the Buccos, the first streak of that magnitude since late June. And coming into this series, there wasn't much action in Vegas for that happening.

-- RHP Jose Ascanio, out with right shoulder tendinitis, will be shut down from throwing for at least ten days. He's not on any pre-determined rehab schedule yet; he'll start throwing when his wing stops aching.

-- RHP Jeff Sues was moved up from Altoona to Indy. The 26 year-old has a 2-6-2 record with a 4.46 ERA. His problem has been control; he's walked 37 in 78-2/3 frames. Sues' other stats are in line; 66 hits, 74 strike-outs, and a 1.31 WHIP.

-- West Virginia C Tony Sanchez was picked as the Sally League Player of the Week after putting up these numbers: .625 average, 7-R, 4-2B, 2-HR, 10-RBI, 3-BB, and a 1.250 slugging percentage. He doesn't seem like that much of a reach in the draft so far; it'll be interesting to see where Sanchez is in three more years.

-- Larry LaRue of the News-Tribune reports that "Jack Wilson won’t be playing for the M's for awhile as he works through his strained left hamstring – and he might not play again until the team returns home next week. 'We don’t want to put him in a game, have him strain it and need to go on the disabled list,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “We’re going to be cautious.'”

Jack Splat's been out since August 12th. He's played 88 games so far this season after getting in just 87 in 2007. Looks like Wilson's days of 150+ games at short are long gone. He couldn't stay on the field for the new suits, and that, as much as his contract, helped trigger his move out of town.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's A Streak!

There was a time not long ago when the Pirates couldn't beat the Brewers if you spotted Pittsburgh five runs and started the game in the seventh inning. So who woulda thunk that the team the free-falling Pirates would beat up was Milwaukee?

The Pirates have taken four of the last five games from the Brew Crew - throw at Jeff Karstens, will ya? - and played their most complete game of the month tonight.

Ross Ohlendorf went into the eighth inning, and gave up a run on five hits. His heater was in the mid-90s again, and the couple of times he was in trouble, the Big O coaxed a couple of grounders from the Brewer bats to calm the storm.

The Pirates supported him with a clean game in the field, on the bases, and with a pair of homers from Delwyn Young and Lastings Milledge. Jesse Chavez gave up a meaningless run in the ninth, and the Bucs tucked a well-earned 5-2 win under their belt.

For Ollie, it was victory #11. He's been 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his last five starts, and along with Zach Duke has been Pittsburgh's horse on the hill since tweaking his delivery and going with the four seam heat more than the two seam sinker.

Hey, there's a lot of baseball to be played yet, and it is just one game. But at least now the Baby Bucs know that if they don't press and just play ball for nine innings, something good can happen. And for young guys still getting schooled, that's a valuable lesson.

Batting Practice

-- Neal Huntington had his weekly on-line chat. Here's what he said:

On the draft: "We focused more on quality this year over quantity. We were more focused on signing talent than filling a short-season roster with a college senior.

We would have liked to have added a few more players, but we lost some in the delay of the signing process, and we had others whose [asking price] increased after the Draft."

On Lastings Milledge: "We felt Lastings still had the tools to be an above-average Major League player.

Lastings has been very candid about the level of instruction he has had in the past and how excited he is to be working with our instructors. There is no questioning that Nyjer has played far better for the Nationals than he did for the Pirates, but we remain optimistic about the impact Lastings will make for the Pirates."

-- Jen Langosch of saved GW some legwork. She looked up what all the new Pirate minor league prospects are doing, how the ex-Buccos are playing in their new digs, and posted the results here.

She also had an unexpected blurb on Phil Dumatrait: "Judging by Huntington's expression, I'd say the Pirates are very hesitant to add Dumatrait to the big league roster. His numbers haven't been good, and I've not heard very positive reports about his stuff in Indy. Since Dumatrait is out of options, the Pirates could put him on waivers and assign him to Triple-A once he passes through."

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette tells us how the Pirates will find innings for all the arms they've drafted in the past two years: "The Pirates plan to piggyback starters with both Class A teams next year. Some of that already is happening at West Virginia and Bradenton. In the piggyback (system), prospects pitch 3-4 innings each of a given game, each treated as a start because the second guy enters only with a clean inning."

Two starters per game also plays into the Pirates' obsession with low pitch counts, though we fail to see where it helps get them to pitch deeper into games.

-- Ryan Braun, take note. According to Chris Haft of "Two days after a scary beaning that put him on the disabled list with a concussion, David Wright returned to Citi Field on Monday and met with the man who threw the pitch: Matt Cain.

When he met with the Giants pitcher, the discussion included an extended hand and a pat on the shoulder. He said, 'I understand it was an accident,' said Cain."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bucs Beat Brewers

The Baby Buccos, perhaps feeling a bit under the scope when team president Frank Coonelly decided to spend some quality time with them in Chicago, broke out of their funk tonight with a 9-5 win over the Brew Crew.

No one got beaned, but there was excitement enough as PNC looked like Wrigley on the Allegheny when five balls left the yard - and amazingly, three were by the Pirates. Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones, and Ronny Cedeno all went long, more than answering blows from Prince Fielder and Mike Cameron.

Kevin Hart gave the Bucs five good innings before giving up a two run blast to Cameron in the sixth. He finished out the frame to notch his first Pittsburgh win, aided by three innings of one-run work by the pen.

Take an early lead, add on as the game progresses, and get a decent job from the bullpen. Sounds easy, but it's been a long time since the Bucs did all three. Maybe Bryce Harper and Scott Boras aren't in the Bucs' near future, after all.

Andrew McCutchen continues to make sick plays in the outfield, and makes them look routine. The same can't be said for his new running mate, Lastings Milledge. For a five-tool guy, he sure hasn't shown much yet. It'll be interesting to see if he is just overrated or a player badly in need of some serious coaching up by the staff.

Steve Pearce made a couple of very nice plays at first. He reminds us more and more of Andy LaRoche - a young corner guy with leather galore but not much pop. They can't make them all second basemen, can they?

It'll be a long, strange trip for the Pittsburgh Baseball Club in the next couple of seasons. And anyone that thinks they can predict how the chips will fall, well, Nostrademus didn't even risk a quatrain on this team. It may not end up pretty, but it will be interesting.

-- Indy RHP Daniel McCutchen was named the International League's pitcher of the week. He went 2-0 and pitched 13 2/3 scoreless innings while walking two and striking out 12.

In 30 starts this year, the former Oklahoma Sooner has posted a 15-9 record with a 3.76 ERA (74 ER in 177.2 IP) and 140 strikeouts compared to 34 walks.

McCutchen entered the 2009 season rated by Baseball America as the Pittsburgh's No. 9 prospect and as having the organization's "Best Control". He was also rated by the same publication as the No. 14 prospect in the New York Yankees Organization entering the 2008 season.

Team mate Eric Hacker won the award last week.

-- Matthew Eddy of Baseball America on Neil Walker's chances of being called up in September: "Walker has had an awesome couple of weeks with Indy, he's got a couple years at Triple-A under his belt and he's on the 40-man. That's a combination that could warrant a September callup. But the Pirates' new regime has less incentive to call him up than did the old one. They have less at stake."-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette reports that Pedro Alvarez has been invited to represent the United States in the International Baseball Federation's World Cup, which begins September 9th and takes place in various major cities across Europe.

Class AA Altoona's season ends September 7th, and the Pirates hadn't planned to call Pedro up this season. It looks like a nice opportunity knocking on the door for the third baseman to close out his first full season as a pro.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Roll Out The Tarp

-- The Bucco rain dance worked. The Cubs delayed the start of the game when it rained, then sat for two dry hours until another storm reached Wrigley, and finally called the game at 5:30 or so. Of, course, it quit raining five minutes after they pulled the plug. Oh well, it's not like the Pirates can't use a day off.

-- Donnie Veal is going to Altoona this week for his rehab work. He's eligible to come back later this month, though he'll probably be held out until the September free-for-all.

The plans for the big lefty are to join an Arizona Fall League rotation after the season, pitch at Indy in 2010, and hopefully challenge for a MLB spot in 2011.

-- RHP Daniel McCutchen is making a strong case for some innings in Pittsburgh come September. He threw six shutout innings last night - he tossed 7-1/3 zippo frames last outing - and is 12-6 with a 3.40 ERA. The 26 year-old has worked 129-2/3 innings, with 99 Ks and just 27 walks.

-- Pedro is tearing it up at Altoona. Scott Boras' gift to Pittsburgh is raking it at a .343 clip with 9 homers and 28 RBI. He's struck out 46 times and walked 23 in 166 at-bats.

-- In his first week in the Carolina League, Lynchburg's Rudy Owens was named the league's Pitcher-of-the-Week. Owens made two starts and posted a 1-0 record for the Hillcats. He allowed six hits, no runs, a walk and recorded 10 strikeouts in 9-1/3 innings pitched.

Owens won't get much work over the next few weeks; he's already practically doubled his inning count from 58 in 2008 to 110 so far this season, and they skipped over his scheduled start earlier this week to keep his arm fresh.

-- The Bucs' 2009 numero uno, C Tony Sanchez, is off to a sizzling start at West Virginia. The BC grad is hitting .367, with 5 homers, 13 doubles, 33 RBI, and a .624 slugging percentage in 28 games.

He's K'ed 20 times and walked 16 in 109 at-bats. Sanchez has also thrown out 10 of 32 base stealers, a 31% rate.

-- In the short-season league at State College, 22 year-old Phillip Irwin is 1-1 with a 0.41 ERA in four starts. The RHP from Mississippi has struck out 24 and walked just 4 in 22 innings. He was a 21st round pick in this year's draft.

-- A couple of guys are looking good for the Bradenton Pirates of the Rookie GCL. LHP Jhonatan Ramos is 5-0 with a 1.82 ERA. He's struck out 33 and walked 3 in 34-1/3 innings. Opponents have hit just .192 off the Venezuelan, and he has a WHIP of 0.75.

LF Rogelios Noris is hitting .304 with 6 long balls, 17 RBI, and a .609 slugging percentage in 29 games. The 20 year-old Mexican prospect has struck out 35 times in 92 at-bats, while drawing 9 walks.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Duke Denied Again

Ya know, it's amazing that Zach Duke hasn't taken a bat to the water cooler yet - or his team mates, for that matter. He's been the only consistent performer for the Bucs in the past three weeks, and a lotta good it's done him.

The Zachster went down again, 3-1, to the Cubs today. It was his eleventh loss; the Pirates have scored a total of 14 runs behind him in those defeats. He's been trying for his tenth win since his July 24th victory over Arizona.

Losing to Gorzo has to be doubly galling, especially as he drove in the eventual winning run with a two out single in the second inning.

Gorzelanny may have earned the win, but he wasn't pitching any better than he was at Pittsburgh. The difference is that he was pitching against the Pirates instead of for them.

He gave up a run on three hits and struck out eight in five innings. Gorzelanny had no fastball command, his bugaboo here, but it made no difference to the undisciplined Bucco batters.

Every one of his strikeouts was on a pitch out of the zone that was swung at and missed. During the day, 13 Pirates struck out; eleven were on swings and misses of balls off the dish.

The Pirates had a chance to make a game of it. In the fifth, they loaded the bases with no one out. Andrew McCutchen flew out to the track in center to bring home a run, but Lastings Milledge struck out on four pitches; only one was a strike. Garrett Jones roped one to the ivy in right with two away, but Milton Bradley got there for the catch.

The Baby Bucs better figure out the strike zone. It's way past the point of crediting the opponents' pitching; the answer is in the mirror.

-- The deck keeps on getting shuffled. Brian Bixler, who's been tearing it up again at Indy, is in, along with *ouch* Denny Bautista (2-3-1, 4.88 ERA). Jose Ascanio was placed on the 15-day DL with tendinitis while Jeff Salazar of the .043 batting average was DFA'ed, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

BB, who's been groomed as a utility guy at Indy, becomes the new reserve center fielder. Our guess on Bautista is that he's Phil Dumatrait's placeholder for a few days and will be considered no great loss when he's lopped off the 40-man roster again.

-- Matt Pouliot of Circling The Bases has been checking out what a team's current lineup would look like with nothing but active home-grown talent. Pittsburgh's collection ranked #23; decent pitching, punchless batting order.

A Thought Or Three

-- Should the Pirates try to plug a hole or two with free agents? Hey, that horse is out of the corral. No FA worth his oats would come to Pittsburgh; first, the Pirates would have to grossly overpay a decent player, and secondly, Neal Huntington gets rid of them so quickly that they don't have enough time to tell the Mon from the Allegheny.

The only free agents left on the Pirate 40-man roster are Chris Bootcheck, Ramon Hernandez, and Garrett Jones.

-- Is dealing players for prospects the way to go? The Bucs minor league system was running on empty and needed a boost; of that there was no question. But there are problems with making 2 or 3-for-1 deals all the time.

First, the street rule is that 1 of 3 prospects makes it as a viable MLB player. That's why Huntington goes for quantity whenever he can. But...

Eventually, the 40-man roster runs out of room, and your fringe hopefuls get claimed by other teams. Next, the better guys that were protected create a bulge in arbitration eligibility. Remember, agents now consider arbitration years as the new free agency.

The final point is that the Pirates haven't traded for any top guns. All have some flaw, partially because teams are protective of their top-shelf talent, and partially because Pittsburgh hasn't had any difference makers to move, Jay Bay and Freddy Sanchez included. They are both very good players, but not building blocks. So the Pirates are taking some chances with guys that aren't slam-dunks.

-- Are the Pirates any good at evaluating players? That has yet to be seen. Judging by the major trade returns, their eye is a bit out of focus. Ross Ohlendorf looks like a major league pitcher and Andy LaRoche is serviceable, although not at a corner. There's renewed talk about him moving to second if the Delwyn Young experiment blows up in Perry Hill's puss, where both bats are more acceptable.

The rest of the pack? Only time will tell. The guys being force-fed into the MLB grinder are being chewed up so far; they're young and there's a reason their teams thought they were expendable.

One thing that concerns us is the Pirate belief that they can coach up players that other teams couldn't; sounds awfully arrogant to us. After all, the Yankee, Dodger, and Red Sox systems turn out some pretty capable players, and that's where Pittsburgh has been fishing.

There's also the question of scouting. Are the Pirates too reliant on the brave new world of computer generated profiles? Some say about time; others bemoan the lack of immeasurables, like production, attitude and coachability. Only time will tell if their players are better suited for fantasy leagues than MLB baseball, though it must be said that the old eye-ball scouting method didn't turn out so well.

Pedro, Jose, and some of the newbies drafted in the past couple of years are progressing very nicely in the minors. But the biggest step in baseball is from AAA to PNC. They've done well in the draft by all accounts, especially this year, but are seasons away from any possible upgrades in the roster with those two exceptions.

-- Does the madcap trading have a purpose, or is the focus too much on the future? Sooner or later, the MLB team has to show some progress. It's regressed in the past two years, and things look dismal for its short-term outlook.

So the question Pirate fans have is whether the suits will consolidate what they have and try to put together a competitive Pirate team, or are they going to continually recycle major leaguers for prospects? Trades for the sake of bulking up the bushes will turn PNC Park into a ghost town, and it's possible that Huntington's pick-ups will have a longer tenure in Pittsburgh than he does if things don't turn around.

The only way GW can see to reach that goal is to package some of our prospects for a player or two. It won't be next year; the system isn't that deep yet. But until Pittsburgh becomes a destination for free agents - ie, competitive - the only way to bolster the MLB roster will be through trades for proven talent, not more prospects.

-- Is JR the problem or the solution? John Russell has been a lightning rod for the team's performance, and probably unfairly. We question some of his pitching moves, as all armchair GM's will, but the truth is he's trying to juggle nine innings from a staff that's quite a few bricks shy of a load.

The only criticisms GW has so far is that he sits hot batters for completely inexplicable reasons, refuses to drop unproductive guys like Adam LaRoche and Ryan Doumit lower in the order (some of the Bucs batting woes are management inflicted, in more ways than one), and that he bunts way too often.

Hey, let McCutch steal a base or hit behind a runner; and if the pitcher's not batting, let a guy swing with no one out and a runner at second. Senior Circuit or not, we're not fans of giving away outs.

But we'll withhold judgment until he's given a team to manage. His bullpen is constantly shaken up and as consistent as quicksand; even he has to look at the scorecard to see who's in his rotation; and his everyday players haven't been introduced to a razor blade yet.

Our feeling is that if JR is in trouble, it's because the guys upstairs need a scapegoat for the MLB product they cobbled together.

We know the suits were put between a rock and a hard place when they got here. The minors were virtually a little league, and there was no pitching depth at all. They could either continue to patchwork the team or blow it up; they chose the latter. Whether its complete demolition was required or not is the question.

The biggest problem Frank Coonelly and Huntington faced wasn't the lack of an organization; it's how they totally misread the dynamics of Pittsburgh's fans. Being a two-decade joke among MLB teams, especially in a City with Super Bowl and Stanley Cup trophies to its credit, has led to a huge disconnect between the Pirate Nation and its management, especially where spending a buck is concerned.

And while many credit the new suits for their frankness, we find their statements quite disingenuous. Remember early in the season when they said being competitive in 2009 was their goal? Well, now the finish line is 2012. Will it shift again?

Would a slower approach have picked up the pace? Actually, no, it would have hindered it, if anything. But if 2012 is the target date, it would have only been delayed a season or two while the draft picks floated to the top, albeit at the cost of a wad of Bob Nutting cash. And the team on the field would have been competent. That's the trade-off.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Worm's Belly Looks Up To Me...

Hey, some people see the glass as half full; other see it as half empty. Then there's Pittsburgh, that doesn't even have a glass to look at.

The Bucs were pounded again today, 17-2, by the Cubbies. The Phils' had just swept a three-game series from the Cubs, and Chicago had lost seven of the last eight, the last five in a row. They had the Pirates right where they wanted them.

Even by Pirate standards, the pitching was horrendous. Charlie Morton gave up 10 runs in an inning - he started the second, but never got an out, allowing six straight runners to get aboard. When JR sent him to the showers, he had given up seven hits, including a homer, two triples and a double, with three walks.

Not that it made much difference, but Chris Bootcheck let the next three guys reach base on his way to giving up seven runs in 2-1/3 innings. Steve Jackson tossed 4-2/3 frames of shutout ball after that, earning the eternal thanks of the bullpen. We can only assume by that time, the Chicago hitters were worn out.

We could talk about the fielding (both triples were misplayed balls), but why pile on? Suffice to say that Pittsburgh has the look of a AAA team right about now, and not a particularly good one.

If JR can prevent the current train wreck of a squad from losing 100+ games, he deserves a medal. Going 17-30 over the final six weeks isn't much of a challenge for most teams, but it may prove to be Mt. Everest for the Baby Buccos.

We can understand the hitting woes, because too many players are pups.

Here's the career at-bats for the thirteen guys on the roster: Ramon Vazquez (1,891); Ryan Doumit (1,212); Ronny Cedeno (1,138); Lastings Milledge (946); Andy LaRoche (695); Brandon Moss (539); Delwyn Young (386); Jeff Salazar (296); Andrew McCutchen (251); Steve Pearce (246); Garrett Jones (223); Jason Jaramillo (163); and Luis Cruz (76).

The pitching isn't much more mature, though a couple of the guys have been around the block and overall, the staff should be better. Their career games, starts, and innings:

Matt Capps (256 G, 255.2 IP); Joel Hanrahan (132 G, 11 GS, 183 IP); Zach Duke (122 G, 121 GS, 751 IP); Paul Maholm (120 G, 120 GS, 749.1 IP); Chris Bootcheck (79 G, 3 GS, 134.1 IP); Evan Meek (68 G, 60 IP); Jesse Chavez (67 G, 63.2 IP); Ross Ohlendorf (59 G, 28 GS, 205 IP); Jeff Karstens (55 G, 28 GS, 200.2 IP); Kevin Hart (39 G, 6 GS, 77.2 IP); Jose Ascanio (35 G, 39.2 IP); Charlie Morton (26 G, 25 GS, 124.1 IP); Steve Jackson (21 G, 23 IP); and Donnie Veal (11 G, 10 IP).

The Pirates have four players on the roster that will end 2009 with 1,000+ career at-bats, and four pitchers with 200+ innings of work in the bigs. There's a lot of learning going on, and no one left on the 25-man to teach them. And that's the downside of blowing up a team. The only constant is inconsistency.

-- Ryan Doumit sat out for the second day in a row. His right wrist, the one that was cut earlier in the season, is sore after taking a foul ball on Wednesday. X-rays came back negative, and his status is day to day. It's supposed to be unrelated to the previous injury, but...

-- Phil Dumatrait will work out of the bullpen at Indy to finish off his rehab. He had been starting, but is slotted to join the pen when he returns to Pittsburgh. He has to be recalled to the team by August 19th.

-- Donnie Veal will begin his rehab assignment next week. The Pirates plan to send him to the Arizona Fall League after the season to pitch as a starter.

-- Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet this week is kind of a mixed bag for the Bucs. Tony Sanchez and Pedro Alvarez are ranked one-two on the "Hot Sheet" portion; Brad Lincoln and Daniel Moskos are ranked one-two in the "Not So Hot Sheet."

-- According to Baseball America's Jim Callis, the Pirates signed RHP Jeffrey Inman, the club's 12th-round selection from Stanford for $425K, well over slot value.

His report is that he throws a heater in the 90-93 range with run, and has a plus curve. The downside is he stays up in the zone and needs a third pitch. The Pirates have now signed 23 of their 51 selections from this year's draft, including each of their first 14 selections.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 1: Pittsburgh's Drop-Deadline

Let's see...the Pirates got three hits, the Rockies got ten runs. Even for another August loss, this 10-1 groaner was ugly.

Paul Maholm gave up seven of the runs, two in the first frame, in 6-1/3 innings of work. He surrendered eleven hits, two that went yard and four more that were doubles. Matt Capps gave up three more in the final inning.

The fielding fit right in with the pitching and hitting. Andy LaRoche's wild throw in the sixth led to one Rox run.

The next inning, Jason Jaramillo tried to pick off a runner at first. Steve Pearce didn't get to the bag, and the throw went into right field. Not that it made much difference. It was closer to the first base coach than the sack. The error scored a run, and Maholm gave up a homer four pitches later. It took him 118 pitches to get 19 outs.

Capps faced six batters in the eighth; four got knocks, three of them doubles. Colorado ended up with 15 hits, eight for extra bases. Hey, it could have been worse. At least the Pirates didn't walk anyone.

Maholm, who was touted to be ready for a breakout season after a strong April start, is now 6-7 with a 4.93 ERA. He's 0-3 in his last six starts and has allowed at least four runs in each of his past five starts. Today was his second consecutive two-homer game.

Capps, the closer, has a 6.57 ERA, and has surrendered five runs in his last two outings, covering 2/3 of an inning, since striking out four D-Backs on August 6th.

The Bucs are 2-10 this month. That 7-21 finish in August of 2008 is looking better and better. The Pirates sure know how to put the dead in post-deadline play; maybe they should lobby for a four-month season.

Now Pittsburgh is off to meet the Cubbies; has the pitching matchups listed here. Saturday afternoon's game features Zach Duke going against Tom Gorzelanny, a pair of lefties joined at the hip in the Pirate system until last month.

-- Tim Dierkes has a list of the worst closers in baseball for Roto Authority. Lotta Matt Capps in the stats.

-- Adam Guttridge of The Hardball Times applies some science to the Freddy Sanchez - Tim Alderson deal, and he likes how the Pirates came out.

-- Chuck Finder of the Post Gazette reports that the Pirates have signed 10th-round pick Joey Schoenfeld for $195,000, according to Baseball America.

Schoenfeld is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound prep catcher from Garden Grove, California, and a Tony Gwynn recruit at San Diego State University. Scouts consider him an upside prospect who could move to a corner infield or outfield position.

-- Jason Stark of ESPN writes that
"Adam LaRoche might be more than a two-month rental in Atlanta after all. By trading Casey Kotchman, whom they could have controlled beyond this year, the Braves left themselves without a first baseman - at least until phenom Freddie Freeman arrives, probably in 2011. So don't be surprised to see them attempt to bring back LaRoche next year on a short-term deal."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

They're Baaaack...

The Pirate one-game winning streak is but a distant memory tonight, as Colorado brought them back to reality with a 8-0 drubbing at Coors Field.

Ubaldo Jimenez won his tenth game, putting more Pirates on base by himself than the Pirates did on their own. He walked four and hit one; the Bucs could only bang three singles off him.

Jimenez touched 99 MPH on his heater, regularly hitting 96-97, and had a nasty split. The Pirates didn't hit a ball squarely all night as he overpowered the young lineup.

They had one shot at making it a game in the fifth, behind 3-0 at that point and loading the bases with two outs. But Andrew McCutchen softly rolled out to short on the first pitch, and that was the game.

Kevin Hart showed a good fastball, and his curve had some bite. But his slider wasn't sharp, and the second batter, Carlos Gonzalez, took one knee high and on the outside part of plate and lined it over the left field fence, giving the Rox a lead they'd never relinquish.

Jeff Karstens had another rough outing, giving up three runs in two innings of work. And Lastings Milledge showed that he still has a way to go before he's a finished product in the outfield.

He played a couple of angles poorly in Coors spacious pasture, turning one-base hits into extra-base knocks, and his slow release in getting a ball back into the infield allowed a Rockie to turn a single into a hustle double.

In that way, he represents the whole team; a work in progress. And it will continue. There's sure to be a couple of changes next year, and surely wholesale movement further down the road.

So settle in. It's gonna be more of the same for another season or two.

Players on the Move, Baby Bucs

-- Evan Meek suffered a left oblique strain last night and was placed on the 15-day DL; he's expected to miss at least a month. The Pirates brought back human yo-yo Steven Jackson from AAA Indianapolis to replace him. He's 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in 20 games during two previous stints with the Pirates.

-- LHP Phil Dumatrait made his fifth rehab start on Tuesday. He allowed just one earned run in his six innings of work for Indy. The Pirates can give him one more outing or bring him up now; they're still undecided.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette reports a couple of Bucco moves. RHP Bryan Morris has been taken off suspension for yapping at an ump and will pitch tonight.

The Pirates also claimed 25 year-old AAA reliever John Meloan off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. The RHP had a 5.52 ERA in 25 appearances with Columbus, Cleveland's AAA squad, and a 3.38 ERA in 10 appearances with Durham of the Rays for an overall 5.02 ERA, with no decisions this season.

Meloan is a converted starter, and he features a low-90s four seam fastball that he can cut around 90 mph and has a big breaking low 80s curveball. He was a fifth round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2005, and was a top ten prospect in their organization during the 2007-08 seasons.

He went on the 40-man roster when Tyler Yates was placed on the 60-day DL, but Dumatrait is due back soon. The 40-man doesn't have any openings, so someone is going to have to go.

-- Indy RHP Eric Hacker has been named the International League's Pitcher of the Week for August 3-9. The 26-year-old went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA (3 ER in 13.0 IP) and 14 strikeouts in two starts during the stretch.

Hacker has gone 5-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 15 starts with Indy, giving him a combined 5-4 record with a 3.95 ERA in 18 IL games between the Pirate and Yankees top farm clubs.

-- Jose Tabata continues to be successful since joining Indy. The 20-year old has collected at least one hit in eight of his nine games, including five multi-hit performances, and is batting .385 with a homer.

-- In a dozen games with Indy, DH Jeff Clement has a line of .283/6/9.

-- Brian Bixler went 1-for-4 with an RBI double for Indy last night and has now reached base in 21 consecutive contests, including his current team best 13-game hitting streak.

During his current run, Bixler is batting .357 (31-for-88) with 17 runs, four triples, six home runs, 17 RBI and two stolen bases. BB is batting .359 (28-for-78) with 32 RBI when runners are in scoring position, both team highs over that period.

-- Over his last 11 games, Indy 3B Neil Walker has exploded offensively as the 2008 Indians MVP has batted .405 (17-for-42) with seven runs, five doubles, three home runs, 17 RBI and a stolen base.

-- At Altoona, Pedro Alvarez has a .331/8/26 line in 41 games. The numero uno has 42 strikeouts and drawn 19 walks in 151 at-bats.

-- Jim Callas of Baseball America likes the Pirates 2009 draft.
"Kudos to the Pirates. Small-revenue clubs can't compete with big-revenue teams for big league free agents, so they have to build aggressively through the draft, and that's exactly what Pittsburgh has done"


Thank you, Colorado Rockies. Nine walks, three errors, and a couple of misadventures in the field, mixed in with eleven Bucco hits, propelled Pittsburgh to a 7-3 victory tonight, breaking the Pirates' eight-game losing skein (and a seven game Coors Field losing streak).

Hey, the Pittsburgh nine didn't really do anything a lot different than they had during the past few days. They stranded a dozen runners, including the leadoff hitter at second twice and a runner on third with no outs once.

The starting pitcher went six innings again. But this time, JR pulled the plug pronto on the weak link from the bullpen - tonight it was Jose Ascanio - and the rest of the gang got through without allowing any further damage.

Between the sixth and seventh innings, Ross Ohlendorf and Ascanio ran up 2-0 or 3-0 counts on nine straight batters, but somehow got away with yielding just two runs. JR made the move of the game when he yanked Ascanio after three hitters for Jesse Chavez.

Chavez, Evan Meek - who faced one batter and left the game with what looked liked an oblique or rib cage injury - and Joel Hanrahan closed the door on the Rox over the last three innings.

It was enough for Ollie to become the first Pirate 10-game winner since 2007, even if he was a one trick pony tonight, throwing a two and four seam fastball until it finally caught up to him in the sixth inning.

And he was bringing the heat; his two-seamer was 91-92 MPH and his four-seamer hit 94-95 all night. But he'll have to come up with a curve or change-up he can drop into the strike zone if he wants to get past a lineup more than once or twice.

The Pirates' running game, with a couple of glaring exceptions, was as aggressive tonight as it's been all year. Ryan Doumit took a couple of chances that turned into a run, and the Bucs stole five bases; Andrew McCutchen had three (guess he took the quiz before the game, hehe).

But twice, with runners on third and no one out, Garrett Jones and Lastings Milledge stayed anchored on slow rollers that should have easily scored them. Jones eventually came in; Milledge was stranded.

We assume they were under orders to make sure the ball got through the infield instead of going on contact, the safe bet with no outs and a halfway-in infield. But if allowed to read the play, they would have both touched the plate, probably without throws. Of course, the hitters could have made it easy by lofting a fly to right, too.

But hey - mistakes make a lot more difference when you lose; they're just learning experiences when you win.

And some of the work is paying off. Milledge looks like he's becoming more comfortable in left, and made a possible game-saving grab at the fence, leaping to pull back a ball that was destined for the top of the wall, if not over it. He saved at least a run, maybe two, at a point when the game's momentum could have shifted quickly.

Ryan Doumit was strong catching, blocking everything and framing pitches beautifully. It helped that everyone was throwing fastballs and sliders tonight; there were very few of the soft off speed pitches he struggles with for him to handle.

Delwyn Young is making GW eat crow. Some Perry Hill pixie dust and an above and beyond the call of duty work ethic before games is transforming him into a competent second baseman, something we never thought we'd see, at least this quickly. Give them both props.

Garrett Jones will be a constant in the lineup; Steve Pearce and Brandon Moss will rotate until September, mostly because there are no alternatives right now.

Moss has lost his stroke again, and Pearce refuses to adjust to the soft-and-away stuff he's seeing, insisting on pulling everything instead of driving pitches on the outside half of the plate into center field. The pitchers have the book on him; he should read it, too.

Maybe he thinks the longball is his ticket to the bigs, but it's not working so far. His fielding, though, has been excellent; he has quite a bit more range than the steady but plodding Adam LaRoche.

Anyway, we'd be surprised if we didn't see Jose Tabata in the outfield come September with Jones a fixture at first. The pieces may be starting to fall together.

It'll be an interesting month. The Pirates are said to be looking at a six man rotation came call-ups. Ascanio is one name that's been mentioned as possibly being added to the staff; under the radar Dan McCutchen may be another guy that gets a shot; Eric Hacker is a darkhorse candidate.

McCutchen isn't on the 40-man roster. They could switch Tyler Yates, who is out after surgery, from the 15 day DL to the 60 day to clear some room, but his spot is probably being held for Phil Dumatrait. So where that leaves McCutchen in the game of musical chairs is yet to be seen. We'll find out in 2-1/2 weeks.

The next generation hasn't arrived in Pittsburgh by a long shot yet, but arriving it is.