Friday, April 30, 2010

Will the Real Pirates Please Stand Up?

Apparently pitching in a 40 MPH windstorm at Dodger Stadium is easier than it looks. The Pirates and Dodgers collected a mere nine hits last night, and the Bucs rode a first inning, two-run, two-out triple by Garrett Jones to a 2-0 victory.

Clayton Kenshaw walked Lastings Milledge and Andy LaRoche to open the game; they would both score on Jone's hit that scooted under Matt Kemp's glove and rolled to the wall.

After that, well, not much of anything. The LA nine had a couple or three chances, but couldn't come up with the clutch hit. Brian Burres lasted 5-1/3 frames and got the win. He was backed by hitless work from relievers Jack Taschner and Evan Meek, who got the save.

Nice move by JR to bring on Meek instead of Octavio Dotel. Dotel was just keeping somebody's seat warm, and it's time to find out if it's Meek's or not.

We doubt that this early in the season it will become a habit, though. Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, and Joel Hanrahan had the day off after being workhorses in the Milwaukee series.

Pittsburgh is 10-12 now, after three wins in a row following the week of infamy. Who knew the answer was going to be Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres? Charlie Morton is going tonight; if he gets a win, then GW knows the team has turned the corner.

-- JR the mad scientist is at it again. He batted Lastings Milledge leadoff and replaced Aki Iwamura with Bobby Crosby; he wanted to go more righty against Clayton Kershaw. It worked pretty well in the first inning.

-- Rough year for RHP Kevin Hart. Now he's on the minor league DL for right bicep tendinitis. He'll have more tests, but it's not thought to be serious.

-- Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors takes a quick look at Pittsburgh's 2011 contract situation. One guy has an option, three become free agents, and eleven are arbitration-eligible.

-- The Pirates signed C James Skelton in what looks like an organizational depth move. Skelton was claimed from the Tigers in the 2008 Rule 5 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He didn't make the roster, but Arizona worked out a trade for him, ala Evan Meek.

They released him after the 2009 season, when he was picked up by Philly, and then released again. Good stick, good D, versatile player, no power.

-- Did you know Pitt baseball was nationally ranked and a Big East contender this season? Pitt-U Conn is here this weekend with first place on the line. Paul Zeise of the Post Gazette has the story.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

That Outfield Shift

Yah, we've all seen it...the little pop up the line that Lastings Milledge can't quite get to because he's stationed in the Notch, playing the Vasho shift. It always seems to lead to a three-run inning, too, and is universally despised by the Pirate faithful.

But ya know what? Matt Bandi of the Pittsburgh Lumber Company ran a scatter chart of the balls hit at PNC in 2008-09 a couple of weeks ago, and makes a sound argument that there is some rhyme and reason to the scheme.

OK, we'll agree with Matt that the balls for some reason at PNC gravitate towards the gap rather than straightaway left field, probably because the Pirate staff works the outside of the plate so much. But GW still has some problems with the alignment.

First off, it's used way too often. Batters have tendencies; some actually pull the ball, no matter where the hurler puts it. Pitchers, at least good ones, move the ball around and change speeds; that has a big influence on where the ball will end up.

Watch the infielders - if the upcoming pitch is soft or targeted inside, they'll move toward the hole. If it's hard or called away from the hitter, they'll slide toward the middle.

Hey, even parks have tendencies. Matt mentions one park where the balls don't follow that pattern; we'd guess it's not alone, depending on home rosters; where do the pitchers work and are the batters spray guys or pull hitters?

What does ol' GW want? First, he suspects that the opposition batting reports aren't very good; JR and Varsho may be unorthodox, but they're not suicidal. So we'd like to see adjustments made to the batter's tenedencies, at home and especially on the road, based on solid scouting.

We'd also very much like to see the pitchers free to go inside to righties. The Varsho alignment presupposes pitching to the outside of the plate; coming inside would defeat the purpose.

We're not sure what Joe Kerrigan thinks of the whole thing, but we're betting that he's not about to give up half the dish to make Gary Varsho look smart. Just that dynamic helps compromise the shift during the course of an at-bat.

And it's not that hard to play to the pitch; high school outfielders adjust their position based on where the infielders set up.

Our take? It's an innovative response to a current PNC phenomena, but the alignment needs to be much more finely tuned and discriminating in its use to be truly effective.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dewey Wins!

Hey, can't ask for a better start. Aki Iwamura walked, then Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen went deep. The 3-0 lead lasted for, oh, about ten minutes, when Paul Maholm walked Ricky Weeks, served up a gopher ball to Carlos Gomez, and had a Ryan Braun double end up a small ball run.

But after that, it evolved into a ball game. The Pirate bats, as they are wont to do, went into a deep slumber, and the Brew Crew lumber, with the exception of one swing, joined them in la-la land.

Maholm went seven innings, giving up Cory Hart's homer in the fourth and otherwise limiting the damage. Chris Narveson gave Milwaukee five innings, and three other relievers stymied the Bucs until the ninth.

Ahead 4-3, Hell's Bell's blasted over the PA and Trevor Hoffman. JR almost tripped over himself sending up pinch hitter Ryan Doumit, who clobbered a grand slam off Hoffman just a few hours earlier. Hoffman learned his lesson and threw soft stuff; Dewey stuck out an arm and nine-ironed another homer.

Then came some see-sawing. McCutchen hit his second tater in the tenth, but Octavio Dotel gave it back when Casey McGehee singled in the tie-maker. The next three innings were owned by the pitchers, until the thirteenth.

A single brought Jim Edmonds charging home from second, but Doumit, now catching, made amends for his blown tag of Monday. He blocked the plate like it was Fort Knox, and Lasting's Milledge gunned the throw to cut down Edmonds.

That would be the Brew Crew's last hurrah. Garrett Jones had the game-winner, a two-out RBI double off Manny Parra in the 14th to score Iwamura, who had beat out an infield single to lead off the inning. D.J. Carrasco then finished out his third scoreless inning of relief to put it away for his first Bucco W.

-- Brian Burres got the nod to pitch tomorrow against the Dodgers; Jeff Karstens was confirmed to finish the series Sunday.

-- Andy LaRoche and Ryan Church both were ejected from the game by plate umpire D.J. Reyburn for disputing called strikeouts; Aki Iwamura had the good sense to just look heavenwards when he was rung up on a wormburner. Might help explain the nineteen! punchouts recorded by the Brewer staff.

-- For the sixth straight appearance, Octavio Dotel allowed a run. Today probably wasn't his fault. Iwamura couldn't come up with a likely DP grounder that instead bounced into center, allowing the run to score.

-- JR must not have liked yesterday's lineup. He has Aki Iwamura batting leadoff, Andrew McCutchen hitting third, Lastings Milledge fifth and Jeff Clement sixth. Jason Jaramillo is hitting seventh, giving last night's hero, Ryan Doumit, a blow.

-- Former Braves outfielder Brandon Jones, who the Pirates claimed earlier this year and then released during one of the recent pitching purges, passed through waivers and was reassigned to Indy.

-- Daniel Moskos picked up his fourth save in four opportunities for Altoona last night. The lefty has allowed just one run and six hits in 9-1/3 innings so far this season in his first shot at working exclusively out of the bullpen.

-- William West, staff writer for the Carnegie Signal-Item, has a piece on Jimmy Leyland's son Patrick, a catcher from Bishop Canevin who's committed to Maryland to play ball.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dewey Does It

Thing looked bleak again for the Mudville nine. After an unexpectedly sharp effort by throw-in starter Jeff Karstens, the Pirates took a 2-2 game into the bottom of the eighth.

JR brought in Javier Lopez to get the golden lefty-on-lefty match-up against Prince Fielder, who foiled the strategy by launching a bomb over the Brewer dugout and a 3-2 Brew Crew lead going into the last inning.

Hell's Bell's blared over the speakers, and Trever Hoffman and his 594 saves sauntered onto the mound. Ronny Cedeno greeted him with a blast into the left field stands, and the nightmare at Miller Field was moments from ending.

Hoffman K'ed Andrew McCutchen, but an Andy LaRoche single, a smoked double by Lastings Milledge, and an intentional walk to Garrett Jones set the stage for Ryan Doumit. Dewey crushed a heater that was up and on the outside part of the plate, and the 22 game losing streak came to an end by a 7-3 count. That 595th save will have to wait for another day.

There were heroes galore. Karstens went 6-1/3 innings, giving up two runs on six hits, throwing 101 pitches after making just one start in Indy. Joel Hanrahan cleaned up a jam in the seventh, and Brendan Donnelly did the same in the eighth. DJ Carrasco closed out the game with a clean ninth frame.

Beside LaRoche's four hits (he's hitting .400), Doumit had three, with a double and homer. Jeff Clement had three hits, too, also collecting a two and four bagger. Milledge had two hits, and his ninth inning double set the table for Doumit.

The only bad sign was another dismal day at the dish with runners on; the Pirates were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, with Doumit's grand slam the only base-clearing knock.

But some of that was due to the Brewers, who played the field much more solidly than generally given credit for. Ryan Braun ran down a liner slicing away from him cracked by Aki Iwamura, and Jim Edmonds flagged down a Jones drive with an over-the-shoulder grab, both with two runners aboard.

Tomorrow is the get-away game, and Paul Maholm will climb the hill. We'll see how the Pirates play now that Karstens and Doumit knocked that 800-pound gorilla off the team's back and the players can breath again.

-- LaRoche has been unconscious stroking the ball lately. We think some of it has to do with him batting in the two hole, where he seems to be more patient at the dish. He had some success in that spot late last season; it's a good move by JR and one we hope he sticks with for awhile.

Even with the pitcher batting eighth, the order has been producing some hits; if it gets a some production from the Jones-Doumit-Clement trio, it's fairly solid.

-- One of the Brians, Burres or Bass, will probably get the start Thursday. Karstens, after tonight's performance, will likely pick up another start on Sunday.

-- Jeff Karstens was the eighth different pitcher to start for the Pirates so far this season. You have to go back to 1953 for the last time the Pirates used eight different starters during the first 20 games of the season.

-- The Pirates snapped a seven game losing streak with tonight's win, a spell that saw them outscored by a gruesome 72-12 margin.

Bumbling, Stumbling, Crumbling

Well, we wish we had something other than the same ol', same ol' to bring you. But Zach Duke got lathered again, and the Bucs went down in flames to their nemesis, the Milwaukee Brewers (or is it the reincarnation of the 1927 Yankees?), by a 17-3 score.

Duke had little command, worked behind in the count, and was up in the zone. Four innings later he was gone, having given up eight runs on nine hits, four walks, and a beaning of Prince Fielder, which we're sure will be repaid in kind when the Pirates least expect it.

Six of the runs were scored on two-out hits by the catcher Gregg Zaun and pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Zaun was 0-for-16 against lefties; Duke walked him once and then served him a bases clearing double, and Gallardo, well, is the pitcher.

In the eighth, Octavio Dotel gave up four runs in 1/3 inning to drive his ERA to 12.27, and Brendan Donnelly gave up a grand salami in his 2/3's of a frame.

The Pirates banged out eight hits, drew four walks, and were recipients of three Brew Crew boots, but a 1-for-11 RISP showing doomed any early effort to make the game interesting.

These guys are in serious disarray right now and know it; you can see it in the way they carry themselves on the field and in the dugout. Maybe a game where the pitchers actually keep them hanging around for a few innings will perk their spirits up.

And there's no staff relief for a while; Ross Ohlendorf is still probably three starts away, although the estimated arrivals of Brad Lincoln and Kevin Hart may be fast tracked, and soon.

We wonder how hot the management seats are becoming. Neal Huntington can't be in the most secure of positions, and when the GM is under pressure, it doesn't bode well for the coaching staff. We'll see how long it takes before that dynamic comes into play.

-- The beat guys reports that Jeff Karstens was called up to pitch tomorrow's game, and John Raynor, the Rule 5 outfielder, was DFA'ed. That's the second position player DFA'ed for pitching just eighteen games into the season. You'd think somebody in management would notice that there are already players on the 40-man roster eligible to come up instead of just dropping organizational depth.

But hey, as long as Indy's competitive, we guess it's OK.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Down Without a Fight

OK, let's go over the lowlights of the Pirates 10-3 slink-away defeat this afternoon.

Charlie Morton gave up five runs in three innings. The Astros stole six bases off the Bucs. The Pirates failed to move over runners on first and second with no outs, and later failed to bunt them over, losing them a run, maybe two. They didn't turn a sure inning-ending DP, costing them a pair of runs.

Michael Bourn threw out a pair of Pirate baserunners, one a forceout at second on a ball hit to center and another when he caught a runner too far off first after running down a shallow fly. And hey, the umps even piled on; a couple of out calls could have easily gone the other way, and probably should have...but when it rains, it pours.

And this was in the first six innings.

They got fourteen hits - thirteen singles and a double, and stranded nine. Brian Burres and Brian Bass where called up from Indy, and one was supposed to start Tuesday. Instead, they both were used in relief today.

Their call-ups necessitated Daniel McCutchen's demotion to Indy and the DFA'ing of Brandan Jones, leaving the Pirates with three outfielders in AAA with yesterday's trade of Jonathan Van Every.

Jeff Karstens, who has a 1-2 record and 7.31 ERA at Indy, is probably next in line, although both Brad Lincoln and Donnie Veal are on the 40-man roster and wouldn't require any more shuffling.

The suits don't think it's their time yet, but geez, how much worse could they be? And how did the brass manage to screw up the timing of Kevin Hart's start to take him out of the running? This current mess has everyone's fingerprints on it.

The good news? Well, Andy LaRoche has gone 6-for-8 since returning from his back injury, raising his average to .343. And Chris Jakubauskas was released form the hospital with a concussion and bruises, but no fractures. He'll go on the 15-day DL.

There's really not much to add, except that GW has followed Pirate baseball for at least fifty years (yah, GW is one old goat!), and can't ever remember so much bedlam at the start of a season.

And so now it's off to Milwaukee, and Miller Park's chamber of horrors. At least two of the Buc pitchers will be Zach Duke and Paul Maholm; the Tuesday guy will be a grab-bag.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Injury to Insult

Hey, we won't blame the pitching for tonight's 5-2 loss to the Stro's. Poor Chris Jakubauskas was working with two out in the first when Lance Berman lined a shot that appeared to catch Jaku behind the ear.

He was downed for the count, and is under observation in a Houston hospital now. We pray he recovers well and quickly. The Pirate pitching staff, though, may not recover for awhile.

Jaku was brought up because of an overworked and already injury-bitten pitching corp needed some innings; instead, they are now completely discombobulated.

DJ Carrasco came in cold, and as to be expected, was smacked around. Still, he got into the fourth, and it was 3-1 at that point. For DJ, it was his eighth outing, and he already has more innings under his belt than anyone but Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.

The rest of the Astro damage was done against Jack Taschner, who was making his ninth appearance and gave up a two run homer to Pedro Feliz. They even brought in Daniel McCutchen to work an inning.

It may have been his day to work between starts; then again, with the way he's been going, the suits may be looking to add him to the bullpen. There have been those who believe that's where he always belonged, and the way the teams have hit him the second time around in the order may add some credence to that assumption. We'll see.

But it was a game that the Pirate attack needed to pick up the pitchers. Instead, they got just seven hits - six singles and a Jason Jaramillo solo homer - struck out ten times, and placed an almost impossible burden on the relief corps that's seen more overtime than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team is gonna have to make a move with the pitching. If McCutchen doesn't go Tuesday, it will likely be Brian Burres again. They don't seem in a rush to bring up Brad Lincoln or Donnie Veal, and Kevin Hart worked yesterday. Ohlie better get well soon.

The Pirates have now dropped five in a row, and to division rivals. The position players are all back; they have to help prop up the staff until it regains full strength.

Saturday Astro-bits

-- Andrew McCutchen was moved to third in the batting order today, a counter-intuitive shakeup by JR considering that McClutch has one RBI in 16 games and looks to be a natural lead-off hitter. Maybe the change will get his 2009 clutch mojo back. He's 0-for-14 so far with runners in scoring position after hitting .324 with RISP in 2009.

-- Andy LaRoche joins Bobby Crosby on the all-clear to play list, but it looks like Ross Ohlendorf will be on the DL longer than his hoped-for return date of April 27th.

-- Wandy Rodriguez, tonight's Astro starter, hasn't seen a run scored behind him in three starts so far this year, so he's probably happy to see a Pittsburgh team that's yielded the most runs in MLB, 115. He'll find out how his karma rates tonight.

-- Yesterday's game kept Roy Oswalt's streak alive - he's gone six-plus innings in all 26 of his career starts against the Pirates. It kept another streak going, too - the Pirates are 7-1 when they score at least four runs, and 0-8 when they don't.

-- Yesterday, the Pirates optioned shortstop Argenis Diaz back to Indy recalled RHP Chris Jakubauskas, tonight's starter. Jaku will be the Bucs' seventh starter in seventeen games, the most that early since 2001. He started eight games for Seattle last year.

-- Tony Sanchez made Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet this week. They wrote
"When the Pirates drafted catcher Tony Sanchez fourth overall in 2009, it was thought that he'd be a very solid catcher defensively with an OK bat. Right now he's having trouble throwing out baserunners, but he's also hitting as well as anyone in the Florida State League. Sanchez has been DHing some lately because of a sore shoulder, but it hasn't affected his swing. He hit .389/.727/.833 (7-for-18) with two home runs and two doubles this week."
He's back to catching now, and his shoulder is fine.

-- The Bucs traded Indy CF Jonathan Van Every to the Boston Red Sox, the team they signed him away from in January, for a PTBNL. He hit .310/2/4 for the Tribe, and was added to the Sox' MLB roster as a reserve OF'er, a position he held for them last season.

Van Every was 30, and brought in as a depth chart move. He shared time in center with Jose Tabata, who should now become the Indians' full-time CF'er. No word on whether Boston would like Brandon Moss back, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Give Away Day

It's customary for the home team to sponsor give-away days, with bobbleheads and the such. But tonight, Pittsburgh provided the honors, giving away outs and runs that eventually led to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Astros.

In the third inning, pitcher Roy Oswald bled an infield single. With two away, Jeff Keppinger smoked a one hopper to Delwyn Young at third; it went right through his five hole to score Oswald. Bobby Crosby, who knows how to play the hot corner, was on the bench because JR values lefties against Oswald more than fielders behind Paul Maholm.

The sixth was even more frustrating. Michael Bourn singled off Maholm's glove; Aki Iwamura had a play if the ball got past the pitcher cleanly. Keppinger bunted, and Young barehanded the ball and airmailed it into the seats.

Maholm came back to whiff Lance Berkman for the first out. Carlos Lee fisted a ball just inside the left field line, and a sliding Ryan Church couldn't come up with it, letting a pair of runs in. Why Church and not Lastings Milledge, who may have had the wheels to run the ball down? Once again, because of JR's leftie-righty thing.

Hunter Pence went down for the second out, and then Pedro Feliz got the eventual game winner when his fly dropped inside the right field line, eluding a diving Garrett Jones. That's four runs that could have been zero if there was a lefty pitching for Houston.

The Bucs made some noise in the seventh, when Jones hammered a two-run shot and Jeff Clement, who pounded the ball all night, added an opposite field solo dinger. But the Bucs had just four hits all night, and went down quietly over the last two innings.

We understand JR's predicament; he needs some offense badly. But it's not a little league team. You can't be putting players all over the field in positions that are totally unfamiliar to them. We've never seen Church in anywhere but right because of his speed, and Young tries, but he handles third like a guy that's played there maybe six times in his life. It sure ain't second.

The difference in the game wasn't the pitching; Oswald was hit harder than Maholm. But his fielders made the plays they should have, and in Bourn's case, made three or four web gem grabs, flat outrunning Pirate shots and leaping to take away a possible Ronny Cedeno homer. And that's why Houston won; they caught the ball. Guess that learning to win curve is a little steeper than we thought.

-- It looks like Chris Jakubauskas will go tomorrow. Kevin Hart pitched for Indy, so the list is down to one now.

It looks like

An Early Report Card

Right now, the Pirates aren't all about winning and losing (and a good thing, too). The players are auditioning for future spots, plain and simple.

Take away Andrew McCutchen, and no one currently on the squad is guaranteed to be starting two years from now. And early on in the season, a couple of guys are trying to take advantage of the situation.

Lastings Milledge has shed his immaturity label, and is starting to show flashes of what he can do given the opportunity. He's become a fairly dependable fielder with an accurate arm and a greatly improved baserunner; the question is whether his bat can play in the outfield.

He's shown a little gap power, but so far this year he's been hitting a lot of ground balls and not drawing many walks. His on-base percentage is under .300 and his OPS is barely over .600.

Milledge has shown bursts of talent, generally hits the ball hard, and provides the team with a Nymo-like jolt of energy. But how he swings the stick during the long grind of the summer will determine his place on the team down the road.

Ronny Cedeno, who GW admittedly boo-hooed during the spring, came on towards the end of camp and is continuing to play above expectations (ours, anyway). He's batting about what his ZiPS projections predict, and that's fine for a eight/nine hitter. His bigger concern, his glove, has become an asset.

He's ranked second among shortstops now, behind Stephen Drew, with a UZR of 1.6 and an UZR/150 of 23.5; his lifetime averages in those categories are -3.8 and -2.2. So Jack Wilson he ain't, but as a placeholder for the Brian Friday, Jordy Mercer, or Chase d'Arnaud era, he seems OK so far.

Garrett Jones, despite his .220 average, is showing greatly improved discipline - he's walked 14 times and struck out 8, and that's while being fed a steady diet of curves and change-ups - and has a .385 OBP, which is good even for a leadoff hitter.

It does show respect from the opposing pitchers. But now that he's beginning to recognize pitches, the trick is to do something with them. The Pirates badly need him to provide some muscle instead of being nibbled at and pitched around.

Last year's assault on the ball was unsustainable, and he still has trouble with lefties. He's hitting .231 against them this year, and would seem to be the ideal platoon candidate at first with Steve Pearce, if he ever escapes Indy.

Yah, yah, we know Jones is barely hitting above the Mendoza line against righties this campaign, but he's a lifetime .299 hitter against them.

The rest? Well, the bench guys are doing OK, although Delwyn Young's .233 average suggests he's being overused. Jeff Clement? Probably rushed to the big team, although he looks like his bat is coming around.

Aki Iwamura? He does have a pedigree, but so far he isn't hitting or fielding; it may well be that his knee is in worse shape than the suits have let on. Ryan Doumit and Andy LaRoche? Both are hitting .222.

The fact is that the Pirates have put together an at least viable start to the order, but no middle of the lineup presence. And except for Pedro Alvarez, there are no big boppers on the horizon; somebody now on the roster has step up.

We won't even get into the pitching, except to say the starters are too young as a group. GW agrees with Will Pellas that Joe Kerrigan and Ray Searage have to get the groups' act together or have their feet held to the fire, like Jeff Andrews' were.

One bright spot - judging by the play of Cedeno and Clement in the field, Carlos Garcia has proven to be a capable replacement for the virtually sainted Perry Hill.

Hey, there's 90% of the season yet to go, and that's a lot of time and games for the guys to get untracked. But if this current group of players want to be part of the Bucco future, both they and management better pick up the pace, or risk another meltdown like the final ten weeks of 2009 and yes, yet another roster shakeout.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pellas On The Pirates: Time For Russell and Kerrigan To Walk The Plank

I'll get right to it. It's time to fire John Russell and Joe Kerrigan.

Yes, I'm saying it while I'm still shell-shocked from the combined 36-1 beatdown the Brewers just put on the Bucs over the past three days---in our own house, no less.

Yes, this is still very much a team in transition, one still in the process of being rebuilt from top to bottom. Yes, Milwaukee is significantly better than us at the moment---though nowhere near 35 runs over 3 days better. And yes, expectations for this team were rightly modest heading into the 2010 season.

I'll add, too, that it is a rare thing when I ever actually call for someone to lose their job, particularly in the world of sports, which is, after all, certainly a relatively frivolous undertaking in the grand scheme of things.

But this was too much. Wa-a-a-y-y too much.

It's not just that the Pirates got swept by the good-but-definitely-not-great Brewers. It's that they were annihilated. Wiped out. Terminated with extreme prejudice. Embarrassed. Humiliated. Steamrollered. Tidal-waved.

This wasn't merely 3 losses in a row in our home park. This was Genghis Khan against the village idiot. Hulk Hogan versus Urkel. Hitler against France. Heck, anyone against France. The Pirates in this series looked for all the world like a bunch of tee-ballers who took the field against a team of grown men.

This was, in short, completely and totally unacceptable. All other considerations are secondary. Period.

Nor was today an aberration. Not only has the team lost, and lost consistently, during the Russell and Kerrigan Era, it has lost at a truly historic rate against the Brewers in particular. Here's a newsflash: this Brewers team is nowhere close to the '27 Yankees. There is no excuse---none, zero---for Pittsburgh to have lost at the ridiculous clip they've lost to Milwaukee over the past 3 or 4 seasons.

John Russell and Joe Kerrigan---if not the entire current regime---have pretty much been given a mulligan since they took over the Pirates, and for the most part, rightly so. If this organization was not the worst-run in modern professional sports history before they came aboard, it was certainly in the conversation, along with such luminaries as the Los Angeles Clippers and, until recently, the St. Louis-Arizona Cardinals.

Obviously it takes time, probably a lot of time, to recover from such ineptitude, no matter how good or smart or professional the new management team might be.

But the Pirates are going backward, and they look bad doing it. Somehow they've managed a close to .500 record over the first 15 games, but their appalling run differential and bushel of blowout losses---already---makes it look very flukish that they've even done this well.

Most distressing of all has been the pitching. The starting rotation, under the tutelage of supposed guru Kerrigan, is beyond brutal. What in the world has happened that so many pitchers have nosedived straight into the ground upon their arrival in Pittsburgh?

How many hurlers under Kerrigan have become objectively better, and how many are objectively worse? What in the name of Ray Miller is going on here? And, how much of Kerrigan's reputation before he got here was due to his professional competence and how much was due to his being in the right place at the right time on a Boston staff that featured several Hall of Famers?

Neil Huntington likes to talk about how he really needs to change the culture in Pittsburgh. To that end he's rid the organization of almost all of the players who were on hand when he took over. Why should it be any different when it comes to management?

If Huntington really wants to make a statement that losing will no longer be tolerated in Pittsburgh, here's a golden opportunity. What this team did against the Brewers in this series was a disgrace. It's time to fire John Russell and Joe Kerrigan.

(GW was wondering after the historic 20-0 thumping what exactly Joe Kerrigan and Ray Searage have done to the staff - Will wonders no more.)

Same Ol'

Nothing new today - Pirate starting pitching was rocked (three homers), Pirate hitting was non-existant (four hits, 13 Ks), and Pittsburgh took it on the chin again, 7-0. All seven of the Pirates' losses this season have come by a margin of six runs or more.

Looks like it'll be a fairly continuing saga. Reminds us of 2008, when the pitching was so terrible that the entire staffs in Pittsburgh and Indy were basically dismantled.

It also makes us wonder about Pirate player evaluation skills. They reached for super-star potential with Bryan Morris, Chris Hansen, Charlie Morton, and Kevin Hart instead of opting for major-league ready arms with less upside but more consistancy.

It's early to tell (pitchers have notoriously difficult-to-predict development schedules), but it sure doesn't seem to be playing out as planned. Let's hope that it doesn't take a 2008 demo job to rebuild the pitching again.

-- Daniel McCutchen takes the mound for the get-away game with the Brew Crew, as he tries to salvage a game against Randy Wolf. It's hard to tell if he or the team needs a strong performance more; both could sure use one.

-- The Bucs made a move yesterday in response to Bobby Crosby's arm soreness and Andy LaRoche's stiff back, sending Brian Burres back to Indy and bringing up good glove, no hit shortstop Argenis Diaz. With LaRoche and Crosby out, Cedeno is the only shortstop and Delwyn Young the last man standing at third base.

Aki Iwamura is out of the hot corner mix; apparently the brass feel that moving him would create too much confusion in the infield (and they're right) even though he was an All-Star third baseman in Japan.

If LaRoche and Crosby are ready by the weekend, as expected, Diaz will likely be sent down on Saturday when the Pirates need to add a starter from Indy.

-- With two more hits in Indianapolis' game on Wednesday, Steve Pearce bumped his season average to .404. The first baseman has 12 extra-base hits in 13 games, with 2 HR and 6 RBI. As you can see by the RBI total, he's just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position; guess it affects everyone in the organization, not just the big team.

-- Speaking of player evaluations, Matt Capps has a league-leading seven saves for the Nats, although he's still a tightrope artist. Eight's his magic number - innings, hits, walks - and his ERA is 1.08.

How could the Pirates have misread his value so badly as to let him go for nothing?

-- More player evaluation? Ted Lilly is rejoining the Cubs rotation, so Carlos Zambrano is going to the pen. So Tom Gorzelanny remains a starter, bumping Zambrano. Who'd thunk it?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Well, Charlie Morton looks like a guy who has caught whatever it is that ails Kevin Hart, blessed with great stuff that turns into batting practice when a game begins. And like Hart, he may end up part of Indy's staff if he doesn't straighten up.

That would be be a hard blow for the staff to take; make no mistake that the pitching is thin and the brass is counting on Morton taking the ball every fifth day. But with a record of 0-3 and an ERA of 16.55, the Pirates can't afford to carry a guy that only gets them to the third inning, behind by a bushel of runs.

Morton's lasted only 10-1/3 innings in three starts, and yes, Ohlie's hurt, Daniel McCutchen has been ineffective, and there's not much ready in the pipeline yet. But the bullpen has gotten no rest, and the Pirates' gritty start is going to be for naught if the pitching doesn't pull its weight.

It's a mess, and there's no answer ready at Indy yet. Not one Tribe pitcher with over five innings of work has an ERA under four. But a couple of more subpar starts by Morton may find Hart or maybe Brad Lincoln in Pittsburgh sooner than they should be. We'll see Saturday, when the Pirates need an extra starter from Indy, unless they go with Brian Burres again (and he worked four innings tonight, which pretty well ruins his schedule).

Keeping with the play-it-close or get blown out mode the Bucs are stuck in, the Pirates batters took a mulligan, too. They had six hits, three by Andrew McCutchen. The only promising sign was that Jeff Clement finally singled, and drove one to the track in dead center.

Three starters are hitting .200 or less - Ryan Doumit (.200), Garrett Jones (.196), and Clement (.121).

At any rate, the Bucs bowed 9-1 tonight. But there's hope for tomorrow; Zach Duke is on the hill, facing off against Yovani Gallardo.

-- Andy LaRoche was cleared to pinch-hit tonight, and should be in the lineup tomorrow. But now Bobby Crosby's left shoulder is sore, and he's day-to-day.

-- Catcher Tony Sanchez is dealing with some shoulder soreness, which explains his recent stint at DH. Sanchez has been the designated hitter in the Marauders' last three games to rest his throwing arm.

-- Vinnie Chulk, who threw well in the spring until he was shut down with shoulder tightness, has been placed on the disabled list with right arm soreness, the same problem he had in Florida.

-- Rather than reporting to AAA as expected, Hayden Penn has been sent to the Pirates' extended spring training program in Florida. He's expected to spend about a month there before joining the Indy rotation, both to work on mechanical issues and to get some innings under his belt before being thrown back into the fire.

-- Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Times reports that the Player's Union has no problems with the Pirates' payroll, according to MLPA leader Michael Weiner, who was speaking at Penn State.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday, Monday

What does the first dozen games tell us about the Bucs? Not a lot, but enough to make it seem like the darkest days are over.

First, the players. Lastings Milledge and Garrett Jones look like they're getting it. Andrew McCutchen is looking more and more like a top of the order player. The other guys are as advertised so far, except for Jeff Clement, who is doing better in the field than at the dish, just the opposite of what the Pirate brass were hoping to get from him.

They suits aren't going to hit the panic button quite yet, but if he continues to struggle, Ryan Church will go into right and Jones will take over first.

The bench players look like they can play a little, and seem to be a bunch of character guys. It's not easy when you're looking for leadership from your pine riders, but that's the position the Pirates are in right now. Church and Bobby Crosby seem to be saying - and doing - all the right things so far.

The pitching needs to carry some of the load. It's shown some improvement, but the whole gang, with perhaps the exception of warhorses Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, along with bullpen arms Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan, have miles to go.

The rotation is young and inconsistent; the relief corp is old and inconsistent. You'd suspect that there's a trend in there someplace, but danged if we can spot it.

The fielding you see is the fielding you get. McCutchen and Andy LaRoche can pick 'em, Milledge is coming along, and Ryan Doumit is off to a decent start, though he still carries balls out of the zone. Aki Uwamura is banged up and range-challenge, Ronny Cedeno is, well, Ronny Cedeno, and the others...

Jones is a first baseman in the outfield. Clement is a catcher playing first base. Young moves to a different position every season; no wonder the poor guy never learned how to play the infield.

But what we like is that this team is the start of the future; guys now will stay or go because of the competition or their performance, not because they're worth two Single A pitchers and a bag of balls.

We think they've got enough positional players in the pipeline to have a decent team in a couple or three seasons; whether they can bring the pitching up to speed is another question. But at least now, the team's not just jettisoning the past, but actually moving into the future.

-- Tomorrow's game against the Brewers will match RHP Charlie Morton (0-2, 13.50) vs. RHP Dave Bush (2-0, 2.37).

-- Karen Price of the Trib-Review reports that if Andy LaRoche's back problems lead to a trip to the DL, GM Neal Huntington said his choices for a call-up from Indianapolis include Neil Walker, Steve Pearce and Argenis Diaz.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette writes that Huntington said the team will pick from one of the following four to start Saturday: Brian Burres, Kevin Hart, Chris Jakubauskas or Brad Lincoln. The back end of the Buc rotation is still up in the air with the open dates and Ross Ohlendorf's balky back.

-- Hayden Penn has decided to report to Indy after clearing waivers.

-- Ramon Vazquez has signed a minor-league deal with Seattle.

-- Jim Pagliaroni, who caught for the Pirates between 1963-67, died last week at the age of 72 from cancer. On Nov. 20, 1962, he and Don Schwall were acquired from the Boston Red Sox in return for pitcher Jack Lamabe and first baseman Dick Stuart.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Three In A Row

The Bucs rode the left arm of Paul Maholm and a big inning to a 5-3 victory this afternoon, brooming the Reds in front of nearly 14,000 fans.

Maholm went 6-2/3 frames, giving up two runs on four hits, a walk, and notching five Ks. Joel Hanrahan, Brendan Donnelly and Octavio Dotel polished it off. Dotel earned his third save, striking out the side but giving up a solo homer.

The Pirates didn't exactly bash the ball, collecting just five hits, but they bunched four of them together in the fifth inning, along with a walk and timely beaned batter, to score all their runs.

Delwyn Young, starting at second base, and Lastings Milledge singled, followed by a Garrett Jones walk. Ryan Church singled in a run, and Bobby Crosby took one for the team on an 0-2 pitch to bring home another tally.

Jason Jaramillo put the cherry on top with a bases-clearing double into left that Johnny Gomes ran a Great Circle Route trying to catch. Not a bad job for the getaway day lineup, hey? All the subs contributed.

The Pirates have won four of their last five games, and at 7-5, are 1/2 game behind the Cards, who play tonight, and a game better than 2009's 6-6 start.

-- Andrew McCutchen is back in the saddle again. After getting caught stealing yesterday, he came back and stole his seventh of the season today.

-- The Pirates went 53 innings without an error until the fourth frame today, when Ronny Cedeno's flip to second pulled Young off the bag.

-- This series marked the beginning of a 24-of-28 game stretch against NL Central teams. It's off to a pretty good start so far. They need to become competitive within the division; they were 24-52 in Central play in 2009.

-- The Pirates are off tomorrow. The Brewers came into town for a three-game stand starting on Tuesday.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another Walk Off...Literally

Daniel McCutchen is still fighting himself, like every other Pirate starter not named Zach Duke. The Pirates often field the ball like it's a live hand grenade. Batters strand runners as if RBI is a four-letter word. And they're winning games.

The Bucs took a second straight walk-off victory from the Reds tonight by a 5-4 score, making the 25,000 fireworks fans glad they stuck around to the boisterous end.

Garrett Jones sent a 3-2 heater from Francisco Cordero off the right center field fence to score Ronny Cedeno to clinch the win, but the game was won by a lot of little victories notched during the course of nine innings.

One was earned by McCutchen, who is nothing like the guy we saw last September. He's turned into a nibbler, and his stuff doesn't work well deep into counts. But he wiggled out of a couple of jams that could have let the game get away early, and deserves some props for keeping the Bucs in it.

The wildly inconsistent (and already overused) bullpen rode to his rescue tonight, and at one point retired 13 straight Reds. DJ Carrasco, Evan Meek, and Jack Taschner put together five innings of one-run ball, giving the batters time to put one good inning together.

And they finally did, in the ninth. After a lead-off homer by Ronny Cedeno in the second, the Pirates had one hit until the ninth, and that was a legged-out chopper by Daniel McCutchen. But Lastings Milledge strapped on his Superman cape and was the key figure in the Reds' downfall.

He doubled home a run in the first inning and later scored. His ninth-inning walk may not sound like much, but it was the difference between winning and losing.

The Bucs had the bases loaded with one away. Cedeno drew a walk off Cordero to juice them, his first of the year and the first yielded by the Red closer (and guess who scored the winning run) sandwiched around a Ryan Church single and Aki Iwamua walk.

Andrew McCutchen, who seems born for moments like this, strolled to the plate and drilled a liner into left. Unfortunately, it was smoked right at left fielder Chris Dickerson, who was a well-timed defensive switch for Johnny Gomes, and was too shallow to tag Church. Two away, and the fate of the game was on Milledge's shoulders.

He worked the count to 3-2, taking two Ruthian swings at Cordero's sinking stuff. Pumped to the max, he called time, took a walk and a couple of deep breaths, and laid off ball four, a pitch that split the plate but dove down.

It was a tough offering to lay off in that situation, especially for a young guy like Milledge, but discipline is a key to winning. He came to Pittsburgh with a rep of being undisciplined; maybe he and the team are starting to grow up.

Along came Jones, and he fell behind 0-2. But he refuse to bite on the next three pitches, running the count full. He fouled off a heater, as if the game needed a little more drama, and then clobbered the next sinking fastball off the padding. Like Milledge, he had a rep, too. His was for choking with runners aboard; maybe he's also growing up a little.

So tonight's win was a team effort - Milledge, Jones, Cedeno, and the bullpen all came through. Though they stranded nine runners, the Pirate batters continued a process they just started last year by drawing nine walks.

It's also the first time since 1992 that the Pirates have taken the first two home series of a season. The Pirates can't pretend to match the talent of that club; they don't have the gloves, pitching, or power. But they are beginning that long journey of learning how to win games instead of letting them get away from them, and that bodes well for an interesting season - and future.

-- It appears that Daniel McCutchen will take the fourth spot in the rotation until Ross Ohlendorf returns from the DL. That's probably why they kept Brian Burres around; they'll need a fifth starter on again on April 24th. Ohlie can come off the DL on April 27th.

-- Andy LaRoche will be out until Tuesday with a stiff back. It's probably a good time to show some caution with the weather as it is. Delwyn Young took his place today; Bobby Crosby also plays the position and will probably go Sunday.

-- Andrew McCutchen was caught stealing yesterday, the first time this season. He's now 6-for-7 in the stolen sack category.

-- Quinton Miller, the Bucs' 20 year-old pitching prospect with West Virginia (he was drafted in the 20th round of the 2008 draft out of high school and signed for $900K) pitched only one inning because of tendinitis in his right biceps, reports Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette. No prognosis yet on how much time he's expected to miss.

Duke Da Dude

Hey, Zach Duke started again, and the Bucs - though unfortunately, not Duke - won again. A bullpen that couldn't hit the broad side of a __________ (fill in your own blank) cost the Zachster the win, but some two-out lightning brought down by the Sunshine State crew saved the Bucco bacon.

Duke went seven shutout innings in front of nearly 15,000 fans who couldn't get Penguin tickets, and exited after 90 pitches when he led off the eighth frame with a walk.

He had given up but six hits when he got the hook, and handed the ball to Joel Hanrahan with a 3-0 cushion. Hanny had two away and two aboard - he walked a guy - when JR brought in LOOGY Javier Lopez.

Two walks later it was 3-1, and in came Brendan Donnelly. Another walk made it 3-2, but he did get out of the inning with no further damage. Four pitchers and five walks do not make for a very pretty inning.

Octavio Dotel took the hill in the ninth, but a leadoff triple and sac fly knotted the score. Then Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge, the Cisco Kid and Pancho of the 2010 Pirates, came to save a game that was rapidly getting away from the team.

With two away in the bottom of the ninth, McClutch singled, stole second on the first pitch, and scored when Milledge lined a 3-2 offering into center to drive his Fort Meade bud home.

It was a dramatic finish, but in reality, the game should have been a snoozer. The Pirates left nine runners aboard, not a real bad night, but lost three guys who were thrown out running the bases and hit into a pair of DPs. They also had runners on second and third with no outs in the third without scoring.

The 9-1-2-3 three hitters (Ronny Cedeno, Aki Iwamura, McCutchen, and Milledge) collected two hits apiece; the rest of the order had one, and they were all singles.

Improbably, the Pirates are 5-5 out of the gates, despite showing more holes than the Titanic. We don't see any white knights approaching to help the pitching, but for a change, the team should get stronger positionally at the trade deadline this year. And that makes 2010 a potentially memorable season.

-- Andy LaRoche left the game in the second inning with back spasms; no word on his condition.

-- Reds pitcher Mike Leake made just his second start in the majors. He’s the 21st player since the draft in 1965 to reach the majors without playing a game in the minors.

Among the other players to go straight to the bigs are two with Pittsburgh ties: former Pirates outfielder Xavier Nady (San Diego Padres, 2000) and Gateway High School graduate Tim Conroy (Oakland A’s, 1978).

-- The Pirates are still playing games with the rotation. Ross Ohlendorf is scratched for tomorrow, but they haven't decided whether to pitch Brian Burres, who is still on the roster, or send him down and start Daniel McCutchen. GW misses the point of this hand wringing; we do know that it has to screw with the player's preparation, if not mind.

-- RHP Hayden Penn has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Indy. Penn has until Monday to report or declare himself a free agent.

-- Shannon Drayer of the Mariner's Blog reports that "the Mariners are looking at Ramon Vazquez who was released by the Pirates this spring. A deal has yet to be signed but could happen shortly as the Mariners look to add minor league depth."

-- Both the Pirates and Reds took the field wearing Jackie Robinson's #42. They were off yesterday, his anniversary of breaking into the bigs and cracking the color line.

-- Last night's minor league star: Tony Sanchez went 3-for-4 with a double, homer, four runs scored and three RBI. He's hitting .370 for High A Bradenton.

-- And finally, for the multi-sporters among us - Sid the Kid was brilliant in leading the Pens to a 2-1 Stanley Cup playoff win against Ottawa. He had a goal, a spectacular set up for the game-winner, and cleared a puck that was an inch from skittering into the goal behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Too bad Dave Littlefield couldn't draft first-rounders like Crosby.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Off Date Niblets

-- No problem figuring out what's wrong with the Bucs; they can't pitch worth a lick so far during this young season. The back end of the bullpen has held up OK, but as a group, they're being called on too early and often.

But it's not too unexpected. Going into the season, only Zach Duke and Paul Maholm had track records as MLB caliber pitchers, capable of 30 starts and 200+ innings. And the minors aren't really that deep at the top.

Brad Lincoln, Donnie Veal, and Kevin Hart/Dan McCutchen are the future at Indy; Tim Alderson, Rudy Owens, and Justin Wilson are the heart of Altoona's staff, and none of them are expected to be able to make the jump next year.

But so far most of the pitching is bubbling at the A level. It will be telling to see how the suits address that pitching gap when Pedro and the gang start arriving at Pittsburgh.

-- Still no movement in the Ross Ohlendorf triangle. Ohlie missed his last start and side session, and Brian Burres and Dan McCutchen are being held as insurance for Saturday's game.

Hey; it's early in the year. If Ohlendorf's hurt, backdate him on the 15 day DL. Meanwhile, both Pittsburgh and Indy have TBAs for Saturday's pitching slot. GW has been leery of the way the Pirates handle injuries; just do the sensible thing and move on, OK?

-- The Pirates have homered in five games this year. They've won four of them.

-- Pirates Charities and the West Virginia Power announced today that they will partner to raise funds to benefit the Montcoal Mining Disaster Fund by collecting donations from fans during the Pirates' and Powers' home games on Saturday, April 17. The fund is for the families of the miners who were recently killed in the Upper Big branch mine.

-- Altoona is off to a 6-1 start; its only loss was to the vaunted Steve Strasburg.

-- Spring camp isn't just for the major league players and hopefuls; it's an organizational evaluation. The Pirates, over the past few weeks, have released some three dozen minor-league vets. The bigger names were: LHP Kyle Bloom, LHP Nelson Pereira, RHP Chris Aure, and RHP R.J. Rodriguez.

Bloom, 27, as you may recall, was a Rule 5 pick of the Tigers last year who was returned to the Bucs during final cuts. 21 year-old Pereira was a sweet little junk-balling lefty, but was a soft thrower and fly-ball pitcher in Class A, not really in the current Pirate mold and without much additional upside.

Aure was a 20 year-old pitcher drafted in 2008 from Alaska who was injured last year. Rodriguez was a closer with some nice periphery numbers, but he is a 25 year-old who had never risen above A ball.

It shows that the wheelin', dealin', and drafting have made an impact on the lower level pitching, at least to the point where it's not a warehouse anymore. GW can't wait til that same dynamic reaches Altoona and Indianapolis.

-- The Astros became the final team in MLB to win this year; they had dropped their first eight before beating St. Louis 5-1 today.

-- And finally, it's Jackie Robinson day, celebrating the April 15, 1947 date when he broke the color line in MLB. That's why everyone will be wearing his famous number 42, unretired for the day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bad Bucs Back

Charlie Morton swore to the beat writers that he was sticking to fastballs today; no more falling behind and getting whacked. We guess the Giants read the sports page just as much as anyone else, and like the D-backs, they sat back, got ahead in the count, and smacked the heater, too, winning 6-0 in the rubber game at the Golden Gate.

Morton lasted six innings, and gave up eight hits, including three homers (one was an inside-the-park job, but it was crushed even if it didn't clear the fence). He continued the trend of non-quality starts; the Pirates have had one so far this season.

Not that it made much difference. The Pirate bats produced three hits, two singles by Lastings Milledge and a Ronny Cedeno double. It was not a very good day at the shop.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanchez served up eight goose eggs while allowing three hits and adding a career-best 11 strikeouts.

Well, the Bucs are on the big bird, on the way back to Pittsburgh. Zach Duke will face rookie wonder Mike Leake and the Reds Friday night at PNC Park.

Bucs Raise Cain

OK, the Bucs are playing an afternoon get-away game today, so we'll have to post kinda on time today; thank God for alarm clocks.

The Buccos seem to have the number of the aces they face; last night, they beat up a little on Matt Cain and then held on for dear life as they took a 6-5 win by the bay.

Paul Maholm did OK work by current Pirate standards, holding the G-Men to three runs in five innings and handing off the game to the bullpen knotted at three.

Evan Meek, who got the win, and Brendon Donnelly threw three innings and K'd five in a brilliant bit of bullpen work (although Meek did allow the tying run to score in the sixth). Together they fired 46 pitches; 35 were strikes. That's how you hold leads.

Octavio Dotel did a creditable Matt Capp impression, giving up a two-run homer in the ninth, but then dropped the remaining Giants to their knees to notch his second save.

The attack was led by Garrett Jones, who was 3-for-4 with 2 RBI. A little muscle was flexed by Aki Iwamura and Andy LaRoche, who both homered. And Andrew McCutchen reached base three times with a single and two walks, scored each time and stole two more sacks, giving him five for the young year and the NL lead.

And hey, Jones even threw a guy out at the plate; Ryan Doumit has been stalwart at defending the dish so far this year when the relay gives him a chance.

Let's hope the pitching comes around. Even with their shortcomings, this year's Bucco bunch has managed to hang around when the pitchers keep the scoring down to a half dozen runs or so. Maybe, just maybe, they're beginning to learn how to win games.

Charlie Morton goes for the Pirates this afternoon against Jonathan Sanchez.

-- Daniel McCutchen was sent down, but only figuratively. He's still with the team, serving as an insurance policy if Ross Ohlendorf's back doesn't come around soon (and it doesn't seem to be). They plan to try out Ohlie today; if he can't go, McCutchen seems likely to take his turn Saturday.

-- But do expect Brian Burres to get sent down literally today; the Pirates had to keep him on the roster until today because of some early season transaction regs. But they need another bullpen arm after the workload the starters have left the relief corps.

-- Say what you may about Kevin Hart (and GW has), he's at least got the heart to pitch. He was suspended for three games for throwing at a batter Friday in response to Brian Friday being beaned twice, and will be back on the mound today. Of course, we're assuming that it was his intention to throw behind the hitter...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bucs Baffled At The Bay

OK, so we all suffer some when the Bucs go to the left coast. GW was not inclined to stay up until 1AM to watch the game, and even less inclined to get up at 5AM to post the sad results. So we're stuck with an after-work bit of blogging for the next day or two.

The Pirates were convincingly whupped by the G-Men 9-3, as Brian Burres did not bring his cape with him from Indy. He gave up six runs and eight hits in four innings, with two walks and two hit batsman (well, OK, only one - Aubrey Huff - but he did bean him twice).

The Pirate fielding follies continued, as the outfield put on a radical shift towards right, allowing a few balls to drop in left field that otherwise may have ended up in Lasting Milledge's mitt. Craig Calcaterra of Hard Ball Talk even posted about it and called it "rather ridiculous."

Adding to the madcap scene was Aki Iwamura losing a pop-up hit a short Sunday stroll behind him that fell in for an RBI knock.

On the plus side, Joel Hanrahan made his first appearance and tossed a scoreless inning despite loading the bases with two walks and one hit batter. Iwamura had a pair of hits, one a double, and drove in two; Andy LaRoche a had a pair of singles, walked, and scored twice.

Hey, maybe it's time JR gives up on the hocus-pocus of overshifts, pitchers hitting eighth, Andrew McCutchen batting neither first nor third, playing the bench every other game, and all his other bag of tricks strategies and have his boys play some straight up baseball. Now there's a concept.

And it doesn't get easier; Paul Maholm takes on Matt Cain tonight.

-- Hey, they just don't "tweak" pitchers mechanics; the coaches like to play with the hitters, too. Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review has a piece on Don Long trying to quiet John Raynor's foot.

-- A whisp of a rumor: Pro Football Talk says that it hears that the NFL will add a Sunday night game to its that would go head-to-head with the World Series. Oh, the ignominy!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pre Game Munchies

-- As expected, Daniel McCutchen was sent to Indy to free up a roster spot for Joel Hanrahan. Not quite as expected was the calling up of LHP Brian Burres, who pitched fairly well in the spring.

He's taking Ross Ohlendorf's spot in the rotation tonight because Ohlie woke up with back spasms. To make room for him, Hayden Penn was DFA'd.

-- Saturday's save was the first for Octavio Dotel since July of 2008; just like riding a bike, hey?

-- The Pirates are 7-for-7 so far this year in base stealing. Andrew McCutchen and Ronny Cedeno have two bags apiece.

-- Andrew McCutchen has one RBI so far this year. Doesn't seem like that pitcher batting eighth thing is setting Cutch's table too well.

-- In 53 innings, the Pirate staff has given up 25 walks and struck out just 32 hitters. Jack Taschner and Charlie Morton have 12 of the K's in 7-1/3 frames.

The staff is way last in NL ERA, with a 7.47 line (the NL average is 4.38), third in walks allowed and next to the bottom in whiffs.

-- In 2009, the Pirates were first in NL fielding percentage with a .988 mark, first in double plays, and last in errors made.

This year, they're 14th in fielding with a .967 slate, fifth in DPs, and second in errors committed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Unlucky Thirteen

Ouch! Talk about your perfect storm...

Start a pitcher who had one brief start against a MLB lineup during the spring and a command meltdown for a guy who depends on pinpoint control, which leads to three homers surrendered, and follow him with a waiver wire pick up, and whatta ya get? How about a record-setting (for both sides) 13 run inning.

Daniel McCutchen is the player with the deadeye command that deserted him today. He walked three, gave up six hits, half of which left the yard, and nine runs in 3-1/3 innings. His relief, Hayden Penn, gave up four more runs, walking three while getting one out. Jack Taschner came on to end the inning after giving up a bases-juiced double and home run - to the pitcher.

We already know McCutchen is headed to Indy; maybe he'll finally get some much needed work. Penn? Well, we'll see what the suits decide to do with him; he's put together a 30.86 ERA in 2-1/3 innings (eight runs on eleven hits). If his scholarship isn't revoked, it sure has to be on life support. And hey, he sure has made Kevin Hart look good while he's been here.

As for Tascher, the bullpen is a mess right now. Only Octavio Dotel has been sharp, and that will bear some watching, although everyone is on very short sample sizes this early in the season.

But they showed signs of wear toward the end of the Grapefruit League, and they're still not sharp. Maybe Hanrahan's return will get everyone back in their proper niche.

Pity, too. The Pirates banged out another pair of homers, from Andrew McCutchen and Bobby Crosby, and a half dozen runs should keep you in the game. Lastings Milledge had three hits, while Ryan Church, Ronny Cedeno, and McCutchen all had a pair of knocks.

A six spot is nice, but the Bucs were 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position; someone's gonna have to step up and start bring the ducks home.

At any rate, it ended up a 15-6 thumping at the hands of the D-backs. Now it's off to San Fran, where Ross Ohlendorf will match up with Barry Zito tomorrow night.

-- The thirteen runs in an inning shattered Arizona's old record of eight, and tied the Pirate mark, set on May 31, 1994, by the Padres.

-- JR used his getaway day lineup, and Delwyn Young got his first MLB action at third base, starting in place of Andy LaRoche. Got his first error there, too, on a wild throw.

-- Steven Strasburg got his first pro win against Altoona today, winning a 6-4 decision. Strasburg threw five innings and allowed four runs (one earned) on four hits with eight strikeouts and two walks for his first-career win. He hit 95-98 according to the Curve gun.

Bucs Put One Together

OK, the pitching has been spotty, and we won't even discuss the hitting over the past three games (well, OK, if you're going to twist my arm - sevens runs, 37 runners left on base, ouch). But the Pirates put it together last night in Phoenix to take a 6-3 victory.

In keeping with recent trends, Pittsburgh treated D-back ace Dan Haren like one of the hoi polloi while Zach Duke cruised. Haren gave up six runs (five earned) on nine hits in 6-2/3 innings; Duke yielded two runs on four hits in his seven frame, 99 pitch outing. Only two outs were hit into the air; his sinker was on yesterday.

The Pirates bopped two homers, from the bats of Jeff Clement and Aki Iwamura, and Ronny Cedeno, Andy LaRoche, and Iwamura had a pair of hits. Oh, and the newly go-go Buccos stole three sacks.

Not that the game was easy; Arizona made a run late in the game. Mark Reynold's two-run shot in the seventh game them life, and the Snakes made big noise in the eighth.

Jack Taschner allowed a double and a walk. Brendan Donnelly came in and promptly walked the first batter he faced to juice the bases. But he came back to get a sac fly and a K, and Javier Lopez - the lefty JR didn't have last season - took the hill and whiffed Adam LaRoche, quelling the comeback.

Octavio Dotel gave the Bucs something they saw precious little of last year, a 1-2-3 ninth to nail the save without any added drama.

Daniel McCutchen gets his first start of the year, and maybe his last, this afternoon against Edwin Jackson.

McCutchen will get sent to Indy after the game to allow Joel Hanrahan to join the staff; the Bucs next need a fifth starter on April 24th, and there's no guarantee McCutchen will be the one they call on when that time arrives. The suits still have hopes that Kevin Hart will blossom, so that's a storyline to watch.

-- JR flopped the middle of the order, batting Lastings Milledge third, Garrett Jones fourth, and Ryan Doumit fifth. Personally, we'd like to see Andrew McCutchen bat third (or even return to leadoff); despite that oddball lineup, he's not a two-hole hitter.

-- Mike Axisa of MLB Trade Rumors has put together a list of trading chips for the Central Division; he thinks the Bucs are most likely to move some veteran bullpen arms.

-- Brandon Moss went 3-for-5 yesterday at Indy with a solo homer as he tries to rediscover his stroke in AAA - and his confidence.

-- In other minor league news, Harrisburg's Steve Strasburg is making his first pro start against Altoona today, and ESPN News will cut into the game to catch his act. Also, the Bucs won 1-0 against H-Burg yesterday; Tim Alderson got the W, going five innings and allowing four hits. Bradenton Marauder 3B Jeremy Farrell drove in two more runs; he has a dozen in three games.

-- Matt Capps is off to a good start with the Nats. In three games, he has two saves and hasn't given up a run, although he has walked five batters in three innings; once a drama queen... Bill Ladson of has an item on him in DC.

-- Mike Gonzalez, old Bucco set-up guy signed by the O's to close for 2 years and $12M, is off to a rough start, as chronicled by Hardball Talk's DJ Short.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Second Time Through the Lineup

Ah, the first time through the lineup was a breeze for Charlie Morton. He sliced and diced his way through the D-Back lineup, getting five of his first six outs via the K, throwing an impressive array of junk and 94-95 MPH heat.

In the second inning, he looked a little less sharp, getting deeper into counts, although it didn't hurt him a twit. But in the third frame of his 34th career start, it became apparent he was still a kid learning his craft. Both his pitch selection and command hit the fan.

Instead of using his heater to put away his mound opponent, veteran Rodrigo Lopez, he inexplicably served him some soft stuff, and Lopez got his first MLB hit when he slapped a slowball into right. Then the wheels fell off.

Arizona, once bitten, laid off the junk and sat on the fastball. Morton obliged by missing with his off speed pitches, falling behind, and trying to blow the heat past the D-backs. Didn't work.

He ended up giving up six runs on six hits that frame, and would only last an out into the fourth before getting the hook, responsible for eight of the runs in a 9-1 loss. Hayden Penn, who was blasted at PNC Park, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

Morton could have used some help, especially by avoiding giving in to the hitters with fastballs in obvious fastball counts. But if you can't get anything else over the dish, all the finger-wagging Ryan Doumit can come up with won't help much.

And the Pirates didn't make it any easier on him by giving him any early support. They left the bases juiced in the first, and stranded another duo of runners in the third frame. They would leave just another pair on during the next six innings.

Aki Iwamura and Garrett Jones each had a pair of hits, but the Bucs scattered just eight hits - seven were singles - around Chase Field. Let's hope the last two games don't become a trend.

And on the road, it has been. The Bucs have dropped 51 of their last 66 road games and captured just two road series during their last 23 tries.

-- The Pirates flopped Zach Duke and Daniel McCutchen in the rotation. Duke will go tonight on his regular four days rest, and McCutchen will throw his first outing tomorrow.

-- Joel Hanrahan is scheduled for another rehab outing for Class A Bradenton today. If all goes well, he could be activated on Monday, when the Bucs open a series in San Francisco. The Bucs are anticipated to send Daniel McCutchen down, as there's no need for a fifth starter for the time being.

-- In the minors, a couple of guys are off to hot starts. Pedro Alvarez has three homers in two games for Indy, and 3B Jeremy Farrell of the Class A Bradenton Marauders also hit his third dinger in two days. One was a grand salami; the other two were three-run shots. How's that for production?

-- Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has a piece on catchers that have given up their arbitration years for the security of a contract, allowing an easy comparison of how Ryan Doumit's deal stands against the others.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Can't Win 'Em All

Well, GW didn't lose any sleep over this game, either, although for an entirely different reason. The Dodgers took it to the Bucs today, rolling to a 10-2 victory.

The Pirates again saw a struggle for the starter, in this case Paul Maholm, as he handed over a 4-1 deficit in the seventh inning to Hayden Penn. A half dozen batters later, it was 8-1, and that was all the fat lady needed to know, though Javier Lopez gave up a couple more in the ninth, just to make sure.

The hitting hero is just who you'd expect, Delwyn Young. He got a spot start in right, and went two-for-two with a pair of doubles to go with two walks, and scored and drove in a run. Bobby Crosby had two singles to go with his two throwing errors.

So far in the very early hours of the 2010 season, the Pirates have shown a little more bat than expected. The problem is translating runners into runs; they stranded 11 guys today and 24 in the past two games. One good sign is that the team is starting to show some good, hard, base-running instincts.

The starting pitching has struggled, and the bullpen has been erratic. The fielding is still a mystery; they booted three balls today, but only one in the first pair of games. It'll take the team awhile, we think, to get used to one another on the diamond; the glovework should improve, but not to much more than an adequate level. And they're 2-1; go figure.

But hey, we'll see. If the pitching picks up a bit - and the starters should; the pen, well... - and the hits turn into scores, this could be an interesting year. And for once, the All-Star break should mean reinforcements, not decimation, for the roster.

Before the fireworks go off this summer, the big questions could be what to do with Andy LaRoche and who's the loser in the Garrett Jones - Jeff Clement - Jose Tabata triangle? And that's progress, even more than the wins and losses.

Two In A Row; Eighty More To Go

OK, OK, Green Weenie has been slow on the post. Hey, we tried to stay up and watch the Pirates stagger home to victory, but last night, the sandman won. He pitched a better game than Ross Ohlendorf.

Hey, even though the Bucs are streaking, it's not exactly been compelling baseball so far against the Dodgers. And GW is definitely way too old school to appreciate the Mardi Gras breaking out at home plate after a walk off single; he comes from the "act like you've done it before" generation.

Still, a little life after a win is not a bad thing, and the star-crossed cast from Pittsburgh may finally be finding ways to win games after spending a couple of decades losing them in every manner possible.

And a crowd of 31,000 for the night game following the opener? Well, we're impressed. Maybe all the juice hasn't been squeezed out of the region's baseball fans yet.

Yesterday's game story is pretty simple. Garrett Jones clobbered a three-run homer in the first, and the Dodgers, ever the opportunists, cashed in a trio of tallies in the fifth thanks to a wide throw by Andy LaRoche (who also made a couple of very nice plays) followed by a couple of hits.

The Pirates left the bases loaded in the fifth; the Dodgers returned the favor when they left a runner on third with no outs in the ninth. Then Ronny Cedeno, in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a shot over a drawn-in infield to score Lastings Milledge, and the party at the dish commenced.

But the Pirates aren't quite the 1927 Yankees. Neither Zach Duke nor Ohlendorf was particularly sharp, but they were both gamers and managed their innings quite nicely, even if surrounded by opposing runners most of the time.

The bullpen ran through more raindrops than Gene Kelly, but again, the game is decided by runs, not runners.

The offense? Well, someone better hose Garrett Jones off; three homers and six RBI in ten at-bats is sizzlin'. Andrew McCutchen has adapted to the two hole; he's hitting .444 as is the nine hitter, Ronny Cedeno, who looks like he just may make GW swallow some crow.

So's Ryan Doumit; two of his four hits have been for extra bases, and in the early going, he's been a good if unorthodox fit at clean-up.

Aki Iwamura doesn't have a hit yet, but he's taken eight of his ten at-bats to three balls, wearing down the pitcher and giving the rest of the order a good peek at the stuff they'll be looking at.

The fielding has been a bit better than expected, with some flashes of brilliance followed by moments of high comedy; but all-in-all, it's been steady enough for its nineteen innings.

Paul Maholm will try to beat the Dodgers and the rain today at 12:35.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pellas On The Pirates: Between Two Worlds

There seems to be a certain weariness among folks these days when it comes to watching the Pirates. Whether the total demolition of the team by the current front office was the right approach or not, fans in general are sick of losing, and---more crucially to my mind---they’re sick of a team that has few if any identifiable faces.

Remember the Cubs’ “lovable losers” teams of the 70s and 80s? Why were they “lovable”, exactly, even though they never came close to contending for more than a decade? Because they had a great venue in which to watch baseball, and because they somehow always had a handful of good-to-middling ballplayers who were easy to root for even if the team as a whole was almost always bad. The Pirates, it should be noted, have half of that formula, as PNC Park is widely considered to be one of baseball’s crown jewels. The other half, obviously, is lacking.

The thing is, it wasn’t lacking as recently as last season. But a second round of bloodletting saw the last of the fan favorite veterans---most notably Jack Wilson, Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth---sent out of town for prospects and reclamation jobs.

McLouth, by the way, is still having problems with his hamstrings, and if he is permanently debilitated, that trade takes on a whole new dynamic. But the point is that while no one doubted most of our vets had to be turned over for kids, the fact that almost all of them were dealt left us with the worst of all possible teams: one that was both terrible on the field and that had next to no one you could root for on an individual basis.

Now of course, winning cures many if not all ills when it comes to professional sports. The Pirates, we are told repeatedly, are aiming not just for respectability but for sustained excellence. Look at the Twins, the A’s, the Rays, and the Marlins, and you see what this team could become.

Obviously it takes a consistently loaded farm system to compete when you’re a small-to-mid-market organization, and obviously it takes time to load that system up. It’s just that when you gut everything from top to bottom, there isn’t much left to root for in the meantime. Maybe that’s the price this team must pay for nearly two decades of obvious mismanagement; certainly the current front office has a plan and it’s sticking to that plan. I’m of the opinion that the surgery did not have to be as radical as it was, but the die is cast, and it’s time to play ball in 2010.

Which brings us to the coming season and what we should expect.

Unfortunately, it looks like another transition season for the Pirates. There are reasons for hope, ie, some useful veterans have been added to the kids, some impact rookies are certainly on the way, and the team doesn’t look horrible on paper---though it certainly doesn’t look good, either.

But as always it’s just so hard to say because you just never know when the roster will be blown up yet again, and to what extent. This makes it very difficult for the average fan to invest themselves, let alone their money, in this team. At some point, the rebuilding must be fundamentally over, and the team should switch from tearing down to building for a playoff run. I am confident in saying that 2010 won’t be the year in which the Pirates reach that point.

Sure, there’s a best case scenario. It goes like this: first, Garrett “The Legend” Jones continues to rake, and he becomes perhaps the greatest late-blooming big leaguer ever. There’s precedent: Mike Easler, a pretty fair hitter back in the day, was almost as old as Jones before he finally got his shot with the Pirates. Current reliever Brendan Donnelly was 30 before he had a regular job in the majors. And so on. Jones has a chance to outshine them all, and if he does, it bodes well for our fortunes in 2010 and beyond.

He’ll need help if the Pirates are to achieve respectability this season, but it’s not impossible he’ll get it. Which brings us to Ryan Doumit. No one questions Doumit’s talent. It’s just that no one knows when he’ll next land on the 60 day DL with the chicken pox, or a busted nose when a 2 year old niece or nephew accidentally punches him at a family get-together, or after he gets run over by an overzealousfan driving a shopping cart, or when he slips while singing in the shower. But if he can stay on the field for 120 games or so, Jones and Doumit hitting back to back has potential.

Lastings Milledge may not be the five tool kid he was touted to be when he first came up with the Mets, but to his credit he’s shown none of the punk behavior that doomed him in New York and Washington, and by all accounts he’s been a model professional since joining the Pirates. If he’s half as good as his press clippings said he should become, he’ll be useful and perhaps better than that.

Andy LaRoche might play out of his mind and force the front office to make some hard choices, though I think it’s more likely he’ll be traded or move to a 2B-utility role. But he had the minor league numbers and if he can translate those to the bigs, ya never know.

Meanwhile, the rotation doesn’t scare anyone, but it seems to be made of
guys who are all at least solid competitors who will go right at you. This is especially true of our 1-2-3 starters, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, and Ross Ohlendorf---though Ohlendorf’s rough spring is worrisome. Fourth starter Charlie Morton has the best stuff, and if the light bulb comes on for him, look out. Fifth starter Daniel McCutchen doesn’t throw hard but he’s as fearless and competitive as they come, and you can win a lot of games with pitchers like that.

The bullpen is made of similar stuff, with the exception of closer Octavio Dotel, who is the one man on this staff who can truly miss bats with any consistency. Again, nothing overwhelming overall, but definitely deep and definitely am improvement on last season.

The bottom line? If everything works out and nobody gets hurt for an extended period of time, a run at .500 is actually not out of the question, particularly in a mediocre National League Central division.

Unfortunately there’s also the much more likely worst-case scenario. Jones continues to hit home runs, but is so overmatched by lefthanders that he ends up losing both 30 points on his batting average and his place in the starting lineup when the team faces southpaws. Doumit gets hurt---again---and the team loses his otherwise powerful bat for extended stretches.

New second baseman Aki Iwamura’s knee doesn’t hold up, and his glove isn’t what it was in Tampa, nor his hitting. Andy LaRoche tries too hard because he knows top prospect Pedro Alvarez is breathing down his neck, and so he lands on the bench in July, then gets released in the offseason, making the Jason Bay trade even more of a disaster than it already is, if that’s possible.

Morton’s hamstrings act up again, and even when healthy he is unable to find home plate with any consistency. Ohlendorf’s spring struggles carry over into the regular season, until he’s finally banished to the ‘pen if not to Indianapolis. Top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln comes up, but his changeup is still a work in progress, and after a successful first time around the league, teams catch up to him and he is battered.

Meanwhile, one or more of the bullpen veterans springs a leak or blows a tire, and Pedro and Jose and their rookie enthusiasm aren’t enough to compensate. Fan unrest culminates in a blogosphere-inspired “Storm The Bastille Night", and GW is arrested while leading the charge. 100 losses loom…..

Nah. It won’t be that bad. But at least one more significant trade is likely, ie, Duke going to a contender (the Dodgers are said to have interest), which wouldn’t be the end of the world given his arbitration status, but which could be another mid-season disruption that sidetracks whatever team chemisty might otherwise be developing.

And of course, some moves are inevitably going to be made because of the three rookies who are knocking on the door: Alvarez, Tabata, and Lincoln. In an ideal season, they force their way onto the roster simply because they’re better than the players they are replacing, and the team on the field at PNC is noticeably improved as a result.

Any moves the front office might make at that point would become a matter of addition by subtraction (dealing the inferior players) instead of being yet another demolition job. For now, let’s hope that things go well, that more veterans are only traded because our in-house rookies have displaced them, and that the team at the end of the 2010 season will be one that not only wins more games but is easier to root for than what we see on the field as the season begins.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day Romp

Hey, the Pirates did a bunch of stuff right today, thrilling a crowd of 39,024 fans who basked and whooped the home team on to an 11-5 victory over the LA Dodgers.

Garrett Jones pounded a pair of homers, one a blast into the drink and another a wrong-way liner that cleared the left field wall. Ryan Doumit cranked a three-run shot, and Ryan Church came of the bench to spank a base-clearing double.

It wasn't perfect. The pitching was in need of some help - three of the five LA runners that scored were either walked or beaned - and the Dodgers banged out 12 hits. But Zach Duke, although far from his best, kept everything in hand, and the Pirate bats took the attention off some ugly bullpen work.

So hey, another opening day, another win. 161 more games to go...

-- Jen Langosch of has the whole Bucco pitching thing figured out. She writes "John Russell said that Joel Hanrahan's pitching schedule has him lined up to come off the DL on April 12. You can expect Daniel McCutchen (who is pitching on April 11) to be sent down when Hanrahan comes off.

"By sending McCutchen down, the Pirates can keep him starting regularly; his next two turns in the rotation were going to be skipped anyways. The Pirates can then use an eight-member bullpen for two weeks until another starter (could very well be Kevin Hart) is needed. This would also give the Pirates a total of three weeks to evaluate Hayden Penn."

So it looks like McCutchen is going to have to keep on proving himself while guys like Hart and Penn keep getting the benefit of the doubt.

-- Poor Brandon Moss; he couldn't even get claimed on waivers. The Pirates sent him to Indy after he cleared the wires today. Hopefully the change of scenery and the pressure off his shoulders will bring his bat back to life.

-- The USA Today came out with its annual list of Opening Day payrolls and computed the Pirates salaries at $34.9M, the lowest payroll in the league.

For Comparison's Sake:

Just for old times sake, we thought we'd look at the Huntington & Coonelly teams from 2008 to today after they broke camp.

Here's your 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates:

Pitchers (12) : DJ Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Zach Duke, Javier Lopez, Paul Maholm, Daniel McCutchen, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Hayden Penn, and Jack Taschner.

Catchers (2) : Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo.

Infielders (6) : Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Bobby Crosby, Aki Iwamura, Andy LaRoche, and Delwyn Young.

Outfielders (5) : Ryan Church, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, and John Raynor.

Here's your 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates:

Pitchers (12) : Sean Burnett, Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez, Zach Duke, John Grabow, Craig Hansen, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Ross Ohlendorf, Donnie Veal, and Tyler Yates.

Catchers (2) : Ryan Doumit and Jason Jarmillo.

Infielders (7) : Luis Cruz, Eric Hinske, Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Ramon Vazquez, and Jack Wilson.

Outfielders (4) : Nate McLouth, Craig Monroe, Nyjer Morgan, and Brandon Moss.

And finally, here's your 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates:

Pitchers (12) : Matt Capps, Zach Duke, Phil Dumatrait, John Grabow, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Damaso Marte, Evan Meek, Matt Morris, Franquelis Osoria, Ian Snell, and Tyler Yates.

Catchers (2) : Ryan Doumit and Ronny Paulino.

Infielders (7) : Jose Bautista, Chris Gomez, Adam LaRoche, Doug Mientkiewicz, Luis Rivas, Freddy Sanchez, and Jack Wilson.

Outfielders (4) : Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, and Xavier Nady.

2010 Starting Lineup:

1. Aki Iwamura, 2B
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF
3. Garrett Jones, RF
4. Ryan Doumit, C
5. Lastings Milledge, LF
6. Jeff Clement, 1B
7. Andy LaRoche, 3B
8. Zach Duke, P
9. Ronny Cedeno, SS

2009 Starting Lineup:

1. Nyjer Morgan, LF
2. Freddy Sanchez, 2B
3. Nate McLouth, CF
4. Ryan Doumit, C
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
6. Andy LaRoche, 3B
7. Brandon Moss, RF
8. Jack Wilson, SS
9. Paul Maholm, P

2008 Opening Day Lineup:

1. Nate McLouth, CF
2. Freddy Sanchez, 2b
3. Jason Bay, LF
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Xavier Nady, RF
6. Ryan Doumit, C
7. Jose Bautista, 3B
8. Jack Wilson, SS
9. Ian Snell, P

Six of the 25-man roster players are the same from last year; only three remain from 2008. Two of the 2010 lineup are repeaters from 2009; Doumit is the only man standing from 2008. One thing for sure: the Pirates do make money on scorecards.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Almost Showtime

Hey, we actually kinda feel sorry for the Bucs this year. They had such high hopes for Brandon Moss and Kevin Hart. Their fizzle left two spots open for four players - Hayden Penn, John Raynor, Steve Pearce, and Ramon Vazquez - and none of them, judging by their play, want the positions, either. No wonder the suits are keeping both eyes on the waiver wire.

To no avail, it seems. They let Vazquez go, sent Pearce to Indy, and kept Raynor and Penn. Raynor is on borrowed time; he looks like Tabata's place-holder. Penn is 2010's Donnie Veal, except that he can't be stashed at Indy next year since he's out of options.

D.J. Carrasco and Jack Taschner, as expected, made the team. Space on the 40-man roster was cleared when Jose Ascanio (60-day) and Joel Hanrahan (15-day) were placed on the DL, again as expected. (The moves were reported by the Post Gazette's Dejan Kovacevich)

Well, no surprises. We believe this is still a very transitional team, and some good things did happen. Andrew McCutchen looks like the real deal; his running mate, Lastings Milledge, appears to have grown up, too. Andy LaRoche is a keeper that still may have a bit of upside. Jeff Clement has shown that he can hit a baseball, although catching one is still a struggle.

The pitching? Respectable at best. It's very thin, and badly needs a couple of lights-out guys. The pitch-to-contact staff is also going to be hurt by the loss of leather-meisters Jack Splat, Nyjer Morgan, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, and company. The team has feverishly addressed an almost stunning lack of arms that it inherited from the prior bossmen, but it takes time and luck.

Neil Walker showed signs of maturing at long last. Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln, and Donnie Veal all looked like they belonged during their time in camp. And the young guns - Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Chase d'Arnaud, Brian Friday, Jordy Mercer, and the gang - got a taste of MLB life, and quite early in their careers, by Bucco standards.

But hey, don't expect a lot out of this squad; 70-72 wins would be a good season for a team with far too few difference-makers. A club doesn't finish the spring 7-21 by accident.

But watch the pieces begin to fall in; the process started with McCutch a few months ago and will continue. 2010 isn't about the here and now; it's just another small step toward 2012 and beyond, when the Coonelly/Huntington team should take form.

The 2010 Opening Day roster:

Pitchers (12): DJ Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Zach Duke, Javier Lopez, Paul Maholm, Daniel McCutchen, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Hayden Penn, and Jack Taschner.

Catchers (2): Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo.

Infielders (6): Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Bobby Crosby, Aki Iwamura, Andy LaRoche, and Delwyn Young.

Outfielders (5): Ryan Church, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, and John Raynor.

-- The Pirates aren't having some politico toss out the first pitch tomorrow. Jamie and Ali McMutrie, two Ben Avon women who rescued 53 children from Port-Au Prince after the Haitian earthquakes, will share the honor. Well played, suits.

-- The Altoona Curve opener will be shown in parts on ESPN, according to the Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger. The game, beginning at 2 PM Sunday, April 11th, will feature the first pro start of Steve Strasburg and will have cut-ins during the ESPN News segments.

-- Mike Dubee, 25 year-old RHP for the Bucs' Altoona club, threw a perfect eighth inning in yesterday's 4-3 loss in Philadelphia. He went 5-1 last year with a 2.14 ERA in stops at Altoona, Winston-Salem, and Lynchburg, so the strong outing wasn't a surprise.

But it was a big moment for Dubee. Not only did he pitch against the NL defending champs in a MLB house with 41,000 people watching, but he threw in front of his dad, Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee. Papa D had only seen his son pitch professionally three times prior to Saturday; both are kinda busy during the season.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Movin' Up North

Hey, the Pirates took their show to Philadelphia tonight to finish their spring training with a pair of games against the Phils. Tonight's game looked a lot like the Florida games.

Ross Ohlendorf got beat up some again,giving up a pair of homers in five frames, the Pirate attack lasted for one lusty inning, and at least three balls escaped Pirate gloves, resulting in a 5-3 loss to the defending NL champs. They're now 7-20 in spring ball.

Andrew McCutchen and his bud Lastings Milledge have looked sharp so far; McCutch is hitting .345 and Milledge .300. No other Pirate still on the roster is batting higher than .269.

Hey, we understand when you play more than half your games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Phils, Rays, and Twins, well, you better be good. And Pittsburgh isn't, yet. In 72 hours, we'll find out if the tough schedule got the boys ready for the real thing or just beat them down early.

-- Pittsburgh traded RHP Virgil Vasquez to the Tampa Bay Rays for the ever-popular PTBNL. The 27-year-old Vasquez went 1-2 with a 7.62 ERA in Florida, and in 14 games with the Pirates, half starts, he went 2-5 with a 5.84 ERA.

-- Still two cuts to go. Three guys widely thought to be on the bubble are John Raynor, Steve Pearce, and Ramon Vazquez. Raynor's hitting .244, Pearce .184, and Vazquez .176. Guess no one wants the job.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Florida Vacation Over...Back To The Daily Grind

The Bucs leave Florida with their tails dragging, compiling a Grapefruit league record of 7-19-1, worst in the Sunshine State. The latest down-the-drainer was today's 4-2 loss to the Phillies.

Daniel McCutchen, as has most of the Pirate staff, pitched respectably. He gave up three runs in 5-1/3 frames, two earned, and had at least three misplays behind him in the field. Of course, you can't blame the team for McC walking the pitcher once and the eight man another time (he scored), either.

Hayden Penn got in and allowed two hits while striking out two in his 1-2/3 innings of work. Octavio Dotel gave up a homer, struck out two, and walked one in the eighth.

The Ryans, Church and Doumit, provided the O with homers.

The Pirates leave Bradenton with a workable rotation, a bullpen that hasn't quite lived up to its promise (maybe because of some nagging injuries), fielding that's in no way as sharp as it was when they broke camp last year, physically or mentally, iffy base-running, and an offense that struggles mightily to put up runs consistently.

And they still haven't settled on a roster; they have until 3PM Sunday to reach 25 players.

There were a lotta questions going into spring training, and not too many answers have been found yet. But we'll get them, starting Monday.