Saturday, July 31, 2010

Maybe They Should Trade The Whole Team

Alright, already! The storm cost us a couple of hours yesterday, now the Whitey Herzog celebration is threatening to run just as long. Let's play some ball here.

OK. McCutch grounded out, but Jose Tabata lined a single into right and Neil Walker poked a changeup into left for a knock.

Garrett Jones was up; he hit a little pop off the handle short of the mound that Yadier Molina caught, then dropped, and turned into a DP when his throw to first beat a befuddled Walker to the bag as the umps belatedly ruled it an infield fly. It was an omen of things to come.

Instead of bases loaded and one out, it ended the inning. The mass confusion didn't faze D-Cutch; he threw a 1-2-3 frame without a ball leaving the infield. Jeff Suppan matched him in the second.

McCutchen became his own worst enemy in the second. He walked Matt Holliday on five pitches, got a fly out, and then gave up a single on a 3-1 pitch. He walked Skip Schumaker on four pitches. That was followed by a RBI line drive single by Suppan, his first ribbie of the year. But McC escaped with only a run when Brendan Ryan rolled into a 6-4-3 DP. No wonder LaRussa bats the pitcher eighth.

With two away in the third, McCutch and Tabata lined singles to set up Walker, who fished for a pair of slow curves, fouling one off and bouncing the next to second; both were shin high.

McCutchen started off the third with a ten-pitch walk to Felipe Lopez, losing him on a borderline call. An out later, he picked off Lopez; good thing, too, as Sir Albert lined a knock into center. He finished the inning by getting Doc Holliday on a routine fly to center.

The Pirates may have hit a new low in the fourth, when Jones, Pedro, and Lastings Milledge all struck out swinging against Suppan, flailing away at changeups and curves as if they were never before seen pitches. That's 5 K's so far for Suppan, matching his season high - in four frames!

For the third straight inning, McCutchen walked the leadoff hitter; this time it was Colby Rasmus, who promptly stole second. Schumaker walked on five pitches with one out, and a Suppan bunt was thrown away by Jones trying for the lead runner, plating a run. D-McCutch got the next pair on flies, and it was 2-0. The error hurt, but without the walks...

Suppan, coming into the game with an 0-6 record and 6.18 ERA, mowed down the Bucs again in the fifth; he had a four hit shutout going.

And hey, McCutchen got the first batter out this inning. But he fell behind Albert Pujols 2-0, came in with a fastball, and watched it clear the right center field fence, 390' away. That's the eleventh his given up this year, in 32-2/3 innings - one every three innings.

But Suppan couldn't go on forever; even LaRussa knew it. In the sixth, after a leadoff double by McCutch and a bounce out by Tabata that advanced him to third, lefty Denny Reyes came in to face Walker. He popped out - all together now "runner on third and less than two out..." - and Jones grounded out to short.

Molina tarted off the sixth with a ground rule double on a short ball hit up the right field line that bounced over the railing. Schumaker, after fouling off a couple of bunts (a sure sign Reyes was being pinch hit for) rolled a grounder to second to get the runner to third.

Pinch hitter Randy Winn walked on five pitches. Ryan, a .202 hitter, popped a 3-2 pitch deep into left center for a sac fly - leadoff double, grounder to the right side, sac fly. Read 'em and weep, Pirates.

Lopez singled into left, and Steve Jackson came on to get the last out on a K. McCutchen went 5-2/3 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits, six walks, and a K.

He deserves credit for not allowing a big inning, but his command was terrible, and he went through the game as a fastball-changeup pitcher; the few times he went to his slider, it missed the plate - as did most of his other offerings.

He let the leadoff runner on four of his six frames, and the walks were brutal. Usually aggressive, it appeared tonight that he was changed tacks and tried to live on the black. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

The Pirates went down in order to Kyle McClellan, with Pedro and LM striking out. This inning was especially embarrassing. Pedro looked at three straight strikes without taking the bat off his shoulder, and Thrilledge took the first two for strikes and whiffed on a breaking ball in the dirt.

Pujols started off the seventh with a single off Pedro's glove, his third hit. He jogged in a batter later when Rasmus roped a homer off Jackson over the 375' in right center, his 17th. Molina followed with a single; it was his third hit, too. Jackson worked his way out, but it was 6-0, and the fat lady was gurgling.

Whatever Pedro and LM have must be contagious; Kratz struck out for the second time, watching the first two strikes sail by, with Mitchell Boggs on the hill. You're allowed more than one swing, guys.

Though that's all it takes. Jeff Clement pinch hit, and took a 97 MPH heater over the right center wall, the first Pirate run of the series. A two out Tabata single brought out LaRussa and his hook; lefty Trever Miller was called on to face Walker.

He walked him, but got Jones on a foul pop to the catcher. Wil Ledezema worked the eighth for Pittsburgh. He had a great start, too - Ronny Cedeno threw away a ball that went for a single and error.

Lopez was given three belt high heaters and sent the third into center to put runners on the corners - on an 0-2 pitch. Ledezema got ahead of sub Tyler Greene 0-2, and then threw him four straight balls to juice the sacks for Pujols.

Ledezema got him to pop out; even Albert strands runners on rare occasion. Doc Holliday picked him up by rifling a double to right on a heater down the middle and above the belt, and Rasmus followed with an RBI single to center. JR took the ball from him and gave it to Sean Gallagher.

He walked Molina to load the bases again. He fell behind Schmaker 3-0, and two pitches later gave up a two run single. If you're still keeping score, that makes it 11-1; the fat lady is beginning to nod off.

SG got Aaron Miles to fly out, the Ryan singled to load the bases for the third time in the inning. But mercifully, Gallagher got Lopez to ground out to short on a 3-2 pitch.

Mike MacDougal came in to finish the game; he's the sixth pitcher LaRussa used in an 11-1 game. And of the five after Suppan, none had an ERA of over 3.42. That's a bullpen. McD gave up an infield hit to Cedeno with two away, and then K'd Kratz to end it.

Tonight was a complete embarrassment. St. Louis had 15 hits and drew 8 walks. The Pirates couldn't catch a cold, and were undisciplined as little leaguers at the plate, falling behind in the count and striking out nine times. Let's hope it's a hangover from deadline day.

Zach Duke goes against Adam Wainwright tomorrow afternoon.

-- Jose Tabata extended his hitting streak to eleven games with tonight's first inning single.

-- The Pirates traded three relievers, and played today two arms short in the pen only because Steve Jackson is still around. James McDonald is supposed to start his Bucco career in the pen, too, so that leaves one hole to fill.

-- The Pirates will send Ryan Doumit to his rehab assignment Monday and activate him from the DL on Friday. Here's what he had to say about the Chris Snyder trade:

"I think I'm an everyday player. I expect to play and I want to play every day." - to Rob Biertempfel, Tribune Review.
"I was shocked, obviously. I didn't know how to interpret it." - to Dejan Kovacevic, Post Gazette.
"I was surprised. I didn’t know what to think of that. That's about it." - to Jen Langosch,

-- Talk about a pro: DJ Carrasco, who lobbied to get traded to a contender, was instead sent to last-place Arizona. Rather than pout, he hopped a jet and was in uniform tonight. The two guys the Pirates traded for, Chris Snyder and James McDonald, aren't expected to report until tomorrow or Monday.

First Blush

At first blush, it looks like Neal Huntington is better at moving the fringes of a team rather than its core. He did what appears to be a pretty solid job this deadline.

He traded a 36 year-old, Octavio Dotel, and got a 25 year-old back end starter in James McDonald along with a 21 year-old outfield/first base prospect in Andrew Lambo. Lambo is intriguing, and at least adds some depth to the upper-level OF/1B mix.

He traded Javy Lopez, 33, and got a pair of 27 year-old AAA players, pitcher Joe Martinez and OF John Bowker. They'll both help stabilize an Indy team that's been beaten up, and Bowker has a shot as a platoon fourth outfielder, pinch-hitter type for the big club.

The first deal, snagging Chris Snyder, helps fill a season-long void at catching, not to mention clearing the pine of Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby. He also provides a bridge to Tony Sanchez. Snyder is one of the league's better defensive catchers, and has as much pop as Dewey, if a lower average. DJ Carrasco will be missed, but he's not a back-ender.

And shortstop Pedro Ciriaco helps fill a gap at SS at Indy, and allows guys like Brian Friday, Jordy Mercer, and Brock Holt time to develop.

And Huntington made one good move of omission when he held on to Paul Maholm. He may be up and down, but he's a tough man to replace on the staff. PM has averaged 30 starts and 189 innings from 2006-09, and more often than not pitched solidly. That's a big role to fill.

So we like it. Nothing earth shattering nor any major pieces of the puzzle connected this year, but the organization is stronger from the upper levels to PNC Park today than it was yesterday. And it was all done with short-term, throw-away pieces, players brought in as free agents to fill in the roster this year.

There are a couple of downsides. One is that the bullpen, Pittsburgh's knight in shining armor so far this season, has taken a big hit. There's also quite a logjam being created at first base/outfield with the additions of Bowker and Lambo. And for the promise these guys have, their teams all gave up on them - and who should know best?

Dotel A Dodger

Octavio Dotel joined the clubhouse procession today as he was sent to LA with $500K for RHP James McDonald and OF Andrew Lambo.

McDonald, 25, was used mostly out of the pen by the Dodgers. He was the Dodgers 2007 and 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but went 5-6 with a 4.11 ERA over the past three seasons for the Blue. At AAA Albuquerque, he was a starter and had a 6-1 slate with a 4.41 ERA and 57 K in 63-1/3 innings.

He's not a hard thrower, hitting between 89-92 MPH, but has an excellent curve and good change. The question about his future seems to be whether it lies as a starter or from the pen. He's reporting directly to the Pirates.

Andrew Lambo, 21, the Dodgers’ fourth-round selection in the 2007 draft, was one of the organization’s top outfield prospects (and also played a lot of first base), but was suspended for 50 games on May 1st for testing positive, allegedly for weed.

So the left fielder comes with baggage, ala Lastings Milledge. Lambo is hitting .271 with 4 HR and 25 RBI in 198 at-bats at AA Chattanooga, and could be a steal for the Bucs if they can turn him around like they did with LM. Lambo will report to Altoona.

Javy Lopez Going Going Gone

A couple of national sources report that the Pirates have sent Javier Lopez to the Giants for starter Joe Martinez and OF John Bowker.

Martinez was used as a cup-of-coffee reliever by the G-Men, but was doing pretty well as a starter at AAA Fresno. The 27 year-old righty was 5-3 with a 3.32 ERA, and averaged 7 K's and 3 BB's per nine innings with a WHIP of 1.279.

He a soft tosser. The Seton Hall product throws a 86-88 MPH sinking fastball, has a plus change and an average curve, pretty much the textbook description of a pitch-to-contact, ground ball hurler. Martinez is considered to be a fringe prospect.

Bowker, 27, is 6' 2" 200 pound outfielder (and a little 1B) with power. Last year at AAA Fresno, he hit .342 with 21 home runs, 83 RBI, 82 runs scored, and led the league in batting. This year, he's hitting .310/.384/.594 with 14 HR and 36 RBI in 197 at-bats.

But after a strong 2008 campaign, he's hit just .200 with 5 HR in 149 at-bats in the past two seasons for San Fran. Some think he needs regular time; others think he's a AAAA player.

Both will report to Indy.

So Neal Huntington turned his LOOGY into a pair of older fringe, but possibly MLB useful, prospects.

Done Deal

The deal with Arizona is: C Chris Snyder, AAA shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, and a reported $3M to the Pirates for RHP DJ Carrasco, OF Ryan Church, and infielder Bobby Crosby. We'll miss DJ.

Snyder, 29, is batting .231 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. He's best known for his glove, with a lifetime 30% throw-out rate and a .998 fielding percentage. In 4,425 innings behind the plate, he's given up just 40 passed balls and 24 wild pitches. The big if is how he's recovered from a back injury that cost him the last three months of 2009.

Ciriaco, 25, hit .256 for Class AAA Reno, with six home runs, 51 RBI and 14 steals. He is considered a top notch glove man, too, and is thought to have more upside than Argenis Diaz. The Dominican Republic native will be added to the 40-man roster and is expected to be assigned to Indy, giving the team some depth at a position they were thin at in the farm system's upper levels.

The Pirates also called up Jeff Clement and Argenis Diaz from Indy. Diaz becomes the backup shortstop, and he has a rep as a good glove, bad bat (.248 at Indy) player. We're not exactly sure where Clement fits into the scheme.

He regained his stroke in AAA, hitting .305 with eight home runs and 33 RBI in 40 games since he was sent down. But with Garrett Jones at first and Steve Pearce due back in August, there's quite a logjam forming at the gateway corner.

Maybe Jones or Doumit will replace Church as the LH fourth outfielder, and we'll see some platooning for Lastings Milledge. All of LM's splits are much stronger against lefties, so it would make some sense.

Brandon Moss would have made more sense, but the Bucs seem down on him, even as he tears up the International League. Suits; try and figure. They live in their own little world of whirring computers, grainy vids, scribbled evaluations and ouija boards.

This will cause some more shuffling. We're expecting Jason Jaramillo to get sent back down and Steve Jackson or an Indy arm to take DJ's place in the pen. Next week will probably be Erik Kratz's turn, as Dewey comes off the DL on August 6th and is said to be good to go.

Then again, Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette heard a little birdie say that Synder might get flipped in another deal, which could save Kratz's spot. And it's possible that the Pirates could still make some further moves on the market; they love the deadline action.

So the Bucs have improved, at least defensively, with Snyder and Diaz, and have their caddy for Tony Sanchez. The cost was a couple of weakly performing rental bench players, both who were given ample platoon time in June to prove their worth, and a handy but not crucial pen arm. And we think the poker game isn't quite done.

So stay tuned; it's all in flux right now, with four hours to go.

Sometimes It Only Takes One

Well, a slow enough start to this one. The grounds crew rolled up the tarp after a T-storm, the pitchers, Jeff Karstens and Chris Carpenter, came out to warm up, and hey - they were shooed off the field and the tarp was rolled back out. More time for the GMs to bond on the phone, we suppose, while the boomers boomed.

The storm rolled through eventually, and the game kicked off at 10:35. And for the first three innings, it was the calm after the storm. The Bucs had one hit; the Cards three, but a DP and caught stealing took away their thunder.

Pittsburgh found their bats a bit in the fourth, but a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out DP after Jose Tabata's leadoff single made Garrett Jones' knock a wasted effort.

The Redbirds tried the same ploy, leading off with a single, but Jon Jay was caught stealing with two outs; Erik Kratz was 2-for-2 gunning runners, though both calls were bang-bang and could have gone either way. Still, it's the first time this year that Bucco backstops have thrown out two runners.

The last time? September of 2009, when Dewey did it against the Cubs.

Both teams left a runner aboard in the fifth; it was a pitcher's duel to this point, 0-0, with just five stranded runners between the two clubs.

The Pirates tried to strike some two out lightning in the sixth when Neil Walker singled and Jones walked, but Pedro bounced out to first on the first pitch. St. Louis tried to pull some two out magic of their own out of the hat when Jay and Albert Pujols singled, but JK got Matt Holliday to pop to short.

The Pirates put runners on first and second with one away in the seventh, but pinch-hitter Delwyn Young hit a fly to short center, and Erik Kratz was picked off first by Yadier Molina on a set play to end the inning with McCutch up, bad timing for a rookie mistake.

Karstens, who had been kicked or spiked covering first, was lifted after six. He gave up seven hits and struck out two, and matched the Cardinal ace Carpenter pitch for pitch. Now it was up to the Three Amigos again.

Evan Meek got a pair of groundouts to start the seventh, and then walked weak-hitting Brendan Ryan. No problem; with the pitcher up, Ryan went on the first pitch. It was a pitch out, and Kratz nailed his third wanna-be of the night, the first three throw-out game since Keith Osik did it in 1999.

The Bucs went quietly in the eighth, and Meek returned to 1-2-3 the Cards on three weak grounders. Carpenter left for a pinch hitter, and the battle of the bullpens was on - and Tony LaRussa's mix-and-match style.

Lefty Trever Miller came on to face Jones and Pedro; he got them both on weak grounders. Then closer Ryan Franklin took the ball to face Lastings Milledge who had two hits; LM popped out to the catcher.

Joel Hanrahan took the hill for the Pirates. He struck out the side, facing Pujols and Holliday, and took over the team lead in K's with 63 - in just 45-2/3 innings of work!

Franklin set the Pirates down in order in the tenth. Javier Lopez took over for Pittsburgh. A double, bunt, and infield-in grounder gave the Cards that elusive run to win the game in ten, 1-0.

This is the kind of game the Cards are built to win, and the kind the Pirates have to learn to take. LaRussa pulled lefty Colby Rasmus when Lopez took the mound, and his caddy, righty Ryan Ludwick, doubled softly into left.

Molina laid down a perfect bunt to third after the Pirates opted to play it straight rather than run a wheel play. A ball that was intended to be unhittably outside was punched to the right side by Ryan. A diving Neil Walker, playing in, could only knock it down. If he gets it cleanly, they still may be playing; Ludwick wasn't going on contact, but was in safety mode at third.

There are still plenty of lessons yet to be learned by these guys, and LaRussa's teams are a great classroom. Pitching, D, and doing the little things well will win you a lot of ballgames.

The Pirates will send Daniel McCutchen against Jeff Suppan tomorrow.

-- Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports report that "The Diamondbacks and Pirates have spoken about a trade that would send catcher Chris Snyder to Pittsburgh." No mention of who else is thought to be part of the deal. (EDIT - it's being reported that it's a done deal; the announcement will come after MLB approves the cash transfer amount.)

Snyder, 29, is hitting .231 with 10 HR and 32 RBI; that's about his normal production, as he's a lifetime .233 hitter with a little bit of pop.

Snyder is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012; just enough team control to keep the plate warm for Tony Sanchez. He could also form a platoon with Dewey, though they would be an awfully expensive tandem - Synder will make $5.75M in 2011, Doumit $5.1M.

Whether the deal is completed or not, we'd suspect that if Dewey stays a Pirate, he'll become a platoon catcher with Snyder/Erik Kratz; his health and defense make him too much of a liability to rely on daily.

-- Today will mark the Pirates' first game in St. Louis since May 7, 2009, a span of 449 days. That is the longest gap between two teams at one site in the same division since divisional play began in 1969 (excluding strike-shortened 1981) say the Elias Sports Bureau.

-- Since the All-Star break, the Bucs have ranked 1-2-3 in offensive output in the NL: #1 in runs (73), #2 in average (.286), and #3 in slugging (.445). Not too bad for a truckload of green bananas. With the rugged St. Louis and Cincy staffs up next, the pups will face a good test of how far they've come along.

-- The Bucs may have gotten out of Colorado in the nick of time. The Rox walloped the Cubbies 17-2, and set a new MLB record by getting eleven consecutive hits.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Today's Moves...And No Pirates Gone (Yet)

-- Twitter is all atwitter with Paul Maholm trade rumors. The Padres, Mets, and Dodgers have all been associated with him; we'll find out soon enough. Nothing even suggesting a move for the bullpen vets, surprisingly.

-- The Twins acquired Matt Capps, 26, and $500K from the Nationals for LHP Joe Testa and highly touted C prospect Wilson Ramos today.

Ramos, 22, was ranked 58th among all MLB prospects on Baseball America's preseason list. He hit .241/.280/.345 in AAA with five homers this season. Joe Mauer's presence in Minnesota made him expendable for the Twins, but Ramos is considered an eventual MLB starter.

Testa has a 5.50 ERA between high A and AA and the 24 year-old has yet to pitch above AA.

So now we know his value; a young, highly thought-of AAA prospect and a AA project. Of course, the Pirates might have never rebuilt Capps' value; he had 25 saves and a 2.80 ERA with the Nats. Still, he did have some worth, and the Pirates didn't collect a bag of scuffed BP balls for it.

Others would argue that the Capps affair was, in reality, a straight-up swap for Octavio Dotel. So we'll see what OD fetches on the marketplace before we pass judgment. And we may not get to see that happen in the next 24 hours; Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports tweets that "action has been light" on him. The Pirates place closer value on him; other teams see him as a set-up guy and an insurance policy.

-- The Pirates acquired outfielder Mitch Jones, 32, from the Braves for cash and assigned him to Indy. Jones hit .250 with 18 homers for AAA Gwinnett, and had a cup of coffee last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe the move is presaging a call for Brandon Moss from the big club, although the suits deny it. Until then, he's just a little more organizational depth.

-- The Dodgers designated LHP Jack Taschner for assignment. LA picked him up after the Bucs DFA'ed him. Taschner got one guy out of the six batters he faced, not a very good way to establish yourself as a team's LOOGY.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pirates, Maholm, Pounded

Well, JR must of seen this one coming. McCutch and Dewey out, Milledge and Cedeno getting a blow on getaway day, and Ubaldo Jimenez pitching. And hey, it started off OK when Garrett Jones doubled home Jose Tabata for a quick 1-0 lead.

Paul Maholm picked a bad day to report to the hill, though. It seems like every time he strings together a couple of strong outings and gets his ERA in shape, he comes up with a clunker or two.

And we'd say that giving up eight runs in 5-1/3 innings on eleven hits with three walks and three K's while tossing 120 pitches and allowing more than half the runs after two were away is the textbook definition of a clunker. Hey, you didn't think the roadhouse blues were done being sung yet, did you?

Steve Jackson got to work up a sweat before his expected return to Indy. He went 1-2/3 frames, giving up a run on four hits.

Jimenez, against the afternoon rag-tags, went seven innings, giving up a run on four hits, three walks, and striking out six. The Bucs celebrated his departure when Neil Walker bopped his fifth homer with two away in the eighth and Tabata aboard off Rafael Bentacourt to make it 9-3.

Javier Lopez threw a clean eighth. Huston Street came on to close, just to check out his recovery from a shot he took a couple of days ago in the...well, don't ask, but it hurt. Pittsburgh went down in order, and headed to the airport. Maybe they'll have a better day against the TSA than they did against Jimenez.

The Bucs roll into St. Louis tomorrow night. Jeff Karstens matches up with the Cards' Chris Carpenter; it doesn't get easier.

-- JR was going to give Jose Tabata the day off so he didn't have to match up against a powerhouse righty until McCutch dropped out of the order. Doesn't look like JT needed much sympathy; he went 2-for-4 and scored twice. And anyway, how's a guy supposed to get better if you just save him for the cupcakes?

-- The Pirates' medicos checked on Ohlendorf every two hours last night - don't you hate when they do that? - and it appears that he didn't suffer a concussion. In fact, he may not miss a turn after being beaned by a Troy Tulowitzki liner.

-- Andrew McCutchen was penciled in to play today, but his shoulder was achy during batting practice. He was scratched from the lineup, and his status is day-to-day.

-- DJ Carrasco joined Octavio Dotel in saying he's fine with being traded to a contender. See what four months in a Pirate uniform does to a guy? They go from rah-rah to bye-bye.

-- Brendan Donnelly cleared waivers and was officially released by the team today. The club tried to trade the right-hander but found no takers.

Jones, McCutch Hot; Rox Not

The Bucs went down quietly in the first to Aaron Cook; the Rox came back with a messy - and scary - bottom half.

Ohlie gave up a leadoff single to Seth Smith, and he was doubled off by Neil Walker who snagged a soft liner. Carlos Gonzalez singled with a bouncer up the middle, went to third on a pick-off throw that went through Garrett Jones, and scored on a Troy Tulowitzki liner.

The scary part? Tulowitzki's liner went off Ross Ohlendorf's head; it was hit so hard that it landed in short right on the fly. Ohlie never went down - those Texans are tough - but he was immediately yanked and taken by ambulance for treatment.

But he appears OK. He was alert all the time, and the hospital says he has a bad contusion and an abrasion, basically a cut and bruise. He even returned to Coors Field, and was joking with Jeff Karstens and the other guys in the dugout, and was part of the post game high-five conga line.

Bob Walk of FSN had the best line of the night, when after Ohlie was declared OK by the docs and on his way back to the park, said that his head was so hard because it was so jammed with facts, referring to his Princeton degree.

Still, it was reminiscent of the ball Lance Berkman drilled off Chris Jakubauskas; eerily, both were hit by the fourth batter of the game in the first. Sean Gallagher came on to get, in effect, his first start as a Pirate. And it was a good beginning; he struck out Brad Hawpe.

Jones evened it up in the second when he bopped his thirteenth long fly, driving this one into the evergreens by the Pirates right center field bullpen.

The Rox gift wrapped the third, and the Pirates reacted like kids at Christmas. Gallagher walked, Andrew McCutchen got aboard on a dropped fly, and Jose Tabata legged out a Baltimore Chop when the first baseman wandered away from the sack.

Neil Walker singled in two, and Jones and Pedro each singled home another. Manny Corpas came on the end the onslaught, but it was 5-1 Bucs going into the bottom of the third.

Gallagher walked a pair in the third, but got Tulowitzki to fly to center to continue his scoreless skein.

With two outs in the fourth, Gallagher walked another, and JR handed the ball over to Wil Ledezema, making his first Pirate appearance. Gallagher went 3 innings, threw 57 pitches (only 28 for strikes), and walked three, struck out four.

It was a good start; Ledezema threw heat, hitting 94 and 95 on the gun, and whiffed Miguel Oliva trying to catch up to a high fastball.

The Pirates looked like they were going to get to Corpas in the fifth, when Jones legged out another hustle double and Pedro walked. Lastings Milledge squelched the rally by hitting into a 6-4-3 DP, which has been haunting the Bucs during this series.

Ledezema got a bit of a rude awakening in the fifth. He threw 13 pitches, and 12 were fastballs. He got hitting-challenged Dexter Fowler to hit a shallow fly, but McCutch crashed into the wall at the 415' mark to haul in Seth Smith's blast and Jones snagged a rope smacked by Jonathan Herrera. Still, looks like three soft grounders in the scorebook.

McCutchen's catch caused a little anxiety; he came of the wall grimacing after banging his recently injured shoulder running down the fly, but after some milling around and probing by the trainer, he stayed in.

The pitchers turned over, too. Tyler Buchholz 1-2-3'ed the Pirates in the sixth and Javier Lopez took over for Ledezma.

The Rox got a leadoff run when Carlos Gonzalez mashed a ball into right for his 18th home run; it hit off the third deck railing.

Then Tulowitzki chopped an infield hit to third; the throw escaped Jones and Tulo headed to second. Walker, backing up, made a bad toss, in the dirt and to the outfield side of the sack, but Ronny Cedeno snagged it cleanly and made a diving tag to get the out.

The baserunning blunder would cost them a run an out later when Ryan Spilborghs doubled into straighaway center, over McCutch's head. Given new life, Lopez K'ed Ian Stewart.

With a three run lead, JR brought DJ Carrasco in for the seventh. He got the first two Rox, and gave up a ground rule double to Smith. It's hard to believe that Colorado's outfield is so good that he's a bench player; he's roped everything Pittsburgh has thrown at him. Not so for Herrera; he K'ed chasing a high heater.

Garrett Jones tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when he pounded his second HR, a lead-off drive into right. Joel Hanrahan came on for the bottom half of the frame with a 6-2 cushion and kept it that way.

The Pirates blew a golden chance to really ice the game in the ninth, when they had runners on second and third with one away, but Tabata and Walker couldn't bring them home.

Octavio Dotel finished off the game in a non-save situation. He got the first two hitters on a sliding catch of a soft liner by McCutch and a snag of a liner to third by Pedro. Two ground balls sneaked through the infield to add a little drama, but the third roller was hit to Jones, who took the out unassisted (and nearly trampled Dotel in the process.)

For the Rockies, it was the eighth loss in a row; they're playing a lot like the sad sack Buccos were, making errors in executing basic plays and sorely lacking clutch hits. And they had no answer for Jones, who was 4-for-5 with two homers, a double, 3 RBI and two runs scored, or McCutch, who had a double, two singles, a walk and run scored.

Pittsburgh is far from hitting on all cylinders, but solid D, aggressive baserunning, decent run production and strong pitching will help minimize the cost of the mistakes.

Paul Maholm is scheduled to face Ubaldo Jimenez in tomorrow's get-away game.

--This marks the first time this season since mid-May against the Cubs that the Pirates have won back-to-back games on the road.

-- Here's a scary thought: we're nearly into August, and the Pirates have yet to put together a winning streak of over three games. Even in the disaster that was 2009, they strung together a pair of five game streaks. One was in May, with the roster intact; the other was in August, after the team had been gutted.

-- GW's observation from Coor's Field: The balls may be in humidors, but every fly out seems like it's hit to the track - and that's with the corners being 347' and 354', and the gaps going 420'-424'. Ah, nothin' like that mountain air.

-- Aki Iwamura was taken to the hospital today after being injured in a collision at first base while beating out an infield hit. No word on his condition yet, although his CT scans were negative.

-- Brandon Moss hit a grand slam today; he has 17 HR and 70 RBI at Indy. Ryan Church's clock is ticking...

-- Craig Hansen has joined the Bradenton Marauders’ roster to begin his rehab work. Nice to get someone back.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trade Rumors, Farm Downers

The Pirates will probably not be very busy this deadline. They're nearly done with housecleaning, and don't have that many baubles to offer.

Their starters, both pitching and in the field, hold more value for Pittsburgh than they do for the teams inquiring about their availability, so Neal Huntington is rightly seeking an overpay for them.

The bench, except for Delwyn Young, doesn't feature an Eric Hinske-like piece (and he only brought in a pair of Class A players), and the bullpen, like the starters, may hold more value for the home team than contenders.

Joel Hanrahan, Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez and DJ Carrasco are the most asked about, but only Lopez is replaceable in the Bucco system, and all four are under team control for 2011. So we'll see what Friday brings...

-- Jon Morosi tweets that the "Pirates are hearing from teams on lefty reliever Javier Lopez, source says. Lopez holding lefties to .200 average this year." He didn't add any specifics, but thinks that the Giants, Phillies, Red Sox, Twins, and Rays could use a left-handed reliever.

The Bucs just brought up Wil Ledezema and Indy's Justin Thomas is on the 40-man roster and doing well in AAA, so they still have LOOGY's in the pipeline.

-- Matthew Pouliot of NBC's Hardball Talk says this about Pirate trade bait:
" (Garrett Jones) current .270/.333/.422 line is a lot closer to what his minor league numbers suggested he'd hit. Jones won't even be arbitration eligible next year, so the Pirates may want to keep him around as an extremely cheap regular. Still, if they can get a couple of intriguing prospects for him now, they should go for it and then start looking to find the next Jones. The Angels are believed to have asked about him (EDIT - publicized in a national publication, denied by the locals), and he could also be a fit with the White Sox or with the Rangers" and adds:

"(Ryan) Church has had a disastrous season in Pittsburgh, hitting just .187/.242/.319 in 166 at-bats, and at this rate, he could well end up in Japan next year. Maybe it's a coincidence, but he hasn't been the same player since suffering multiple concussions in 2008. The Pirates will gladly give him away if anyone comes calling."
And if it ain't for bad news...some farmhand stories:

-- LHP Dana Eveland of Indy has been placed on the DL due to elbow soreness. The Bucs signed indie league RHP Travis Chick and sent him to the Tribe; their staff has taken a big hit in the past couple of weeks with callups, injuries, and defections to Japan. Chick last pitched MLB ball for the Angels in 2006.

-- Altoona prospect CF Gorkys Hernandez was hit by a pitch, and now he's on the DL with a broken ring finger and is out for the season; they're hoping he'll be ready to play winter ball. It's been a tough year for farm guys getting plunked; maybe the Pirates need a minor league dodgeball coordinator.

Talk about a brutal year for prospects, health-wise: Kevin Hart and Donnie Veal had season-ending surgeries; Tony Sanchez had his jaw broken; shortstops Brian Friday and Brock Holt suffered leg injuries, plus a variety of lesser injuries - Tyler Yates, Chris Hansen, and Jose Ascanio haven't recovered from 2009 work; Starling Marte is beginning his second rehab for hamate surgery; Bryan Morris always has an goes on.

-- Two camps ago, Shelby Ford was promoted to Indy and considered the heir apparent to Freddie Sanchez at second. Yesterday, he was sent down to High A Bradenton. The higher you get, the further the fall.

-- RHP Jose Acosta, 18, of the Pirates' VSL team will miss the remainder of the season after receiving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for Stanozolol. He's the first Bucco to get busted in two years.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bucs Win On The Road - This Is Not A Drill!

The Bucs jumped out ahead quickly on Jorge De La Rosa. McCutch doubled to left, and Jose Tabata rolled one up the middle to score him. Neil Walker dropped a bunt hit, and there were runners on first and second, no outs, for Garrett Jones and Pedro.

Jones proved to be a party pooper, banging into a 6-4-3 DP, but De La Rosa aided the cause by uncorking a wild pitch to plate JT, making it 2-0 Pirates before the Rox got to the plate.

Looked like they'd need them, too, as De La Rosa settled down, and at one point in the second and third frames struck out four straight Buccos. But Zach Duke was more than his match during the first three frames, giving up a hit and walk and holding on to that 2-0 lead.

De La Rosa kept throwing change-ups and the Bucs kept swinging and missing them; he struck out the side in the fourth. Eleven straight Buccos went down after five.

For Duke, the Pirate Achilles' heel, the bottom of the order, ruined his goose egg streak. The 7-8 hitters, Brad Hawpe and Cliff Barmes, both dropped balls over the 390' mark in left, back-to-back. Hawpe's was a sinker; Barmes a curve, both down but in the middle of the plate. It was a new game after five, 2-2.

The Rockies tried to hand the Bucs a big inning in the sixth; they turned it down. An error and ball off the third baseman's mitt put runners at first and second; Jones stroked a hustle double to score a run. A run in, runners on second and third, no outs.

A Pedro K - he hasn't solved MLB lefties yet - was followed by a walk to Lastings Milledge to load the sacks. But Ronny Cedeno bounced into 6-4-3 DP, and like in the opening frame, the Pirates shot themselves in the foot.

Duke worked a 1-2-3 sixth, and somewhat surprisingly, was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh after just 76 pitches. He went six innings, giving up two runs on three hits with a pair of walks and four K's.

A couple of balls in the sixth were hit well; JR apparently felt that the Zachster was running on a low tank. It was time for the Three Amigos.

Evan Meek took the hill in the seventh, and had problems finding the plate. He worked out of it, though, leaving runners on the corners by getting Dexter Fowler on a come backer.

De La Rosa left after seven. St. Mary's Joe Biemel worked the eighth, and one mistake pitch - a heater over the middle - was launched over the 390' mark in left by Neil Walker to add an insurance run. All three home runs landed probably with 25' of one another; the fans in that section took home a lot of souvenirs tonight.

The Bucs proved that three wrongs can make a right to lead off the seventh. Joel Hanrahan gave Ryan Spilborghs a 1-2 slider over the heart of the plate that he sliced into left; mistake #1 on JH. Tabata misread the ball and took a bad route, letting it hit and roll to the wall; mistake #2.

Spilborghs tried to get three bases out of it; a great, blind relay throw by Cedeno cut him down. And Spilborghs' mistake was the one that made it right for Pittsburgh. It kept the score 4-2 going into the ninth.

Octavio Dotel closed in the final inning. He avoided giving up a leadoff double like his other Amigos thanks to a running grab by McCutch at the 415' mark in center. OD did eventually give up a two-bagger, with two outs, but got a fly to left to earn his 21st save.

Both teams squandered scoring chances, but tonight the Bucs played a pretty clean all-around game with a handful of defensive gems, and were the more opportunistic nine. It was enough to take a 4-2 win, and at least for one game, toss the road monkey off their back.

Ohlie goes against Aaron Cook tomorrow evening.

-- The Bucs, as expected, brought up a pair of relievers, LH Wil Ledezema and RH Steve Jackson. One will go back to Indy by Saturday, when the Pirates need to find a starter to take Bad Brad's place in the rotation.

Both have done yeoman's work at Indy, but not had much success in the MLB.

-- West Virginia's Phillip Irwin was named Pitcher of the Week in the Sally League, going 1-0 with a seven inning no-hitter and 17 K in 14 IP. Irwin, a RHP, was taken in the 21st round of the 2009 draft from Ol' Miss.

-- State College's Tyler Waldron, this year's fifth round pick, won the POTW honors for the New York-Penn League, throwing 11 scoreless frames. Waldron is a RHP from Oregon State.

-- The Braves sent Nate McLouth to the minors today; when the Morton-for-McLouth trade was made, who would have guessed it was a AAA deal?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Young Turks

Just to add to the last post, here's what the pitchers drafted by Pittsburgh in 2009 are doing:

Victor Black (RHP, 23, 1st round sandwich pick, Dallas Baptist): 1-2, 3.45 ERA with 33 K in 31-1/3 IP at State College; 0-0, 9.45 ERA with 8K and 5BB in 4-2/3 IP at West Virginia.
Brooks Pounder (RHP, 19, 2nd round, Tecumseh Valley HS): 2-2, 3.04 ERA, 20 K in 23-2/3 IP in GCL; 2-2, 4.63 ERA, 19 K in 23-1/3 IP at State College.
Zack Dodson (LHP, 20, 4th round, Medina Valley HS): 0-2, 6.08 ERA in 23-2/3 IP with 18 K and 13 BB for State College.
Nathan Baker (LHP, 22, 5th round, Ol' Miss): 6-5, 2.99 ERA in 87-1/3 IP with 63 K and 1.01 WHIP at West Virginia; threw 8 inning no-hitter.
Zachary Von Rosenberg (RHP, 19, 6th round, Zachary HS): 1-5, 5.23 ERA, 31 IP with 19 K for State College.
Trent Stevenson (RHP, 20, 7th round, Brophy Jesuit Prep):Pitched 5 innings in GCL; 0-1, 3.93 ERA in 18-1/3 IP with 8 K at State College.
Billy Cain (LHP, 19, 8th round, Waxahachie HS): 0-1, 3.77 ERA in 14-1/3 IP with 15 K; 0-0, 3.00 ERA in 6 IP with 6 K at State College.
Phillip Irwin (RHP, 23, 21st round, Ol' Miss): 5-1, 2.66 ERA in 73-2/3 IP with 69 K for West Virginia; threw a seven inning no-hitter.
Zachary Fuesser (LHP, 20, 34th round, Walters State CC): 0-1, 4.30 ERA in 23 IP with 21 K and 12 BB for State College.
Teddy Fallon (RHP, 43rd round, South Carolina @ Spartansburg): 0-0, 5.06 ERA in 5-1/3 IP with 3 K and 10 BB for State College; just promoted to West Virginia.

Baker, Irwin, and Cain are off to good starts; the rest, statistically, aren't performing real well, though most of them have a good strikeout ratio. And that's the key indicator at this stage of their profession.

The Pirates stress fastball command at the lower levels, so not only are the kids facing pro batters for the first time, but they're doing it with one hand tied behind their back, throwing the old number one.

But hey, the point isn't how they're doing now; that's immaterial in the early stage of their careers. The point is, as mentioned before, that the Pirates have restocked the pitching pool to a degree, but don't have anyone that's within shouting distance of Pittsburgh from the Neal Huntington era, and won't for awhile.

The suits, seeing how devoid the organization was in arms, veered 180 degrees from the old bosses and pinned their hopes on high school arms rather than later round college kids. And that's a sound way to stock the system for the long term.

But even if they hit the trifecta and land Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia this year, they can't expect full-time help from the last two pitching-rich classes until 2013. And that gap, especially with all the positional prospects already at PNC, is what they'll have to address in the coming seasons.

The Hill To Climb

Hey, the suits thought they had the starting pitching figured out in 2010. Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke would make up a young but promising rotation, with Donnie Veal and Brad Lincoln tucked away at Indy, and Tim Alderson at Altoona. Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen were MLB ready guys if a quick call-up or spot start was needed during the long grind.

Everything seemed to be in order. But as that crafty vet, Scotsman Robert Burns noted "The best laid plans of mice and men go oft' astray." And boy, astray they went.

First, Hart couldn't beat McCutchen out of camp. Ohlie got hurt in early April; he wouldn't return until May 11th. McCutchen got bombed as a starter; so did Morton. Hart had labrum surgery. Veal had Tommy John surgery. Jose Ascanio, a potential starter, still hasn't pitched this year after shoulder surgery at the end of last season.

The dominoes started falling. Karstens become more than a long relief/spot starter; he rejoined the rotation. Lincoln was called up and sent back down. Brian Burres, Chris Jakubauskas and Dana Eveland all got starts. Duke went on the DL.

Alderson was demoted a level, and is still getting creamed as the Pirates try to defunk his motion. And as of today, the Pirate brass are consulting their ouija board for a fifth starter. Aye carumba!

The starters have an ERA of 5.42 and an 18-52 record. And next year doesn't promise to get much better.

Veal and Hart will be of no help; it will be the summer before they get to throw in a game again. Lincoln may be ready in 2011, if he's absorbed his lessons - keep the ball down, avoid the middle of the plate, and manage a game to keep out of the big inning. That's a lot of schooling.

Alderson, Bryan Morris, and Jeff Locke won't impact the MLB staff next year, if ever. Rudy Owens should be going to Indy soon; he has a puncher's chance of making the 2011 rotation at best. And all the young turks are toiling at the lower levels of the system. It'll be 2013 before any of them even are a thought to take the hill at PNC.

Ohlie, Duke and Maholm will form the backbone of the 2011 staff. Ohlendorf will be entering his first arbitration year, Duke his third (he's making $4.3M in 2010), and Maholm will be in the final year of his contract, with a 2012 team option.

Morton returning to MLB caliber is key for Pittsburgh. He doesn't hit arbitration until 2012, but this season was his last option year, so it's play him or lose him in 2011. The last starter? It's a Chinese menu; pick among Karstens, Sean Gallagher, McCutchen, and Lincoln.

So we think the 2011 rotation will be Maholm-Ohlendorf-Duke-Morton-Lincoln. Kinda like this year's staff, hey?

The system isn't devoid of arms, but between visits to the chop shop and drafts that have emphasized high school players, the timeline for in-house help is down the road.

Most MLB clubs leave room for a pitching pick-up when the free agents hit the market, and the Pirates should be looking that way. One veteran guy that's above-average - not elite; those contracts are beyond Pittsburgh's means - is something this team needs badly, a Jon Garland type of guy.

But a quick peek at the FA list for 2011 isn't promising; it features a lot of arms of the quality Pittsburgh already possesses.

So it looks like more of the same in 2011; let's hope the staff is a year wiser from this year's experiences - and the lower levels don't blow out as many arms.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pitching Is The Name Of The Game

The Pirates looked like they were going to jump off to a quick start; Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata led off with singles. Three outs later, they were still there.

But in the second, Lastings Milledge somehow dropped a 1-2 changeup, off the plate and ankle high, into center for a leadoff single. Ronny Cedeno followed by yanking a fastball high and deep into left, and it was 2-0, Buccos.

Bad Brad's training wheels fell off in the third. After an out, pitcher Wade LeBlanc slapped a 3-2 pitch into left, and Jerry Hairston dropped a parachute inside the line between Pedro and RC for another knock. Chris Denorfia doubled them home on a ball Tabata took a bad angle on (and it still may have been over his head) to plate them both. Adrian Gonzalez hit one over the Clemente Wall, and just like that, it was 4-2, bad guys.

They weren't done. With two away, Yorvit Torrealba walked, and stole second. It was a delayed steal; Erik Kratz's throw was in plenty of time and over the base, but no one was covering. With Torrealba at second, Will Venable softly lined a single into center to score him.

The disappointing part is that Lincoln had been locating his pitches pretty well the first two frames, but Denorfia and Gonzalez both got BP pitches down the middle. Sometimes we think his problem isn't stuff, but focus; it looks a lot like he overthrows when he gets into a jam, or maybe doesn't have his mechanics straight from the stretch. Whatever it is, he's working on a return ticket to Indy.

Now if Lincoln pitched as well as he hit...with two away in the fourth, he poked a liner that ticked off Chase Headley's mitt into left and scored Cedeno, whose strong slide just beat the tag. Cedeno was aboard on a double.

In the seventh, Denorfia hit a 3-2 heater that cut across the middle of the plate, letter high, over the 399' mark in center. Evan Meek came in and pitched a clean frame. Lincoln went six innings, giving up six runs on eight hits, striking out three and walking a pair.

Meek hung around for the eighth, too, and Joel Hanrahan threw a 1-2-3 ninth. Maybe JR won't be so quick to save guys for tomorrow, as he did in the first two games of the series with Meek and Hanrahan.

The Buc bats were silent after Cedeno's score. Tabata singled to lead off the fifth; the next Pirate to reach base was Cedeno, who walked with two outs in the ninth. You won't win many ball games with that kind of day at the dish.

In the first four frames, Pittsburgh had seven hits. Three runs may be OK, but they hit 1-for-5 with RISP during that span; there were more scores to be had. And if you let a good pitcher off the hook, games like today result.

The Pirates are off tomorrow, and open in Colorado Tuesday. Zach Duke will start the series against Jorge De La Rosa.

-- After the game, the Pirates sent Bad Brad (1-4, 6.44 ERA) back to Indy, not much of a surprise, and DFA'ed Brendan Donnelly (3-1, 5.58 ERA, 25 walks in 30-2/3 innings), which was, despite his poor performance. Since they're off tomorrow, it may be a bit before we find out who the replacements are.

If the new players are from Indy, LH reliever Wil Ledezema and RHP Daniel McCutchen would be the leading candidates. Ledezema could take BD's place on the 40-man roster (although another lefty, Justin Thomas, is on it), while McCutchen, along with Charlie Morton and Brian Burres, are all currently on the 40-man.

There aren't a lot of strong AAA options right now, so a trade or even Sean Gallagher or DJ Carrasco joining the rotation are possibilities, although DJ is a valuable part of the pen. With the day off, the suits could call up two relievers; they won't need the fifth starter until Saturday.

-- Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated thinks that Octavio Dotel is the Pirates most obvious pitching trade bait: "He's thrived in Pittsburgh's pen this year, and with Evan Meek there, he looks like an obvious trade chip. His original team, the Mets, could be a fit, as could several others."

Heyman doesn't see any Pirate position players as hot items, although he includes a posse of ex-Buccos: Adam LaRoche, Jose Bautista, Xavier Nady, and Nyjer Morgan as being shopped on the market.

-- Tim Brown of Yahoo!Sports sees some love for Paul Maholm.

-- Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk says this about Andy LaRoche:
"With Pedro Alvarez up, LaRoche hasn't made a start for the Pirates in three weeks. It's not as though he didn't deserve to be replaced -- he's hit just .232/.300/.310 in 203 at-bats -- but he probably is worthy of one more opportunity. In 2009, he was pretty much an average regular while hitting .258/.330/.401 and playing very good defense at third. The Indians are one team that might be willing to give him a shot during the final two months, assuming that they can find a taker for Peralta first. The Pirates probably won't require much in return."
-- Though talks with Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie seem to be non-existent, the Bucs this year do have a bit of leverage. The 2011 labor talks with the Player's Association include discussion of a hard slotting system. The agents have to take a future cap into consideration, and that wildcard could work in Pittsburgh's favor.

-- Steve Millar of the Southtown Star reports that Rob Mackowiak had joined the indie Frontier League Windy City Thunderbolts as a hitting coach. (passed on by Charlie at the Buc's Dugout)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Jokers

Jeff Karstens was keeping the ball down in the early going, and looking good. The only hoise the Padres made was when Chase Headley led off the second with a double, but a pair of pop-ups and a K kept him anchored.

Mat Latos, fresh off the DL, showed a little rust early on. He walked a pair of runners in the second, but stranded them at second and third when Jeff Karstens bounced out.

In the third, Jose Tabata, who had singled in the first, caught a fastball and sent it into the seats the opposite way, dropping it over the 375' mark in right center.

So far, so good - Karstens was working on a two-hitter, and up 1-0 after three frames. Latos had surrendered three hits, and hung a couple of sliders that he got away with.

Adrian Gonzalez opened the fourth with a sharply hit ball off Pedro's glove, and letting the leadoff man on usually bites the Pirates. But Karstens got away with it again, getting a 4-6-3 DP and fly out.

Ronny Cedeno got a one-out single and stole second. JJ gave the ball a ride, but it was hauled down at the track in left and Karstens K'd. The Buc 8-9 hitters, in four innings, left five runners in scoring position.

The opening hitter got aboard for the third time in the fifth when Will Venable dumped a soft single into right after Karstens hung a 1-2 curve, and this time it cost.

Venable stole second, his 16th of the year, and went to third on a ground out. Weak-hitting Evert Cabrera lined a single into center, and it was tied. But Karstens cleaned up the inning when Latos bunted back to mound and into a DP.

The Bucs got it back in a hurry. With one away, Delwyn Young took a slider away and belt high and bombed it over the same 375' mark in right center that Tabata did, and the Pirates were back up 2-1.

Karstens just can't get that first batter out no matter what. This time, Jerry Hairston Jr. got to second when Pedro booted a grounder. Chris Denorfia walked on five pitches, and trouble was brewing with Gonzalez, headley, and Matt Stairs looming.

AG rolled a ground ball single into right, scoring a run and putting Padres on the corners. Karstens dropped an 0-2 curve down the middle of the plate, and Headley drilled it into right for another run, with runners still at first and third with no outs. Make that second and third; Headley stole second on the first pitch.

He got Stairs to hit a foul pop to Pedro, and intentionally walked Venable to load the sacks. It didn't work; Nick Hundley hit a deep sac fly to left center to make it 4-2. Again, a Pirate miscue opened the gates for an opportunistic San Diego nine; that's why they're in first and Pittsburgh, well, isn't.

With one away, Cedeno doubled. But Jaramillo, up with a runner in scoring position and less than two outs, could only deliver a bouncer to second. Ryan Church pinch-hit for Karstens; he went down swinging. Church is becoming Aki Iwamura's clone at the plate; he's hitting .189.

Karstens went six innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Javier Lopez came on to start the seventh. he picked up right where Karstens left off, giving up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Aaron Cunningham.

Lopez walked Hairston. Denorfia popped out, and the Bucco LOOGY finally got to a lefty, Gonzalez, who obliged by hitting into a 1-6-3 DP, the Pirates' third of the game.

Latos went six innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits with two walks and seven K's. Pretty similar line to Karstens, except for the unearned runs.

Ernesto Freiri, who struck out the side yesterday, got another crack at Pittsburgh in the seventh. Tabata welcomed him back with his third hit, a double. Young grounded out to first, moving JT to third. In a big out, Freiri K'ed Walker, who went fishing for a pair of outside heaters.

LHP Joe Thatcher came in from the pen to face Jones, and struck him out. Sean Gallagher, strong last night, took the hill in the eighth. He had the leadoff runner reach, too, this time on a Jones boot, for the sixth time in eight innings.

Tony Gywnn Jr. lined 2-0 fastball into left, and the Padres were cookin', especially after he walked Venable on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases and did the same to Hundley to force in a run. And Gallagher missed badly on both payoff pitches. As if that wasn't bad enough, it began to rain.

After the rain delay, DJ Carrasco came on to relieve Gallagher. JR must consider him a miracle worker; he brought him in for the same situation - bases loaded, no outs - last night.

Cabrera hit a swinging bunt with the only play to first, scoring another and advancing the runners. Oscar Salazar doubled them both in. That closed the book on Gallagher - no innings, four runs (three earned) one hit, two walks.

Denorfia hit a ground ball up the middle, and the game was a 9-2 rout. the Bucs went down meekly to Tim Stauffer in the eighth, and Octavio Dotel got the mop up call for the ninth, striking out two of three hitters. Stauffer mowed 'em down in the ninth, and loss #63 was in the books.

The Bucs got thumped, for sure, but one question - where were Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan the last two nights? OK, they were used a lot; maybe yesterday was a rest day, even if it was a 4-3 game in the seventh. But turning another tight game over to Sean Gallagher with Meek and Hanrahan in the pen? Maybe there's a problem or situation we don't know about with them, but geez...

We're wondering if they're trying to showcase the vets in the pen with a week to the deadline. If so, that's a pity to put the team in a less competitive position just to milk a couple more AA players for the organization.

(JR's response to their absence, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette after the game, is that he prefers to use them when he has the lead.)

Brad Lincoln and Wade LeBlanc pitch tomorrow afternoon's game.

-- Tonight's crowd was 36,967, the 6th sellout this year. Maybe Steve Miller can pitch, too.

-- Indy's LH reliever Wil Ledezma lowered his ERA to 0.94 tonight, and hasn't been charged with a run since May 30th. Just saying, in case someone wants Javier Lopez...

Saturday Stuff

The news today:

-- The Padres are 26-20 on the road going into tonight, the only NL team to register a winning record away from home.

-- The beat guys say Andrew McCutchen is still day-to-day; he could play tonight or be held out until the Tuesday road trip starts.

-- Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes that "It will be interesting to see if the Pirates surrender a guy like Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan. Both could interest the Rockies. And I expect them to call about them. But the price on all bullpen guys is high right now."

Hopefully, sky-high for that pair. Both are under team control for years; Hanrahan hits arbitration next season, and Meek in 2012.

-- Bryan Morris has been skipped in Altoona rotation, according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette. Aside from the fact that he's been getting toasted of late, he's at 103 innings of work, a career high, and may be getting worn down. He'll be treated with kid gloves from here on out.

-- Altoona Curve RHP Jeff Sues, who's been on the DL with an ankle sprain since July 3rd, was suspended for violation of club policy. As usual, the Pirates had nothing to add, report the beat guys.

-- RHP Teddy Fallon (0-0, 5.06) and LHP Justin Ennis (2-0, 5.40) were both promoted from short season State College to Class A West Virginia. Fallon, 24, who has walked ten batters in five innings, was a low pick in the 2009 draft and Ennis, 23, was a late pick this season. Age before beauty, hey?

-- Ramon Vazquez was released for the second time this season. The Astros cut him loose after the Mariners had done the same earlier in the year. $2M doesn't get you what it used to, we see.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Taking Advantage...

The Pirate blues with runners on third and less than two outs still hasn't been taken care of. In the first, after a scoreless start by Paul Maholm, the Bucs had runners on first and third, one out, for the clean-up hitter Garrett Jones. Hit it in the air, guy.

Nah. He hit a one-hopper to first; the ball went home and Jose Tabata was called out. Replays showed he was safe without question after backdooring a slide and planting his hand on the plate, but the ump, Bill Welke, missed it. But Jones' job is to get it out of the infield, and he didn't.

The Padres, primed by a misplay by Tabata, cranked it up in the second. A liner hit at him carried over his head for a triple when he misread the ball. But after that, with 7-8-9 up, it was on Maholm.

Oscar Salazar ripped a ball down the line that Pedro dove and gloved, but had no play on after the snag. A walk loaded the bases, and pitcher Kevin Correia singled through the hole with Ronny Cedeno at double play depth and cheating toward the middle.

A sac fly brought in a second run. A double brought home a third; a sac fly another. The inning was set up by another season-long Pirate weakness, the inability to close out the bottom of the order, and it was 4-0 early on.

Tabata's day keep going downhill; after a leadoff single by Maholm in the third, JT bounced into a 4-6-3 DP. Mama said there'd be days like this.

The Bucs started the climb back in the fourth when a walk to Walker and a Pedro infield single and error put runners at second and third. And they paid; Lastings Milledge dropped a two-run single to left to halve the lead, 4-2.

Cedeno stared the fifth with a double toward the North Side Notch and was moved to third by Maholm. Tabata did his job, bouncing out to bring RC home and making it 4-3. Delwyn Young walked, but Walker's drive was brought in just short of the track in left center to end the frame. He may not have a hit yet, but both of his outs were loud.

Maholm got into a pickle in the sixth, when an infield single and ground ball knock followed by a bunt put runners at second and third with two away, but he got Jerry Hairston Jr. to fly out on his 107th pitch. So far, a solid job except for the second, and if that lead off liner was caught...

Now the real test begins for the Pirate pups. San Diego likes to make it a short game; they have the #1 ranked pen in MLB. And the seventh frame was fireman time, with the Bucs down a run.

Brendan Donnelly took the hill in the seventh for Pittsburgh. Maholm went six, charged with four runs on nine hits, two walks and two K's.

BD walked the first Padre on four pitches, Chris Denorfia. He stole second and went to third when JJ's throw tailed into center. Adrian Gonzalez walked on five pitches, and things were looking gloomy. Scott Hairston walked on four pitches, and that was it for Donnelly.

DJ Carrasco was almost equal to the task. Pedro saved a run when he barehanded a swinging bunt and got the force at home. Pinchhitter Wil Venable hit a sac fly, and then Walker and Carrasco teamed up for the final out on a soft grounder past Jones. The insurance run for SD was big, but keeping the game in hand was, too.

How deep is the Padre bullpen? AAA callup Ernesto Frieri, making his third appearance of the season, struck out the side in the seventh.

Sean Gallagher worked the eighth. He walked the first hitter, but before that ol' "uh-oh" feeling could sink in, he picked him off and threw a clean inning. Luke Gregerson came on to face the Bucs in the bottom half. He wasn't quite as sharp; he only struck out one Pirate.

Gallagher stayed for the ninth, and had no problems, walking Adrian Gonzalez on a borderline 3-2 pitch and picking up two whiffs. Heath Bell, with 27 saves and a 1.96 ERA, came on to battle the Bucs in the final frame, and 1-2-3'ed them.

Pretty simple game. Milwaukee takes the close ones by outmuscling teams; San Diego does it by playing clean in the field, taking advantage of opportunity, and owning the last three innings. The Pirates made a couple of mistakes, suffered a blown call, and lost the battle of the bullpens; those made the difference.

Jeff Karstens will face Mat Latos tomorrow night.

-- Neil Walker had a streak of six consecutive multi-hit games, matching a streak put together by Nyjer Morgan in 2008, snapped tonight. Next on the list is Barry Bonds, who had seven straight in 1992.

-- Just thinkin' out loud: if they can find a taker for Ryan Church, Brandon Moss is tearing up in Indy. He's been en fuego the past few weeks, bringing his average up to .260 from the .230's and now with 16 HR and 62 RBI.

-- Matt Pouliot of The Hardball Times has this to say about the chances of trading Aki Iwamura: "The Pirates...would probably pick up most of the rest of his $4.25 million salary in order to get a prospect in return for him. Iwamura has experience at third as well as second, so if he's truly regained his swing, he'd make a lot of sense for the Tigers, Twins, White Sox and others." Knock on wood.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pedro Doesn't Homer; Brewers Do *Sigh*

OK, Ohlie got through the first; that's a start. Ricky Weeks nailed him for a lead off triple, and after a short fly and whiff of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder walked. Jim Edmonds (.321 lifetime, .542 this season against Pittsburgh going into the game) lined out to center, so hey, it's a great opening frame.

The Bucs tried to flash a little two out lightning against Yovani Gallardo when Neil Walker and Garrett Jones both lined singles, but he threw Pedro nothing but 95 MPH heaters away, and got the call to catch him looking.

It was a little more of the same in the second, when Craig Counsell stroked a one-out double and was stranded, even with a wild pitch. The Pirates tried their two out tricks again, but after a Ronny Cedeno single, Ohlie went down swinging.

But he's paid to pitch, and did that in the third, striking out a pair. Ohlie was all over the plce, and that may be working in his favor - he's been in, out, up, and down, making it kinda tough for a batter the settle in.

The Bucs were starting to catch on to Gallardi. Tabata dumped a single to right, and Delwyn Young flew out deep to straightaway center. JT stole second, and Walker drew a four pitch free pass. But it wasn't enough; he routinely retired Jones and Alvarez. The Bucs had stranded five in the first three frames, three in scoring position.

Ohlendorf cracked first; he fed Prince Fielder a knee-high, inside heater and he yanked it out. After four, it was 1-0 Brew Crew.

Both pitchers were working hard and in the upper 60's in pitch count. Both were working the black and the edges of the strike zone, and plate ump Mike Muchlinski was having trouble establishing the corners, frustrating pitcher and hitter alike.

Ohlie was back to having leadoff troubles. Alcides Escobar singled and was bunte to second to bring up the top of the order. He plunked Weeks to get himself in a little deeper. But he worked out of the jam.

In the sixth, Ohlie came back from 3-0 to K Fielder. With two outs, Jonathan Lucroy crushed a double to left, and then Ohlendorf wild-pitched him to third when he bounced a curve to Erik Kratz. But he got out of it again, whiffing Craig Counsell with high heat.

The Pirate bats came up empty again. Jones led off the sixth with a single, and with two away, Kratz caught a heater that he sent to the fence in right center; close, but no cigar.

That was the last hurrah for Ohlie. He went six innings, giving up a run on six hits, walking one, beaning one, throwing two wild pitches, and striking out six. Not his best stuff, but he was tough when the going got rough. Gallardi got the hook, too. He went six scoreless, yielding five hits, striking out five, plunking one, and walking one.

Evan Meek got the call for the seventh. He gave up a one out single to Carlos Gomez, and fed Weeks a 95 MPH heater down Broadway that weeks drove over the center field fence. 3-0 is a lot higher hill to climb than 1-0.

The Pirates tried again for some two out love against Todd Coffey. He walked Tabata, after three tight pitches missed - one behind him - and drawing a bench warning, then Young singled him to third. Coffey paid when Walker drilled a slider over the heart of the plate (on an 0-2 pitch) into the RF corner to bring home a pair.

How tattered is the Brewer bullpen? Kenny Macha brought in Monday's starter, Chris Capuano, to relieve Coffey as a LOOGY to face Jones. It worked, too - Jones tapped back to the mound. But it was now 3-2 with six outs to go.

Javier Lopez started off the eighth, facing Fielder. He went up 0-2, and then walked the big guy, and then got Edmonds to line out. Lopez got a ground ball from Lucroy, but it found the hole to put runners on first and second. He struck out lefty Counsell, and then Escobar singled into left.

The Brewers waved Fielder around, and Lastings Milledge's throw beat him easily. The 265 pound Fielder tried to steamroll Kratz, but his 255 pound bulk was equal to the task; it remained 3-2. WWF, anyone? Fielder threw a pair of uppercuts backed with forearms shivers into Kratz, but the 6'4" backstop shrugged him off and walked away. 210 pound JJ might still be airborne if he was catching!

John Axford, their closer, came on with one away in the eighth, and shut down the Bucs; ironically, Kratz popped out to Fielder to end the inning. Joel Hanrahan slammed the door on the Brewers in the ninth, and Axford returned the favor.

This is the first exam during test week for the Pirates. Macha threw his best arms against them tonight, and San Diego's formidable rotation rolls into PNC tomorrow night. The learning curve is becoming a little bit steeper. Beanball wars and throwdowns at home plate are fun fan fodder; clutch hits, like Walker's, are what wins games.

Paul Maholm will go against Kevin Correia to open the Padre series.

-- Ryan Doumit was put on the 15-day DL with concussion like symptoms; this is the third time since June 8th that he's had the same problem. Jason Jaramillo, sent down ten days ago, will come back to platoon with Eric Kratz while Dewey's out. You have to wonder if his catching career is in jeopardy now or if they just brought him back too soon - or both.

Luke Carlin is the only warm body left at Indy, and GW is curious whether they'll call up someone or let Jeff Clement behind the dish as the #2. If Dewey ends up to be damaged goods, it'd make sense to get JC some innings to see if he's got it or not.

-- Buster Olney of ESPN tweets that "Other teams convinced that the Pirates are going to move Octavio Dotel in a trade and install Joel Hanrahan as their closer."

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk agrees, listing Dotel among his top trade targets: "Every year someone talks themselves into a bad team's closer as they scramble for bullpen help at the deadline. Dotel may be this year's target. A club option for $4.25 million in 2011, but most teams would view him as a rental. The Marlins expressed some interest, but a trade to Florida seems unlikely."

-- The last Pirate to have multi-homer games back-to-back since Pedro was Jason Thompson, who did it in 1984. Alvarez is the first Pirate rookie to accomplish the feat.

-- Pedro and Thrilledge both have nine-game hitting streaks going into tonight's game.

-- There was some talk of McCutch coming back this weekend; the Pirates indicated that he may be on the shelf until Tuesday, when they start a road swing.

-- It's official now: Pittsburgh sold the rights to Indy pitchers Hayden Penn (to Chiba Lotte) & Vinnie Chulk (to Hiroshima Toyo Carps) to Japanese teams.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Little Lumber Company

Why do Bucco pitchers insist on walking the first batter? Zach Duke did it to Ricky Weeks to start the game, and Cory Hart doubled him to third. Duke got a pop up and a shallow fly to right. Weeks tagged on the fly, and was out by two steps if Dewey would have caught the on-line one hopper to home by Delwyn Young.

The ball stayed down a little, and went right through Ryan Doumit; 1-0 Brew Crew. And Young got the error! Doumit needs to do something with his glove; it seems like he costs us a run every game thanks to some misplay.

But it must be contagious. Randy Wolf walked Jose Tabata on a grind 'em out, 11 pitch at-bat. He scampered to second on a wild pitch, and came home on a single up the middle by Young. DY plated when the red-hot Neil Walker doubled into right center, perhaps helped a bit by the sun as Carlos Gomez actually overran the ball.

Wolf settled down after that, but it was 2-1 after the first.

The lead lasted for two batters, when eight hitter George Kottaras hit his eighth homer. Four have been against the Pirates. The Greek National player came into the game hitting .203 against the league, but .381 against the Bucs. Can't complain about the scouting either, at least in this case. Duke gave him a heater between the belt and letters right down the middle.

Tonight was apparently Pittsburgh's turn to be generous. With two away and Ryan Braun on first, Pedro backhanded a ball and threw a one-hopper to first. Garrett Jones, like Dewey before him, couldn't come up with the ball, and there were runners on the corners.

Carlos Gomez, a bunt candidate, hit a Baltimore chop over Alvarez's glove; he was even with base to guard against one being laid down. 3-2 Brew Crew, and two of the three were gifts.

The Pirates made a change in the fourth; Eric Kratz took over behind the dish; Doumit was suffering from light-headedness caused probably by the collision he was in after missing the ball in the first frame. Duke got the Brewers 1-2-3, and the Pirates went to work.

Jones singled to lead off the fourth, and then Pedro pounded one through the right side hole to put runners at first and third. Milledge doubled in one run, and a safety squeeze by Ronny Cedeno brought home another. Duke tried the same thing, and popped out, almost doubling Milledge off at third.

But he didn't, and Jose Tabata singled him in. Then Young pulled a belt-high, middle of the dish hook over the short fence in left, and before Randy Wolf could cry wolf, it was 8-3.

How many times have you heard that you have to out slug the Brewers to beat them? Well, the Bucs have taken it to heart. In the fifth, Jones missed wrapping one around the foul pole by inches, and ended up drawing a walk. Pedro took all the drama away when he dropped one just over the wall to straight center; it was 10-3 Pittsburgh at the end of five.

And how was the Zachster handling the lead? Just fine, thank you. He retired seven in a row, walked a batter, then got a DP and a K after that. Paying attention, Brad?

Wolf was taking one for the team, with Milwaukee's bullpen being way over exposed recently. But there's only so much Kenny Macha could do - Duke, Tabata, and Young singled for a run (DY's fifth of the game, a career high), and even a DP ball smacked by Walker scored another. Jones singled, and Wolf's run was done after 5-1/3 innings, with twelve runs given up on thirteen hits and 108 pitches.

Duke, in his second start since his rehab assignment, got the hook in the sixth when the first two hitters - Kottaras and AA call up Lorenzo Cain - singled off him, bringing his pitch count to 102; Brendan Donnelly relieved and closed the inning against the top of Milwaukee's order.

Duke went six, giving up two earned runs on six hits, with three Ks, two walks, and a plunked batter.

The Pirates added another pair off David Riske in the seventh on RBI knocks by Andy LaRoche and Walker scoring Milledge and Cedeno.

The Bucs added another in the eighth when Pedro crushed one high off the right field screen off Kameron Loe; it may have been a river shot if it had slid a bit further inside the pole.

It also provided the perfect spot to get Sean Gallagher some work, and he did a yeoman's job. Gallagher went two innings with a hit and a K, while throwing 21 pitches, 14 for strikes.

The Baby Bombers blasted their way to another win. It's amazing how a few runs help minimize the little mistakes they still make, the same mistakes that were coffin nails in the first three months of the season.

Ross Ohlendorf and Yovani Gallardo will start tomorrow night.

-- The five RBI by Alvarez last night and five tonight by Delwyn Young is the first time since 1973 that Pirates teammates had at least 5 RBI in back-to-back games. The last duo to perform that feat were Al "Scoops" Oliver and Rennie Stennett, who had six apiece.

-- Just a little anecdote told by the FSN announcers about the Pirate locker room, which has kept its head even when the season was spinning away: when Eric Kratz came to the club, one of the first to greet him was Brendan Donnelly, who told him that he too was a 30 year-old rookie when he was first called up, and he's still in the show nine years later.

Chemistry doesn't mean everything, but it helped hold the club together when things were dark, and it's old vets like BD who deserve some credit for keeping a young club's fragile psyche intact to fight another day.

-- The Pirates signed eight more Latino players. Jen Langosch on her By Gosh blog has a brief Rene Gayo blurb about each of them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pedro, Walker Key Pirate Win

Can't start a game off much better. Brad Lincoln had a routine first, and the Bucs went right after Dave Bush. With an out, Delwyn Young and Neil walker singled, then Garrett Jones drew a full-count walk. Pedro followed with his first grand salami, dumped into the right field stands several feet inside the foul pole.

Lastings Milledge followed with a single, and went to second when the third of three straight pick-off tries got away. Eric Kratz pounded one through the wickets of Casey McGehee, and the error allowed Thrilledge to come home. McGehee, having a tough inning, let Ronny Cedeno's ball play him for another boot.

Lincoln bunted them over, and Jose Tabata rubbed a pound of salt into McGehee's wound by cashing them both in with a double. Just for the heck of it, Young doubled JT home. And what the heck, Walker's double scored Young.

Bush finally got Jones to fly out; the Bucs were up 9-0. Guess they got over last night's sorry performance at the plate without a hitting hangover. And it's nice to see them make a team pay for its mistakes for a change.

Lincoln must have been napping while all this was going on; he came out and all his balls were around the belt or higher. He plunked Prince Fielder, got a fly out, and then surrendered a wrong-way double to Jim Edmunds. Alcides Escobar singled Fielder home and left runners on the corners.

Jonathan Lucroy, the eight hitter, singled in Edmonds and left runners at first and second. Kenny Macha opted to leave Bush in instead of going with an early pinch hitter, and he popped out trying to bunt. That didn't staunch the bleeding; Ricky Weeks singled home a third tally. Lincoln fed Cory Hart three straight hooks, and ended the inning by getting him to bite on a high heater for a swinging K.

Pedro made the fans a little less antsy when he took a 2-2 slider and dropped it over the Clemente Wall for his first multi-homer game.

Lincoln still couldn't get the ball down, and with one out, gave up back-to-back line drive singles to Fielder and McGehee. It got worse; Edmonds took a down-the-middle BP heater over the fence in dead center, and suddenly we had a ball game. Escobar tripled into the Notch.

Lincoln had Lucroy struck out on a heater above the knees, but the ump missed it, and the catcher got a run-scoring infield single on the next pitch. And that was it for Bad Brad. Hey, it's all about location; he had none tonight.

He lasted 2-1/3 innings, and gave up seven runs on nine hits with a K before yielding to DJ Carrasco. Heck, DJ might as well be a starter for the innings JR has had to bring him in to work. But like he did for Jeff Karstens the other night, DJ banked the fire, this time with a pair of K's.

The Bucs went down 1-2-3, and with Hart, Ryan Braun, and Fielder due up, it was already nail-biting time - in the fourth inning! Especially when Hart rolled a single into left to start the frame and stole second an out later. But he got Fielder and McGehee to ground out to end the inning without any damage.

Walker started the fourth with a single, his third hit in four frames, but Jones bounced into a 4-6-3 DP. Even with the bases empty, it was no surprise that he didn't give Pedro anything to hit and walked him on four pitches. He got Milledge to fly out. Who'd of thunk after a nine run first inning that Dave Bush would still be on the mound and Brad Lincoln in the shower?

Well, he wasn't for much longer. Bush was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fifth, after throwing 75 pitches and giving up ten runs, six earned, on nine hits. Now the battle of the bullpens was fully engaged.

Carrasco did his job brilliantly; he went 2-2/3 innings with a hit, walk, and five strikeouts added to his ledger. Carlos Villanueva came on for Bush, and pitched a clean fifth. So with four innings to go, it was 10-7 and in the hands of the relief corps.

Brendan Donnelly took the reins from Carrasco in the sixth, the gateway frame to Meek, Hanrahan, and Dotel. He walked Weeks, and with one away, Braun lined a shot into the left field stands on a 3-2 pitch to make it 10-9. Javier Lopez took the ball, and got Fielder and McGehee to preserve the slim margin.

Still, memories of that 1989 Phillies' game where the Pirates put a ten spot on the board in the opening frame only to lose (and cause Jim Rooker to walk from Philly to Pittsburgh) danced in GW's head.

But the Pirates pushed back. Young drew a walk, and Walker had his first four-hit game when he singled on a 3-2 pitch with Young on the move, putting runners on the corners. Jones lifted a deep sac to center, scoring Young and getting Walker to second. Pedro whiffed, and Macha pulled Villanueva, who reacted by slamming the rosin bag off the rubber, for Todd Coffey.

But the boss knew best. After walking Milledge on a 3-2 pitch, he got Kratz to fly out to center. Now it was up to the three amigos to hold on to the two run lead.

Lopez actually opened the seventh with LH Edmonds up, and he dinked a broken-bat flare into center for a single, bringing on Evan Meek, who handled the inning easily. JR didn't have such a good time, though.

A late foul call on a dribbler brought a rare eruption from the manager, who was tossed for his vehemence, much to the delight of the crowd. Poor JR had been fuming and muttering the whole game, watching a huge lead dwindle; it was probably better for his blood pressure to take a nice shower before crunch time.

Hanrahan entered in the eighth to face Craig Counsell and the top of the Brew Crew lineup. With one out, Weeks lined a double past a diving Pedro and just under his leather. No problem; Hanrahan whiffed Hart and Braun to keep the Brewers off the board.

Trevor Hoffman shut down the Bucs in their half, but not before giving up Walker's fifth hit. Walker is the first Pirate rookie to have a five hit day since 1991, when another Pittsburgh Kid, Carrick's John "Rock" Wehner, did it.

Octavio Dotel struck out the first two Brewers, gave up a double to Edmonds, and then whiffed Escobar. And who thought a week ago that the Pirates could give up nine runs and still win?

Still, it's a game that shouldn't have been close. Lincoln was upstairs and caught too much of the plate; the youngster is going to have to figure out that MLB pitchers live on the knees and edges of the plate if he plans on becoming part of the solution.

And as a team, the staff has to get the bottom of the order out. Milwaukee's Murderers' Row didn't do the damage; it was the 6-7-8 hitters who collected eight knocks, 6 RBI, and scored four runs. Still, a win is a win.

And that it was led by Walker and Alvarez gives a little validation that the youth movement is finally here and kickin'.

Tomorrow night's starters will be Zach Duke and Randy Wolf.

-- The Dodgers are looking for pitching, and Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette wrote that one of the arms they're looking at belongs to Paul Maholm. His age (28), contract and production, given who he's pitching for, make him an attractive mid-rotation bauble.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reports that at least five teams in the hunt have made inquiries to the Pirates regarding DJ Carrasco's availabiltiy.

-- C Eric Kratz got another start today because Dewey was knocked a little goofy by a foul ball off the noodle last night. But hey, it's not another concussion and definitely not a platoon situation (and since Dave Bush is a RHP, we'd agree) say the suits. And with McClutch still out, Delwyn Young earned a start in right; guess Ryan Church's two K's last night broke the camel's back.

-- The Rangers have moved RHP Tanner Scheppers, an unsigned Bucco draftee, back to the bullpen, according to Baseball America's Matt Eddy. He was meh starting, but his upper-90s fastball helped him strike out 27 in 19 relief innings AAA Oklahoma City, after starting the season with 19 strikeouts and no walks in 11 relief innings for AA Frisco.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It Couldn't Last Forever...

Ah, our Buccos. Everyone, even John Kruk, had to poke some fun at Lasting Milledge's trips around the bases, but it' a team-wide phenomena. Pittsburgh started the first with Neil Walker getting doubled off second on a Thrilledge lineout to medium center. Where's Omar Moreno when you need him?

Then the rains came, in the bottom of the second. Pity, because Jeff Karstens had nailed the Brew Crew six up, six down, and threw 15 strikes out of 18 pitches. But we caught the storm a few minutes later here in the cozy confines of Greenfield, and it was coming down hard enough to make Noah cry "Uncle" for a spell.

After fifty minutes, the hostilities began anew. Both starters, Karstens and Chris Capuano, veteran throwers, picked up where they left off, mowing batters down.

The Brew Crew drew first blood on their first hit - a first pitch, leadoff homer by Prince Fielder in the fifth. The Bucs had a pair of doubles off Capuano, but to no avail through four frames.

But with the lead, Capuano committed the mortal sin of walking the leadoff hitter, Pedro. After Dewey struck out, swinging at balls he needed a sand wedge to hit, and Church popped out, the Brewers opted to go after Ronny Cedeno.

Big mistake. He tripled (actually, he took third on the throw and got some love from the scorer) to left to tie the game. Karstens almost brought him home, roping one straight to Casey McGehee's mitt, but the game was back on even keel.

In the sixth, Karstens had a hill too many to climb. Pinch hitter Carlos Gomez bunted for a base hit; Neil Walker, playing him towards the middle, was a step slow getting to the bag. Then, working on the runner, Karstens fell behind Ricky Weeks 3-1 and gave him a heater. Like Fielder, he buried it in the seats.

In 83 innings, Karstens has given up 18 home runs, far and away the team's high.

The Bucs, at least, got into the Brewer bullpen. Todd Coffey replaced Capuano in the sixth. He lasted three batters; with Walker on second and two away, Kenny Macha called for his LOOGY, Zach Braddock, to face Jones, who rolled out weakly to second.

Karstens called it a day, too. He went six, giving up three runs on three hits and six K's. Javier Lopez replaced him on the hill. He got two outs in the seventh, then a walk got him the hook for Brendan Donnelly, who closed the frame out.

The Bucs made some two-out noise in the seventh when Church walked and Cedeno singled - is he afire? - but Delwyn Young bounced out.

They tried again in the ninth, when Jones led off with a single and Pedro walked. But Dewey K'd, Church K'd (and never took a swing), and Cedeno bounced out to second. The Ryans went 0-7 with 4 K's and a DP, and left seven runners aboard. The Pirates had only six hits, but still managed to go 0-for-8 with RISP.

The Brewers had three hits all night, but the two that went yard were the difference. And when one team has 118 homers on the season and the other just 60, in a pitching battle, guess who's gonna win?

Brad Lincoln and Dave Bush mix it up tomorrow night.

-- Andrew McCutchen is out with his "mildly" sprained shoulder. He's likely to miss at least a couple of days more; a bit of web sleuthing found that the AC injury usually costs a guy a week to ten days. Without McCutch in the lineup, JR slid Jose Tabata to leadoff and Lastings Milledge to the three spot; seems like the logical moves.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

The Buccos broke out on top of today's get away game in the second. Pedro started it off by shooting a sharp one hopper off Roy Oswalt's ankle. The ace might have have been feeling the effects, because within three pitches, Dewey doubled Alvarez home and Lastings Milledge singled home Doumit.

Milledge may have cost the Bucs a run when he took off to steal on an 0-2 pitch that Ronny Cedeno lined into right for a double. Hunter Pence took a bad route to the ball, but still was within a step of it, and Milledge stopped at second to see if he'd make the catch. He didn't, and Milledge ended up at third instead of home, and third is where he was stranded. Pick up the coach, Thrilledge.

Still, picking up an early pair of runs off Oswalt was a big boost; last time out, he one-hit the Pirates. Oswalt dodged another bullet in the third when with Neil Walker aboard and two outs, Pedro drove a ball just short of the fence in right center; it needed five more feet of carry to end that long streak of bases-empty homers.

Pittsburgh kept the pressure on in the fourth, but still couldn't add on. Dewey hit a leadoff double, hitting a ball off the railing of the Clemente Wall. Milledge tapped back to the pitcher, catching Doumit off base. But he got into a rundown long enough for Milledge to reach second, so no damage done.

Cedeno lined a single into left, and with Paul Maholm up next, Beasley waved Milledge home, but Carlos Lee, not noted for his arm, threw a one-hop strike to the plate to easily nail LM.

The Astros had to dip into their bullpen early today when Chris Sampson came on in the fifth. And no, Oswalt wasn't traded - he had a left ankle contusion from Pedro's rope.

The Bucs greeted Sampson with a Jose Tabata single and Garrett Jones two-out dinger, the first Pirate bomb with a runner on since the Mastadons grazed at PNC. Actually, it snapped a string of 1,097 at-bats without a homer with anyone aboard dating back to June 8th.

Nothing better than getting rid of an ace and getting to the bullpen early; the Bucs tagged Wilton Lopez with two runs when McClutch singled home Milledge and Cedeno with two away to build a comfortable 6-0 lead.

Cedeno has been on fire since his sit-down for Bobby Crosby; hopefully some time on the pine will motivate him as well as it did Lastings Milledge. So far, so good.

Casey Daigle came on in the eighth, and it only got better for the Pirates. Cedeno doubled, his fourth hit and third two-bagger. Ryan Church doubled him in, and Tabata doubled Church home. Walker singled JT in, and it was 9-0.

The Bucs pounded out 19 hits, including seven doubles and a homer, and drove in four runs with two outs. For the second straight day, every position player had a hit. Who are these guys?

And hey, Paul Maholm was the epitome of the pitch-to-contact guy today. He gave up just three hits, walked none, and struck out one. It was a bravo performance for Maholm, who needed just 103 pitches for his complete game shutout.

The good news is that the complete game rests the bullpen; everyone was in the action yesterday. The bad news is that Andrew McCutchen landed awkwardly making one of his patented diving catches in the eighth; he was taken out and is being examined for a possible neck injury. He came off holding his shoulder; let's hope it's just a stinger and nothing more serious. (EDIT: It's been diagnosed as a mild sprain of AC joint of the right shoulder. His status is day-to-day, and he'll be reevaluated tomorrow.)

The Brew Crew comes to town tomorrow, and Jeff Karstens will start off the series against Chris Capuano.

--Pittsburgh snapped a pair of seven game losing streaks last night; one was overall and the other was to the Astros.

-- Hey, the Buccos like playing in front of a full house. They're 6-1 when 30,000+ show up at the PNC ballyard.

-- Jen Langosch on her By Gosh blog has a piece on the Bucco base-stealing woes, including a chart on how effective the pitchers are at foiling runners.

-- Hayden Penn is Japan-bound and Vinnie Chulk is working on a deal. Guess Indy is a feeder system both in America and Japan.

-- Altoona Curve relief pitcher Diego Moreno, a highly touted prospect with a 98 mph fastball, has been suspended by the Pirate organization for unprofessional behavior, reports Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror. The details were not made public by the Pirates.

-- So you think Ryan Doumit is fragile? The Indians put Kerry Wood on the DL for a blistered finger. It was the 14th time since 1999 that Wood has been on the DL.