Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What A Difference A Day Makes

The Bucs drew first blood off Ryan Dempster. With one away, Jose Tabata walked and went to third on a Neil Walker single. Garrett Jones, swinging at two heaters well outside the plate, missed the first one and dribbled the second towards the mound; the only play was to first, plating JT.

Pedro doubled to left center to score Walker, followed by a Dewey beaning. The hit batter hurt Dempster more than Doumit; on the next pitch, a slider down Broadway, Ronny Cedeno doubled deep to right center to bring home another pair, and it was 4-0 before the Cubbies got back to their dugout.

Jeff Karstens had a smooth first, giving up a bloop single scattered among three groundouts. With one away in the second, McCutch drew a walk after falling behind 0-2 and promptly stole second.

Tabata fouled off five pitches 'til he found one to his liking, a high fastball that he bopped into center for a three bagger. Walker had a bad at-bat, fishing for a couple of pitches, and K'ed. Dempster tried to help by tossing a couple of balls in the dirt that Koyie Hill kept alive as he walked Jones. No Alvarez two-out magic this inning; he went down swinging.

With a 5-0 lead, Karstens again got the Cubs routinely on a grounder, fly and whiff. Dewey started the third with a ground ball single into right. Chris Snyder singled an out later, and JK bunted them to second and third. McClutch lined a single into center, scoring them both. Five of the seven Buc runs have come with two outs.

Hill led off with a ground ball single up the middle; Carlos Zambrano pinch hit for Dempster. His swinging bunt got Hill to second, and JK left him stranded there. Marcos Matteo came on to replace Dempster.

Walker welcomed him with a line single to right. Jones caught a 3-2 heater and whacked his twentieth dinger of the year into center. Karstens, who's had more rest between innings tonight than he usually gets between starts, mowed down the Cubs on a pair of bouncers and a K.

The Pirates went down in order in the fifth, ending their scoring run. It was the first time this season that they'd tallied at least once in each of the first four innings of a game.

Alfonso Soriano started the fifth off with a ground ball knock up the middle. An out later, Hill homered to right center to make it 9-2.

One fine day Pirate pitchers will figure out how to retire the bottom of the order. Going into tonight's game, the seven hitter was batting .296 against Bucco pitching and the eight hole raked at a .289 clip. So on to the sixth.

JT opened the frame with a rope to right, and Walker brought him in with his eighth blast of the year in straightaway center over the 400' mark. Matteo got Jones and a grounder and struck out Pedro - his 3rd K of the night - and got yanked for James Russell, a lefty - after the Pirate lefties had batted. JR must be contagious.

This is the inning of no return for Karstens; he's been a more than adequate pitcher over five frames this season, but the sixth is his black hole. Hopefully, a nine run cushion should help ease him through it. His pitch count is at 73; he should have a couple of more innings left in him.

Whether because of the lead, the friendly confines of Wrigley, Cubbie ineptitude, or just the hidden vigorish, JK pitched a clean frame.

An error led to a big Buc seventh. Synder reached on a boot, and with two away, McCutch and JT singles produced a run. Russell fell behind Walker 3-0; he fed him a pair of heaters over the middle of the plate; the Pittsburgh Kid took the first one and drilled the next for a two-run double.

That brought in Sean Marshall to face Jones, who struck out to become the first Pirate with 100 K's in 2010; Cedeno (93) and Pedro (91) are right behind him in the whiff race. JR pulled Karstens for Sean Gallagher after 87 pitches; JK's line was six innings, two runs, four hits, and six K's.

Gallagher pitched a clean inning, as did Marshall. Hill led off the eighth poking an 0-2 heater away and off the plate over the third base bag for a double. Dang eighth hitters! Darwin Barney, a .190 hitter, lined a single to right to put runners on the corners.

Blake DeWitt bounced out to Walker, moving Barney to second and scoring Hill. Starlin Marte grounded a fastball down the pipe up the middle for another run. Micah Hoffpauir doubled him in with two away, and the X-Man singled him home. Bye-bye Gallagher; hello Chan Ho Park.

Nady took second on defensive indifference; he scored on Soriano's single. After eight, it was a Steeler score, 14-7. Carlos Marmol came on to punt, er, pitch in the ninth. McCutch tried some more two out thunder when he doubled, but JT went down swinging.

JR called on Chris Resop to tidy things up; with an off day Thursday, we'd have been tempted to get Joel Hanrahan some work. It's a minor point, and a moot one as Resop put away the Cubs on eight pitches.

So a nice comeback to yesterday's loss. The Pirate pitching was still meh, but the attack finally broke out. But we've seen this before for a game or two; the key is to produce runs consistently, not a quick flurry and a week of lumber slumber.

The Bucs pounded out 14 runs on 15 hits, and had seven extra-base knocks. They also struck out 15 times, an indication that they were aggressive at bat, but not very disciplined - and the two go hand in hand.

One nice sign was the fielding, which turned in a handful of very nice plays and avoided the killer gaffe that's been haunting them lately. So the process continues.

James McDonald will close the Cub series against Tom Gorzelanny tomorrow afternoon. Gorzo is 7-8 with a 3.98 ERA for Chicago.

-- The Pirates ended a fourteen game road losing streak with tonight's win, and ran their 2010 Wrigley record to 5-3 and 10-4 against the Cubs.

-- Jeff Karstens had lost eight straight decisions and hadn't won since June 19th against Cleveland. Meanwhile, Ryan Dempster had won four straight decisions, and he had just one loss in his past 10 outings. As Chuck Berry noted, "C'est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell."

-- In case you're wondering where Cubs C Geovany Soto is, he underwent a MRI on his right knee on Monday. Soto was diagnosed with fluid on the knee and is listed as day-to-day

-- By the local reports, Evan Meek won't have to visit the DL with his bruised hand. He's expected to be ready early next week, if not by the weekend.

-- Don't expect the September call-ups until after Labor Day, when Indy's regular season ends on September 6th. Heck, most of the Tribe are here already. Brad Lincoln is still a maybe; he's on the DL with a sore neck.

-- Bradenton OF Quincy Latimor (.266/18/98) and RH closer Noah Krol (5-6-33, 3.23 ERA) were named to High-A Florida State League postseason all-star team.

-- The Arizona Fall League assignments to the Mesa Solar Sox were partially announced today. 2B/3B Josh Harrison (.302/4/73), OF Andrew Lambo (.282/6/35), SS Jordy Mercer (.275/3/62), and C Tony Sanchez (.314/4/35) are the position players. The first three play for AA Altoona; Sanchez was at high-A Bradenton (he'd be rostered at Altoona also except for a broken jaw suffered in June.)

There are three pitching assignments yet to be made.

-- A sign that some talent is working its way through the system: Altoona clinched its division title tonight with Rudy Owens leading them to a 9-1 win. They’re division champs for the first time since 2004, and will make their first playoff appearance since 2006.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Thank God For The Steelers

The Cubs tried to be kind to the bumblin' Buccos; 2B Jeff Baker booted the first ball in play to put McCutch aboard. Two outs later, Garrett Jones dropped a soft single into right, but it came to naught - mighty Pedro struck out.

Paul Maholm didn't start out quite as well as Carlos Zambrano. After an out, Starlin Marte doubled and Marlon Byrd singled him home. Byrd stole second, and with the open base, PM went ahead and plunked Aramis Ramirez. Maybe the Brew Crew had a right to holler; the Buc staff leads the NL in hit batters.

The X-Man flew out, but Alfonso Soriano spanked a double into left, and it was 2-0. The game calmed down in the second. The Bucs went 1-2-3, and the Cubs managed a two-out single.

In the third, McCutch drew a one out walk; an out later, he stole second but to no avail; Walker grounded out. Maholm pitched a clean inning; he even struck out a pair. So far he has 3 K's and Zambrano 5; the Bucs can't resist his high heat, nor can they catch up to it.

Jones led off with a single, his second hit. It was wasted, though, when he was thrown out at second trying to stretch it, not a very smart move for the leadoff hitter. Dewey walked after a Pedro ground out, and Milledge ended the inning with a bouncer to third.

Maholm walked Soriano to start the fourth, followed by a Tyler Colvin single through the right side. Koyie Hill singled Soriano home - and hey, that's just the 6-7-8 hitters. The Big Z bunted the runners over to second and third.

In an odd (OK, unbelievable) sequence, Doumit called for five straight curves from Maholm, even when he fell behind 3-1. Baker caught a hanger and banged it for a double into left, and it was 5-0.

Castro singled through the left side - all three of the singles were ground balls - to put runners on the corners. Byrd doubled on a pop that Walker and Lastings Milledge let fall between them, scoring a run and putting Cubbies on second and third. Sean Gallagher was called in from the pen.

Nady greeted him with a double to make it 8-0 and close the book on PM. Maholm went 3-1/3 innings, giving up eight runs on nine hits with a walk, a hit batsman, and three K's, eerily matching Charlie Morton's line from yesterday (except PM had one more K). That's a couple of bad starts.

One he got the inherited runners out of the way, Gallagher nailed the last two outs.

With an out in the fifth and down 8-0, JR pinch hit for Gallagher (with Andy LaRoche, who K'ed). We'll never understand what goes through his mind; he used four relievers yesterday, six on Saturday, and one is out today with a bruised hand.

Brian Burres took the mound; Hill welcomed him with a ball up the middle. Zambrano followed with a homer drilled well over the left field wall; Pittsburgh is half-way to another 20-0 loss.

Baker walked on five pitches, and Castro spanked a double to left. Byrd stemmed the bleeding for the moment, hitting one to Pedro, playing in. But A-Ram doubled them home. It's already the seventh two bagger by the Cubs, with one out in the fifth frame.

Nady singled to put runners on the corners. Soriano popped out, and Colvin got BB out of the inning by swinging at three shin-high off speed pitches. And, btw, while all this was going on, the Pirates had no one warming up in the bullpen. Burres gave up four runs and threw 29 pitches, so it looks like he's tonight's sacrificial lamb. Baaaaa...

Walker led off by hustling to third when Soriano butchered his ball in left. Jones struck out on seven pitches; one may have been a borderline strike. El Toro doubled to left center to get the Bucs off the schneid. Dewey walked, and the Big Z's night was over. Thomas Diamond, a 2004 first round draft pick the Cubs took from the Rangers off waivers (sound familiar?), came on.

He struck out Thrilledge on a high fastball, and Cedeno tapped back to the mound. Pedro and Dewey probably need to hit the oxygen tank; RC fouled off four 3-2 pitches before bouncing out, and they were going on each one. Burres didn't exert them much; he threw a clean sixth.

The Pirates went down in order, too. Diamond isn't a hard thrower, but he hasn't left anything over the middle of the plate yet, and the Bucs have been helping him out. Burres almost got out of the seventh, but back-to-back two out doubles added another run.

James Russell took the hill in the eighth. Walker smacked a double to start the frame. Jones dinked a single to put runners on the corners; Pedro whiffed. Dewey hit into an RBI force play.

Burres had thrown 67 pitches; JR had some mercy on him and brought in Wil Ledezema. He showed some competence, striking out a pair. Scot Maine got the job of shoveling the last bit of dirt over the Pirate grave. It was easy as 1-2-3.

This is getting way too old. No pitching, every game has fielding and base running errors, the glovework isn't there (maybe Perry Hill did know his stuff) and the hitters either watch strikes sail by them or go after pitches that would take a 2 X 4 to hit. No one sits after a screw-up; what happened to that vaunted Pirate accountability?

The Pirates have to bring in a big league staff that not only knows but can impart fundamental baseball approaches and discipline, and they have to examine their teaching methods in the minors. The suits might be able to evaluate physical tools, but they sure as heck aren't denting many skulls with baseball smarts.

Jeff Karstens is back to face Ryan Dempster tomorrow.

-- In his career, Paul Maholm has held lefties to a .207 BA, best in the NL for pitchers with 600+ at-bats against. He's fourth in MLB ranks, behind Jonathan Papelbon (.192), Mariano Rivera (.192) and Scot Shields (.205).

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette tweeted that the Pirates will have Chris Snyder catch Charlie Morton's next start Saturday (yes, they're giving him another chance) after he repeatedly shook off Ryan Doumit yesterday, John Russell said. You can blame Dewey for quite a few things, but Morton's meltdown probably isn't one of them.

-- Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reports that the shots to improve Jeff Clements' knee aren't helping. His knee has been scoped twice; if the injections don't work, it may finally be time for the knife.

-- OF Adalberto Santos, 22, of State College was named NYPL player of the week. His line is .318/3/35. The Oregon State product was the 22nd round pick in this year's draft.

-- LHP Rinku Singh, one of the the Indian "Million Dollar Arm" winners, was promoted to State College. He had a 2.61 ERA for the Bradenton Baby Bucs of the GCL.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America has a list of the 50 bonuses that paid out the most over slot in 2010. The Pirates have two: Jameson Taillon was #1 ($6.5M over slot) and Allie Stetson was #11 ($2.25M over slot).

A hard slot is on the table for the next contract, which takes effect in 2012. Next year may be the last season that Pittsburgh can draft all those high school kids and bring them into the system with big bucks if it's adopted.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

So What Did You Expect?

We're not gonna bore you with too many details today. Heck, with Charlie Morton on the mound, Green Weenie pulled on his sneaks and took a jog through Schenley Park as game time approached. Hey, it doesn't take much to turn a blogger into a jogger.

When he got home, he popped open a cold reward, hit the clicker, and guess what? - it was the the fourth inning and the Pirates were already down 8-3 with Brian Burres pitching. Some things never change (and worse, GW got have easily gotten a couple more miles in!)

Morton's line was 3-1/3 innings, nine hits, eight runs (seven earned; ol' Charlie threw away a pick-off attempt), a walk, two K's, and one bomb. Get rid of one Ian Snell, trade for another.

The Pirate bullpen worked perfectly today, unlike yesterday when they had a three run lead to hold...and eventually blow.

To add injury to insult, Evan Meek, who was considered too valuable by JR to work a tie game last night, came in to mop up in the eighth and was knocked out of the game - literally - when Ryan Braun drilled a liner off his body.

The trainers carted him off the field, supporting his right forearm (it was later reported that he bruised his hand), and he's expected to miss a few days. Joel Hanrahan must be feeling awfully lonely about now.

The Bucs actually enjoyed an early 2-0 lead thanks to Neil Walker's first inning homer. Dewey added another in the fourth, and DY a third in the seventh; the last two were solo shots. Overall they mustered eight hits, stranded nine, and were 0-for-6 with RISP.

We're beginning to wonder about JR, too. He's making some strange calls regarding bunts, platooning, and the bullpen; maybe Joe Kerrigan and Gary Varsho were too by-the-book for his liking.

Oh, well. The Bucs will hop into a bus and cruise into the Windy City; maybe Wrigley will be the answer to their road woes.

Paul Maholm will start the Cubbie series against Carlos Zambrano.

-- With Charlie Morton's loss, the Pirates now have five 10-game losers for first time since 1954. The Bucs went 53-101 that season and their pitchers were Max Surkont (9-18); Vern Law (9-13); Bob Friend (7-12); Dick Littlefield (10-11), and Paul LaPalme (4-10). George O'Donnell and Jale Theis came close; they both finished with 3-9 slates.

For the 2010 Bucs, Paul Maholm is 7-12, Zach Duke 6-12, Jeff Karstens 2-10, Charlie Morton 1-10, and Ross Ohlendorf 1-11.

In fact, of 26 pitchers to climb the hill for Pittsburgh during the 2010 campaign, five have ERAs of 10+, eleven have ERAs between 5-10, five are in the fours, two are in the upper threes, and a trio - Evan Meek (2.11), Chris Resop (2.70 as a Pirate) and Javier Lopez (2.79) had sub-3 ERAs. The team ERA is 5.08, last in the NL and a full run over the league average. They also give up the most hits per nine innings (10) and have the fewest K's per nine (6).

Not that the hitting has been any better. The Pirates have had 20 position players bat this year. Of the 20, fourteen have hit .250 or less (and five of them under .200), four have hit .251-.280, Neil Walker is hitting .298, and Jose Tabata is batting .312. The team average is .239, last in the NL, as is the runs scored total of 441.

-- The Pirate 2010 series with Milwaukee is done; the Bucs went 5-13 against the Brew Crew. Today's loss is the 13th straight road defeat for Pittsburgh.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bullpen, Boots, Boost Brew Crew

Hmmm...looks like a feast or famine night coming up for the Bucs; Jose Tabata homers to left in the first in between a couple of K's.

Looks like a feast for Milwaukee, though. A double, walk and hit batter loaded the sacks with nobody out for the Brew Crew. A grounder and single brought in a pair, and the Zachster was down 2-1.

The Pirates wanted in on the good times, too. In the second, a Pedro double, Dewey single, and Chris Snyder walk set the Bucs up. With two away, they were still crowding the sacks.

But McCutch drew a walk, JT got an infield single, helped greatly by a Snyder shield as he approached third, and the good guys were back on top 3-2. Duke got out of the second with just a two-out single.

Pedro singled with one away in the third and with two outs, Ronny Cedeno walked. Chris Snyder then put the wood on a hanging slider; he dropped a long fly over the left field wall, and Chris Capuano was in a world of hurt. The Zachster gave up a Prince Fielder homer in his half, but was still up comfortably 6-3.

The fourth and fifth rolled along. Duke gave up three more hits, but no runs, and Manny Parra, who came on in the fourth, held the Bucs to a knock. In the sixth. Parra kept Pittsburgh off the board; Duke gave up a homer to Jon Lucroy.

That brought on Sean Gallagher, who ended the inning without any further ado. Duke went 5-1/3 innings, giving up four runs on nine hits, a walk, a hit batter, and a K.

Mike McClendon came on for Parra, and was tagged for a Neil Walker homer. But the fun was just starting. SG gave up a single to Ryan Braun, and JR called on Brian Burres to take the ball as the LOOGY for Fielder. Some LOOGY; Fielder homered again.

That brought JR out again, and he waved in Chan Ho Park. Three batters, three pitchers.

Casey McGehee singled off him, but was forced at second on a bunt gone astray. While in the process of striking out Alcides Escobar, Park threw a wild pitch. Of course it came back to haunt the team; the tying run scored on a Pedro boot when a ball glanced off his leather. End of seven, 7-7.

Todd Coffey rode in for the eighth, and Pittsburgh had runners at first and second with an out against him on a Dewey single, bunt, and Snyder walk. But there they stayed. Joel Hanrahan had a Joel Hanrahan inning; he walked one and K'ed three.

The Pirates started off the ninth against John Axford with a Tabata double, and neither Walker nor Garrett Jones could move him up. Pedro drew a 3-2 walk, but Ryan Doumit went down swinging on three pitches.

JR sent Chris Resop in to work the ninth, apparently holding back Evan Meek as his closing hammer. He struck out McGehee looking, got Lorenzo Cain on a grounder to short, and nailed Escobar on a fly to center. It's extra innings again in Miller Park.

Trevor Hoffman took the hill in the tenth; he got the Bucs 1-2-3. Wil Ledezema took the mound in the tenth. With one out, Craig Counsell dropped a single into right center. No problem; WL got Ricky Weeks to pop out and K'ed Corey hart.

Kameron Loe took the stroll from the pen to pitch the eleventh. He got the first two hitters easily, and Walker then singled to right. Jones, the only Pirate starter not to reach base, kept his line intact at 0-for-6 when he struck out swinging on a fastball that was well outside.

Well, only two arms left for JR to choose from, with Braun-Fielder-McGehee due up. And he picked neither Meek nor Daniel McCutchen; he kept Ledezema in, presumably to face Fielder.

Braun singled to center to start of the eleventh. He got Prince to hit one to Walker; he booted it. Instead of the bases empty and two away, it was rug-cutting time. McGehee flew out to the track in left; Braun didn't advance. No need to; Cain singled him home on a ball lined into the left field corner.

The question, aside from the fact that the Bucco gloves let them down again, is why JR let his two righties, particularly Meek, sit in the pen after Fielder got aboard. Probably thinking down the road again.

We understand that he trotted out seven pitchers tonight, and six of them had ERA's over 5, so there's not a lot to work with. But hey, when the game's on the line, shouldn't your top gun be on the mound?

Charlie Morton gets the nod against Dave Bush tomorrow afternoon.

-- Charlie Morton, as expected, got the call to start tomorrow. He made 14 starts for Indianapolis, posting a 4-4 mark with a 3.83 ERA. In 80 innings of work, Morton recorded 53 strikeouts against 30 walks.

LHP Justin Thomas was sent back down to clear space for Morton.

-- The Pirate road losing streak is now at an even dozen. Their performance away from PNC is one of the most mystifying aspects of the season.

-- If post All-Star break performance is any indication, the Pirates are going to have to seriously consider a platoon at first in 2011. Garrett Jones has hit under .200 since then (and is 25 points worse against lefties in his splits), but still has some power and is under team control until he hits social security. But that's quite a hole he's creating in the middle of the lineup, especially with Pedro in the doldrums, too.

If the suits don't think Steve Pearce is the answer - and we think for the short term he probably is - they better find a RH first baseman to take some of the load off Jones.

-- Even the Pirates haven't tried this one: the Brew Crew gave out Miller Lite beer vendor bobbleheads tonight. Cute little guys; a long neck bottle with arms, a tray of suds, and a Brewer cap.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bumblin' Stumblin' Bucs

In the first, a two-out double by Neil Walker went by the boards.

In the second, a lead-off double by Lastings Milledge was followed by an Andy LaRoche K (he's giving Pedro a blow), but Ronny Cedeno singled him home and took second on the throw to the dish. Then Chris Narveson caught both Chris Snyder and J-Mac looking, leaving the Bucs 1-for-4 already with RISP.

But James McDonald is paid to pitch, not hit, and so far, so good - six up, six down, two K's and an idea where the plate is.

JT singled with one out in the third, but was caught trying to stretch the hard hit knock into right into a two-bagger. Walker flew out to left to end the frame. J-Mac's short streak ended when leadoff batter Alcides Escobar dribbled an infield single. No matter; McDonald struck out a couple more Brewers, running his total up to four in three innings.

The Bucs went quietly on three grounders in the fourth. Ditto for the Brew Crew, with a grounder, fly, and K against J-Mac. The Pirates added on in the fifth when Snyder ran into a fast ball and parked it over the left-center field wall. McDonald had a 1-2-3 frame.

Nice game by both pitchers, who are filling up the strike zone and have six K's and no walks apiece after five. J-Mac is leaning heavily on his heater, ranging from 92-94 MPH, and Narveson is using his high eighties fastball to set up his soft stuff.

Tabata started off with a single, but was doubled off first after Walker blooped a changeup, corralled spectacularly in short center by Escobar. Garrett Jones had a swinging bunt single, but Thrilledge popped out; Narveson is working his change now and the Pirates, as usual, are befuddled by the off speed stuff.

Jonathan Lucroy rolled a single to right, and was bunted over. Ricky Weeks was walked on five pitches to present J-Mac with his first jam of the night. Corey Hart singled to center on a 1-2 curve, and it was 2-1 with runners on the corners and Ryan Braun at the dish with Prince Fielder on deck.

Fielder would have to try his luck at leadoff; J-Mac got Braun to hit into a 6-4-3 bang-bang DP, highlighted by a strong pivot by Walker. Cryin' Ryan didn't like the call (and replays showed he probably had good reason); maybe he'll want Narveson to bean the ump with a pick-off throw.

Cedeno drew an eight pitch walk with one away in the seventh, but Snyder and J-Mac went down on strikes. McDonald walked Fielder to start the frame, and an out later a Chris Dickinson single put runners at first and second. They both jogged home on Escobar's triple to right center on a ball that should have been caught by Milledge (he apparently lost it in the lights), and the Brew Crew had their first lead of the night at 3-2.

Lucroy blooped a single into center on a fastball in on the hands, and pinch hitter Joe Inglett singled into right. JR again kept his starter in a batter or two too long, although in both his and J-Mac's defense, neither of the last two hits were on balls in the strike zone, and the triple...well.

McDonald went 6-1/3 innings, giving up six runs, seven hits, two walks, and striking out seven. Chris Resop got the call, and your druthers are that he came in against the bottom of the order instead of the top. He struck out Weeks, but Hart doubled another run in. Braun doubled in two more after seeing six straight fastballs during a nine pitch at-bat.

JR trudged out again, and called for Wil Ledezema to face Fielder. He walked him, bringing up righty Casey McGehee, who bounced to second. Catch a ball and it might be a scoreless inning; miss it and the fat lady is warming up her larynx.

Kameron Loe took the hill for Milwaukee. McCutch drew a nine pitch walk; seems to be a lot of deep at-bats tonight. Tabata walked on a 3-2 pitch. Hey, if he walks six more, it's a tie game. But he didn't get the chance; Zach Braddock took the ball from him. A game that had been zipping along for five innings had suddenly taken on a glacial pace.

Braddock picked up the pace catching Walker and Jones looking; both pitches may have been off the plate, but you have to protect when there's two strikes, and they didn't. Milledge tried to make amends for his fielding gaffe by bombing a slider, but his ball was caught at the wall 400' away in almost dead center, pulled in on a sweet catch by Dickerson who threw a shoe running it down. Sort of ironic, no?

Chan Ho Park was called on to work the ninth. He gave up a leadoff single, got a K, and then watched Cedeno throw away the ball trying to turn a DP; the error was compounded when Jones bounced his toss to second after the ball took a fortunate carom back to him. Park got out of it with another K; it's best to keep the ball away from the fielders tonight. John Axford worked the ninth, and struck out the side.

When you score twice on seven hits, strike out 13 times and are 1-for-8 with RISP, almost every night is going to be a long one. And a lot of them have been.

Zach Duke goes against Chris Capuano tomorrow afternoon.

-- Four of the seven games played in Miller Park by the Bucs and Brewers have been decided in the final frame.

-- The Pirates have lost eleven straight games away from home, which includes a winless month of August on the road. The Bucs back-to-back wins against the Cards was their first twin killing since July 27-28 against the Rox.

-- Jen Langosch of MLB.com has a good piece on Brandon Moss as he tries to rebuild his rep. So far, so good...and all he did did was return to an open stance.

-- C Hector Gimenez and LHP Rudy Owens of Altoona made the post-season Eastern League All-Star team. Gimenez, 27, hit .299/16/67 with a 33% throw 'em out rate, and Owens, 23, was 11-6 with a 2.56 ERA and 123 K's in 144 IP.

-- Derek Thompson of The Atlantic magazine compares the Pirates' financial situation to the country's as a whole in his article "How Baseball's Worst Team Explains the U.S. Economy." (Thanks, Shannon)

-- Jay Bell, who spent time as a bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, was named an assistant coach for team USA in the Pan-Am qualifiers.

The Best Laid Plans

From Joseph White of the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP)—Stephen Strasburg has a torn elbow ligament and will likely have Tommy John surgery, bringing the pitcher’s promising rookie season to an abrupt end.

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday an MRI exam on the right elbow revealed a “significant tear.” Strasburg will travel to the West Coast for a second opinion, but Rizzo anticipates the 22-year-old right-hander will need the ligament replacement operation that requires 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation.

Sometimes you can't count on your chickens even after they hatch.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bucs vs. The Bay By The Books.

OK, while not a CPA, Green Weenie proudly owns up to working in the City Controller's Office, so a financial statement is not exactly Greek to him. We thought we'd present the Bucco books by breaking out the numbers and showing them to the baseball citizenry without a lot of heat, just a little back-of-the-envelope adding and subtracting.

We're sticking to the 2008 figures, because that's the year we have the complete paperwork for. Tampa Bay will be our sister city for comparative purposes, because it's pretty similar in metro population and provides a better picture than the sad sack Marlins or the moneybag Yankees.

The Ballyard: In 2008, the Pirates netted $37.1M from warm fannies and suites. Tampa netted $41.9M in tickets and suites (PNC drew 1.6M fans, TB 1.8M).

Pittsburgh concession sales (they are operated under contract by ARAMARK) and MLB licensing fees were good for $16.9M; Tampa earned $18.1M. Pirate signs, ads, and the PNC naming rights were worth $11.2M; Tampa's marketeers brought in $11.6M

Finally, the media rights including local TV/radio fees and the MLB Central cut were worth $41M for Pittsburgh and $33.2 for Tampa. The Rays added $17.2M that the Bucs can only dream about in playoff profits, and $3.3M Tampa claims in other income that the Pirates probably included with other items.

Throw in spring training, and playing the games was worth $106.9M to the Bucs and $125.3M for the Rays. Nine teams spent more on their payrolls in 2008 than the Pirates brought in on their own.

Revenue Sharing: $39M for Pittsburgh; $35.3 for Tampa. So with all the money accounted for, the Pirates have $145.9M to play with and the Rays purse is $160.9M.

It cost the Pirates $20.3M to run the ballpark operation (hey, you didn't think the ushers lived on your tips or the Parrot on birdseed, did you?) and Tampa dished out $10.5M; apparently they don't hire the Zambelli brothers and an 80's band every weekend.

Team operations - trips, insurance, unis, etc. - cost the Pirates $12.6M and the Rays $11.8M. Tampa also ran up $6.2M in playoff expenses.

Salaries: Aye, carumba. The Pirates paid $51M in player salaries, $23.2M for player development, and $17.1M for staff, a grand total of $91.3M. Tampa coughed up $56M for players, $21.9M in player development, and $40.3M in staff at a cost $118.2M.

That left the Pirates with $21.7M and Tampa with $14.2M to deal with debt payments and capital expenses. The Pirates paid down $7.3M on $120M in debt (not a red flag: the Pirates debt-to-value ratio is about 35%; nine MLB teams are at 50%+, plus we estimate about $20M remains from an old URA loan that doesn't need repaid if the team stays in Pittsburgh), and the Rays $10.2M. There were no ownership dividends, so the money went back to the team, not their paper-holders.

End result - Pittsburgh pocketed $14.4M (it dropped to $5.4M in 2009), and Tampa $4M. For the Pirates, that's just about right; the budgetary rule of thumb is to plan for a 10% carryover to the next fiscal year. For Tampa, well, they're on the light side.

In 2008, the Pirates got $39M in revenue sharing and $30.9 in MLB licensing and broadcast deals; almost half their income came from league coffers. Tampa shares the boat; they pocketed $65M of the league's loot. Without revenue sharing in particular, both team are losing business models.

Pittsburgh is trying to follow Tampa's baseball model by spending on kids and eventually becoming a home grown club. It's the only model that makes economic sense, and the Pirates are still two or three seasons away from realizing that goal, if they can hold on to what they've got.

But whether they grab the brass ring or not, this much is clear from the books: no one is lining their pockets in Pittsburgh or Tampa. The owners only payoff will come if they can add some value to their team and sell it down the road; the Pirates were purchased for $92M in 1996 and is estimated to be worth $292M in 2008. That's an intangible but sizable increase.

The batter's boxes at PNC Park and Tropicana Field are not lined with gold. The franchise, oddly enough, is a money-maker only if it's sold. They seem to be prudently operated, but it's hard to envision them getting to the point where they bring in enough income to succeed without the league's revenue-sharing subsidy.

The answer probably lies in continued sharing and growing of league-wide revenues, such as the MLB Central, Properties, and Advanced Media funds which split the broadcast, merchandising, and licensing pots evenly among the have and have-nots. Along with that, some cost containment measures would benefit the league as a whole, including opening the draft to all international players, a hard slot, and a salary cap, either soft or hard.

Until the teams are on a somewhat equal playing field, the smaller revenue clubs will depend on revenue sharing not just to compete, but to survive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bucs Baffle Birds

OK, tonight's question is will we see the D-Mac that goes after hitters or the guy that nibbles, nibbles, nibbles away?

Well, he went after Skip Schumaker with all heaters and got a fly out, but then issued a five pitch walk to Randy Winn, and none of the offerings were particularly close. He got Albert Pujols first-pitch swinging, and he popped out on a heater. Matt Holliday bounced out to Pedro on a change; McCutchen used his arsenal to get him, but except for Winn, he's been around the dish, and that's a good sign.

Jake Westbrook got McCutch to pop out, Jose Tabata to ground out, and Neil Walker swinging. He took two strikes, then flailed at a change in the dirt.

D-Mac put the Cards away easily in the second, using his change and slider nicely off his 92 MPH heater. And he's throwing strikes; he whiffed a pair this frame. Westbrook is having no trouble matching him; so far, all he's given up is Dewey's soft single to right. Four of the seven Pirate hitters have watched two strikes sail past them.

The third started with the eight hitter, Bryan Anderson, lobbing a change into short left for a parachute single. Westbrook struck out trying to bunt; you don't see Card pitchers do that often. Schmaker hit a change into a force out, and Winn flew out to medium left on the same pitch.

Chris Synder got plunked to start the third; D-Mac got to first when the Cards tried to nail the catcher at second and missed. McCutch legged out an infield hit; things were beginning to look promising, considering the Pirates haven't hit a ball 90' yet this inning.

JT tried to force matters; he swung at a couple of pitches out of the zone, and bounced on back to the hill for an easy out at home. But Walker, who had 3 RBI last night, caught a 3-2 sinker and drove it to the Notch for a bases-clearing triple, just missing a grand salami.

Jones, like Tabata, had an undisciplined at-bat; he swung at a high and tight slider and then stood looking at strike three, a sinker down the middle. Pedro tapped back to the mound; the Bucs scored three and left a duck on the pond.

How did McCutch handle the lead? He K'ed Pujols on a slider, but his bread-and-butter change was lifted into the left field corner for a double by Holliday. He got Jon Jay on a fly to left center on the heater.

After being ahead of Felipe Lopez 0-2, McCutchen went back to being cute in an effort to get him chase; he ended up walking him. He regained his focus and got Pedro Feliz on a first pitch slider - and where was his head? - on a pop to Ronny Cedeno. Walking guys with a three run lead, especially when you're on a short pitch-count leash, is definitely a no-no.

The Bucs looked like they were back in business when Dewey and Cedeno started off with line singles. Snyder few out to the track in right, moving Ryan Doumit to third. D-Mac K'ed trying to bunt Cedeno to second; RC stole the base anyway, and McCutch walked to load the sacks.

JT beat out an infield hit to plate a run, but Walker was out of magic and flew out to the track in left, swinging at a first-pitch change belt-high and away. With another 15' added to his bases-juiced appearances, he'd have two grand slams.

D-Mac kept rolling, giving up only a two-out ground ball single into left. After five, he had surrendered just three hits, one walk, and struck out five. Of his 70 pitches, 48 were strikes.

The Bucs stopped here in the fifth. Jones popped out, Pedro struck out without seeing a strike, and Dewey rolled out. Patience, men; Westbrook may have thrown two or three strikes the entire inning.

McCutchen continued filling up the strike zone; he set the heart of the Redbird order down 1-2-3 in the sixth on flies. It was his last frame; he hit his pre-game limit of 80 pitches. D-Mac looked much more like the guy advertised, aggressive, throwing strikes, and getting a bushel load of fly outs.

Chris Resop took the mound in the seventh. On a 1-2 pitch to the first batter, Lopez, he broke off a knee high, inside curve, and Lopez popped it off the friendly Clemente Wall pole for a dinger. JR protested that it hit the wall, but the umps stuck by their call.

With one away, Wil Ledezema took the ball. With two away, he gave up back-to-back singles, but K'ed pinch hitter Allen Craig to keep Sir Albert waiting in the on-deck circle. Blake Hawksworth had the kind of inning pitchers dream of; three spanked at 'em balls.

It was Evan Meek time in the eighth. He got the 3-4-5 batters to all ground out; controlling the middle of the St. Louis order has been crucial tonight. Hawkworth's luck ran out when Jones took him deep into center, but his rabbit's foot worked its charm again when Pedro flied out to the track in left. He whiffed Doumit and Snyder around a Cedeno single to take it to the ninth.

Joel Hanrahan was tonight's hammer. He gave up a run out of boredom. Pedro Feliz singled, and eventually took second on "defensive indifference." He scored on an Aaron Miles' single. Miles likewise took second because the Bucs didn't care, and got to watch the third out from that perch. JH regained the team lead with his third save.

Amazing how a little pitching can turn things around, hey? While we don't suspect this is going to become a long-term trend, we're enjoying it while it lasts.

The Bucs are off tomorrow as they travel to Milwaukee.

-- Jeff Karstens was due to pitch tonight, but has "arm fatigue." Daniel McCutchen, who JR praised as a reliever, took the hill. Karstens is expected to miss just the one start. JK's dead arm isn't a surprise; he only pitched 108 innings last year, and is up to 115-2/3 in 2010 with six weeks to go in the season.

-- Ohlie was put on the 15-day disabled list today and the Bucs recalled LHP Brian Burres from Indy. Burres will be a long man tonight with D-Mac starting, and we'll see what the suits have planned down the road for Sunday's start.

-- McCutch is hitting .218 in August. We wonder if that shoulder is still giving him problems...

-- Jared Hughes (12), Justin Wilson (10) and Rudy Owens (10) are the first trio to notch double-digit wins for the Altoona Curve in one season, and that doesn't count Jeff Locke (12 wins, three with Altoona: he's tied for the organizational lead in wins and leads all Bucs farmhands with 133 strikeouts) and Bryan Morris (nine wins, six with the Curve), who joined the rotation after promotions. It's gonna be hard to keep these guys away from Indy sometime in 2011.

Morris is going to the pen to keep his innings manageable. He's worked 129-2/3 innings this year; he's never cracked 100 frames in any of his prior seasons, topping out at 96 in 2008.

-- Jose Bautista is chirping in on the Bucco financial follies. He told the Associated Press that he believes the Pirates were ready to win several seasons ago, but management refused to spend the money to upgrade a too-young pitching staff. As a result, the Pirates kept losing and a productive everyday lineup was dismantled.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America opines that drafting 3B Anthony Rendon and eventually moving Pedro Alvarez to first base would make the most sense for the team right now, but there are a number of pitching options (Matt Purke, Gerrit Cole, Taylor Jungmann) that could tempt Pittsburgh as well, assuming they get the top pick in the 2011 draft.

He also added that he thinks Jeff Locke has a solid but not spectacular four-pitch mix, and thinks his ceiling is as a No. 3 starter, and probably fits better as a No. 4.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thrill A Minute

Hey, Paul Maholm was a man possessed at the outset of the game, striking out the first two hitters. Then Pujols lined a single to center and Matt Holliday hammered his 22nd over the wall, and guess what - Adam Wainwright was up 2-0 before even tossing a pitch.

The Pirates tried to make something happen in the first. Jose Tabata singled with one away, and Neil Walker drew a free pass. Garrett Jones hit one toward the hole, but Brendon Ryan got to it and forced Walker; it's good to see Jones going with the pitch instead of pulling everything, even when it doesn't work. Pedro got three pitches and sat down. Oh well.

Man, that third out is hard to find for PM. He got a pair of grounders, and then Allen Craig of the .197 average doubled. But he got out of it when Wainwright hit a soft fly to right that Thrilledge tracked down.

With one down, Lastings Milledge lined a single to right; Ronny Cedeno chopped the next pitch to Sir Albert, on the line holding the runner, and it turned into a 3-6-3 DP.

Again, Maholm got a pair of ground outs to start the frame. With two out, he ran the count to 3-2 on Pujols and fed him a heater down the heart of the plate; he doubled into the left field corner. But this time he kept everything down and in on Holliday, and got him to whiff on a slider.

No playing this inning for Wainwright; he put the Bucs away routinely. This time the Cards didn't wait for two outs; Yadier Molina singled with one away. Pedro Feliz then singled to left. Maholm got a K, but Wainwright dribbled a hit that was too soft for El Toro to handle. Ryan grounded out, and the Cards left the sacks loaded.

The Bucs went 1-2-3, and Maholm was back to his old tricks, getting the first two hitters and then giving up a walk, but St. Louis couldn't convert. The Pirates went three up, three down again.

Maholm pitched a clean sixth, and the Buc bats, primed by JT, finally struck. With one away, McCutch doubled, JT tripled, and the Pittsburgh Kid singled him in. An out later, Pedro walked and so did Doumit to juice the sacks for Milledge, who struck out on a curve in the dirt. The challenge - hold the Redbirds at bay and leapfrog the recent two-run wall that's been the curse of Pirate bats this week.

Maholm got two grounders to start the seventh, the plunked Jon Jay on a 1-2 pitch to bring up Sir Albert. In a out of the ordinary move, JR brought in Joel Hanrahan, his closer, to face Albert and pulled a double switch by replacing Milledge with DY. After falling behind 3-0, Hanrahan brought the heat, bringing the count to 3-2 and getting Pujols on a pop on a 99 MPH radio ball.

Maholm went 6-2/3 frames, giving up seven hits and two runs, walking one and striking out four while throwing 113 pitches. He went head to head with Wainwright and held his ground, getting grounder after grounder off the Card bats.

Cedeno fell into an 0-2 hole, but laid off a couple of balls and laced a double into center to start the seventh off for the Bucs. Young did his job by bunting him to third. But McCutch didn't do his, grounding out to short and freezing Cedeno at the hot corner.

In a disciplined, professional at bat, JT spoiled a couple of pitches and worked a walk off Wainwright, and when he wasn't held, he stole second on the first pitch. Walker made it count, lining the next pitch into center to score both runners and taking second on the throw home. Jones rolled a change to Pujols to end the inning, but the Pirates were up 4-2.

JH walked Felipe Lopez on a 3-2 count after a Holliday groundout. He got Molina on a fly to left and Pedro Lopez K'ed. Fernando Salas come on to replace Wainwright. He whiffed Pedro, Dewey popped out, and Andy LaRoche bounced out. Time to see if Evan Meek could close the deal.

Skip Schumaker led off as a pinch hitter, and lined a down Broadway heater into left for a single, followed by Randy Winn rolling an inside slider at his knees to short for an infield single. Aaron Miles bunted them over, and now it was nail-biting time.

Jay placed another ball perfectly to short for the second infield hit of the inning, both from lefties with Cedeno toward the middle, scoring a run while Winn held second. Now it was 4-3 with Pujols and Holliday up.

Meek was feeling it, hitting 96-97. He tried to sneak a two-strike slider past him; he lined it to third. But it clanged off Pedro's mitt, for the third infield hit of the inning and loaded the bases; Cedeno's hustle to snag it and keep the runners station to station may have been a game-saver.

EM got Holliday and Lopez to pop out, and earned his second save, tying him with Hanrahan for the team lead. Who else but the Pirates could concoct a cliffhanger finish with one ball hit out of the infield?

Just enough offense and some good pitching; it's nice to be on the right side of a one-run game a couple of times instead being on the short end, even if it does keep the fat lady guessing.

Jeff Karstens takes on Jake Westbrook in the series finale tomorrow night.

-- Well, the snake-bitten Ross Ohlendorf got the fangs sunk a little deeper yesterday. He has a strained lat behind his right shoulder and may be gone for the year. On his pitching schedule at Indy and likely to replace him is Charlie Morton.

-- Dewey's catching again; guess Chris Snyder's glove isn't overcoming his bat very well in JR's mind. That .222 average is opening eyes - the wrong way.

-- The D-backs released Bobby Crosby. Can Ryan Church be far behind?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Redbirds Romp

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse...Ohlie walked the first batter after getting ahead 1-2, and Jon Jay dropped a soft hooking liner just past Neil Walker on a hit-and-run that was a half step from being a DP. It put runners on the corners for Albert Pujols.

And that's the good news; the bad was that Ohlendorf left the game after that hit, apparently with shoulder problems (later reported as soreness and tightness), bringing on the ice-cold Sean Gallagher to clean up the messy start.

His first pitch was a hanging slider, and Sir Albert deposited it over the center field wall into the Bucco bullpen, his 33rd homer of the campaign. Oh, mama.

Matt Holliday drilled a double into right center, and Felipe Lopez walked after falling behind 0-2. Yadier Molina rolled a single through the shortstop hole - Ronny Cedeno was shaded toward second, jockeying with the runner - to score another run. But a liner to left, deep fly to center, and a bouncer to short ended the carnage and brought the Bucs to the dish.

McCutch just missed a fastball, skying out to center. Jose Tabata singled on a little looper to right, and stole second. neil Walker, continuing to hit with hard luck, launched on to straightaway center that fell a step short of the wall.

Garrett Jones pulled an outside change and rolled it to second to end the inning; when he was going good, he'd take that ball to left. But he's in a 2-for-20 slump, and he's not going good.

Nor was Gallagher. Ahead of Skip Schumaker 0-2, he ran the count full and gave up a single to left. But he started finding the plate, and got a fly ball, a K of Pujols, and a pop out. Dewey doubled with one out for Pittsburgh - he was in for Snyder - but was stranded.

SG found his rhythm after his emergency call to the hill; he 1-2-3'ed the Redbirds in the third. JT got a two-out infield single; like Dewey, he didn't move any further. Lohse is giving up some impressive fouls, but the Bucs aren't having much luck between the lines. A little luck and changing speeds will do that.

Gallagher was loose; another clean inning gave him a streak of nine Cards in a row. Now if the bats can only put a dent in Lohse. But all Pittsburgh could do in the fourth was get their obligatory runner aboard when Pedro walked; he went no further.

After an out, Gallagher's tank hit empty. Pujols flicked an outside pitch up the right field line; it dropped fair for a double. Holliday rolled a ground ball single into left, and Tabata's throw was late as Sir Albert scored. A walk brought Chan Ho Park and Chris Snyder in a double switch; bye-bye Thrilledge.

Park gave up a quick double to Molina; it was just under a diving Pedro and apparently caught the corner of the bag on its way by. He got a ground out with the infield in, and then walked the eight hitter to load the bases and get to Lohse. Park nailed Lohse on a little dink fly to right. He also uncorked a wild pitch to let in a seventh run. Park gets clocked, and Gallagher gets charged with the runs.

But hey, the Bucs got a leadoff hit from Cedeno.; he at least made it to second before the Pirates were sat down. Park got out of the sixth with just a walk and single charged against him.

In the sixth, the Bucs finally got on the board. Walker tripled off the Clemente Wall, and Jones followed with a River Walk shot. Lohse got Pedro to ground out, but walked Dewey and got sent to the showers.

Andy LaRoche came up to face Mitchell Boggs. LaRoche lined out to center, and Jay made a sliding catch of Cedeno's ball in the right center field gap to close the inning. Hit 'em where they ain't is not part of the Pirate creed.

Wil Ledezema took over in the seventh. With one out, he gave up a line single and double off the Clemente Wall to put runners at second and third. He fielded a dribbler and went home; Snyder didn't block the far side of the plate as he reached for the ball and the runner, Pedro Feliz, sneaked in the back door, leaving runners on the corners.

The next hitter bounced one to Pedro; this time they made they play at home. But it was 8-2 now; sometimes you wish baseball were played with a clock. The Bucs went down quietly in the seventh; the exception being JT, who hit a two-out single for his third knock of the night.

Justin Thomas made his entrance; good timing for his call-up today. He got the meat of the Card order 1-2-3 with a pair of flies and a whiff. Trever Miller retired the Pirates routinely as he mopped up in the eighth.

Thomas had a rough start to the ninth. Molina singled of DY's glove - he's at second now - and he walked the 7-8 hitters. A short fly and come-backer gave him a hope of keeping his ERA intact, but a two-out single by Jay and another by Bryan Anderson (who pinch hit for Pujols; ironic, no?) made it 10-2 before the Pirates' curtain call.

DY took the first bow by doubling to center against Mike MacDougal. That was the highlight; two K's and a short fly to right put the game to bed.

Pujols, Holliday and Molina were 8-for-16 with fours runs scored and six RBI. The Pirates were 8-for-35 with two runs scored and two RBI. That about sums up tonight's game.

Paul Maholm and Adam Wainwright will take the hill tomorrow night.

-- Jeff Clement has hit the DL. He's on the 15-day list with an "irritated" knee. LHP Justin Thomas was called up to take his spot. They couldn't find enough at-bats to keep Clement sharp; maybe that's the irritation.

-- How important is a quality start? When Pirate pitchers go 6+ innings, the team is 30-39; when they get the hook before six frames, the record drops to 11-45.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America has released his Top Ten Pirate Prospects list, including the recent signees. Three just joined the team, and none of the rest are above the AA level.

-- Lotta noise being made about the Bucs opening their books, but there's nothing really newsworthy in the figures; dunno why they bothered to hide the numbers. The only thing we can imply from it all is that Bob Nutting may be angling to get more of the ownership pie by freezing the money to the minority owners, and that's about it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pirates Made $34.8M In Profits 2007-09

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette reports that the Pirates made $5.4M in profits last year, $14.4M in 2008, and $15M in 2007.

The limited corporation spent $10.8M paying partner's taxes and another $9.6M was spent on loan interest payments in early 2008.

The details are in Kovacevic's article; we're sure more will be reported as the day goes on, and we will keep you updated. It looks like the Pirates are making a preemptive strike against an AP story (linked below), and their numbers show the money being used for business purposes, and not for lining Bob Nutting's pockets.

-- Alan Robinson's AP article: Pirates Win While Losing
-- Rob Biertempfel's article in the Tribune Review: Pirates Open Books
-- Pittsburgh Pirates: Not Pocketing Profits and Press Release

Thrilledge, JT, and the Zachster Combine To Topple The Mets

Hey, another great start. Leadoff hitter Jose Reyes bunted for a base hit when Dewey threw the ball away, and ended up on second. A stolen base and sac fly later, and it was 1-0 Mets. The first play of the game, the first error of the game.

Johann Santana didn't have that worry - he struck out the side in the first, on ten pitches. All he needed in the field was a catcher.

Duke got through the second, giving up a single to Santana and escaping by getting a call at first base from ump Adrian Johnson on a nice barehanded play by Ronny Cedeno against burner Reyes. Santana tossed another 1-2-3 inning.

Duke answered in kind. The Pirates put together another two-men-on-one-base episode again. Cedeno walked, and Duke popped up a bunt. Ike Davis, the first baseman, let it bounce instead of catching it, hoping for a DP.

But RC never left first, assuming it was a pop out, which ruined Davis' plot. So he just strolled over to the sack and tagged them both; Cedeno got a seat and the Zachster the base.

The game evolved into a pitching duel. The Bucs got their first hit in the fifth, when Pedro singled; he would be quickly erased on a Dewey 6-4-3 DP. But the inning wasn't totally wasted. Lastings Milledge, who was sat down for Doumit last night, cranked his fourth homer of the season over the center field wall into the bullpen when he caught a hanging change.

After five, Duke had given up a run on four hits with a walk and five K's; Santana a run on two hits, with a walk and 6 whiffs. But that Bucco pitching bugaboo, the sixth inning, had arrived.

And the Zachster survived. He gave up a one out walk, just missing on a 3-2 pitch, and two out ground ball single, but kept the Metropolitans off the board. Jose Tabata rewarded him by hitting his third long fly into the left field seats on a two-out, hanging change, much like Milledge, to give the Bucs a 2-1 lead.

Duke left after seven. His line was one run on five hits, two walks and five K's after 96 pitches, one of his strongest outings of the year. Evan Meek came on in the eighth, and kept the Mets at bay, yielding only a one-out walk to Carlos Beltran.

Santana stayed on the hill, and polished off the Bucs. Joel Hanrahan came on to finish, and promptly gave up a lead off single. But that was it; he earned his second save and the Bucs broke an ugly stretch of losses with a 2-1 victory.

It wasn't pretty; the Pirates only had four hits and handed the Mets their only run. But finally the starter and pen meshed, and the Jolly Roger was unfurled once again.

Ross Ohlendorf will start the Card series tomorrow night against Kyle Lohse.

-- We were going to run a series on the Big Three arms the Pirates just signed. But after doing pieces on Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette beat us to the punch with his story on Luis Heredia. It's a good one; give it a read.

-- Catcher Jason Jaramillo and reliever Sean Gallagher are planning to play winter ball this year. There aren't many guys on the 25-man this season that need the extra work (at least inning-wise); maybe DY, Jeff Clement, Argenis Diaz, and a couple of relievers, so most of the players that trouper on will be from the minor league system.

-- Going into today's game, the Pirates had lost five in a row, 12 of the last 13, and were 6-23 in their last 29 games. The Pirates are on pace to finish 53-109, the worst record since 1952 when the Buccos finished 42-112.

-- Sweet Lou Pinella is calling it quits after today's game. He was going to leave at the end of the season, but his mom is in poor health, and he decided family first. Third base coach Mike Quade will be his replacement for the rest of the season.

Stetson Allie - Starter, Closer, Or Nuke LaLoosh?

The Pirates got the most electric arm in the draft when they signed second round pick Stetson Allie, a 6'3", 225 RHP from Olmsted Falls, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. He's been clocked topping 100 MPH with his heater, and that's impressive whatever the level.

He started out as a high school squirt, entering St. Edward in Lakewood, Ohio as a 5'9" freshman, but he has bloomed since. He didn't even start pitching until his junior year.

Allie pitched only 15 innings that season, mostly during the playoffs, but allowed no earned runs while striking out 28. The youngster pitched only occasionally out of the bullpen last summer for the Georgia East Cobb Braves, a team that went 91-7 and won the World Wood Bat Championship.

He went 9-1 during his senior campaign with 134 strikeouts and a 1.40 ERA in 60 innings of work. The P/3Bman also batted .500 with 32 RBI, 14 doubles and 3 home runs (he never hit under .400 in HS), and signed a letter of intent with powerhouse North Carolina.

Allie pitched St. Edward to the Division I state championship. In the 8-3 championship game win over Elder, he pitched five frames, struck out 13 batters and reached 101 MPH according to the stadium radar gun. In the last three seasons, the Eagles captured two state championships.

The Ohio youngster has a mantle full of honors - he played in the WWBA World Championships, the East Coast Pro Game, the Area Code Games, the Aflac All-American Game, the Under Armour All-America Game, the Perfect Game National Showcase, and was named the MaxPreps National Player of the Year

His baseball coach knows all about the kid and how he rates as a pro prospect - he's Danny Allie, Stetson's dad. As a coach at Dr. Phillips in Orlando, Florida in the 1990s, Allie coached future MLB players Johnny Damon, A.J. Pierzynski, Danny Miceli and 1990 first-round draft pick Brian Barber. He took the reins at St. Edward, and turned them into state titlists. That's pretty impressive family blood lines.

Allie was expected to go in the first round by many draft experts, and the pre-draft boards had him being between the 8th and 27th selection. Many, in fact, thought he was going to be selected by the hometown Indians, one of the 20 MLB teams that contacted him. But it didn't happen.

Some teams took a rain check on Allie because they weren't certain if he would pass up a scholarship to North Carolina, especially since he would be a draft-eligible sophomore in 2012. The rumor mill said it would take $3M to get him to back off the NC commitment.

Others worried because he was a two-way player, and thought college would give him time to sort it out. Also, though he profiles as a true first round arm, he didn't show first round control of his pitches. There were also questions about whether he'd profile as a starter or closer. All in all, a lot of ifs for a pure but raw talent.

So the Pirates had him fall into their laps. They took him as the draft's 52nd pick in the second round. They seem to play nicer with his agents, the Hendrick Brothers, than they do with Scott Boras, and signed him with a $2.25M bonus. Baseball America rated him as the No. 8 prospect prior to the draft, and his payday was in line with that draft slot.

And they're not indecisive about where he should play: they want him to start, period.

Pitching is probably where he would have ended up in the pros, college or not. He struggled to hit sliders and chased a lot of pitches out of the zone. And he's sort of a Pedro at third without the pure power; soft hands, not very rangy, and his strength is his arm. So the decision wasn't that hard.

His scouting report:

Fastball - Allie sits in the mid-90s and hits 97-99, touching the 100+ mark every so often. With improved control it could be a true plus-plus pitch.

But right now, he's a thrower, not a pitcher. That's not too surprising, considering his lack of reps on the mound; he did only throw 75 innings at St. Edward in his career. He gets some movement on his four seamer, but the pitch is fairly flat. Allie needs to get a little more action on the ball.

His control and his command are both below average at this stage of the game, and he loses some velocity on the number one as the game wears on. The control issues affect his speed; he takes something off the ball when he's having trouble finding the plate.

Slider - Allies's slider has plus potential for the velocity alone, clocking in the upper-80s and breaking 90 on occasion. it's effective as an off-speed offering and a chase pitch. He gets a nice, tight break with dive, and it looks like his fastball leaving his hand.

As with his fastball, he doesn't control the pitch well yet.

Change - He could develop an above-average changeup. He doesn't throw it as much as he should, but when he does, it's 85-87 mph with very good sink.

The truth is Allie has had little use for a change; his slider works fine off his fastball against his level of competition. He'll need to develop an off speed pitch to succeed as a starter at the pro level.

Motion - His delivery fits into the "dip and dive" form, which may give him some added velocity. He finishes easily and fluidly for a big guy, without too much of a violent finish with his back leg, leaving him in a good fielding position.

There are two red flags regarding his motion. One is that he takes his arm back too far, behind his knee, and back over top to a 3/4 delivery. The other is a head jerk as he delivers. Both lead to inconsistency in his release, and could be the root of his control issues. The arm swing is the more easily correctable, though his pitching coaches will be working to clean both up.

Neither, however, indicate any kind of potential physical problems. They just make it harder for him to throw the ball to the mitt.

A lesser problem is that from the stretch, he pays little attention to baserunners and uses a big leg kick instead of a slide step. Whether he starts or closes, that needs changed, especially as that's fast becoming a Pirate priority.

So right now, he's a two-pitch pony, fine for a closer but a brick shy of a starter's repertoire. A lot of his control problems probably have more to do with his limited experience on the mound; some tinkering with his motion and becoming a full-time pitcher should greatly improve his command. One promising sign is that his control improved as the season went on, so maybe he just needed to find a rhythm.

His attitude is to go out and throw as hard as he can for as long as he can. That aggressive approach should serve him well if he slots into relief work as a pro, but not so well as a starter; the Bucs already have a roster full of five-inning arms.

While Allie's current two pitch mix would make him a dangerous late inning relief pitcher, MLB teams don't spend first round money on high school closers. He'll be groomed as a starter until he proves otherwise, and projects as a number two or three arm on a MLB staff.

There's quite a punch list to get him ready to join a rotation.

He fades noticeably after five or so innings now, and needs to build arm strength. He has to improve his control, but that's true no matter what role he ends up filling; ditto with the flaws in his motion. Allie has to develop an effective change as his third pitch. And it may be hard to alter that bulldog attitude into a nine-inning worldview.

Now, he reminds some people of Jonathan Papelbon, Boston's closer, and some of Bud Norris, the mid-rotation, inning-eating strikeout machine of the Astros. Such is the Pirates' conundrum with Allie - start or finish?

At Allie's press conference, he said he'd prefer to close but that starting was OK, too. Neil Huntington made it clear that he was regarded as starter material until shown otherwise.

So not only do the Pirates have a project on their hands, but they're not even sure what the finished product will be. And he is a project; any high school kid, especially as raw as Allie, is a high-risk, high-reward candidate to become either a Jonathan Papelbon...or Duke LaLoosh.

Still, injecting his kind of raw ability into the system was a necessary risk for the Pirates. They chose a pretty polished pitcher ahead of him in Jameson Taillon, and who knows - Allie could join him in the rotation or come on in the ninth to save his bacon.

Allie got to know Taillon through all-star games and Houston pitching coach, former Pirates minor leaguer David Evans, who tutored them both, so they are not only intertwined through the draft, but buds, too.

This week, Allie will join the Class A State College farm club with Taillon, where he will get a crash course in the pro lifestyle, then pitch in the instructional league this fall. In all likelihood, he will start next season with the Class A West Virginia team, again with Taillon.

And there's a good chance that they could end up the John Candelaria - Kent Tekulve team of the future.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mets, Rain, Squelch Pirates Again

The game started late because of some showers, but the Pirates were in mid-game form. Jose Reyes doubled, and a bunt base hit by Angel Pagan put runners on the corners. It was an easy hit; J-Mac never covered first. Carlos Beltran flew out to center, and while Reyes stayed put, Pagan went to second on the throw home.

J-Mac struck out Chris Carter on a curve in the dirt; Reyes scored on the throw to first to complete the out. This is the major leagues? And if Pagan was still on first, there would have been no need for the throw, not that he should have been there to start with.

McCutch started with a double, and Jose Tabata bunted him to third. A bunt after a leadoff double in the first? JT was probably copying Pagan's move; maybe if Pagan hadn't just pulled it off the Mets might have been caught napping. You can guess the rest: Neil Walker K'ed, Garrett Jones bounced out, and so much for that small ball tidbit.

McDonald got the first two guys in the second, and then walked Jon Niese, his mound opponent. The Pirates have already broken about a half-dozen fundamental tenets, and it's only the second inning.

Dewey drew a one-out walk in the second, and Ronny Cedeno followed with a swinging bunt single. Snyder struck out, and J-Mac K'ed without taking the bat off his shoulders, not offering so much as a hack to help his cause with two on and two out. And if you're keeping count, Niese has four whiffs in two frames; McDonald has three.

In the third, J-Mac got the first two outs and then again walked a guy, but it didn't hurt him.

McCutch banged another double to start the Buccos off in their half of the third. Tabata sacrificed him to third. We give up. At least this time it resulted in a run when Walker banged a single into left to tie the game.

At the end of three, both pitchers were nearing the 50 pitch mark; home plate ump Adrian Johnson was calling a tight strike zone, and it was making them work.

Ike Davis started the fourth with a double into deep center, and an offering later he was wild-pitched to third. He got Josh Thole to pop out, but the eight hitter, Ruben Tejeda, hit a sac fly to left. With two away, he walked Niese again after being ahead 1-2 in the count, but got Reyes to line out to Dewey.

The Bucs whacked a couple of the balls on the nose in their half, but got a roped line out and long fly out for their effort. 2-1 Mets after four innings.

More trouble in the fifth for J-Mac; a leadoff double and walk put him in a jam. With one out, he fed David Wright a fastball down the middle, and he took it over the center field wall. Pirate games are becoming so predictable. Give up a couple of gift runs, followed by a three-run homer, and wait for the fat lady.

J-Mac then walked Davis. After a strikeout, Pedro let a ball through him to put runners at second and third. This time he got Niese with two away on a bouncer to short, though it was on a 3-2 pitch.

That was it for J-Mac. He went five innings, giving up five runs on six hits with five walks and four K's. When he can get one of his curve and change over with any regularity, he's dominating. But when he can't, like tonight, he's not enough of a power pitcher to depend on his heater to carry him; it needs set up by his off speed stuff.

After two ground outs, Tabata was finally allowed to swing away; he doubled to left. Walker hit one ticketed up the middle, but Tejeda made the play and saved the run.

Poor Daniel McCutchen came on when the rains returned, and it was pretty heavy this time. He gave up a single to Reyes and was behind 3-1 to Pagan. D-Mac finally caved and asked for a towel to dry off his hands, and the umps decided it was time to call for the tarps as the infield quickly turned into a marsh.

And that's how it ended. With threatening weather forecast all evening and five innings in, the umps called it and the Mets got the win 5-1.

Zach Duke goes against Johann Santana tomorrow afternoon, weather permitting.

-- Dewey's getting the start in right over Thrilledge tonight, even with a lefty on the hill. So much for platooning. In about the same number of at-bats this season, Doumit is hitting .187/2/9 against lefties, Milledge .315/3/16. And it's not like he's "been swinging a hot bat" as JR said - Doumit was 2 for 22 in his past six games. It's like the ghost of Ryan Church is still haunting right field.

-- New York had not won a NL road series all season until tonight.

-- A while back, everyone was talking about Garrett Jones' solo home runs; well, add McCutch to the list. He's hit a dozen, and every one has been with the bases empty.

-- The Bucs held a closed door meeting before tonight's game. Geez, wonder what they have to talk about? There are so many topics to choose from. Maybe the weather?

--- Tonight was a throw-back game. The Pirates were dressed in the uniforms of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, and the Mets in the outfits of the New York Cubans, two fabled Negro League clubs.

-- Brad Lincoln is suffering from neck soreness; he was put on the minor league DL and is expected to miss a start (Indy's DL's start at a week, not 15 days). Bad timing; just before that, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweeted that the Bucs might consider 6-man rotation if Lincoln was recalled in September.

Jameson Taillon

OK, now that the Bucs have clinched their 18th losing season, Green Weenie figured it was about time to intersperse the usual bad MLB news with some occasional glad tidings. And what gladder tiding this season than the signing of Jameson Taillon?

Taillon is a RHP from The Woodlands, the largest high school in Texas. The eighteen year-old was born in Winter Haven, Florida, on November 18th, 1991, and stands 6'6", 225 pounds.

Despite being born in Florida, Taillon is a Canadian citizen and the highest draft pick ever taken from that nation.

Taillon's parents, Mike and Christie, are both from Ontario and met as students at the University of Toronto in the 1970s. His mom is from Toronto, and his dad is from St. Andrews, between Montreal and Ottawa. Like many French-Canadians who were fans of Le Habs Ken Dryden, Mike grew up as a goalie, which served as great training whenever he played catch with his son.

The couple eventually moved to the U.S. to follow jobs, and as a result, Jameson and his three older sibs hold dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship.

Instead of learning to slap hockey pucks, Jameson starting firing baseballs

In 11 games as a senior with The Woodlands this season, Taillon went 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA (he lost a 2-0 game). He struck out 114 batters and walked 21 in 62 innings of work, and whiffed 19 batters while tossing a no-hitter.

Taillon made The Woodlands varsity team as a freshman and went on to post a 22-6 record with 282 strikeouts in 173 innings during his high school career.

The Woodlands has a reputation as a baseball school; they have a couple of state championships under their belt. One year before Taillon reached high school, Kyle Drabek graduated The Woodlands and became Philadelphia's #1 draft selection. Drabek is now Toronto's top pitching prospect after being a centerpiece in the Roy Halladay trade over the winter.

JT pitched in two high school All-American games, the Aflac and Under Armour showcases, and took home the MVP honors for Team One at the Under Armour All-America Game. He also pitched in the Perfect Game National and World Showcase games in 2009, and was selected to the MaxPreps All-American Baseball Team.

Taillon matched up with numero uno selection Bryce Harper; he struck him out on fastballs low and away, and a curveball in the dirt.

He led the USA Baseball 18-and-under national team to its first gold medal in the Pan American AAA/18U Championships in Venezuela last fall. In the championship game win over Cuba, Taillon allowed no runs and struck out 16 batters in 7-2/3 innings, setting a Team USA single-game record. Taillon went 2-0 with 28 strikeouts in two starts, and didn't yield a run.

Taillon was rated by Baseball America as the best pitcher available in the draft and as the second-best overall player among the top 200 prospects. In addition, they rated him as having the "Best Fastball" and as being the "Closest to the Majors" among all high school pitchers. BA also ranked him the 17th best draft prospect of the past twenty years.

In spite of the glowing reviews, the Bucco brass seemed torn between him and Florida high school SS Manny Machado. But the rumors were that Machado didn't really want to play for Pittsburgh, and the fact was that he was represented by Scott Boras. So hey, on draft day, it was welcome to Pittsburgh, Jameson, and hope you enjoy Baltimore, Manny.

Taillon made history of a sorts that day when he became just the third high school RHP pitcher to be selected with the #2 overall pick, joining Josh Beckett and former Astros great J.R. Richard.

He became the first high school player the Pirates chose in the first round since selecting Andrew McCutchen in 2005 - and McCutch turned out OK, we'd say. He's the seventh high school pitcher the organization has used its first pick on since 1970. Of those previous six, two - Rod Scurry (#11, 1974) and Sean Burnett (#19, 2000) - made it to the show, both as middle relievers. That certainly isn't the plan for Taillon.

His ceiling is that of a number one starter, potential that the Pirates lack at the major or minor league level. GM Neal Huntington has often pooh-poohed the thought of taking high school pitchers in round one because of their inherent risk, so by pulling the trigger on Taillon, they must agree with the draft gurus.

It wasn't that his signing was a slam dunk. First, he had committed to Rice, a dream of his for years. He comes from an academically strong background; his parents are collegians and he has a sister attending law school, a brother beginning his medical school residency and another brother who is a Ph.D. candidate.

Taillon himself is another Ross Ohlendorf in the making; he's a star in the classroom with a 3.85 grade point average, and that was with a schedule heavy with advanced placement classes.

Next, he was represented by the Houston-based agents Randy and Alan Hendricks. They get deals done, and for big bucks. Their stable includes Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, Homer Bailey, and Rick Porcello. The brothers got Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman a six-year deal worth $30.25M. They can play hardball.

And they did. He signed for $6.5M, the highest bonus ever given to a high school player and more than $3M above slot; Donavan Tate held the previous record of $6.25M from the Padres in 2009. Taillon's bonus is bettered only by Stephen Strasburg's $7.5M deal with the Nationals in 2009 (Bryce Harper got a bigger MLB contract, but his bonus was $6.25M).

And with his scouting report, it's no wonder. He's thought to be the best high school arm scouts have seen in the last few years. Taillon has the complete package for a preppie, with projectable size, and three plus pitches in his fastball, slider and curve, and a decent, if rusty, change. He's seen as a potential ace by most scouts.

And impressive as his stuff is, his makeup might be even better. Taillon has a good feel and presence on the mound, and wants to learn the little things. He was quoted as looking to improve his fastball command, his change, and pick up the ins and outs of pitching sequences to hitters.

His scouting report:

Fastball: He consistently sits in the 93-96 MPH range, and has touched 99. His heater appears to rise on hitters. It's explosive, and is already a plus pitch that could be plus-plus down the line.

His go-to pitch is a four-seam fastball, and he throws a two-seamer which has been clocked between 89-93 MPH with a lot of run.

Taillon sometimes has trouble keeping his fastball down in the zone, and the pitch will also flatten out at times, leaving it hittable.

Curveball - It comes in on the same plane as his fastball, and looks like a high heater out of his hand. It's a potential strikeout pitch both as a swing-and-miss offering and dropping into the zone with a 12-to-6 break. It's got nice separation from the heater; he throws it at 82-84 MPH, though he's also shown a slow curve in the seventies.

He gives it away sometimes, when he occasionally raises his arm slot slightly when throwing the hook.

Slider — Although it's also a plus pitch, the slider is a little behind his curveball. The pitch breaks hard left, but sometimes doesn't have much dive to it, almost like flipping a Frisbee. It's a great pitch in high school, coming in hard at the mid-to-high 80s, and could be another swing-and-miss offering at the pro level if he can get its command up another notch.

The pitch could use a little more consistency, as there are times you can spot the break soon after release before it bites.

Changeup - He has a circle change that was rarely called for at his level, and it's a solid if not overwhelming pitch at this point. He maintains his arm speed well and it's clocked 8-12 mph slower than his fastball with fading action, and it's a pitch he'll need at the next level.

Most high school kids don't have much command of this pitch, and he overthrows it sometimes.

Motion - Taillon throws at a 3/4 arm angle. His wind up and delivery have a lot of moving parts, as he starts out slowly while he lifts his front leg and then explodes. But the ball comes out of his hand easily and there's no hitch in his arm, so that doesn't seem to be a concern. The staff will have to clean up his landing, as he falls off the hill dramatically.

His body control and the repeatability of his mechanics are smooth, a rarity in a high schooler with such a big body. Sometimes Taillon can get a little jerky delivering the ball, but there aren't red flags on the arm action outside of flashing the ball some; generally he hides it well. The staff will have to work on his one bad habit of sometimes rushing his delivery.

Taillon's pitch placement lags behind his ball-and-strike control. He's generally able to get the ball over the plate, but he doesn't always hit the glove; he's used to overpowering high school hitters. JT can throw his ball to both sides of the plate, but he's more accurate to his arm side.

Overall, a pretty clean report on a big kid who's a stereotypical Texas power pitcher and who is often compared to Josh Beckett, his favorite MLB pitcher.

Citing the path taken by Beckett (who was also a #2 overall pick in 1999), Taillon has a goal of being in the show by his 21st birthday. To reach it, the right-hander would have to be in Pittsburgh by the end of the 2012 season.

While the Pirates and their fans would love to see that scenario play out, the first step for Taillon on his way to the show is through State College. He'll observe the pro life there for a couple of weeks and get to work with minor league pitching coordinator Jim Benedict.

Next will come the Pirates' fall instructional league. And as for 2011, Taillon will likely begin his season in the low Class A West Virginia rotation, though a stint in State College is possible, too.

Off the field, Taillon volunteers his time on the weekends to the Challenger baseball program that offers children with special needs the opportunities to be involved in organized baseball, much like our local Miracle League. He also enjoys playing the guitar, fishing, and hangin' with his buds, your pretty typical teen stuff.

Except mall crawling is a lot more fun with $6.5M to spend at the CD shop.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Another Losing Season Cinched...On August 20th

It's not enough that the Pirates play most games with one arm tied behind their backs talent-wise; in the first, the baseball gods decided to have a yuk at Jeff Karstens' expense.

Jose Reyes, one of the league's top base stealers, hit a little ground ball single. Karstens worked him over pretty well, even picking him off once, except that Jeff Clement dropped the ball. He eventually stole second when it was Chris Snyder's turn to drop the ball while trying to make a throw.

With two outs and Reyes still on second, Chris Carter stuck out his bat on a two strike curve off the plate, and it floated beyond the reach of Ronny Cedeno. David Wright hit a full-count slider off the end off the bat; the soft liner dropped inches over Neil Walker's mitt, who turned just before jumping, costing him a shot at the ball.

With runners on the corners, Ike Davis hit a four-hopper that got past a diving Walker to drive in another run, and then the only hard hit ball of the inning was drilled through the infield into right by Josh Thole.

One ball was hit hard enough to break an egg, but 31 pitches later, it was 3-0. The Bucs went quietly and quickly against Mike Pelfrey in the first.

Karstens got out of the second in one piece, thanks to a diving stop by Cedeno, whose throw dragged Clement's foot off the base, but the ump ruled he kept it on just long enough. Replays showed he probably didn't, and the iffy call saved a run when Angel Pagan followed with a double off the Clemente Wall.

Pittsburgh got a run back when Dewey fouled off a handful of pitches, and put the ninth into the back rows of the right field stands, just missing his second River Walk landing of the home stand.

The Mets tattooed Karstens in the third, and no bad luck was involved. Carter homered to right, Wright lined a single into left, stole second on a weak throw by Snyder, and jogged home on a Thole rope into right. A 5-4-3 DP ended the frame, but put the impotent Bucco attack in a big hole.

Impotent or not, the Bucs took advantage of a Met gift to score in the third. Cedeno hit a soft chop to third, and Wright's throw sailed, allowing the SS to duck under the tag.

He was bunted to second and came in on Andrew McCutchen's single. The Bucs had a big inning set up after two outs when Walker hustled a ground ball single up the middle into a stand-up double, but Pedro struck out for the second time, leaving a pair in scoring position.

Karstens didn't make it out of the fourth. With one out, Reyes doubled and Pagan lined a single into center, just over Cedeno's reach, to put runners on the corners, and the call for Sean Gallagher was made.

Pagan was off on the 2-0 pitch, and came around to score when Carlos Beltran's cue shot into left was corralled by JT, whose throw to third hit the runner in the butt, moving both guys up a base. The Mets lead the NL in stolen bases, and have put runners in motion at every opportunity tonight; the Pirates seemingly have no answer for the running game.

Gallagher got the next pair with no more scoring, but at 7-2, the damage had been done. Karstens went 3-1/3 innings and gave up 11 hits, seven runs, and K'ed one. Yah, you can blame the pitching tonight. JK's ERA went from 4.57 to 4.98 in under an hour and a half.

The Bucs tried for two-out magic again when Snyder singled and Cedeno doubled to put runners at second and third again, but JR decided the game was over in the fourth inning and let Gallagher bat as boos rang in his ears; he grounded out. But then again, maybe he thought the game would really be over if he tried to get a couple of innings out of Chan Ho Park. Flip a coin.

At least Gallagher did his part, and shut down the Mets with just a two-out walk in the fifth. McCutch started off the Bucco half with a single and stole second; two can play that game. Tabata walked to set up Walker.

Walker hit the ball on the nose, but lined it right to Ike Davis at first. Pedro popped out, and Dewey tacked on the third out. Three innings, six runners, five in scoring position, and nothing to show for it.

Gallagher got three ground outs in the sixth. He's given up a hit and walk in 2-2/3 frames; too bad the hit was to the first batter. Pelfrey returned the favor, setting Pittsburgh down in order.

After a line out and single to open the seventh, SG was given the rest of the night off and Wil Ledezema trotted out of the pen. He picked off the runner as he bolted toward second; good thing, too, as Ike Davis next pounded a long single into right. He got the third out, and left for pinch hitter Delwyn Young.

DY flew out, McCutch walked, and JT banged into a 6-4-3 DP, pretty much according to the recent Pirate script. Chris Resop took the hill for the eighth. With two away, Reyes singled for his third hit of the game, but stayed on first as Pagan flew out to short center.

Pelfrey, who likes to throw nothing but his sinking heater and an occasional change, was still touching 94 in the eighth, even after 119 pitches. He 1-2-3'ed the Bucs, and got Pedro swinging again.

Alvarez has three of the five Pirate K's tonight, with an 0-for-4 and four runners left on base. He's seen nothing but fastballs as the adjustment game continues; he's waiting more on the off-speed stuff now, so they're busting him with fastballs. It's a steep learning curve in the bigs.

Ah, so the ninth is what JR was saving Chan Ho for. He got through it, and Bobby Parnell mopped up the Bucs, throwing between 96-99 MPH, getting two grounders and K'ing Cedeno to sent the Pirates to their 18th straight losing season and the Met fans who filled PNC out to party on the North Shore.

Hey, at least no drama and national press this year; guess America got their fill of Pittsburgh jokes last season. But as Dejan Kovacevic noted on a tweet, "The streak is old enough to drive, to vote, and to serve in Afghanistan" now that it's 18 years-old.

We thought the young guys would improve after some time in the field, but with a 6-22 record in their past 28 games, that obviously was a pipe dream. The hitting is every bit as bad as the pitching.

Tomorrow night's game will feature J-Mac against Jonathan Niese.

-- Ronny Cedeno is back in the lineup, and Jeff Clement is getting a start at first after languishing on the pine to give slumping Garrett Jones a night off. JC has played in one game since August 8th; he'll be lucky to remember what a bat is.

-- There won't be any Jay Bay sightings this season. The Mets shut him down for the remainder of the year; he's still suffering from a concussion he got running face first into the wall at LA last month.

-- Charlie Morton missed his start last night at Indy with elbow soreness, but the suits are optimistic that he'll make his next scheduled appearance. OF Jonathan Van Every went on the DL with a muscle pull.

-- The Pirates have reached agreement with Colombian shortstop Dilson Herrera, and gave him a bonus of $200K. The 16 year-old switch hitter is considered a strong glove guy. The official signing may take awhile; the MLB vets the age and things pretty thoroughly before giving their imprimatur.

-- Michael Love of the Plum Advance Leader has a story on Scott McGough, Plum High grad, 2008 Pirate draftee, and current Oregon Duck pitcher and his experiences in the World University Championships held recently in Tokyo.

-- Remember Valley High and Duquesne basketball star BB Flenory? Tonight he received the Pittsburgh Pirates Community Champion award before the game. Flenory, who works at Pressley Ridge, a school for troubled youth, has also served as chairman of the Board of Champions Association, which services at-risk children in and around Allegheny County.

-- No wonder Ronny Paulino was ripping the cover of the ball. He was just suspended for fifty games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

AAA Call-Up Shuts Down Bucs

The first three innings went by quickly. Paul Maholm was dealing progressive; a perfect first, a single in the second, and a single and walk in the third. AAA call up Alex Sanabia was dishing better; he allowed one single during that span.

In the fourth, Pedro showed off his rifle to get the last out. He dove for a ball hit up the line, made the snag, and threw out Cody Ross from his knees in foul territory, preserving a 1-2-3 inning for Maholm.

Neil Walker gave the fans their first thrill when he drove one deep to right, but Mike Stanton picked it off the wall for a loud out. It was a 0-0 game after four.

The pitchers both sat down the order in the fifth. Maholm had faced three batters over the minimum, Sanabia, one more than the minimum.

But for Bucco pitchers, the sixth inning is an abyss that they just can't cross. A leadoff walk, single, and Gaby Sanchez blast - and it was a shot, landing in the Pirate bullpen beyond the Notch - made it 3-0.

It got uglier. Another single was erased on an around-the-horn DP, but a double, two singles, and a hit batter - the pitcher Sanabia - brought in a run and the hook. Sean Gallagher came in and struck out Emilio Bonifacio.

For Maholm, his line was 5-2/3 frames pitched, giving up eight hits, four runs, two walks and two K's. The Pirates tried in the sixth, hitting two balls to the track then ending the frame when McCutch was robbed on a play in the hole by Bonifacio. Same result as three K's, though - nada.

Wil Ledezema apparently didn't learn much by watching Maholm; he walked the first batter and wild-pitched him to second. But unlike PM, he bore down and got a K and two pops to escape unscathed.

The Pirates got a leadoff single from Jose Tabata, who promptly got doubled off first after a Walker line out. Jones K'ed, and the Bucs went down meekly again. Daniel McCutchen pitched a clean eighth; the Pirates were down to six outs.

They used up the first two before getting on the board with back-to-back doubles by Chris Snyder and Argenis Diaz, his second knock of the night. Snyder's was catchable, but a diving Logan Morrison forgot to drop his glove, and it got past him to the wall.

Clay Hensley took the hill, and struck out Delwyn Young on a ball in the dirt that got away from the catcher, a throw 'em out whiff. Sanabia gave up four hits and a run without a walk and with five K's in 7-2/3 innings.

Joel Hanrahan came out to get a little work, and set down the Fish. The Bucs took their last shot with the top of the order against closer Leo Nunez.

McCutch got it off to a good start when he lined a shot into the left field seats. With one out, Walker singled, bring up Jones and Pedro as tying runs. Nunez struck them both out swinging, showing the duo nothing but 96 MPH fastballs. It was mano a mano, and Nunez won hands down.

Well, now we know this; the Pirates can't beat a AAA pitcher. Heck, they couldn't beat the King and His Court the way they're swing the sticks right now. Maybe they should sign Pedro Cerrano and let him sacrifice a chicken to the baseball gods. Couldn't hurt, hey?

The Mets series will open tomorrow night with Jeff Karstens taking on Mike Pelfrey.

-- Ronny Cedeno is still out. He could be ready as soon as tomorrow, but more likely the weekend, as he made it through BP today.

-- The Pirates were supposed to see Sean West today, but his knee blew up and he was put on the DL. Alex Sanabia, who started in AA, had a couple of starts in the bigs, and was sent down to AAA, was recalled to replace him in the rotation.

-- Jameson Taillon was introduced to the media mob today; he and the suits had the predictable lovefest. He told the press hounds what he wanted to work on: fastball command, developing a more effective change, and learning the ins and outs of pitching sequences to hitters.

Taillon did mention that he throws a "spiked" curve, a sort of knuckle-curve. It's comparable somewhat to Mike Mussina's hook, with a little more velocity and a little less break. And he confirmed his itinerary - off to State College for the rest of their year to get acclimated and do some bullpen tossing, then to the Instructional League.

He added that he always felt a deal was going to be worked out; he claimed the hardest part of negotiations was not playing ball for ten weeks while waiting for the final contract.

-- The Pirates officially announced the signing of Luis Heredia about twelve hours after Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette broke the story. Heredia and his parents were at PNC, snapping photos like Japanese tourists.

-- Stetson Allie says he likes closing; the Pirates want him to start. And for $2.25M, who can blame them? Actually, Allie said he's cool with either role. Let's just hope he doesn't follow the Daniel Moskos path.

Nice trio of pitchers - Heredia, 16, tops out at 94; Taillon, 18, has hit 99, and Allie, 19, has touched 102. Some true power arms there; now to see if they harness their heat and become pitchers.