Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Sticks Are Willing, But The Mitts Are Weak

Chris Volstad had his sinker working early; the Bucs went down 1-2-3.

Not so for the Zachster; Emilio Bonifacio started things off for the Fish with an infield single, stole second, and moved to third on an Osvaldo Martinez bouncer. Logan Morrison singled up the middle, and it was 1-0 Florida.

He walked Dan Uggla, got Gabby Sanchez on a short fly, and with two outs, Mike Stanton singled up the middle for another run. Wes Helms doubled over third to bring home two more. He walked Brad Davis intentionally to get to Volstad, who grounded out to Neil Walker. Duke was down 4-0 after one, and had already thrown 37 pitches.

With one out, the red-hot Pedro lined a single to center. John Bowker had the green light on a 3-0 pitch and drove a fastball to Sun Life's Notch; it turned into a 430' out. Ronny Cedeno K'ed to leave El Toro stranded.

With one out, Martinez singled to left and Morrison walked. Uggla hit one to short; Cedeno's throw to second missed the mark, his fifth error in six games, and the bases were loaded. Sanchez hit a sac fly, and it was 5-0.

Pittsburgh went down in order in the third; surprisingly, so did the Marlins.

The Bucs made a bit of a bang in the fourth. JT led off with a leg single, and Neil Walker doubled him home. Garrett Jones lined a shot to center; Bonafacio corralled it, and Walker went to third. Pedro roped a knock into center to plate him, and Bowker singled to right. But Cedeno added to his memorable night by chopping into a DP to go with his K and error.

A bit better running might have kept the inning alive; Bowker avoided a tag on the way to second, but hesitated when the throw went to first and was nailed in a rundown.

Pedro had a ball hit off the heel of his glove for an error after one was away. Then a single that just went under a diving Jones, who was holding the runner, was followed by a smoked double off Uggla's bat. A grounder became the second out, but Mike Stanton took a heater well over the 434' Notch to make it 9-2. Pedro let another ball go through his legs before Davis popped out.

Duke went four, giving up nine runs (and only four earned) - six with two away - with eight hits and three walks, throwing 89 pitches.

Pedro Ciriaco singled with one away, and Jose Tabata walked with two outs, but Walker whiffed on a ball in the dirt to end the frame. Joe Martinez took the ball, and got through the inning with a goose egg.

The Bucs went down in order in the sixth; the Fish added another run on a Sanchez double and Stanton single. Even with the lead, Volstad was through; Brian Sanches climbed the hill in the seventh, and gave up a Cedeno homer. Bad Brad took his turn for Pittsburgh. Did nicely, too - Lincoln struck out the side with 94-95 MPH heat and a sharp 12-to-6 hook.

Sandy Rosario came on, and made things interesting. JT dropped a broken bat single into center, and Walker singled. Brandon Moss slowly rolled a ball 60' for an infield knock to load them; Pedro singled a run home. Then Bowker walked, and Rosario was gone, replaced by Clay Hensley.

Hensley was facing the JV; he got Alex Presley swinging at a slow hook, and Jason Jaramillo popped to short left. But he walked Argenis Diaz to make it 10-6 and bring up the tying run, Delwyn Young. DY popped to center, and the Fish escaped.

Jeff Karstens got the call for the bottom of the eighth. Morrison greeted him with a triple; he came in on Sanchez's single, a routine grounder that made it through a drawn-in infield. Jose Veras came on in the ninth to usher the Fat lady on stage.

He couldn't do it. Veras got an out, but a JT walk, Moss double, and Pedro homer - El Toro had his first four hit game, to go with five RBI on the night - was enough to bring on Leo Nunez. He whiffed Bowker and Presley, both swinging through changeups, and the Fish hung on, 11-9.

Hey, tonight again showed that if you are really serious about improving the Pirate pitching, start by improving the infield defense. The difference in the game wasn't the pitching; it was the five unearned runs. In 2009, the Pirates led MLB in fielding percentage; in 2010, they're last. 'Nuff said.

It's Paul Maholm versus Adalberto Mendez tomorrow; Maholm will try to become the only Buc pitcher to notch 10 wins in 2010. He's 9-15 now.

-- JT has a thirteen game hitting streak; Pedro has a ten game streak. McCutch had his 24 game on-base streak broken tonight; he missed a couple at-bats when JR brought on the bomb squad.

-- The Pirates join the expansion era Mets as the only club not to win at least 20 road games in a 162 game schedule.

-- Tiger manager Jim Leyland and his entire coaching staff were retained for next year. That includes Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont, so Detroit remains the elephant's graveyard for old Bucco skippers.

-- The MLB suits and the player's union tweaked free agency some:

- Players will no longer have to file for free agency; it will be an automatic process.
- The free agent negotiating period following the World Series will start after five days.
- The deadline for a team to offer arbitration to its own free agents will be November 23rd.
- November 30th will be the deadline for free agents to accept or decline arbitration offers from their teams.
- The non-tender deadline will be December 2nd.

All the dates were moved up a week or so; the thought is to get more FA's signed earlier so players don't have to wait until March to ink a deal.

September Stuff

-- This Day In Bucco History: On September 30th, 1972, in a game at Three Rivers Stadium, Roberto Clemente hit a double off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets for his 3,000th hit in the final regular season at-bat of his 18 big league years.

-- James McDonald's line since becoming a Pirate: eleven starts, 4-5, 3.51 ERA, with 61 strikeouts and 24 walks in 64 innings. And so far this year, his poise has been better than his stuff. Even when struggling with command and pitch count, he's kept the game within reach.

-- How have the Pirate pups handled the dog days of September? In the last 28 days, their lines have been:

Andrew McCutchen - .333/.427/.548 4 HR, 13 RBI, 21 RS, 5 SB
Jose Tabata - .290/.309/.376 12 RBI, 13 RS, 4 SB
Neil Walker - .264/.356/.418 3 HR 15 RBI 13 RS
Garrett Jones - .286/.333/.452 1 HR 12 RBI 11 RS
Pedro Alvarez - .300/.354/.567 4 HR 14 RBI 12 RS

McCutch, Jones and El Toro have all raised their games; JT is pretty much on mark, and The Pittsburgh Kid is having just a so-so month at the dish. But it bodes well that none have fallen into a September swoon, a fate common to many young guys as the grind of a long year takes its toll.

-- Pedro Alvarez has a nine-game hitting streak; McCutch has a 24 game on-base skein.

-- With a 16-61 road record, Pittsburgh must win at least one of their final four games to avoid becoming the first team to play an 162 game schedule and finish with fewer than 17 wins.

The 1963 Mets finished 17-64 on the road a year after they went 18-63 away from home during their inaugural expansion season. Those two clubs remain the only teams to win fewer than 20 road games playing a modern schedule. Unless the Pirates sweep Florida, they'll become the third.

-- "Winning the Curve's first championship and being named Eastern League Manager of the Year wasn't enough for Matt Walbeck to keep his job. The Pirates informed Walbeck late Wednesday night that he would not be retained in any capacity by the organization" reports Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror.

Walbeck, who turns 41 on Saturday, has now won three league titles and four manager of the year awards in six seasons. The Pirates had no comment; apparently he ran the Curve ship contrary to their by-the-book management guide for minor-league player development or was bucking for a promotion that wasn't in the cards; maybe it was a bit of both.

A lotta noise about this move, but we don't think it's a big deal. Walbeck managed his team to win games, and at his level, the Pirates are more interested in someone who will work on developmental issues for the players. Sometimes that goes hand-in-hand; this time it didn't. He'll land on his feet, and Altoona will find another guy equally as qualified to lead the troops.

Still, it's another black mark on the Pirates' PR checklist; they should have announced his dismissal before he leaked it to the press. Good spin doesn't seem to be their forte.

-- This upcoming draft will mark the fourth shot Pittsburgh has had at the #1 pick. The others: RHP Bryan Bullington in 2002, RHP Kris Benson in 1996, and 3B Jeff King in 1985. Not much of a track record there.

-- After missing the early part of the season due to shoulder surgery, Freddy Sanchez is hitting .296/.345/.408 with 7 HR and 45 RBI for San Fran in 108 games. And he's still Steady Freddy in the field, making 4 errors in 448 chances. How about Tim Alderson, who he was traded for? Well, let's just say he's not doing quite that well.

Bradenton Post Season Wrap

The Bradenton Marauders looked like an offensive juggernaut; They led the Florida State League in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, and the pitching was decent, too - it finished fourth in ERA.

They finished third in the league and made the FSL playoffs, although they were swept by the Charlotte Stone Crabs. But they're not that deep in prospects, at least not this season, but the couple they do have are shooting stars in the Pirate system.

The Marauders had a pair of the top young position players in the organization, catcher Tony Sanchez and outfielder Starling Marte, on the roster, but neither made it through the season. Sanchez had his jaw broken by a pitch, and Marte had hamate surgery on his hand after also being plunked. Another guy trying to make a name for himself, infielder Brock Holt, didn't play after early June.

Sanchez, 22, the team's top draft pick in 2009, fractured his jaw on June 22nd (it was the second time that month he caught a ball in the puss) and didn't play for the rest of the season. In 59 games, he hit .314/.416/.454 with 35 RBI. And he was on the fast track; his defensive skills were everything the Bucs hoped, and his bat was even better.

He'll play in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time, and probably will begin the 2010 season at Altoona. It's possible he could see a September call-up.

Centerfielder Marte, a 21 year old Dominican, sat out after surgery on May 8th to repair a broken hamate bone and returned to Bradenton on August 2nd. It's the same procedure that Pedro Alvarez had two years ago, and can be a power-drainer for a season or so.

Marte finished with a line of .315/.386/.432 and 26 steals in 60 games. Not only is he a fleet top-of-the-order guy, but his glovework is sometimes spectacular, although it's raw and he muffs the occasional easy ball.

He'll play winter ball, too, and should begin 2010 with Altoona. Marte is eligible for the Rule 5 draft and is sure to be added to the 40-man roster.

Middle infielder Holt, 22, hit .351/.410/.438 in 47 games for the Marauders before suffering MCL damage and a torn meniscus in mid-June. A 2009 draft pick from Rice, he's a top-of-the-order bat and a dependable fielder; the Pirates like him at second base. And you hate to see the college kids lose a year; they're the guys that should advancing through the levels.

Third baseman Jeremy Farrell, 23, posted a .298/.369/.487 line for the year, but the 2008 draft pick missed time when he fouled a ball off his shin and it became infected. In 75 games, he hit 9 homers and had 43 RBI. He's a tad old for the level, and is a fringe prospect as a bench bat. If Rendon gets picked next year, the infield corners could be set in Pittsburgh for awhile.

Catcher/OF Eric Fryer, 25, also missed time when he got hit in the face with a pitch. His line, in 83 games, was .300/.391/.474. Fryer was part of the return from the Yankees for Eric Hinske last year. He is athletic and runs OK for a big guy, but is probably organizational depth right now just because of his age.

One young guy to watch is OF Robbie Grossman, who just turned 21 after being drafted out of high school in 2008. His line was a disappointing .245/.344/.345, and he strikes out at a huge rate, though he improved in 2010, going from 164 K's to 118 between 2009-10.

But he was a 20 year old through the season, youngish for High A, and athletic enough to play all three OF spots and steal a few sacks. Grossman draws walks (12% rate), and had 29 doubles and four homers, so he has some upside to grow into.

The Marauders leader in at-bats was OF Quincy Latimore, 21, who has good power but poor plate discipline (136 Ks, 30 BBs), compiling a line of .266/.323/.444 with 19 HRs and 100 RBI. He doesn't have great range and boots more than his share of balls, but does have a rifle, with 21 assists in the past two season. His ability to whack the long fly will keep him on the Pirate radar.

6'7" 1B Calvin Anderson shows a little pop but K's a lot and has a cast iron mitt, and at 23, he's depth, as are OF Austin McClune, C Jamie Skelton and IF Greg Picard.

Their top two pitchers, Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke, both spent the second part of the season at Altoona.

RHP Nathan Adcock, 22, went 11-7 with a 3.38 ERA. Adcock doesn’t have great stuff, depending on a hard curve and 88-90 MPH heater, and probably projects as a Jeff Karstens type pitcher. He's Rule 5 eligible, and may be considered for the 40-man roster if the numbers work out right. He could move to the Curve next season.

LHP Nathan Baker, 22, joined the rotation after Morris and Locke were moved up, promoted from West Virginia to Bradenton. He throws around 88-92, and has a slider and change. Baker was 2-3 with a 3.02 ERA for the Marauders after posting a 6-5, 2.99 ERA at W VA. His peripherals were just OK; he'll probably start 2011 back in Bradenton.

RHP Tim Alderson started the year at Altoona, was terrible, got sent down and got clocked at Bradenton, too. But the Pirates are trying to simplify his mechanics and restore his velocity, which has gone AWOL. He's just 21 and was highly regarded as a Giants' prospect, so there may still be time to straighten him out.

RHPs Aaron Pribanic and Brian Leach are both 24 and both will pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Pribanic was 7-6 with a 3.33 ERA, but 71 Ks in 154 IP is a glaring red flag at this level of play. Leach was 6-9 with a 4.12 ERA. His peripherals are just OK; both are old for the level they're at, and neither looks like prospects at this point.

The Marauders bullpen starred RHP Diego Moreno, 24, who got a cup of coffee at Altoona at the end of the season before finishing on the DL with a rotator cuff strain. He can bring some serious heat with 57 K's in 38+ IP, and is a back-end prospect who has to show he can do it at the higher levels. Moreno also had some discipline problems, getting suspended, so he needs to have a solid season in 2011.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Hit, No Field, No Win

Andrew McCutchen beat out an infield single to second to start the game; it would be awhile before the Bucs got another one off PJ Walters.

The sixth inning, to be exact, when Ronny Cedeno led off with a knock to center. With one out, McDonald bunted him to second. McCutch didn't get another hit, but he did walk. JT had the table set, but flew out to left to squelch the Buc's best - and so far, only - chance.

J-Mac kept the Bucs in the game, using his usual grind-it-out approach. In the first five innings, he gave up five hits, but the only one that hurt was Allen Craig's two-out homer in the fourth. It helped that Sir Albert and Matt Holliday were sitting out the get-away game out.

Going into the bottom half of the sixth, it was 1-0 Redbirds. J-Mac was so hot that he even gave St. Louis four outs when he wild-pitched a runner to first during a strikeout.

Pedro singled with two outs in the seventh in what amounted to a Pirate rally, but John Bowker K'ed. J-Mac left after six innings and eighty pitches; he gave up a run on five hits with a walk and seven K's, another good outing. Joe Martinez took the hill for the seventh.

With one away, Tyler Greene singled off Cedeno's glove; a wild pitch and grounder got him to third with two away. He hit Jon Jay on a 3-2 pitch, and Aaron Miles singled in a big insurance run, pinch-hitting for Walters.

Kyle McClellan took the hill in the eighth. 1-2-3 went the Pirates; on came Chan Ho Park. The Bucs again came up with the big boot that cost them the game on Monday.

After a one out single, a DP grounder was hit to Jones at first; he missed the throw, as has been his wont this season. Given new life, a ground ball single and sac fly made it 4-0, and the Fat Lady was running through the scales.

Ryan Franklin came on the close out the Bucs. McCutch spanked a double to greet him, and JT singled him to third before stealing second. Neil Walker lofted a sac fly, then a Jones grounder moved JT to third. Pedro whiffed, and the Bucs notched another loss on the road, where they continue to leave plays in the field instead of cashing them in. Cards get the win, 4-1.

Zach Duke gets his last start of the year tomorrow night against Chris Volstad as the Bucs open their last series of 2010 at Florida.

-- The Pirates clinched the first selection in the draft last night. The last time the team had the numero uno pick was in 2002, when they took pitcher Bryan Bullington. Let's hope for a little better luck of the draw in 2011.

-- The day in history: On Sept. 29, 1957, the New York Giants played their last game at the Polo Grounds, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1. The Giants moved to San Francisco for the next season.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bucs End Card Jinx

Boy, it was a bad start for Jeff Suppan and the Cards tonight. McCutch started off by walking, and went to second on a passed ball. JT moved him to third on a bounce out, and he scored as Suppan missed a toss from Sir Albert on Neil Walker's grounder. Walker came in after Garrett Jones' homer to center for a quick 3-0 lead.

With two away, Brian Burres gave up a single and walk to Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but escaped without any damage.

The Bucs looked like they were in business again when Ronny Cedeno started the frame off with a book rule double, but it fizzled when Brandon Moss lined one to Pujols, who turned and doubled Cedeno off second. Matt Pagnozzi made amends for his PB when he whacked a homer, his first in the show.

The Bucs went 1-2-3 in the third. Walks and Cedeno cost Burres a run. Tyler Greene drew a walk; a batter later, so did Pujols. Holliday hit a perfect one-hop DP ball to short; Cedeno muffed the catch and then made a hurried sidearm throw to second that Walker could only knock down, allowing a run to score. But BB left runners at second and third to keep the score 3-2.

That's the fourth straight game that Cedeno has recorded an error; you have to wonder two things: will Argenis Diaz/Pedro Ciriaco ever get a shot at the spot, and will the Pirates continue to consider him their everyday guy for 2011? So much ability, so little consistency...

Pedro drilled a single with one away, followed by Dewey rolling to second for a tag 'em out, throw 'em out DP. Burres tossed a clean fourth.

The Pirates went down in order again, thanks to a fine grab by Colby Rasmus on a Burres shot to center. BB faced three batters, too. After a one out single, Pujols rifled a hot shot to Pedro, who started a 5-4-3 around the horn DP.

The Bucs tacked another run on. McCutch and JT singled up the middle to start the sixth. Neil Walker smoked a liner to center, right at Rasmus, and it moved McCutch to third. That shot brought out Tony LaRussa; he brought in LOOGY Trever Miller. Jones greeted him with a liner up the middle that ticked off SS Brendan Ryan's mitt for an RBI.

With two away, Burres gave up a single, and JR brought on Chris Resop to get the last out; he did, with a K of Pagnozzi. BB went 5-2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned), four hits and three walks.

Fernando Salas worked the seventh. He walked the bases full with two away - he would throw 32 pitches in the inning - but the Pirates failed to make him pay when Walker tapped back to the mound. Sean Gallagher held the lead, giving up just a single in the St. Louis half.

Pittsburgh loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Mike MacDougal after a Jones double and two walks. Pujols looked like he saved the inning when playing in, he barehanded a soft chop from Alex Presley and barely got Jones at the dish. But the Bucs finally cashed in. Pinch hitter John Bowker lined a two-out, bases-clearing double to the wall, and it was 7-2.

Evan Meek came on to face the heart of the Card order. He struck out the side, marred by hitting Aaron Miles on the arm with two away. Aaron Miles pitched for the Cards; why a position player is eating an inning with the September bullpen bulging at the seams is another LaRussa enigma.

Miles has pitched mop-up already this season, and throwing in the mid-to-upper 60's, he got the Bucs, giving up just a Walker double. Chris Leroux came on in the ninth for the Pirates, and three batters later, Pittsburgh had broken its seven game losing streak at Busch Stadium.

J-Mac goes against PJ Walters tomorrow; Adam Wainwright was scheduled, but the Cards are shutting him down for the last week of the season. After tomorrow's get-away game, the Bucs end their year with a four-game trip to Florida.

-- During a post-game FSN interview, Garrett Jones hinted that PNC Park fostered some bad habits in his at-bats, mentioning that the short porch in right and the 410' Notch in left center got him into a mindset of pulling the ball instead of staying back, sticking with a short swing and using the whole field.

-- Brandon Moss got the start in right field today. He hit two balls on the nose, but right at people, and walked before he was removed for a pinch runner in the seventh inning.

-- JR said he didn't argue a key missed call - the ball hitting Jon Jay - last night because he couldn't see it from the dugout, and thought that Dewey was yapping about whether or not the batter swung at the pitch. He didn't realize it hit the batter until he went over the game films.

-- The Mariners won today; that guarantees the Pirates the first pick in the 2011 draft.

-- The Reds clinched the Central Division with a 3-2 win over the Astros. Cincy's magic number was one, so St. Louis was eliminated pretty emphatically tonight.

-- The Rays and Yankees also earned playoff spots, though the division crown is still undecided.

Tuesday Morning Wash

-- Jose Tabata (.304) and Neil Walker (.301) could become the first set of Pirates rookies to each hit .300 or better in a season since the nineteenth century when Jimmy Williams (.355) and Ginger Beaumont (.352) in 1899.

Since he made his Major League debut on June 9th, Tabata has a .347 OBP and 114 hits, tied for second in the NL with Matt Holliday and five behind Carlos Gonzalez during that span. Walker has 120 hits and a .352 OBP.

-- The Pirates have guaranteed that they will be the worst road team in franchise history since the 162-game schedule was introduced. The 1985 team had the fewest wins, 22. Even if the Pirates were to win out, and they've only won four away games since the All-Star break, they would only muster 21 wins.

-- Steve Henson of Yahoo!Sports picked his MLB All-Rookie team; only 2B Neil Walker made it from Pittsburgh.

But it wasn't a matter of oversight: OF Jose Tabata was a reserve, placing behind Jason Heyworth, Austin Jackson, and Mike Stanton, while 3B Pedro Alvarez finished out of the running as an "honorable mention" behind Chris Johnson and Danny Valencia. For the second straight year, it's been an exception rookie crop.

-- Baseball America picked its Top Twenty NY-Penn League Prospects. The short-season State College Spikes had three players named: RHP Zack Von Rosenberg at #6, LHP Colton Cain at #10, and LHP Zach Dodson at #17.

The trio were the 4-6-8 picks in the 2009 draft, and were all high school pitchers.

-- Altoona's Chase d'Arnaud has been added to the Team USA roster, joining C Eric Kratz. d'Arnaud, a third round pick in 2008, hit .247 for the championship Curve.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America was asked about old #1 Pirate draft picks Jeff King, Bryan Bullington, and Kris Benson and whether they were inked because of ability or "signability."

Callis says that King and Bullington were top choices and selected ahead of higher-ranked high school players because the Pirates wanted college guys that could advance through the system quickly, and that Benson was the consensus top choice.

-- Philly clinched the NL East crown last night; Cincinnati could clinch today. Their magic number is one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Road Kill

With one away against Kyle Lohse, JT singled and Neil Walker drew a base on balls. He had the Pirates right where he wanted them; Garrett Jones bounced to Albert Pujols, and as quick as you can say 3-6-1, the frame was done.

Skip Schumaker and Allen Craig greeted Charlie Morton with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners; the new, improved CM got Sir Albert to pop out and Matt Holliday to ground into a 6-4-3 DP, started nicely by Ronny Cedeno. Lotta smoke, no fire in the first.

No worry about a twin killing in the second; Player-of-the-Week Pedro bombed his fourteenth to start the frame, turning on a fastball and driving it 427' over the right center fence, while Morton 1-2-3'ed the Cards.

McCutch doubled into left with one out, but Lohse's bacon was saved when third baseman Daniel Descalso, playing in to guard against the bunt, made a diving stop of JT's bid for a single.

With two away, Morton's luck went south. Two bouncers up the middle barely eluded a diving Cedeno, with a jam shot into center sandwiched between to score one run. Holliday smoked the first ball of the inning, a single into left, with Pujols getting nailed at third after a second run crossed the plate.

Pedro set up the tying run when he doubled to the base of the wall in right with one away. A grounder got him to third, and Cedeno softly lined a middle-of-the dish slider into left to score El Toro.

Colby Rasmus started the fourth with a liner to Cedeno; it clanked off his glove. But RC made amends, snagging a low liner and then doubling off Rasmus, who was off on contact rather than freezing in a Lastings Milledge moment. The score was 2-2 at the end of four.

Not for long, though. With one out, McCutch and JT singled. Walker singled McCutch home, but Pujols cut the relay home, faked to third, and caught The Pittsburgh Kid at first. It may have cost a bigger inning; the Bucs got one more when Pedro dropped a soft lob RBI single into center.

And oddly, the Master of the Multiple Moves, Tony LaRussa, didn't have any action in the bullpen, although Lohse had given up four runs, nine hits, and was in the process of throwing a 35 pitch inning. And in September, yet, with a small horde of arms available to him.

Morton gave up a leadoff single, but a bunt and two grounders carried him out of harm's way.

The Bucs got a two out single from Morton in the sixth, his first of the year, and left him on base. The Cards, despite the score, have been playing the field well behind Lohse, in particular Descalso and Pujols, who together have pulled off a half dozen above average plays.

The sixth started off badly for Morton. He fell behind Pujols, who lined a single into center. Then he hung a breaking pitch to Holliday, who parked it in the seats to tie the game. But Morton rallied, and got the next three outs handily.

With one away, the Bucs had the bases loaded against lefty Dennys Reyes after a walk to Walker, a Jones double, and an intentional walk to Pedro. JR lifted John Bowker for Andy LaRoche, who hit into a 5-4-3 DP.

The whole set up was strange; lefties are hitting 100 points higher against Reyes than righties; that's why LaRussa left him in against LaRoche, and why it was a mystery why JR brought him off the bench for Bowker. Give that round to LaRussa.

Matt Pagnozzi started the seventh with a single off new pitcher Sean Gallagher. He was bunted to second, and stayed there after a K. Gallagher got Craig to hit a soft grounder to Cedeno, who airmailed his throw well over Jones head, allowing the go ahead run and putting Craig at second.

Pujols was intentionally walked, Holliday drew another free pass as he was worked carefully by Gallegher, and with no place left to put anyone, he reached back and K'ed Rasmus.

Jason Motte came on for the Redbirds; Cedeno roped a knock into right center to open the inning. Pinch hitter Ryan Doumit went for the first pitch, and hit a perfect one hopper to Sir Albert; 3-6-3 was the result, and the Pirates had hit into their third DP of the night.

Chan Ho Park took the hill in the eighth, and the bad karma continued. A leadoff walk was singled to third with one out. The runner at first took a wide turn, Cedeno cut the ball and turned to first - and Jones was nowhere near the bag, or Pagnozzi was dead, just like Walker was earlier.

Then more bad juju; an 0-2 curve hit the back foot of Jon Jay; the ump missed it, the ball kicked away, and a run came in. Neither Dewey nor JR thought the insurance run was worth debating with plate ump Brian O'Nora.

Kyle McClellan came on to close the game, and after a leadoff walk to McCutch and a stolen sack, he did just that.

The Pirate bats and pitching didn't lose tonight's game, but their shoddy play in the field did. Oh well, another road loss and the Cards, one game from elimination, get to live another day.

Brian Burres takes on Jeff Suppan tomorrow night.

-- Injury updates: James McDonald says he's OK and expects to make Wednesday's start. Chris Resop threw a side session yesterday and should be available tomorrow, while Lastings Milledge took some cuts at BP and may get in a game or two before the year winds down.

-- This isn't baseball related, but sad local sports news. George Blanda, the Hall of Fame quarterback and kicker who played a record 26 seasons of professional football, died today. Even though he was a Raider, he was one helluva ballplayer. Blanda was a coalminer's kid from from Youngwood in Westmoreland County, near Westmoreland CC.

Rainy Day Drops

-- Pedro has been named the NL Player of the Week. He went 10-for-24 (.417) with 4 doubles, 2 homers, and a MLB-leading 13 RBI. No Bucco has earned that award since Dewey - in June of 2008!

-- Time Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors put together a list of free-agent first baseman that Pittsburgh may be interested in as platoon candidates with Garrett Jones next season.

-- Speaking of free agents, it looks like Jeremy Bonderman and Todd Wellemeyer might be the most attractive of the mid-tier arms available. There's not much in the Pirates' price range for an OF/1B.

-- The Pirates will seek an extra option year for Steve Pearce because of the time he missed due to his injuries. The club will find out next month if a fourth option year will be granted by MLB. As it now stands, Pearce is out of options.

-- Andy LaRoche will play winter ball, and intends to play all around the infield. Given that he won't draw a big salary in 2011 and does have a nice glove, it's possible that he will get a tender offer and remain on the 40-man roster going into 2011 as a corner IF reserve.

Lastings Milledge, Charlie Morton, Sean Gallagher and Jason Jaramillo also plan to get some winter action.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Two up, two down for Paul Maholm. Then Hunter Pence, unstoppable against the Bucs, singled up the middle. Carlos Lee bounced one up the line that got under Pedro's glove and into the corner, and it was 1-0 before the Pirates picked up a stick.

McCutch led off against JA Happ with a walk. But Happ showed why he was the centerpiece of the Roy Oswalt deal, getting ahead of the next three hitters 0-2 and striking out a pair of them; Andrew McCutchen never had a chance to advance past first.

Jason Michaels led off the second with a double off the top off the bullpen wall just past the Notch, but PM hung tough, and kept him anchored with a bounce out and two whiffs. Pedro started the Pirates off with a hard single off Lee's mitt. An out later, Andy LaRoche legged out an infield single. Happ got Chris Snyder and Maholm on grounders to escape the jam.

Maholm got through the third just fine, showing the good sense to walk Pence with two away. McCutch had a rough frame; he started off by keeping hit by a Happ heater, and a couple of pitches later, took a knee to the noggin sliding into second during a JT force-out. Tabata stole second with two away, but that was the sum of the Pirate action.

The Astros went quietly in the fourth thanks to a 4-6-3 DP; the Pirates went down in order.

Pirate glovework put Maholm in hot water in the fifth. With two outs, LaRoche roamed far to his right to make a play, but couldn't connect with the pitcher for the out; nice range, but it was a routine grounder to second. Then a two hopper to Ronny Cedeno came up on him and bounced off his chest, putting runners on first and second for Pence. But Maholm got him on a short pop to center, breaking his bat in the process.

The Pirates got a two out single from McCutch, and that was it. Lee started the Astros sixth with a single that went under Cedeno's glove in the hole, but was erased on a 6-4-3 DP. The Bucs were about to get a big hand from Houston.

With one out, Jones walked and went to third on a hit-and-run single by El Toro. Cedeno hit a sharp grounder to Chris Johnson at third, who was playing in, and he had Jones hung up. His throw home was a little late, though in time for the out, but went off catcher Jason Castro's glove, allowing the run. LaRoche follwed with a sac fly to right, and the Pirates were up 2-1.

Maholm was a batter away from being pulled for a pinch hitter, but worked the seventh, and threw got his first frame without allowing a baserunner. Mark Melancon took the hill for Houston.

PM did get the hook, for DY. He went seven frames, giving up a run on six hits and a walk, striking out seven, a strong outing for the up-and-down Maholm. Young walked, and McCutch collected his third hit, a single, to put runners at first and second. JT struck out, and the 'Stros brought out lefty Fernando Abad.

Walker greeted him with an RBI single. Jones flew out, and then Pedro laced a heater off the top of the Clemente Wall, doubling in a pair. Goodbye, Abad, hello Wilton Lopez. He got Cedeno on a grounder to third, but it was 5-1 Pirates with six outs to go.

Evan Meek got three of them, but not easily; his control was off. He gave up a walk and two-run blast by Pence; he also struck out a pair, one after falling behind 3-0. Felipe Paulino took the hill for the Astros.

The Bucs shrugged it off and dropped a four-spot on the 'Stros to ice it in the eighth. Alex Presley lined a single to right center, and went to second on a wild pitch. Snyder bounced one to short; for some reason, Presley decided to go the third. The throw beat him to the bag, but was high and he slid in just under the tag to put runners on the corners.

Dewey pinch hit and lined an RBI single into right. McCutch hit one that Angel Sanchez made a nice diving play on; he threw home to get Snyder. The throw was high and Snyder could have scored had he slid; whether he didn't pick up Tabata's sign or Tabata didn't give one, we couldn't tell.

Didn't make all that much difference. JT singled to load the bases, and lefty Tim Byrdak was summoned. Walker roped an opposite field double to plate a pair and Jones added a sac fly; it was Fat Lady time at 8-3.

Chan Ho Park got the first two outs easily; a double and a walk with two outs went for naught when he got Jason Bourgeois on a short fly to right.

We hope the Pirates can take some of their home success on the road for their final seven games; it would be a great boost to a young club to taste some late success. Again, the Buc batters were aggressive with strikes and laid off the junk. They took balls the opposite way. The hitting has been quite a story during this last home stand, and the starting pitching has by and large held its own.

But it has be taken in the context of September baseball, and the games have been against teams either out of it or in St. Louis' case, on life support. Still, it's a jump start into 2011 if they can take three or four games on this final road trip, no small task given their record.

Charlie Morton starts the Pirates' final road trip against the Cards' Kyle Lohse tomorrow night.

-- Andy LaRoche got the start at first today; Garrett Jones moved to right in the absence of John Bowker.

-- John Bowker's knee soreness is a day-to-day issue. It knotted up in an area he bruised with a foul ball. Chris Resop's recent absence was explained today as a case of elbow tenderness.

-- McCutch is quietly having a terrific season in his first full campaign. Going into today's game, he ranks first among all NL center fielders in OBP (.347), second in hits (152), second in runs scored (87), and second in doubles (32). He's been a workhorse, too, playing 146 games, missing a block of games only once when he sprained his shoulder.

-- Paul Maholm made his 159th start since 2005 today; Zach Duke has 158. Only two NL lefties, Doug Davis (170) and Wandy Rodriguez (166), have made more starts in that span. (Maholm's 152 starts since 2006 top the league.) They may not be consistent, but the Bucs can depend on the pair take the ball every fifth day.

-- Today is Pittsburgh's last home game of the season. They won't be back at PNC Park until April 7th, 2011, when they open against the Colorado Rockies. The 2010 Pirate attendance was 1,613,399, or 19,919 per game. It was a 2% increase over 2009's 19,479 average crowd.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pirates Overcome 'Stros & Brain Cramps

The Pirates started off like a SNL skit against Jason Bourgeois. Zach Duke got him to hit a two hopper to Ronny Cedeno, who almost completely whiffed on the ball. Then he took off for second on a short passed ball by Dewey; an on-line throw would have had him easily. Instead, it sailed into right center. But Duke got two grounders and a pop up, and escaped without a scratch.

McCutch reached on a error by SS Tommy Manzella; JT tried him, too, and bounced into a 6-3 DP. Neil Walker and Garrett Jones drew walks, and moved up a base on a wild pitch, but Bud Norris got Pedro swinging. An error, two walks, a wild pitch - and no runs.

Ex-Bucco Jason Michaels started the second with a double to left; at first blush, it looked like JT would run it down, but he was a step slow. Chris Johnson golfed a sinker off the end of the bat into short center to score Michaels. Duke had one more blemish, a two-out, four-pitch walk to his mound opponent, but finished off the frame down 1-0.

With one out, John Bowker hit a pop a few feet up the first base line. The catcher bumped into Norris, and the fair ball rolled almost to the railing. But Bowker watched the play, jogged to first, and blew a gimme opportunity to get to second. Heck, the much-maligned Lastings Milledge might have had an inside-the-park job. Cedeno followed with a chop single that would have probably scored him, but instead only moved him up a station.

The Zachster missed a bunt attempt; Bowker was caught flat-footed and picked off second by C Humberto Quintero. The Pirates should make players take a pledge to at least hustle before they let them pull on a uniform; running balls out, especially for a kid trying to make the 40-man roster next season, should be a no-brainer; ditto for getting back to your base.

Duke worked a 1-2-3 third. McCutch started the Bucs off with a single in their half, and went to second on a pick-off throw gone astray. JT popped out trying to bunt; we still don't understand why John Russell insists on taking the bat out of his hands.

Walker drew a base on balls, followed by a Jones' K. But Pedro made the second-guessing moot when he got one up into the breeze carrying to right and dropped it inside the Clement Wall foul pole to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.

The Astros came right back. With one out, Johnson and Manzella lined singles; Manzella was credited with a double when Tabata's throw went to third instead of second. They both came in when Quintero doubled inside the third base line to tie the match. Norris put down the Bucs in order.

There was one change for the Pirates; Bowker left the game due to right knee soreness. Duke put away the Astros, helped by a pick-off of Hunter Pence. McCutch again jump started the Pirates with a hustle double; JR went against his instincts and decided to let JT swing, and he rolled an RBI single up the middle. Walker slapped a single to left to put runners on first and second.

First pitch swinging, Jones hit an infield fly rule pop to short. Amazingly, JT was almost doubled off second, just getting his foot in to barely beat Manzilla's throw. Pedro K'ed, but Dewey went the opposite way to plate Tabata. Norris was done; Tim Byrdak came on to face Alex Presley, Bowker's replacement. The LOOGY got the rookie swinging on a 3-2 curve. It was 5-3 Pittsburgh after five.

This time, given the lead, Duke put down Houston in order with a pair of K's. Jeff Fulchino put the Pirates down cleanly.

Quintero started off the seventh with a single. JR called for Sean Gallagher (is Chris Resop hurt?), ending Duke's night, and maybe marking his last appearance in Pittsburgh as a Pirate. Good choice tonight; Gallagher got a K and DP to clean up the inning. Wesley Wright got the Pirates in order.

Evan Meek came on in the eighth; he kept Houston off the board, with 2 K's and a walk. Wright gave up a Pedro single and Presley double; Houston brought in Matt Lindstrom, who wild-pitched the sixth run home.

Joel Hanrahan took the hill, looking for redemption after a terrible showing last night. A one out walk turned into a run when Brian Bogusevic lined a double into the right field corner with two outs, but Hanny got Geoff Blum to bounce out to second to preserve the 6-4 win.

The Pirate batters have been pretty impressive this homestand in being disciplined at the dish, and the results show. But the rest of the game is still a struggle, and they have a lot of work ahead of them to be considered a fundamentally strong club. Still, sticks and decent starting pitching will carry you a long way, and it's good to see those two aspects fall into place.

Paul Maholm takes on JA Happ in the final 2010 home game tomorrow afternoon.

-- The Pirates only drew 25,350 tonight on a beautiful early fall evening with a post game concert, about the same crowd they had for the last Sky Blast. Could be that the team is reaching the point that product instead of promotions will determine their attendance, especially when they overlap with football and hockey in late September.

-- Congrats to C Eric Kratz. The 30 year old was named as a replacement on the USA Baseball's 2010 Pan Am Qualifier roster. The games start in October.

-- Lauren Holly, starring in the movie "Chasing 3000," will throw out the first pitch tomorrow. The film is about two brothers who go on a road trip to see Roberto Clemente get his 3,000th hit.

-- Cincy's Aroldis Chapman made history in last night's loss to the Padres by throwing a 105 MPH fastball. It was the fastest pitch ever recorded in a MLB game, topping Joel Zumaya's previous mark of 104.8 MPH. Chapman's pitch was timed at 105.1 MPH.

Altoona Post Season Wrap

The Curve won the 2010 Eastern League championship with many players that were key pieces of the 2009 Lynchburg Hillcats title team. The guys are winners. Whether that translates into MLB careers or not has yet to be seen, although this is the level where the chaff starts to separate from the wheat.

The rotation is the glue of the team, and it's possible that they could move en masse to Indy next year; a couple could pop up in the Pirate rotation by the summer of 2011. The staff ace was the repeat Pirate Minor League Pitcher of the Year, 22 year old LHP Rudy Owens.

He went 12-6 with a 2.46 ERA in 26 starts, with 23 walks and 123 K's in 150 innings, and was named to the EL's midseason and postseason All-Star teams.

He's often compared to an early Zach Duke, but that's shortchanging him. Owens has more velocity - the throws in the low nineties - to go with a curve and change. The lefty has pinpoint control, a greatly improved ground ball rate, and proved he could eat some innings, the perfect recipe for a mid-rotation starter in the show.

His stuff isn't lights out, but he gets it over the plate, challenges hitters, and works both sides of the dish. Owens needs added to the 40-man roster this winter; he's a lock to make the list.

The guy considered to have the best stuff is 23 year old RHP Bryan Morris, the last man standing from the Jay Bay deal. After a mechanical make over to go with injury and disciplinary woes last year, he started off in Bradenton, where he dominated and showed the brass that his arm and head were both screwed on tight, earning him a promotion to the Curve.

He went 6-4 with a 4.25 ERA at Altoona, working 89 innings with 31 walks and 84 whiffs, showing signs of fatigue as the season wore on. Morris features a lower-to-mid 90's heater and a sharp curve. The righty spent the end of the year in the pen, as the Bucs limited his innings; he ended up with 133-2/3 frames combined.

If he can maintain his mechanics and avoid the injury bug, he has the potential to become a number two starter in the majors. But we're not entirely sold on him yet; he needs to build his stamina and have a breakout year in the upper levels. He's already on the 40-man roster.

The most pleasant surprise was 23 year old LHP Justin Wilson, winner of the final game of the 2008 College World Series for Fresno State. Throw in his 13 scoreless innings stint over two starts in the playoffs, and he's gaining a rep as a big game pitcher.

The fifth-round draft pick of 2008 went 11-8 with a 3.09 ERA during the season, and his prospect status jumped. The highlight was in mid-August, when he was named EL Pitcher of the Week after he threw eight shutout innings with 11 K's against New Hampshire, the league's top offensive club.

He throws a low 90's fastball with a curve and slider. Wilson's job is to show consistent command of his pitches and keep the free passes and deep counts down; he's at his best when pounding the strike zone. In 142-2/3 innings for the Curve, he struck out 134 batters - and walked 71.

Wilson is another guy whose stuff isn't overpowering, but does have swing-and-miss ability along with a good ground ball ratio, and projects as a mid-rotation starter in the show. He'll pitch in the Arizona Fall League over the winter.

The deep prospect part of the Nate McLouth deal was the young but highly regarded 22 year old LHP Jeff Locke. Starting out in Bradenton, he made a late move to Altoona and put together a solid season. He went 3-2 in ten starts with a 3.59 ERA, and in 57-2/3 innings struck out 56 batters and walked twelve.

His fastball is in the low-to-mid 90s, he has a sharp curve and an average change. His stuff is pretty strong; he may have the most upside on the staff outside of Morris. Locke has always been, even with the Braves, a pitcher with great control that keeps the ball down in the zone. He needs a little more consistency with the hook; when it's on, he's a challenge to hit.

Our guess is that he'll remain, at least early in 2011, with the Curve before he moves on to Indy, although it's possible that the entire staff may move up a level, given the injury and options situation - Donnie Veal, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio - for the Tribe. But Locke does have upside; he's projected as a mid rotation arm with the potential to be a number two starter.

None of these guys are expected to break camp with the Pirates in 2011, but we'd be surprised if a couple of them don't pop up on the 25-man roster after June. We also caution that for all four to make it, the stars have to align just so; it's the nature of the beast for pitchers to hit the wall at some point through performance or injury.

The major prospect disappointment was Tim Alderson, who had a complete meltdown and was shipped down to Bradenton. He had high maintenance mechanics when the Bucs got him from the Giants; whether he can reinvent himself is the question.

The FO thinks they've got him on the right track, to the point where he's accepting adjustments instead of fighting them. The RHP is only 21, so there's still hope, but he's at a crossroads in his young career.

There are several bullpen prospects, though most are fringe players or question marks. Daniel Moskos, Diego Moreno, and Ramon Aguero are all power arms who are looked on as potential back end relievers, and all have had their struggles this year.

LHP Danny Moskos, 24, was a killer at Altoona, where he had 21 saves and an 1.52 ERA while showing off a 97 MPH heater. He was toast in a brief call to Indy, though. The Pirates believe his AAA performance was a mental, not physical, breakdown, and brought him back to Altoona where he again dominated.

He has to go on the 40-man roster this year, and seems a safe bet to make it. Potential lefty set-up or closing arms with serious heat aren't everyday finds for an organization.

RHP Diego Moreno had discipline problems, and was sent to Bradenton to do penance. But the 24 year old Venezuelan throws as hard as anyone in the system (consistent mid-90s, hitting 97), and is Rule 5 eligible; he's likely be added to the 40-man roster, replacing:

Ramon Aguero, a 25 year old Dominican, missed much of the season with an elbow problems and a back strain, and was torched in the few games he did pitch after a strong 2009 season. The RHP is on the 40-man roster, and will probably be DFA'ed off it, 96 MPH heat or not.

Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, and Michael Crotta all worked as starters in Altoona (Crotta moving up to Indy), and all three are seen as long bullpen arms in the majors and spot starters.

RHPs Hughes and Crotta are in the Jeff Karsten mold, while LHP Watson is an interesting case; he had a strong year as a starter, but is seen by many as a LOOGY.

And with the problems that Wil Ledezema and Justin Thomas have had in the show, that could make him a guy worth watching. Working out of the pen, Watson he had a 1.84 ERA, averaged more than a strikeout per inning, and held lefties to a .131 BA. He'll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, and while a long shot to make the Pirate roster, someone looking for a lefty may roll the dice on him.

Other Curve pitchers who are marginal MLB talents are 24 year old RHPs Michael Dubee and Tom Boleska. Both are Rule 5 eligible; neither will be protected.

The position players' crystal balls are a lot hazier.

The Curve's best hitter was Pirate Minor League Player of the Year OF Alex Presley, who made the jump from Altoona to Indy to Pittsburgh. And he got his chance only because of injuries and a dearth of outfielders in the organization. You all know his story by now; he'll remain on the 40-man roster this year.

Another interesting outfielder is 22 year old Gorkys Hernandez, a Top Hundred prospect when the Bucs got him from Atlanta. He started off slowly, but improved his slash line every month until he broke his finger in July, ending his season.

That killed his predicted 2010 timeline; he was expected to be in Indy sometime this year and then join the September call-ups. Hernandez is on the 40-man roster and will stay there; right now he's the closest prospect to filling the Tabata/McCutchen backup role in Pittsburgh with Starling Marte still at least a couple of season away.

OF Andrew Lambo, 23, was one of the top prospects in baseball prior to the 2009 season, and is trying to resurrect his career in Pittsburgh, arriving as part of the Octavio Dotel deal.

Losing 50 games to a PED offense is probably the reason why the Pirates pried him loose from LA. His production has fallen off in the last two years (.275/2/10 in 102 Altoona at-bats), and he was streaky at the dish. It's hard to predict what turn his career will take, with so little time played this season.

Another problem is that he's another big lug, lefty corner player that the Buc FO loves to stockpile; his glove projects that he'll likely play as a 1B'man in the show, joining Garrett Jones, Jeff Clement, John Bowker, et al.

But it's too soon to sell him short; he played AA for the Dodgers at age 20, which is awfully young, and that, along with the suspension, may have slowed his development. Lambo will play in the Arizona Fall League this off-season, where he can pick up some of the at-bats he missed this season.

The Curve's infielders are Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer, all prospects of varying pedigree.

Jordy Mercer and Chase d'Arnaud are joined at the hip, having been the Bucs' third and fourth round picks in the 2008 draft, and both being groomed as the shortstop of the future.

d'Arnaud, 23, was considered to be the internal front runner for shortstop, but had a rough go of it this year for the Curve. He played poorly during the first two months of the season, fighting through a draining pneumonia-like illness. He picked it up mid-season, and then slacked off again toward the end. d'Arnaud's line was .247/6/48, with 91 runs scored and 33 stolen bases in 40 attempts.

His play in the field fell off, too, though he's considered to have average to above average physical tools, and he was occasionally bumped to second to give Mercer a little time at short. Right now, he's entrenched in the shortstop mix, perhaps still the top internal candidate, but he'll have to put 2010 in the rearview mirror and post a stronger 2011 campaign to keep that status quo.

Jordy Mercer, 24, had a line of .282/3/62, and played a lot of second and third base. Though his BA was considerably higher than d'Arnaud's, his OBP was actually a few points lower.

Both the middle guys will have to pick it up, or they'll find it tough to overtake Brian Friday, Argenis Diaz and Pedro Ciriaco in the system. Diaz and Ciriaco were brought in specifically to address the Pirate concerns in the middle infield, which isn't a good sign for the Curve duo.

1B Matt Hague, 25, has put up good offensive numbers. He's not much a gloveman, and the Pirates have only moved him along a step at a time, passive movement for a college player that shows they don't have expectations of him other than an organizational player. Still, he hit .295/15/86 with 90 runs scored, and may have a role as a bench bat somewhere along the line; he doesn't K often and will draw a walk.

3B Josh Harrison, 23, is a 5'8" infielder whose line of .300/4/75 doesn't really play well for a corner. His bat profiles as a middle infielder, which is what he was advertised as but isn't. His jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none glove, offset somewhat with his gap power, puts his ceiling at organizational player with a chance to become a utility guy at the MLB level.

C Hector Gimenez, 28, hit .305/16/72, while OF Miles Durham, 27, batted .257/10/59. Both are organizational players, although catchers are notoriously late bloomers; Gimenez could conceivably be a 40-game MLB reserve.

The youngsters are starting to rise to the top, part of the growth from within plan of the FO. The next wave looks pitching strong, which is a good news, but outside of an outfielder or two (and they're not sure things) the position players are far removed from offering any help to the big club.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Couple Of Thoughts After 100 Losses

-- The Pirate infield has no range; it's not just Zach Duke and Paul Maholm that suffer, but the entire staff. If they don't make a switch or two, it will be a roadblock to any sustained success in 2011. We get tired of typing "groundball single" in the game recaps.

We still advocate putting Pedro at first, Walker at third, Jones in right and finding a second baseman. And one more outfielder that can play left/center when McCutch or JT are out.

You can't get a pitcher to throw to contact if he doesn't have the confidence most of those balls will become outs. The Pirates conversion rate of balls in play into outs is .671, worst in MLB. That's a .333 opponent average minus whiffs.

-- We have blamed JR for many things, but the bullpen fiasco is no fault of his; that falls on the FO. They pick up guys and it's up to Russell to get them into games and see what they have. Except for Chris Resop and Chan Ho Park, the answer is very little. There's a reason the players were on the waiver list, after all.

Hey, we have no beef with turning rental players into possible pieces of the puzzle, flipping Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez and DJ Carrasco into J-Mac, Andrew Lambo, John Bowker and Pedro Ciriaco. But don't tell the faithful that you're doing everything you can to win now when it's obvious you're still collecting prospects for the future at the cost of victories in 2010.

That sort of disingenuous pap is what helps cause the disconnect between the FO and the fans.

-- Quit blaming underperforming players; you evaluated and signed them, and Aki Iwamura isn't the reason the team has lost 100 games and counting. Geez, with Dewey, Neil Walker and Jeff Clement, the Pirates sometimes had three catchers playing the right side of the field. Start building a team position-by-position instead of collecting LH corner players.

The Pirates only play half their games at lefty-friendly PNC Park. Maybe that's why there's such a gap between home and away performance.

Bullpen Toasted Again

The Astro leadoff guys, Jason Bourgeois and Angel Sanchez, frustrated J-Mac at every turn; both fouled off pitch after pitch and drew walks, while raising McDonald's pitch count to over 20 without an out. Hunter Pence added to the frustration by rolling a grounder up the middle; if he pulled it a few feet, it was a DP ball instead of an RBI knock.

Carlos Lee drew a 3-2 free pass, too, and the Bucs were in trouble. A Ray Searage visit seemed to refocus J-Mac; he gave up a sac fly to Jeff keppinger and K'ed the next two 'Stros. Still, 2-0 and 42 pitches isn't exactly a blazing start.

Houston gave the Pirates a gift run in their half. Brett Myers got all the Bucs to hit grounders; McCutch's was sharply hit into left to start off. JT followed with a routine DP ball to short, but it rolled through Sanchez. Neil Walker's ball to first moved them up, and Garrett Jones' grounder to second brought in the run.

The Astros got the run back in the second. Brett Wallace singled to right, was moved to second on Myers' bunt, and scored with two away when Sanchez dropped a flare into center. Sanchez ended up at third when McCutch not only made an ill-advised throw home, but hit the stone wall behind the plate on the fly with it, but it didn't hurt. The Bucs didn't hit the ball out of infield in their half.

J-Mac retired Houston in order in the third; the first two Bucs went down, too. But a bit of two-out lightning tied the game. Jose Tabata legged out an infield single, Walker drew a free pass, and Jones doubled to right center to plate them both. It was on an 0-2 curve; Jones picked it off his knees and lobbed it to the wall; Myers is still wondering why he didn't bounce it in front of the dish.

The news wasn't all good; JT left the game with a knee injury ("irritation of the left knee"), aggravated when he beat out the single earlier in the frame.

The Astros went down quietly in the fourth, getting a two-out parachute drop into right by Myers. And J-Mac has got not only his pitch count back in some semblance of order at 80, but he's dropping his curve ball in for strikes. But you can add McDonald to the injury list; a problem with his nail ended his night after four.

The Pirates got a leadoff walk to John Bowker, but couldn't do anything with it. D-Mac came on in relief of J-Mac in the fifth. He continued his current streak of poor pitching. With one out, Pence singled up the middle. With two outs, Keppinger and Chris Johnson lined knocks into left, and the Astros had the lead back, 4-3.

McCutch and DY started off the frame with walks; Walker bunted them over, helped by Myers slight bobble of the ball. We hate seeing three hitters bunt, but in this case, JR's call worked. Jones hit a sac fly to the track in left, and Pedro doubled high off the right center wall to give the Pirates a 5-4 lead.

Wallace started the sixth with a liner to right; he was bunted up a station by Myers. JR called on Chris Leroux to face Bourgeois. Big mistake.

He walked him, then Sanchez singled through the hole to bring home a run; Bourgeois went to third when Bowker overran the ball. Pence doubled them both home. After a Carlos Lee whiff, Keppinger lined a single into left to plate Pence. JR went to the well again, waving in Sean Gallagher, who whiffed Johnson. But just like that, it was 8-5.

Andy LaRoche cut into the lead when he homered to left; the ball hit the top of the fence and bounced over as Carlos Lee crashed into the padding trying to make the grab. It broke an 0-for-21 hitless skein as a pinch hitter for LaRoche.

Chan Ho Park got back on the bicycle in the seventh and stopped the bullpen bleeding with a 1-2-3 frame. LOOGY Fernando Abad took the hill for Houston. The Bucs kept nibbling away when a Jones triple off the glove of Bourgeois (it was a tough catch; he crashed hard into the wall a couple of steps later) was followed by a Pedro sac fly. The Astro lead was now 8-7.

Park kept it that way with a second inning of clean pitching. Wilton Lopez grabbed the horsehide for the Astros. Alex Presley, who was just handed the Pirate Minor League Player of the Year award before the game, rolled a pinch hit single the opposite way. Dewey stepped up for Park; after roping a foul off the wall, he tapped back to the hill on an 0-2 offering for a 1-6-3 DP.

Joel Hanrahan came on; he couldn't keep it close. Keppinger drilled a one-out double, followed by a Johnson walk. A pair of groundball singles brought them home; it was 10-7, bad guys.

Brandon Lyon looked to close out the Bucs in the ninth. Walker kept hope alive briefly with a two out knock, but Jones K'ed on a check swing. Hello, 100 losses, good-bye, winning home record.

Zach Duke and Bud Norris meet in the second game of the series.

-- Joel Hanrahan struck out two batters tonight; he now has a career high of 95 K's for a season.

-- Talk about quality starts: Brett Myers has gone 6+ innings in every one of his 32 starts so far this season. He only made it that long tonight because of the Houston offense, but it's still quite an achievement. The last pitcher to better that mark was Curt Schilling, who had 35 starts of 6+ frames in 2002.

-- Jose Bautista had two more homers tonight; he now boasts the largest single-season increase in homers in history: 52 in 2010 after hitting 13 in 2009.

Tonight's Note Pad

-- Jeff Karstens told a couple of the beat writers that he was feeling good and ready to pitch. JR was more non-committal, saying he had a possibility of seeing some action when the Bucs hit the road to close the season next week.

-- Why Andy LaRoche will be non-tendered this year: he's been in 43 games as a sub, and hit exactly .100. That's no way to earn a bench job.

-- Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors has the Pirates' pick-up of Chris Resop as one of his "Five Difference Making Waiver Claims" of this season.

-- Nathan Rode of Baseball America picked the Top Twenty players for the Gulf Coast rookie league; no young Bucs were among them.

-- Why drugs in baseball suck: Former Pirate Jose Bautista hit his 50th HR, and instead of celebrating, he has to fend off charges of possible HGH use, mentioned by Buster Olney on ESPN's Sports Center. His break out season is under suspicion whether he's juiced or not - and he has passed every random test he's had.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


-- The seventh game of the 1960 World Series has never been reshown in its entirety because there was no tape of the game...or so it was thought. The estate of Bing Crosby was rummaging through his wine cellar where he kept his old films, looking for Der Binger's performance tapes to transfer to DVD.

And lo and behold, the researchers came across a five-reel kinescope recording of the game. Crosby, a part-owner of the Pirates, was superstitious; he and his wife Kathryn went to France during the October Classic so he wouldn't jinx his beloved Buccos, listening to the series over short wave radio.

He had the deciding game filmed so he could watch it when he came back home - if, of course, Pittsburgh won. And Billy Maz made sure of that.

Now the MLB Network plans to televise "The Best Game Ever" in the off-season, with interviews and other programming included and Bob Costas as the host.

(The story was told by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times.)

-- John Russell talked to Jen Langosch of about his status for next season, and said:
"I've said it a million times -- the day I start worrying about my job is the day I stop doing my job well," Russell said. "I can't worry about that. I'm under contract for next year and fully intend to be here. I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be here, in my mind."

"It's not a matter of 'if' but a matter of 'when,' and it's closer than a lot of people think," Russell said. "Absolutely, I want to be here. I would like to be here, because I've watched it grow. Whether I'm here or anybody else is here, it's going to happen."
It must have been his day to address the matter; Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette had an article on it, too.

-- Rudy Owens and Alex Presley will be honored prior to Friday's game for being the organization's Minor League pitcher and hitter of the year.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America on the odds of drafting Anthony Renton first: "He's the favorite to go No. 1, but the 2010 draft is deep. Don't be surprised if the Pirates decide a college pitcher like Gerrit Cole, Matt Purke or Matt Barnes is the way to go."

When asked about LHP Justin Wilson, he said that "the Pirates need arms and Wilson's stuff jumped up a notch this year. If he pitches well in Triple-A to start next year, I could see him in Pittsburgh at midseason."

-- Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki stroked a fifth-inning single to center to collect his 200th hit Thursday, extending his own record with his 10th straight season reaching the milestone. He set the record last year, passing Wee Willie Keeler. Ichiro also tied the record for 200-hit seasons in a career, with 10, which he now shares with Pete Rose.

By the way, he's been in MLB for ten years. Pretty consistent career, hey?

The Run Is Done

Hey, they couldn't win them all. And might as well get thumped so there are no regrets. And they did, 9-2. The Cards gave Charlie Morton his second W last night; the Bucs returned the favor to Jeff Suppan today.

The first couple of innings went on quietly, as Suppan and Brian Burres chugged along. But boy, once the wheels start to wobble...

BB walked the first batter in the third, got a pop out, and then out went the lights. Sir Albert homered and the next three guys all roped doubles; Steve Jackson came on to quench the flames. The Bucs had no answer in their half; it was 4-0.

With two outs in the fourth, Chan Ho Park gave up a single to Joe Mather, bopped Pujols with a pitch, gave up an RBI knock to Matt Holliday and then wild-pitched Albert home. Neil Walker singled and Pedro doubled him home in the bottom half; hey, 6-1 is manageable, right?

Sean Gallagher took over; a walk, two singles and two bunts later, the Redbirds managed to push home another run. Ronny Cedeno jump started the Bucs with a single, but got thrown out trying to stretch it; he was the only Pirate runner of the frame.

Wil Ledezema came on in the sixth. Sir Albert went long on him, and a walk, bounce out, and single plated another run. 9-1 is not manageable. JT and Walker singled to open the frame, but Garrett Jones ended the threat with a 4-6-3 DP.

Joe Martinez took the hill, and pitched a clean inning, giving up a two-out walk. The Bucs loaded the bases with nobody out; they got one run on a McCutch sac fly. In the last two innings, they had a chance to at least make it respectable, but...

The subs came in, but didn't bother Martinez. He pitched another clean frame, again allowing just a two-out runner. The Bucs went 1-2-3.

The Cards had two hits in the ninth against Justin Thomas, but a DP cleaned up that jam. The Pirates went down without a peep, as did their five-game winning streak.

And that's loss number 99...the century mark is lurking.

James McDonald will match up against the 'Stros' Brett Myers tomorrow night as Houston comes to town for the final homestand of 2010.

-- Oooops! After seeing a couple of reports that said Jeff Clement was expected to be scoped, Jen Langosch reported that he went under the knife and will miss up to six months. That puts a big dent in his hopes to win a job in camp and even if he can hang on to a spot on the 40-man roster.

Owens, Presley Minor League Players of the Year

In no surprise, the Pirates announced that Alex Presley and Rudy Owens were their Minor league Player and Pitcher of the Year, per Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

Presley, 25, had a meteoric rise through the system, starting as a reserve outfielder at Altoona and finishing in Pittsburgh during September. He hit a combined .320/12/85 in the minors this season after failing to crack the .260 mark in 2008-09 in High Class A at Lynchburg.

It's the second straight year that Owens, 22, was honored by Pittsburgh. The lefty was 12-6 for the Curve in 2010 with a 2.46 ERA and 132 K's in 150 innings after posting an 11-2 slate with a 2.10 ERA for West Virginia and Lynchburg in 2009.

The 6'3", 215-pounder was rated the ninth-best prospect in the Pirates organization by Baseball America entering the season, thanks greatly to his pinpoint command.

Both should start 2011 at Indy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Home Town Heroes

Charlie Morton started off well enough in the first; he walked Albert Pujols with two away and the bases empty, rarely a bad decision. The Bucs raced from the gate; McCutch singled, JT tripled, and a Neil Walker bouncer made it 2-0 in a heartbeat.

The Redbirds got a run back when a Colby Rasmus single turned into a run, aided by Chris Snyder. He stole second on a throw that was one-hopped and offline, went to third on a ground out, and scored on a wild pitch, a curve that bounced behind the plate and went through Snyder's legs as he failed to get his glove down; it should have been a simple block.

John Bowker got the run back in a hurry when he dropped his fifth homer, second as a Pirate, over the Trib Media sign, 375' away in right center. Ronny Cedeno followed with a single to center. Snyder continued his hot steak by banging into an around the horn DP; Morton K'ed.

Skip Schumaker got a one out single and went to second when Morton's pick off attempt bounced away from Garrett Jones, another catchable ball. CM shrugged it off and stuck out Jon Jay and Sir Albert.

The Buc bats continued to boom. McCutch lined a double into the left field corner to start things; Tabata bunted him up (why, JR, why?) Walker drew a bae on balls, and Jones bounced one over the Notch to score one. Pedro rocketed another double into center. An intentional and semi-intentional walk loaded the bases with two away, and Morton K'ed again. 6-1 after three; pretty sweet start.

Morton nailed the first two hitters in the fourth; plate ump John Hirshbeck awarded first to Daniel Descalso on a hit batter call; replays show the ball didn't nick him; his shirt may have been brushed by Snyder's mitt (and oddly, there was no protest.) No prob; a soft bouncer ended the frame. PJ Walters came on for St. Louis and quieted the Bucs.

The Cards went down in order; Morton's working on a two-hitter with 5 K's after five. Walters wasn't so sharp this time around; Jones singled and Pedro bombed his twelfth over the Heinz sign in center. And the fun was just beginning.

Bowker had a long at-bat, singling on the twelfth pitch after fouling one hard just below his knee. Cedeno walker, and Snyder singled in a run and put Buccos on the corners. JR called off the dogs momentarily, having Morton swing away, and he did his job of K'ing. McCutch lined a shot into left that Matt Holliday corraled, but Cedeno came in after the catch. Pittsburgh had a 10-1 lead.

The Pirate leather let Morton down in the sixth. With two away, Holliday hit a fly to medium left; it dropped in for a double when JT first went back on the ball, and then didn't have enough time to compensate. The next batter lined one to third; Pedro made a nice leaping effort to snag it, but the ball ticked off the top off his mitt, dying in short left to let the run in.

Walker started of with a single. Jones followed with a hot shot to second that Schumaker tried to backhand; he missed, putting Pirates at first and second. With one away, Bowker doubled a run home; Jones was held at third or he would have tallied, too.

Chris Leroux came on for the Pirates. Morton went six, giving up two runs on four hits with a walk and 5 strikeouts. His biggest breakthrough seems to be on his focus; the Pirates gave him plenty of opportunity to blow up tonight with their fielding, but he hung tough.

Leroux gave up a walk and single, but escaped unscathed. JR started emptying the bench; three pinch hitters allowed Walters his first clean inning. And yah, we're curious too - with all those September arms in the pen, why did LaRussa throw Walters away tonight?

Bad Brad Lincoln and the bomb squad took the field in the eighth. Lincoln's control was erratic, falling behind early and often. He wasn't helped by the scrubs, either.

A flare single and walk scored when Alex Presley, in center, dove for a soft liner and missed it badly; Argenis Diaz's relay to home was halfway up the first base line and JJ couldn't flag it down.

But he got two well hit balls aimed at regulars; Bowker made a nice running grab of a shot to right center, and Jones gloved a hot smash up the first base line. Lincoln gave up three, two earned, in the frame. But hey, at least his velocity was back; he was throwing 93-94.

Mike McDougal allowed Walters to ice his arm; he got the Bucs 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth. D-Mac took the hill in the ninth.

He gave up a double on a grounder that hit first base and bounded over Jones' head and another on a shot to the Notch that Presley again slid for and missed, barely this time. He also struck out the last two batters, and the Bucs cruised to their fifth in a row, 11-6.

It's great to see the starting pitching hold up and the bats start to collect some knocks. It would be better to see the Pirates hitting on all three cylinders and catch the ball, too, but hey, two out of three seems to be working just fine this week.

Brian Burres continues his quest for recognition when he takes on Jeff Suppan tomorrow afternoon.

-- One reason that the Pirates have so much trouble on the road: El Toro has a dozen homers - and eleven have come at PNC Park.

-- John Bowker has started seven straight games for the Pirates, and nine of the last ten. In 44 at-bats as a Buc, his line is .250/2/9; in 82 at-bats with the Giants his slash was .207/3/8.

-- Garrett Jones' run-scoring double was his first RBI since September 3rd, 19 days ago. The Bucs could stand a little more production out of the clean-up spot.

-- Steve Blass of FSN said he lives on the same street as Dave Guisti and Kevin Slowey; that's a lot of pitching talent on that Upper St. Clair lane.


-- Neil Walker has 47 RBI since the All-Star break; only Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday have been more productive during that span.

-- Tomorrow's Sporting News has an article on the Twenty Smartest Athletes; Ross Ohlendorf is ranked third.

-- It will be interesting to see next year if the Pirate improvement in pitching is the result of Ray Searage's approach or September lineups.

-- Matt Capps and the Minnesota Twins have clinched the AL Central. Capps has 15 saves for the Twin Cities; his season line (he started with the Nats) is 4-3 with 41 saves and a 2.57 ERA. He was non-tendered by the Bucs in the off season and signed with Washington for $3.5M.

We're left to wonder what the Pirates could have gotten for him if they went to arbitration, tried to rebuild his value, and then moved him. The other side of that coin is that his release is what led to Octavio Dotel's signing with Pittsburgh, who was flipped for John McDonald and Andrew Lambo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Four In A Row For The Buccos

Paul Maholm came out firing; nine of his ten first inning pitches were heaters. Made no difference that none of them hit ninety on the gun; they worked well enough to put the Cards down in order.

Jake Westbrook didn't have the same success; his sinking fastball was taken into right by Jose Tabata with one out for a single. Neil Walker drew a nine pitch walk after fouling of three pitches; JT's tongue was hanging after taking off on all those pitches.

It only took Westwood seven pitches to walk Garrett Jones. Pedro wasn't as patient; he singled a run home. Dewey lined a single to right to plate another Bucco. John Bowker pounded a ball to short; instead of ending the inning, Brendan Ryan booted it. No wonder the Cards are eating the Reds' dust.

Cedeno rapped a ball to third that came home for a force, and Maholm K'ed. Still, 3-0 is a nice start; let's see what Maholm can do with the lead.

Matt Holliday started off by rolling a ball up the middle after fouling off four pitches at the knees, and Yadier Molina followed with a single to right. But he came back to retire the bottom of the order routinely and get the Pirates back to the bat rack. No more instant karma for the Bucs; they went down 1-2-3, though it's taken Westbrook 61 pitches to get six outs.

Brendan Ryan starter the third with a single to center. Maholm got the next two hitters, but Sir Albert smacked a double to score Ryan. Working carefully to Holliday, Maholm got a full-count curve lifted to right to finish the frame.

Jones started off by flying out to the track in center, just in front of the 399' mark, which proved to be the highlight of the inning.

The Redbirds went down in order in the fourth. Ronny Cedeno bounced a single into right with one away and PM bunted him to second. McCutch walked, and both runners came in when JT cracked a triple the opposite way to right. walker lined out to end the frame; the lead was now 5-1.

Pinch hitter Joe Mather became the third Card to lead off with a hit when he singled to start off the fifth. Tyler Greene got a one-out infield single to third. Allen Craig singled to load the sacks for Albert Pujols. The three hitters on the bases have averages of .208, .225, and .193. Holy Mario Mendoza rally!

Albert grounded into a force at second; the Bucs couldn't turn the DP and a run scored. Maholm turned the burner down to a simmer when he got Holliday to ground out. He's managed to avoid his curse of a big inning so far tonight.

Trever Miller came on to work the fifth, and sat the Bucs down quickly; Maholm did the same. He's had a couple of rough patches, but he's up three runs and at a pitch count of 90.

With one away, Cedeno dropped a bunt for a base hit, and Maholm again dutifully moved him to second. Mitchell Boggs took the ball from Miller. There was no two out magic this time; McCutch bounced out to third.

Maholm cruised through the seventh, picking up a pair of K's. Walker flew out to the wall in left center at the 389' mark; maybe the Pirates need some weight training going into next year.

Maholm hit the showers after 101 pitches. He went seven innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with four strikeouts; Joel Hanrahan climbed the hill for the eighth.

Aaron Miles reached on a Walker boot; Pujols found the hole and singled to left. But Hanny got the next three without allowing the leadoff guys to advance. Denny Reyes got the call for the Cards, and handled the Pirates without breaking a sweat. It was time for the Meek-qualizer.

Tony LaRussa sent up three lefties; Meek set down three lefties for his fourth save. That's four in a row for Pittsburgh for the first time since August of 2009.

Charlie Morton continues on his road to redemption against Kyle Lohse tomorrow night.

-- Garrett Jones and Brad Lincoln are both available for action; Jones got the start tonight.

-- A lot has been made about Neil Walker falling behind so often, and it should be. He's a .372 hitter when he makes contact ahead in the count, but just .208 when he's behind. McCutch has the same problem, though not as pronounced; he hits .294 when ahead in the count and .242 when behind. Both could stand a little more aggressiveness at the dish.

But Jose Tabata is proving to be the perfect two hitter when in a deep count. JT smacks the ball at a .333 clip when ahead in the count, and .294 when in a pitcher's count.

-- Bullpen coach Luis Dorante will manage the Bravos de Margarita club in Venezuela this winter. Neil Walker and Justin Thomas are expected to play for him. Jason Jaramillo is slated to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and Lastings Milledge plans to play in Venezuela during the off season.

-- Pittsburgh will assign pitchers Justin Wilson, Aaron Pribanic and Brian Leach to Arizona Fall League. They'll join position players Tony Sanchez, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Andrew Lambo.

-- Jose Bautista is one homer away from becoming the 26th player in baseball history to hit 50 homers in a season. He could join an even more exclusive club, though.

Bautista has 95 walks with 13 games left, making it likely that he'll reach the century mark for the year. There have been just 13 players ever to hit 50 dingers and walk 100 times.

Indy Post Season Wrap

AAA is the level where a team's top up-and-coming prospects mingle with older guys who serve as mentors, depth and MLB insurance policies along with fringe and work-in-progress players. Indy had plenty in all three categories to start the season.

As for prospects, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Steve Pearce and Brad Lincoln all made their way to the big club in 2010. That's good in its way, but also drained the young talent base of the Tribe. All but Lincoln had some impact on the Pirates. The exodus, though, left Indy with few real MLB challengers on the roster.

The utility infielder for the 2011 Bucs could come from the trio of Argenis Diaz and Pedro Ciriaco, both strong glovemen with weak bats, and Brian Friday, the oft-injured infielder who is a step behind in the field but better with the twig.

Contract status may have some bearing on how the middle infield crowd thins out. Ciriaco is the strongest candidate with the most tools, but he has an option left. Diaz is out of options, and Friday is Rule 5 eligible. It's a pretty safe bet that one of the two will be left off the 40-man in 2011.

There's also the possibility that a free agent will be plucked to shore the bench, but after the Ramon Vazquez/Bobby Crosby fiascoes, the FO may just stay home-grown.

Alex Presley had a break-out year; whether that is sustainable or not is to be seen. He's got decent wheels and a motor that never stops, and could be a fourth or fifth outfield option in 2011; our guess is that he'll return to Indy to see if he was for real. He's Rule 5 eligible this season. Brandon Moss had a great second half, but has the look of a AAAA player; we don't think he's long for the organization.

Jeff Clement is another guy who is in make-or-break mode. He's out of options, and a lot of his future value will depend on Garrett Jones; do they keep him at first or return him to RF?

Clement appeared to work out his swing at Indy, and he is just 25. He just had his knee scoped, but that shouldn't be a problem. The estimated recovery time is a month or less, so he should be good to go in the spring if he sticks on the 40-man roster. His position is further clouded by the pickup of John Bowker, another LH who is a little less powerful but more versatile; he's out of options, too.

Brandon Moss started at Indy in 2010 to resurrect his career. He had a great stretch run with regards to power and run production, but we think it's too little, too late for the out-of-options OF received as part of the Jay Bay package to return to the 40-man roster.

The starting pitching started out looking formidable, but Dr. James McAndrews cut it down to size quickly when Donnie Veal and Kevin Hart went under the knife for TJ surgery.

Veal, 26, wasn't sliced until June and isn't expected to be ready for spring training. He should start 2011 on the 60-day DL, but Hart, 27, who had his surgery in April, should be just coming back in the spring. Those injuries could drastically affect their future as starters and their roster status.

Brad Lincoln, expected by many to be a solid mid-rotation guy, fizzled badly in his cup of coffee at Pittsburgh. Whether his command doesn't play in the show or Joe Kerrigan screwed up his mechanics and mental approach is the question. Unless he has a lights-out camp, he'll be on the 40-man but probably start out 2011 in Indy.

Charlie Morton was another hurler sent down to see if he could find some light at the end of the tunnel. He made mixed progress, but has shown enough in his return to probably take a place in Pittsburgh's 3011 rotation, especially as he is out of options.

Brian Burres took over the Jeff Karstens role in Pittsburgh, and is on a roll right now. Karstens is a possibility to be non-tendered, but it's to be seen if that's enough to get BB a spot on a crowded 40-man roster in 2011.

Mike Crotta is a darkhorse to land on the 40-man. A starter for most of his career, he ate up some innings after being called up to Indy. He'll be 26 next season, and often has trouble getting deep into games. But he's dependable with a low 90's heater and a good ground ball ratio, so he could get a look as a DJ Carrasco, mid-game reliever type in the Bucco pen.

There doesn't seem to be much more in the way of bullpen help. Jean Machi was the closer, but at age 28 and with control issues leading to a 3.92 ERA, he doesn't seem a fit to move up and becomes a free agent after the season. Wil Ledezema was unhittable at Indy, but has a 6+ ERA in Pittsburgh and hasn't earned any trust from JR; he's due for arbitration and could be non-tendered. Daniel Moskos was brilliant at Altoona, got bombed in AAA, and settled back in with the Curve to at least keep himself on the radar screen. We'll see; he's Rule 5 eligible after the season.

The 2010 Tribe did its job in 2010, sending up some future everyday pieces to the mother club. But the remaining players are bench fillers until the lower level prospects begin to perk up to AAA. Expect a lot of turnover; there are many players who are in 40-man limbo and some AA guys from the championship Altoona Curve ready to take a step up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

The Pirates haven't had to make any drastic roster moves during the Neal Huntington/Frank Coonelly era. But decisions this winter on the young guns regarding arbitration offers, out-of-option players, and Rule 5 protection are becoming more difficult as the clock's ticking gets louder.

First, they have to decide which of their nine arbitration eligible player they want to tender offers to. The list (with current salary) is: Ronny Cedeno ($1.125M), Zach Duke ($4.3M), Joel Hanrahan ($453K), Jeff Karstens ($410K), Andy LaRoche ($451K), Wil Ledezma ($500K), Lastings Milledge ($452K), Ross Ohlendorf ($439K) and Delwyn Young ($444K).

We can bet the ranch that they'll offer contracts to Cedeno, Ohlendorf and Hanrahan. The odds are loaded that LaRoche and Ledezema will be non-tendered.

That leaves four maybes. Our guess is that Milledge gets tendered, Duke doesn't, Karstens is a coin-flip, depending on whether they see him as a possible starter or just a long pen guy, and DY will probably not get an offer. The decisions will be more performance-based than financial; even Duke's - is he worth $5-6M or can you find better value for the money on the market?

Jose Ascanio, John Bowker, Brian Burres, Jeff Clement, Argenis Diaz, Sean Gallagher, Kevin Hart, Chris Leroux, James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Brandon Moss, Steve Pearce and Chris Resop are out of options and need to be added to or kept on the 40-man roster.

J-Mac, Morton and Resop will stay on the 2011 40-man roster, and Ascanio, Bowker and Pearce are also likely to keep their spots.

That leaves Burres, Clement, Diaz, Gallagher, Leroux and Moss on the outside looking in. Gallagher and Moss are safe bets to be gone; Clement may be in a battle with Bowker for one spot, as Diaz will be with Brian Friday, and we think they'd like to remove Burres from the 40-man but resign him as an Indy insurance policy. Leroux will be part of the numbers game.

Rule 5 eligible players include Nate Adcock, Mike Crotta, Mike Dubee, Brian Friday, Gorkys Hernandez, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Starling Marte, Diego Moreno, Bryan Morris, Danny Moskos, Eliecer Navaro, Jim Negrych, Rudy Owens, Alex Presley, Donnie Veal, and Tony Watson.

This is an area that's half evaluation and half voodoo. The FO not only has to guess who is attractive, but who is far enough along to last out the season on a MLB roster. Sometimes, using as an example Donnie Veal, it doesn't take much.

Hernadez, Lincoln, Morris, Presley and Veal are already on the 40-man. Marte is sure to be added, and after that, it's a crap shoot. Moreno and Moskos are the best relievers in the system, Locke and Owens are a pair of mid-rotation possibilities, Crotta is a mid-inning relief man, Watson a LOOGY, Friday and Negrych could be MLB ready as bench players.

Also thrown in the mix for organizational depth purposes are upcoming minor league free agents. Jonathan Van Every and Tyler Yates are among them, and may be potential MLB insurance policies. The biggest hit could be among catchers; Eric Kratz and Hector Gimenez are both eligible, and losing that pair would put a serious crimp in catching depth, especially if Dewey moves on.

One other problem; if the Buc ink any of them before December 9th and don't add them to the 40-man roster, they become eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Both catchers would be attractive options to a team looking for a back-up.

So there's more going on than a wake after the 2010 meltdown; the wheels are being greased for 2011. The FO will have to fit the pieces together as who they consider to be key pieces down the road.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bucs Break Out The Broom

Good start for the Zachster; a two-out single to Chris Young was the only damage. Maybe the Bucs have another nine-spot stuck up their sleeves...

Maybe they do; McCutch whacked his sixteenth homer to lead off the Bucco first off Daniel Hudson. He settled down, but the Duke had a lead to work with. He gave up a bloop single in the second; so far, so good. Bowker led off with a dink single to right, and stayed there.

For the third straight inning, a D-Back reached with one out; this time it was Stephen Drew on 1B'man Bowker's error. But a rarity occurred; he was caught stealing by Dewey; it helped that Drew stopped halfway to second and tried to get back to first; the play went 2-4-3. The Pirates went down in order in their half.

By the fourth, the hidden vigorish had caught up; the first batter, Chris Young, reached on a walk, after falling behind in the count 1-2. An out later, Adam LaRoche doubled to right to bring him home. An out after that, John Hester doubled to left to plate LaRoche. A Searage talk and fly to center ended the inning.

Pittsburgh went down in order; that's nine in a row for Hudson. The pitching trends are working against the Pirates at this point. But the Zachster tried to get Big Mo to rejoin the Bucs; he retired the D-Backs in order in the fifth. Hudson did the same to the Pirates; his change has been a pretty effective out pitch today.

Duke has out together a little seven-out streak himself after retiring Arizona in the sixth. Jose Tabata broke Hudson's streak of thirteen in a row with a one-out double. Walker rolled out to first, advancing JT a station, but Pedro K'ed for the second time this afternoon.

The Zachster kept mowing them down; he's notched ten straight D-Backs after seven frames. Bowker drew a one-out walk, and a new pitcher; Sam Demel came in for Hudson. Hudson went 6-1/3 innings, giving up three hits, two walks, and striking out six. His only run surrendered was the lead-off homer to McCutch.

Demel threw one pitch, a fastball to Brandon Moss, who banged it to LaRoche for a 3-6-3 DP.

Duke wasn't as lucky; with one out, he gave up a homer to center off the bat of Ryan Roberts, his second of the year. Joel Hanrahan came on. The Zachster went 7-1/3, yielding three runs on six hits with a walk and five K's. Hanny whiffed his two batters.

Aaron Heilman took over in the eighth; Ronny Cedeno legged out an infield single. Garrett Jones pinch hit; he K'ed. McCutch singled on a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners. JT hit into a force, hustling down the line to avoid a DP on a hard hit shot, bringing home RC and cutting the lead to one.

Walker, batting RH, got a 3-1, 93 MPH fastball over the middle, knee-high, and belted it into the bullpen for his twelfth homer; the Bucs were up 4-3. The Pittsburgh Kid has regained his eye now that he's back home and eating mom's cooking.

That was it for Heilman; Mike Hampton got the nod to face Pedro, and he got him to bounce to second. Evan Meek came on ISO his third save; it was easy as 1-2-3.

So the Bucs get a well-deserved day off, and won a pretty well played game today. That's three in a row, matching their longest winning streak of the year. It's also their first series sweep since May.

Paul Maholm and Jake Westbrook will pick it up Tuesday night at PNC as St. Louis comes to town.

-- Joel Hanrahan and Zach Duke are tied for the team lead in strikeouts after today with 92 apiece. Hanrahan has worked 64-2/3 innings; Duke has 150 innings under his belt.

-- John Bowker is getting a hand from the baseball gods. With Garrett Jones and Lastings Milledge out with injuries, he'll have a great opportunity to showcase himself to JR and the FO. He'll get a better look at first than he could have hoped for; not only is Jones down, but so are his competitors Jeff Clement and Steve Pearce. September means something to a couple of guys, and he's a prime example.

-- Brandon Moss got the start in right today. From what we've seen, September will be his last hurrah with the Pirates.

-- In a scary moment, Tyler Colvin of the Cubs was struck by a shard of Welington Castillo's broken bat while leading off third base and suffered a puncture wound; the bat stuck in his chest. He's at the hospital now, where he's listed in stable condition.