Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rocky Mountain Low; Bucs Fall 4-1

McCutch got the Bucs off on the fast track against Jason Hammel when he lined a rocket out of the deepest part of Coors Field, his second in two nights and eighth as a leadoff man.

The lead lasted a frame. Paul Maholm continued to have his early inning, bottom of ther order problems in the second. Carlos Gonzalez doubled of the wall, the ball barely eluding Matt Diaz's glove (Jose Tabata appeared to tweak his hammy running out a ball in the first).

Then a bunt single and swinging bunt hit brought in a run. Pedro was a couple steps behind the bag and never had a play on either ball; the first was against Jose Lopez, who was hitting .152, and the next against Seth Smith, a lefty. His positioning was a little iffy, given the hitters, but apparently to the bench's liking.

Smith's bleeder brought in a run, and the eight hitter, Chris Iannetti, a sub-.200 hitter, got ahead of Maholm 3-1, and was fed an 88 MPH heater right down the middle; he went yard and it was 4-1.

The Pirates tried to chip away, but left runners at third in both the third and fourth frames. In the fifth, they had a pair aboard with one out, but Diaz bounced into a 6-4-3 DP. Their frustrations continued in the sixth.

Garrett Jones smacked a ball up the middle, right into the teeth of a shift. Neil Walker lined a single to right. Lyle Overbay smoked one up the line, and Todd Helton picked it just inside the bag and turned it into another inning-killing DP. Same song in the seventh - Chris Snyder walked to start the frame, and Pedro grounded into a nicely turned 3-6-3 DP.

Both starters left after seven. Maholm did a good job of keeping it together after that disastrous fourth, giving up the four runs on seven hits with three walks and K's.

The Bucs didn't do much better in the eighth. No DP, but that's because there weren't any baserunners. All three hitters went 3-2 against Rafael Betencourt, and all three bounced out, although it took 28 pitches to eventually retire the side.

Danny Moskos made his MLB debut and put down the Rox 1-2-3, although the last ball was sent to the warning track. He used the slider as his primary weapon, mixing in the heater (91-92 MPH, as advertised).

Huston Street put away the Bucs, giving up a Jones single, and earned his NL-leading 10th save. For the Bucs, it was another anemic offensive effort - they had seven hits, and hit into 3 DPs while going 0-for-6 with RISP.

Part of the Pirate problem was the Rox defense; Todd Helton made a couple of outstanding stops to turn doubles into outs, and Troy Tulowitzki made every play, no matter how challenging, look easy.

The other part, of course, is that six of the eight starters are hitting .265 or less; four are hitting .223 or under. As a result, Pittsburgh has scored 13 runs this week, two per game, and no more than three in any one game.

Maholm, for example, has been given nine runs to work with in six starts. Sandy Koufax would have a hard time with that kind of support.

Charlie Morton pitches the rubber match against Ubaldo Jimenez tomorrow.

-- Jen Langosch of reports that "Clint Hurdle said the Pirates will give Jose Tabata “a couple of days” to try and alleviate the right hamstring tightness that forced Tabata out of Saturday’s game."

-- McCutch played a nice game tonight, ripping the ball three times in his four at-bats and making a nice running grab in center.

-- Evan Meek will have a precautionary MRI on his shoulder next week. He hopes just rest will cure the inflammation and weakness (officially, he's suffering from tendinitis), and that he'll be back as soon as he's eligible on May 12th.

Rox Notes

-- Paul Maholm goes against Jason Hammel at 8:10 PM today. The game will be shown on Root Sports. The game temperature will be in the thirties with a 30% chance of late snowflakes.

-- Today's lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Garrett Jones RF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Chris Snyder C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Paul Maholm P.

-- A victory against Colorado in either of the next two nights would give the Pirates their fourth road series victory, as many as they had in all of 2010. You can thank the pitching for that. Last year's road ERA was 5.48; this season it's a much more manageable 4.13 (the MLB road average is 3.94).

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has an interesting piece on the Bucco defense. Rated as bottom-dwellers in the standard benchmarks of errors and fielding percentage, it ranks sixth in MLB in UZR with a 6.5 rating. A contradiction? Not really. It just shows that the range is pretty good, but the consistency isn't there.

Ronny Cedeno is the poster child. His UZR of 18.5 is second among SS's, but he has five errors. Great range, poor focus. He's anecdotal proof that great plays are usually made because of athleticism and instinct; routine plays are the product of technique, preparation and repetition.

So the good news of the "half-full, half-empty" issue is that the players have the ability and should be capable of being coached up into making the bread and butter plays.

-- Speaking of Cedeno, his triple last night was the first for the team in 2011. The Bucs were the only MLB team not to have a three-bagger before RC's gapper.

It's Moskos Time

Well, the Bucs finally admitted that Evan Meek's shoulder hasn't been right. The Bucs put him on the 15-day DL to see if some rest will do the trick. The good work of Chris Resop and Jose Veras made the move easier to make.

His replacement? The long-time a comin' number one draft selection (fourth overall) of the 2007 draft, Danny Moskos. The lefty was called up to the show from Indy, where the second time was the charm. In 10-2/3 innings, he gave up two earned runs on nine hits and a walk, with seven K's and a .0938 WHIP.

He had a very so-so spring camp, and was sent down. But his work with the Tribe, especially with his control, merited him a call to the show and a shot at redemption. He looked close last year, when he absolutely dominated at Altoona with 21 saves and a 1.52 ERA, but it didn't translate in AAA, where he was raked.

Moskos' problem was that he got cute; instead of challenging hitters, he became a nibbler. That's what Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage had him work on. Looks like he received the message.

He come to the Pirates with a fastball-slider combo, and throws a change as well. The 25 year old becomes the Bucs' second lefty in the pen, and will start off in lower leverage situations.

He was already on the forty-man roster, so no other shuffling of the roster has to occur.

Let It Snow...

Hey, GW will quit his griping about April showers now. The Bucs went to Mile High City and played the Rockies in late-inning snow. Played pretty darn well, too, taking a 3-0 win in Clint Hurdle's return to the old stompin' grounds.

Practically everything GW likes to see, he saw tonight. The attack was sickly again (10 Ks), but two of the six hits left the yard. McCutch quit trying to pull everything, took a pitch away to the opposite field and easily cleared the 375' mark. Then Garrett Jones dropped one inside the right field pole, helped by a stiff right-to-left breeze at Coors.

Ronny Cedeno had a clutch two-out triple to plate Pedro, and two-out Bucco lightning is our favorite weather forecast. More importantly, he made a pair of nifty plays, one from the hole and the other up the middle.

Jose Tabata crashed into the wall to take away a double. The scoreboard read zero errors for the Pirates, a big factor in the zero runs Colorado scored.

Not as big a factor, of course, as the Pittsburgh pitching. Kevin Correia shook off his last start and went 6-2/3 frames giving up three hits, a walk, and whiffing four. Jose Veras, Chris Resop and Joel Hanrahan kept the zeroes comin', giving up two hits and K'ing five without a walk over 2-1/3 frames.

For Hanny, it was save #8 in 8 opportunities. And this may be the best Pirate bullpen since 2007, with enough depth to cover Evan Meek's slow start.

Paul Maholm faces Jason Hammel in tomorrow's game.

-- The Bucs got their first road shutout of Colorado tonight; it took them 74 games to finally goose egg the Rox at Coors/Mile High.

-- Kevin Correia became the first Pirate pitcher to win 4 games in April since Jeff Suppan in 2003. Before that, the last four-game winners were Zane Smith and Randy Tomlin in 1992.

-- The suits have finally got some power arms to man the back of the bullpen. Jose Veras has 17 K's in 10-1/3 innings, Chris Resop 15 in 14-1/3, Evan Meek 8 in 8, and Joel Hanrahan 12 in 14 frames. Heck, even the bridge guys are piling up the K's - Joe Beimel has 5 in 4-2/3 innings and Mike Crotta 7 in 10.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mile High Notes

Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin, pitching with six days' rest, will start against Kevin Correia tonight at 8:40 PM. The game will be aired on Root Sports.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Garrett Jones RF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Chris Snyder C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Kevin Correia P.

-- Clint Hurdle told the beat gang that Ronny Cedeno will still see lots of playing time, and that he's going with Brandon Wood now because he has "the hot hand." The hot hand must have cooled some; Cedeno is starting tonight.

-- Josh Rodriguez, the Pirates Rule 5 pick who was DFA'ed for Brandon Wood, was returned to Cleveland.

-- Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors reports that six 2010 Rule 5 picks are still with their teams. One is ex-Buc farmhand RHP Nathan Adcock of the Royals, who has allowed 10 hits and 3 walks in 10 innings with 4 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA.

-- Scott McCauley, Indy broadcaster, tweeted that 3B prospect Josh Harrison (.375/.426/.571) is on the DL with a groin problem. Harrison has been the bright spot of the John Grabow/Tom Gorzelanny trade to the Cubs, with prospect pitchers Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart spending most of their Bucco stay injured.

-- Kris Hughes of the Yardbarker Network has a post and vid of Nats' uberprospect Bryce Harper following Pirates' Class A West Virginia pitcher Tyler Waldron to the dugout after being K'ed, emptying both benches.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bumblin' Bucs Fall 5-2

In today's get-away game, the Bucs drew first blood against once-long-ago Pirate Ryan Vogelsong. With two outs in the first, Lyle Overbay drew a walk and Neil Walker drove one to the Notch to bring him home.

Meanwhile, Jeff Karstens cut through the G-Man like a knife through hot butter for two innings, using just 14 pitches to get six outs. But once again, the bottom of the order and some Pirate miscues led to a big inning.

The seven hitter, Mike Fontenot, singled to center. Eli Whiteside hit a foul pop to first; Overbay dropped it and JK followed by plunking ol' Eli. Vogelsong laid down a sac bunt; it loaded the bases when Karsten's throw to third was late. Aaron Rowand ripped a double to left to in a pair before the first out, a pop-up, was recorded.

He intentionally walked Aubrey Huff to get to Kung Fu Panda, who bounced into a force out to score another run. Rowand came in when Dewey airmailed a ball trying to get Pablo Sandovar on the top side of a double steal.

Let's see - dropped pop up, hit batter (on a 1-2 pitch, yet), bad decision on a bunt, can't quite turn a DP (it was, to be fair, a slowly hit ball) and a steal of home. Guess Karsten's is lucky it was only four runs, hey? Vogelsong rolled through his three batters, K'ing two.

JK got through the top of the fourth and the dreaded bottom of the order without any further damage. Walker started off the Bucco half with a 3-2 single into right, was wild-pitched to second and Jones drew a walk.

Dewey banged into a force play, and Pedro, who's left a flotilla of runners on third this week, left another when he K'ed. So did Brandon Wood, and another chance was flushed away. The fifth went by quietly, as did the top of the sixth.

The Bucs tried to make a little one-out noise in their half of the frame when Walker and Jones hit back-to-back singles to put runners at first and third. The Bucs now had four hits, three by Walker. Dewey rolled one weakly to first; it scored The Pittsburgh Kid and moved Jones to second.

It also was the shower call for Vogelsong, who was replaced by Jeremy Affeldt. RV went 5-1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks, with eight K's, the most he's had in a game since 2003.

Affeldt plunked Pedro, but got Wood swinging, using the change-up to finish him off. To start the seventh, Karstens got the first two outs, then gave up a base knock to Nate Schierholtz. Overbay missed a seemingly catchable toss on a pick-off try; the runner jogged to second and came around when Rowland hit a 1-2 pitch into left for a single.

That brought on Daniel McCutchen and Ronny Cedeno in a Clint Hurdle two for the price of one switch. Karstens went 6-2/3 innings, giving up five runs (two earned) on seven hits, a walk, and four strikeouts.

Manny Burris was given credit for an infield single on Walker's throw-away of a grounder, leaving runners at second and third, but McCutchen got Aubrey Huff to bounce out to end the frame.

Ramon Ramirez started the seventh and got Cedeno on a soft come-backer. McCutch and Tabata were retired routinely, and it was on to the eighth. McCutchen did his job, giving up an one-out single and then getting a 6-4-3 DP to clean up.

Javier Lopez got the call in the eighth and walked Overbay. Walker finally proved himself human, hitting into a force. Matt Diaz pinch hit for Jones; he swung at what looked like ball four on a 3-2 count and rolled into a DP.

McCutchen's looked good so far, and Hurdle decided to risk another inning with him. It paid off.

He finished with 2-1/3 innings worked and three hits surrendered, and cleaned them up pretty well with a caught stealing and DP. More importantly, McC gave the rest of the pen a day off with a long flight to Colorado on the horizon.

Brian Wilson took the hill for a rare save opportunity with a three run lead; he walked Dewey and then struck out Pedro, Xavier Paul and Cedeno, all swinging.

The Buc pitching held up well this series. But the Pittsburgh bats and gloves were MIA; today the Pirates had four hits, four errors, and twelve K's. That's disappointing after playing so well last night. Oh well, off to Denver, where hopefully the Rox will be a little kinder to the Pirates than they were during the first home stand.

Kevin Correia will kick off the series against Jhoulys Chacin.

--Lyle Overbay came here with a sterling defensive rep, but in this series, he's missed two or three catchable throws to first by GW's count. Sometimes, you kinda miss Adam LaRoche a little bit.

-- The Bowker deal closed the book on the Javier Lopez trade; now that both he and Joe Martinez were waived, Lopez went to San Fran for free. It's the exact opposite of the Octavio Dotel trade. Win some, lose some...

-- John Bowker seemed almost pleased that he was DFA'ed in a couple of interviews, and looking forward to getting a chance with another club. He can't be blamed; the Pirates MO of grabbing a guy, particularly one out of options, then not giving him much opportunity to prove himself must be frustrating.

This isn't a defense of Bowker. With four outfielders in a regular rotation, he was too similar to Garrett Jones and the Pirates needed a speedy, center-field guy for that fifth OF spot. And if it wasn't Xavier Paul, it would have eventually been Alex Presley or Gorkys Hernandez.

But it shows one of the major drawbacks with trying to upgrade by taking other team's failed prospects through the waiver or trade process; it may increase the upside talent of your team, but without contract options, it's almost impossible to give the guy enough playing time to really evaluate him. Que sera sera, hey?

-- Chris Jaffe of Hardball Talk ledes his "This Day In Baseball" with what he calls the "coolest homer of them all," a walk-off, inside the park grand slam by Roberto Clemente.

Morning Notes, Lineup

-- Jeff Karstens and Ryan Vogelsong will pitch today. For Vogelsong, it will be his first MLB start in seven years. The game starts at 12:35 PM, and will be shown on Root Sports.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen SS, Jose Tabata LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Ryan Doumit C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Brandon Wood SS, Jeff Karstens P.

Ronny Cedeno is still in the doghouse, and may be for a while to let the Bucs evaluate Wood.

-- Chris Resop will see more time as the set-up guy for Joel Hanrahan. Evan Meek, bothered by a bug and inconsistent on the hill, may be used earlier in ball games for the short term.

-- The Bucs made it official; John Bowker is getting DFA'ed to make room for Xavier Paul. The switch makes sense from a need standpoint, but the Pirates are so protective of their out-of-option players that the move was as a small surprise.

-- RHP Bryan Morris is expected to miss at least two more weeks to his oblique strain.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bucs Outduel Giants 2-0

Hey, the rain came early; the tarp was off the field by 6:15 and it's an on-time start tonight.

J-Mac got through the first OK, limiting the Giant damage to a two-out single by Aubrey Huff. Madison Bumgarner was better, K'ing two of the first three Bucco batters. McDonald began to spray the ball a bit in the second, and left runners on second and third with two away when he got his mound opponent to bounce to short.

The Pittsburgh Kid broke the ice for the Pirates with an infield single, and Steve Pearce followed with a line double to right to put runners at second and third with no outs. Chris Snyder dropped a single into center to make it 1-0.

With runners on the corners, Pedro struck out on three pitches and Brandon Wood was retired on a short fly to right. J-Mac whiffed - that's four K's for Bumgarner - and both bottoms of the order left a flock of ducks on the pond.

Aaron Rowand walked to start the third; J-Mac has the same problem with pitches up tonight that he's had all season. He bore down, did a little better job of getting the ball down, and got the next three G-Men, helped by a terrific over-the-rail grab of a foul pop by Pedro Alvarez. The Bucs went down in order, with Jose Tabata joining the K parade.

McDonald and Bumgarner had been struggling coming into tonight, but so far its been a decently pitched game.

With one away, Pat Burrell drew a walk. But Cody Ross rolled over on an 0-2 pitch, grounding it to short, and Wood started a 6-4-3 DP to get J-Mac out of the fourth frame.

Walker started the fourth with his second infield hit of the day, and Pearce singled sharply into left. Snyder moved them up a sack with a roller to third. Pedro struck out swinging again; for the second time, he's left a runner on third with less than two outs. Wood was intentionally walked to load them for McDonald. J-Mac never took the bat off his shoulder, and it almost worked; he was called out on a 3-2 pitch.

Miguel Tejada walked to open the fifth and was bunted to second by Bumgarner. McDonald got Rowand swinging, and Sanchez ended the inning on a bouncer to short. So far, so good - even with four walks and some deep counts, J-Mac is sitting at 73 pitches through five.

Bumgarner had no trouble putting away McCutch, Tabata and Matt Diaz; the top of the order is now 0-for-9 with 3 K's. McDonald retired the first two hitters in the sixth, followed by an infield single from the now svelte Kung Fu Panda. He fell behind Burrell 3-0, but came back to get him on a fly to left.

Walker, Pearce and Snyder are up this frame; they have all five Pirate hits so far. But Bumgarner got them in order this time around, thanks to nice stop by Pedro Sandoval on Snyder's shot to third.

Ross started the seventh with a line single to right on a 3-2 fastball. That was 98 pitches for J-Mac and Clint Hurdle brought on Mike Crotta.

McDonald went six innings, giving up four hits, four walks, and striking out three, taking a nice step forward. Especially encouraging was the return of his curve, which got sharper as the game wore on. Overbay took over first base in a twofer switch.

Bruce Bochy must have thought Dewey was catching; he sent Ross, who Snyder threw out. Good thing, too, when Tejada bounced a single into left. Bochy sent up the lefty Nate Schierholtz; Hurdle countered with Joe Biemel, who got him on a fly to McCutch. Out went Joe, in came Chris Resop to face Rowand. He balked Tejada to second, but little matter - he K'ed Rowand.

Lefty Dan Runzler came in for San Fran; Pedro singled off Panda's glove and Wood dropped a soft single into right. This time, Hurdle had Overbay bunt; he bunted back to the box and into a force at third. Guillermo Mota came on to face McCutch and Tabata.

Mota whiffed McCutch, who swung through a slider off the plate. Tabata was clutch; he took a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner and drove into right for a single and a big insurance run. Garrett Jones pinch-hit for Diaz, but went down swinging.

Resop stayed on the hill. He got Sanchez on a liner to Jones, Huff on a liner to McCutch, and Buster Posey on a come-backer. Guys like Chris Resop are the reason the Bucs love to dumpster dive; most are busts, but sometimes you get lucky.

And, of course, the rains fell again in the eighth. But the umps let them play on. Mota didn't complain; he 1-2-3'ed the Bucs. Resop faced four hitters and got four outs on 20 pitches; the ninth is Hanny time (and the eighth may become Resop time, at least until Evan Meek shakes his virus).

He walked Sandoval on five pitches to open the frame and fell behind Burrell 3-1. But Hanny pumped a couple of heaters down the middle and coaxed a pop out. Big out; Ross lined a single to right on the next pitch. Tejada didn't have the same luck. He bounced one to Wood, and the 6-4-3 DP ended the party.

Joel Hanrahan notched his seventh save, and the Bucs took a baby step toward respectability by winning a close game against a championship club that's built to win the tight ones.

-- The Pirates drew 9,048 tonight as the rain and Penguins, who were home tonight for the seventh game of their Stanley Cup series, continue to keep attendance down.

-- Don't consider Brandon Wood the everyday shortstop quite yet, though he's starting for the second straight game. He gets the nod tonight as a "manager's decision," and it's safe to assume that Ronny Cedeno's failure to run out a grounder last night is the reason RC is riding the pine. Maybe Clint Hurdle actually understands what "accountability" means.

-- In two starts at short, Brandon Wood has started three DPs.

-- The beat gang reports that Xavier Paul will be in uniform tomorrow and John Bowker will be DFA'ed.

-- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says that if teams come calling for Chris Snyder, the price will be high.

-- Jameson Taillon's professional debut was short-lived. He went two innings and 45 pitches, giving up a run on three hits with two walks. It was a damp, chilly night; Taillon was obviously on a short leash to start with. He did hit 93-94 on the gun in his brief outing, and after a shaky first, settled down in his second frame.

-- RHP Fernando Nieve, who the Bucs released in camp and was signed by Houston, was let go by the Astros so that he could pitch in Korea.

-- The WPIAL just announced its fifth Hall of Fame class, and manager Joe Colella of Hopewell baseball got the call. He's in his 48th season as the Vikings' coach, with 660 wins, three WPIAL and one PIAA crown on his resume.

So did Adam DiMichele, Sto-Rox HS class of 2004. He's the only athlete in WPIAL history to be named Post-Gazette All-Area for baseball, Fabulous 22 for football, and Fabulous 5 for basketball, and the Viking was named first-team All-State in all three sports.

DeMichele attended Okaloosa-Walton College in Florida as a pitcher and OF'er, and was a 38th round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2005 before moving on to QB at Temple and later in the CFL.

Lineup Card

-- James McDonald and Madison Bumgarner face one other tonight at 7:05 PM. And who woulda thunk those two up-and-comers would be a combined 0-5 with less than a week to go in April? No TV again tonight; that hockey team is playing again.

-- The lineup is: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Matt Diaz RF, Neil Walker 2B, Steve Pearce 1B, Chris Snyder C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Brandon Wood SS, James McDonald P.

-- Xavier Paul hasn't been sighted yet, so it appears that the roster will remain intact for one more night. Paul is allowed 72 hours to report.

-- If you'd like a prospect snapshot, Marc Hulet of Fangraphs has the scoop for Pittsburgh and the whole Central Division.

-- As feared, Bryan Morris was put on the minor league DL (which can be terminated after 7 days) for his oblique strain, tweeted Colin Dunlap of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ford Flies, Bucs Bungle Way to 3-2 loss

Hey, even when it doesn't rain, it does. With a forecast for a thunderstorm, the tarp stayed down on PNC grass - and a drop never fell (although one of the groundskeepers did water the infield, providing the living definition of "irony"). So there was a 45 minute "no rain" delay before the game started, just because Joe or one of his proteges said it would. Ah, Pittsburgh in April.

It didn't bother Charlie Morton any. He got two quick ground outs before issuing the dreaded two-out walk to Aubrey Huff, who promptly stole second. CM got Buster Posey swinging, so a potential bullet was dodged. Nor did it bother Matt Cain; he threw a tidy frame.

Kung Fu Panda started the second with a ground ball double into right; Morton came back with a pair of K's and a great catch by McCutch to leave him stranded at second. But he is up to 39 pitches and could use a quick, clean inning to get his pitch count under control.

He did get the lead in the second; Garrett Jones bombed a 2-2 curve that hung over the dish past the center field fence for his fourth of the year.

Morton got his easy inning in the third; even with a Freddy Sanchez jam-job infield single, he finished off the G-Men in ten pitches. Cain one-upped him, retiring the side on swinging strikeouts.

Posey started off the fourth by drawing a ten pitch walk, but Pablo Sandoval bounced the second offering to SS Brandon Wood, who started a 6-4-3 DP. Matt Diaz began the Bucco half with a double to center, sitting on a 3-1 fastball. Lyle Overbay was jammed on a 2-0 heater, and lined it gently to third. A Neil Walker fly to right got Diaz to third, but there he stayed as Jones went down swinging.

CM finally got a 1-2-3 inning, and was sitting on 72 pitches after five and in good shape. Cain mowed down the Bucs thanks to a great stop of a Wood shot down the line by Panda. It's been a classic pitcher's duel, with each team having just two hits and both hurlers with 5 K's apiece.

Aaron Rowland opened the sixth with a double to left, and Sanchez rolled one to second to advance the runner. Morton tried to paint an 0-2 pitch on the outside corner against Huff, but he lifted the opposite way into left for a game-tying sac fly. The Giants played the inning as a textbook example of manufacturing a run, something the Pirates failed to do in the fourth.

But they manufactured one in the sixth. With two outs, Diaz walked, stole second, and came around on Overbay's ground ball knock to left as Pittsburgh regained the lead 2-1.

Panda started the seventh against Morton with a ground ball single into left, the fourth lead-off batter to reach base. Pat Burrell followed with a five-pitch walk, and that was it. Clint Hurdle took his slow walk and called for Chris Resop.

And he was equal to the task. Resop got a pair of pop outs, one on a nice over-the-rail grab by Overbay, and battled Mike Fontenot for a dozen pitches before blowing one past him; the righty was between 94-96 every pitch.

It was another strong outing for Morton, too. He went six innings, giving up a run on four hits with three walks and six K's, tossing 96 pitches.

Jeremry Affeldt gave up a leadoff knock to Dewey, and Ronny Cedeno came on to run. Surprisingly, Hurdle called on Pedro to bunt. Not too surprisingly, he blew it, popping out.

Ramon Ramirez took over, and while walking Wood still notched an out when Cedeno, making an ill-advised back door slide after a good jump, was caught stealing. Hurdle may have out thought himself this inning; hopefully, he didn't ding Pedro's confidence too much.

Wood went to second on a wild pick-off attempt, but Jose Tabata, who came on during a two-for-one switch, flew out to short center.

Evan Meek had a short outing in the eighth. Rowland singled, and Darren Ford ran for him. he scooted to third on a hit-and-run bouncer through the SS hole by Sanchez - Wood broke because Hurdle had flipped coverages, playing the odds that Sanchez would hit behind the runner - and that brought on Joe Beimel. He did his job, getting Huff to pop out after falling behind 3-1.

Now it was Jose Veras' turn. Buster Posey took his first pitch into left, deep enough to score the burner Ford without a throw to knot the score.

Replacing Rowland with Ford paid another dividend in the eighth when Diaz blasted a ball into right center that the speedster ran down; it would have been a play that Rowland may not have been able to make.

It was enough to get Ramirez out of the game; Javier Lopez took over and closed out the frame.

Veras struck out the side in the ninth; Sergio Romo coaxed a pair of grounders and a K. Cedeno, who stayed in the game, didn't help his own cause when he failed to run out a tapper up the third base line. It was ruled fair, and he was thrown out by 60 feet. Hurdle had a brief chat with the man in blue and a longer one with his shortstop.

Ford's feet and general Pirate ineptitude led to the go ahead run for SF in the tenth. Nate Schierholtz led off with a soft single to right against Hanny. Diaz overran the ball, and Schierholtz went to second.

Ford bunted, but right to Overbay, who nailed Schierholtz at third. That put the Bucs right where the Giants wanted them. Hanrahan threw to first, the ball hit off Ford's body, and he was at third in a heartbeat.

With the infield in, Sanchez hit a hopper to Walker, who held Ford. But then he lollipopped the throw to first, Ford broke home, and Overbay's rushed relay was in time, but well wide of the mark, skipping past Snyder. Ford's speed and Pittsburgh's sloppy play gave the G-Men the lead, and the game.

Brian Wilson got the save, surviving two hard hit at 'em balls drilled by Tabata and McCutch.

The Giants won tonight because they didn't make mistakes and played small ball behind good pitching. You can even tell by their bench makeup - when they needed a runner, they brought in Ford, who may have single-handedly won the game. The Bucs? They called on Cedeno.

Good teams find ways to win tight games; bad teams find ways to lose.

Whoops, Here Comes Another Bucco...

-- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports tweeted that "Pirates claim Xavier Paul, source says." He's a 26 year-old AAAA-lookin' OF'er, plus speed, plus glove, left-handed hitter, but with .233 BA in the bigs.

He didn't get much chance to prove himself in the show as the Dodgers only batted him 146 times in three years.

Paul hit .291 with a .360 OBP in the minors and 93 stolen bases, but is a big strikeout guy for a top-of-the-order kinda hitter, K'ing on 21% of his plate appearances.

The OF'er can play all three positions and has a strong arm, but unfortunately for him, had a staph infection of his foot in 2009, a neck injury (bulging disc) in 2010, and was out-of-options on a team that's loaded with outfielders in 2011. Guess the Bucs have finally found their McCutch/Tabata backup.

The Bucs will have to do some roster shuffling to clear a spot for Paul.

The first move was putting Scott Olson on the 60-day DL to clear a spot on that roster. That move makes it likely that Pearce, who has an option, will get sent to Indy to clear a spot for Paul on the major league roster, although John Bowker remains a dark-horse candidate to go.

Paul becomes arb-eligible after the 2012 season as a Super-Two player.

-- Charlie Morton goes against Matt Cain at 7:05 PM tonight. The game will be televised on Root Sports.

The lineup is: Andrew McCutchen CF, Matt Diaz LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Ryan Doumit C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Brandon Wood SS, Charlie Morton P.

If you're keeping count, it took Wood three games to take Ronny Cedeno's spot, and Jose Tabata gets a day off. And if there's a more unlikely pair to bat 2-3 than Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay, we would hate to meet them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bucs Rain on Nat's Parade 4-2

Oooops - the Nat's turned the tables on the Pirates tonight. Instead of Pittsburgh sprinting to a lead out of the box as has been their MO lately, Washington laid a two-run frame on the Pirates.

With one away, Ian Desmond singled up the middle and Jayson Werth followed with a double to right. Adam LaRoche singled them home (funny, we don't remember him being Mr. April in Pittsburgh) and the Nats were off to a quick 2-0 lead.

The game moved along quietly for a couple of frames; Maholm worked out of a two-on situation in the third, and during the Bucs at-bat Michael Morse robbed Chris Snyder of a homer. In the bottom of the fourth, the rain and the Bucs both struck.

A one-out walk to Jose Tabata turned into a run after a ground out and a Neil Walker single into right. Jayson Werth threw Walker's ball away after slipping, allowing the Pittsburgh Kid to go to third and Tabata to score. Then the umps called out the grounds crew to cover the field.

Steve Pearce walked after the tarps were rolled up, and Brandon Wood drilled a two-bagger to right center off the Xfinity sign, plating a pair. A Chris Snyder single to left brought home Wood, and it was 4-2 Buccos.

Whether the 20 minute delay got to Lannan, the equivalent of sitting a half inning, we'll never know (we credit the two walks, both of which scored), but the weather gods were good to the Pirates for a change.

Maholm would go seven for the Pirates, and it was one of his stronger efforts (the long rest on the bench during the fourth inning didn't seem to bother the vet). He gave up two runs on four hits, walked a pair and whiffed eight on 99 pitches before handing the ball off to Evan Meek, who had a 1-2-3 inning.

Joel Hanrahan came on in the ninth, and walked the first hitter, Werth, to break a skein of 16 straight Nats retired. He got the next two, then Wilson Ramos lined a single to left to put runners on the corners. But Hanny had something left in the tank; throwing 98-99 MPH heat, he got Ricky Ankiel looking, and the Jolly Roger fluttered in the North Shore breeze.

It was Hanrahan's sixth save, and Maholm finally got off the schneid with his first W of the season while lowering his ERA to 3.90. He's pitched better than his 1-3 record, but so far has been this year's non-support victim.

The Giants and Freddy Sanchez will be in town tomorrow. Charlie Morton will go against Matt Cain.

-- The Bucs had only six hits, the Nats just five, and bunched their scoring. The Pirate advantage was the two walks that scored in the fourth, which so often turn into game-breakers.

-- If you're into individual battles, Wood went 1-for-4 and Ronny Cedeno wore the collar; neither is threatening to break the Mendoza line.

-- John Bowker smacked his fourth hit of the year today. All have been off the bench as he looks like he's learning to focus on his pinch-hitter's job, a role he's encountered problems handling in the past.

-- The Bucs drew 12,457 fans tonight, and most masqueraded as empty seats. The weather - and Penguins - continue to dampen the draw.

-- Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror tweets that "Pirates RHP prospect Bryan Morris skipped his start tonight with strained left oblique. Listed as day to day." An oblique injury can shut you down for awhile. It'd be nice to see Morris get through a season in one piece.

-- Jen Langosch of said that 2010 first round pick Jameson Taillon will have his coming out party Wednesday when he takes the hill for West Virginia against Hagerstown.

-- Baseball America staged a mock draft of sorts, and agreed that Anthony Rendon looks like the man. But as usual, the gang threw in the disclaimer that "...the top two guys (Rendon and Gerrit Cole) are neck and neck."

-- The Giants rotation aginst the Bucs will be Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. No Tim Lincecum, which is always a good thing.

Monday Notes

-- Tonight's game is scheduled for 7:05 PM, with Paul Maholm and John Lannan facing off. The match will be radio only.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Matt Diaz RF, Neil Walker 2B, Steve Pearce 1B, Brandon Wood 3B, Chris Snyder C, Ronny Cedeno SS, Paul Maholm P.

Pedro and Lyle Overbay get the night off against the lefty Lannan; Ronny Cedeno lives to fight another day as Wood gets his first Pirate start at third base.

And after Jerry Hairston threw two balls away yesterday, Brian Bixler gets his first Nat start since his call-up at the hot corner, too.

-- The are five Pirate alumni on the Nat's squad: Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, Brian Bixler, Adam LaRouche and Matt Stairs. The Bucs have one former Washington player on the active roster, Joel Hanrahan, one on the forty-man roster, Scott Olsen, and a player they signed from the National's organization, Aaron Thompson.

-- The Pirates have averaged 19,863 fans per game so far this season, which is in line with the attendance figures of the past four years. That ranks them 14th out of the 16 NL teams; the Bucs have finished either last or next to last in Senior Circuit attendance since 2004.

-- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports has a piece on the ups and downs of seldom-mentioned prospect Jeff Clement, who is still rehabbing after knee surgery.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Bunny Says "Bah Humbug," Bucs Go Down 6-3

Hey, the Bucs got today's game off on time, even if the skies were an ominous gray. And it was a good start; Kevin Correia worked a 1-2-3 frame, and the Pirates scored the first run of the day.

McCutch doubled on a ball that the wind tossed around the yard, moved to third on a Jose Tabata purpose out roller to second, and came in on Neil Walker's single. The only bad sign was that they Pirates left the sacks juiced when Chris Snyder bounced out to third.

The Nats returned the favor in the second, stranding runners at second and third with two away. The Bucs went quietly in their half, and the Nationals unloaded in the third.

Jason Marquis lined a single into center, as did Danny Espinosa. That put runners on the corners, and Espinosa stole second. After getting ahead of Ricky Ankeil 0-2, Correia decided to nibble and lost him on a walk.

Jayson Werth hit a hard hopper to Pedro, who opted for the force at the plate instead of the around-the-horn DP. It saved a run in the short term, but that extra out would have come in handy. A slow bouncer by Adam LaRouche plated a run, and with two away and two strikes, Michael Morse took a cutter that stayed over the plate into the left field seats to make it 4-1.

Tabata led off with a single, but was erased on a Lyle Ovebay DP. Marquis and Espinosa teamed up for line singles in the fourth, but were stranded at second and third. Pittsburgh came back to tighten the gap.

Garrett Jones walked and Pedro doubled high off the Clemente Wall. Chris Snyder hit a sac fly to plate one run, and Ronnie Cedeno, now in a dogfight for his job, drilled a double to the Notch to make it 4-3. Correia, with one out, was curiously called on to bunt, and he moved RC over to third. McCutch ended the frame when his one hopper over third was nicely played by Jerry Hairston, who threw over to finish the frame.

The Pirates weren't very aggressive on the paths in the inning; Jones was held at third and Cedeno had a shot at a triple, which would be the first of the year for a Pirate, and was stopped at second. But with a fairly steady drizzle throughout the early innings of the game, the track may have been too slow to push the runners.

Correia couldn't stand success; LaRouche, the first hitter in the fifth, took him deep. Morse followed with a single, but Snyder gunned him out trying to steal, followed by a Hairston K. But a two-out single by Pudge did KC in; Clint Hurdle replaced him with Daniel McCutchen, who got the final out.

For Correia, who didn't have his command today - he was up and his balls were flat - it was a long afternoon. In 4-2/3 innings, he gave up five runs (four earned) on eleven hits with two walks and 2K's; he threw 85 pitches.

The Bucs tried to rally in their half inning with one-out knocks by Overbay and Walker, but groundouts by Jones and Pedro ended the threat. Marquis picked a one-hop throw out of the dirt to save a run; with two hits and that play, he's doing it all for Washington this afternoon.

The sixth and seventh frames went quietly; no one got past first. Mike Crotta and Tyler Clippard both came on in the seventh. Crotta cracked first, in the eighth. Hairston singled, and with an out, the Bucs couldn't turn two on a slow chopper hit by Joey Cora. It cost them when Laynce Nix doubled him home to up the Washington lead to 6-3.

Snyder singled with one away, but Cedeno bounced back to the mound, hitting into the Pirates' third DP of the game. Jose Veras put up a zero in the ninth and Drew Storen did the same for Washington, though not without a moment or two of low comedy.

McCutch got an infield single with one away and motored to third when Jerry Hairston threw away his second ball of the game and Danny Espinosa compounded matters by losing the ball in the stands when he tried to take it out of his glove. Then McCutch gave us the a Lastings Milledge moment when he tagged on a fly ball to right; Jayson Werth threw him out tagging on a bang-bang play.

Hurdle and McCutch argued the play, but it did look like McCutch was out by a hair. Safe or out isn't the point; when you're down by three runs with one at-bat left, why would you even consider taking the risk if you couldn't stroll home?

It's just part of the growing process, we hope.

The Bucs had eleven hits, two walks and reached twice on errors, but four twin killings pretty much negated the attack; they did OK with RISP, going 3-for-10. But they had the lead off hitter aboard for four of the six innings Marquis pitched, stranding seven.

A pair of lefties, Paul Maholm and John Lannan, will work tomorrow night's game.

-- Neil Walker ended an 0-for-13 streak with a first inning RBI single through the shortstop hole.

-- Jeff Karstens is listed as the team's starter for Thursday's game; it appears that he'll be Ohlie's replacement for the duration.

-- Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe doesn't think Ryan Doumit is the answer to Boston's problems behind the plate, but mentions that Chris Snyder, who he writes "runs a good game" is available.

-- Scott Olsen is still in extended camp in Florida, rehabbing after his hammy injury. Neal Huntington told's Jen Langosch "...he was coming off of an [arm] injury to finish the season last year and probably would have been behind in Spring Training as it was. The hamstring injury ultimately set him back even further."

-- Matt Stairs is still stuck on 99 career pinch hits; he struck out in that role today.

Happy Holidays

Will and I wish everyone and their families a joyful Easter/Passover.

-- Today's game will feature Kevin Correia and Jason Marquis, a pretty good match-up. Gametime is scheduled for 1:35 PM, and it will be shown on Root Sports. No word yet on whether the Easter Bunny will make an appearance at PNC to hawk Build-A-Bunny giveaway day.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Chris Snyder C, Ronny Cedeno SS, Kevin Correia P.

-- Livan Hernandez wasn't happy about the warm-up time he had before last night's game. He told George Von Benko, writing for, that "It's difficult when you come to the park and you are waiting another hour or two hours. They got me quick, because they came in and said, 'Half an hour.' I didn't know it was going to be like that. They've got to do a better job and let us know. For the starting pitcher to come from the bullpen straight to the mound is not enough for me."

Colin Dunlap of the Post-Gazette also had a piece about the vet pitcher's beef, and Hernandez implied to his ears that Jeff Karstens had more time to prepare for the outing.

It took Pittsburgh a while, but the town finally got its' own Watergate. But geez, to GW half an hour seems like plenty of time considering the conditions. Maybe some sour grapes after being lit up rather than Bucco machinations is at the heart of this tempest in a teapot.

-- The rainy weather hasn't been very kind to either team. The Pirates will play 29 games in 30 days because of make-ups with 17 straight matches starting in early May, and the Nats are in the early stages of a sixteen game stretch without a break and a 32-games-in-33-days schedule ahead of them.

-- Michael Barr of Fangraphs ranks the third basemen in a post today. He has Pedro in the third tier of hot corner players, in some fairly respectable company - Michael Young, Mark Reynolds, Martin Prado and Casey McGehee - but still a couple of steps away from the elite.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bucs Beat Rain, Nats

Hey, it wouldn't be Pittsburgh without a little April shower, right? But not enough tonight to deep six the game; it was just delayed an hour or so. Then Porky Chedwick, the 93 year-old "Daddio of the Raddio" threw out the first pitch and took a tumble. He was helped off the field, and seems no worse for the wear and tear.

After looking fairly inept at the dish during the last series against the Fish, the Bucs recovered their first inning mojo and jumped on the soft-throwing Livian Hernandez for five get-go runs.

McCutch singled and Jose Tabata doubled to put runners at second and third; a Lyle Overbay single brought home a run and had Bucs on the corners. Neil Walker K'ed, but a Garrett Jones double and Dewey knock made it 3-0, runners still at the corners.

Ryan Doumit was caught stealing, but Ian Desmond dropped the ball on the tag to allow him to keep the base, and it cost the Nats a pair when a Pedro bouncer and Ronny Cedeno single made it 5-0.

The Nats got a run back when an Adam LaRouche smacked a leadoff double and was chased home on a Michael Moses knock. The Pirates countered when McCutch walked, stole a base, went to third on a bad throw by C Wilson Ramos and came home on a Tabata sac fly. It was 6-1 Pirates after two innings.

Jayson Werth homered in the fourth; a pair of two-out walks in the sixth followed by an Overbay single kept the margin at five.

Karstens gave the Pirates six solid innings, but was gassed for the seventh. A leadoff double followed by a single put runners on the corners for Washington, and out came Captain Hook. Clint Hurdle didn't waste any time summoning Chris Resop to the hill. JK went six innings, surrendering two runs on six hits with a walk and three K's, throwing 85 pitches.

Resop came through big-time, whiffing the first two batters he saw and getting Father Time, Matt Stairs, to line out to Pedro to keep the Nats off the board. Joe Beimel and Evan Meek closed it out, and the Buccos start this home stand with a strong 7-2 win.

The Bucs had nine hits to go with three walks, and stranded just five runners, going 5-for-9 with RISP. McCutch stole two more bases, and Tabata added one. All in all, a good way to start the home stand.

Kevin Correia will try to keep things rolling when he takes on Jason Marquis on easter at 1:35 PM.

-- Brandon Wood was given Jack Wilson's #2 as his uniform number.

-- Evan Meek now has six consecutive scoreless appearances.

-- Ron Burkle, deep-pocketed Penguin owner who was said to be sniffing around both the Pirates and Nationals, has joined Steve Garvey's group that is trying to purchase the Dodgers, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.

-- Nat's OF Jason Werth is Ducky Schofield's grandson; Schofield, a utility infielder, played a big role in the 1960 championship, taking over short when Dick Groat was injured. Werth told Jen Langosh of that "People come up to me all the time, especially people from Pittsburgh, and they tell me they remember my grandfather and what he did for the team and the organization and the city, and it's pretty special for me."

-- Jay Bay finally returned to action for the Mets. He went 2-for-4 with a homer and 3 RBI.

Rainy Day Notes

The bad news is that last night's game was rained out; the silver lining is that the Pirates bullpen really needed a day off, and a rain-out is as good as a complete game to them.

-- Jeff Karstens and Livian Hernandez will try to get it on again tonight, if the weatherman cooperates (the forecast calls for scattered showers this evening, even though ol' Sol has made an appearance this afternoon).

The game is scheduled for 7:05 PM and will be broadcast on Root Sports. Tonight's give-away is the ever-popular Andrew McCutchen action figure, although Bucco umbrella night would be a more apt promotion.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Ryan Doumit C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Jeff Karstens P.

Caveat Emptor - this is yesterday's lineup; we'll edit it if there are any changes. We expect Clint Hurdle will let Brandon Wood figure out what time zone he's in before penciling him in the order, although one can never discount the effects of an adrenaline rush.

-- Wood will be in uniform tonight; he's supposed to arrive in Pittsburgh between 8-9AM on a red-eye from LA. Hope he's good at power naps and doesn't catch a touch of SAD (seasonal affective disorder, better known as the rainy day blues/cabin fever, an epidemic in town this year.)

Pedro Ciriaco is likely to return to Indianapolis with Wood here; he was called up from the Tribe as infield insurance until BW's arrival.

-- Starling Marte had three hits and six RBI in Altoona's 15-inning marathon victory over Richmond last night. He tied the game in the ninth with a two-run single and capped it in the fifteenth with a bases-juiced triple. Marte only had 3 RBI going into the game.

He's not overmatched in AA, though - he's hitting .364 with an 11 game hitting streak, and has reached base in all 13 games the Curve have played.

Give the bullpen (Brian Leach, Tim Alderson, Mike Dubee, Tom Boleska, Anthony Claggett & Noah Krol) huge props. They threw goose eggs for ten frames, allowing three hits and striking out a dozen. Of course, mirroring the big team, they walked seven.

-- Kyle McPherson pitched a dandy for Bradenton last night, leading the Marauders to a 4-0 win over Fort Myers. He went seven innings, giving up five hits and striking out six without issuing a free pass. (Terry Mathews of Pirate Prospects has a report on his outing). Jarek Cunningham smoked three doubles to prime the attack.

-- Colin Fry of the Associated Press has the details of Ryan Braun's new five-year, $105M contract extension:

"The agreement includes a $10 million signing bonus payable in four equal installments each April 1 from 2012 through 2015. Of his salary, $4 million annually from 2016-18 will be deferred without interest and $3 million a year in both 2019 and 2020. The deferred money will be paid in equal installments each July 1 from 2022 to 2031."

"Braun signed a seven-year deal in 2008 for $45 million. His newest contract runs through 2020 and the Brewers are committed to paying him at least $145.5 million."

The deal probably doesn't leave much left in the kitty for Prince Fielder, who becomes a free agent after this season. And it surely sent shivers down the spines of Bob Nutting, Frank Connelly and company to see another mega-contract agreement reached in the Central Division.

To give you an idea of how far behind they are in salaries, here's the Central 2011 payroll breakdown according to Cot's Contracts:

-- Chicago Cubs, $134M
-- St. Louis Cards $109M
-- Milwaukee Brewers $83M
-- Cincinnati Reds $80M
-- Houston Astros $76M
-- Pittsburgh Pirates $42M

Sooner or later, the purse strings will have to loosen, no matter what industry model they follow, as the bar keeps being raised higher and higher and their young guns pile up service time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Pre-Game No-Game Notes

All for naught; the game has been postponed and will be played Monday night. And what makes them think it'll be any drier then?

-- Jeff Karstens faces off against Washington's Livian Hernandez tonight as the Bucs return home. The game is scheduled for 7:05 PM and will be shown on Root Sports. EDIT - no, not tonight. But both teams are expected to keep the same starters for tomorrow.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Ryan Doumit C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Jeff Karstens P. Should be the same tomorrow, too.

-- The expected market for Brandon Wood never developed; the Bucs took the DFA'ed Angel SS as a waiver claim, which shows just how far his star has fallen. Josh Rodriguez was let loose; if unclaimed, the Rule 5 selection has to be offered back to Cleveland. They also recalled Pedro Ciriaco, probably so the bench wouldn't be short until Wood arrives in town.

The pick-up can't hurt, considering Ronny Cedeno's start and JR's play off the bench, but smacks of the Andy Marte/Josh Fields acquisitions to ol' GW. Well, at least there's a real SS on the bench now. If you're wondering, Wood is out of options and will be arbitration-eligible after this season.

Wood has a fan in Tony Sanchez, who tweeted: "Played with Brandon Wood in the Fall League. Awesome guy with big time talent. You guys will love him."

Matt Eddy of Baseball America says this about the once big-time prospect: "We'll know a lot more about Brandon Wood after he gets a shot to play every day for the Pirates...A change of scenery will do him good. But even if he doesn't quite break through, he'll have a long Triple-A career if he wants one. It's hard for organizations to find true power bats on the minor league free agent market who can also play a skill position like third base or shortstop."

If nothing else, it shows how little faith the suits have in Ronny Cedeno, who's hitting .170 with three errors in the early going. Wonder how long it will take to plug Wood into the everyday SS gig?

-- Speaking of AAAA SS's, the Nats called up Brian Bixler.

-- The Nationals own the MLB's second-lowest team average at .218, behind only San Diego (.217). Those numbers make the Pirates .239 team BA look a little better.

-- McCutch's day off Wednesday was to allow him to spend the day with his ailing father, who is in a Florida hospital. Best wishes for his speedy recovery.

-- Jose Ascanio was hit in the temple by a line drive yesterday, but is back in the clubhouse today. He says he's ready to go, but still has to pass a series of medical tests before he's cleared for action.

Buc Broomed 9-5

Well, the road warriors couldn't keep their new-found status going; Pittsburgh met its Waterloo at Sun Stadium last night as they were swept by Florida, losing their third straight to the Fish 9-5.

The starting pitcher again failed to last long enough to break a sweat. James McDonald threw three forgettable innings, giving up eight runs on six hits, three walks, a hit batter, and three K's, not to mention a pair of big blasts.

And again, like Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton before him, control and the bottom of the Florida order gave him fits.

A pair of walks and a single put him in a second-inning jam; Scott Cousins got him out of it when the seven hitter turned a heater down the middle into his first career homer to make it 4-0. The Marlins kept up the pressure by loading the bases again with one out, and got another tally when the Bucs couldn't turn an around the horn DP to go up 5-1.

In the third, it was more of the same. A walk and double after one away came across when Brett Hayes, the back-up catcher and eight hitter, homered. J-Mac got through the inning, but that was the ball game.

His velocity is as good as last year's, but he's been working on mechanic issues this season, primarily aimed to get the ball down in the zone. It hasn't kicked in yet. Missing the majority of camp didn't help the process; let's hope the light goes on before long.

At least Pedro found his swing in the Miami night, collecting three hits. His second inning homer broke a 23-inning Bucco scoreless streak, he scored in the fifth, and had an infield single to plate another run in the sixth. El Toro scored twice, too.

The Bucs put up three runs during the sixth frame and threatened to make a game of it, but the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez kept it in hand. With the bases loaded, one away and the scored tightened to 9-5, Matt Diaz shot a ball up the middle that was ticketed for center, but Ramirez made a diving snag and turned the hard-hit ball into a 6-4-3 inning ender.

Again, the Pirate bullpen was more than equal to the task. Mike Crotta gave up the only run via a Mike Stanton solo long ball while Daniel McCutchen, Jose Veras, Joe Beimel and Joel Hanrahan put up goose eggs.

How long that can continue is problematic; the Pirate starters threw just about twelve innings in the Marlin series, and no bullpen is built to eat that many innings; there were a pair of sub-five inning starts against the Reds, too.

Jeff Karstens takes the hill tonight against Washington's Livian Hernandez. In his last outing, he only lasted 4-1/3 innings, and he has a rep as a five-inning starter. It could be another busy night for the relief corps.

-- Josh Rodriguez collected his first MLB hit last night, an infield single.

-- The game is scheduled to be the last the Pirates play at Sun Life Stadium; the Marlins should have a new field up and running for 2012.

-- It doesn't appear anyone is biting on the Angel's DFA'ed SS Brandon Wood. The Pirates are thought to have put in a claim on him, and will find out at noon if he's a Bucco or not. Their claim is #1 on the list because the order is the reverse of 2010's finish until May, when the current 2011 record kicks in to determine the pecking order.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Before the First Pitch

-- James McDonald will take the hill against Chris Volstad tonight at 7:10 PM. The game will be aired on Root Sports.

-- Tonight's lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Chris Snyder C, Josh Rodriguez SS, James McDonald P.

McCutch is back, say no more.

-- Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects reports that Jameson Taillon will make his last extended training start today and then report to Class A West Virginia, where presumably five days from now he'll be ready to pitch. He'll be brought along slowly; Bucco pitching prospects at that level usually split games in two ("piggybacking") with each hurler getting four or five innings as a way to protect young arms from overwork.

-- Garrett Olson, DFA'ed to clear space for Joe Beimel, cleared waivers and the Pirates sent him to Indy.

-- Nathan Adcock, who KC claimed from the Bucs in the Rule 5 draft, has not too surprisingly been the least used Royal pitcher. He's appeared twice, worked 4-1/3 innings and given up six hits with no runs, walks or strikeouts recorded.

Bucs and Brandon Wood

The Bucco shortstop situation is quietly getting out of hand. Ronny Cedeno ha a line of .170/0/4, an unspectacular 2.1 UZR-150 rating, and lately has been making on-field decisions ala Lastings Milledge. The Pirate patience with him has been Job-like, but it looks like it's finally worn thin.

Not that there's much behind him. Rule 5 selection Josh Rodriguez is the reserve, and he's better suited to playing second than short. And with six strikeouts in ten hitless plate appearances (he has walked once), JR has the early look of Brian Bixler without the leather.

Things aren't all that much brighter on the farm. Primo prospect Chase d'Arnaud is batting .261, cooling off after a scorching start, and had an uninspiring (.247 BA) 2010 season at Altoona. More to the point, many scouting reports profile him as a second base guy in the show, not a SS.

Pedro Ciriaco has a plus glove and plus speed, but his bat doesn't match. He did have a strong spring, but he's hitting just .143 so far and doesn't draw walks, following a .265 average last year in AAA, with a lowly .281 OBP.

The other camp candidate, Corey Wimberly, was tried at short in camp, but became the Tribe's fourth outfielder after flunking the audition.

Prospects Jordy Mercer and Brock Holt are both at Altoona; Brock is hitting the ball (.307) and starting at short; Mercer isn't hitting the ball (.179) and looks like he's being groomed as a utility guy.

So there's not much at short in the organization, hence the interest in Brandon Wood. He was DFA'ed by the Angels, and Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors almost immediately had him popping up on Pittsburgh's radar. Bob Nightengale of USA Today went so far as to tweet that "The Pirates and others are all over him."

Wood is 26 year old right-handed batter with 494 career MLB plate appearances and a .168/.197/.259 line to his credit, along with 11 HR's and the baggage of 153 Ks to go with just 13 walks.

In 2006, he was Baseball America's #3 prospect (behind Delmon Young and Justin Upton) after smacking 43 homers in Class A; he was still a Top Ten guy the following season. But the higher he rose, the more apparent it became that he and the curve ball would never find a happy middle ground.

Still, he had enough pop that the Halos gave him a shot at starting at 3B last year. He wasn't moved to the hot corner because of his glove, but rather to make room for another hot prospect, Erick Aybar. The Angels hoped both could be fast-tracked to the show with the position switch; it was thought they let Chone Figgins leave to open a spot for him.

But Wood didn't rise to the occasion, and hit just .146 in 226 at-bats for LA in 2010.

But that shouldn't stop the Bucs, who missed out on JJ Hardy in the thin SS class of 2011. Wood is desperately in need of some plate discipline, but he's still young and has never gotten a real chance to get his feet wet in the show; contending teams have short leashes.

That shouldn't be a problem in Pittsburgh; they can give him a good, long look in a relatively stress-free environment. Whether they land him or not is still up in the air; the Angels and Bucs would probably have to swing a deal, because he's not likely to last on the market long enough to be claimed. There are other teams in the hunt for his services.

He is out of options, and somebody will have to exit the roster if he comes aboard, but at this point adding him and returning Rodriguez wouldn't hurt the cause, although Wood would have to learn to play second.

Keep an eye out for Brandon Wood; it will be no surprise if he ends up in the Black and Yellow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Second verse, Same As The First

Charlie Morton must not have watched Paul Maholm's game last night, because he sure didn't learn any lessons from it.

With two outs in the second, he gave up back-to-back singles to the 7-8 hitters, walked the pitcher on four straight tosses, and then gave up three more singles to the top of the order, and before you could "deja vu all over again," it was 4-0.

CM wasn't entirely to blame; his infield could have bailed him out, particularly on a two-out duble clutch by Neil Walker that would have ended the inning without a run, but didn't. A Jose Tabata misplay in center didn't help, either. Still, walk the pitcher and bad things usually happen; ditto when you count on the Pittsburgh infield to carry you to victory.

In the third, Morton gave up a lead-off single, followed by a walk and wild pitch. With one away, that pesky eight hitter, Emilio Bonifacio, singled home a run and an out later, Chris Coghlin roped a 3-1 pitch into right to bring home another run.

Morton lasted five frames, giving up six runs (and like yesterday, five were brought home after two outs) on ten hits, walking three and whiffing six with a wild pitch; he threw 91 pitches. All but one out was recorded via the ground ball or K; two hits were liners, the rest were grounders that found their way through the infield.

His mound foe, Ricky Nolasco, was cruising.

He wasn't quite as dominant as Josh Johnson was last night, but plenty good enough. One guy was stranded at third and Pedro, who had walked with two away, was gunned down at home after a two-out double by Chris Snyder in the sixth. Nolasco worked seven frames, giving up four hits, walking one and K'ing eight.

Again, the bullpen in the persons of Chris Resop and Evan Meek, did their job, but the result was the same as yesterday's: Florida 6, Pittsburgh 0.

James McDonald will try to salvage a game tomorrow when he takes on Chris Volstad tomorrow night. The Bucs return home Friday to match up with the Nats.

-- The Pirates' scoreless streak is now at 22 innings.


-- Charlie Morton faces Florida's Ricky Nolasco at 7:10 PM. The game won't be televised.

-- The lineup: Jose Tabata CF, Matt Diaz LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Chris Snyder C, Ronny Cedeno SS, Charlie Morton P.

McCutch gets a day off (it's not a blow and not injury related; he was given a leave to attend to personal business) and that earned Matt Diaz a trip to the two hole.

Ah well, it's not like Clint Hurdle has a lot of choices. Still, that's why we would have liked to see a Pedro Ciriaco or Alex Presley on the bench; both have the skill set (ie, they can run) to bat second if duty called.

-- The Pirates signed a pair of relievers to minor-league deals today according to a Matt Eddy (Baseball America) tweet. RHPs Blaine Boyer and Brett Sinkbeil were added to the roster.

Boyer, 29, has gotten into 233 MLB games since 2005 with a 4.81 ERA. He averages 6 K and 4 BB per game, just what the doctor ordered.

Sinkbeil is a bit more of a mystery man. The 26 year-old has all of two MLB innings, earned with Florida last year. He's a converted starter, going to the pen in 2009 at AAA New Orleans. And he got beat up pretty well those two seasons, going 2-8/6.07 ERA and 3-3/5.71 ERA. But he struck out eight batters per nine last year, and the Pirates just can't resist a gaudy K rate.

We understand signing Boyer; the Indy bullpen has been brutal in the early going and he's a vet. And apparently they see something in Sinkbeil. Both are organizational fillers at this point, though Boyer could get a call if the Bucs run through their bullpen sometime this year.

-- Justin Wilson got his first win at Indy, going six scoreless innings and throwing two-hit ball. He walked a pair and struck out four.

-- Jeff Locke threw a nice game for Altoona, too. He had a six-inning one-hitter, and left with runners on the corners in the seventh. The bullpen let him down, but his line still ended up six innings, two runs, three hits, and six Ks.

-- Corey Giger of the Altoona Mirror talked to Tony Beasley, who discussed why the last wave of franchise-saving prospects from the 2004-05 Curve - Jose Bautista, Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy, Brad Eldred, Rajai Davis, Ronny Paulino, Tom Gorzelanny and Matt Capps - failed to deliver on their promise.

-- Virgil Vasquez, who pitched in Pittsburgh in 2009, was released by the Angels today; he had been pitching in AAA.

Charlie Morton: Time To Mix It Up

Charlie Morton, the come-back kid of April, takes the hill tonight against the Fish. After last year's disaster, he's off to a 2-0, 1.64 ERA, 1.136 WHIP start in the first days of 2011.

There's been a lot made of the change in Morton's arm slot and his new-found awesome ground ball rate. But so far this season, Charlie has become a one-trick pony; 88% of his pitches are fastballs (he used it 59% of the time last year). The slider, which he used effectively last year, has been almost entirely forgotten; he throws it 1% of the time.

Listen, anyone can see that his sizzling start is a perfect storm of good fortune, as stat after stat shows.

His BABIP is .164, his strand rate is 90%, he's striking out 2.45 batters per nine while walking 4.91, and hitters make contact with 94% of the balls they swing at. Morton's ERA is 1.64 while his xFIP is 4.95. He's been dodging a lot of bullets.

But he can buffer the eventual return to earth by returning his other pitches to the mix. He'll need to work his slider/curve arsenal, pitches he threw 30% of the time in 2010, back into his pitching playlist.

MLB batters and pitchers engage in a constant cat-and-mouse game; the hitters will look for and adjust to his sinking fastball, and CM will have to counter with stuff that breaks rather than sinks.

We hope that eventually he'll learn to use his number one to set up the rest of the repertoire. Dialing his fastball down to 67% of his pitch count should make it more effective, and still be thrown enough to provide a security blanket. The breaking balls then should keep guys off balance and generate a few more swings-and-misses.

If his confidence in the heater carries over to his other pitches, he can become the complete pitcher that the Pirates hoped he would become, and one who can sustain his performance over the long haul.

(The numbers came from Fangraphs)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Florida Sinks Pirates 6-0

Pretty easy pair of story lines: Josh Johnson dominated the Pirates, and Paul Maholm/Mike Crotta combined to allow five two-out runs. As a result, the Fish took an easy 6-0 win over the Bucs.

It started in the second. With two out and the bases empty, Maholm hit Mike Stanton with a pitch. Then PM knocked down a liner back to box, but it kicked far enough away to go for a single. The eight hitter, Emilio Bonifacio, slapped a ground ball single to load the sacks.

The killer shot was delivered by the pitcher, Johnson, who lined a knock into right for two RBI. So the bottom of the order hung a deuce on Maholm, even being spotted a pair of outs.

In the fourth, the horses left the corral. A pair of lead-off doubles brought in a run. A single, sac bunt, and walk loaded them.

It looked for the moment as if Maholm might wiggle out of it after striking out Omar Infante. But the inning unraveled when he walked Hanley Ramirez on five pitches to bring in another run.

Mike Crotta came on, and Gaby Sanchez dropped a soft single in front of McCutch as two more Fish swam home. It was 6-0 Marlins, and that's all she wrote with Josh Johnson dealing.

Crotta, Daniel McCutchen and Joe Beimel shut the door after that, but it was too little, too late.

The Bucs didn't get their first hit until Garrett Jones led of the fifth with a single; a Dewey whiff and Pedro 3-6-1 DP took care of that. John Bowker got a one-away pinch single in the sixth; McCutch banged into a DP.

Johnson went seven innings, giving up two hits, one walk, and striking out nine (and that's following a one-hitter thrown during his last outing; he's 3-0/1.00). The Marlin bullpen nailed it down for him, K'ing three of the final six Buccos. The Pirates left just one runner on base all night.

For Pittsburgh, it's been feast or famine from the starters. They got two complete game gems against the Reds, with two 4-1/3 inning starts sandwiched between. Today was another of the famine outings; Maholm lasted 3-2/3 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits with three walks, a hit batter, and four Ks.

More disappointing was that he allowed the bottom of the order to beat him, finishing the second inning and priming the fourth. The first six hitters had two hits off Maholm; the bottom three batters had five knocks.

GW remembers 2008-09, when the bullpen was reduced to a collection of quivering arms after covering all the innings that the starters left unfinished; it happened to a lesser degree last year. Let's hope this is just a rough stretch the guys are going through, because we all know how ugly it can get when short starts become the norm.

Charlie Morton will take on Ricky Nolasco in the middle game tomorrow night.

Pitching Notes

-- Maybe Ohlie isn't a month away, or maybe the Bucco staff thinks Jeff Karstens is their secret weapon. Either way, the beat gang reports that Karstens is going to take Ross Ohlendorf's spot in the rotation again Friday night against Washington.

With an off day on April 25th, the Pirates won't need to go to a fifth starter again until May 2nd, so they probably decided that it wasn't worth the disruption to bring up Brian Burres or Brad Lincoln at this time.

-- Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart and Donnie Veal, a trio of arms that the Pirates have barely been able to evaluate during their stay in the organization, are working their way off the DL. Ascanio, who has suffered an assortment of nagging-type injuries, is close; he's beginning hid rehab at Indy tonight.

Hart, who had labrum surgery last May, still has a while to go. He's been in Florida, and the MLB staff is going to eyeball him while they're in Miami to see how he's coming along, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review.

Donnie Veal, who had TJ surgery last June, is expected to return to the hill sometime this June.

Pre Game

The Bucs will try to continue their road magic in Miami tonight as they take on the Fish. Paul Maholm goes against Josh Johnson at 7:10 PM; the game will be aired by Root Sports.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Ryan Doumit C, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Paul Maholm P.

-- The Pirates are in a four-way tie for second in the Central Division. The Bucs, Brewers, Cards and Cubs are all 8-8 and 1 game behind Cincy.

-- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs takes a look at Charlie Morton and comes to an unusual conclusion...

-- RHP Matt McSwain went six shoutout frames last night, as Bradenton rolled to a 13-2 victory. He gave up three hits and struck out eleven for the Marauders.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bucs Romp

Hey, can't say the Bucs haven't been getting off to good starts lately. Pittsburgh jumped on Travis Wood and the Reds for a three-spot in the opening frame tonight.

It wasn't via the longball like yesterday, but was almost as effective. A walk and four singles brought home the runs, with Neil Walker, Steve Pearce & Chris Snyder getting the RBI; Jose Tabata, Matt Diaz and Walker scored. Wood used 42 pitches to get through the frame.

Cincy got an ugly run back in the second. Scott Rolen led off with a ground rule double, and came around on a passed ball and throwing error by Pearce to tighten the score up at 3-1. The Reds made a little noise in the third, when Kevin Correia walked back-to-back batters with two away, but he got Rolen on a grounder to strand them.

Snyder and Ronny Cedeno began the fourth with ground ball singles, and Correia bunted them over. Wood fell behind McCutch 2-0 working him inside, and the third pitch was roped into left for a two-run double, and that brought on a new pitcher, Jordan Smith.

He K'd Tabata on three pitches, but Diaz took his next delivery the other way for an RBI knock. Walker came back from a 1-2 hole to draw a walk. After looking at a two-strike change up that barely missed, Pearce singled Diaz home. Lyle Overbay kept the parade going with an RBI two-bagger to left; Pearce had to hold at third as Walker came around.

A grounder to third ended the inning, but it was a good one, and the Pirates were up 8-1. And how often do the visiting Pirates chase the opponent's faithful out off their park after just 3-1/2 innings?

After a 1-2-3 Red fourth, Dusty Baker brought Matt Maloney in to stem the Black and Yellow tide. Without a ball being hit hard, he got into quick trouble when Cedeno and Tabata legged out infield singles, sandwiched around a walk and sac bunt, to load the bases with one away.

Maloney didn't help his own cause when he plunked Diaz on a 1-2 pitch to plate another run. But he escaped a big hurt when Walker banged into a 1-2-3 DP to end the frame. Correia tossed another 1-2-3 frame, and was sitting at 72 pitches after five.

The change-up baffled the Bucs in the sixth; Maloney struck out the side, though he yielded another infield single. But after six, every Buc position player had reached base at least twice (Tabata was aboard three times), and they all either scored or had an RBI. And Correia has been untouchable; he mowed the Reds down again in the sixth, and had surrendered just one hit over that span.

Maloney and Correia exchanged clean performances in the seventh, and Nick Masset took over in the eighth. The Bucs almost added on when with the bases loaded, Cedeno lined a shot, but right at SS Paul Janish. Correia kept dealing; a two-out single by Janish broke his streak of 15 consecutive outs.

Baker threw Aroldis Chapman on the hill in the ninth; he K'd a pair and lit up the gun at 100+ every other pitch (Great America registered one pitch at 106 MPH;'s radar had it at 102. Either way, some serious heat). But Kevin Correia was the story. Even though he gave up a two-run, two-out dinger in the ninth to Chris Heisey on a curve down the middle, he picked up the bullpen with his yeoman job.

And they were badly in need of a day off; Correia went all nine innings while J-Mac and Jeff Karstens together only lasted 8-2/3 in the two prior games.

Correia's final game line was nine innings worked, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits, with two walks and five K's, tossing 109 pitches. His season line is 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA, a great start for the free agent pick-up.

The Buc bats made it easy; they banged out 15 hits and drew five more walks, while going a sizzling 8-for-16 with RISP. It was a true team win tonight.

And amazingly, it was their third straight road series win; the Pirates are 7-3 as road warriors and .500 on the year. Let's hope they can keep the mojo going tomorrow night as they visit Florida, with Paul Maholm going against Josh Johnson.

-- Correia joined Charlie Morton in pitching a complete game against the Reds during this series. They had just one in all of 2010, by Paul Maholm, who shut out the Astros in July.

-- Steve Pearce collected his first two RBI of the season tonight.

-- A funny moment in the first. When Matt Diaz batted, the scoreboard showed John Bowker's picture. The Cincy staff then stuck up a new image - that of Argenis Diaz, who isn't with the team any more. The third time proved the charm.

-- If Ross Ohlendorf is still a month away from pitching, as the righty told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review, why isn't he retro'ed to the 60-day DL (he hurt his shoulder April 8th) and Brian Burres or Brad Lincoln added to the rotation? It would open a spot on the 40-man, fill the fifth spot with a full-time starter, and allow Jeff Karstens to return to the pen.

Before The First Pitch

-- Kevin Correia takes on Travis Wood in the 7:10 finale against the Reds. No TV tonight; the Pens are playing.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Matt Diaz RF, Neil Walker 2B, Steve Pearce 3B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Chris Snyder C, Ronny Cedeno SS, Kevin Correia P

Pedro gets the night off; Steve Pearce mans the hot corner against the LHP Wood and slides into the five spot, pretty high in the order for a bench guy. Maybe we'll see him giving Overbay a blow along the line, too, and start catching a few more at-bats as a two-position platoon player.

-- Garrett Jones has gone 6-for-10 with two homers and three RBIs in his last three games after an 0-for-10 home stand.

-- The Central Division race doesn't have anyone breaking away from the pack yet; five of the six teams are bunched within two games of the top spot, with only Houston eating dust.

-- Ben Badler of Baseball America said this about Gorkys Hernandez: "(He plays) Gold Glove defense, but cutting down on the length of his swing has been a problem for him back to his Tigers and Braves days. I want to see him keep this (good start) up for more than a week, but there's definitely a chance he's in store for a real breakout."

-- LHP Aaron Thompson of Altoona won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week Award by going 2-0 with twelve innings worked, giving up one earned run, three hits, two walks and K'ing seven. And he's not alone.

There was some excellent starting pitching in the organization yesterday: 26 innings, 3 runs (2 earned), 16 hits, 1 walk, 23 Ks, 0.69 ERA. And they were still just 2-2! The individual lines:

-- LHP Brian Burres threw seven innings of shutout ball for Indy, giving up four hits and whiffing eight. The Tribe bullpen wasted his effort, though, losing 6-4 in extra innings.

-- RHP Aaron Pribanic of the Curve allowed one unearned run in six innings, giving up five hits and whiffing a pair as Altoona won 4-1.

-- RHP Kyle McPherson threw seven innings for Bradenton, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out eight. The Marauders lost in 13 innings 5-4.

-- RHP Colton Cain went 6 innings for West Virginia, giving up a hit and a walk with 5K in the Power's 7-0 win.

Where Does Neil Walker Fit Down The Road?

Neil Walker, 2004's number one Bucco pick, burst on the scene last year after Aki Iwomura played his way back to the Far East. Considered a utility player, he instead took over second and put up a line of .296/12/66.

The switch-hitter was equally adept from either side of the plate, hitting .298 with a 117 OPS+ against righties and .295/116 against southpaws. Walker was consistent, too, never hitting under .270 in his monthly splits. He's still raking; it looks like his bat is going to play for a long time in the show.

But like so many young Pirate players, he was thrown into the fire, given a position that he had no prior experience playing. On the farm, he had caught and played the hot corner, where he was an All-Defensive International League gloveman, and was forced to learn his new position on the fly in the crucible of the MLB.

The Pittsburgh Kid proved to be a strong player on balls in the air, but showed some problems with range, turning the DP, and with balls hit at his feet. Considering that it was his first taste of middle infield play, his -17/UZR 150 wasn't a surprise. But even Delwyn Young, who did have the advantage of playing the position some in the minors, did better, with a -12 UZR 150 in 2009-10.

GW thinks the Bucs would be better served with Pedro at first and Walker back at third defensively. But it's hard to fault the Pirates for conceding some leather to get their best eight players in the everyday lineup, and they're paper thin up the middle.

And to Walker's credit, he's worked hard to make himself into a second baseman; he does have only 120 games and one camp under his belt at the position. His range has improved, both to the eye and statistically, he's stronger on the pivot, and has picked up the relays and back-up coverage like a trouper. The Pine-Richland grad is a textbook hustler. His UZR 150 is -9 this year, not good but much better than last season.

But here's the rub; he's 200+ pounds, 6'3", and not especially flexible; balls that stay down still give him trouble. And he needs to hone his technique; he plays a lot of grounders to the side rather than getting behind them, though that should be correctable. That's just a matter of him still playing bouncers like a third baseman covering the hole; he has some work to do on his middle infield footwork and positioning.

The draft should tell us where he fits into the Pirates' long-range plans as an infielder. If Pittsburgh takes Anthony Rendon, Walker will stay at second. But that's not a given.

Rendon has been plagued by nagging injuries, and is seeing a lot of time as a DH this year, yet hasn't gone long in his last 134 at-bats. Now the power number isn't the downer; he's being pitched around in college like he's the second coming of Barry Bonds.

What's worrisome is that his aching shoulder has taken him off the hot corner, where he has a rep of being a plus defender. It's supposed to be a minor injury that requires rest, but it will assuredly be taken into consideration on draft day.

UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole has emerged as the yin to Rendon's yang in this year's draft. They're considered 1 and 1-A among prospects, and if signed early, both have the potential to hit the bigs by 2013. It will be a flip of the coin decision; the Pirates need help in both areas.

If the brass go for Cole, the Pirate's have options with Walker. If they select Rendon, the starting 2014 infield could well be Pedro 1B, Walker 2B, Chase d'Arnaud/Jordy Mercer SS (although the Pirates have d'Arnaud pegged for short, many national services profile him as a second baseman) and Rendon 3B. The right side may not be the slickest fielding tandem in baseball, but it should be one with some serious punch at the plate.

So we'll see. One thing the team doesn't have to worry about is control of the 25 year-old Walker, though he will get pricey. Remember, they brought him up three weeks before Pedro and Jose Tabata, with the thought that he'd be a bench player until Steve Pearce, who he replaced, returned to action.

Those three weeks, along with a September call-up in 2009, will make him a Super 2 arb-eligible player. The Bucs will have contract rights to him through 2016, but he'll have four arb years starting after the 2012 season.

What is fairly certain is that The Pittsburgh Kid should have a long run in his home town. The question is just what glove he'll wear.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bucs Ride See Saw To 7-6 Win

Couldn't ask for a much better start; McCutch and Jose Tabata went deep to start the game. The Bucs added two more when Edison Valquez walked in a run - he issued three free passes in the inning - and Ronny Cedeno hit a sac fly to straightaway center that came within a few feet of being a grand salami.

But they refused to add on and chase Valquez. They left runners on first and third in the opening frame, Neil Walker hit into a first-and-second occupied 4-6-3 DP in the second, and McCutch was caught stealing on an overslide in the fourth with Tabata up.

It allowed the Reds to fight their way back. The red-hot Jonny Gome hit a solo homer, and Walker gave Cincy two-out life in the fourth when a grounder bounced off his mitt (it was ruled a single) and a pair of knocks made it 4-2.

Then Cincinnati blew it up in the fifth; maybe the extra three Red batters in the fourth and the quick 1-2-3 Bucco fifth caught up to JK. Miguel Cairo homered with one out, Joey Votto singled, and Scott Rolen doubled him in.

That was it for Karstens, who went 4-1/3 innings, giving up five runs on eight hits, a walk and six K's. Daniel McCutchen came on and got Gomes to fly out, but Jay Bruce rolled a single into right to give the Reds the lead, 5-4.

Jones tied it in the top of the sixth when he went long for the third time this year, and the Bucs regained the lead with two outs when Cedeno walked and pinch-hitter John Bowker doubled him home.

Jose Veras had an interesting inning. Lyle Overbay booted an in-between hop, Jones misread a liner that dropped in just off his mitt, and Miguel Cairo stuck out his elbow to plunk his way on base.

One away and the sacks were juiced, with Joey Votto and Rolen up. Veras struck out Votto on a high heater, and got Rolen to roll one to second. Walker knocked the spinner down (Tim Neverett aptly described it as a "tackle" of the ball), and threw him out from his knees.

A Pedro DP ended the Buccos seventh, and Hurdle tried to get another inning out of Veras after running through the pen pretty well yesterday. But a a homer to Jay Bruce tied the score, and with a runner on second and two away, Hurdle made a two-for-one switch, bringing in Chris Resop (Veras was at 40 pitches) and plugging Steve Pearce in at third. Resop got a pop out to end the frame.

In spite of their best efforts to shoot themselves in the foot, the Pirates went ahead in the eighth. Jones led off with a knock and stole second, and when Chris Snyder's sac bunt went through pitcher Logan Ondrusek, the Bucs had runners at the corners with no one out.

Cedeno pushed a weak bunt up the right side, and whether it was a delayed squeeze or his own brainstorm with the infield back (EDIT - he said after the game that it was his decision), it caught Jones by surprise. He broke home late, but appeared to score when the tag was high, around his hip. But he was rung up, as usually happens when the ball beats the runner to the base.

Pearce popped out, but clutch McCutch dropped a soft two-out single into center. Snyder chugged home, but his run was almost nullified when Cedeno steamed into third, his hard slide barely beating the throw. And that would have cost Pittsburgh the run; Snyder was still two steps from home.

We assume RC took a calculated risk with the play in front of him to draw the throw and give the plodding Snyder a better shot at scoring, and it worked by the slimmest of margins. (He may have had a brain cramp, too, or thought the throw was going home; there was a play on Snyder available so we're giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

Mr. Eighth Inning, Evan Meek, took the hill. He didn't last long, and was probably on a short leash to start with after working yesterday. After an opening K, a ground ball single and walk brought about another twofer from Hurdle, who replaced Jones Tabata with Matt Diaz and brought on a fresh Joel Hanrahan in an effort to close out the game.

Hanny worked to Rolen, who roped a heater a couple of feet to the SS side of second. A diving Cedeno snagged the slicer on a sweet play, doubling off the runner at second and preserving the lead.

The Bucs left Walker on at second in the ninth, and Hanny stayed on the hill, trying for a five-out save. He got it, but not without a couple of Maalox moments. He got the first batter on a soft roller to Pearce, and Bruce followed with a swinging bunt that Snyder tossed over Overbay's mitt.

Walker made a hustle play to back up the throw, and cut it off by the stands. Bruce took a step toward second, saw Walker with the ball, and trotted back to first. The throw beat him easily to the bag, and he was rung up. In this case, two wrongs did make it right for the Bucs.

But the drama was just beginning. Edgar Renteria hit a hopper over the mound, and it more or less died at Walker's feet for a single. Paul Janish punched a grounder into right through the hole. A wild pitch and walk loaded the bases for Drew Stubbs.

Hanny fell behind 2-0, Snyder set up right over the middle of the dish, and Stubbs sat on the heater. He got it, but didn't catch enough; he skied it into medium right center, McCutch waved his arms, squeezed the ball, and the Pirates took a 7-6 white-knuckler from the Reds.

Kevin Correia goes against Travis Wood tomorrow night as the Bucs improbably go for their third straight road series win.

-- McCutch must like leadoff; he was 3-for-3 with two walks, a run scored and 2 RBI.

-- Tabata stole his ninth base; as of now, he has the NL lead.

-- Each club hit three homers, and all six were solo shots.

-- Pittsburgh drew eight walks today after drawing seven yesterday.

-- Pedro's early season woes continue; he was the only Pittsburgh starter not to reach base, and struck out two more times. He's hitting .193.

-- In spite of all the action, Hanrahan only threw twenty pitches; we'd assume he'll be good to go if needed tomorrow night. Meek and Veras, though, will probably get an off day. Considering all the innings the pen has had to pick up the last couple of days, Hurdle has done a good job keeping guys fresh.

-- When McCutch and Tabata started the game with back-to-back homers, it was the third time that's happened in Bucco history. It last occurred in 1982 against the Astros, with the honors going to Omar Moreno and Johnny Ray. Today's victim, pitcher Edison Valquez, had the same thing happen on Opening Day against the Brew Crew.

BTW, it was McCutchen's seventh career lead-off homer.

-- Matt Capps has claimed the closer job at Minnesota, at least until Joe Nathan can conjure up his old mojo.