Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bucs Rally Late, Take 5-1 Win

Hey, interesting matchup tonight. James McDonald sets up everything off his heater; RA Dickey throws the knuckler. It's the classic 95 MPH vs 75 MPH face off.

Jose Tabata started things off by doubling to right; Josh Harrison dutifully moved him to third on a grounder behind him. But McCutch K'ed, Neil Walker grounded out, and so went the early threat.

Angel Pagan copied JT and opened up the Met half of the inning with a two-bagger to right. A grounder got him to third, and he came in with Jay Bay banged out a two-out, 20 foot infield single. Shades of last night!

The Bucs went down in order in the second; the Mets got a lead off walk, but a one-out 6-4-3 closed that chapter. Pittsburgh made some two-out noise in the third with a Tabata walk and Harrison knock (his first MLB hit), but McCutch whiffed again; apparently he and the knuckler are akin to a mongoose and cobra. Pagan collected his second hit with one away, but was stranded by the New York nine.

Six up, six down in the fourth. The Mets got a single from Daniel Murphy, but McCutch tossed him out trying to stretch it, helped by a nice dig and tag by Walker. The Bucs again went down 1-2-3 in the fifth; the Mets got a lead off walk that never moved past first.

For the third straight inning, the Bucs went down in order. The Mets made a run at J-Mac. A one out Carlos Beltran single and a two-out knock by Murphy set up Nick Evans; McDonald K'ed him. But that would be J-Mac's last batter. He went six innings, gave up a run on six hits, two walks, and had five whiffs after tossing 106 pitches.

Pittsburgh was sat down in order for the fourth consecutive time in the seventh; Evan Meek returned the favor. The Bucs had one last two-out bolt left in their quiver, though.

Ronny Cedeno singled, and sat on first after Dusty Brown popped up a bunt try. Matt Diaz whiffed - the ninth on the night for Dickey - but his knuckler darted the wrong way as he hit JT. That was followed by an RBI single by Harrison. McCutch gave up trying to hit the knuckler, and walked to load the sacks. Neil Walker took an 0-2 dancer into center, and two runs crossed the dish; the Bucs were up 3-1.

Jose Veras mowed down the Mets in the eighth, and the Bucs tried to add on in the ninth against Bobby Parnell. Garrett Jones flew out, then Cedeno reached on a throwing error by SS Tejeda. Dusty Brown singled to put runners on the corners, but Xavier Paul went down swinging. Brown stole second and JT walked.

Brandon Wood, who came in as a defensive sub (yah, we were wondering about that too) made Clint Hurdle look like a genius when he blooped home a pair on a 2-2 slider. That made it 5-1, and even though it wasn't a save opportunity, Hurdle brought in his hammer, Joel Hanrahan.

Hanny was lighting up the gun at 98. Bay flew out deep to left, Murphy K'ed swinging at a slider, and so did Nick Evans. It took the Bucs a while to get started, but a couple of clutch two-out, two strike hits, strong starting pitching and a perfect night from the pen carried the day as Pittsburgh won 5-1.

Kevin Correia takes on Chris Capuano tomorrow night.

-- Tonight's game marked only the second time in 25 tries that Pittsburgh came back to win when trailing after six innings. It was also the Pirates first win at Citi Field in nine tries. Nothin' like a little hidden vigorish, as the Gunner would say.

-- How much trouble did the knuckler give the Bucs? RA Dickey set his career strikeout high tonight, whiffing ten Pirates. He got McCutch three times. It was the second night in a row that a Met pitcher recorded a personal best K number against the Bucs; Dillon Gee struck out eight Monday.

-- Welcome to the bigs, rook: Josh Harrison took a pie to the puss, delivered by Paul Maholm during the Root Sports post game interview with Lacee Collins. Harrison got his first hit, RBI and run scored in his debut MLB game; pretty nice start, hey? The only bad part was that his parents were in town yesterday, but had to leave for home today, so they missed it all.

Dusty Brown also collected his first knock in a Pirate uniform.

-- The Pirates/Washington May 17th rainout will be made up as part of a July 2nd doubleheader at Nationals Park, first pitch at 3:35 PM.

-- Bradenton Marauder RHP Kyle McPherson gave up a solo HR with one out in the ninth to lose his bid for a no-hitter as he beat Brevard County 4-1. McPherson is 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA.


-- James McDonald goes against R.A. Dickey tonight at 7:10 PM. Root Sports will air the game.

-- The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison 3B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Garrett Jones RF, Ronny Cedeno SS, Dusty Brown C, James McDonald P.

OK, Josh Harrison is in and batting second, which allows Jones to drop into the six hole, a much better spot for him to hit from.

-- Pittsburgh has lost eight in a row at Citi Field since it opened in 2009.

-- Pirate starting pitchers have compiled a 3.01 ERA over their last 31 games; they've gone eleven consecutive games yielding 2 or fewer earned runs. The team record during that span is 15-16.

-- The Bucs are 21-3 when leading after six innings, 1-23 when trailing, and 2-2 when even. That's a lot of ball games decided early; the team ahead after six frames is 44-4 when the smoke clears.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bucs Metrophied 7-3

OK, so the Bucs don't have Pedro, Dewey or Steve Pearce and the Mets are without Jose Reyes, Ike Davis and David Wright. Hey, should end up a 10-8 game, right? Just joking; actually Charlie Morton (5-2, 2.61 ERA) and Dillon Gee (4-0, 3.83 ERA) are two of the better young righties in the NL, and they're hooking up tonight.

The Bucs went down in order; ditto for the Mets. Neil Walker started the second with a line single; he was forced at second by Lyle Overbay. He got to trot home when Chris Snyder caught a slider over the heart of the plate and crushed it over the wall in left center for his third homer.

Daniel Murphy led off with a single into center. Angel Pagan lined a ball off the glove off Brandon Wood at third; it fell in for a knock. Josh Thole bounced out to the right side, moving the runners to second and third with an out. Morton K'ed Jason Pridie, but Snyder muffed the catch; a run scored, another runner moved to third, and Pridie got to first on the passed ball.

Rueben Tejeda rolled a soft ball to the left side, and Wood had to eat it; the game was tied. Another passed ball moved the runners to second and third. Morton struck out Gee, and Willie Harris bounced out to first. Two passed balls, two infield singles - funny how the ball is drawn to the guys that can't catch it, hey? Anyway, it was quickly a new game.

Gee struck out the side; his rep is that of a wild child, but of his first 43 pitches, 35 have been strikes. He has 6 K's after three, matching his MLB career high. Morton got three grounders; a single, a force, and a 6-3 DP.

The Pirates went down quietly in the fourth. The Mets made some noise, and put up three hits without scoring. Ground ball single, ground ball 6-3 DP again, line single, ground ball single, ground ball out.

Ronny Cedeno broke a streak of nine straight Bucco outs when he dropped a soft single into left with one away in the fifth and was stranded there. With one away, Morton plunked Justin Turner with a curve. Carlos Beltran rolled a single into right. Murphy hit a seeing-eye grounder into left to load the sacs, and Ray Searage came out for a little chat.

On an 0-2 pitch, Angel Pagan got a sinker down and on the outside corner; he dribbled a bleeder up the middle. Cedeno made a diving stop, but the ball stuck in his glove and he couldn't get the flip to Walker, and it was 3-2 Mets. Josh Thole popped out in foul territory, and Pridie took a changeup deep to left, but there was room for Tabata to make the grab.

The good news is that the Mets have had plenty of opportunities to put the game away; the bad news is that the Bucs bats are frigid, and for that matter, so are their gloves.

They went down 1-2-3 in the sixth; their record after falling behind after six is 1-22. Tejeda started the Mets off by blooping a ball into short right and was bunted to second. A two-out wild pitch moved him to third, but Morton got Turner to bounce out.

After a Walker lineout, Overbay drilled a single into right, and a wild pitch moved him to second. Snyder legged out an infield single to the deep shortstop hole (no, that's not a typo) to put runners on the corners.

Cedeno bounced out to third and into a force at second to tie the game. He was caught trying to steal on the first pitch, but he did his job. That was it for Morton; Daniel McCutchen took the hill.

Morton gave up three runs (one earned) on eleven hits, all singles, striking out four and tossing 92 pitches. He did a good job keeping the game in hand, especially without a lot of defensive support. Last year's Morton would have given up twice the runs in half the innings.

McCutchen walked Beltran on four pitches, and Murphy followed with a line single into right. Pagan drove one to the wall in center; McCutch hauled it in as Beltran moved to third. Josh Thole took a knee high heater on a 2-1 count and pounded it into gap for a two-bagger that plated both runners, and the Mets had regained the lead and some; they were up 5-3.

Clint Hurdle called on Danny Moskos to climb the hill. He collected a pair of routine outs to stem the bleeding. Jason Isringhausen took the ball for the Mets.

Wood got ahead in the count 3-0, but eventually struck out for the second time. Xavier Paul caught a 3-2 cutter and roped it to the track in dead center for a loud second out. Jose Tabata bounced out to short to end the frame. Jose Ascanio came on to work the eighth; it looks like Hurdle has thrown out the white towel.

He got ahead of pinch hitter Nick Evans 0-2, and then fed him four straight balls. He fell behind Turner 3-0, and two pitches later fed him a sinker that he almost took out in center; it scored Evans. Two lead off walks and both scored.

Beltran got an infield knock to put runners on the corners. Murphy hit into a force out to bring home another run. JA fell behind Pagan 3-0 before getting him to ground out to finish the frame.

Francisco Rodriguez took over in the ninth. with one out, McCutch walked and Walker drove a ball to the track in center that Pagan ran down, yet another long out.

Hey, tough day at the office. Today's storyline was pretty simple: everything the Mets hit, at least against Morton, had eyes, and everything the Bucs hit found a fielder. mama said there'd be days like this. Still, there are a couple of questions tonight's contest highlighted.

Brandon Wood is neither hitting nor fielding, and Jose Ascanio has spent his Bucco career either on the DL or getting lit up. We've beaten this horse before, but just because you're out of options or once made BA's prospect list doesn't mean you should taking up a roster spot.

There's no logical minor league candidate to replace Wood right now, but if we were evaluating, we'd be checking out Josh Harrison during his 15 day audition period. And if he looks like a guy that can play off the bench, we'd keep him when Steve Pearce comes back. Heck, Wood makes us miss dear ol' Delwyn Young.

As for Ascanio...he may have a great arm, but if it doesn't translate into outs, it's not worth a MLB roster spot. Maybe injuries have derailed him, and some time in the minors might bring back the mojo. But now he's just taking up time and space. Tim Wood has been doing OK at Indy and can bring the heat; he should be able to handle a low-leverage bullpen gig.

We won't get involved in the Xavier Paul-Alex Presley debate. But a solid argument could be made that they picked up the Dodger version of what they already had on the farm.

The Bucs under the current FO have never been able to build a solid bench, a combo of iffy evaluations, warehousing of out-of-option guys, and closing the deal on the hard sell that coming to Pittsburgh requires. But taking that next step will require depth, and the Pirates need more Steve Pearce type guys on the roster.

-- Keith Law of ESPN just ran his mock draft and has the Bucs selecting Gerritt Cole, saying "The Pirates are still seriously on Danny Hultzen and Bubba Starling, and I wouldn't rule Anthony Rendon out entirely, but my gut tells me right now they'll find Cole's raw stuff -- he hit 101 for me on Friday night and touched 100 many times, including in the eighth inning -- too good to pass up."

-- We meant to post this last week; this article is an interesting read. Howard Bryant of ESPN asks "Where does medical science end and ethics begin?" It does get awfully murky.

-- As John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus noted, it was a "good day for Mount Lebanon grads: Don Kelly makes game-ending diving catch for Tigers, Josh Wilson homers for Brewers."

Lineup, Call-Ups, Draft

-- Charlie Morton faces off against Dillon Gee tonight at 7:10. Root Sports will broadcast the game.

-- The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Garrett Jones RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Chris Snyder C, Ronny Cedeno SS, Brandon Wood 3B, Charlie Morton P.

No Josh Harrison in the lineup; we wonder if Brandon Wood is on a short leash or if Clint Hurdle is going to give him a few games to show if he still can.

-- It's official: IF Josh Harrison and C Dusty Brown are coming to Pittsburgh from Indy. Ryan Doumit (ankle sprain) and Steve Pearce (strained calf) went on the 15-day DL, and Ross Ohlendorf was switched from the 15-day DL to the 60-day, tying up all the loose ends.

And because so many have asked, Jason Jaramillo suffered an elbow injury about ten days ago. He's just been cleared to play, but only as a DH, so he isn't physically able to serve as the reserve catcher. Brown's promotion doesn't necessarily mean he's passed Jaramillo on the depth chart, and JJ is still on the 40-man roster. (Edit: Indy's Scott McCauley just tweeted that JJ is now on the DL.)

Brown, 28, caught 13 games in 2009-10 with the Red Sox, and went 4-for-15 (.267) with a homer, so he's familiar with the back-up role.

-- Jose Reyes will miss the series after learning that his grandmother just passed away. He's on bereavement leave, and is headed back to Santiago in the Dominican Republic for her funeral. David Wright and Ike Davis are also out with injuries.

-- Jeff Passan of Yahoo!Sports takes a look at the top contenders for the numero uno slot in the upcoming draft, with some Pittsburgh-oriented commentary.

Minor League Moves

Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reported that 1B Miles Durham, C/OF Eric Fryer, and 2B Shelby Ford were promoted to AAA from Altoona. 1B Matt Curry (West Virginia), 2B Greg Picart (Indy) and C Travis Scott (Bradenton) join the Altoona Curve as replacements.

Fryer, 25, (.345/5/16) and Curry, 22, (.361/9/34) are prospects; we'll see if their mojo carries over to the next level. Fryer is a solid defensive catcher with a good stick and is fairly athletic, but as noted by Williams, he's been blocked everywhere he's gone: by Tony Sanchez in Pittsburgh, Jonathan Lucroy in Milwaukee and Austin Romine/Jesus Montero while with the Yankees. He came to Pittsburgh from NY for Eric Hinske.

Both Doumit and Snyder are in option years. Dewey has a two-year option worth $7.25M in 2012 and $8.25M in 2013 with a $500K buyout; Snyder has a $6.75M option for 2012 with a $750K buyout. Those figures presage big league jobs behind the plate opening up as soon as next season. Fryer's versatility - he's started 14 games at catcher and 15 in the outfield - could merit him a look as the Bucco back-up.

Curry, a 2010 draft pick (16th round) from TCU, has some power and a good eye; his OBP is .446 during his minor-league career and he has an almost even split between K's and Ws. He hit .299/7/29 at State College last year, and could be a fast mover; the Bucs are thin at first base, with Matt Hague of Indy ahead of him.

Holiday Notebook

Thank you to all the brave men and women defending our country and its ideals. You and your predecessors are the reason we can play ball.

-- The first game is a fairly dependable bellweather for the Bucs - they've won the series opener ten times, and gone on to take nine of those series. They'll have to bring their A game to New York today if they want that first win - the team is 0-7 at Citi Field since it opened in 2009.

-- When Dewey went down yesterday, Neil Walker became the back-up catcher basically by default. It's probably a good thing Chris Snyder made it through the game in one piece. Walker hasn't put on the gear since 2006, before being switched to third base. There is no reserve catcher listed on the Bucco MLB depth chart behind Doumit and Snyder.

-- Yesterday's outing stretched the Pirates starting pitcher's streak of giving up three runs or less to eleven straight games (and the skein is at ten games for two earned runs or less), dating back to a 4-2 loss to Washington on May 16th. Their record during that span is 6-5.

Overall, the Pirates' 2011 ERA is 3.51 (5.00 - 2010). The starters have a 3.69 ERA (5.28 - 2010), the bullpen 3.12 (4.57 - 2010). Good stuff from Ray Searage and his gang, and the defense behind them.

-- As Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review notes, we'll find out a lot about Charlie Morton in his next pair of starts. Lefties are hitting .341 against him, and the Mets and Phils, his next two opponents, have lineups that are loaded with left handed hitters. MLB is a constant cat-and-mouse game; we'll see if Morton can adjust.

-- Hard to believe, but the Mets' Jason Bay should be making his first appearance against his old homeboys since the three-team blockbuster deal of July 31st, 2008, that sent him to Boston. What ever happened to Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen and Bryan Morris - or for that matter, the linchpin of the trade, Manny Ramirez? Only Bay and LaRoche are drawing big league paychecks.

-- Speaking of Morris, there's some good news regarding him from the minor league front: he's back from a left abdomen strain and is pitching out of Altoona's bullpen until he builds enough arm strength to jump back into the rotation.

-- Bob Cohn of the Tribune-Review has an article on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of MLB's small revenue teams.

-- The Pirates announced plans for a 40th anniversary celebration of the 1971 World Series Championship team when the Bucs take on the Baltimore Orioles June 20th through June 22nd. It involves a couple of giveaways, a player recognition night on Tuesday, and a ticket special that's good for all three games.

Rumor Mill - Pearce, Dewey to DL; Brown, Harrison Up

Ok, the rumor mill (fueled by Dejan Kovacic's tweet) has both Steve Pearce and Ryan Doumit going on the DL, with C Dusty Brown (.263/6/19) and IF Josh Harrison (.321/2/11) getting the call to the show. If you're wondering, usual reserve C Jason Jaramillo has an elbow injury, so he's not available.

One of them will get the one open spot on the 40-man, and DK predicts that Ohlie will go on the 60-day DL to clear another space, so the remaining warm bodies on the 25-man roster should be safe.

We'd guess that Pearce and Dewey will both land on the 15-day DL, unless their injuries are more serious than they appear at first blush. Both will probably be further examined in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Pearce has a strained calf and Doumit suffered a sprained ankle.

It's frustrating not just to the team, but the players. Dewey was hitting .269/4/15 and having a fairly solid year, while Pearce (.291/1/10) was getting a chance to get some regular at-bats and taking advantage. His injury is eerily similar to the situation he had last year, when he was getting steady time and doing well at first before leg injuries derailed his season.

The moves sound kosher enough to pass along; the FO should make it official later today.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bucs Bats Go Quiet In 3-2 Loss

Hey, the storms rolled through Chi-Town, and the Buccos and Cubbies sharpened their gin rummy skills for a a few hands to kill the 2-1/2 hour delay. But play they did, starting at 4:50 after the fog and lightning rolled back into Lake Michigan.

And it started out just swell. With two outs, McCutch and Neil Walker drew free passes; Lyle Overbay brought them home with a two base rope into right. The Cubbies went down quietly.

Ryan Dempster regained his mojo against the bottom of the order; Jeff Karstens lost his. A-Ram took a first pitch heater down the middle and deposited in the seats to cut the lead in half. Carlos Pena lined a single, and with one away, Tony Campana got a single and error ruling on a bleeder to Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno threw the ball in the dirt, hurrying to get the fleet Camapana. It was his first misfire after going 35 games clean.

Beside missing the out, the runners moved to second and third, and Koyie Hill lifted a fly to right. Garrett Jones made a strong throw, but Pena beat the rap, and the collision also took out Dewey, who had the leave the game. The Bucs reported it only as a left ankle injury, but reports from Indy said that Dusty Brown was scratched from the lineup, so...

The Bucs got a two out single from McCutch, and the Cubs manufactured a run in the third to take the lead. Kosuke Fukudome opened the frame with a double, and a bunt and sac fly brought him home.

Pittsburgh went quietly in the fourth, as did Chicago. JT lined a two-out single in the fifth, and was caught stealing on a 3-0 pitch to Jones. Aye carumba! The Cubs got a one-out single from Dempster and a two-out knock by Darwin Barney, both bloops, and Karstens stranded them to get off the hook.

Walker dropped a soft liner into right with two outs - all four knocks have come with two away - and Overbay K'd to end the frame. Chris Resop came in to replace Karstens, who had thrown just 71 pitches. JK went five innings, giving up three runs (two earned), seven hits and whiffing four.

Resop put the Cubbies down in order. The Cubs went to their pen too, bringing on Kerry Wood.

Snyder greeted him with a line single to center. Brandon Wood wasted an at-bat, popping out while trying to bunt the big guy over. Cedeno ripped a slider to deep center, but Campana tucked it away. Xavier Paul hit for Resop and drew a walk. Tabata fell behind 0-2, worked the count full, and he blasted one to center that was hauled in on the track at the 400' sign.

Evan Meek took the hill in the seventh. After a K, Hill lined a knock to center. Blake DeWitt grabbed a bat, and drilled the second pitch to Walker for a 4-6-3 DP as Meek continues his good work since his return from the DL.

Sean Marshall came on for the Cubs, and Matt Diaz grabbed a bat and rolled the second pitch to second for the first out. McCutch lined out to right. Walker bounced out, and it took Marshall all of six pitches - they all hit the second offering - to retire the Pirates.

Daniel McCutchen got the ball in the eighth. Fukudome led off with a ground knock to right; Barney chopped into a force out; then got caught stealing; bad couple of minutes for him. Starlin Castro flew out to center, and the Bucs were down to their last three outs.

The Cub hammer, Carlos Marmol, took over in the ninth. Overbay joined the parade of loud out makers when he pounded one to the wall in straightaway center. Snyder walked on a 3-2 pitch to give the Bucs some hope. Wood pulled a slider well off the dish softly to short; he was out while Snyder galloped to second. Cedeno got three heaters and went down swinging.

It's a pity the Pirates are wasting such decent pitching; they didn't have a runner reach third all game, except in passing in the first frame. And with Pedro out and Dewey, maybe Pearce, joining him, the Bucs need to do something in a hurry.

Oh well, that's tomorrow night's worry, when Charlie Morton faces Dillon Gee at CitiPark.

-- The Pirates are 1-22 in games this season when trailing after six innings.

-- If Dewey is out (he was on crutches in the clubhouse and is officially listed as having a sprained left ankle), Dusty Brown would be the call-up as Jason Jaramillo has elbow issues. Brown isn't on the 40-man roster, but it has one opening.

-- And if Steve Pearce is out for an extended period and goes on the DL, we'd not be surprised to see Josh Harrison (.331/.371.469) come up from Indy and Brandon Wood get DFA'ed. There is no minor league infielder on the Bucs current 40-man roster, and Harrison looks like the best organizational bet for a spot starter even if he lacks corner power; Wood has done virtually nothing in his audition with the Bucs.

-- Finally, those awaiting Alex Presley's call back to the show will have to cool their heels until either an outfielder goes down or Xavier Paul plays himself out of the fifth outfielder role.

-- Freddy Sanchez got hit #1,000 today, a first inning single up the middle off the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo.

-- The D-Backs took a tiny jab at Pittsburgh on their official Twitter account with a tweet that said "Congrats to first place D-Backs Zach Duke (who) had never been in first place after April 10th with the Pirates during his six-year MLB career." They deleted it after a couple of Pittsburgh media guys jumped on it.

Game Notes

-- It might not be such a great day for baseball in the Windy City. There's fog, lightning, and thunder now, with rain predicted. (And they announced a delay at about 1:15) Better them...

-- Jeff Karstens goes against Ryan Dempster. The first pitch is at 2:20 and will be shown on Root Sports.

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

Pearce is off; no definitive word concerning his calf injury, except that there's no improvement yet. Jones looks like he's got the two-hole against righties.

-- The road warriors will travel to New York to play the Mets on Monday. NY won six out of seven in 2010 and swept Pittsburgh at Citi Field in September.

-- From Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review: " Just thinking aloud here: It would make a lot of sense to lock up closer Joel Hanrahan to a multi-year deal. Something like three years, $20 million might work. Hanny will make $1.4 million this year and has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He’d probably be in line to get upwards of $5 million in 2012 through arby."

The Bucs have a couple of contract decisions to face; McCutch is also high on the list. It's slowly getting close to the point where they have to pony up to keep guys around. And you can bet the fans will be keeping notes on whether they sign or trade their core.

-- The Bucs have 15 road wins; it took the team until September to reach that total last year.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dam Finally Bursts; Bucs Back Maholm For 10-0 Win

Ah, nothing like a damp, chilly day at Wrigley. And hey, with Paul Maholm pitching, the odds are that it'll be a quick game. He's been good and the Bucs don't waste any time behind him with things like baserunners.

The first inning amplified the point; Garrett Jones walked and was caught stealing. In the second, the Bucs started with a single and walk; the next three guys K'ed. They went down 1-2-3 in the third. Maholm, as usual, was dealing, using thirty pitches to mow down the first nine Cubs.

But the fourth inning provided some long overdue runs for the snakebitten Maholm and slacker Bucco attack.

McCutch dropped a soft liner into left to lead off the fourth. Neil Walker doubled going the opposite way, his ball just beyond the reach of Alfonso Soriano, to put runners at second and third (McCutch had to hold up to see if the ball would be caught or not). Steve Pearce bounced a single up the middle to put the Pirates up 2-0, and they were just starting.

Chris Snyder walked on four pitches, and Ronny Cedeno hit his second home run of the year into right center, dropping gently over the basket and into the first couple of rows, to give the Pirates a 5-0 lead. Pittsburgh scored more runs that one inning than they had in any previous PM game of 2011. Maholm was duly impressed; he cut down the Cubbies in order again.

In fact, he retired the first 13 batters he faced; Maholm didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, when Soriano doubled off the center field ivy with one away, a ball that barely eluded McCutch. Lou Montanez legged out an infield bleeder, but Maholm got a strikeout and fly ball to shut the door.

He was so good today that the Cubs wouldn't get another runner aboard until there were two out in the ninth, on another infield knock that ticked off Brandon Wood's glove.

The Bucs continued their onslaught. Overbay bombed his fifth of the season to straightaway center to open the sixth inning. Two batters later, Snyder swatted his second dinger of 2011 to left field.

McCutchen drilled his ninth home run in the top of the seventh, plating Jose Tabata, who had walked. The Pirates scored their final run on back-to-back doubles by Tabata and Jones in the top of the ninth. Every Pirate starter had a hit and either scored or drove in a run.

Maholm threw a three hitter with 4 K's and only tossed 91 pitches; his opponent, Randy Wells, threw 92 pitches in four innings. PM's 2-7 - with an ERA of 3.14. It was his third career complete game shutout.

Jeff Karstens will try for the sweep tomorrow afternoon against Ryan Dempster.

-- Today was the first time the Pirates hit four homers in a nine-inning game since smacking five long balls against Milwaukee on July 22nd, 2009. (The last prior 4-HR outburst was June 14th, 2008 at Baltimore.)

They also added three doubles; seven of their ten hits went for extra bases.

-- Today also marked the first time since 2008 that the Bucs have won four straight road games.

-- Neil Walker has hit safely in all 14 of his career games against Chicago.

-- The only bad news today was that Steve Pearce left the game in the fourth inning with soreness in his right calf. He's day-to-day; let's hope it's not a repeat of last season's injury parade.

-- Zach Duke threw seven innings of shutout ball in his initial start for Arizona tonight, giving up three hits, walking one and whiffing four. To boot, he hit his first MLB homer, a three run shot, to led the D-Backs to an 11-3 romp over Houston.

Notes, Beimel to DL, Moskos Back

-- Paul Maholm and Randy Wells will take the hill this afternoon. The game begins at 1:05 PM and will aired on Root Sports.

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

Jones replaces Pearce in the two-hole against righties in Clint Hurdle's new lineup shuffle, and Pearce seems to have earned the nod over Brandon Wood in Pedro's absence, at least until his next back-to-back 0-fers.

-- Randy Wells was activated from the DL and will be making just his second start of the season today.

-- Well, that was a quick bounce-back. Danny Moskos has returned to the show, and as the only southpaw will presumably get a little more work as Joe Beimel was put on the 15 day DL with elbow inflammation.

-- Buster Olney of ESPN has a piece on Joel Hanrahan's emergence as a top gun closer. All but the first few sentences are behind a pay wall, so be forewarned.

-- Couple of obscure but still kinda neat factoids re: Kevin Correia, tweeted by the team's Bucs Insider account: a) he's the first Pirates pitcher since Jason Schmidt in 1998 to own or share the big-league lead in wins (7) on May 27 or later, and b) he's also the first Pirates pitcher with at least six road wins before June since 1929, when future Hall-of-Famer Burleigh Grimes went 6-0 away from Forbes Field, per Elias Sports Bureau. (Grimes was a Pirate in 1928-29, winning 41 games.)

-- Pedro has been sent to extended spring training at Bradenton to work on his stroke a bit while calming his strained quad. He'll have a unique early rehab - they'll let him bat, but he can't run out any of his hits. Clint Hurdle told the beat gang that "They'll fetch the ball like a Frisbee, throw it back in and the next guy will come up."

Ohlie has also reported there to continue his painfully slow rehab from a bum shoulder.

-- The Pirate road record in 2011 is 14-12. They were 17-64 on the road last year. Now if they can only regain their PNC Park mojo. They're 9-14 at home this season, where they broke just about even last year, finishing 40-41.

-- The Bucs are starting a busy stretch of games, beginning with this series. They'll play 10 straight days, take a day off, then play another 16 in a row.

-- Andrew Lambo has been out of the Indy lineup since Sunday, but he's not hurt. After John Bowker's arrival, the FO decided to work on straightening out some mechanical issues in the cage rather than during games. The 22 year old's line is .212/3/15.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America still has the Bucs taking Anthony Rendon as the top selection in this year's draft.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bucs Hold Off Cubs 4-2

Hey, nice sunny day in Chicago, tho a bit on the chilly side as opposed to the Pittsburgh gray. It looked like a pitcher's day; the wing was blowing in at 10 MPH.

Jose Tabata lined a single to left out of the gate and stole second against veteran lefty Doug Davis. After an out, McCutch dribbled a ball into left to put runners on the corners. Walker hit a one hopper to third; JT broke on contact and was out at home with a half-slide, half-forearm splatter at the dish. He caught his ankle in the clay and limped off, but some ice, tape and grit kept him in the game. Matt Diaz hit a weak roller to second, and the Bucs running-scoring woes continued.

The Cubs threatened when Steve Pearce had a grounder pop out of his mitt on the exchange and A-Ram walked with two outs. Kevin Correia coaxed a Carlos Pena grounder, and so there was smoke but no fire in the first all the way around.

Chicago figured out a way to get Pittsburgh on the board in the second; play some little league defense. Chris Snyder walked and Lyle Overbay followed with a knock into right to put runners on the corners with no outs. Ronny Cedeno laid down a safety squeeze/sac; it went right back to the mound, where Davis dropped it to load the bases.

Correia hit a bouncer to Ramirez; he looked home and the ball fell to the ground to giftwrap a run. With an out, Pearce lifted a fly to medium left. Alfonso Soriano didn't get behind the ball and pegged the toss home sidearm and off-line as Overbay jogged home with the second run.

McCutch drove one to the track; the wind held it up and Soriano made the catch after bumping into center fielder Tony Campana. Thank you kindly, Cubbies. Correia 1-2-3'ed Chicago and both sides went down quietly in the third.

The Bucs added on in the fourth, thanks to some control woes by Davis. He walked Cedeno and with two away, ditto Tabata. He clipped Pearce on an 0-2 pitch, and then walked McCutch after a long at-bat to plate one. The Pittsburgh Kid broke out of an 0-for-17 slump with a shot up the third base line. Ramirez made a nice diving stop of the ball, but Pearce's headlong slide beat him to the sack as another run came home.

The Cubs tried to answer with a leadoff infield single, their first hit, and a soft two-out fly that dropped a step in front of McCutch. Correia got a pop out to squelch the rally.

The Bucs wasted two more walks in the fifth, though they did get Davis to the showers. KC set Chicago down in order.

With one out in the sixth, McCutch singled and stole second. Then he stole third. But he needed to swipe home, too; Walker K'ed and Diaz grounded out. Correia kept rolling; he set down the Cubs in order, putting seven hitters down in a row.

Snyder led off with a rope into right, but the Bucs couldn't get a runner to second. The Cubs couldn't even do that; Pena's leadoff single was promptly erased on an around-the-horn DP.

Pittsburgh went down quietly in the eighth; the gulls of the lake provided more action. The Cubs went to work.

Koyie Hill dumped a soft liner just over Walker's leaping stab, and Correia issued a one-out walk to Fukudome. After 108 pitches, Clint Hurdle gave him a pat on the butt and called for Jose Veras. Correia went 7-1/3 innings, giving up fours hits with two K's and two walks.

Veras went 3-1 on the first two batters he faced; he got the first on a short fly, but the next walked. That loaded the bases for A-Ram, who has 9 career grand salamis on his resume. After a little pep talk from Ray Searage, JV pumped a strike past him and then got Ramirez on a pop to Walker.

Diaz doubled with one away in the ninth; he was left at third. Joe Beimel took the hill for the ninth. He walked Pena - what is it today with Pirate relievers falling behind with a big lead? - and then gave up a dinger to Soriano. Hanny took the ball. Good call; he struck out the side for save #15. As for Correia, well, he's the first NL pitcher to notch seven wins in 2011, and his ERA is now 3.44.

The Pirates are still having all sorts of problems at the plate. Their runs where basically Cubbie gifts; the Pirates stranded a dozen and were 2-for-15 with RISP. That has to change.

We'll see tomorrow if their bats wake up. Surely Paul Maholm is due for an outburst as he goes against Randy Wells.

Off To Chi-Town

-- Kevin Correia takes the hill at Wrigley against been-around-the-block lefty Doug Davis. The game starts at 2:20 PM and will be shown on Root Sports.

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

It's the same lineup Clint Hurdle used against the Braves; expect to see JT leadoff, McCutch hitting third, and Steve Pearce/Brandon Wood platoon at third until Pedro's back.

-- This should be a big series for both clubs as far as relevancy in the NL Central is concerned. They share identical 22-26 records and are 6-1/2 games behind the Cards (five in the loss column). The two teams are perilously close to dropping into the second tier of the Central by Memorial Day as St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincy try to separate from the pack.

-- John Bowker hit .235 off the bench; he was sent to Indy and replaced by Xavier Paul, who is hitting .231 and has 14 K's in 42 at-bats as a Pirate. We're curious if he feels the hot breath of Alex Presley (.323/.366/.484) breathing down his neck in the Pittsburgh quest for a competent bench OF'er?

-- Matt Pouliot of Hardball Times says the Giants are suddenly in the market for a catcher after Buster Posey broke his leg; he has a list of potential candidates, including Dewey.

-- The Pirates signed five Latino free agents: Nicaraguan RHP Adolfo Flores, Dominican RHP Juan Mendoza, Panamanian IF/OF Edgar Munoz and Venezuelan OFs Anthony Claudio and Keybel Escobar. None are considered top-tier prospects.

-- Maybe way-back-when Bucco retread Ryan Vogelsong did find the light after all these years. The Giant RHP suffered his first loss of the year, going eight innings in a 1-0 defeat. He's 3-1 with a 1.77 ERA after a half dozen starts.

'Dice Claims City Crown

The Bucs were off yesterday, but PNC was still a bustling place. The Brashear Bulls and the Allderdice Dragons squared off for the City League Championship for the third straight season.

The third time wasn't the charm for the Bulls; Allderdice took it to them once again and carried home another trophy with a 4-0 win. The Dragons scored all four runs in the opening frame on two hits, two walks, two errors, plus a couple of mental miscues, and that would be all the runs to touch the plate Thursday.

Junior Blaise Galewski and senior Mike Pfleger teamed up to keep Brashear off the board. Galewski, who was also last year's championship-winning hurler, went five innings, giving up two hits, six walks, and whiffing six. Pfleger worked the last two frames without surrendering a hit and striking out a pair.

For Allderdice, it was their fourth consecutive City League crown. The last team to win four consecutive City League baseball titles was Peabody, who won six straight from 1969-1974.

Congrats to both schools and their teams on a season well played.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Catching Up with The Ol' Bones...

-- Mark Pouliot of Hardball Talk reports that "Ian Snell, who said he was retiring after he failed to make the Cardinals this spring, signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers on Wednesday...The Dodgers could use some starting pitching depth, so they’ll stash him away in Triple-A and see what happens."

-- Josh Wilson, a utility infielder who hails from Mt. Lebanon HS, was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers today off waivers from the D-Backs per a team announcement.

-- Ex-Bucco reliever Steven Jackson was claimed by the Reds today after being cut loose by the Dodgers according to Baseball America's Matt Eddy. He'll go to Triple A Louisville. In 2009, he pitched in 40 games for Pittsburgh and had a 3.14 ERA, but was rocked in 2010.

-- Adam LaRoche has been diagnosed with a large tear in his labrum, LaRoche also has a small tear in his rotator cuff. He's going to rest for two or three weeks, but may well face the knife after trying to play through the injuries, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson.

-- After making his final rehab start Monday for Triple-A Reno, LHP Zach Duke is set to make his Arizona Diamondbacks debut Saturday in Houston, according to his web site. He broke his hand in the preseason.

Bucs Go Down In Eleven 4-2

Hey, another lovely day, muggy with the sun popping in and out, a beautiful afternoon for baseball.

But it wasn't such an auspicious start for J-Mac. The first three Braves collected knocks, plating a run and leaving runners on the corners with no outs. But hey, a pop up and 4-6-3 cleaned up the frame pretty nicely, even if it did take 27 pitches.

The Bucs even threatened (that's about as far as they go lately) in the first. Steve Pearce singled with an out, and McCutch walked. And hey, Pearce even made it to third with two away, which is further than any Bucco reached last night. But there he stayed.

The second was quiet for Atlanta; nine pitches and three outs. The Pirates got a leadoff single; three outs later, there was still a runner on first.

The Tomahawk Choppers managed a two-out single in the third. Jose Tabata opened the Bucco half with a leg single to short, and he stole second. Pearce battled through an eight pitch at-bat and finally dropped one into left center for an RBI single, tying the game and ending the Bucco frustration streak at 21 innings.

Of course, the Bucs still weren't exactly in '27 Yankee offensive mode yet; McCutch grounded into a 4-6-3 DP and The Pittsburgh Kid whiffed.

McDonald put the Braves down in order in the fourth. The Pirates got a two-out double off the Clemente Wall by Lyle Overbay. Minor walked Ronny Cedeno intentionally, J-Mac whiffed.

Freddie Freeman led off the fifth with a true blue collar nine pitch at-bat, culminating with a double into left. With an out, J-Mac walked Minor on five pitches, but wiggled out of the inning without any further ado. Three up, three down for Pittsburgh.

With two away, McDonald fed Eric Hinske a 94 MPH heater right down the middle; he crushed it into the last row of seats in right field for his fifth homer, and it gave the Braves the lead again, 2-1. For Pittsburgh, Matt Diaz rolled a two-out knock into right, and Overbay smacked a single into center.

Fredi Gonzalez brought on Scott Proctor to face Cedeno; he figured ninety pitches from Minor was plenty. Proctor got the job done; RC grounded out to the right side.

Daniel McCutchen came on in the seventh, J-Mac had done a good job of keeping it together. He went six innings, giving up a pair of runs on six hits with a walk and six Ks, tossing 99 pitches.

D-Mac got a couple of balls lofted to left center, where long flies go to die, and a K to sit down Atlanta. The Braves brought in Eric O'Flaherty to work the bottom half.

With one away, Tabata collected his second single of the day. JT negated that knock by getting picked off on an early break toward second; he still has a ways to go to become a big time, big league base stealer.

O'Flaherty may have gotten a touch cocky after nabbing Tabata; Pearce took the next pitch, a heater, into the short seats in left just inside the pole for his third hit of the day and first homer of the season. Now it was Jose Veras' turn to serve baseballs to the Braves.

Jordan Shafer started off with a bunt single off Veras' mitt. Alex Gonzalez's swinging bunt moved him to second. JV got the second out by catching Chipper Jones looking. A splitter scooted past Dewey for a wild pitch, and Brian McCann finished the at-bat with a walk. Veras worked out of the jam by striking out Hinske and keeping the score knotted.

Jonny Venters took the hill for Atlanta. He got Walker to bounce one to second, where Dan Uggla booted it. Dewey made it a moot point when he bounced a ball delivered right down Broadway on a platter to Jones at third for an around-the-horn DP. Xavier Paul whiffed, and it was on to the ninth.

Joel Hanrahan climbed the mound for Pittsburgh. He came back to get Uggla on a bouncer to third after falling behind 3-0. Freeman pounded one deep to center; McCutch barely had the room to haul it in. Joe Mather tried Andrew next; his fly was corralled just in front of the track in center.

Overbay worked a full-count walk off Venters to begin the ninth, and Pedro Ciriaco took his spot at first. The Braves helped out again; Cedeno hit one back to the box, and Gonzalez dropped Venter's throw to second after bumping into Uggla. The 6'6" Chris Snyder came up to pinch hit; he laid down a textbook sac bunt. Tabata was intentionally walked to load them.

The walk worked like a charm, too. Pearce beat one to Jones at the hot corner, who came home; catcher McCann's relay to first doubled up Pearce. Sometimes the Pirates won't take a run even if it's gift-wrapped.

And riding to the rescue in the tenth was the multi-tasking Jeff Karstens, who was skipped over today to keep the rotation in sync. He nailed the Braves in order.

George Sherrill took the ball in the tenth for the Braves. He put the Pirates down in order, including an inexplicable whiff of Neil Walker, who looked at three 89-90 MPH four-seamers over the plate without lifting the bat off his shoulder.

With one away in the eleventh, McCann singled and Wilkin Ramirez ran for him. Pinch hitter Brooks Conrad picked up a stick. He fell behind 1-2, then JK gave him a slider that he cranked into right center for his first dinger of the season and a 4-2 Atlanta lead. Karstens struck out the next pair, but the heroics came a bit late.

Craig Kimbrel took over, and cruised to the save.

The Pirate pitching has been much better than expected in the early going; it's too bad the Pirate bats aren't. Just today, a runner was picked off before a home run; in another instance, a batter tried to pull a fastball that split the plate with the bases loaded instead of just lifting it into center; a possible walk-off sac fly became an inning-ending DP.

The Pirates are hitting.236/.311/.357 with an OPS+ of 86. That's pretty bad, and it has as much to do with approach as ability. It's part of the learning curve, and a painful part at that.

The Bucs are off tomorrow, then they go to Chicago to face the Cubs in a three game daylight set.

Get Away Day

-- James McDonald goes against Mike Minor at 12:35 PM today. The game will be shown on Root Sports.

-- The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Steve Pearce 3B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Ryan Doumit C, Matt Diaz RF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Ronny Cedeno SS, James McDonald P.

Pearce replaces Brandon Wood at third, and McCutch gets dropped back into the three hole. Can't blame Clint Hurdle for shaking it up a little after the past two games.

-- Yesterday was the second time this season that the Bucs were shut out consecutively; the other two-fer was against the Florida Marlins last month.

-- The Bucs are in the second game of an unusual span of playing five out of six contests during the day. After tomorrow's off-day, the Bucs are off to Wrigley and three under the sun.

-- Today marks the one-year anniversary of second baseman Neil Walker playing in the show. Walker is tied for 10th in the NL in RBIs (96) while ranking fourth in doubles (40) since May 25 of last season. He's hit .283/.342/.442 in that span with 18 homers and an OPS+ of 112.

Not a bad start for a guy that was brought up to be a utility infielder, hey?

-- With the rain-outs and off days, Jeff Karstens is losing a start to keep the rest of the rotation on a regular schedule. He's off until Sunday's game at Chicago.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bucs Shut Out Again 2-0

It took Charlie Morton 23 pitches to get through the first, but he did it in typical fashion - two groundouts, a walk and a K. He didn't get a swinging strike until his last pitch, whiffing Brian McCann on his first hook of the night. Jair Jurrjens out-Mortoned Charlie; he threw nine pitches and got three bounce outs.

After an out in the second, Alex Gonzalez collected the first knock of the game, a ground single into left. Freddie Freeman quickly got the second, lining a sinker above the ankle into left on a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners. Morton hung a 1-2 curve to light-hitting Brooks Conrad, who lifted a sac fly to right, putting the Braves up, 1-0.

The Bucs put two on with two out thanks to Lyle Overbay and Chris Snyder singles. Ronny Cedeno roped a ball, but right at first baseman Freeman, and the Pirates stranded a pair.

Jordan Shafer drew a five pitch walk to open the third. Morton's first pitch to Martin Prado was an inside corner, belt-high heater; he turned on it and grounded it up the line past Wood to double home Shafer and make it 2-0. CM came back to get a K and bounce out, and retired Eric Hinske after a tough eight-pitch at-bat, catching him looking.

Jurrjens put the Bucs down in order; he threw 29 pitches in three innings, and 26 were strikes. Morton recovered his juju in the fourth; five pitches, three ground balls. JJ was on cruise control; it took him nine pitches to sit the Pirates down.

Morton gave up a leadoff knock to Jurrjens, who dropped a ball into right with an 0-2 count; a pitch over the plate in that count was Charlie's bad. A soft liner and a diving stop for the force out by Overbay put two away. Chipper Jones drilled a first-pitch, ground rule double after a fan snagged the ball (with his hat) and saving a run. The Braves got a review; the ruling stood, and the Bucs got out of the inning without any damage.

Chris Snyder collected a one-out single, and Cedeno followed with a knock into center. Charlie didn't help his own cause, popping out on a bunt attempt. No difference; McCutch popped out, too.

With one away, Alex Gonzalez smacked a ground rule double over the railing in left. A grounder moved him to third, and the eight hitter, Conrad, was walked intentionally. Morton was a little more careful with his mound opponent this time around, and got a bouncer to second to shut the door in the sixth.

Jose Tabata started off with an infield single that was deflected by Jurrjens, and Garrett Jones followed with a four pitch walk. Neil Walker got a heater up and in, but was late and popped it up into short left. Overbay killed the inning with an undisciplined at-bat; he never saw a pitch over the dish, yet tapped into a 1-6-3 DP on a 2-2 count after being ahead 2-0.

Morton still had plenty in the tank; he 1-2-3'ed the Braves on seven tosses. Wood got ahead 3-0, but JJ came back with heaters and got him to pop out; the rep was that Wood had trouble with curves, but high and hard seems to expose a hole in his swing, too. Snyder K'ed after a long at-bat, and Cedeno hit a comebacker.

Brian McCann greeted Morton with a single rolled up the middle, and Clint Hurdle trotted out Joe Beimel to face Hinske. He filled the bill, getting Hinske on an around-the-horn DP. Gonzalez quickly replaced the runner, pushing the ball up the left side for a bunt single. Freeman bounced out, and the Bucs had six outs left to get something going.

Morton had another solid outing, going seven innings and giving up two runs on seven hits with three walks (one intentional) and four whiffs, tossing 94 pitches.

Xavier Paul K'ed to start the eighth; McCutch took one to the wall in straightaway center for the second out. Tabata singled solidly to right, and after 97 pitches, Jurrjens hit the showers, working on a six hit shutout with a walk and four Ks. Lefty Jonny Venters came on, and so did Matt Diaz. Venters, with an 0.64 ERA and nasty slider/fastball combo, easily won the battle, whiffing Diaz on four pitches.

Evan Meek got back on the MLB bike for the ninth. His first two offerings were balls, but he settled down and struck out Joe Mather. Then he got Wilfred Ramirez swinging; ditto Jordan Shafer. He was wearing out his cutter on the inside part of the dish, and it looks like his virus/tendinitis double whammy has been put to bed. Welcome back, Evan Meek.

Craig Kimbrel took the hill to try to close it out for Atlanta. And he did in style, striking out a pair. Well, at least Paul Maholm has someone else to swap war stories with now.

Mike Minor, a AAA call-up to replace Tim Hudson, will face James McDonald tomorrow afternoon in the get-away game.

-- Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette noted that Pittsburgh has scored three runs or less in 23 of their 47 contests, and are 3-20. Good pitching can only carry a team so far...

Today's Notebook

-- Charlie Morton takes on Jair Jurrjens tonight at 7:05 PM. The game will be shown on Root Sports.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Garrett Jones RF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Brandon Wood 3B, Chris Snyder C, Ronny Cedeno SS, Charlie Morton P.

The only mild surprise today is that Dewey isn't catching against a tough righty, but as we recall, Snyder is Morton's regular catcher, and there's sure no reason to mess with that.

-- David Todd of FM News Talk 104.7's Extra Innings thinks it's time to call up Brad Lincoln...so the FO can decide if they can trade Paul Maholm. Sounds like a stretch to us.

-- The is the first Pittsburgh-Atlanta series of 2011. The Braves took six of nine from the Pirates a season ago, with the clubs splitting six games at PNC Park.

-- Nate McLouth was put on the 15-day DL yesterday with an oblique sprain. Jason Heyward went on the same list the day before. Heck, the Pirates may have to lend the Braves an outfielder or two for the series.

-- Colin Dunlap of the Post Gazette resigned, citing the travel and consequent lack of family time. We wish him all the best; it's a hard enough job for a single guy. Bill Brink will cover the Bucs on an interim basis. There aren't many openings for MLB beat man, and this one should draw a crowd. It'll be interesting to see if the P-G stays local when it hires Dunlap's replacement.

-- Jim Callis of Baseball America was asked to rate the top two HS arms of 2011, Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley, against last year's best, Jameson Taillon. He said "There's not much to separate them, but I'd rate Bundy ahead of Taillon, with Bradley behind them both."

-- The bloom has kinda dropped off Matt Capps' rose. He has a 5.40 ERA and four blown saves in eleven opps for the Twins. His control has been unreal, but his K rate (5.5/9 innings) and home run rate (1.6/9 innings) have been real problems.

-- Speaking of last year's draft, 22 year-old SS Jedd Gyorko from WVU, a Morgantown native son, was selected in the second round by the Padres. He's moved to third, and adapted pretty well. His line at High Class A Lake Elsinore is .396/.462/.709 with 11 homers and 45 RBI in 45 games.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Off Day Thoughts

-- Hey, probably a good thing the Bucs are off; in a meteorological stunner, it's raining in Pittsburgh as GW types. Charlie Morton, who came from Atlanta, will face Jair Jurrjens to open the Braves' series tomorrow night.

-- There may not be a Nate McLouth sighting during the three game set. He left yesterday's contest with a tweaked oblique.

-- There's been a big flap made over the Pirates putting out a fake story about Pedro Ciriaco being hurt. In truth, he was being held out awaiting a trip to Pittsburgh as Pedro Alvarez's replacement, all chronicled by MLB.com's Jen Langosch.

As excellent at marketing as the organization is (and it's quite good), that's how Neanderthal they are at PR. They do often suffer undeserved shots for being close mouthed; it's not like the Penguins and Steelers are very forthcoming when it comes to injury or player movement info, either. Heck, the CIA has looser lips than most pro sports teams.

But as they've shown, exemplified by last year's contract extensions of JR and Neal Huntington, they take stonewalling to extremes for no discernible reason. In fact, their reticence to share even basic information with no competitive impact creates a story where none exists.

Our guess - and it's just that, a guess; there are other plausible scenarios - is that on Friday morning, the Bucs were unsure whether or not Alvarez's injury would require him to go on the DL.

Covering their bases, they told Indy to sit Ciriaco; no sense in him risking injury just before his possible call-up. The FO likely asked the Tribe to keep the info under their hat until it they were sure about El Toro's status, and it all took off from there.

Hey, all the minor league flack had to tell the press was that Ciriaco was sitting as a manager's decision and leave it at that, especially since the Pittsburgh writers by the afternoon were virtually certain that Alvarez was going to be DL'ed and Ciriaco recalled on Saturday through various clubhouse leaks.

The Pirates are pinning the blame for the cock-and-bull tale on a minor-league minion. Even if that was the case, the FO should have given the Indy mouthpiece a clearer directive, as ESP was probably not part of the job description. And we all know that CYA traditionally entails rolling the rock downhill.

There are professional ways to handle day-to-day situations. If you want to keep injuries and player transfers out of the papers for as long as possible for some nebulous competitive reason, do it - every other team in town does without consequence. But don't try to hide the mundane, everyday ebb and flow of news; playing games with the media only sullies the team's perception to the fans, and that certainly isn't the goal of the Pirate PR department.

-- We're beginning to like Clint Hurdle's approach to attacking the basepaths, despite the occasional Lastings Milledge moments.

More guys are getting to third on singles to right, runners on second are tagging, the Bucs are hustling down the line and taking hard turns at the corners, there are more hit-and-runs...now we only wish the FO would get him a couple of more players that actually have wheels to see what a real go-go team looks like.

-- Kevin Creagh of Pirates Prospects has a post on Altoona's young gun OF Starling Marte, pegging him a potential "Ichiro-lite."

-- Zach Duke, who broke his hand during spring training on a comeback liner, has a rehab start scheduled in AAA today and may join the D-Back rotation by the weekend according to MLB.com's Anthony Fenech.

-- And to show what kind of summer it's been, the rain has blown over, the sun is out, and the birdies are chirping as GW finishes typing. So no matter what the weather person predicted for today, it's happened.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Meek In Town, Moskos Back To Indy

The Bucs wasted little time announcing that Evan Meek has returned to the 25-man roster. Lefty Daniel Moskos was sent back to Indianapolis to clear his spot. Meek has been on the DL since April 30th and Moskos was his replacement, so the circle was unbroken.

Meek was ready. In four rehab appearances at Indy, he had two holds and a save, allowing one hit and K'ing six in four innings. Yesterday he passed his back-to-back outings test, and he'll be a welcome addition to the back end of the bullpen.

Don't expect him to fall automatically into his customary eighth inning role, though. Clint Hurdle has had success mixing up the set-up men in Meek's absence, and will probably continue to trot out Jose Veras and Joe Beimel, along with Meek, as a bridge to Joel Hanrahan as he sees fit.

While it would be easy to say that Moskos got his ticket to AAA punched because his options are intact, in this case it was a consideration that made some sense. The FO was high on out-of-options Jose Ascanio and just bought a little more time to evaluate him, though he hasn't been all that sharp in rehab or the show.

Hurdle was said to like two lefties out of the pen, but the skipper called on Moskos sparingly. He did well in his spots, appearing five times in three weeks and tossing 4-2/3 innings, giving up no runs, two hits and three walks along with a K. Moskos got a taste of success in the bigs. Now building on that performance with some regular work at Indy is the smart play.

Buc Bats Silent For Maholm; Tigers Win 2-0

Hey, the clouds parted about noon; looks like another nice day for a ballgame; 25,124 fans agreed.

The first went quietly. But the early inning, bottom of the order bug-a-boo bit Paul Maholm again. With two outs and Victor Martinez on first, he gave up back-to-back knocks to the 7-8 hitters. Martinez beat Garrett Jones throw home with a backdoor slide to put the Tigers up 1-0.

The third was also quiet; Rick Porcello retired the first nine Bucs he faced. The Tigers put up another run in the fourth. Jhonny Peralta yanked a 3-2 heater that tailed back over the plate into the short deck in left.

The Bucs got their first runner aboard when McCutch walked. He stole second, moved to third with two away, and was stranded there as Neil Walker whiffed. PM retired Detroit quietly in the fifth. The Pirates went down in order; Lyle Overbay gave a ball a charge the opposite way, but it was run down at the track.

Miguel Cabrera took the first pitch up and away and smacked it off the Clemente Wall to open the sixth with a double. Peralto dropped a single into center an out later to put runners on the corners, and Clint Hurdle called for help from the bullpen.

The hard luck Maholm went 5-1/3 innings giving up two runs on six hits with a pair of walks and five Ks; at 96 pitches, he was near his limit. Chris Resop came on and did his job, K'ing Brandon Inge and getting out number three on a sliding McCutch grab.

The Bucs tried to conjure up the sixth inning magic once again. Ronny Cedeno started off with a double; he went to third when Xavier Paul, looking for a bunt single (we hope) couldn't push the ball past the pitcher. McCutch walked on four pitches, but Jose Tabata bounced into a tailor made 6-4-3 DP to sit the Bucs down.

Daniel McCutchen came on; Porcello dribbled a ball down the left side that turned into his third MLB hit, all against Pittsburgh at PNC Park. But DM got a routine fly and a pair of K's to freeze Porcello.

Sitting on first didn't bother Porcello; he retired the Bucs on eight pitches, one going to the warning track in center off the bat of Walker. Last night, it was Detroit's day to hit loud outs; it looks like Pittsburgh's turn today.

D-Mac put Motown away in order in the eighth; Porcello did the same to Pittsburgh.

Jose Ascanio opened the ninth; he went 3-2 on his two hitters. The first flew to center, the next walked. Lefty Andy Dirks stepped up to the plate, and that brought on Joe Beimel, who got him on a pop and Austin Jackson on a foul fly to Jones.

Leyland pulled Porcello, who threw a one-hitter with two walks and three K's, using only 86 pitches over eight frames. In came closer Jose Valverde. Paul singled to start the frame, and McCutch was plunked high in the arm. But Dewey whiffed, Jones and Walker grounded out to second, and the Tigers took home a win from Pittsburgh.

For as few baserunners as they had, the Pirates produced several opportunities. In the fourth, sixth and ninth innings they got the leadoff batter to second with no outs, but the clutch hit or productive outs just weren't in the offing today.

The Bucs lack of support behind Maholm is becoming biblical in its proportions; fourteen runs in ten starts. Today they didn't even get hits for him. Oh well, off tomorrow and then the Braves come to town.

-- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports in his notes column writes that the Rangers have made "low level inquiries" re: Joel Hanrahan. He adds the caveat that "If the Pirates were willing to trade Hanrahan at all, it would only be for a significant price." D'oh.

Rob Biertempfel of the Trib Review added in a tweet that "Yes, the Rangers have inquired about RP Joel Hanrahan. No, the Pirates are NOT actively shopping their closer."

-- Mike Crotta, currently on the DL, is in Florida but hasn't started throwing yet; his inflammation hasn't cleared up.

-- LHP Donnie Veal, on the comeback trail from TJ surgery, has been assigned to High A Bradenton to begin his road back.

A Brief Note On Attendance

Drew Silva of Hardball Talk had a short post about the Pirate uptick in attendance, based on the Trib-Review story reported by Rob Biertempfel.

What's most interesting about the article are the comments:

"I had no idea that a team worth watching would draw more fans." (Kingjoe)

"Do you mean to tell me that when a team is winning fans will actually show up?" (wildinkc)

" All people need is an excuse, the chance to see a team that they’re not embarrassed by." (samu)

Seems like product is preferred over promotions, hey?

Game Notes, McCutch, Dewey

-- Paul Maholm and Rick Porcello take the hill today. The first pitch is at 1:35 PM, and the game will be shown on Root Sports.

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

Pearce gets the start at third today; the Pirates have been working him there and at second. If he can hold his own at the hot corner, Brandon Wood could become redundant and the Pirates might actually look for a true middle infielder to solidify the bench.

-- Jose Veras had his first MLB at-bat last night; he told the beat gang that he was under orders to keep the lumber on his shoulders. Good thing too, as he walked on four pitches and eventually came around to score. He had to borrow a bat and helmet; we wonder if he kept Brandon Wood's mooched stick as a keepsake?

-- McCutch's fielding has been sometimes spectacular this year, as his UZR/150 verifies - it's now 9.4, compared to last year's -12.9. His arm has improved too, from -0.9 to +0.9, thanks to the elimination of his rainbows aimed at the cut-off man. He has five assists so far this year; he only had eight all of last season.

And we think that undervalues his play; just last night he ran down four bombs to the wall, and seems to make a nightly sliding grab. Our guess is that his UZR will always be a false indicator of his range because of the Pirate OF configuration; JT gets a lot of balls in left center that the UZR tracker probably consider to be in McCutch's outer patrol zone.

-- Dewey is thriving both at the plate and behind it as a platoon guy. His hitting metrics are are among his overall bests, and his fielding value has increased from 2010's -15.5 to this year's -1. There's something to be said for keeping a guy's body in one piece, and Ryan Doumit so far this year has avoided all the nagging injuries that he's played with throughout his career.

If he continues near his current pace, it'll be interesting to see what the Pirates do when the season ends. There's no chance they'll pick up his options ($7.25M in 2012, $8.25M in 2013), but the FO could be tempted to work out a new deal to keep him in his current status if he keeps on keepin' on, especially with an off-season to get him some outfield work to increase his value and find him some extra at-bats.

His current deal pays him $5.1M, and Fangraphs has his current value at $3.8M. There may be some wiggle room between those numbers to reach an agreement, if both sides are willing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bucs Bop Tigers 6-2

Man, they're knocking down the gates to get into PNC tonight. The parkway was backed up to 79, standing room only left at the gate...Shoeless Joe was right; if you build it, he will come.

Great start, too. Like last night, a lotta pitching going on early by Kevin Correia and Max Scherzer. Through three, the Bucs had three hits and the Tigers just one.

Detroit broke on top in the fourth. Andy Dirks and Miguel Cabrera hit back-to-back one-out doubles; Brennan Boesch made it three in a row, and every ball was roped. He got Jhonny Peralta on a blast that McCutch hauled down at the 399' mark, moving Boesch to third. There he stayed as Alex Avila struck out chasing a ball in the dirt; the second time around was the charm for Motown, now up 2-0.

Scherzer is tough with a lead; he mowed down the Bucs 1-2-3 with a pair of whiffs. KC recovered his mojo and got Detroit out on a pair of grounders and a K. Mad Max did him even better - he struck out the side, a run of five K's of six batters.

The Tigers managed a two out single in the sixth, and Neil Walker took a dive to glove a wicked hop to start a catch and toss out, ending their frame and pumping some life into the Buccos.

McCutch got the Bucs started with a leadoff knock into left; Jose Tabata lined one into center to put runners at first and second. McCutch's hit was off an 0-2 heater; JT's off a 1-2 fastball; nice hitting for being in a deep hole. Scherzer fed Garrett Jones a first pitch changeup; he ripped it into right for a ground rule double.

Runners were at second and third with no outs for The Pittsburgh Kid, who lifted a 3-2 heater into center for the game-tying sac fly, also moving Jones to third. He came in on Lyle Overbay's sac liner to right to put the Bucs ahead 3-2. Dewey singled, and that was all for Mad Max.

Ryan Perry took the ball from Scherzer, and gave up a single to Brandon Wood. Ronny Cedeno bounced out, but the Bucs were on top, much to the delight of their houseful of fans who were rockin' the joint.

Peralta flew out to the track in deep center, and Avila blooped a single. Brandon Inge was pesky, fouling off several offerings before K'ing during an eight pitch at-bat. On an 0-2 pitch, Ryan Raburn caught enough of a curve that was off the plate to dump it into right for a knock, putting runners at the corners.

The two dink singles did in Correia; Clint Hurdle tapped his arm to bring on Jose Veras. He got Austin Jackson, barely. He launched another rocket to center that McCutch gathered in at the wall; he's sure got his running in today.

KC went 6-2/3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with four K's.

Hurdle let Veras lead off; it was his first MLB at-bat. We were surprised there was no two-for-one when he came on (until Meek returns, the back end of the bullpen is short, so keeping him on for the eighth was the right move).

The ol' skipper must of known something; Perry walked him on four pitches, catapulting Jim Leyland out of the dugout to deliver a serious sermon to his hurler. He must be sensitive; McCutch and Tabata both singled after the visit to juice the sacks. Leyland phoned for Daniel Schlereth. With a lefty on the hill, Hurdle sent Matt Diaz up to hit for Jones.

Diaz inside-outed a sinker, knee high on the inside corner, into right center for a two-run knock. Walker flew out, and JT took third after the catch, which would prove to be a big ninety feet.

Overbay struck out swinging at a curve that was caught in the opposite batters box. Diaz must have thought it was headed to the backstop; he was tagged out in a lengthy rundown to end the inning, but not before JT scored to make it 6-2.

Ramon Santiago walked on a 3-2 pitch to open the eighth, but JV nailed the next three without a sweat. Al Alburquerque (no, that's really his name) came on, and cooled down the Bucs, giving up just a two-out knock to red-hot Ronny Cedeno.

It wasn't a save situation, and Hurdle elected to have Joe Beimel go after the final three outs. Peralta greeted him with an infield single and Avila followed with a bloop. Soft hits or not, it was hammer time; Hurdle waved in Joel Hanrahan.

Inge lined a single to load the bases. Hanny picked it up a notch, and a K and 4-6-3 DP later, it was another W in the column for the Buccos. It was win #6 for Correia and Hanny's 13th save.

Rick Porcello and Paul Maholm go at it tomorrow afternoon as the Bucs try to broom Detroit.

-- GW apologizes; he said in the Notes post that the game was on MLB-TV and blacked out locally; it actually had something to do with Fox and MLB having an exclusivity agreement and the truth was that the game wasn't televised anywhere. Root Sports didn't show it because it was on MLB-TV; MLB-TV blacked it out because of Fox Sports, and because there was no one airing it, it didn't even make the Extra Innings show.

Anytime there are a roomful of lawyers involved with baseball issues, the result is never good for the fan.

-- 37,958 fans were in attendance, a sellout. Moral: more bobbleheads, less TV? Or was it just a winning streak, an AL opponent and a nice night aligning that drew them in?

-- The Buc streaks continue; four wins in a row, four consecutive games with 5+ runs. It was their first four-game winning streak since last September.

-- Max Scherzer took his first loss of the year, and the Tigers lost their fifth game in a row.

-- McCutch (3-for-4), Ronny Cedeno (2-for-4) and Dewey (2-for-4) are all looking good at the dish of late. McCutchen's average is up to .259, RC's is .254, and Ryan Doumit is hitting a very respectable .294.

-- With the win tonight, the Pirates matched their 2010 total of interleague victories - two.

-- Evan Meek pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the Tribe tonight; he should rejoin the club Tuesday if his arm is OK tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see who the FO sends down to clear his spot; the betting line is Daniel Moskos, who has options, or Jose Ascanio, who doesn't.

-- Detroit has had an extra base hit in all 45 games it's played in 2011.

-- Five of the six teams in the Central Division are within four games of one another in the loss column; only the Astros are lagging far behind in the early going.

Pedro on 15 Day DL; Ciriaco Called Up

Colin Dunlap of the Post Gazette confirmed today's rumor de jour that Pedro Alvarez is going on the DL for his quad tightness. Pedro first suffered the injury a couple of weeks ago, and rather than let it continue to nag him, the Bucs decided to shut El Toro down for awhile and as a secondary benefit, get him some extra cage time.

Pedro Ciriaco is on his way to Pittsburgh from Scranton to take his spot. Ciriaco hit .281 at Indy last year and was 3-for-6 in September for the big club, but is hitting just .190 this year at Indy. He's a free swinger that rarely walks, but a plus gloveman and runs well.

EDIT - it may be a premature announcement; Jen Langosh of MLB.com says the move isn't kosher yet; the timing of the official designation probably depends on whether Ciriaco can get to town quickly enough to dress for tonight's game.

And as she reports, the FO once again went out of their way with the smoke and mirrors for what should have been a straightforward announcement. Geez, they must think they're in the NHL (or Little League)!

FINAL EDIT - He was put on the DL a little before six tonight.

Notes on a Sunny Afternoon

-- Kevin Correia and Max Scherzer face off at 7:05 PM. The game is blacked out locally. It will be shown on MLB TV.

-- The lineup: Andrew McCutchen CF, Jose Tabata LF, Garrett Jones RF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Ryan Doumit C, Brandon Wood 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Kevin Correia P.

--Pedro Ciriaco, as reported by the beat gang, has been called up from Indy. It's expected by that Pedro Alvarez will go on the DL, but as of 3:30, there's been no official word on who PC's replacing.

-- Should be a good crowd - nice night, Jimmy Leyland's in town, Neil Walker bobblehead give-away, ...

-- The Bucs have won three in row going into tonight. Coincidentally, it also marks their first three game streak of scoring five runs or more in a game.

-- Ohlie is still throwing long toss from flat ground; it'll be awhile before he's ready to return from the DL.

-- Three former Pirate managers, Jim Leyland (1986-96), Gene Lamont (1997-2000) and Lloyd McClendon (2001-05), form the core of Detroit's on-field braintrust.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bucs Bomb Tigers 10-1

Geez, talk about your pitching duel. After three innings, there was one runner allowed between Jeff Karstens and Brad Penny, a two-out walk in the third to Ronny Cedeno.

JK kept dealing through the fourth; the Bucs finally roused themselves. Jose Tabata shot a ball off the pitcher and legged out a hit, followed by a Garrett Jones walk. Neil Walker went down looking; Lyle Overbay took a ball to the opposite field, but it didn't have quite enough to get out and was tucked away on the track.

Dewey was clutch, and lined an RBI single into right. Brandon Wood walked to load the sacks, but Cedeno grounded a 1-2 changeup to second to end the frame. The Tigers got their first runner on in the fifth when Andy Dirks dropped a two-out, 3-2 fastball on the corner into center for a soft knock. Don Kelly tried to follow suit, but McCutch made a nice sliding catch to put Detroit away.

With one away, McCutch dribbled an infield single up the third base side and JT followed with a knock up the middle. Jones went down on three pitches, and Walker ended the frame with a first pitch fly to left center.

Ramon Santiago took a sinker that was up in the zone over the right center field fence; it was his first and made it 1-1. With one out, Austin Jackson doubled to right; the sixth inning red flag was waving for Karstens again. But he got the next pair of Tigers to escape without any more damage, although Brennan Boesch took Jones to the track for the final out.

Overbay restored the lead quickly when he took the first pitch out for his fourth long ball of the year; it went out in right center at just about the same spot Santiago's homer left the yard. With an out, Wood drew a four pitch walk, none of the balls missing by much. Cedeno swung through a nasty curve, then got a ball he could handle and singled into right to put runners on the corners.

Clint Hurdle sent up Matt Diaz for Karstens, who struggled through the sixth. The righty-on-righty matchup worked out for the Bucs when Diaz hit one into the hole for an RBI force out. The relay pulled the firstbaseman off the bag; it would loom large. McCutch walked, and after 105 pitches, that was it for Penny.

Hard throwing Brayan Villareal came on to face Tabata. The Bucs pulled off a double steal, and JT walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases for Jones. He caught a high and away heater, and doubled in a pair to give Pittsburgh some breathing room.

Walker took a changeup to the Notch to plate two more, and it was 7-1 after six. Karstens went six innings, giving up a run on three hits and a walk with four K's; he tossed 79 pitches in another strong outing. JK is now 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA; who misses Ohlie?

Bucco handyman Daniel McCutchen took the ball in the seventh. Miguel Cabrera started off with a long single to right. Victor Martinez followed with a knock, grounding a tight knee-high heater into right. Nice pitch, better hitting. D-Mac cleaned up the mess with a routine fly and 6-4-3 DP to keep Motown from toeing the plate.

Jimmy Leyland sent out Joaquin Benoit for the Bucco half of the seventh, and he sat down the Pirates in order. Clint Hurdle had Chris Resop take the hill to get some work in a low leverage spot.

He gave up a leadoff single, then McCutch botched a ball in center. CR whiffed Austin Jackson; ditto Scott Sizemore. Boesch flew out, and Resop put up a zero and got a needed shot of confidence.

Jose Velverde took over in the eighth. He got a pair of grounders, then walked Tabata and gave up a knock to right to Jones. Walker was fed an 0-2 splitter that caught way too much of the plate; he launched it into the seats in right center, capping a career high 5-RBI night.

Jose Ascanio came in to collect the final three outs. Cabrera greeted him with a line knock into center, but he got the next three hitters routinely using a fastball-changeup mix, striking out Kelly to end the game.

Hey, good start to the homestand. Free t-shirts and a Pirate romp sent the 24,396 fans home happy. Max Scherzer and Kevin Correia mix it up tomorrow night.

-- Pedro was bothered again by tightness in his right quad and sat as a "precautionary" move tonight. He's day-to-day.

-- William Tasker of The Flagrant Fan has his analysis of Charlie Morton; he's become quite the blogger fav recently.

-- Lloyd McClendon, now on the Tiger staff, autographed the infamous "stolen base" that he yanked out of the ground during an argument with ump Rick Reed during his first year as the Bucco skipper. Guess it's ready for auction now.

-- Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com says that the Pirates are still looking at Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Danny Hultzen, Dylan Bundy, Bubba Starling, and perhaps even Archie Bradley for their top pick. He leans toward Coles as the pick.

Pre Games Notes And News

-- Getting near game time; late lineup card today. The Pirates will send Jeff Karstens out against the Tigers' Brad Penny at 7:05 PM; Root Sports will televise the action.

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

No Pedro tonight; Colin Dunlap of the Post Gazette reported that he saw him doing some jogging on the field before the lineup was made, so he may be having some more problems with his leg tightening up on him.

-- We'll see if Clint Hurdle can reverse the interleague curse as well as he has the road woes. The Bucs were 2-13 against the Junior Circuit in 2010, and they're 73-123 all-time, the worst record in the majors.

-- There's some internet flap about Tony Sanchez giving up his Twitter account at the behest of the Bucs after bad-mouthing an ump on it. The blurt cost him a three-game benching, and if the Pirates told him to tweet like an big kid instead of a brat, hey, somebody gotta be the grown-up, right?

-- Stetson Allie is hanging out in Florida at Pirate City instead of pitching for real like his draftmate Jameson Taillon. There shouldn't be an issue with that; the Pirates were perfectly clear that a) he needed more work mechanically and on conditioning than JT, and b) he was going to start his career at short-season State College, which has yet to begin its season.

-- The Indy Indians will sport pink jerseys with gray pinstripes for Breast Cancer Awareness Night this evening, and then auction them off to raise funds to fight the disease.

-- High school pitcher Dylan Bundy, this year's Taillon, is leaking out to the national media that he wants a 6-year/$30M contract and that there are certain teams he doesn't want to draft him (Pittsburgh supposedly among them) because *ahem* they don't include long-toss as part of their development program. Sounds to us like his agent, Jay Franklin, is trying to steer his client to a deep-pocketed club.

Can't blame him. With a new contract between the league and union being negotiated, there may be a hard slot in place for future drafts, effectively killing the prep players' golden goose.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bucs Get Away On High Note, Win 5-3

How 'bout those Buccos? They overcame a pair of Jay Bruce dingers to outlast the Cincy Reds 5-3 today behind the strong pitching of up-and-down James McDonald.

The Bucs snoozed through the first. The Reds started off with a soft Chris Heisey knock, followed by a drive to right center by Edgar Renteria. Heisey was head-down and on his horse; unfortunately for him, so was McCutch. He ran down a ball slicing away from him, made a diving grab, lobbed it into Neil Walker and doubled up Heisey.

The Bucs juiced the bases on Johnny Cueto in the second with one away with a pair of walks and a Lyle Overbay knock. But Ronny Cedeno went down swinging and J-Mac lined out to shallow center. The first Red batter of the frame, Jay Bruce, did what RC and McDonald were hoping to do: he homered to center.

Both sides went down in order in the third, and made a little noise without raising a threat in the fourth. For the Bucs, Dewey singled with two outs.

For Cincy, Brandon Phillips had a one-out knock, and with two away went for second. But this season, there's a new and somewhat improved Dewey behind the dish, and he caught Phillips. Doumit is 5-for-23 in his throw-out rate, or 22%, close to his career average of 24%.

The fifth started out with RC and J-Mac striking out swinging. But the Bucs had a bolt or three of two-out lightning in the sticks today. McCutch doubled, and the X-Man singled him home to knot the score. Garrett Jones walked, and Neil Walker lashed a double into center, bringing them both home.

McDonald gave up a lead-off knock, and then quietly set down the next three Red Stockings.

Ryan Doumit went the opposite way to open the sixth, and his fly barely snuggled into the left field stands for his fourth long ball of the season. With two away, McDonald singled up the middle and McCutch walked, but there was no lightning left; Xavier Paul whiffed. McDonald put down Cincy 1-2-3.

The Bucs left Walker at second after his one out two-bagger. Phillips ran the Reds out of a possible big frame. He lined a single to left; Paul tossed him out trying to stretch it. A single, line out, and another single brought out Captain Hook; he called on Daniel McCutchen to put out the smoldering embers. D-Mac did, getting his only hitter, Ramon Hernandez, on a gentle roller to Walker.

J-Mac went 6-2/3 innings, giving up seven hits but only one run, with a walk and 4 K's.

Pedro walked to open the eighth; pitcher Nick Masset shot himself in the foot when he threw away Cedeno's ball trying for a force at second. After a pop out, McCutch came through again with a double, scoring one and putting Buccos at second and third. Masset came back with a K of Paul, and got Matt Diaz on a grounder. They left some ducks on the pond again, but were up 5-1 with six outs remaining.

Jose Veras took the ball, and got two outs sandwiched around a walk. With Joey Votto up, Clint Hurdle called on Joe Beimel for the lefty-lefty match up. Dewey let one squirt away, and Votto singled the run in.

The Bucs went down without a peep in the ninth, and Joel Hanrahan came to finish up. It wasn't the best start; Bruce smacked another homer. But Hanny settled in and put down the next three to notch his twelfth save of the campaign.

Pittsburgh had lots of chances to put this one to bed early; they were 3-of-13 with RISP and stranded 10. But you should win more games than you lose with five runs, and the Bucs come home to PNC Park with a little swagger and the thanks of at least the Cards, who are back on top of the Central by 1/2 game.

And Pittsburgh is still, even after that hideous streak, only four back in the loss column.

Jeff Karstens will face Brad Penny of the Tigers tomorrow night as Jimmy Leyland comes home for three days.

-- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs looks at Charlie Morton's splits.

Buc Notes

-- James McDonald and Johnny Cueto will pitch today's get-away game, starting at 12:35 PM. Cueto started the season on the DL, and in his first two starts since his return has yet to surrender a run. The game will be aired on Root Sports.

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

Jose Tabata gets the day off against RHP Cueto.

-- Today's match is the Pirates' last visit to Cincinnati this season. The Reds will come to PNC for three-game sets in July, August, and September.

-- The Pirates have tossed all three of their complete games this year at Cincinnati, two by Charlie Morton and the other by Kevin Correia.

-- Big weekend for Evan Meek. He's supposed to work back-to-back outings tomorrow and Saturday at Indy, according to the beat gang, and if his arm responds well to that, he could be back with Pittsburgh Monday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Morton, Buc Bombs End Streak 5-0

Let's see...the Reds went into tonight with a five game winning streak; the Bucs with a six game losing streak. Charlie Morton had 'em right where he wanted 'em!

Hey, the first inning looked like it was gonna be one of those games where the last at-bat wins. Neil Walker whacked a 3-2 delivery off the wall with Garrett Jones aboard and two away; but two things conspired to keep the Bucs off the board.

Walker hit the ball to the wrong spot - he ended up with just a single as it ricocheted straight back to the fielder - and Jones didn't get a real good break, considering the count and outs. So Bronson Arroyo escaped unscathed.

But the Reds pulled off a mirror image frame. With two away, a Joey Votto knock followed by a Brandon Phillips bouncing double created some sizzle but no fire.

After that, it was a couple of innings of some good pitching as the game settled down. Then the Pirates struck. After a pop out, The Pittsburgh Kid drew a walk and Jones singled to right. Pedro got a meatball down the middle, and instead of swinging through it (as he did the last at-bat when he K'ed) he bombed it 414' into the right field stands to give the Buccos a 3-0 lead.

The Reds tried to answer with a two-out walk and single up the middle, but the runners were stranded. The fifth and sixth passed with a little action but no real threats, and then the Buc Bombers buzzed again in the seventh.

Ronny Cedeno led off with a double to left (his third consecutive multi-hit game) and he was nicely advanced to third by a Morton sac bunt. No need for small ball, though. McCutch wanted to lift the ball with the infield in to plate RC, and did he ever. He ripped his eighth homer of the year, a 423' shot into left center, and it was 5-0.

The rest of the game played out quietly; the Reds mounted a two-out, first-and-third threat (the only Cincy runner to reach the hot corner) in the eighth, but Morton retired Votto on his way to his second complete game and fifth win with a 2.62 ERA. He may not be ace material, but he's sure as close as Pittsburgh has to one.

Morton threw a five hitter, walking two and K'ing five while tossing a fairly economical 106 pitches. More impressive than his pitching has been his cool and collected persona on the mound; maybe he has finally switched on the light. His only red flag during the first few weeks of the season has been retiring lefties; his sinker runs away and over the plate to them.

But so far, so good. His command and control has been improving every start, and when he can work the lefties off the dish a little more, he'll be the complete package.

Tomorrow's get-away game will match James McDonald and Johnny Cueto at 12:35 PM.

-- Today's 2011 question: is Ronny Cedeno going through one of periodic spurts where he shows off his tools, or has Clint Hurdle and company found his on switch? His fielding has been steady after a rough start and his UZR/150 is 18.7 going into tonight's game, far and away MLB's best mark. RC is hitting .328 over the past four weeks after batting .192 in April.

If he does come around, he'll fill a huge hole in the Bucco lineup. And this will be the year that makes or breaks him in Pittsburgh.