Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bucs Bounce Back 6-2

OK, the handful of fans here seem intent on making Lyle Overbay's - pronounced Over-boooooo in Toronto - life miserable. Let's see if the Bucs can do the same to the Jays.

Started off sweet enough; Alex "The King" Presley led off with a triple. Chase d'Arnaud bounced out to third, and that didn't chase him home. McCutch hit a roller a bit more softly, though, and that ground out did. Matt Diaz singled with two away - it's good to see him heat up, now if some power comes next - but was left standing. 1-0 Buccos out of the box.

It didn't look good for Jeff Karstens at the outset. He gave up a pair of roped singles to Yunel Escobar and Eric Thames to put runners at the corners. But all's well that ends well; Jose Bautista bounced to first, Overbay went down to dig out the smash, rifled the ball home, and Escobar, trying to go backdoor, was out. Adam Lind banged one to Josh Harrison at second and he started a 4-6-3 DP to clean up the early mess.

Brett Cecil put the Bucs down in order in the second, K'ing a pair. Karstens didn't whiff anyone, but he did have a clean frame. Presley drew a one-out walk in the third, and would be the only Bucco runner. Escobar rapped his second hit, a two-out bloop to center and was likewise stranded. Still 1-0 after three innings.

The Pirates got a two out walk from Cedeno. The Jays got a lead off walk to Joey Bats, who went to second on a Lind comebacker that bounced off JK's leg, but would get no further. Lotta pitching going on in the early stages of this one.

Harrison showed off his great wheels by getting to second on a dink to center to start the fifth, and Mike McKenry bunted him to third. Why not? The King was up, and he lofted the first pitch into the left field corner for a sac fly. Gotta love it when the guys manufacture a run. d'Arnaud doubled with two away, and McCutch was semi-intentionally walked. But the Bucs couldn't add on as Diaz flew out to medium right.

With one out, JC Arencibia took a 3-2 fastball yard for his twelfth dinger of the year. Pity, too - it looked like he was struck out two pitches prior, but got a call to keep his at-bat alive. With two away, Escobar yanked an elevated changeup over the left center wall for his ninth homer. That's 16 homers surrendered  in 14 starts for JK, and all but one have been solo shots. So after five, it was deuces wild.

Overbay led off with a popup with eyes; he hustled to second as it dropped in among three Jays and kept on trucking to third when Escobar's throw got away. Cedeno smacked a changeup into right center for a double, and the Bucs regained the lead at 3-2.

The good times kept rollin'. Brandon Wood popped a sinker delivered down the middle and under the letters over the left center wall, his third long ball, and the Pirates were having themselves an inning. The next trio went down routinely, but Pittsburgh was up 5-2. JK did his part, getting Joey Bats, Lind and Edwin Encarnacion with no trouble.

With one away, McCutch caught a changeup left much in the same place as Wood's and banged it off the wall in nearly straightaway center for a double. That was enough for skipper John Farrell; Octavio Dotel took the ball. He threw Diaz four straight cutters that were up and over the middle. Diaz fouled off the first three and sent the fourth into right on a rope to bring home McCutch. The next two Buccos bounced into forces, but the lead was now 6-2.

JK mowed down the Jays, and at 88 pitches, he should still have some gas left in the tank. Marc Rzepczynski - and that's the first and only time this poor Italian-Irish blogger will type that name - came on to work the eighth. He put down the Bucs in order on a pair of long flies and a bouncer to short.

Hurdle decided to go with Chris Resop in the Jay's half of the frame. We'd guess that after a 109 pitch outing last game, the ol' skipper didn't want to risk wearing out Karsten's arm. JK's line was seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits, a walk, and two K's. With one out, Escobar worked his way from a 1-2 count to a walk. No sweat; Resop K'ed Thames and Bautista swinging, blowing heaters past them.

Shawn Camp got the horsehide in the ninth, and he put the Bucs away in order. Tony Watson climbed the hill for Pittsburgh. He got Lind to pop out, and with the lefty out of the way, Jose Veras took the mound. JV got a pop up, but with two strikes on Aaron Hill, he hung a curve that was drilled into right center for a triple. Corey Patterson lined a sinker to first; Overbay gloved it and the Bucs took a road interleague series.

Hey, baseball is a funny game. Yesterday, the Pirates didn't look like they knew what end of the bat to hold; today they were 3-for-7 with RISP while seven of their nine hits went for extra bases. What a difference a day makes.

The Bucs go to Washington tomorrow. Charlie Morton takes his spot in the rotation after a rest and will go against old Bucco Tom Gorzelanny.

  • The series win against Toronto was the Pirates first interleague road set taken since 2003, when they beat Tampa Bay (John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus has the '97 lineup that pulled it off). They also ended up 8-7 in interleague play, matching their best ever record against the AL, done twice before since interleague play started in 1997.
  • The Pirates are two games behind the division-leading Brewers, and only one behind in the lost column. And yes, tomorrow is July 1st. They were 27-51 at this time last season; they're 41-39 today.


Tonight's game will match RHP Jeff Karstens (5-4, 2.66) vs. LHP Brett Cecil (1-2, 6.86), who was just called up from AAA. He was a 15-game winner last season who was sent to Las Vegas early in 2011 after his heater lost some serious velocity, dropping from the low-nineties to the mid-eighties. He thinks a vigorous off season program overworked his arm, and he's back on track now. We'll find out tonight. The game starts at 7:07 PM and will be aired on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Alex Presley LF, Chase d'Arnaud 3b, Andrew McCutchen CF, Matt Diaz RF, Lyle Overbay 1b, Ronny Cedeno SS, Brandon Wood DH, Josh Harrison 2b, Mike McKenry C, Jeff Karstens P.

Neil Walker gets a night off as Josh Harrison steps in at second. Wood gets the DH call; Hurdle again gets his whole team involved. And hey, how many teams feature a clean-up hitter on June 30th that's still looking for his first home run?

  • We speculated that Garrett Jones' pick-off last night might have been the result of a botched hit-and-run. We were half right; it was the result of a missed sign. He had the steal sign on the pitch before, but it was been taken off, and he missed it. Awful jump, too.
  • Pedro Ciriaco, recently demoted SS, has a nine-game hitting streak at Indy (it started before he was called up in May). PC has five hits in the last two nights, and he's still only hitting .211.
  • SS Jordy Mercer, called up to Indy when Chase d'Arnaud joined the big team, was hit in the hand with a pitch last night and had to leave the game. We'll check out his status tonight; there's no word yet on whether or not the injury is serious or just a bruise.
  • 1B Matt Hague was elected to the International League All-Star team. He has a line of .324/8/43 for Indy. Tim Wood, Alex Presley, and Chase d'Arnaud were also voted in, but are ineligible because they're in the show now.
  • The beat gang reports that both C Dusty Brown and RHP Aaron Thompson, recently DFA'ed, have cleared waivers. They'll be going back to their original squads - Brown to Indy and Thompson to Altoona.
  • After a two week layoff with a tight pectoral muscle and the Sally League All-Star break, RHP Jamison Taillon threw three innings for West Virginia last night, giving up a broken-bat single and K'ing four. He's 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA for the Power, with 42 K's in 45-2/3 innings against just four walks, and has been hitting the radar between 93-95 MPH.
  • RHP Denny Bautista has signed with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization, reports Mark Axisa of MLB Trade Rumors. The lanky righty pitched for the Pirates in 2008-09, and was tossing AAA ball for the Mariner's this season.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Slumber Company Goes Down 2-1

The Bucs continue their northern adventure tonight at Toronto. Prior to last night, Pittsburgh has won the first game of a series fourteen times and taken thirteen of those sets, a trend they'd like to see continue against the Jays.

Brandon Morrow made it look easy in the first, getting the Bucs out in order without breaking a sweat. Yunel Escobar fought off a high and tight pitch by dropping it into center for a knock, but was erased by McCutch trying to stretch it into a two-bagger.

Joey Bats walked with two away, and the red hot Adam Lind rolled a single up the middle to put runners on the corners. Edwin Encarnacion got ahead of Maholm 3-1, and after a pair of homers last night, was looking for anything over the dish. He flew out to right to end the frame.

Plate ump Dan Iassogna isn't giving up any low strikes in the early going; we'll see how what effect that has on groundball meister Maholm as the game goes forward.

Morrow was dealing. He struck out the side and now has four K's after facing six Pirate hitters. The strike zone may not be deep, but it's wide tonight. With one out, Juan Rivera drilled a ground knock into left. Jose Molina rapped the next pitch to d'Arnaud, who started an around-the-horn DP to finish the frame.

It was three up, three down for the Bucs again. Maholm matched him, and after three it's zeroes. The Bucs were coming up for their second look at Morrow.

With one away, d'Arnaud reached when his sharply hit ball deflected off third baseman Bautista's mitt for a single. Garrett Jones had the green light on a 3-0 pitch; he lined out to second. McCutch bounced out, and it was another easy inning for Morrow.

Lind continued to rake; he doubled into right center with one away. Maholm coaxed a pop out and grounder to get out of the fourth.

Walker took a walk to start the fifth. Overbay got a 3-2 heater and bounced it into right with Walker on the go to put Buccos on the corners. Diaz bounced to third, and the throw home nailed Walker who was off on contact. Cedeno picked him up when he singled into center to score Overbay, but the relay home was cut and Diaz was tagged out at third for the second out. Eric Fryer K'ed, but at least the Bucs got one up on the board despite a couple of Lasting Milledge moments on the basepaths.

Maholm went to the changeup in the fifth. After a pair of fly outs, Davis caught one and scorched it into left for a double. After going 3-2 on Escobar, missing with sliders, he came back with a change that was rolled to Cedeno to end the inning. 1-0 Pittsburgh after five.

Presley walked to open the sixth. After fouling a bunt try on the first pitch, d'Arnaud K'ed. Jones went down swinging too - six pitches, two whiffs. with McCutch up, Presley stole second. Morrow stayed away from Andrew, and this time didn't get the calls as McCutch walked on five pitches. A wild pitch moved them up ninety feet, but Walker struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt that Molina had to block and toss to first to complete the out.

The first Jay, Eric Thames, the only Toronto position player in the lineup without a homer, rectified that on the second pitch, lining one out into left center to tie the game. Bautista roped a double to left, just beating the throw to the bag. Encarnacion hit one to third; d'Arnaud went to second and threw behind Bautista, who had wandered too far off the bag, for the second out on a bag-bang play. Hill bounced one to d'Arnaud, too, but this time he booted the ball to put runners at first and second. PM got a pop out from Juan Rivera, and escaped the sixth tied at one

With two away, Cedeno beat out a ball to short, but Morrow got Fryer to fly out to right. He's done for the night after 117 pitches in seven innings, but gave up just a run on four hits with three walks and 10 Ks.

With one away, Davis ripped a 3-2 fastball for a ground rule double into left center, and Escobar took the next pitch up the middle and under Cedeno's glove for a hustle double (McCutch and Presley bumped into one another fielding the ball) to put the Jays up 2-1. A bouncer to first moved Ecsobar to third, and Joey Bats was intentionally walked. That brought up en fuego lefty Lind, who PM K'ed on three pitches.

Jason Frasor took the hill for Toronto. On a 3-2 pitch, Presley flew out short of the left field track for out number one. d'Arnaud walked on four pitches. Jones bounced out to first, pulling an outside change, and d'Arnaud was forced at second as Jones chugged into first. The baserunning blunders kept coming, though - on ball three to McCutch, a snap throw by Molina caught Jones off the base and became the third out. He had broke on the pitch, stumbling at the start, and tried to reverse fields.

Paul Maholm called it a night after seven innings and 98 pitches. His line was nine hits, two earned runs, two walks and a K, another solid effort. Tim Wood came on for the eighth, and nailed the Jays 1-2-3. Frank Francisco came on to try to notch the save for Morrow.

McCutch drove a fastball to the track in right center; it was just a loud out. Walker fought hard during a nine pitch at-bat, but pulled an outside sinker to first for the second out. Overbay walked on a 3-2 pitch to keep the inning alive, just checking off ball four in time. Joel Harrison came in to run. He wouldn't get very winded; Diaz bounced out to short to end the game and waste another strong effort by Maholm, losing 2-1. 

Give PM credit; he had to work upstairs most of the game because the knee-high strike wasn't there for either team. The Pirate batters saw a lot of pitches, but weren't very disciplined. Rarely did they get into hitters counts. The Jays worked them almost exclusively outside, but the hitters refused to go the opposite way, resulting in a ton of fouls and ten Ks. Even with drawing five walks to go with their meager four hits, the Pirates only had four at-bats the entire game with RISP.

And just once, we'd like to hear a manager talk about smart instead of aggressive baserunning; maybe guys like Jones and Diaz wouldn't be pushing the envelope navigating the sacks (although we have to wonder if Jones gaffe was a missed hit-and-run. That's rarely in play with the cleanup hitter, we know, but in this case a non-traditional four hole guy, McCutch, was at the dish). The Jays weren't exactly textbook in their running, either. It was a bad game for Little League kids to watch. 

There will be learning moments, too, at the plate and especially in the field. It's really hard to mesh as a aunit when three of the eight position players were wearing Indy uniforms last week.

Still, there's a good chance to take another series tomorrow evening. Rookie Brett Cecil, just recalled from AAA, will take on Jeff Karstens.

  • Xavier Paul was scratched from the lineup with a tight hammy. Matt Diaz took Garrett Jones' spot as DH and Jones went to right. The X-Man will be reevaluated tomorrow.
  • We're not ready to draw and quarter Chase d'Arnaud for his play at third quite yet. He played all of three games at the hot corner at Indy, and hadn't played the position in the pros since 2008.  Additionally, Rogers Centre turf is famously springy, so it's a bad place to get an initiation by fire.
  • Since interleague play began, the Pirates have had winning 8-7 marks only twice. This year's squad  have a chance to become the third Pittsburgh team to finish its AL sked with more wins than losses tomorrow.

Notes, Minor Moves

LHP Paul Maholm (4-8, 3.21) will go against Toronto's RHP Brandon Morrow (3-4, 4.90). The game starts at 7:07 PM and will be broadcast on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Chase d'Arnaud 3B, Garrett Jones DH, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Xavier Paul RF, Ronny Cedeno SS, Eric Fryer C, Paul Maholm P.

Presley and d'Arnaud are at the top of the order, Fryer the bottom, and the X-Man is getting some time, too. We'll say this for Clint Hurdle: except for a certain Dominican SS, he gets everybody some time.
  • Altoona had five players earn a spot on the Eastern League All-Star team. They are LHP Jeff Locke (5-6, 4.29), RHP Aaron Pribanic (5-5, 3.52), 2B Brock Holt (.289/1/22), 3B Jeremy Farrell (.285/5/33) and OF Starling Marte.  Also, manager PJ Forbes, along with coaches Wally Whitehurst, Brandon Moore and trainer Mike Zalno will form the coaching staff for the Western Division club as the Curve won the Western Division in 2010.
  • Rinku Singh, one of two Indian "Million Dollar Arms" who the Pirates signed in November 2008, has been promoted to from the GCL Pirates to State College. The 22 year old LHP has a career 3.06 ERA in 25 minor league games, all but one in the Rookie League, with 33 Ks in 50 innings of work. 
  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reported that Bucs announced the signing 27th round pick Ryan Hornback, a catcher who hit for a .310 average with San Jacinto College North last year.  He had a commitment to Mississippi.
  • Patrick Newman of the NPB Tracker tweeted that Josh Fields, who was hitting .365 in AAA for Colorado after being traded by the Bucs in late March, will sign with the Japanese League Yomiuri Giants.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bucs Hang On 7-6

Hey, the Bucs are north of the border to meet their old amigo, Joey Bats, and introduce their new leadoff man, Alex Presley. The old and new meet.

No action in the first; Jo Jo Reyes put down the Bucs in order and Kevin Correia did the same to the Blue Jays. The second wasn't much livelier. Matt Diaz had a two out single for the Bucs and Adam Lind's leadoff single was negated an out later 1-6-3 on a very nice turn by Ronny Cedeno.

Cedeno started the third by dropping a knock into right. An out later, Presley smacked one over the right field wall for his first MLB dinger and it was 2-0 Buccos. With two away, Chase d'Arnaud walked and got to third on a wild pickoff try, but to no avail as McCutch popped out. Edwin Encarnacion cut the lead in half with a solo dinger of his own; the score was 2-1 Buccos after three.

Lyle Overbay opened the fourth with a rope into center. He came around when Matt Diaz tripled to right center on a ball that took a turf bounce past the OF, then Diaz plated on Garrett Jones' infield knock. Jones stole second, and RC blooped a single to right to put runners on the corners. After an out, Presley followed up with a lobbed knock to center to bring home Jones. With two away, Neil Walker singled, and Reyes called it a night; Luis Perez came on. It was 6-1 Pittsburgh when the smoke cleared.

Toronto didn't mail it in, though. A leadoff knock by Eric Thames was followed by Jose Bautista's 24th long ball of the year. KC settled in and got the next three guys routinely, but the Jays were hangin' around at 6-3.

Both sides got a runner aboard in the fifth. Pittsburgh got a one-out single from Diaz while the Jays had JP Arencibia get plunked with two away. Neither player made it to second.

Perez was keeping things in hand; he struck out a pair in the sixth. Thames got the Jays rolling with an opening triple to right center. Bautista hit one to third; the hop came up and d'Arnaud botched the ball, allowing the run to score and Joey Bats to reach. Lind walked on four pitches, and things didn't look so bright for the Bucs, especially when KC fell behind Juan Rivera 2-0. But he came back to get him on a pop. Aaron Hill banged a slider to Cedeno, and the 6-4-3 DP bought the Bucs a reprieve.

The Pirates added another to the tally in the seventh when McCutch jumped a curve and sent it over the left field wall for his 11th homer of the campaign. An out later, old bullpen bud Octavio Dotel took the hill for Toronto, and he got the 3-for-3 Diaz to fly out to shallow center.

Tony Watson climbed the hill for Pittsburgh. KC went six innings, giving up four runs on five hits with a walk and three K's; he threw 94 pitches. Corey Patterson greeted him with his sixth home run of the year on an elevated slider he yanked over the right field fence. Encarnacion followed with his fifth homer on a 3-2 changeup, and it was a game again at 7-6. Enough of that, said Clint Hurdle. On came Chris Resop.

He walked Arencibia on four pitches, not a particularly auspicious start. CR fell behind Yunel Escobar 3-1, and he lined a double off d'Arnaud's mitt to put runners at second and third. Thames struck out on three pitches, and Joey Bats was walked intentionally. That brought up lefty Lind with his 16 homers and .319 BA, and Jose Veras got plopped into the fire.

He fell behind 2-0, came in with a two-seamer at the knees, and Lind hit a soft liner to first. Overbay gloved it and stepped on the bag for the inning-killing DP, just like Hurdle drew it up. Circle that at-bat; it would end up the biggest of the night.

Shawn Camp took the ball in the eighth. With an out, Cedeno walked. The next toss home was a pitchout; Cedeno was going and nailed trying to swipe second. Four pitches later, Mike McKenry singled to right. Presley lined out to third, and the Buc pitchers had two more frames to navigate.

Veras retired the Jays routinely in their half, and did his job of handing over a lead to Hanny. Jon Rauch joined the Jay's pitching parade in the ninth, and another familiar face, Rajai Davis, took over in left.. Pittsburgh went down in order, and it was Hanny time. Xavier Paul also came on to play right.

There was still some drama left; Escobar legged out an infield single to the left side with two away. Thames was up with Joey Bats on deck. That would be a dramatic stare down, but one the Bucs' would rather not face. They didn't. Thames struck out swinging at a 98 MPH heater, and Hanrahan earned save #23; KC picked up his 10th win.

It wasn't pretty, but there have to be nights when the Bucco bats carry the load. Remember the stretch when the pitching was brilliant but the run support wasn't there? Time for a little payback.

And some great damage control and timely D saved the win just as much as the lumber and Hanny the Hammer did. KC danced out of a two-on, nobody out jam with a pop out followed by a 6-4-3 DP. Chris Resop got a K with runners on second and third and no outs. Jose Veras finished the job when he got a one-out, bases loaded DP off a soft liner that found Overbay's glove. So it is possible to give up four home runs and still have some very clutch work from the mound.

Paul Maholm faces Brandon Morrow tomorrow.

  • Kevin Correia became the first Bucco pitcher to win ten games before the All-Star break since Bob Walk last did it in 1993.
  • The Bucs finally broke their thirteen game interleague road losing streak, which dated back to 2009.
  • It's official; JT is on the 15 day DL and Josh Harrison is back in Pittsburgh.
  • The Pirates sent Josh Rodriguez to Altoona rather than Indy as we first reported. He's missed a lot of the season with a groin problem, so he'll have a chance to get into playing shape.


The Bucs are off to Toronto. The pitchers tonight will be RHP Kevin Correia (9-6, 3.65) and LHP Jo-Jo Reyes (3-6, 4.34). The game will start at 7:07 PM and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Chase d'Arnaud 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Matt Diaz DH, Garrett Jones RF, Ronny Cedeno SS, Mike McKenry C, Kevin Correia P.

Pretty much the same ol' lineup against a lefty. Today's call-up, Alex Presley, doesn't have much of a righty/lefty split, so he's Clint Hurdle's choice against LHP's instead of Xavier Paul, who has a .171 lifetime BA against southpaws. Chase d'Arnaud gets another start. We expected him to see some playing time, and with JT out, the Pirates need a guy at the top of the order, a spot that Brandon Wood is not at all suited for.

  • The Pirates haven't won an interleague road game since June 17th, 2009, when they whipped the Minnesota Twins. The Pirates have had some seriously bad baseball teams during that period, but the lack of a bench masher to slide into the DH role is one of the main reasons the AL houses kill the Bucs. 
  • Tim Williams of Pirate Prospects reports that Jose Tabata is going on the DL and Josh Harrison will join the team in Toronto. It makes sense. Why should the team be short an infielder and bench bat? It also should remove the temptation to play JT too soon and allow him enough time to let his quad heal properly. Pedro Alvarez has been out six weeks with his quad problem and just now beginning minor-league rehab.  His estimated return is after the All-Star break.
  • Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror tweeted that the Curve's 24 year old SS Jordy Mercer (.268/13/48) and 26 year old OF Anthony Norman, who has only played nine games so far this season (.342/0/4), have been promoted to Indy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Adios Pedro, Hello Alex & Assorted Stuff

The beat gang reports that Pedro Ciriaco has been returned to Indy. Since May 21st, the poor guy got into six games, had six at-bats, six innings in the field, and generally seemed to be invisible to Clint Hurdle.

Anyway, it smooths the path for Alex Presley to join the club at Toronto, presumably to DH (he was officially promoted in the late afternoon). During his September call-up last season, he hit .261/0/0 in 25 plate appearances and generally took a back seat to John Bowker. This year he kept up his minor league raking, batting .336/8/36 at Indy, and will likely DH against the Blue Jays.

We'd frankly be surprised to see him get a lot of time in the OF. Our guess would be that Xavier Paul will take Tabata's place. He's hitting .267 with nine stolen bases and a nice glove, though he does K too much and walk too little. But there is really no reason to replace him as a table-setter short of an implosion or Presley flashing a sudden burst of muscle. And the Pirates like Paul; after all, they claimed him in late April when they could have promoted Presley.

On the other hand, the FO thought Neil Walker was gonna be a utility guy, too, so Presley has a punchers' chance if he can impress the people in Pittsburgh as much as he has the folk in Indianapolis. And he did force his way onto the big team through performance, so that's not an entirely far-fetched possibility.

How long Presley stays on the roster will depend on the health of Jose Tabata. JT's quad was examined today, and the Bucs haven't announced what's up with his situation yet. It's widely thought that he'll go on the DL.

That would be a handy move, if unfortunate for Tabata, because with Ciriaco's demotion, Brandon Wood becomes the sole back up infielder on the roster. If JT goes on the DL, that gives the Pirates an opening to recall Josh Harrison (.283/0/4), who was sent down for Chase d'Arnaud. If not, the next likeliest scenario has Harrison returning July 3rd to replace Brad Lincoln or whoever is called up to pitch on the 2nd, a doubleheader date with Washington.

Other happenings:

  • Jose Tabata's status is still uncertain; they'll probably wait until after the Toronto series to reach a decision on whether or not to DL him retroactively, according to Jen Langosch of
  • Pedro Alvarez played some third for the GCL Pirates and will continue his rehab with Bradenton.
  • RHP Mike Crotta has been recalled from his rehab assignment, reinstated from Pittsburgh's DL and then optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
  • The beat gang reports that RHP Kevin Hart visited Dr. Andrews and was told to stop pitching activities for four weeks and focus on rebuilding his arm strength.
  • The Pirates have picked up minor league C Miguel Perez from the Nationals for a PTBNL or cash. The 27 year old was a Bucco farmhand in 2008-09. Lotta catchers in Indy right about now - Kris Watts, Dusty Brown (if he clears waivers), Wyatt Toregas, Perez, Jason Jaramillo on the DL...

Pitch and Catch

OK, time to take a look at the Bucs, surprisingly still hangin' around as Independence Day looms. And why? We can explain it in three words - pitching, pitching, pitching.

But it's not like the staff has suddenly blossomed, although Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and Hanny have been quite pleasant surprises. Very few of us, GW included, foresaw this much improvement. There are a combination of ingredients stirred together that led to the staff's strong first half performance.

It's been quite a storyline. The ERA has been sliced from 5.00 in 2010 to 3.50 this season, and run-and-a-half improvements are unheard of. But a closer look at the xFIP - Fielding Independent Pitching - shows a much more subtle improvement, from 4.35 last year to 3.98 in 2011. So why have this year's guys thrown better than their stat projections while last year's staff underperformed so badly? 

First, the bar was raised a bit by Clint Hurdle. He let it be known that seven innings was what he wanted from his starters, and was willing to back it up by keeping guys in the game even when they were running low on gas. The Buc starters are going 6 frames per start now; it was 5-1/3 innings in 2010. Doesn't sound like much? How about 50+ innings per year that the bullpen doesn't have to eat.

And he's worked the bullpen beautifully so far. He's kept the innings down, mixing and matching his young relief corps, and managed the set-up by committee approach after Evan Meek's shoulder woes as well as any skipper could.

Next, Ray Searage restored a collaborative relationship with the pitchers, communicating well and developing game plans based on his guys' strengths and knowledge, not the opposing batters' weaknesses and computer sims. He also tweaks as well as any other competent MLB pitching coach; that should be a given at this level. Together, they toughened up the staff mentally and gave them a sense of ownership in the results.

Confidence, of course, is a key factor, and the coaches have helped grow that in the staff. So far they've nursed brief meltdowns professionally and gotten guys back on track - think Chris Resop and Jose Veras - without throwing them under the bus or panicking. When arms get rubbery, they're rested, ala Charlie Morton or the three-days-and-sit bullpen rule. There's no more "pitching through a dead arm period" bull being served.

All the coddling in the world doesn't help if the the pitchers can't get guys out. And for the Pirate staff, that's really a function of the team behind them rather than their ability to miss bats. The Pirates average 6.14 K's per nine innings; only two teams rack up less. And that's even fewer than last year's 6.54 K's/nine. Walks show the same way. The current staff has shown modestly more control, issuing 3.23 walks per nine compared to 3.43 in 2010, certainly not a difference-making gap.

But a look at the BABIP - batting average of balls in play - tells the story. This year, opponents that put the ball between the white lines hit for a .286 average; last year it was .311. Add in the strand rate of 75% this season as opposed to 67%, and it's easy to see how the runs against have plummeted from 5.35 per game last year to 3.92 this year. That run a game makes a world of difference in the wins-losses column.

And credit for that has to go to the defense, particularly McCutch and Ronny Cedeno. Andrew McCutchen was statistically slandered by the odd, "no triples" outfield defense the Bucs played last year. His UZR 150 (Ultimate Zone Ratings place a run value on a player's defensive play; the 150 option evens out the difference in games played) was -12.9. Set up in a more traditional alignment this season, it's up to +13.4, scatter-gun arm not withstanding.

(Interestingly, Jose Tabata's UZR 150 went from +9.6 to -5.1, even though to the eye he's playing LF equally as well as he did last year. That rating exhibits why stats are useful little buggers, but often need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. However, together they show +12.1 runs saved over last year's play, and that's the number that counts.)

Cedeno's problems with the stick are well documented, but this year he's been consistent with the mitt. His UZR 150 is +8.1; it was -4.0 in 2011. Neil Walker is still a work in progress, but has improved his rating from a dismal -17.1 in 2010 to a much more acceptable -3.9 now.

So the middle, where all good D starts, has really tightened up for Pittsburgh this year. Its 2011 UZR 150 is 17.6; it was -34 in 2010, and that's 52 saved runs worth of improvement. In essence, the team's leather has gone from leaking runs to preventing them by making more plays, as shown by the BABIP and strand rates, and the staff is the beneficiary.

Hey, we tip our hats to Hanrahan, Karstens and Morton for the surprisingly good performances they've delivered. We applaud Hurdle and Searage for their mature handling of the pitchers. But mostly we give credit where credit is due, to a strong defense behind a pitch-to-contact staff.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bring the Heat...

Hey, the front office mantra since 2008 has been power arms. So we thought we'd check out Fangraphs, who get their data from Baseball Info Solutions, and see how much heat the current Bucco hurlers bring and how often.


  • James McDonald - 92 MPH (70% fastballs)
  • Ross Ohlendorf - 92 MPH (71% fastballs)
  • Charlie Morton - 92 MPH (80% fastballs)
  • Brad Lincoln* - 92 MPH (65% fastballs)
  • Kevin Correia - 90 MPH (49% fastballs)
  • Jeff Karstens - 89 MPH (56% fastballs)
  • Paul Maholm - 88 MPH (56% fastballs)
  • Brian Burres* - 88 MPH (60% fastballs)
* - 2010 figures

No true flamethrowers in the lot, although with the exception of J-Mac and Lincoln, most of the staff throws sinkers or two seamers, which cuts the velocity down a tick or three but gets balls pounded into the ground.


Joel Hanrahan - 97 MPH (84% fastballs)
Tim Wood - 95 MPH (70% fastballs)
Jose Veras - 94 MPH (51% fastballs)
Chris Resop - 93 MPH (75% fastballs)
Evan Meek - 93 MPH (48% fastballs)
Mike Crotta - 93 MPH (86% fastballs)
Tony Watson - 92 MPH (72% fastballs)
Dan Moskos - 92 MPH (60% fastballs)
Daniel McCutchen - 91 MPH (53% fastballs)
Joe Beimel - 86 MPH (62% fastballs)

These guys mostly rear back and let loose; Crotta, Watson and Beimel use sinkers/two-seamers. And it's easy to see how the Pirate FO was taken by Hanny when they sent Sean Burnett to the Nats. They knew he had an elite arm if he could sharpen his command. His slider is all that more effective in 2011 because of how often he throws the ol' number one. In prior years, he threw the slider over 30% of the time; this year, just 16%, and he's completely lost the change. That's in keeping with the Ray Searage credo to go with your strength. It may cost you some K's, but it sure helps to rack up those saves.

Veras goes the opposite way; he combines a good fastball with a 79 MPH curve. When he has the pair of them clicking, he's nasty. When the hook doesn't find the plate is when he has problems.

Meek was throwing a lot of cutters - 28% this season - and whether that was deliberate or because of his shoulder problems is hard to tell. In 2010, the ratio was 59%/14% FBs to cutters.

So the Bucs haven't become the heat-seekers on the mound that the FO envisioned in 2008 quite yet, although the bullpen has a few guys that can bring it. But we expect you'll see a difference in two or three more seasons, when the high school kids they drafted and Gerritt Cole percolate through the system and reach PNC Park.

Walks, Boots Cost Bucs 4-2 Loss

Hey, it's a sunny Sunday. Kids run the bases and adults wave brooms; let's see how all that pans out. J-Mac has had control issues lately, and putting Boston into hitters' counts will bruise some baseballs. We'll see how that pans out, too.

Started out OK - Jacob Ellsbury lined out. Dusty Pedroia followed with a ground ball single through the left side and stole second. Slugger Adrian Gonzalez tapped one to Walker for an infield hit as Pedroia went to third. Kevin Youkilis hit a soft liner to d'Arnaud at third and J-Mac caught JD Drew looking (he left the game after that with an eye injury suffered during BP for Darnell McDonald), so some smoke but no fire for the Bosox.

Jose Tabata started things rolling for the Pirates on the first pitch from Andrew Miller with a bunt down the left side for an opening knock. May not have been such a great idea in hindsight. JT pulled up lame, rolled on the ground in pain, and was taken off on a cart. When it rains...

Life goes on; Garrett Jones replaced him. Chase d'Arnaud cranked a fly to the deepest part of the park and it was hauled down short of the track in front of the Notch. McCutch went down swinging on a slider in the dirt. Neil Walker squared up on a pitch and lined it to right where JD Drew hauled it in. Jones went to right; Matt Diaz moved to left.

Jarrad Saltalamacchia walked to open the second. Josh Reddick flew out to center. Marco Scutaro hit into a short-to-second force, and Miller K'ed. After Diaz and Lyle Overbay ground outs, Ronny Cedeno roped a single to center off a 3-2 heater. In his first big league at-bat, Eric Fryer flew out to right. No score after two.

With two outs in the third, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis both smoked line singles. J-Mac faced his cousin Darnell McDonald, and claimed family bragging rights by striking him out. Miller struck out McDonald and Jones, but his easy inning was ruined when Josh Reddick muffed Chase d'Arnaud's fly for a two base error. The Bosox got away with it when McCutch bounced out to second.

Salty started of by doubling to center. Reddick flew out to center. Salty tagged, and McCutch's airmailed throw flew over the hot corner, allowing him to trot home. Pity; the 8-9 hitters were up next, and McDonald got them on a pop and K. Boston was up 1-0.

A slider conked Walker on the foot, sending him to first. Diaz smacked a ball to short and it was booted by Scutaro. The Bucs were in business with runners on the corners. Overbay flew out to medium center, not deep enough to risk Walker. Cedeno tried to bunt on the first pitch and fouled it off; hasn't this guy ever heard of a sac fly? He did eventually lift a fly to center, not much further than Overbay's, but far enough to bring home Walker to tie the game. After four frames, it was 1-1.

J-Mac pitched a clean fifth, the last out being a Gonzalez belt that was gloved at the wall by Diaz, but is up to 86 pitches. He'll start the sixth for sure; he led off and drew a walk. Jones bounced a ball into right to put runners at first and second. d'Arnaud bunted to move them over, and beat out the sac for an infield knock to jam the sacks.

McCutch fought off three fastballs and rapped a slider into left for an RBI, but Jones was caught after a wide turn at third for the first out when Nick Leyva failed to give him a sign coming around. Walker K'ed looking at a couple of borderline calls and Diaz flew out to right. The Bucs had a chance to tack on a couple, but didn't answer opportunity's knock. Miller is in worse shape than J-Mac; he's tossed 91 pitches, and it's 2-1 Pittsburgh after five.

McDonald walked Youkilis on four pitches, not a very good sign. Cousin Darnell tapped back to the mound; J-Mac threw the ball away going to second to put runners on the corners. He reached back to strike out Salty. Reddick took a pitch just off the plate and lifted it the other way, plenty deep enough to score Youkilis and tie the game. Darnell tried to steal second, and Fryer nailed him. It's 2-2; easy come, easy go.

For the Bucs, it was easy go; they managed a two-out walk by Fryer.

Tim Wood took the hill in the seventh. He walked Scutaro on four pitches, and Big Papi grabbed a stick. Danny Moskos came on, and walked him on a 3-2 pitch after watching a drive just sail wide of the foul pole. Jacoby Ellsbury bunted; Moskos mishandled the ball, and the sacks were juiced with nobody out.

Chris Resop took over the mess. Resop had Scutaro 0-2, gave him a fastball that caught the plate, and he bounced one toward the middle that left Cedeno only the play at first; Boston regained the lead. Gonzalez was walked intentionally. Youkilis lifted the first pitch into right, and David Ortiz came sliding home with an insurance run as both runners moved up a station on Jones' throw. Resop got the last out on a pop up that he could have used sooner. Boston, without a hit, added a pair in the seventh to take a 4-2 lead.

Alfredo Aceves took the mound for Boston. Three up, three down, and now the shoe is on the other foot. The Red Sox hold a two run lead with six outs to go.

D-Mac put the Bosox away in order in the eighth. Daniel Bard took the ball for Boston, and the Pirates went down 1-2-3 again.

Ellersby rolled an infield single with one out in the ninth. With two outs and the runner on second, Gonzalez was walked intentionally. Youkilis bounced one to third; d'Arnaud's throw to second for the force was wide, and the bases were jammed. McCutchen got McDonald on a roller to short to keep the game in hand.

Jonathan Papelon took the ball, and walked Cedeno on four pitches. Fryer went down swinging. Xavier Paul stepped up to the plate, and flew out to right. Jones gave the fans a quick shot of hope with a long fly to left center, but it was put away short of the track by the bullpen fence. Hey, even the big boys gotta win once in a while, right?

If you want to win in MLB, you can't run your way out of your only potential big inning, can't walk six guys, and certainly can't commit four errors. And with all that, it was still just a two-run game. The series showed that Pittsburgh just may have enough pitching to make the second three months of the season interesting if the team brings its gloves to work everyday and keeps on grinding on offense.

And it'll be interesting in more ways than wins and losses. Injuries may have hit the team hard, but it's a good time to see what guys like Chase d'Arnaud, Eric Fryer, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, and company bring to the table. It's mostly been good for the bullpen pups; we'll get a peek at the position players now.

The Bucs are off tomorrow. They play next on Tuesday at Toronto.
  • Within an inning of JT's leg injury, OF Alex Presley had been pulled from Indy's lineup, presumably to join the team beginning with the Toronto series Tuesday. All that was officially announced was that JT was diagnosed with a left quad injury, and he'll be examined again tomorrow. As we know from Pedro Alvarez, those are injuries that can last weeks.
  • 39,511 fans came out today, the largest crowd ever in PNC Park history, breaking yesterday's short-lived record. A combined total of 118,324 showed up for the Boston set, which is the largest three-game series attendance for the ballyard, breaking the old mark of 113,144 set in 2001.
  • Been a busy five weeks at Indy. Nine players have been promoted to the big club since May 21st - SS Pedro Ciriaco, LHP Daniel MoskosINF Josh HarrisonDusty Brown, Wyatt Toregas, RHP Tim Wood, LHP Tony WatsonINF Chase d’Arnaud and Eric Fryer, notes Tribe broadcaster Scott McCauley in his blog Is This Thing On?. And there should be more in the very near future.


RHP James McDonald (5-4, 4.86) goes against LHP Andrew Miller (0-0, 4.76) this afternoon. The game starts at 1:35 PM and be aired on Root Sports.

Lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Chase d'Arnaud 3B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Matt Diaz RF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Eric Fryer C, James McDonald C.

Oddly, your basic lineup against a lefty; no get-away day rests. Eric Fryer gets his first start today, giving Mike McKenry a blow. We'll see how his defense is; Dusty Brown had some problems with carrying J-Mac's curve outside the zone. Hopefully, Fryer has a quieter glove and will get him a couple more calls.

  • Eric Fryer will make his MLB debut this afternoon and will be the seventh different catcher used by the club this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the most catchers used by the team since 1953, when they sent eight players behind the dish.
  • Add Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated to the growing list of fans. He tweeted that "Joel Hanrahan is probably the best reliever in baseball right now."
  • J-Mac and Bosox OF'er Darnell McDonald are cousins. They've never faced one another, and Darnell isn't in today's lineup. Neither is Big Papi. $12.5M seems like a lot of green for a pinch hitter.
  • The Baseball America Hotsheet selected Indy 1B Matt Hague as its #3 hot shot this week. They said "...all he's done is hit at every level." First base has recently becoming a very interesting spot in the Pittsburgh organization with Matt Curry and Aaron Baker on the upswing, too.
  • Want to hear some high praise? Will Lingo of Baseball America has a capsule report on the Futures World team, and says this about Altoona CF Starling Marte: "Marte has the speed and defensive ability to push Andrew McCutchen to an outfield corner when he arrives in Pittsburgh. He just needs to continue improving his plate discipline." 
  • Jim Shonerd of Baseball America, when asked about Stetson Allie's future, said "That'll depend on how his secondary stuff comes along. I'd let him stay a starter as long as I could, but if you made make a prediction, I would say he does end up in the bullpen eventually." And yes, three mentions in this week's BA bodes well for the future of Pittsburgh's minor league system.
  • John Grupp of the Tribune Review has a piece on little publicized Bucco bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, who holds the record for saves for the Cuban national team and voted with his feet when he rafted to America and freedom with his family.
  • Tim Britton of the Providence Journal rehashes the Jay Bay deal, and writes that "There are a lot of reasons the Pirates have struggled in the National League Central for so many years. But the lack of return in the Jason Bay trade is one of the biggest."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bucs Win Home Run Derby 6-4

The clouds can't quite decide whether to stay or float on, but hey, nothing dampens a fireworks night at PNC Park.

With an out in the first, Dusty Pedroia drew a walk off Jeff Karstens. He stole second and went to third on an errant throw by Mike McKenry; the ball hit the runner because Cedeno was behind, instead of in front of, the base. It got Pedroia to third, and that cost when a grounder to short brought him home. Gonzalez walked with two away, and JD Drew brought a little excitement by blasting one that took McCutch to the bullpen fence for the third out.

Tim Wakefield's knuckler got the Bucs 1-2-3 in their half. After an inning, it was 1-0 Bosox.

Jarrod Saltalamaccia led off the second with a double; JK kept him there. The Bucs went down in order again. With two gone in the third, Adrian Gonzalez drove one out over the left center fence, his sixteenth of the year, to make it 2-0.

The Bucs raised a mild threat in their half. A Cedeno single and JT walk put runners on the corners with two away, but Chase d'Arnaud flew out to left to leave them stranded.

Salty lined a single to right with one away, and Josh Reddick walked. JK already has had a game's worth of walks in four innings. Marco Scutaro got him out of hot water by banging a ball to third, and d'Arnaud started a 5-4-3 DP to end the fourth.

McCutch rapped a one out single to third that Youkilis couldn't field cleanly. He stole second as Walker drew a four pitch free pass behind him. Lyle Overbay worked the count full, and then crushed a knuckler that didn't dance over the right center wall to give the Bucs a 3-2 lead. It was his sixth of the year. Who sez a little bench time is a bad thing?

Cedeno followed by lining a double to left. McKenry popped out, but Karstens helped his own cause by bouncing a single up the middle to plate RC, his first RBI in the majors. After four, it was 4-2 Pirates, and the packed house was feelin' it.

Karstens was feelin' it too as he tossed his first clean inning of the night in the fifth. d'Arnaud fell behind 0-2, but got enough of a knuckler to bounce one to short that he legged out for an infield hit, flying down the line. Jones followed with a double to right center, sending d'Arnaud to third with no outs.

McCutch bounced one to second; it went through Pedroia's legs to score a run and keep runners on second and third. Walker, first pitch swinging, hit a shallow fly to center, freezing the runners. Overbay was intentionally walked to load the sacks. It paid off when Cedeno hit one up the middle; Scutaro gloved it, stepped on second and tossed to first to end the inning. The Bucs are up 5-2, but left a couple of runs begging.

With two outs, Drew lined a single to right, but JK finally solved Salty, retiring him on a medium fly to center after going 3-2 on him. JT drew a two-out walk for Pittsburgh, but was caught trying to swipe second.

At 93 pitches, Karstens was presumably on a short leash. Josh Reddick bombed JK's second pitch, a changeup, into the night for his first homer and it was 5-3. With two outs, Karstens fell behind Ellersby 3-1 and served him a heater down the middle; it too was crushed over the right center wall, his ninth, and made it a 5-4 game. That brought on D-Mac.

JK went 6-2/3 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) and six hits (three left the yard) with three walks and two K's on 109 pitches, his season high.

Pedroia drilled a 3-2 fastball into right for a double. In came Dan Moskos to face Gonzalez. He got him to pull a slider to Walker to end the frame.

Matt Albers took to the hill for Boston. With one away, Jones proved his value in the lineup when he drilled a first pitch heater yard in right center, his eighth of the year, to give the Bucs a little breathing room at 6-4. Jones' dinger was the first given up by Albers since June 13th of last season, covering 77-1/3 innings, the longest active homerless streak by AL reliever - until tonight. 

With two outs, Albers walked Walker; that brought on Daniel Bard, a righty, to face Overbay, a lefty. Neither manager apparently goes by the pitching book. But it worked. Overbay had the green light on a 3-0 pitch and popped it into left. It was the same situation as last night - two runs up, six outs to go.

Tim Wood came on. Youkilis bounced one to short, Cedeno threw over to first - and Overbay dropped the ball. Now it was Tony Watson time to face the lefty Drew. He struck him out swinging at high and tight heat. Salty hit a medium fly to McCutch. Watson got ahead of Reddick 0-2, then left a fastball over the plate that he took into right for a single. No worries; Scutaro flew out to center, and the lead stayed at two runs.

Cedeno walked to start the Bucco eighth. McKenry struck out after failing to get a bunt down. Xavier Paul pinch hit, and his grounder moved RC to second. JT drew a free pass too, but d'Arnaud went down swinging.

Joel Hanrahan took the hill in the ninth, and Big Papi was waiting for him. It was a great nine pitch battle, with David Ortiz fighting off 97 MPH fastball after fastball. Hanny finally won, getting a grounder to first.

Pedroia kept the drama alive when he doubled to right with two away on a 3-2 offering and Gonzalez on deck. Paul almost hauled the ball down at the wall but it wouldn't stick in his mitt; it was close enough that the post-game celebratory fireworks went off and Karstens hopped the dugout railing. Hanrahan threw 23 straight fastballs, and was ahead of Gonzalez 1-2 when he decided to toss a slider. It sure fooled Gonzalez, who struck out trying to check his swing to earn Hanny his 22nd save and Jeff Karstens his fifth win.

Hey, the Pirates wasted at-bats again and left some runs on the field. They bobbled a couple of plays. But say what you will, they took two-out-of-three against the NL's best team, Philadelphia, and have the series in hand against the AL's best team, Boston.

Hanny is money in the bank. Guys like Dan Moskos, Tim Wood, Tony Watson and D-Mac are being galvanized by pitching in high-leverage situations against some of the game's best hitters. Philly and Boston can rake, and they've stood up to them. The starters are gutting it out and keeping the team in games; the offense is doing enough to win them, and the D is doing its part. And they're doing it in front of full houses.

It gives us reason to believe this year and even more for the future.

Andrew Miller takes on James McDonald tomorrow afternoon.

  • How dominating has Hanny been? Pedroia's two-out double was the first base runner he's allowed in his last nine save opps, stretching over 9-1/3 innings.
  • Tonight's attendance of 39,483 was the largest crowd to ever watch a baseball game at PNC Park. Good year for the gate so far, hey?
  • Kristy Robinson of Ohio Valley Athletics reports that Pedro Alvarez has had another rehab setback; now he's got a problem with his neck. He was supposed to take the field yesterday, but is day-to-day again. 

Fryer Up, Brown Down

In a move that's logical if unexpected, the Bucs DFA'ed C Dusty Brown and called up Eric Fryer. Fryer hit .262 in 21 games at Indy after batting .345 earlier in the year at Altoona. The 25 year old came to Pittsburgh in 2009 from the Yankees as part of the Eric Hinske trade.

Fryer is athletic and can reach base, with an excellent OBP of .377 this season. He's a gap hitter, with a combined 2011 slugging % of .511 and lifetime .438. He's a good defensive catcher with a strong arm - he also played outfield - and has a 30% throw-out rate through his career.

It's an aggressive promotion, from High A Bradenton in 2010 to the majors a season later, and shows how thin the market is for decent reserve catchers. It also shows that the FO is finally willing to use its own players instead of dumpster diving for help, an acknowledgement of the increased talent level they've been striving to achieve.


RHP Tim Wakefield (4-2, 4.26 ERA) faces RHP Jeff Karstens (4-4, 2.54 ERA) tonight at 7:05 PM. It's fireworks night and the game will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Chase d'Arnaud 3B, Garrett Jones RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Lyle Overbay 1B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Mike McKenry C, Jeff Karstens P.

Lyle Overbay is back out of the doghouse after yesterday's two hit performance while d'Arnaud gets his second start at third. McCutch is at cleanup, where Clint Hurdle has experimented with him when Garrett Jones plays.

  • Happy birthday, Paul Maholm. The lefty turned 29 today.
  • Big Papi won't start again tonight. It was interesting to watch the contrasting styles at play last night. The Bosox want to bludgeon teams into submission; the Bucs nickle and dime opponents with D and dinks. Different strokes for different leagues.
  • James McDonald went to Stargell Field this afternoon to visit with the Homewood RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner cities) players. J-Mac is himself a RBI alumnus, as are Carl Crawford, Coco Crisp, James Loney, Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia, Yovani Gallardo and Justin Upton. The Pirate community involvement by the players and the FO has always been top drawer; ditto for Pirate Charities.
  • Man, talk about recycling. The national media reports that 68 year old Davey Johnson will get the Washington Nats job, and the Fish recently brought on 80 year old Jack McKeon as skipper.

The Pen To The Rescue

The Pirates' bullpen has allowed one run in 19 innings during the first four games of the current homestand. Their collective ERA is 3.29, tenth in MLB. That's pretty nice performance from a group whose sole purpose in life, as Clint Hurdle has said, is "to get the ball to Joel Hanrahan."

Hanny has been lights out. His ERA is 1.27, his WHIP is 0.93, and he's 21-for-21 in the save department; his fastball/slider combo has been devastating. It was a matter of debate when the suits chose him to close in the spring without any competition; they look like Nostradamus now. If he's not in the All-Star game, shame on baseball. But there's been many a twist and turn with the guys behind him.

Evan Meek, Joe Beimel and Mike Crotta all ended up on the DL and Jeff Karstens was thrown into the rotation. So much for April planning; only Hanny, Jose Veras and Chris Resop remain from the opening day roster. JV and CR have had spells where they've been banged around, but their overall lines have been outstanding. 

Veras has appeared in 38 games, held 14, finished five and saved one. His ERA is 2.94, and he has a WHIP of 1.129 with 38 K's in 33-2/3 innings. Resop has been in 36 games and has a 3.67 ERA, bloated by a poor but thankfully short period of inconsistency, with a WHIP of 1.223. He's got nine holds to his credit this season.

But you gotta love the work of D-Mac, Tony Watson, Dan Moskos and Tim Woods as the cavalry charging to the rescue so far this season. 

Daniel McCutchen took over Karstens' spot seamlessly, and has the added advantage of being useful in later, higher-leverage situations. He's got a 2.37 ERA in 30 games, and covered 37 innings with a 1.211 WHIP. Watson (1.04 ERA), Moskos (2.70 ERA) and Woods (4.05 ERA) have all been used to mix-and-match, and Clint Hurdle isn't afraid to toss them on the hill when the game is on the line.

Crotta (9.28 ERA) and Beimel (5.40 ERA) have to worry about whether or not they'll be a spot open for them when they return. And that's a good problem to have.

The young righty, Crotta, will probably be optioned to Indy when he returns to action. Our guess is that if Beimel returns in time, the FO would like to get him on the hill so he's a veteran lefty chip in play before the trade deadline. 

In years past, Resop and Veras would be shopped around. But with Meek's injury - he's still not throwing - and the Buccos' flirtation with a winning record, they may hang around this season unless it falls apart in the next few weeks or someone wants to overpay.

Hey, the Pirate FO has always thought that a bullpen was the easiest part of the team to build, and judging by the past two seasons, they may be onto something.

And give Hurdle and Ray Searage props, too. The skipper may run and bunt like a madman, but he's handled the pen in textbook fashion, keeping the arms fresh. Searage is the anti-Joe Kerrigan, communicating with his guys and allowing them to pitch to their strengths rather than to an opponent's weakness.

So far, so good.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bucs Bend But Don't Break; Win 3-1

Whatta zoo in town. Workers heading to their favorite watering holes, Bucco fans and the Red Sox Nation streaming to PNC Park, and Furries sniffing Golden Triangle hydrants while God decides whether or not to rain on the whole TGIF scene. Great day for the Buccos and Bosox to get it on, no? 

Paul Maholm started off by nibbling; he lost Jacoby Ellersby and went 3-2 on Dusty Pedroia before he flew out in front of the Clemente Wall. Adrian Gonzalez saw three straight sliders on the outside half of the plate; he lined the third one into right to put runners on the corners. A bounce out to third by Kevin Youkilis brought home Ellersby. The Bucs went down in order. After one, it was 1-0 big boys.

After an out in the second, Jason Varitek singled to right; he got a bit greedy and was thrown out at second by Matt Diaz. The Bucs again went down in order.

The third was scary. After a pair of lineouts to Jose Tabata, the Bosox followed with a pair of roped singles to left. A walk loaded the sacks. Maholm escaped when Darnell McDonald grounded one to third; Chase d'Arnaud stepped on the bag, and that was that..whew! But Maholm is up to 56 pitches.

Ronny Cedeno bunted for a base hit - we don't know if Clint Hurdle was happy or sad over that - and Mike McKenry dropped a double to right to put runners on second and third. Maholm walked on a 3-2 pitch, and they were juiced. JT followed with a poorly played chopper to third for an infield knock and it was tied. Who needs line drives?

d'Arnaud picked up the Bucco MO quickly; he rolled a changeup softly up the middle for a 6-3 DP, scoring the go-ahead run. McCutch got plunked. Lester got ahead of Walker 0-2, ran the count full, and got him swinging at a heater. 2-1 Pittsburgh after three.

Maholm struck out Mike Cameron; he was up 0-2, fell to a full count, and then caught him looking; must have lulled him to sleep. After a Varitek fly out, Marco Scutaro lined a single to right. Lester hit a soft liner to Cedeno, and the fourth was safely navigated. With 72 pitches, PM needs a clean fifth if he's gonna get to the sixth.

Diaz started off the fourth by dumping a soft liner into right for a knock. lyle Overbay spanked a single to right to put runners at first and third. Cedeno had a twelve pitch at-bat; all it resulted in was a pop out. It hurt; Mckenry bounced into a 6-4-3 DP, and the Bucs blew a golden opportunity to add on. The only good news is that Lester is up to 71 pitches now.

With two outs, PM hit Gonzalez with a curve and then walked Youkilis. McDonald flew out to center, and the Bucs came to bat. With two away, d'Arnaud collected his first MLB hit, a triple up the left field line. McCutch K'ed, and the Bucs left another runner at third.

In the sixth, Cameron K'ed swinging followed by a Varitek single lined to center. That brought on Chris Resop, who had the fortune to get Scutaro to line to Cedeno for a 6-3 DP. Maholm went 5-1/3 innings, giving up a run on six hits with three walks and two K's. It was a struggle, but the results were solid.

Walker singled on a ball Youkilis couldn't handle at third; Diaz thought he'd try him out and he booted this one, to put runners at first and third. This time, the Bucs cashed in when Overbay rolled a single through the right side, bringing in Walker as Diaz stopped at second. Cedeno bunted again - this one was probably called from the bench - and Diaz was forced at third. McKenry hacked away; it took ten pitches, but Lester finally whiffed him swinging. Brandon Wood grabbed a stick and grounded out to third.

Tony Watson took over. Pinch hitter Josh Reddick banged a single through the right side to lead things off. After an out, Pedroia drew an eight pitch walk. In a nicely thrown sequence, Watson got ahead of Gonzalez 0-2 and got him to pop foul to McKenry. Hurdle called on Daniel McCutchen to face Youkilis. Good choice; D-Mac struck him out swinging to the accompaniment of mock "Yoooook" chants from the Bucco faithful . Six outs to go.

Righty Matt Albers took the hill for the Red Sox. JT got a belt high heater on the inside corner on a 3-2 pitch and lined into left for a leadoff knock. Playing Hurdle ball, d'Arnaud bunted Tabata to second. McCutch got ahead 2-0 and whacked a fastball, but it was caught on the track in right. Tom Hottovy came on the face The Pittsburgh Kid, who flew out to left.

Jose Veras took command in the eighth. McDonald dumped a soft single into center, and JD Drew rolled a single into right.Varitek bunted them over a station. Scutaro whiffed on a nasty curve that froze him. Now Terry Francona broke out his toy; Big Papi grabbed the lumber. At the same time, the rains fell from the skies. The umps said play on, and it was a good battle. JV got ahead 1-2 and fed three nasty curves that David Ortiz spoiled. He finally threw him a two-seamer, and he bounced it to short to end the inning.

The rains came to halt - thank you, baseball gods - and Dan Wheeler toed the rubber for Boston. He struck out a pair, and it was Hanny time. He faced the top of the Beantown order, and put them down 1-2-3 for save #21 and Paul Maholm's fourth win.

Hey, the Bucs had plenty of chances to blow open the game, but 2-for-12 with RISP didn't help the cause. The pitchers may have bent, but never broke. The most dramatic matchup may have been Veras and Big Papi, but the key outs were Watson getting Gonzalez to pop out and Veras K'ing Scutaro, both with runners and second and third and just one out. Good stuff by the Bucco bullpen tonight.

Tim Wakefield takes on Jeff Karstens tomorrow.

  • Pittsburgh drew 39,330 fans tonight, their fifth sell-out of the season
  • The good news: being an NL game, the Bosox DH, Big Papi David Ortiz, is sitting today.
  • Not so good news...Kristy Robinson of Ohio Valley Athletics writes that "A source told me that (Evan) Meek is in Bradenton but not currently throwing." What is it about these minor injuries that take half a season to heal?
  • The Pirates have DFA'ed LHP Aaron Thompson to clear a spot for Chase d’Arnaud on the 40-man roster, say the beat gang. Thompson was 3-6 with a 4.97 ERA in 12 starts for Altoona.
  • Speaking of d'Arnaud, Jen Langosch of reports that "d’Arnaud played third extensively in college and is very comfortable there. I anticipate he will be the Pirates’ primary third baseman, ahead of Brandon Wood." So much for putting pressure on Ronny Cedeno, at least for the short term.
  • The Bucs added two pitchers today. They reacquired RHP Steven Jackson from the Reds organization for a PTBNL after releasing him during the off season. The Pirates also signed 23rd round draft pick RHP Jordan Cooper of Kentucky, a guy they originally selected as a preppy in 2009.
  • LHP Rudy Owens hasn't had a tough enough year at Indy (6-5, 5.33 ERA). Now he's on the DL after taking a come-backer off his thumb earlier in the week. The good news is that he's expected back soon; it was just a bruise. Minor league DLs can last as little as seven days, so it's possible he'll just miss tomorrow's start if it's retroactive to the day of the injury, which was Monday.


LHP Jon Lester (9-3, 3.70) and LHP Paul Maholm (3-8, 3.29) will kick off the Bucco-Red Sox series tonight at 7:05 PM. Root Sports will air the game.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Chase d'Arnaud 3B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Matt Diaz RF, Lyle Overbay 1B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Mike McKenry C, Paul Maholm P.

Chase d'Arnaud will be thrown into the fire right away, as per Clint Hurdle's MO for everyone called up not named Pedro Ciriaco. Overbay is back in the lineup, probably because he's hitting .254 against lefties and Garrett Jones is hitting .077.

  • Jen Langosch of examines basics of the Paul Maholm debate - trade him while his value is high or tie him up with another contract as a veteran inning-eater?
  • Indy INF Chase d'Arnaud (US Team) and Altoona OF Starling Marte (World Team) were named to the All-Star Futures Game rosters (since d'Arnaud was called up the same day, he'll probably be replaced.) The game is part of All-Star Week.
  • RHP Brandon Cumpton has been promoted to Bradenton from West Virginia, a move from low Class A to high. The righty had big problems at the beginning of the year and was sent to the pen for awhile, where he apparently figured it out as he's been lights out since.
  • The conventional wisdom is that number one draft choice RHP Gerrit Cole will get about $10 million, although his initial asking price isn't known, according to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Moving On...

The Bucs made the first of what is expected to be several moves made this week.

First, Pittsburgh announced that Chase d'Arnaud (.280/4/33) was called up and Josh Harrison was sent down. This isn't too big a surprise, except that we would have expected a more straightforward d'Arnaud-Pedro Ciriaco swap.

Still, d'Arnaud can play third and is a middle infielder by trade, so he's considerably more versatile than JH, and Harrison, while putting the ball in play (.283), had just a .295 OBP/.317 slugging %, and didn't offer much in the leather department.

In the 23 year old Harrison's first foray in the bigs, he showed that he was a capable utility guy with a decent stick and good speed, and that's probably his ultimate role, having neither power nor a standout mitt. d'Arnaud, 24 years old, was a fourth round draft pick in 2008 and is considered one of the future building blocks of the team. So hey, there's no time like the present to get his feet wet in the show.

The Bucs will have to clear a spot for him on the forty-man roster.

Rob Biertempfel has a whole scenario worked out about upcoming moves in his Tribune-Review article. He says that Alex Presley will be brought up when the Bucs visit Toronto on Tuesday. We'd expect that if the FO and Clint Hurdle want to get his bat in the lineup that they'll swap him out for Pedro Ciriaco.  There's really no other logical choice, unless they plan to dump a contract, and we'd be hard pressed to identify a taker for any of Pittsburgh's veteran underachievers.

The Pirates have seven infielders and four outfielders now, if you consider Garrett Jone's move to first to be more or less permanent, so losing Ciriaco for an outfielder doesn't really change the equation much, except to drop the Pirates to one reserve middle infielder, d'Arnaud. In effect, you've replaced Ciriaco with d'Arnaud and Harrison with Presley.

The other approaching move that we're aware of is the call up of Brad Lincoln to pitch in the July 2nd DH at Washington. He'll be up and down again after the start; the million dollar question is for who?

We'd expect Presley to be the one to go; even with Jones at first, the Bucs have a glut of OF'ers. The most likely callback when Lincoln is returned would be Harrison, who is eligible to return on July 3rd. Once sent down, a player has to spend 10 days on the farm before he can be recalled to prevent too much roster gamesmanship (unless someone goes on the DL). This is Biertempfel's reasoning behind Harrison being sent down first, so his callback would coincide with Lincoln's return ot Indy.

The only other move we foresee would be Jason Jaramillo returning to health and trading spots with Dusty Brown, but JJ's recovery time is still TBD. So for a while, anyway, there will be a whole lotta shakin' going on and we'll get to see the future in d'Arnaud, Presley, and Lincoln.

The real action will come around the trade deadline when the Bucs have to decide if they're sellers or buyers and figure out what to do with all the guys currently on the DL as they regain their health - Mike Crotta, Joe Beimel, Evan Meek, Steve Pearce,  Dewey, and a bit later Pedro, Chris Snyder, and Ohlie; maybe even Kevin Hart.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bucs Get A Gift, Win 5-4

Hey, nice afternoon to shoot a little hooky from work; looks like quite a few folk are going to catch the get-away game (19,418, to be exact).

Kevin Correia started off by whiffing JJ Hardy. He got ahead of Nick Markakis 0-2, nibbled some to work it to a full count, then came in with a slider that Markakis jerked into right for a double. Adam Jones K'ed; ditto Derrick Lee.

JT got the Bucs rolling when he beat out a slow roller to third off Zach Britton. Josh Harrison laid down a bunt, and he beat the ball to first. Two on without a ball going 90'. McCutch lined one into left to score Jose Tabata and send Jay Hay to third. Neil Walker took a cut at an ankle high heater and bounced it to second for a run producing 4-6-3 DP. 2-0 after one, Buccos.

Matt Wieters started off with a long, eight pitch at-bat before flying out deep to straightaway center. Luke Scott grounded out, but Mark Reynolds bounced one up the third base line for a two-out double. Blake Davis flew out to McCutch; easy as pie. The Bucs went down easy as pie themselves.

KC jammed his counterpart Britton with a heater; he lined it into left for an opening knock. Hardy bounced one to third that glanced off Harrison's mitt and rolled into left for another single. Markakis poked a curve into right to score a run; Diaz had trouble corraling the ball and runners ended up at second and third.

Jones made the smart play. He rolled a ball to second and gave himself up to bring in a run and move Markarkis to third. But KC controlled the damage; a Lee grounder and Wieters fly out kept the game at 2's. Pittsburgh again went down as quietly as mice.

The Orioles banged out back-to-back line knocks by Scott and Reynolds into right to open the fourth. Davis flew out to the track in center, and both runners tagged to move up a station. Britton grounded out to first, freezing Scott and Reynolds. Correia fell behind Hardy 3-0 and came back with three straight fastballs. He fouled the first pair and ripped the third up the line to bring home a pair with his clutch knock.

McCutch is back in his little zone; he doubled and went to third on a wild pitch. Walker bounced to short to bring him home. Diaz lined a rope into center for a knock but was quickly erased when Jones rolled one to short to end the frame 6-4-3.

Correia enjoyed a fairly quiet fifth, marred only by a two out walk. Wood rolled a single into left to open the Bucco half of the frame, and McKenry followed with a knock up the middle.  Correia moved them up ninety feet with a bunt.

Tabata struck out swinging; not a pitch was over the plate (although one was a called strike). Harrison spanked one to second, right at rookie Blake Davis, making his first MLB start today. The rook watched it go through his wickets, and two runs came in. Not exactly clutch, but close enough. The Bucs were up 5-4.

Darned if Correia didn't get the first two hitters just to have Britton drop another flare for his second knock. Hardy hit one about two hundred feet further to the Notch, where it become the third out. Baseball is a funny game, no? The Bucs in the sixth drew a one-out walk for their trouble.

Danny Moskos took over on the hill while Xavier Paul trotted into right. Correia went six innings, giving up four runs on nine hits with a walk and five Ks, tossing 97 pitches. Moskos was greeted by an infield single by Markakis, who beat out a swinging bunt to short.

That brought on Chris Resop to face the righties. He got Jones on a liner to short, and Lee popped out. Jose Veras then came on and got Wieter on a fly to left. Jim Johnson took the hill for Baltimore. With one away, Paul doubled to the bullpen fence. Tabata grounded out and Harrison flew out to the track in right. It was still 5-4 after seven innings.

JV set down the O's 1-2-3 in the eighth, finishing his four-out gig with just ten pitches. He did his job well and handed the lead over to Hanny. Koji Uehara pitched the eighth for the Birds, and struck out the side.

Joel Hanrahan took the ball, and got Vlad Guerrero to pop out after falling behind 3-1. Hardy flew out to right and Markakis to left, and the Buccos rallied to take the series after losing the first game, a first in itself for 2011. It was Hanny's 20th save and KC's ninth win.

Correia struggled - we've used that word a lot about the starters not named Jeff Karstens lately - but a beat up and overused bullpen once again rose to the occasion to seal another win. Good stuff from Hanny and the gang, and a great job of mixing and matching by Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage.

The Bucs are off tomorrow - the bullpen can sure use the day off - and entertain the big bad Bosox starting Friday. But let them grab a beer and enjoy being at .500 again for an extra day.

For a team not very stacked with players to begin with to keep on competing after losing a handful of guys to injury is a credit to the club; they would have folded up their tents and slinked into the night in seasons past. As it is, they sit at 37-37, three games behind the Cards and Brewers, and that's a fine piece of hangin' around.

  • Joel Hanrahan became the third Pirate to notch 20 saves by the All-Star break. The other two were Mike Williams and Jose Mesa.
  • Clint Hurdle was not pleased when Ronnie Cedeno decided on his own to lay down a bases-loaded bunt yesterday, so he gave him today off "to regain focus." RC needs that little boot in the butt every so often, it seems.
  • All three Oriole starters have a hit this series; that kinda negates the NL advantage.
  • The Pirates have been pretty quick starters this year. They have 49 first-inning runs in 2011, behind only the Yankees (57) for the most out-of-the-box tallies.
  • With yesterday's victory, their third against the AL, the Bucs were assured of bettering last season's results against the Junior Circuit: they only won twice against them in 2010. After today's victory, they're 4-5 in 2011 interleague play, with Boston and Toronto coming up.
  • Jen Langosch of reports that the Pirates sent Andrew Lambo, who had been struggling in AAA ball (.184/3/11), to Altoona to clear a roster spot for Josh Rodriguez at Indy.
  • The Bucs announced that they have signed 18th round pick LHP Josh Poytress of Fresno State, their 13th draftee in the fold.


LH Zach Britton (6-4, 3.10) and RH Kevin Correia (8-6, 3.60) meet in the rubber match of the series. The contest starts at 12:35 PM and will be shown on Root Sports, which will also air the seventh game of the 1971 World Series at 7 PM tonight.

The lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Josh Harrison 3B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Neil Walker 2B, Matt Diaz RF, Garrett Jones 1B, Brandon Wood SS, Mike McKenry C, Kevin Correia P.

Ronny Cedeno gets a day off. That means Brandon Wood goes to short and Jones is in the lineup, even against a lefty. The only mild surprise is that McKenry is catching today; usually the get-away games go to the reserve backstop. Guess that's about all you need to know about Dusty Brown.

  • Now that the 1971 honors are out of the way, maybe Root Sports can get back to showing the ball game instead of an endless round of old-timer interviews that shuffled the action to a little box on the corner of the screen. Heck, there were times the announcers completely missed (or ignored) what was happening on the field because of the interviews. Save them for the post-game.
  • Garrett Jones has reached base safely in eight straight games and in 10 of his last 11 matches.
  • RHP Michael Crotta has moved on to Indy to continue his rehab assignment after throwing one clean inning for Altoona.
  • The Pirates signed RHP Joe Parsons as an undrafted free agent from Virginia Tech. He went 7-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) as a senior. 
  • The Josh Gibson Foundation will host a Centennial Negro League Gala on August 13th at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh. The event will honor the 100th anniversary of Gibson's birth in 1911. The chief awardee will be Reggie Jackson. Al Oliver, Mudcat Grant and Dave Cash will also be honored.