Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pedro, Karstens Lead Pirates To 7-3 Victory

Holy schmoly, 99 out when Lance Lynn delivered his first pitch. Alex Presley watched two fastballs sail down the middle, took a ball, and then beat a low curve to first for out number one. JT took a heater down the middle on the first pitch, and two pitches later rolled over on a curve, grounding to second. Cutch worked the count even at 2-2 and then punched a curve into center for a knock. Garrett Jones saw three straight heaters, and lined the last one the opposite way to put Buccos at the corners. Neil Walker drew a free pass on a 3-2 change up. El Toro worked the count full, got a fastball down Broadway, and planted it 432' feet away in the right field stands for a grand salami. Now there's some two out lightning.

Jeff Karstens retired the first two Cards, but lost Matt Holiday on balls after being ahead in the count 1-2. No prob; he came back to get Carlos Beltran swinging. Still, gotta throw strikes with a big lead. After K'ing the 8-9 hitters to open the second, Lynn walked Presley on five pitches and he stole second. But he found the third out quickly this time around, getting Tabata on another bouncer to second. JK put the Cards away in order, collecting a pair of K.

Cutch opened the third by spanking a 3-2 fastball up the middle. Jones went down on three pitches, swinging at two out of the zone. Walker went done swinging the same way on a 2-2 count, whiffing on a pair of balls off the plate. Pedro didn't fish, but his drive to left center on a 3-2 curve was hauled in at the fence.

Tony Cruz greeted JK by smacking a curve for a double to center in the third. Cutch got a late jump on it, but almost caught up to the ball before banging into the wall. Cruz was bunted over by Lynn, and Karstens lost Skip Schumaker on four pitches to bring up the big guns. He almost escaped with a goose egg, but the Bucs couldn't turn a well placed Jon Jay grounder into a DP. Despite a nice stop and good feed by Walker and strong turn by Clint Barmes, Jay won a bang-bang call at first. Cruz came home, and a pitch later, Jay stole second. That cost, as Holiday drilled a 2-2 sinker into center to bring home Jay and halve the lead at 4-2. Cutch saved any further damage by making a sweet diving catch of a Carlos Beltran flare to end the frame.

There was a little consternation as the training staff met Cutch after the inning. He was holding his wrist, banged up during the diving grab, and they hustled him into the exam room. But he came back out, so we assume all is well.

With an out in the fourth, The Fort bounced a heater over the wall in right center for a ground rule two-bagger. The Bucs left him there; this is beginning to be reminiscent of the Phil game where the Pirates jumped ahead 5-0 and hung on by the skin of their teeth for a 5-4 victory...and the Cards probably have a stronger lineup. Allen Craig opened with a bloop single to right just in front of JT. David Freese was jammed, and his grounder to third ended up a force; this time, Walker's turn wasn't very good, and the relay was badly off target. JK whiffed David Descalso and Cruz bounced out, so no blood, no foul.

JT started the fifth with a long at-bat, banging the eighth pitch, a hook, into center for a double. Cutch couldn't move him up, grounding out to third, and favoring his wrist after a check swing. Jones walked on five pitches. Walker poked a heater away up the third base line for a double, scoring Tabata while Jones had to hit the brakes at the hot corner. With first open, the Cards wanted no part of Pedro, and intentionally walked him to juice the sacks. El Toro's protection, Barmes, came through; his bouncer to short wasn't crisp enough to turn into DP, and Jones came home on the force out at second. So the Bucs did add on, making it 6-2. JK put the Cards down in order, and at 72 pitches has a chance to get to the seventh today.

Barret Browning came on for St. Louis. His first MLB inning went nicely for him, 1-2-3 with his first big league K, of Alex Presley. In the Card half, Holiday hit a jamshot dink to right that dropped short of JT. Karstens retired the next trio on a can of corn, pop up, and punchout. He's looking like the JK of 2011 during the past couple of innings.

Browning looked good too, putting the Bucs away routinely in the seventh. There was a change; Drew Sutton took over in left as Presley moved to center. Cutch was pulled, and he was pronounced day-to-day after the game with a sprained wrist. Karstens tucked the Red Birds away 1-2-3 on ten pitches, and has quietly rung up 7 whiffs, with a pitch count of 95. It was his last frame; he gave up two runs on four hits with two walks.

Maikel Cleto, a fresh AAA arm who had a cup of coffee with the Cards last year, took the bump. He struck out the side, with the one misfire of plunking Barmes. Tony Watson toed the rubber for Pittsburgh. With an out, Jay grounded a double up the third base line on an outside sinker, with Pedro well off the line. An out later, Beltran turned on an inside heater and bounced it off the base of the wall in left center for another two bagger, making the score 6-3 and bringing on Jared Hughes. He closed the inning with a two pitch, broken bat bouncer to short from Craig.

Victor Marte climbed the mound for St. Louis, and watched the Pirates go into small ball mode. Presley bunted for an inning-opening knock and went to second on a wild pitch. JT sacrificed him to third (a tactic that we think is way overused by the skipper) and it paid off. Sutton hit a weak two-hopper to short with the infield in. The SS had to move to his right and backhand the ball, allowing The King to slide in ahead of the throw and upping the margin to 7-3.

Hughes stayed on the hill and retired the Cards in order to earn his first big league save (he came on in the eighth when it was 6-3, and finished the game). It was Karstens' first win of the season. Now let's hope that Cutch hasn't banged up his wrist too badly; there's no question that he's the one guy Pittsburgh can't possibly replace.

Erik Bedard faces Jake Westbrook tomorrow afternoon.

  • Pittsburgh is at a season high seven games over .500, matching last year's high point.
  • The Bucs are now 9-1-1 in their last eleven series, and have a chance to broom St. Louis at Busch for the first time since 1991.
  • Pedro's grand slam was the first of his career and the first Bucco bingo since Derrek Lee pounded one in September against against the Cubs.
  • Clint Hurdle told the media that Brad Lincoln will not be available for the next two days after throwing 33 pitches last night. In case you're wondering about his use of the bullpen lately, keep in mind that the Bucs are in the midst of 20 straight games, running through the July 8th All-Star break, so Hurdle has a lot of juggling to do to keep his guys fresh. Lincoln is an especially tricky case, having been jerked between the pen and rotation, and for the time being won't be used in back-to-back games.
  • Happy B-Day, Drew Sutton, who is 29 today.
  • RHP Victor Black (1-1, 1.36, 4 saves) of Altoona has been added to the Eastern League All-Star team. He joins Curve homies C Ramon Cabrera, RHP Brandon Cumpton and IF Brock Holt.

Lineup, Notes, Bats' Sweet June Tune

RHP Jeff Karstens (0-2, 6.35 ERA) will stare down the Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (10-3, 3.23) this afternoon. Karstens had a turbulent return to the bump after an extended trip to the DL. Lynn has been knocked around his past couple of starts after charging out of the blocks to begin the season when he notched a pair of W against Pittsburgh. It'll be a hot weekend, and not just because of the baseball - it's supposed to be 104 today and 102 tomorrow in the Mound City. The game is scheduled for 2:15 and will be aired by Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, Jeff Karstens P.

No surprises here - Presley earned another shot at leadoff. Funny how a little competition works; McGehee and Jones took off after Matt Hague started at first for a week, and The King grew a little more patient at the plate after three starts from Drew Sutton. Hot Rod is down because of a day-after-night game; no sense in pressing his luck with the stiff knee.

  • Is Cutch clutch? 9 of the 15 HR smacked by the Bucco CF'er this season left the yard with runners on base. That's tied for the most in the NL with Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. 
  • The Pirates have hit a NL leading 38 home runs this month (it’s also the third most in MLB behind the Yankees and Blue Jays). That's the most long flies in June by the team since 1999. The club record for the month is 39 hit in 1975.
  • Pittsburgh has gone deep in a season-high seven straight games, their longest stretch since 2010. The last time Pittsburgh homered in more than seven straight games was in 2008 (nine from June 10-19).
  • With last night's offensive outburst, the Bucs have become the highest scoring club for June in MLB, two runs ahead of the Mets. Both are pretty unlikely teams to find atop the offensive leaderboard though there are still a handful of teams within hailing distance, led by the Angels and Red Sox, with a game to go.
  • There are some sites in the web world that calculate a team's playoff odds daily. Going into today, Cool Standings/ESPN rank the Pirate chances at 54.6% , although Baseball Prospectus remains a doubting Thomas, giving the Bucs just a 21.3% shot at the grail. After last night's win, the Pirates are tied for the second wild card position with the Mets and a game behind the top dog Dodgers. They also sit one game behind the Reds in the NL Central race.
  • Some nice pitching efforts on the farm last night. At Indy, LHP Jeff Locke went six scoreless innings, giving up four hits with two walks while fanning six. For the Curve, RHP Phil Irwin yielded one run on six hits with no walks and six K in seven innings.West Virginia's RHP Zach Von Rosenberg put up six goose eggs, allowing seven hits and a walk while punching out six.
  • More good minor news: Jon Anderson of McEffort noted that "In June, Starling Marte has torched pitchers with a .310 average, four home runs, 27 RBIs and a .921 OPS." So the Bucs' top position prospect may yet be working his way to Pittsburgh this summer.
  • Dewey, as rumored, did sign a two year extension with the Twins for $7M. Doumit's line this year is almost a clone of his career slash. You may recall that his declined option with Pittsburgh for this year was worth $7.25M; he inked a FA deal with the Twin Cities for $3M.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Bucs Bomb Birds 14-5

Good start for the Bucs. Adam Wainwright was showing off his curve; he got Drew Sutton looking at one. He was ahead of JT 1-2, but Tabata took a sinker away and grounded it into right, stumblied out of the box and more or less staggered to first. Wainright got ahead of Cutch, too, but went to the hook once too often; McCutch lined one to left, freezing Matt Holiday and ending up with a double to put runners at second and third.

Here's where baseball is a funny game. Garrett Jones hit the first pitch on the screws, but the bullet was right at first baseman Allen Craig, so instead of a two-run knock, it was a loud out. The next hitter, Neil Walker, was jammed with a high and tight heater, but fought it off and dropped it just beyond a diving Carlos Beltran, ticking his mitt, and it was a 2-0 early edge for Kevin Correia.

KC had a nice start. After two were down, Holiday hit a grounder weakly off the end of the bat, but the hopper found its way up the middle. Cleanup man Carlos Beltran followed, and he also tapped a pitch softly, but this one took a couple of hops into Jones' mitt to end the frame.

In the second, Wainwright mixed in a few more sliders, and the third pitch did the trick. He struck out the side, being nicked only by a KC grounder up the middle with two away.  The Cards halved the lead in their half. Allen Craig was served an 0-2 curve that caught the plate and drove it into left center for a double. Two soft grounders brought him home. David Descalso drew a nine pitch walk to turn the order over, as Wainwright bounced out to end the inning.

JT led off the third with an infield hit that Raphael Furcal had to eat, but Wainwright put away the next trio of Buccaneers routinely. KC's control deserted him in the third, and St, Louis took advantage.

Furcal drew a five pitch walk. Jon Jay was up 3-0 and two pitches later rolled one past first, where Jones was holding, to put Cards on the corners. After an out, Beltran took a heater away through the shortstop hole to plate Furcal. Falling behind Craig 2-0, KC came in with a pair of sliders. Craig missed the first one, but belted the next over the left center field fence, and it was 5-2.

Both the Pirates and Cards went down quietly in the fourth, with the only action a two-out, two-strike ground single through the hole to right by Clint Barmes.

With two away in the fifth, the Bucs made a new game of it. Cutch hit a two hopper past the mound to leg out a knock. Jones went the opposite way on a changeup, rolling it off the webbing of David Freese's glove to put Bucco on the corners. The Kid walked on five pitches to bring up Pedro. He was jammed a bit on a cutter, but muscled it enough to drop a soft liner up the right field line. The ball bounced to the wall and cleared the sacks after Beltran had problems corralling it to make it 5-5.

Correia survived his half. Holiday singled with an out and went to third on a Beltran chopper that was the second out. Craig pounded a fastball deep to the right center gap, but Cutch ran it down, kissing the padding as he made the grab.

The Bucs kept bombing. After taking first pitch strikes in his prior two at bats, Barmes unloaded on a cutter, knocking it over the 375' mark to give the Bucs the lead. Pinch hitter Alex Presley battled, then he took the seventh pitch, a sinker, and knocked it out of the yard in right center. That was it for Wainwright. Eduardo Sanchez climbed the mound. He got two quick outs before Cutch roped his third hit of the night off him. Jones got a 2-1 heater and bombed it into the right field stands up the line, and it was 9-5. Walker kept the music playing with a knock, but Sanchez escaped when an Alvarez laser was beamed right at Descalso.

Correia went five innings, giving up five runs on six hits with two walks and three K, throwing 90 pitches. Brad Lincoln took the ball in the sixth. He put up a zero, with Freese the only runner, singling when he lined an inside heater back up the middle in a nice bit of batting. Fernando Salas came on for St. Louis and put Pittsburgh down in order for the first time tonight in the seventh. Bad Brad kept the Birds chirping in their nest, K'ing a pair.

And it looked like Lincoln was gonna soak up some more innings as he led off the eighth. Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan are off tonight after working two in a row, so Bad Brad may end up being the bridge, set up and closer all in one. Lincoln opened the frame by lining an 0-2 slider the opposite way for a knock, and Salas then lost JT and Cutch. Mike Metheny called on Sam Freeman, a lefty. Casey McGehee took the bat from Jones, and after falling behind 0-2, took a couple of balls, hit a couple of fouls, and then lined a knock into center for another run. With an out, Pedro dew a five pitch walk to plate another, and it was 11-5 with six outs to go.

Make that three; Lincoln mowed down the Red Birds, punching out another pair. The Bucs weren't done when Marc Rzepczynski took over. He gave up a knock to Presley, a walk to JT, and a three run blast to Cutch. Bad Brad was sent to the showers after his three frames, giving up a hit with four K, and Chris Resop climbed the bump and put the Cards down without a runner.

Hey, guess what? The Pirates have finally put together a positive run differential with +3.  Maybe the FO did have some idea of what they were doing when they put this club together. And Brad Lincoln is looking more and more like the closer of the future; his mound presence even has an edge to it when he's coming out of the pen. It's been a great first half ride; let's see how the dog days pan out.

Jeff Karstens takes on Lance Lynne tomorrow afternoon. With temps supposed to be in triple digits (it was 90 at 10:15 PM in St. Louis), the Cards are rumored to have requested to change the game time to the evening, so that may come into play if true though providing a logistical nightmare.

  • Cutch was 4-for-5 with a walk, double, homer, 3 RBI and 4 runs to go with a wall-crashing catch. He's hitting .344 with 15 bombs, 51 RBI and 46 runs. Sure glad the FO tied him up for awhile. 
  • Tonight was the first time the Pirates have hit three bombs in an inning since July 22nd, 2009 vs. Milwaukee. It was the first time during a road game since July 21st, 2008 against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
  • 14 runs is the most scored in a game by the Bucs since Aug. 31st, 2010, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
  • The Pirates had their season high of hits with 19, eclipsing the mark they set two days ago against Philadelphia. The last time they pounded out that many knocks was in July, 2010, versus Houston.
  • Alex Presley's homer was his first pinch hit dinger, and the Pirates' first since August of last year when Brandon Wood banged one.
  • Carlos Beltran collected his 2,000th hit off KC in the third inning.

Notes, Lineup For Cards' Opener

RHP Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.03) takes the mound against the Cards RHP Adam Wainwright (6-7, 4.32). Correia has been pretty steady lately even with some tough matchups. And Wainwright will be another one; after some early season battles, he's been his old top-shelf self lately. The Cards have as hot as the weather lately, winning five of their past six games. The contest starts at 8:15 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Drew Sutton LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B,  Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Kevin Correia P.

Hot Rod is back behind the dish; that means Eric Fryer is on short time. JT is starting; we sorta thought with a righty on the hill, Alex Presley might get the nod, but Sutton is still at leadoff.

  • Think it's hot here? Well, you're right, but it's even hotter in Saint Louis - the temp is forecast to hit 106!
  • Kevin Correia has gone 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in his last six starts since losing five straight outings from 4/29 to 5/20.
  • Altoona's C Ramon Cabrera, RHP Brandon Cumpton and IF Brock Holt were named to the Eastern League All-Star team. 
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted that Paul Cobbe, Ryan Doumit's agent, said that Dewey is about to ink an extension with the Twins.
  • This day in history: In 1977, Pops Stargell became the first Pirates player to hit 400 career home runs, when he connected at St. Louis.
  • Happy 45th B-Day, Rock! John Wehner was born on this day in 1967.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bucs Hang On 5-4 To Earn Split

Well, tough to get off to a much better start. Drew Sutton began with a pinball infield single off pitcher Kyle Kendrick's mitt that ricocheted to short. Neil Walker drew a four pitch walk. Cutch flew out, but Garrett Jones lined the next pitch to right to bring home Sutton. KK got ahead of Casey McGehee 1-2 and tried to polish him off with a sinker; instead, the ball got launched over the wall in left center to make it 4-0. It got better. Pedro also fell behind 1-2, and then Kendrick tried to get him fishing at a changeup. El Toro fished all right, lining the horsehide over the right field fence. 5-0 is a pretty fair start.

AJ Burnett gave up a two out bloop single to Shane Victorino in the first. The Bucs couldn't repeat the action in the second, getting a Walker knock with two away. The Phils, though, chipped back. Ty Wigginton singled with one away, and an out later one of the Bucs old catchers, Erik Kratz, sent an 0-2 fastball out of the yard in center.

The Pirates went quietly again in the third; the Phils managed another one out knock, this one by Juan Pierre. Both sides went down in order in the fourth and fifth. It'd be nice to see the Bucs add a couple on to give AJ a little cushion. It wouldn't be in the sixth, although McGehee did draw a walk.

The Phils kept plugging. With an out, Victorino took a 3-1 heater into center and Hunter Pence roped the next pitch to right to put runners on the corners. AJ got ahead of Placido Polanco 0-2, and he rolled a slurve to third, where the Bucs got a force but couldn't turn the DP, allowing Victorino to plate. Wigs walked on four pitches, but AJ got Mike Fontenot to ground out. It's 5-3 Bucs after six.

Mike McKenry led off with an infield knock to the left side; AJ blew that up when he bunted barely in the field, allowing C Kratz to start a DP.. Sutton drew a five pitch walk. Walker ripped a sinker to left, but Pierre was there, and the Pirates goose egged another frame. Burnett K'ed the first two Phils, but after a five pitch walk to Jimmy Rollins, Clint Hurdle called for Jose Cruz. AJ went 6-2/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits with two walks and seven K after 101 pitches.

Cruz threw a little gas on the fire, walking Pierre on four straight pitches away. He fell behind Victorino 2-1, but he couldn't lay off an iffy change and flew out to left to leave it 5-3. Brian Sances took the hill for Philly, freshly recalled from AAA Lehigh Valley.

He got Cutch on a hard shot to short, then Jones banged one into right center for a two bagger that was an ump's review away from being yard. McGehee ripped one to center that Victorino ran down in front of the wall; the Bucs are squaring up on everything he's throwing, but can't get a break. Jones went to third on the play. The Phils elected to intentionally walk Pedro to get to Clint Barmes and keep a righty-righty matchup. Good call. Barmes saw nothing but sliders - eight, to be exact - and went down swinging. So much for the streak of well struck balls.

Jason Grilli climbed the mound. Not a good beginning; Pence cranked a slider out of the house to left, and Polanco got plunked to put the tying run aboard with no outs. He K'ed Wigginton, but Fontenot followed with a liner at the box that Grilli knocked down, leaving runners at first and second. Jim Thome and Carlos Ruiz were at the bat rack. Thome went down swinging on three pitches, while Ruiz fell behind 0-2 and popped out foul to first when McGehee gave up the body and flipped into the stands to make the grab.

Jeremy Horst, a lefty arm added to the Philly roster today, took the ball and walked The Fort on five pitches. Defensive sub JT bunted him over as the Bucs played for an insurance run. Alex Presley worked to draw a nine pitch free pass. Walker was jammed and popped out to first, then Cutch K'ed, making it Hanny time.

Rollins led off with a ground ball knock up the middle and Pierre bunted him to second. Victorino K'ed swinging at a back foot slider while Rollins stole third. Pence flew out to straight center, and the Buccos hung on to take the 5-4 win and salvage a split of the series.Win number nine for Burnett and save #20 for Joel Hanrahan; pretty handy pair to have around.

Good game, although the Bucs could have made it easy on themselves by adding; after the sixth hitter of the game, no Bucco crossed home. But the pitching was good enough, even if regressing a bit, and its off to St. Louis, the onlt NL Central team with an edge (4-2) on the Pirates so far this season.

Kevin Correia goes against the Cards Adam Wainwright tomorrow night at Busch Stadium.

  • Eight straight winning starts for AJ; next in line is Dock Ellis' 1971 mark of ten straight, whose 1974 string of wins was tied by Burnett today.
  • Whassup with JT? Karen Price of the Tribune Review talked to Clint Hurdle, who believes that Tabata still has his hammy injury lingering in his mind. He also intimated that JT best get over it or pack his bags for Indy.
  • With the pool money being managed pretty well this draft - the Bucs are $609,000 under the cap - Jim Callis of Baseball America tweeted that the Pirates can pay Mark Appel $3,837,575 w/o losing a 2013 draft pick And they may, but we think the FO is still looking more at a $3.25-3.5M slot. Then again, the difference may not be enough to matter. We'll see; it's only a couple of weeks until the July 13th deadline is here.
  • The Pirates inked their 26th round selection, 2B Jimmy Rider from Kent State University and Peters Township HS. His signing was a little delayed by that CWS thing.

Lineup, Notes For Phil Finale

RHP AJ Burnett (8-2, 3.24) finishes the series against Phillies RHP Kyle Kendrick (2-7, 5.24). It's another favorable matchup for Pittsburgh, although Philadelphia has been swinging some hot sticks this series. KK has had a 7+ ERA this month, and the Phils used every reliever but Jonathan Papelbon last night. Pittsburgh needs the game to earn a split of the series. AJ da man; he's trying to win his eighth straight start. The Pirates as a team have won ten in a row with Burnett on the bump. The get-away game starts at 1:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Drew Sutton LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, AJ Burnett P.

AJ will be missing his caddy, Rod Barajas, today as The Fort makes his third straight start behind the dish. Sutton stays at the top of the order and why not - the 29 year old is 3-for-5 with a walk as a Bucco.

The Bucs are tied for second place with St. Louis and two games back of first-place Cincinnati going into the game. 

  • Mike McKenry is 7 for 11 with two home runs in past two games, the first time he's started consecutive games this season.  Who'd of thunk it?
  • Drew Sutton playing the corner OF shouldn't be a surprise. He's been at every position but pitcher, catcher and center field since breaking into MLB in 2009. 
  • The Pirates will depart for St. Louis following today’s game for a three game set against the
    Red Birds this weekend. And if you think it's hot here, well, whew - temperatures are expected to be in the low 100s each day of the series in SL.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bucs Outlast Phils 11-7

Lefty Raul Valdes came out of the pen and did his job in the first, putting the Bucs away in order. J-Mick, well, not such a hot start. He lost Jimmy Rollins on a full count. Juan Pierre hit into a force to exchange places, and then was nailed stealing by Mike McKenry. Chase Utley, finally back from the DL, worked his first at-bat in a long while to 2-2 and then smacked a curve over the wall in right center to make it 1-0. J-Mick fell behind Carlos Ruiz 3-1, tried to slip a two seamer past him, and watched it disappear into the  seats in left center to make it 2-0. Hunter Pence drew a five pitch walk before Shane Victorino flew out to end the frame 28 pitches after it started.

Casey McGehee drew a 3-2 walk, and so did Neil Walker. Unfortunately, McGehee was caught stealing in between; he stopped between bases, and it looked like crossed up signs for a hit-and-run. Pedro K'ed looking on a pitch that was out of the zone before JT singled to put runners at first and second. Mike McKenry fell behind 0-2, worked the count full, and was rewarded for his eye by getting a juicy heater that he dropped into the left field stands a few few inside the pole to give the Bucs a lightning quick 3-2 lead. Doesn't anybody work around eight hitter any more?

McDonald regained his control and retired the first two batters. The Valdes experiment as a starter came to an abrupt end as he was pinch hit for by...Cliff Lee. He became J-Mick's second K of the frame. Joe Savery, another southpaw, took the ball in the third. Josh Harrison reached when his grounder to short was misplayed by Rollins. Drew Sutton bopped a change to left, but it was snagged by Pierre on the track. Harrison, with Cutch up, was picked off as he headed to second a step early, 1-3-6. If the Bucs could only stay out of their own way... McCutch lined a ball to center, and Victorino made a nice grab to put the Pirates away.

Rollins poked a 1-2 heater on the outside black into left to open the Phils half of the third. Pierre tried to lay down a couple of bunts before topping a hung curve back to the hill for a force. Utley cranked another shot, this one to straight center that Cutch pulled in front of the 407' mark. Pierre swiped second as Ruiz batted. J-Mick went after the red hot Chooch, and got him to line out to Pedro to put up another zip.

Savery tossed McGehee a slider that rode in, and he took it into straight center over the 401' sign for his fourth homer of the year. Walker got a cutter down the middle and he ripped it into center for a double. Pedro rolled over on a slider away, bouncing out to second and moving The Kid to third. JT K'ed swinging at the only strike Savery threw him in five pitches in a pretty poor visit to the plate. The Phils learned their lesson; McKenry was intentionally walked. J-Mick spoiled the strategy by taking a 3-2 cutter into left to score Walker and send The Fort to third. The Bucs were up 5-2.

Pence got ahead 3-0, but J-Mick came back to run the count full and get him on a grounder to short. Victorino was tossed out on a nice bit of fielding by McDonald while trying to bunt his way on; McGehee made a sweet pick to get the out. Wigs bounced out to Pedro, and it was 1-2-3.

It took eight pitches, but Drew Sutton led off the fifth with a walk, and Cutch followed with a line knock to center. McGehee was jammed and flew out weakly to right.  Walker turned on an inside cutter and dropped it into left, plating Sutton and sending Cutch to third. Pedro went down swinging on a slider down and away. JT caused the Phils to switch pitchers; righty Michael Schwimer took the ball in a two-fer switch. JT got ahead 3-0, ran the count full, and softly lined a slider into left to score Cutch and bring Walker to third. The Fort stayed hot by bouncing a ball off Mike Fontenot's glove at third to bring home The Kid and make it 8-2.

Fontenot helped McDonald by going after a borderline 2-0 heater and grounding out to first to start a 1-2-3 frame. Harrison joined the hit parade in the sixth when he led off by taking a heater the opposite way for a knock. Sutton then legged out an infield single to short. The next Bucco trio went down meekly. For the Phils, Utley got a one out single on a roller up the third base side. Ruiz hot into a force, and Pence drilled a heater down the middle into the left center gap to score the catcher as Sutton had trouble cleanly fielding the ball. Victorino worked the count to 2-2, got a center cut fastball and lined it into left to make it 8-4.

That was it for J-Mick. He went 5-2/3 innings giving up four runs on six hits, two walks and three K while hurling 100 tosses. Jared Hughes came in. Placido Polanco grabbed a bat, and while he was up, Victorino stole second. Polanco worked a 3-2 walk off Hughes. Fontenot was retired on a comebacker, and the score after six was 8-4. Lefty Jake Diekman took the hill for Philadelphia in the seventh and tucked the Bucs away easily, K'ing a pair.

Luna opened the inning getting aboard on a Pedro misplay. The Bucs paid when Rollins took a sinker at the knees and drove it into center for a triple. Against all odds, it's becoming a ballgame. Hughes got the hook after that blast, and Tony Watson jogged in from the pen. Pierre smacked a 3-2 sinker into left to make it 8-6, and it shouldn't be long until he's off for second. Utley rolled over on a two strike slider, but the ball rolled through the dirt into right past McGehee, who was holding Pierre, to put runners at the corners with no outs.

Ruiz singled home a run, dropping a catchable ball in front of Tabata. Brad Lincoln got the nod from Clint Hurdle after that. Can't really blame the pitchers; Alvarez started the inning with an error, McGehee froze on a softly hit ball past him, and JT misread another, so the inning should be done, yet there are no outs.

Bad Brad got Pence swinging on a 3-2 hook in the dirt for out number one. Victorino took a 95 mile heater in the air to left for the second out. Jim Thome came up to hit, and Lincoln blew him away on three pitches to complete his hat trick. Still, it's 8-7 now, but at least Jason Grilli and Hanny are set up for the last two frames. Chad Qualls mounted the bump for the eighth. and Alex Presley stepped in to replace Lincoln.

The King drew a 3-2 walk in a pretty good at-bat. Clint Barmes, a defensive sub, moved him to second on a soft roller to third. Sutton got a 2-2 sinker down Broadway and drilled it into right center for a double, chasing Presley home with an insurance run. Cutch did him better. Falling behind 0-2, he took a couple of close balls and then got a 96 MPH sinker that stayed up and knocked it over the fence in right to make 11-7. McGehee smoked an out to the wall in left center, followed by a Walker line knock off a hung slider. Pedro bounced out after a long at-bat, but the Bucs had rebuilt their cushion.

Even with the lead, Grilli came on to try to squelch any remaining drama in the bud. He put the Phils away in order, helped greatly by a sweet diving catch of a slicing Luna shot to right center by Cutch and a ball hauled in at the wall by Presley off Rollin's bat. It was Antonio Bastardo's turn to pitch in the ninth. With two down, he walked Presley, his only blemish of the frame. Hanny came on to put this puppy to bed and did, with a two-out walk to Ruiz his only black mark.

Too bad Brad Lincoln couldn't get a save; his outing may have been the key to tonight's win despite the hot sticks. The Phils pitch-by-committee night didn't work out so well. They used up six arms, as did the Bucs. Both sides could use a deep outing tomorrow afternoon.

AJ Burnett takes on Kyle Kendrick and will try to salvage a split of the series before heading off to visit the red hot Cards.

  • Tonight marked the season high for runs with 11 and hits at 14 for Pittsburgh. The last time they scored 11+ runs in a game was September 22nd, 2010  against the Cards.
  • Neil Walker led the way with three hits, while Andrew McCutchen, Drew Sutton, Mike McKenry and JT had a pair of knocks. McKenry had 4 RBI.
  • J-Mick's franchise-record string of 14 starts without allowing more than three runs ended tonight.

Notes, Lineup

LHP Raul Valdes (2-0, 1.84) goes against RHP James McDonald (6-3, 2.19) tonight. Valdes will leave his usual bullpen home to make his second MLB start, the first being in 2010. J-Mick has been Mr. Consistent, giving up 3 or fewer runs in every start this year. The game begins at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Josh Harrison SS, Drew Sutton LF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Casey McGehee 1B, Neil Walker 2B,  Pedro Alvarez 3B, Jose Tabata RF, Mike McKenry C, James McDonald P.

Well, sure a new top to the order as JT gets bumped to the seven hole. Could work.

  • The  Pirates claimed all-around utility guy Oscar Tejeda (.262/5/31 in AA) off waivers from the Boston Red Sox and DFA'ed LHP Doug Slaten. Tejeda is a 24 year old who projects to eventually become an extra corner outfielder with some power but not much of an average. He was released in the backwash of the Kevin Youkilis deal and assigned to Altoona. 
  • Hmmm...the Bucs DFA LHPs Doug Slaten and Danny Moskos. You'd kinda think that the bullpen market being what it is that they could have flipped the pair for some return, even if just cash and a bag of balls.Of course, if they couldn't get anything for Matt Capps...
  • Good news for Philadelphia: Chase Utley has just returned from the DL for tonight's game.
  • Good news for Pittsburgh: Gerrit Cole, who got whacked with a liner last night, suffered a bruised jaw - nothing broken, no concussion.
  • In their past 25 games at Citizen's Park, Pittsburgh is 5-20.
  • LHP Rudy Owens, OF Starlin Marte and SS Jordy Mercer were named to the International League All-Star team.
  • The Bucs traded AA RHP Shairon Martis to Minnesota; the terms haven't been worked out yet.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bucs Phrustrated 5-4

JT started it off for the Bucs by taking one for the team, as Vance Worley smacked him in the hand on the second pitch. After a visit by the team sawbones, he was off to first. Neil Walker drew a four pitch free pass, and the Bucs had a little something going. Cutch fell behind, and softly rolled a grounder to short, moving both runners up. Garrett Jones took a first strike heater, swung and missed another, and tapped back to the box. Tabata, off on contact, was nailed at home. Casey McGehee bounced out to short, and the Bucs blew their first opportunity.

After a pair of two pitch groundouts, Erik Bedard gave up a triple to Bucco killer Hunter Pence on a ball that gave Cutch fits. Erik got ahead of Carlos Ruiz 0-2, then caught too much dish with a hook that he grounded into left to make it 1-0. Shane Victorino followed with another knock, but he got Ty Wiggington to hit one in the dirt to Walker to end the frame.

The Bucs answered. Pedro led off with a double to center off a 3-1 heater. Clint Barmes bounced out to move him up a base, and Mike McKenry's sac fly tied the game. The tie didn't last long. With an out, Mike Fontenot got a 2-0 sinker and took it up the middle. Worley bunted him to second followed by Jimmy Rollins walking on four pitches. Placido Polanco fell behind 0-2, took a low hook, and then drilled a changeup into left. Fontenot scored as Rollins was gunned out trying to get to third, Tabata-Alvarez-Barmes. That third out is awfully hard to come by for Bedard in the early going.

The top of the Buc order went down quietly in the third. With one away, Ruiz rolled the first pitch into right for a knock. With two down, Bedard ran the count full to Wiggington after getting ahead 1-2, hung a change, and Wigs took it over the wall in left center to make it 4-1 and keep the two-out Philly lightning cracklin'. All the RBI hits came off slow stuff with the batters behind in the count, two of them 0-2.

Jones struck out on a 3-2 fastball that was outside to open the fourth. McGehee grounded out and Alvarez went down swinging. The Phils went down in order, and after four it remained 4-1. After an out in the fifth, The Fort doubled into the left field corner on a first pitch fastball, and Bedard bunted him to third; we'd be tempted to let him hack away. It was immaterial, as JT grounded out to second to end the frame.

Polanco led off with a knock up the middle, and Bedard lost Pence on a 3-2 count. Ruiz was jammed on a 1-2 heater and flew out to right. Then Victorino was caught looking as Bedard fed him fastballs. Wigginton got a mix of both the curve and the two seamer, and bounced out. Good job by Bedard to keep the Bucs within hailing distance in an inning that could have easily gotten away from him.

Walker got ahead 2-0 to open the sixth and got a heater to drive, but it fell short in left, hauled in on the track. Cutch got a fastball down the middle and shot a double to right center. Jones bounced out to first and Cutch took third. McGehee was served a 2-2 fastball on the outside half and lined it into right to cut the Philly lead in half at 4-2. Bedard put the bottom of the Phils' order away neatly.

Worley did the almost impossible to start the seventh; he walked Barmes on a 3-2 pitch (but not until Clint fouled off the first ball four). He fell behind McKenry 2-1, and The Fort knocked a fastball up the middle to put runners at first and second. Drew Sutton grabbed a stick for Pittsburgh to hit for the pitcher. Bedard went six, giving up four runs on eight hits with two walks and three K, tossing 92 pitches.

Sutton got a low fastball and blooped it into left for a double, plating Barmes. That did it for Worley; Mike Schwimer climbed the hill to face the top of the order with runners on second and third with no outs. He got JT on a comeback tapper, freezing the runners. Walker lifted an 0-2 fastball to medium left; McKenry tagged and was tossed at home on a close play (he may have gotten under the tag, as replay showed, but the ball beat him, making it an almost automatic out call) to end the inning. Cutch was in the on deck circle, but rest assured they would have worked around/walked him. Tabata's at-bat killed the inning, not the tag call.

Juan Cruz took the ball for Pittsburgh and put the Phils down as they stood. Antonio Bastardo took over for Philadelphia. McCutch kept the flame alive, leading off the eighth with a first pitch double. Why does Clint Hurdle insist on bunting with a runner on second? We dunno, and neither does Josh Harrison, who pinch hit and popped out to the catcher trying to sacrifice. It was a totally wasted at bat not only tactically but because, well, Harrison can't bunt worth a lick. McGehee popped out and Pedro K'ed on a 3-2 slider in the dirt to complete the frustration.

Even more frustrating, Ruiz led off the bottom half crushing a homer off Cruz, turning on an 0-2 cutter. Victorino followed with a five pitch walk, and Wiggington singled up the middle. In trotted Tony Watson. John Mayberry K'ed as Victorino stole third, but Wigs didn't take off from first. That helped; Hector Luna Bounced into a DP to end the frame. But the Phils got an insurance run and are up 5-3.

Jonathan Papelbon took the bump to face the bottom of the Bucco order. After a Barmes K, The Fort put an exclamation point on his day. He whacked a 2-2 fastball over the left center wall for his third hit of the night. Alex Presley, pinch hitting, put a charge on the fastball, but it was a loud out to left. JT went down swinging, and the Bucs fell 5-4 in a game that was there for the taking.

Hey, leave runners all over the place (Pittsburgh was 2-for-13 with RISP) and you lose, pretty simple. And when the other club plates 4 of its 5 runs with two outs, that doubles down the feeling. Maybe if Eric Bedard had gone to his fastball a little earlier in the game or the Bucs got a call at the plate, it might have been different, too. There were a lotta little pivot points to tonight's loss.

James McDonald is on the mound tomorrow against Raul Valdes, who has made just one other start in his 63 MLB appearances back in 2010. And with J-Mick and AJ due up next, the Bucs can still earn a split of the series.

  • Mike McKenry was 3-for-3 with a sac fly and 2 RBI , a triple short of the cycle. His average is now .224, up from .192 before the night began.
  • There were 45,096 fans at Citizen's Ball Park, the Philly's 243rd consecutive regular-season sellout.

A Month of Moves, Moves, and More Moves...

Juan Cruz had to go back home to deal with personal matters in late May, and that brought Doug Slaten to Pittsburgh and started the ball rolling. The next day, Yamiaco Navarro was sent to Indy and Jordy Mercer called up when Clint Barmes went into bat rehab for a couple of days.

Nate McLouth was released, saving Slaten's spot, and Charlie Morton was put on the 15-day DL the following day to allow Cruz to rejoin the team. Then it hit the fan the past couple of days.

The Bucs needed a hand in the pen. Brad Lincoln was in limbo after being converted to a reliever again (he won't be available until tomorrow) and a couple of guys out of commission temporarily; enter Bryan Morris. To make room for him, the little used Jordy Mercer was sent down.

The Jeff Karstens came back; Morris was returned to the Tribe the very next day. Drew Sutton, a utility infielder, was claimed on waivers and reported today. Needing another roster spot, Doug Slaten was optioned to Indy. The 40-man was cleared for Sutton by transferring Charlie Morton from the 15-day to 60-day DL.

Rod Barajas bruised his knee, and Mike McKenry was hit in the hand by a pitch, though still ambulatory. But the team needed a back-up other than emergency catcher Casey McGehee, so Eric Fryer was called up. That, in turn, dropped another domino; Matt Hague was sent to Indy to make room for the backstop.

That required someone else to be lopped from the 40-man roster, too, as Fryer wasn't a member of that list, and so Danny Moskos was DFA'ed.

It's a lot of effort for what will probably be a very short stay. Fryer was hitting .167; if the FO thought Barajas was going to be on ice for more than a day or three, they would have brought up veteran back up C Jose Morales. So as soon as Hot Rod is ready to don the tools again, Fryer will be DFA'ed (he's out of options).

That will free a spot for another Indy player to come to Pittsburgh. Could be Navarro, Jeff Clements or maybe even Gorkys Hernandez, as neither Mercer nor Hague should have their mandatory ten-day minimum served at Indianapolis, as Barajas is day-to-day with his injury.

Done? Heck, no. Chris Leroux has been tossing rehab ball, and he's due back. No options for him, either. So when his time comes to fish or cut bait, someone has to be DFA'ed. Of course, he could be designated, although it's more likely that Chris Resop or Juan Cruz will bite the dust.Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Brad Lincoln have options, but they're probably bulletproof.

And hey...then it'll be trade season, and it all starts over again. No wonder scorecard sales are so good.

Bench Moves, Notes, Lineup

LHP Erik Bedard (4-7, 4.13) will try to even the series tonight against the Phillies' RHP Vance Worley (3-4, 2.78). It's a key game in the series, as the Bucs have J-Mick and AJ slated to go the next two days while the short handed Phils haven't so much as figured out who to throw out on the mound against them yet.

Worley is a ground ball guy who has faced Pittsburgh twice without a decision and putting up a 3.75 ERA. Bedard has been alternating good and bad starts since late May; unfortunately, he's due for a clunker. The game is at 7:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Jose Tabata LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, Erik Bedard P.

Alex Presley is sitting so that Casey McGehee can get back in action, and McKenry is going to start out at catcher, bruised hand notwithstanding.

  • Clint Hurdle said the Bucs have optioned Doug Slaten and Matt Hague to Indy. Slaten had to go because of Drew Sutton joining the team. Hague went so that the Bucs could call up a catcher, Eric Fryer, as Rod Barajas hurt his knee and Mike McKenry was hit in the hand during last night's game. The question is who gets bumped from the 40 man roster, which Fryer needs added to. If you're wondering, Fryer isn't having much of a year; he's hitting .167 and has 4 RBI in 123 AB.
  • Yah, way too early to start scoreboard watchin', but maybe an omen of things to come: the Pirates, Mets, Cardinals, and Braves are all tied for the second wild card spot. 
  • This day in history: Happy birthday, Jason Kendall, who turns 38. On his 27th B-Day in 2001, he was incorrectly ruled out at first, prompting the most famous steal in Pirate history. Manager Lloyd McClelland stormed out, griped, and finally pulled the sack off its stanchion and whirly-birded it into the dugout in protest.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bucs Bumble Way To 8-3 Loss

The Pirates are 5-18 against Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park since it opened in 2004 and have lost 9-of-10 played in the yard since 2007. Different year, different teams; we'll see if JK can provide a running start for the Pirates tonight.

Joe Blanton got Alex Presley on a gentle roller to short and whiffed JT swinging at a high-and-tight heater. Cutch hit a slow hopper toward the middle, and the ball ran up Jimmy Rollin's glove for a boot. Garrett Jones walked on five pitches, but Neil Walker kept to the theme, grounding out softly to second.

Jimmy Rollins greeted Jeff Karstens by chopping a two-base ground poke to right past Jones off a two strike hook. Juan Pierre bunted him to third, almost beating the throw to first. Hunter Pence dropped a soft fly in front of JT in right; Rollins held until it hit the grass and then took off, beating the peg home by a hand. Then the little league action began. Carlos Ruiz hit a flare off the end of the bat into right for a knock;  Pence got to third under a high throw by Tabata. Pedro fired to second, and the ball went into right. JT's toss home skipped past Rod Barajas, and Ruiz kept trucking to third.

Shane Victorino took a pitch away up the middle for the first well struck ball of the frame, and it was 3-0. Placido Polanco checked his swing on a two strike slider; it caught the bat and dropped into right. JT took a shot at Victorino at third; the throw missed the mark again and another run scored. JK had enough; he K'ed both Ty Wiggington and Mike Fontenot, but it was a painful way to return to action - five hits, only one hard enough to crack an egg, and three errors behind him. Welcome back, Karstens!

The Bucs showed some life when Pedro and Mike McKenry opened with back-to-knocks. It was a short lived rally. Clint Barmes knocked the second pitch he saw on one hop to Rollins for the 6-4-3 DP, and JK went down swinging. McKenry was in because Barajas, who turned his ankle on the play at the plate and took a foul off the knee a few batters later, was yanked. We'll see later which, if either, caused his issue (they later announced that he bruised his knee). Karstens, after a deep breath, put down the Phils in order in their half.

Pittsburgh got a run back in the third when JT hit a rocket the opposite way to right, his first homer in six weeks, to make it 4-1. The Phils answered when their bugaboo, the stolen base, bit them. With an out, Ruiz lined a single to center and stole second. The throw beat Chooch to the bag, but Walker short armed it a bit and it bounced off the runner's knee. A grounder moved him to third, and Polanco's two out knock into center plated him.

Neil Walker took the first pitch of the fourth the other way, doubling to left. Plate discipline left something to be desired for Pedro and McKenry. Both got ahead in the count, but Alvarez K'ed swinging over a pair of changeups off the plate, and McKenry fouled off ball four, then watched strike three sail down the middle. But Barmes came to the rescue, grounding a curve to right to bring The Kid home, sliding in to beat a throw that was outside the first base line. There is some advantage to having a eight hitter pitchers don't work around with two outs, first base empty, and the pitcher due up.

Can't blame the fielders this inning. Fontenot lined a changeup to right. Blanton popped up the foul attempt, but a short wild pitch moved the runner to second. Karstens fell behind Rollins 3-0, grooved a sinking heater, and watched it bounce down from the second level in right field, making it 7-2. Pence legged out a single on a slow roller to third; doesn't seem to matter how hard the Phils smack the ball, it ends up a knock. Ruiz K'ed on a foul tip, but ouch.

The Bucs did keep chippin', tho. JT reached second on a throwing error by Polanco, and Cutch brought him in with a knock to center. The game mercifully remained that way until the seventh, when Doug Slaten gave up a single and three straight walks - two on four pitches - to pump the Phil lead to 8-3, then got serious and struck out the next trio. Still, he might have made the decision of who to send to Indy tomorrow a little easier.

In the ninth, McKenry singled to lead off. Barmes couldn't decide if he wanted the game extended or not; he saw ten pitches, fouling off the last five, found one he liked and bounced into a DP. Maybe Citizen's is a house of horrors; Pittsburgh at least was horrible tonight. Nine whiffs, four errors, three DPs...ugh.
No critique needed tonight other than mama said there would be days like this. The biggest concern is how badly Rod Barajas is hurt; the system isn't deep in MLB ready catchers, and we all remember the nightmare behind the plate last year. Hello, Jose Morales.

Erik Bedard takes on Vance Worley tomorrow night.
  • Joe Blanton had his season high in Ks tonight with 8. 
  • The answer to today's trivia question: Casey McGehee. The question: who is the Pirates emergency catcher? Casey actually did quite a bit of catching in the minors, though he never donned the tools in the show and last wiggled a finger in 2008.
  • More movement: Jake Fox was released from Indy to make a roster spot for Jordy Mercer, who was sent back to Indy yesterday.
  • If you're wondering, Drew Sutton will join the team tomorrow after spending a day with his wife, who is expecting in October. A pitcher will have to go to get the roster back in equilibrium. But for today, an extra arm is fine - Chris Resop is probably down after two innings yesterday, Jared Hughes is just recovering from a mystery ailment, and Brad Lincoln isn't cleared for duty until Wednesday.

Brotherly Love Lineup, Notes

RHP Jeff Karstens (0-1, 4.50 ERA) gets back in the saddle against the Phillies RHP Joe Blanton (6-6, 5.04). Karstens has been out since April 18th with shoulder inflammation and later a hip strain, but pitched well in his last rehab start. He bumps Brad Lincoln back to the bullpen. Blanton has had a rough string of games, so the Pirates should be able to give JK a couple of runs to work with. The game begins at 7:05 at Citizens Bank Park and will be shown on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RFR, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Jeff Karstens P. We assume this is the lineup Clint Hurdle expected to write out early and often back in spring training.

Pittsburgh plays the Phils four times, and won't face either Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, who worked yesterday's twin bill, and that can't hurt. The Bucs are just a game behind the Reds and right there in the wildcard race. They play a big series in St. Louie after the Phils, then host the Astros for four and the G-Men. It's a nice opportunity to carry some mo into the All-Star break.

  • Utility IF Drew Sutton, who hit .271 for the Tampa Bay Rays, replaced Jordy Mercer as the Bucco bench dude. No word yet on who he will replace on the roster when he reports tomorrow, but there still are 13 pitchers, one over the usual limit.
  • Jeff Karstens hasn't won a game since August 10th, 2011, when the Bucs beat the Giants 9-2.
  • The rest of the Bucco rotation has been pushed back a day with Karsten's return, so not only does he provide a fresh arm, but his staff mates get an extra day off. Sweet! Except for RHP Bryan Morris, who was optioned back to Indy to make space for JK after being called up yesterday.
  • Neil Walker has played in 69 of the team’s first 71 games this season even with getting a well earned day off yesterday. Since the beginning of last year, he's played 228 games, behind just Dan Uggla (233), Joey Votto (232), Michael Bourn (230) and Starlin Castro (230) in the NL.
  • Always a thrill to visit Philly. Mike McKenry tweeted "Almost got to see my first cab brawl with jhay_da_man (Josh Harrison). People are crazy!"
  • The Pirates posted a 10-8 record during interleague play this year, the most wins in a single season in the 16 years of playing against the AL. Their previous best finish was 8-7. Overall, the AL won the showdown with a 142-110 slate (56%), the ninth straight year the junior circuit has taken the series.
  • Happy birthday, Paul Maholm (30) and Aramis Ramirez (34).
  • Man, talk about blasts from the past: Eleven year vet Kip Wells has been promoted by the Padres and will start tomorrow in Houston, his home town. The 35 year old last pitched for the Bucs in 2006 and his last outing in the show was in 2009 with the Reds.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Verlander Holds Off Bucs 3-2

Well, not a great start for KC. Four pitches and it was 2-0. Austin Jackson lined his first pitch to left for a knock, and Quintin Berry got ahead 2-0, looked fastball and got it, lofting his first big league homer to right to make it 2-0. Alex Presley began the Bucco half with a bunt single dragged down the left side. Josh Harrison tried to follow; he lined! his bunt to third. Cutch and Casey McGehee both lifted flies to right, and after a frame, the Tigers were up a pair.

Correia bounced back with a 1-2-3 second, and Verlander had an easy time with the Bucco batters, too. In the third, the Bucco righty had to labor to put away the Tigers. Verlander K'ed, then Jackson hit one sharply to short. Clint Barmes cocked his arm and threw the ball straight into the dirt; it was generously ruled a hit.

Then, in breaking news, Mike McKenry actually tossed out Jackson trying to swipe second, breaking an 0-for-June streak of steals. It was a sort of Phyrric victory; Berry walked on five pitches. Miguel Cabrera rolled a grounder into right past a diving Harrison, who was positioned toward the bag. KC finally ended the action when he made a nice stretch, catching a wide toss to first on a Prince Fielder grounder that McGehee wrestled into submission. McKenry started off the frame by chopping an infield single to third and was bunted to second. That's as far as he got; the next pair of Pirates popped out to third, then to first.

KC must like even innings; he tucked away Motown in order in the fourth, the last out snagged by Cutch at the 399' mark off the bat of Jhonny Peralta. The Bucs went down quietly too, except for Clint Hurdle. McGehee protested a third strike check swing call that went against him (he did cross the plate with the bat) and Hurdle came out to protect him. He spoke to plate ump Marty Foster calmly, hands on hips, for a few seconds and got run for the second time this year. Love to know what magic word he managed to sneak into that conversation.

Ryan Raburn opened the fifth with a knock to center and was moved to second by Verlander. KC came back to K the Motown 1-2 hitters; he's been pretty strong since those opening four pitches. The Bucs went down without a peep. Verlander is using a lot of movement so far and mixing in his off speed stuff; he hasn't really begun to crank up the heater yet.

Correia's even inning mojo was snapped with two away in the sixth. Delmon Young, behind 0-2, slapped a waste heater, shoulder high and away, into right for a single. KC recovered quickly, getting Alex Avila to bounce to second to end the frame. The Bucs got a one out walk from Presley, but Verlander never let him get a sniff of second. Hague pinch hit for KC, who went six innings, giving up two runs on six hits and one walk with four Ks, delivering 86 pitches.

Chris Resop climbed the hill for the seventh and retired the Tigers bottom end in order. The Bucs squared up some in their half. McGehee roped a liner to right that sliced on Berry, who was turned around but made the grab over his head. It would be a big catch. Pedro lined a fastball into center. Garrett Jones took a ball, swung through a change, and then got a second one that stayed up, and he bombed it over the wall in right center to knot the game. Barmes followed with a soft liner into left for a knock. McKenry tried to keep the parade going, but hit a one hop shot to third that turned into an around the horn DP.

Resop came out for a second inning, and proved the old adage that walks kill. With an out, he issued a five pitch free pass to Berry, who stole second (good jump, high throw) as Miguel Cabrera struck out swinging at high heat. With two down, they walked Fielder intentionally. It didn't work; Delmon Young lined a heater up into right to score Berry, although Prince was picked off trying to get to third when the late throw home was cut by McGehee.

Jeff Bannister, the bench coach, had a limited arsenal. The eighth is usually Jason Grilli's inning; both he and Jared Hughes are out of action today after working the first two games, and Tony Watson is on emergency duty only. Still, he had Hanny available for the top of the order, but the Pirate brain trust is loathe to use him in non-save spots.

Verlander found his heat with the lead back, pounding the plate at 97 in the eighth inning after sitting at 92-94 all game. Still, he needed a big two out catch from Raburn, who went up over the short fence in left to bring back Harrison's liner that was ticketed for the seats. He and Verlander had a little exchange after the catch, Justin grinning and Josh looking like someone just ran over his puppy.

Juan Cruz faced the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth, and was flawless, fanning a pair. The Bucs saved the best for last; it was up to Cutch, Casey and El Toro to squeeze a run out of Verlander or go home. They went home; Verlander was hitting 98; who needs a closer? Cutch tried to take a heater the opposite way, but his towering fly came down in Berry's glove on the front edge of the track in right. McGehee inexplicably looked at a fastball down the middle for strike three, and Pedro went down swinging at back-to-back hooks.

Hey, it was a nicely played ballgame, and it showed the little things needed to beat an ace. KC did his part. But a late inning walk to a burner with the middle of the order behind him was the difference, with each club exchanging two run blasts. And just maybe going a little too much by the book, leaving your best reliever on ice in the eighth against the top of the order, may have been a factor, too. You have to step out of the box every so often, especially when half the bullpen is down for the day.

The Pirates travel to Philly tomorrow, where Jeff Karstens will face Joe Blanton.

  • After the game, Clint Hurdle told the press that Jeff Karstens will start tomorrow, the rest of the rotation will slide back a day, and Bad Brad will go back to the pen.
  • The Pirates have called up RHP Bryan Morris, sent down SS Jordy Mercer, and claimed Drew Sutton on waivers. Morris was swapped out for Mercer to help bolster the bullpen; he won't be a long-term addition. Sutton was the guy the Bucs claimed a while back, moved the Tampa the next day, and now have reclaimed. Charlie Morton was moved to the 60 day DL to make roster space for Sutton. When the pitching straightens out, we'd expect Morris to be swapped out for Sutton and Mercer will get back to everyday work with the Tribe.
  • The Pirates club record string of 30 straight successful steals against was ended in the second inning today when Mike McKenry threw out Austin Jackson. The Fort notched the last stealer prior to that back in mid-May. 
  • Bill Brink of the Post Gazette reports that Jared Hughes was held out with a minor "physical issue" not involving his arm or shoulder, and expects to be ready to go tomorrow.
  • Today's gate was 35,179, bringing the series count to 111,878, the fifth highest in PNC history.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bucs starting pitchers have taken a no-hit bid into the 6th inning four times this season, the most for any MLB team.
  • Justin Verlander has gone six innings+ in 58 consecutive games, and today was his fourth complete game of the season. His lowest pitch count of the year has been 102; his highest 131. That's a workhorse. 
  • Kevin Youkilis was pulled from the Red Sox game this afternoon, so his saga should be ending soon. (EDIT - he was traded to the White Sox for bullpen swingman RHP Zach Stewart and old Bucco farmhand and utility guy Brent Lillibridge).

Pitching Decisions Fast Approaching

Clint Hurdle told the media during the pre game gabfest that Jeff Karstens won't be making another rehab start, but will climb the bump for the Bucs during the upcoming Philly series. The rotation will likely get pushed back a day for some mid-season maintenance.

Kevin Correia and Brad Lincoln aren't scheduled to pitch in Philadelphia, so he won't be bumping them immediately. But...

Could be Bad Brad is headed back to the pen, or perhaps Pittsburgh is getting some feelers on Correia, who is being shopped around. One of them has to go for JK, and this may be a way to buy an extra couple of days to decide which direction to take.

While Lincoln threw extremely well against Detroit yesterday, he has the potential to be a dependable back end reliever. With Juan Cruz on shaky ground lately, it gives them an option beside Jared Hughes for late game, high leverage situations until Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan make the scene. It would also bolster the pen if Hanny becomes a trade target in July, as will the impending return of Chris Leroux.

Correia's not been as bad as folk believe - after all, he is the five man in the rotation, pitching to a 4.21 ERA - but he is in the final year of his deal and blocking some youngsters at Indy. Erik Bedard is in the same boat as a rent-an-arm, and he should be dangled as trade bait next.

With Charlie Morton out, the depth isn't quite as plush as it was before. But with Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Rick VandenHurk and Justin Wilson all looking like viable MLB mid-to-back end starters (and that's what they'd be replacing) there are still plenty of options, especially with Gerrit Cole on a fast track with his potential MLB arrival date perhaps just a year away.

That's probably the main reason that the youngsters are still cooling their heels in AAA. For the Bucs to build any value for Correia and Bedard, they have to trot them out every fifth day. We think that by August, some of the Indy gang will be trading in their Tribe unis for jerseys with Pittsburgh across the chest. Whether that's good or bad in the short term is debatable, but it's absolutely necessary to throw them in the fire and see what the team has for the long run.

The FO has a lot of decisions to make over the next month, and for once, it's nice to see that they'll be in a position of strength when drawing up their plans.

Lineup, Notes On Broom Day

RHP Justin Verlander (7-4, 2.57) will face RHP Kevin Correia (3-6, 4.12) as the Tigers send out their ace to try to prevent being broomed. It's a good matchup for Motown, pitting the top of their rotation against the back end of the Bucs. In his last outing against Pittsburgh, Verlander threw a one-hitter. Correia has dodged bullets better than his peripherals indicate he should, but he'll still have his hands full today, especially if a little regression rears its ugly head at PNC. The game starts at 1:35 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Josh Harrison 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Garrett Jones RF, Clint Barmes SS, Mike McKenry C, Kevin Correia P.

Bucco ironman Neil Walker gets a blow today, replaced by Harrison as Barmes goes back to short after an off day. Hot Rod gets the day off too, with Fort McKenry behind the dish. Somehow, we doubt that Verlander will complain much about any of the changes.

  • Light pen today. Jason Grilli and Jared Hughes are off on maintenance days, and Tony Watson will get up only if absolutely needed.
  • One of the rumored Pirate trade targets, LHP Joe Saunders, was placed on the 15 day DL by the D-Backs with shoulder inflammation. That won't remove him from the radar; he's due back July 2nd.
  • With yesterdays win, the Pirates have taken eight of their last nine series.
  • RHP Jameson Taillon made this week's "Prospects Hot Sheet" feature in Baseball America.
  • The Centre Daily Times' Guy Cipriano has a nice piece on newly drafted C Jacob Stallings. His dad is the hoops coach at Vandy but says "we are a baseball family that makes it’s living in basketball.”
  • BTW, a first for Bucco fans - apparently a few of yesterday's sellout crowd mosied over to nearby Stage AE to catch the Clarks after the game, and a "Let's Go Bucs" chant broke out. While "Here We Go Steelers" and "Let's Go Pens" are common cheers there, it's thought to be the first time the Pirates have been repped at the North Shore venue located between Heinz Field and PNC Park.
  • This day in history: In 1965, Willie Stargell mashed three homers to lead the Pirates to a 13-3 beatdown of LA at Dodger Stadium. After dingers in his first three at bats, Pops lined a shot off the outfield railing for a double; he was a foot away from his fourth long fly of the day.

Youkilis - Right Team, Wrong Player

The web is buzzin' with Kevin Youkilis rumors, some saying the Bucs are in on him, others saying they're out. Here's one vote for hopin' they're out.

The 2010 Youk would be a coup, but it's not 2010 anymore. Youkilis is 33, and been on the DL three times since 2011. His strikeout rate is at a career high (24.2%), and his walk rate at a career low (8.7%). He plays corner infield, where the Bucs already have guys vying for time.

He's Casey McGehee, to all extents and purposes. Casey's 2012 slash is .236/.318/.350 with 3 homers and 16 RBI; Youk's is .225/.311/.359 with four long balls and 13 RBI. We suspect, too, that Youk won't find PNC Park nearly as accommodating as Fenway and the AL East venues as a hitter's yard.

McGehee is also a better fielder, with UZRs of 1.1 at both first and third; Youkilis is -0.8 at first and -1.2 at the hot corner. McGehee is 29 and trending upward at the plate with regular playing time. Youk is 33 and while the "grass is greener" scenario might rejuvenate him to a degree, it's hard to not assume that he's looking at the downward slope of his career.

And he would face the same situation in Pittsburgh that peeves him in Boston - he would still be a part time player, platooned at first with the occasional cup of coffee at third, with little viable option to use him in the OF. He's played on the lawn just 22 times in his career. The last time he was in the pasture was in 2009, and 18 of those OF outings were in 2006.

We just don't see any upgrade. We're not even sure that the FO is addressing the club's main weakness at the dish (which, in truth, is probably everywhere but center field and second base).

Corner outfield is where the FO should be looking. JT and Alex Presley, the players surrounding Cutch, haven't met expectations in the first half of the season, as platoon guy Garrett Jones has easily provided the most productive corner bat. Starlin Marte, who many anticipated would be in Pittsburgh this summer, is having his own growing pains at Indy, and Gorkys Hernandez is cut in the same mold as Tabata and Presley - good wheels, good glove, iffy stick. Josh Bell and Barrett Barnes are both a long way off.

But Boston is loaded with outfielders, and it's soon to become quite a crowd. Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are both due to come of the DL shortly along with Scott Podsednik, and that leaves veteran regulars Cody Ross (.272/9/33), 31, and Ryan Sweeney (.292/0/13), 28, on the bubble. They also have touted but less productive youngsters Ryan Kalish, 24, and Lars Anderson, 24, in the system.

All the OFs are lefties, a nice fit for PNC. Ross is a nine year vet, with time in with the Giants, Marlins and Dodgers and briefly for the Reds. He's shown some pop everywhere he's been. Sweeney has been around the block, too, putting in seven seasons with the As and White Sox. He's an OBP guy without much muscle.

Kalish is a speed player that goes full tilt and can steal a base or two, ala Presley, while Anderson projects as a fourth outfielder type.

Ross is making $3M and will be a FA at the end of the year. Sweeney has another year of arb left, and is making $1.75M this year.

So hey, if you're looking for some help, Boston is a good place to start. Just make sure to shop for the right guys.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lincoln, Cutch Tame Tigers 4-1

This will be a tough day for Tiger starter Max Scherzer, no matter the result. His brother died three days ago, apparently as the result of suicide. Scherzer returned to the team today and is sticking to his routine rather than dwelling on the tragedy, and we hope it helps get him through it.

Bad Brad had to battle the first two hitters deep into the count, but ended up with a 1-2-3 start to the game. Scherzer did the same; JT lined a single with one away, but was easily nailed trying to steal second on a perfect throw by Alex Avila. The caught stealing was sandwiched between an Alex Presley bounce out and Cutch K, so it's 0-0 after a frame.

Lincoln K'ed the first pair of Motown hitters fishing for the hook. That gave him three whiffs, all on curves set up by fastballs. He lost Avila on a 3-2 pitch, and ended the inning when Jhonny Peralta flew out to Cutch on the center field track. Neil Walker drew a free pass with one away, and Pedro spanked a two strike change up the middle. Unfortunately, it was right to SS Peralta, who was cheating toward the bag, and it ended up an easy 6-3 DP.

The Bucco righty was feelin' it the first time through the order; it was another three up and down frame in the third with his fourth strikeout. So was Mad Max; he faced the bottom of the order and fanned a pair. Detroit went down like house tabbies in the fourth, even with the guys getting their second look at Lincoln. The Bucs had better luck with their second go-around.

Presley started with a nine pitch at bat, finally dropping a 3-2 heater into right center and easily legging it out for a double. JT tried to bunt his way aboard (we think) and got smacked in the wrist for his effort. With two on, Scherzer got ahead of Cutch 0-2 on sliders and then tried to sneak a high heater past him. McCutch was all over it and dropped it six rows deep over the 383' mark to put Pittsburgh up 3-0.

Lincoln did what he was supposed to after taking the lead. He put away the Tigers in order, capped by a nice backhand stop and throw by Josh Harrison at short to retire Peralta. Schertzer put the Pirates' bottom three away, surviving a loud foul by Barajas that landed outside the foul pole by a few feet and a lineout by Harrison.

Ramon Santiago ended Lincoln's streak of ten straight outs when he rolled Detroit's first knock of the game past a diving Walker into right through the second base hole. He was bunted to second, and there he stayed. Scherzer was sharp, too, putting the Bucs down 1-2-3 and running his whiff count up to seven after six frames.

Lincoln got ahead of Miguel Cabrera 1-2, missed with a couple of curves downstairs, then zipped a heater down the middle that the third baseman roped a couple rows deep in right center over the Xfinity sign. Clint Hurdle wasted no time bringing in Juan Cruz. Bad Brad went six, giving up a run on two hits with a walk and seven K, tossing an efficient 79 pitches. He threw 21 straight strikes at one point, kept the ball down and got his hook over enough today to keep the Tigers at bay and just may have earned another start on Thursday.

Prince Fielder took a hanging Cruz change and poked it the opposite way for a two bagger with the Bucs OF shifted. Delmon Young bounced out to short, freezing Fielder at second with one away. Hurdle tapped his arm again, bringing Tony Watson into the fray. He got the lefty Avila on a grounder that moved Prince to third, and had a hold you breath moment when Peralta drove a ball to the bullpen fence in right center, but Cutch was there to end the inning.

Lefty Phil Coke came on, and the Bucs went to work. Casey McGehee hit for Garrett Jones and drilled a fastball into right center for a double. Coke got ahead of The Kid quickly, throwing nothing but off speed stuff. After falling behind and then spoiling a couple, Walker golfed an ankle high hook softly to left to bring home Casey. Pedro followed with a two strike knock to right to put runners on the corners, and Jimmy Leyland had seen enough. He reached for the phone and called for former Bucco Octavio Dotel.

Barajas popped out on the first pitch. Then with a 2-1 count, Hurdle put on a straight squeeze. Harrison got a fastball down the middle, but lunged after it and dropped the bat below the ball; Walker was DOA. He struck out a couple of pitches later, hitting into a delayed DP of sorts without ever leaving the box. Jason Grilli mounted the bump for Pittsburgh in the eighth with a 4-1 lead. He tucked the Tigers away quietly, K'ing a pair.

Dotel, with help from Hurdle, pulled a rabbit out of his cap in the bottom half. Clint Barmes, in as part of a two-fer, punched a pitch away into right for a knock. Presley pounded a ball off Santiago's chest to put runners at first and second. Here's where Hurdle came to the rescue; he had JT sacrifice the runners over. The ol' skip gave up an out and predictably, Cutch was walked intentionally, so he also took the bat out of his best hitter's hands. McGehee and Walker both had long at bats against Dotel, and both ended up K'ing. Casey went down trying to push inside deliveries into right, and Walker was caught looking at a 3-2 curve after six straight heaters.

At least it left Hanny with another save opp. He got the first two hitters on flies. Fielder took the first pitch he saw the opposite way again for a knock; he must be getting tired of hitting into shifts. Young drew a 3-2 walk to bring up the tying run in Avila. Avila was looking fastball; he got three straight sliders down and in and swung over all three to end the game. Lincoln is now 4-2 and Hanny picked up his nineteenth save.

The Bucs make it hard on themselves sometimes; they blew three shots in the last two innings to bring home a runner from third with less than two outs, foiled by a bunt that worked and one that didn't. But hey, raise the Jolly Roger. Justin Verlander will take on Kevin Correia tomorrow. The Bucs will have their work cut out for them if they want to broom Detroit.

  • The Bucs guaranteed a winning record against the AL this year; now they're 10-7 against the Junior Circuit with just tomorrow's game left on the interleague sked.
  • Wonder why Cutch sees so many sliders? Root Sports showed his fastball stats - .588 BA, with 12 of his 13 homers coming off a heater.
  • Brad Lincoln set his career punchout record for a game today with seven.
  • JT is now tied with Starlin Castro for the league lead in times caught stealing with eight; he's 8-for-16 in 2012.
  • Not much of a surprise, but Pittsburgh is shopping RHP Kevin Correia, as confirmed by Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review.
  • The Pirates had their sixth full house of the year today, drawing 38,734. Lots of Detroit fans in the stands again today. The Pirate faithful are easy to spot; they're wearing black/yellow tees and caps with a Gatorade cup stuck on top, a meme of a dugout prank pulled on Lincoln a couple of nights ago that the TV cameras caught.
  • Yay, PennDOT. With a sellout crowd expected, the North Shore exits were closed today for roadwork. Might be a late arriving crowd.
  • Upper St. Clair's Sean Casey was inducted into the Reds HOF today. Congrats to The Mayor.

Lineup, Notes, Random Stuff

This afternoon's matchup features the Tigers' RHP Max Scherzer (6-4, 5.17 ERA) squaring off against RHP Brad Lincoln (3-2, 3.82). Scherzer mowed down Buccos like they were little leaguers last time he faced them, K'ing 15. For Bad Brad, it may be his last opportunity to keep his foot stuck in the rotation door. On the plus side, it's Lincoln's first start at home after four outings on the road. There's one more start remaining on Thursday that's open before Jeff Karstens returns, and it's listed as TBA - and who fills that turn might be determined at PNC today. The game starts at 4:05 and will be broadcast on Root Sports.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Josh Harrison SS, Lincoln P.

JT is back in the lineup, sitting Casey McGehee down. Josh Harrison gets another start at short for Clint Barmes. So we're still curious what point is served by Jordy Mercer's bench presence. If he's not gonna play in Pittsburgh, let him get some PT at Indy. Our take is that Clint Barmes is blocking both he and Harrison, who should both be getting a longer look to see if either can handle the SS job.

  • The Pirates are said to be looking for offense, and maybe they should start at the top. The 1-2 spots in the lineup have a .236 BA and .275 OBP.
  • The middle of the order has needs, too. The team slash line is .224/10/56. Adam Laroche alone is hitting .250/12/43. The 6-7 guys have a line of .236/19/56; that's generally where Pedro and Hot Rod bat.
  • Cutch has gone 14-for-25 (.560) in his last six games. He's banged out multi-hit games in 6 of his last 8 contests, including a 3-for-4 effort last night.
  • When Pedro was intentionally walked in yesterday's game, it was his first IBB of the season and only the third of his career.
  • Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS doesn't think the Bucs have much interest in Kevin Youkilis. We hope he's right; they should be focused on a player that can help them down the road, not a rental. Rob Biertemfel of the Tribune Review tweeted that the "Pirates won't give up front-line prospect (Taillon, Cole, Marte) for Youkilis. Might offer 2nd-tier guy if they get lots of cash in deal."
  • Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects has a piece on AJ Burnett's turnaround in Pittsburgh. Hey, even grizzled vets are at heart just boys that wanna have fun.
  • Justin Wilson had another strong outing at Indy. The lefty went six innings, giving up a run on one hit and three walks with eight K. He threw 108 pitches, so he's stretched out. The walks are a little worrisome yet, but it's good news that he's rooted in the rotation for good after spending some serious bullpen time for the Tribe in 2011.
  • Tim Williams at Pirate Prospects has a good read on some young Buccos - Clay Holmes, Luis Heredia, Jacob Stallings and Barrett Barnes - that gives a snapshot of the youngsters' talents and mindsets.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bucs Score Early, Cruise To 4-1 Win

 It took AJ Burtnett a bit to loosen his arm; he went 3-2 on the first three Motown hitters, and lost Quintin Berry with one out, who stole second on the next pitch. But he died at third as his Tiger teammates all bounced out.

The Bucs took their first look at Doug Fister, and the top of the order liked what they saw. Down 1-2, Alex Presley whacked an elevated heater into the right field corner for a two base knock. Neil Walker lined the next pitch into center, sending The King home. He went to second on a short wild pitch and then to third on Cutch's broken bat dink into left. The merry-go-round stopped when Garrett Jones reached for a two strike change, rolling into a 6-4-3 with the Tigers exchanging the second run for the twin killing. McGehee bounced out to third, and the Pirates were up 2-0 after a frame.

AJ struck out Delmon Young to open the second, but lost Alex Avila on a full-count curve. Jhonny Peralta fell behind 0-2 and flew out to center and Ramon Santiago did the same on a first pitch heater that Burnett got away with, served right down the middle.

The much maligned Detroit defense gift wrapped the next pair of Bucco runs, all on one play. The newly patience Pedro fell behind 0-2, took three balls, fouled off a heater and banged the next smoker up the middle for a knock. Rod Barajas dinked a soft liner between short and left to put runners at first and second. Clint Barmes K'ed on three pitches, swinging through a curve. Burnett tried to bunt, and punched the ball right back to the mound. Fister had El Toro at third, but tossed the ball into left to allow him to score. Young picked up the cowhide and then dropped it, sending Hot Rod safely home, skittering across the dish with a belly-flopper. After two, it's 4-0 Pittsburgh.

The Tigers went down in order in the third, with Burnett picking up a pair of whiffs. Fister stopped the bleeding, too. Cutch led off with a single, spanking an 0-2 slider into center. Jones ripped a liner just foul into right, and swung through the next pitch for the first out. McGehee bounced to short, and a 6-4-3 DP nipped the inning in the bud.

Motor City got its first knock with two outs in the fourth when Young slapped a slurve up the middle, but he was left standing on the bag two pitches later. With one away, Barajas dropped his second flare, this time to short right, for a single. And for the third time in four frames, the Bucs banged into a DP, this one 5-4-3 off Barmes' bat.

In the fifth, it was three Tigers up, three ground balls, and three Tigers down. Fister was groovin' too, getting a pair of looking strikeouts sandwiched around Presley's long fly out to the track in right center by the Xfinity sign. Burnett would be tested in the sixth.

Austin Jackson rolled a 2-2 pitch through the second base hole and Berry followed with a five pitch walk. Miguel Cabrera and AJ battled through eight pitches, finally ended when Cabrera cued one to short to start a 6-4-3 DP. Prince Fielder popped out, and Burnett hung another hard earned goose egg on Detroit. Cutch led off against Fister with his third hit, a liner to center. He moved to second on a grounder, and with two away, Alvarez was intentionally walked. Barajas lifted yet another flare, but this one carried just a bit too far and was run down by Young to end the frame.

Burnett called it a day after 98 pitches, going six scoreless frames giving up two hits and three walks with five K. Jared Hughes climbed the mound, and it was a tough outing for Tackleberry. Young lifted one to the wall in straight center, a 395' out. Alex Avila hit a slow roller up the third base line, and Pedro showed off his rifle by tossing a laser to retire him. But a pair of sinkers that didn't sink got Motown on the board when Peralta doubled midway up the Clemente Wall and Santiago high off the fence in right center. A walk to Brandon Bosch ended Hughes' day. Tony Watson came on. Jackson was up, and got nothing but hard stuff from the lefty, K'ing as he swung through high heat to end the frame with the Bucs still comfortably ahead 4-1.

Luis Marte came on for Detroit, and he put the Bucs away without a ball finding its way past the infield. Jason Grilli was atop the bump in the eighth against the Tiger's 2-3-4 hitters and shut them down quietly. Marte got the first two outs in the Bucco half, ending Cutch's bid for a fourth hit when his liner ended up an at 'em ball to short. That was followed by a Freddy Sanchez filet to right by Matt Hague, who was wild pitched to second. The inning shut down when McGehee went down swinging at a 3-2 slider. It was Hanny time. No drama tonight; a pair of K's and a grounder to short put this baby to bed.

It was AJ's eighth win and The Hammer's 18th save. Might be a different game if Fister's second inning throw to third was on target, but defense is intertwined with pitching, and the Bucs made all the plays while the Tigers misfired on one. And sometimes one is all it takes.

Max Scherzer takes on Brad Lincoln tomorrow night.

  • AJ Burnett has won seven straight starts, and the Pirates have won the last nine games he's started.
  • Casey McGehee's hitting streak ended at nine games.
  • The Bucs had their fifth sellout with a crowd of 37,965. The Pirates expect tomorrow to be a sellout too, and predict a good crowd for Sunday.
  • Jeff Karstens should take the bump Sunday for Indy with no pitch count cap. If he gets through that, he should be good to rejoin the Bucco rotation.
  • The Tiger's Prince Fielder has launched 28 long balls against the Pirates in his career, his most homers bashed against any team.

Notes, Lineup As Tigers Come To Town

RHP Doug Fister (1-3, 2.68 ERA) of the Tigers takes on RHP A.J. Burnett (7-2, 3.52) tonight. Fister came off the DL Saturday, and went six shutout frames against the Rox. AJ's been on a roll and hasn't lost since May 2nd. The game starts at 7:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

It's a pair of hot teams running into one another. The Bucs have won 7-of-8 series while the Tigers have taken four straight series. The duo of Verlander and Scherzer struck out 27 and held Pittsburgh to a pair of runs a month ago in Detroit. So the team has its work cut out for it. A little rain won't hurt; it should clear out by gametime. And that's good - a big crowd is expected tonight.

The lineup: Alex Presley LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, AJ Burnett P.

Scary, but about as good as the Bucco lineup gets, maybe you could slip in Josh Harrison. Still, it shows how badly the Pirates need some OF help; maybe a deal sooner and Starling Marte (.261/5/34 @ Indy) a little later? 

  • A.J. Burnett will try to become the first Pirate pitcher to win seven straight starts (he did it once for Florida in 2005) since Dock Ellis notched eight straight in 1974.
  • The Pirates are 8-7 interleague this year, the same record as last season, with the weekend set against the Tigers still to go.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James McDonald is the only Pirates pitcher since 1900 to allow three or fewer runs in each of his first 14 starts of a season.
  • Gordon Edes of ESPN tweeted  that it wouldn't surprise him to see the Pirates check in on OFs Ryan Kalish or Cody Ross when Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return to the Red Sox.
  • Eric Seidman at Fangraphs is another fan of Cody Ross and Pittsburgh getting together. 
  • It took awhile, but Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated relates when Gregg Ritchie stepped in to smooth out Cutch's swing in the minors when he hit his first rough bump at the dish.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bucs Fire On All Cylinders, Romp 9-1

Pretty good start for James McDonald. He K'ed two of three Twinkies on curves in the dirt, giving Rod Barajas a little jump on loosening up his arm with tosses to first to complete the strikeout. Liam Kendriks started off with a comebacker by Alex Presley, a 3-2 heater that Neil Walker drove to the 389' mark before it was hauled in, and then a triple to right center by Cutch on a fastball away. Garrett Jones rolled an infield single off a diving 2B Alexi Casilla, and the Bucs were up 1-0. Casey McGehee bounced a 2-0 heater down the middle into center to put Buccos on first and second. The inning ended with Pedro swinging through a hook.

Justin Morneau fell behind 1-2, then got a heater up and over the outside of the dish that he lined the opposite way into left for a leadoff double. A grounder to short nicely played by Josh Harrison froze him, and he went to third on a long loud out by Dewey on a shot to left center. Another grounder put the Twins away without a run.

With one away, Harrison lined a knock to center. J-Mick misfired on a bunt attempt, forcing Josh at second. Presley spanked a 3-2 heater into center for a single, McDonald pulling up at second. SS Brain Dozier booted Walker's grounder to load the bases. Cutch made the Twins pay in blood for the error when he drilled a fastball above the knees and down the middle into left for a bases-clearing two bagger. Jones squared up on a curve, but lined it right to second to end the frame with the Pirates on top 4-0.

After two down in the third, Denard Span rolled a heater up the middle. Ben Revere was ahead 2-1 and got the heater he was looking for. He drove it deep toward the notch, where Presley tucked it in to end the frame. Hendriks nailed the first two Bucs on three pitches, then plunked Barajas. Harrison got a heater on a 3-2 delivery, but was a little late on it and flew out to right, ending the streak of two-out lightning.

J-Mick hit Josh Willingham with a first pitch slider to open the fourth, and fell behind Morneau 3-1. With the green light, he bounced a fastball at the knees to short to start a 6-4-3 DP. Good thing; Trevor Plouffe ripped a first pitch double to the wall in center and came in two pitches later when Dewey rolled a knock into right. Dozier got ahead 2-0, but finished the frame with a pop up. It was now 4-1 Pittsburgh. Hendriks had an easy inning, sitting down the Pirates routinely.

With one away in the fifth, Hendriks reached on Harrison's error. Span hit the next pitch to the track in right where Jones tucked it away. Revere tried to bunt his way on, dropping the first pitch down, but Barajas was on it quickly and nailed him. After five, J-Mick is in control, with just 66 pitches used so far on a muggy night. Hendriks looked sharp now, too. He K'ed Cutch on a curve foul tip, jammed Jones on the hands to get a pop out and K'ed McGehee swinging on a slider just at the knees and on the black, a perfect pitcher's pitch.

Willingham got ahead 2-0 and whacked an elevated heater, but it dropped short of the track in left for out number one. It was J-Mick's turn to get ahead of Morneau 0-2, but he tossed a hook that caught too much plate and it was roped into right for a knock. Plouffe lined a slider to left, and Presley was there for the grab. With Doumit up and two away, Morneau stole second. J-Mick threw a 2-2 offspeed pitch into the dirt; Morneau was caught in no mans land between bases and was run down 2-6-5 to end the Twin sixth.

El Toro opened the Bucco half by lining a 3-2 fastball into center. Hendriks hung a slider down the middle of Broadway to Barajas, and he bombed it over the wall just beside the Notch to make it 6-1. That was it for the rookie; Alex Burnett got the bullpen call. Longballs had been Hendriks' bane, and one finally caught up to him tonight. With two down, Presley legged out a weak 0-2 roller down the right side for an infield hit and stole second. Walker grounded a 3-2 heater on the outside black to third to end the frame, but the Pirates had a comfortable five run lead with nine outs to go.

Make that six; J-Mick put away Minnesota in order in the seventh. Jeff Manship came in for the Twins, and Cutch greeted him with a single to left off a 3-2 hook. Jones saw a 2-1 two seamer that was up, and dropped it into the Clemente seats; the rout was officially on with GI Jones' birthday bomb. An out later, Pedro crushed his 13th into the right center night skies to make it 9-1, blasting a changeup 435' and bouncing it out of the house. Barajas had the dinger fever, but went down swinging without ever seeing a strike. Harrison bounced out to end a productive frame.

McDonald iced the Twinkies in the eighth, without a ball leaving the infield. Jeff Gray climbed the mound for Minnesota. The Bucs went down in order, and Cutch, who was on deck, lost his chance for the cycle, falling a homer short.

It took J-Mick eight pitches to get the first out in the ninth, and we'll see how short a leash he's on as he goes for his first complete game. His pitch count is at 112. Chris Parmlee hit a ground ball single into right, and Plouffe flied out to left. He got Dewey to line out to right, and notched his longest outing at 120 pitches and first MLB complete game, good stuff from the Pirates emerging ace.His final line: nine innings, one run, six hits, five K.

Hey, they did it all today. But the Tigers will throw Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander at the Buccos against Brad Lincoln and Kevin Correia, a pair of tough matchups. Hopefully, the guys make hay tomorrow when Doug Fister takes on AJ Burnett.

  • Casey McGehee has a nine game hitting streak that he extended with a first inning knock.
  • Pedro Alvarez's last five games: 9-for-17, 2 2B, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 8 R, 3 BB, 2 K.
  • The Bucs have won seven of their last eight series.
  • RHP Daniel McCutchen has been recalled from his rehab assignment, reinstated from the 15-day DL and optioned to Indy.
  • GW may have been a little harsh on the Bucco batters when they were shutout 2-0 by Cleveland's Justin Masterson last week. He struck out nine with no walks and allowed a lone unearned run on three hits in a complete-game win over Cincinnati last night. And to beat our DH dead horse a little longer, the Tribe was swept by the Reds in Cincy, but took all three in the rematch at Cleveland.
  • In his first Class A start, 17 year old Luis Heredia went 4 IP, with no runs, giving up 1 hit and 2 walks with 4 K on 48 pitches (he was on a 4 inning/65 pitch limit). And sandwich pick Barrett Barnes, making his pro debut, had three hits.
  • A blast from the past: The Braves signed reliever D.J. Carrasco to a minor league deal after the Mets released him in early May.
  • Cash Kruth of has a piece about the Moonlight Grahams of baseball; the three dozen guys who since 1901 appeared in only one game and never stepped up to the plate.