Tuesday, July 31, 2012

AJ, Walker Double Team Cubs 5-0

Well, they weren't crushing the ball early against Casey Coleman, but after a Starling Marte K, Travis Snider and Cutch dinked back-to-back infield knocks. Garrett Jones worked a 3-2 walk to load the bases for Neil Walker. The Kid got ahead 2-1, seeing heaters, and then bopped a changeup that ran over the plate, clearing the wall in right by a couple of rows, and the Bucs were up 4-0. Pedro caught a heater away and doubled the opposite way. Rod Barajas fanned and Clint Barmes popped out, and AJ Burnett climbed the bump. It took him nine pitches to put away the Cubs.

Coleman had better luck in the second, shutting down the Pirates 1-2-3. The lake wind helped; blowing in tonight, it held Marte's blast to center in the yard for a long, loud out. AJ threw clean, too, and is at a very economical 19 pitches through two frames.

Cutch opened the third by knocking a curve to left for his second hit of the night. Jones turned on a low slider and drove it to right to put Bucs on the corners. Cutch was off on contact, and The Kid's grounder to first nailed him at the plate. Pedro singled on a 407' ball to the center field wall as the Pirates ran a comedy routine on the bases. Jones stayed near second to tag, then made the wide turn at third and came back while Walker was steaming his way to the bag. Walker was tagged out with two guys on the same sack, and the Bucs ended up with runners at second and third and no runs in classic Keystone Kop style. Rod Barajas walked, but Barmes grounded out to kill a golden opportunity to add on. Didn't bother AJ, though. He just kept dealing, with nine Cubbies down in a row on 30 pitches.

Pittsburgh went down in order in the fourth.  Anthony Rizzo became the first Chi-Town runner when he walked on a 3-2 pitch with two away. AJ answered by K'ing Alfonso Soriano. With one down in the fifth, Jones drew a 3-2 walk. Walker tried to jack another, but it was a long out to right. Pedro walked on four pitches, and that was it for Coleman. Steve Maine took the ball and got Hot Rod to fly out to right. AJ continued business as usual; three Cubs up, three down - and 52 pitches through five.

Maine sank the Bucs in the sixth.  AJ lost David Dejesus with two down on a 3-2 pitch and stole second. he stayed there as Castro flew out, though AJ had to labor for the first time tonight.

Snider was issued a four pitch free pass to open the seventh. Cutch fell behind 0-2, took a couple of chase pitches, and sent a changeup into right center for a two bagger, with Snider stopping at third. Maine worked Jones away, eventually getting him to chase a curve for a swinging K. Walker lifted a curve to left, plating Snider and moving Cutch to third when the throw escaped C Clevenger. That play brought Jeff Beliveau to the hill, and he caught Pedro looking. No sweat for AJ in the seventh; he mowed down the middle of the Cub order, helped by a sweet grab at first by Jones on Bryan LaHair's ball, and has his pitch count back in order at 80 through seven frames.

Beliveau tucked away the bottom of the Pittsburgh lineup in the eighth. With an out, Darwin Barney ducked into a hook and took it square in the helmet, leaving the game for Jeff Baker, who stole second. AJ picked up a K, but rookie call-up Adrian Cardenas cleanly golfed a 3-2 sinker into right to put runners on the corners and break up the no-no.

After the hit, AJ muttered a few choice words and gestured at plate ump Jeff Nelson after missing calls with a couple of previous pitches just outside the black (he later said that was just frustration -"he called a great game. I stayed with the hook away, and got some calls. I would loved to have had that one.")  The Chicago fans showed they appreciated their baseball, giving Burnett an ovation.  He K'ed David DeJesus after the knock to end the frame.

Marte opened the ninth against Shawn Camp by reaching on a Castro error and going to third on a stolen base and misthrow. But a pair of not very professional at bats by Snider and Cutch and a ground out by Jones left him there. AJ blew through the Cubs in the last frame, whiffing Soriano to end the game on a high note.

AJ threw a complete game shutout, giving up a hit, two walks, a beaned batter and whiffing eight on 108 pitches (his season high) for his 13th win. In case there was any question who the Pirate ace and stopper is, tonight emphatically answered that question. AJ provided the arm and Neil Walker's 5 RBI the lumber. And they needed it; the Reds won too, 7-6, keeping the Bucs three games behind in the Central.

A couple of thoughts: On the sunny side, Cutch and Starling Marte cover some acreage. On one gap shot, they were both there, almost knocking heads. On the shady side, the Pirates need to tighten up with RISP; they were 2-for-12 tonight and have been pretty undisciplined with runners on for much of the month. They're not gonna get grand slams and three run knocks every night.

Jeff Karstens faces Travis Wood in tomorrow afternoon's getaway game.

  • This was the first Buc one-hitter since Todd Ritchie tossed one in 2001 against KC. For AJ, it was his first one hitter and shutout since 2006. The outing was Burnett’s 10th career shutout. He is now 6-0 lifetime against the Cubs and 4-0 at Wrigley Field. And finally, tonight was the ninth time this season that Burnett has worked >7 innings in a start.
  • Neil Walker is 14-for-29 with two home runs and 38 RBI with the bases loaded.
  • The Pirates played a man short tonight, with Gaby Sanchez expected to join the team tomorrow to replace Casey McGehee.
  • Why no Hunter Pence in Pittsburgh? Greg Brown on Root Sports said it would have taken Brad Lincoln & Starling Marte to pry him away from Philly. Some of the best trades are the ones you don't make...
  • Altoona's Gerrit Cole went six scoreless innings, giving up three hits and a walk with six K.
  • This day in history: In 1988, July 31, 1988: Willie Stargell was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, the only inductee that year. Stargell played 21 years with the Pirates and is the all-time club leader in home runs (475) and RBI (1540). Pops played a total of 2360 games in a Pittsburgh uniform and tallied 2232 hits. He won World Series championships in 1971 and 1979, having been named MVP of the ‘79 Fall Classic. 

Short & Sweet: Lineup, News & Notes

RHP A.J. Burnett (12-3, 3.52 ERA) goes against RHP Casey Coleman (0-1, 7.32 ERA). Well, missed Dempster again and got another call-up. Didn't work out so well for Pittsburgh last night. The game begins at 8:05 and will shown by Root Sports. Oh, and you'll probably need a scorecard for both clubs.

The Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Travis Snider RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, AJ Burnett P.

  • RHP Daniel McCutchen took Brad Lincoln’s spot in the bullpen, even if just for the day. That's a pretty conservative move, but with the starting pitching being banged around, maybe the FO wanted the security blanket of an inning eater. Drew Sutton was DFA'ed to open D-Mac's roster space. Chad Qualls will report tomorrow and take someone's place - probably D-Mac's - and then get bumped when Juan Cruz returns from the DL.
  • State College OF Tyler Gaffney was named the New York-Penn League Player of the Week. He batted .591 w/2 triples, 2 doubles & 4 RBI.

Trade Deadline - Gaby & Chad Come, Gorkys & Casey Go

Well, the Bucs got Wandy Rodriguez and Travis Snider so far. The FO stuck to its guns, passing up on overpriced rentals and dealing from a team strength, pitching. Looks like the big deals are done.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports thinks they'll look for a bench guy and a little bullpen depth today. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports believe they'll be beating the bushes for a RH stick. If we were to speculate, a RH bat and a LH reliever sound about right.

The Bucs did eventually pick up a bat of sorts - 1B Gaby Sanchez of the Fish and RH reliever Kyle Kaminiska in exchange for CF Gorkys Hernandez. With four young outfielders in Pittsburgh and being out of options, moving Hernandez wasn't a surprise.

Sanchez is a RH batter, and is having a pretty poor year, batting .202 and getting shipped to the minors. But the 28 year old hit 38 homers and 163 RBI in 2010-11 with a career .269 BA. He was an All-Star on 2011. Next season will be his first arb year, so the Bucs have him under control through 2015. Seems like he's more a pickup for 2013 purposes than to add much to the team now. We'll see where he ends up being assigned, to either Pittsburgh or Indianapolis.

Kaminska is a 23 year old minor league pitcher who looks pretty much like a toss in, although he did have some decent AA peripheral numbers. He'ss gone a combined 6-4 with one save and a 5.20 ERA in 33 relief appearances this year for Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans. The Pirates haven't determined where to send him yet.

The Bucs also gave the Marlins their competitive pick, number #33 next year, which sure sweetened the pot for Miami.

Right at the last tick, the Bucs sent Casey McGehee to the NYY for RHP Chad Qualls, 33, who has been pretty miserable this year, with 6.14 ERA and 1.773 WHIP for the Bombers, and a 4.89 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 43 appearances split between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Yankees. But it's not all bad; the veteran Qualls does just fine against righties, so he can be effective in the right situation.

Looks like Gaby Sanchez has a spot in the show after all. He's supposed to report to Chicago tomorrow, and will get some time at first with GI Jones.

The Pirates have one spot open on their 40 man roster after the wheelin' and dealin', and will probably clean that up tomorrow.

So a quiet end to the trade deadline. The Bucs didn't land an established bat, but not many of those commodities switched teams. It looks like the new CBA got a lot guys signed to new deals and a lot more will be showcased during the off season.

Lincoln Gone, Snider In And The Domino Effect

Well, it cost the Bucs one of their breakout pitchers, but they did get an outfield bat. The Pirates sent Brad Lincoln, 27, to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Travis Snider, 24, in an exchange of 2006 first round picks. It actually helps both guys in the long run. The Jays will likely use Lincoln as a starter next season, and Snider will get a chance in Pittsburgh to play every day. That's the bet the teams are making regarding relative values; the Jays plan on Lincoln being a rotation guy, and the Pirates get to pencil in Snider as their regular right fielder.

Snider has been up and down in the show since 2009, but never won a starting position. He's a lefty power guy who misses a lot of pitches; he's K'ed 250 times in 917 MLB PA (27%), and gone yard 31 times with 112 RBI, hitting .247 with .734 OPS. In many ways, he's a mini-Pedro, a work in progress with the occasional teaser flash.

He'll go the opposite way at the plate and has trouble with southpaws. "Lunchbox" (he earned the nickname because, well, he likes to eat and is an excellent cook) is just a decent outfielder with good speed and an average arm. It also describes his playing style; he's a hard-nosed, hustle guy.

Snider  isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2013 season, so is under team control through 2016. That gives the Pirates a starting outfield of Snider, 24, Cutch, 25, and Starling Marte, 23, with fourth man Alex Presley the old man at 27. We'll see how the corners react to the growing pains, but that's one high ceiling if it works out right. Neal Huntington stayed true to his word; no rental overpays. Snider has the opportunity to become a long term piece of the puzzle.

The immediate dominoes? Well, someone has to replace Brad Lincoln, and that would be either Evan Meek or Bryan Morris, both who have been on the big team this year and are on the 40-man roster already. In the long run, the move tells us the Pirates saw Lincoln as a bullpen piece, and with plenty of those guys piled up in the minors, the FO was dealing from a position with depth. And the Bucs do have a good eye for picking up guys on the market if push comes to shove.

Next, someone has to get the heave-ho on the bench; we're thinking Jordy Mercer, who can be optioned and recalled in September, leaving Drew Sutton as a stick for Clint Hurdle.

There's a back splash for guys that remain, too. Alex Presley becomes the fourth outfielder, which is probably the role he's best suited to play. And with Snider in right, Pittsburgh is back to Plan A, platooning Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee at first, which should make that spot more productive. It looks like Kevin Correia may have to get used to his new home in the pen, too, as he now becomes the default multi-inning guy.

And it sure can't be doing much to make Jose Tabata's day at Indy, either.

It's certainly not without risk; Snider is far from a proven commodity and still feeling his way around the league. For all his pedigree, he's never reached the 300 AB mark. Snider's better known for his AAA mashing (in the hitter heaven of the PCL) and siren-song upside rather than actual MLB production.

So basically, the trade says that Toronto has given up on tapping that potential and cutting their losses. The Bucs are betting that a full-time gig will help him figure it out. Well, we'll find out soon enough; he's supposed to report to the team in time for tonight's game.

For this year, he may not be that much help, and that's the major bone of contention of tapping Snider instead of a Victorino, especially among the mainstream media folk. The Pirates will have a lot of guys trying to learn their jobs on the fly. But for the franchise as it heads down the road, it's a roll of the dice worth taking.

Monday, July 30, 2012

All Cubs, All Night; Bucs Pounded 14-4

While everybody's waiting on the virtually non-existent trade action around the league (the Cubs would later stir that pot), there are still ballgames to be played. With a chance of storms and the wind blowing out at 5-15 MPH toward center at Wrigley, this could be a wild one in Chi-Town.

Well, for the Cubs, anyway. They scored in the first when wild pitch third strike put a runner on first; he was doubled in by Starlin Castro. An error and a single was followed by a Darwin Barney homer in the fourth. In the fifth, a walk and a knock was followed by another homer, this time by Anthony Rizzo. Three straight singles brought in another Cubbie run. And hey, this was just in the 4-1/3 innings Erik Bedard worked.

Chris Resop came in (finally) and gave up another single and run. A bunt and an infield single off the first base bag scored two more (it took a big kick). That was followed by another homer, this one from Castro's bat. When the fifth inning ended, the Cubs had touched home nine times to take a 13-2 lead.

A triple and double off Tony Watson in the seventh added another run to the Chicago board.

The bigger problem was having enough guys to finish the game. In the span of an inning, the Cubs traded Reed Johnson/Paul Maholm to the Braves (the Pirates were one of the finalists for Johnson) and Geovany Soto to the Rangers. You had to keep a sharp eye on the dugout; Dale Sveum emptied his bench during the blowout, so the hugs goodbye were the only way to figure out who was traded and who was getting a blow.

The Bucs had few shining moments. In the third, Starling Marte's two out knock brought in a run. Mike McKenry's bases loaded grounder sent home another in the fourth when the second baseman dropped the ball while making the potentially inning-ending DP turn. Two infield singles and a walk loaded the bases in the sixth. McKenry's knock scored one and Clint Barmes' walk another before a Casey McGehee DP killed the rally, swinging at the first pitch which was below the knees.

But there was a bright spot - Marte collected 3 hits from the leadoff spot, and so far hasn't shown any real plates issues other than he's aggressive at the dish and so probably won't be a big OBP guy. He's still looking for his first big league walk and only took them at a 5% rate in the minors

The Bucs had their Lasting Milledge moments, too. Marte was doubled off first, either on a straight steal or hit-and-run, on a fly to center after sliding into second and heading to third before he noticed the ball had been caught. Alex Presley was caught stealing in the seventh with Cutch up - and down by nine runs.

Hopefully it's all out of their system now. The good news on the night is that the Reds finally lost 11-5 to SD, so the Pirates at least didn't lose any ground. The bad news is that their post season competitor, Atlanta, just pulled even with Pittsburgh in the wild card race, and made themselves a little bit deeper down the stretch.

AJ Burnett faces off against Ryan Dempster, if he's still with the Cubs - at least we know he's not going to Atlanta now - tomorrow night. It'd be a good time for AJ to step up as the stopper for the staff.

  • Ryan Dempster’s turn in the rotation was scheduled for tonight, but was pushed back to tomorrow so that if he's moved by the trade deadline, he's good to go for his new team.
  • Eddie Matz of ESPN The Magazine jumped on the Cutch bandwagon.
  • When Ben Badler of Baseball America was asked if Tony Sanchez still profiled as a starting MLB catcher, his reply was "Backup more likely." That sure muddies the position, both in the long and short term.
  • At 67-43 the AAA Indy Indians are off to their best start through 110 games since going 68-42 in 1996.
  • 1B Alex Dickerson of Bradenton was named the Florida State League Player of the Week after batting .462 with two home runs, seven RBI, four doubles and 10 runs scored. 
  • Bradenton's Jameson Taillon threw seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and three walks with four K. The Marauders lost in ten, 1-0.
  • Lyle Overbay was just DFA'ed by Arizona. He was hitting .292, but only appeared in 45 games as a platoon option. Buster Olney of ESPN tweets "Guessing where Overbay might fit as a PH/backup 1B --just guessing--and coming up with CIN."

Lineup, Notes, News

LHP Erik Bedard (5-11, 4.32 ERA) takes the bump against Cubs RHP Justin Germano (0-1, 1.04). Bedard has gone 1-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his two starts since the All-Star break, pitching into the 7th inning of each appearance. Germano, 30, who was acquired from the Red Sox for cash on July 19th, has tossed one outing since joining the Cubs, a three-inning relief call. He was a starter at AAA Pawtucket, and was named yesterday to replace the injured Matt Garza. The righty is a soft tosser that has sink to all his pitches and keeps the ball down. The game starts at 8:05 and will be shown on Root Sports.

The Cubs are starting to play the kind of ball they were expected to earlier in the season; they've gone 18-10 since June 25th and have won five of their last six series. The Pirates are only 4-3 against them and the Astros in the past week. Pittsburgh has to focus on the three game set at Wrigley before tackling the Reds mano-a-mano at Great American, and can't afford to be looking ahead further than the contest at hand.

The lineup: Starling Marte LF, Alex Presley RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Clint Barmes SS, Erik Bedard P.

  • Happy B-Day, Clint Hurdle. The skip turns 55 today.
  • RHP Juan Cruz, on the DL with elbow inflammation, threw his first bullpen session since the injury yesterday.
  • The Altoona Curve's OF Adalberto Santos and RHP Phil Irwin swept the Eastern League "Player/Pitcher of the Week" awards for July 23rd-29th. Santos hit .500 (12-24) with a 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, & 2 stolen sacks. Irwin pitched a seven inning, two-hit shutout with nine K.
  • Danny Knobler of CBS Sports tweeted "Billy Butler was named AL Player of Week. I'm told Pirates asked about him, but offered very little and talks went nowhere." Nice stick, but there's nowhere in the NL to hide that glove. 
  • The Astros bounced SS Brian Bixler back to AAA today.
  • Lee Tunnell, who had a pretty good year for the Bucs in 1983, was named the Brewer's new bullpen coach on an interim basis. He's spent the past four seasons as their minor league pitching coordinator.

Trade Talk...

  • John Perrotto of Inside Pittsburgh Sports added two names to the trade fires. He writes that the FO has inquired about Carlos Lee of the 'Stros/Fish along with KC's Jose Majares, a LOOGY, as a second southpaw option to pair with Tony Watson.
  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted that the Bucs "did not seem alive on Victorino as of late last night."
  • James Krug in The Morning Bark wrote "The Pirates still desperately need a bat, and preferably one that can reach base at a high rate. Two names that excite me the most heading into Tuesday are Cleveland Indians’ OF Shin-Soo Choo and San Francisco Giants’ 1B Brandon Belt." 
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review says "I wouldn't be surprised to see the Pirates pick up a bench guy and reliever. The magic dust is wearing off for Cruz and another lefty in pen would be nice."
  • Grant Bisbee of Baseball Nation pushes for a Joel Hanrahan deal, writing that "An openness to trading Hanrahan opens all sorts of doors for the Pirates, and it doesn't affect what the Pirates are hoping to build a couple of years down the line." There haven't been any closer deals yet, but they traditionally occur in the last 48 hours before the deadline when the bidding is at its heaviest for what are over-valued assets to begin with.
  • Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus on Starling Marte: "He has above-average speed and defense, but Andrew McCutchen blocks Marte in center, and his bat isn't nearly as special in a corner spot. It’s possible Marte is being showcased for a trade..." However, it appears that Marte, along with Brad Lincoln, Jameson Taillon and their top handful of elites are virtually untouchable and would require some serious return for the Bucs to even consider flipping.
  • Kevin Correia's big problem: the Pirates don't want to jerk around Brad Lincoln or burn a Jeff Locke option in August, yet need a spot starter for a game or two as they're on a 33-games-in-34-days stretch on the schedule. So KC quite likely has more value now to the Bucs as a sixth starter than he would if dealt to another team as a back-ender. He lost a little more leverage by taking his understandable trade wish public instead of talking to Neal Huntington behind closed doors. Richard Langsford of Bleacher Report thinks that Toronto, Atlanta, or Boston could be potential destination spots for him.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bucs Go Down 9-5

We'll make this one short and sweet. The Bucs got whupped 9-5. Give Houston credit. They had lost a franchise record dozen straight games, and just had their best hitter traded an hour or so before the game. But with the help of Pittsburgh pitching, they soldiered on and won a game.

Wandy Rodriguez got away with missing the dish last night; James McDonald didn't. He walked seven (one intentionally) in five innings and threw 110 pitches while giving up five runs. His July performance has to be a concern. In six starts covering 34-2/3 innings, he's given up 23 runs (5.97 ERA) on 36 hits with 24 walks. And if the walks aren't bad enough, he's behind in way too many counts. Ray Searage better get him in the workshop, and quick.

And if KC doesn't get traded, he has no one to blame but himself. Nothing devalues a pitcher like giving up four runs in two innings. And he's problematic if not dealt. He's a slow starter out of the gate, having given up 24 runs on 48 hits in the first two innings of the 20 games he's worked (5.40 ERA). That doesn't make him so much an ideal long man as a candidate for a DFA.

The Pirate attack was led by Garrett Jones who homered and had two RBI, as did Neil Walker. Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison had a pair of hits apiece.

The Bucs go to Wrigley Field, where Erik Bedard will take on...well, dunno yet. It's TBA.

  • The Reds won their tenth in a row today, so Pittsburgh is 3 games back.
  • Pittsburgh has hit at least one home run in 19 straight road games, the third-longest streak in the NL during the live-ball era. The 1953 Dodgers and 2000 Astros each homered in 20 consecutive road games. The MLB record is Baltimore's 24-game run in 1996. 
  • The one guy killing the Pirates won't be around to bang away anymore.  The D-Backs traded for 3B Chris Johnson in exchange for a pair of AA hitters, Marc Krauss, a 24 year old OF/1B, and Bobby Borchering, who was Arizona's #1 pick in the 2009 draft, a 21 year old with 44 homers and 285 K since 2011 who also plays first and corner OF. Now Brad Mills knows how John Russell felt.
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweeted that the Pirates are looking at prying OF Shin-Soo Choo, 30, from the Tribe. Likely price tag: Starling Marte. Choo is making $4.9M and has one more season of team control, entering his third arb year in 2013. Jayson Stark of ESPN cautioned earlier in the week that "Teams that have spoken with the Indians say they're willing to listen on Chris Perez and Choo, but they're very unlikely to deal either player unless they get blown away." 
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN said that the Padres are likely to keep Chase Headley if the ante doesn't get bumped. That fits in with other reports that say he's more likely to be moved in the off season, although it could be a team ploy, too.
  • Kevin Correia told Tom Singer of MLB.com that he hopes to be dealt by the trade deadline. Not too surprising, considering he's riding a six game winning streak and hasn't lost a game since June 13th even with a 4.24 ERA and some scary peripherals. Singer added that KC did not "go to the media" to raise a fuss, but was just answering a question during an interview. Still, a sorta bush league way of handling his discontent, especially during a pennant chase.

Lineup, Notes & News, Rumors

RHP James McDonald (10-4, 3.15 ERA) will face the Astros' RHP Lucas Harrell (7-7, 4.07 ERA), looking to broom Houston. J-Mick is looking to get back on track after giving up 15 runs in his last three starts. He's given up six long balls in July with a 5.46 ERA. Groundballer Harrell has been strong lately, but without much to show for it. The game begins at 2:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

The lineup: Starling Marte CF, Alex Presley LF, Neil Walker 2B, Garrett Jones RF, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Jordy Mercer SS, James McDonald P.

For sure your getaway day lineup. Cutch gets a blow, as does Clint Barmes and Hot Rod. Good time to get Jordy, Casey, The Fort and company some swings.

  • The Pirates haven't swept a four-game series in Houston since the 1983 season (April 7-10th). A victory this afternoon would give the Pirates their fifth series sweep of the season and their first on the
    road. The Bucs did sweep the Astros at Minute Maid in a three-game set last June and took a four-game set from them at PNC to open July.
  • Pittsburgh has won their last five road games and is 25-26 away from home this season.
  • Since 1972, the Bucs (58-42) have had 58 or more wins after 100 games six other times - 1972, 1973, 1977, 1988, 1990 and 1991. The club was 53-47 at the 100-game mark in 2011. 
  • At 15-7 in July, the Pirates have clinched a third consecutive winning month, something they haven't done since 1991. 
  • Clint Hurdle has penciled in ten different players for the two hole of the lineup so far this season. Neil Walker is the guy there the most often, with 45 appearances. The six and seven spots are even more problematic; he's batted thirteen different players sixth and eleven seventh.
  • Wendy Thurm of Baseball Nation has a piece on "Pittsburgh and the Pirate Resurgence" dealing with the way a team and city bond.
  • Indy LHP Jeff Locke went seven innings of shutout ball, allowing four hits, three walks, and fanning four last night. With Rudy Owens gone, he's the Bucs minor league ace in the hole.
  • MLB Pit Stops' Marc Hefferan featured West Virginia OF Gregory Polanco as this week's under-the-radar performer. 
  • This day in history: In 1915, Honus Wagner hit a grand slam in the eighth inning of Pittsburgh’s 8-2 victory at Forbes Field. The inside-the-park round tripper made the 41-year old infielder the oldest player ever to hit a home run with the bases full, a record which lasted until 1985 when Julio Franco cranked out a grand salami.
  • Phil Rogers of the LA Times wrote "Despite homering on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte could be on the move. He's being discussed in deals for Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo." 
  • Jim Salisbury of Phillies Insider reported that "Multiple baseball sources indicated on Saturday that the Phils’ talks involving Victorino were getting warm. The Reds, Pirates, Dodgers and Giants all have interest in Victorino, and scouts from those clubs have peeked in on the Phillies lately." Jon Heyman of CBS Sports says the Phils are ready to sell their fringe pieces, but aren't sure about Pence yet.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pirates Edge Astros 4-3

Armando Galarraga worked Starling Marte over with sliders on either corner and got him swinging. Didn't work quite that way on Alex Presley; his first pitch was a sinker and The King drilled it over the right field wall to make it 1-0 in a hurry. With two down, Garrett Jones smacked a sinker up Tal's Hill that glanced off Justin Maxwell's mitt and ended up with a three-bagger. Neil Walker caught a 2-0 slider away and hit it toward the left field notch, where it was hauled in. Still, nice to give Wandy the lead from the git-go in his first Bucco outing.

Rodriguez got the first two outs of his Pirate debut routinely before losing Chris Johnson on four pitches. No prob; he came back to punch out JD Martinez swinging at a curve.

Galarraga had an easy second. Pedro flew out just short of the track in right center while Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes both K'ed swinging at sliders. Wandy had trouble finding the dish. He walked Justin Maxwell on five pitches. He was up 0-2 on Ben Francisco, but eventually lost him when a 3-2 curve broke low. Brian Bixler bunted the pair up, and Carlos Corporan shot a liner to left to plate a run. Galarrago K'ed swinging in what should have been a bunt situation, and Jose Altuve bounced into a force to leave it at 1-1.

The first two Pirates went down quietly in the third. Presley drew a walk, but Galarraga got Cutch to bounce to third on a 3-2 change to end the frame.Wandy got the first pair of outs before losing Martinez on a 3-2 curve; the four walks in three innings are already the season high for Rodriguez. Maxwell lined a curve to Barmes to end the inning.

The Bucs regained the lead in the fourth. The 'Stros put a shift on Jones, leaving only the 3B on the left side - guess who Jones hit it to? Woulda been nice if he got on, as The Kid pounded a high, hung slider into the second tier in right. Pedro went down on a 3-2 curve and Hot Rod grounded out in the hole - Cutch would have had a double for the time it took - and it was 2-1 Pittsburgh. Rodriguez had a routine inning, only losing Brian Bixler on a five pitch walk in the process.

Pittsburgh left a runner on third in the fifth. Barmes led off by flaring an 0-2 pitch off the plate into right and Wandy bunted him over. Marte flew out softly to center. Barmes went to third on a short wild pitch, but Presley whiffed on an inside hook. Galarrago is not only the kind of pitcher the Bucs have trouble with, staying down and away, but is getting a generous strike zone against lefties.

Altuve opened with a knock to center. He was on the move when Matt Downs hit a sharp grounder in the hole; Barmes made a sweet diving stop, but had no play at first. A long fly and pop out moved Wandy within an out of surviving, but Maxwell took a curve down and away the opposite way. It barely eluded Presley's leap at the wall, and barely ticked the very top of the fence, ending up a triple to put Houston up 3-2.

Cutch opened the sixth with a knock. The Bucs got a break when Downs made a lunging grab of Jones hard rap heading past first, but then hit Cutch in the helmet with his throw to second. It was tough on Galarraga, too, as that play got him the hook from Brad Mills. Wesley Wright climbed the hill.

He got into quick trouble when he bounced a slider to Walker on an 0-2 pitch, hitting him in the ankle and loading the bases. He just as quickly got an odd DP - Pedro fouled a ball behind the dish, and the spin carried it forward. Corporan caught it just in front of the dish, stepped on home and threw to first. He had the runner at third easily, but acted on instinct. Good thing for Pittsburgh he did; a passed ball on a cross up - Corcoran was set up inside for a curve, and got a heater away - allowed Jones to score and tie the game. Altuve made a terrific over-the-shoulder grab in short right on Barajas' bloop to prevent further damage.

After two outs, the Astros got back-to-back knocks. Moore got an infield hit when a diving Walker short hopped the ball, but it ricocheted off him, followed by an Altuve liner to center. Down popped out and that was it for Wandy in fis first Bucco outing. he went six innings, giving up three runs on six hits with five walks and five K's, tossing 103 pitches.

Chuckie Fick took the hill for Houston in the seventh. Barmes lined a single to right to greet him. Wandy stayed in long enough to bunt him over. Fick had the baseball gods on his side; Marte ripped a shot to center, right at Maxwell, who lost his feet making the grab as the ball run back toward him, and Presley spanked a one hopper to Altuve's glove, and he escaped three squared up balls with no damage. Chris Resop took the bump for Pittsburgh and threw a clean frame.

Fick opened the eighth by putting Cutch aboard, missing on a 3-2 pitch. Jones dug out a sinker down and away and lined it into center to put runners on the corners. Fernando Rodriguez answered Mill's call. Walker popped out and Pedro was caught looking at a curve that was a little off the plate and called late. That made Pittsburgh 0-for-17 with RISP this series, a streak that ended when Barajas lined a single to left to bring home Cutch. Jones had broken on the pitch and kept chugging to third, where he was an easy out. But the Bucs were up 4-3.

Brad Lincoln came on, with Casey McGehee going to first base in Clint's two-fer. After two were away, he tried to blow an 0-2 heater past Corporan. It ran in, and he fought it off enough to bloop a single between Cutch, who was playing deep, and The Kid. Jordan Schafer came in to run and stole second on the first pitch. No problem; Moore popped out, and there were three outs to go.

Wilton Lopez tossed a 1-2-3 ninth; Jason Grilli came in for the save (Hanny has worked three straight nights and was scheduled for R&R). He struck out a pair in a clean inning, and you can raise the Jolly Roger.

It was Grilli's second save; he iced the game for bullpen running mate Chris Resop, who notched his first W of the year. Not much to say except it's a good time to catch Houston, and if the two teams traded bullpens, Houston might be up three games instead of down three.

James McDonald takes on Lucas Harrell in tomorrow afternoon's match, then the Bucs are off to Wrigley Field.

  • Pittsburgh is 58-42. If the Bucs finish out at .500 (31-31), they'll have an 89 win season.
  • Minor deal: Christian Marrero of the Braves was traded to the Pirates for Indy infielder Brian Friday. Friday has been assigned to AAA Gwinnett and Marrero to Indy. Marrero is a 25 year old OF/1B with a 2012 slash of .248/5/35 between Double and Triple A. Friday, 26, was an organizational depth player selected in the third round of the 2007 draft from Rice. He was hitting .232.
  • Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of Fox Sports: "The Pirates’ best remaining options appear to be Headley and Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino. Pittsburgh right-hander Brad Lincoln has been mentioned in the Pirates’ trade conversations for both Headley and Victorino, sources say. The Pirates may face competition from within the division to acquire Victorino: The Reds, looking for an outfield bat and leadoff hitter, are known to have interest in Victorino, as well."

Lineup, Notes, News, Jayson Stark Rumors

LHP Wandy Rodriguez (7-9, 3.79) will face the Astros RHP Armando Galarraga (0-0, 0.00 - and yes, he's the Jim Joyce-blown perfect game guy). In the Houston organization since 1999, this will be the first time Rodriguez has taken the hill in another uniform. Galarraga was 3-2/4.12 at AAA Oklahoma City and will be making his first Houston outing. His last MLB start was with the D-Backs on May 16th, 2011. The game begins at 7:05 and will aired on Root Sports.

The Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Alex Presley RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, Wandy Rodriguez P.

The Pirates are going with the three CF'er look again tonight, as Casey McGehee sits for a second straight game.

  • Kevin Correia is available tonight in his new role as fireman. Joel Hanrahan is down after working three straight outings and firing 49 pitches. 
  • Friday night was the 19th time in 2012 that Pittsburgh has won a game in which it trailed by two or more runs, the most in the majors. 11 of those 19 comebacks have come on road - one more road comeback win than the Pirates had in previous three seasons combined, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Clint Hurdle has the guys playing ball on the road at least respectably now - they won 36 last year and are 24-26 this season after long stretches of utter futility away from PNC Park.
  • The Astros claimed an increasingly well-traveled Steve Pearce today. He should be in town for tomorrow's get-away game.
  • Houston has lost eleven straight, tying a club record, and 23-of-25. One writer called it the "Astrospocalypse."
  • Three of baseball's hottest teams play in the NL Central, where the Reds (15-of-17) hold a two-game lead over the Pirates (15-of-21) and a 5-1/2 game lead over the Cardinals (7-of-8).
  • An odd tidbit with vaguely Pittsburgh overtones: Jayson Stark's ESPN column noted that when Adam Dunn clubbed his 30th HR this week, he had more long balls than singles (30-29). And it's not a first. Mark McGuire did it three times, Carlos Pena once, and the guy with the biggest gap was ex-Bucco Barry Bonds, who in 2001 hammered his 30th with only 12 singles to his credit for SF.
  • This day in history: In an otherwise dismal 2001 season, the Pirates scored seven runs with two outs in the ninth to stun the Astros and Billy Wagner 9-8, capped by a Brian Giles grand slam. The last time a comeback that big happened in the NL was June 29th, 1952, when the Cubs rallied for a 9-8 victory against the Reds.
  • Jayson Stark of ESPN: "Clubs that have spoken with the Pirates say they seem to be losing their enthusiasm for a run at Chase Headley - at least in July. If they dealt for Headley, they would have to move either him or Pedro Alvarez to first base, in the middle of a race, and force them to play a position at which neither has started a professional game." 
  • He also added: "One exec who spoke with them told us: "'Watch out for the Pirates and Phillies.' Pittsburgh has had interest in Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. And the Phillies have scouted the Pirates and their system extensively. But teams in touch with the Phillies are still describing their buy-or-sell stance as a 'holding pattern.'"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Astros Implode In Ninth; Pirates Rally For 6-5 Victory

Well, Jordan Lyles saw last night that feeding Starling Marte a meatball was a bad way to begin a game. He jumped ahead of him 0-2 on heaters and got the rook to bounce a curve to short. Odd at bat for Alex Presley; he never took the bat off his shoulders and K'ed looking at 4 pitches. Cutch grounded a hook to short, and it was an easy opener for Lyles.

Jeff Karstens whiffed Jose Altuve fishing for a nasty curve that started at his shoulders before breaking into the dirt. An out later, Chris Johnson drilled a slider to the left center gap between Marte & Cutch for a two bagger. Scott Moore hit a little foul pop behind the plate, and it was scoreless after a frame.

Garrett Jones opened the second by going down, whiffing on a 2-2 heater away. Neil Walker sat down, swinging through a 93 MPH center cut fast ball. Pedro bounced to third, and Lyles is off to a hot start.

JD Martinez got the game's first knock when he sent a curve through the SS hole. Justin Maxwell softly singled to right to put Astros at first and second. Ben Francisco rolled a 2-0 pitch into center, and Houston was up 1-0 with runners on the corners. Karstens K'ed Chris Snyder swinging at a curve.

Lyles was up, and ran a squeeze on the first pitch to put Houston ahead 2-0, reaching first on the play at the dish. Maxwell lunged past McKenry, who had fielded the ball on the line, then touched the plate on a leaping reach back before the second tag landed, per ump Alan Porter. He was close to being tagged before he scored, when he scored, and also being out of the baseline. But he eked by on all counts. Altuve hit into a force and stole second, but Martinez flew out with Houston up 2-0.

The Bucs went down 1-2-3; Chris Johnson cranked a curve yard for the Astros in the third to make it 3-0.

The Bucs did better the second time around. With one down, Presley yanked a 1-2 heater into the right field stands, and Cutch doubled. But a pair of grounders left him at third; it was 3-1. Karstens got ahead of Francisco 0-2, fed him a curve, and he barely sneaked it into the Crawford boxes; it took a review to stand. But stand it did, and it was 4-1 Houston after four.

Pedro led off the fifth with a line knock to right. Lyles worked McKenry down and away. He tossed three straight curves to The Fort, and the last ended up in the left field seats on the line as he too found the friendly Crawford boxes. The next trio of Bucs fanned, but it was a 4-3 game. After a K, Johnson drew a 3-2 walk and was wild pitched to second. Scott Moore was issued a five pitch free pass; even the strike call was iffy. After a fly out, he lost Maxwell on a 3-2 pitch. JK rediscovered the strike zone, and wiggled out of the jam with a grounder from Francisco.

Presley opened the sixth with a leg hit to second that Altuve couldn't handle cleanly. Cutch popped to right. Jones singled to right and alertly took second as the the throw went through to third to set up Walker. But he swung at a heater well outside the zone and rolled it third, freezing the runners; not a very good at-bat for The Kid. Pedro went down swinging at a curve in the dirt, and the Bucs refused to answer opportunity's knock.

Chris Resop came on for the Bucs. JK went five innings, giving up four runs on six hits with three walks and six K, tossing 88 pitches. Not a great outing; he had a lot of movement, as the K's (and W's) testify to, but also left a lot of balls uncharacteristically over the plate. With two down, Altuve lined a 2-0 heater to left for a knock off Resop, but didn't advance.

Lyles worked the count full to The Fort to open the seventh, and tried to blow a knee high inside half heater past him; McKenry turned on it and roped the ball into the left field corner for an opening double. That was it for Lyles; Francisco Rodriguez came in to take the mound. Barmes, who had struck out twice, bunted McKenry to third. Josh Harrison grabbed a stick. He fell behind 0-2, then got a waste pitch up and away that he lifted into left to bring home McKenry and knot the game. F-Rod started off Marte with a pair of curves to get ahead 0-2, then froze him with 95 MPH gas to catch him looking.

It was Jared Hughes' turn to take the bump. He fell behind Johnson 3-1, came in with a four seamer, and it was whacked atop Tal's Hill for a leadoff triple. Moore grounded out to first, with Johnson holding. But he left a sinker up to Martinez, who bounced it between the second base bag and short past a infield that was drawn in to plate Johnson and give Houston the lead once again at 5-4. On a 2-2 pitch, Maxwell took a four seamer tight and at the knees and bounced it up the middle on a nice bit of hitting to put Astros at first and second.

Francisco went down swinging at a sinker. Snyder, the eight hitter batting .178, drew a five pitch walk to load the bases. Matt Downs hit for Rodriguez. Ray Searage visited the bump, no doubt to tell Hughes to throw some #*! strikes. He fired a first pitch heater down the middle, and Downs spanked it to Pedro, who stepped on the bag and ended another bases juiced episode by the 'Stros.

Lefty Wesley Wright came in to face the 2-3-4 spots of the Pirate order. With an out, Brad Mills got cute; he put Wright in the outfield and brought Wilton Lopez in to face Cutch, who rifled a tight 0-2 sinker to left center for a double. Wright returned to the hill and got Jones and Walker out routinely. Tony Watson got the call from Clint Hurdle. He threw a clean eighth, fanning a pair.

Francisco Cordero has been blowing saves at a monumental rate, so Mills stuck with Wright. He whiffed Pedro on four pitches, and that was the cue for Rhiner Cruz to enter the stage. McKenry battled him, and on the seventh pitch lined a slider into left for a knock, his third of the night. Jordy Mercer took his place at first. Drew Sutton, who's been in a funk of late, pinch hit for Barmes and took a five pitch walk to bring up Casey McGehee. He drew a 3-2 free pass, getting the call on a fastball tickling the outside black, to juice the sacks for Marte.

That was it for wild child Cruz, who had been hunting his first MLB save (he closed in the minors). Xavier Cedeno toed the rubber with the top of the order due, bases loaded and one away. Marte bombed a two seamer at the knees to deep center, and the tying run scored on the sac fly with Sutton moving to third after the catch, which would prove to be large in a hurry. Rod Barajas hit for Presley against the southpaw, and watched the first curve bounce off Snyder toward the dugout to bring in a sliding Sutton and move McGehee to second. Hot Rod popped out on a 3-2 pitch, but the Bucs had taken a 6-5 lead.

OK - Barajas catching now, Mercer at short, Sutton in right (why not Jones there and McGehee at first?) and Hanny on the hill. Moore saw nothing but gas and went down swinging. Martinez poked at a 3-2 heater on the outside edge; it glanced on Jones' mitt (he was on the line, playing no double D) and dropped into right to keep the Astros alive; Jordan Schafer came on to run. He stole second on a fastball in the dirt; good choice of pitches to run on, and the play was still close. Maxwell went down swinging at a high and tight heater for the second out. Bogusevich was late on a fastball down the middle; his pop into short left was gloved by Pedro, and the Pirates had another come from behind win in the books.

You have to feel it for Houston; they're in a place Pittsburgh has frequented for years. This is the third time in the past four games they've lost a ninth inning lead and their eleventh straight loss. But it's sure better to be on the sunny side of the MLB street, where good things happen instead of the roof falling in on your head. And it was a timely win; the Reds beat the Rox 3-0 to maintain a two game pad over the Pirates. Pittsburgh has won 8-of-10 and still lost a game in the standings during that span.

It was Hanny's league leading 31st save, and Tony Watson has quietly claimed his fifth win.

Wandy Rodriguez will make his first Bucco start against Armando Galarraga, who was recalled for tomorrow's game to take Rodriguez's spot in the rotation. Gotta be weird for Wandy, making his first start ever in a uni that doesn't say Astros at Houston against Houston.

  • Jordan Lyle tied his career high of K with eight, which he first set against the Bucs on June 16th of last year. 
  • Starling Marte started a lot of HR trivia. Who were the two Pirate managers to homer in their first big league at bat? None other than Chuck Tanner (4/12/1955 vs Gerry Staley of the Reds as a Milwaukee Brave) and Gene Lamont (9/2/1970 vs Cal Koonce of the Red Sox as a Detroit Tiger).
  • Altoona's RHP Phil Irwin has been feelin' it lately. Tonight, he tossed seven scoreless innings, giving up two hits, a walk and K'ing 9 in a 2-0 win.
  • Whoops, there goes another Central Division ace: The Brewers sent Zack Greinke to the Angels for hot prospect SS Jean Segura and Class AA pitchers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg.

Rumors, Marte HR Vid, Lineup, Notes

RHP Jeff Karstens (3-2, 3.52 ERA) tries to keep the good times rolling against Astros RHP Jordan Lyles (2-7, 5.50). Pittsburgh has won 7-of-10; the 'Stros are 0-for-10, and that pretty much tells the tale. The game starts at 8:05 and will be aired on Root Sports.

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

OK, two days, two lineup configurations for Marte, with Jones at first and Presley in right tonight. We like it; last night Jones was in right and McGehee at first against the lefty Keuchel. And we pity the fool fly ball that tries to find a landing spot with Marte, Cutch and The King roaming the OF.

Notes & News:
  • A.J. Burnett is the first Pittsburgh pitcher to win 12 of his first 15 decisions, primarily as a starter, since lefty Emil Yde in 1924 per the Elias Sports Bureau. Yde finished up 16-3, and won one of those games as a reliever - for 10-1/3 innings!
  • Joel Hanrahan is the second pitcher in team history to save 30 games or more in back-to-back seasons (ditto for Kent Tekulve in 1978-79).
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reported that "Righty Juan Cruz, who’s on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, is expected to soon resume throwing in rehab. He’s eligible to come off the DL on August 2nd." 
  • What kind of kid is Starling Marte? He's giving his HR ball to his nana, who raised him after his mom died when he was ten. 
  • Remember when the Pirate baseball season officially ended the day the Steelers reported to camp?
  • Not exactly day in history stuff, but Chris Jaffe of Hardball Times posted "5,000 Days Since Giles-Rincon Trade." That was one of Cam Bonifay's best deals, swapping LHP Ricardo Rincon for OF Brian Giles during the 1998 off-season.
  • Jonah Keri of Grantland Rice thinks that Justin Morneau or Bryan LaHair would form a nice platoon partnership with Casey McGehee at first. 
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Times tweeted that "One GM mentioned the Pirates as place for RH OF like Vernon Wells. Maybe doing something with Correia and big sum of cash..." 
  • Jayson Stark of ESPN said it's about brass tacks time for Chase Headley. "Of the four primary bidders, the Pirates and Indians appear less motivated to do this now than they might over the winter. But Oakland and Baltimore haven't backed off. They (SD) have told other teams their plan was to spend Friday sifting through offers and narrowing the field, then get down to business. Talks will go at least into the weekend. And make no mistake: Mega-deal is almost a mild description of what the Padres have in mind." 
  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that "the Pirates are not currently optimistic about their search for a hitter. Few available, prices high. Plenty of time for that to change."
  • Tom Singer of MLB.com on trades yet to be made: GM Neal Huntington remains on the prowl for a three-dimensional outfielder (bat, glove, legs). The Rodriguez acquisition set in motion a deal in which another starter (or perhaps minor league starter) would be dealt for the outfielder the Pirates need. Starling Marte's long-awaited promotion supports that possibility. His arrival five days prior to the Trade Deadline is meant to send the message to teams Huntington is negotiating with that says, "If you don't move on the acquisition cost, we can find help internally." Byzantine, hey?
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN on the attractiveness of someone trading for Kevin Corriea: "He's only owed $1M the rest of the way." He speculated that interested teams could be the "Indians, Orioles, maybe Diamondbacks, Dodgers or Cardinals if other things don't work out."

If you missed Starling Marte's first at-bat last night:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bucs Hold Off Houston 5-3

Well, that's one way to start an era. Dallas Keuchel's game opening pitch to Starling Marte was an 86 MPH belt high, outside half cutter, and he belted it over the fence in left center. Welcome to the show, hey? Neil Walker tried to follow, but his blast was into straight center, hauled in 430' away from the plate way atop Tal's Hill by Justin Maxwell. Cutch kept the beat going by drilling a curve into center. Garrett Jones got a dead center fastball and knocked it over the wall in right center; he's seeing lefties pretty well lately.

Keuchel fed McGehee back-to-back changes and got him to fly out to left center. He worked Pedro down and away, getting him to ground out to first on a 3-2 cutter. Still, great jump out of the box; it's 3-0 Bucs. For AJ, it was three up, three down on eight pitches.

Rod Barajas drew a 3-2 walk to open the second. Ex-Astro Clint Barmes caught enough of a 2-1 changeup to lose it; he knocked it into the Crawford boxes. Keuchel calmed down after that, getting the next three Bucs. Burnett was groovin' early, again putting down Houston with a pair of K. 5-0 after two, Buccos.

Keuchel almost gave up another when Jones took a two seamer to the wall in right center, hauled in by Brian Bogusevich at the 373' mark, but finished with a clean frame. Carlos Corporan got the first 'Stro knock with an out in the third when he flared a curve into left, and Keuchel bunted him up. Jose Altuve fanned, and it was on to the fourth.

The Bucs went down 1-2-3 again, Keuchel surviving a deep ball to left center hit by Barmes that was corralled on the track; he's got nine in a row now. It was another spotless frame for AJ, who is at 46 pitches after four.

After an out in the fifth, Marte notched his second hit, a grounder through the hole that got under the glove of SS Marwin Gonzalez. Walker drew a four pitch walk. Cutch bounced into a force to put Pirates at the corners. On a pickoff toss to first with Cutch breaking, Marte headed for home and was eventually cut down barely at the plate to end the frame on a delayed double steal that needs some coachin' up.

With one down, Chris Johnson drew a 3-2 talk on a fastball just outside the black. Bogusevich tried to go the other way and drop one over the short fence in left, but Marte tucked it in on the track. AJ blew a heater past Corporan, and the fifth frame was in the books. The sixth zoomed by; 1-2-3 for both sides.

Enerio Del Rosario took the ball in the seventh. With two down, AJ singled. Marte knocked another ball high and deep, but it was to the left center notch and pulled in for the third out. AJ went 3-2 on Maxwell and got him to fly out deep to center on a fastball down the middle. He did the same to Scott Moore, who whacked the full count heater into left for a knock. Gassed? Nah. Martinez hit the next pitch to The Kid, and the 4-6-3 DP closed out the seventh.

Walker led off the eighth with a roller up the middle. After catching Cutch looking at a called strike three maybe on the outside black, Rosario was yanked for lefty Xavier Cedeno. It worked, barely, as Jones lofted one deep to Maxwell who pulled it in on Tal's Hill for the second out; he's squared up on lefties quite well tonight. Not so McGehee, who K'ed on a 3-2 foul tip. It was sub time for the Bucs; Alex Presley trotted out to right to replace Jones.

AJ tried to jam Johnson with a heater; he turned on it enough to drop it into the Crawford boxes and make it a 5-1 game. After an out, Corporan crushed a 3-2 heater over the fence in right center, putting on the hot dog after the blast, and it was time for Brad Lincoln after AJ glared a bit. Burnett went 7-1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits (2 HR), one walk and five K, delivering 103 pitches. Downs was issued a 3-2 walk. He fell behind Altuve 2-0, but came back to get him on a long drive to center; in a park with a normal center field, the scoreboard lights might have burned out. Gonzalez grounded out, and the score was 5-2 with three outs to go.

Rhiner Cruz climbed the hill for Houston. After throwing 97 MPH heaters to Pedro, he tried to spin a two strike swing-and-miss slider at him, but El Toro lined it into center to open the ninth. Barajas smacked one to Tal's Hill, where Maxwell hauled it in. Lotta balls have died there tonight. Barmes just missed dropping one into the cheap seats in the Crawford boxes. This is one interesting park. 420' bombs are routine outs; 320' cans of corn almost go yard. Pinch hitter Drew Sutton flew out to right center, and Hanny jogged in to wrap it up.

Pedro made a very nice barehanded grab and throw to get Maxwell on a drag bunt. Moore walked on four pitches that weren't very close and went to second on a wild pitch. Hanny reached back and K'ed Martinez swinging at a slider. Johnson fell behind 0-2, laid off three chase pitches, and softly lined a full count heater into left center just past Barmes to plate Moore. Hanny tossed another ball away, and Johnson moved up a base. There he stayed, as Hanrahan zipped three heaters past Bogusevich to record his 30th save. AJ is 12-3, and all's well that ends well.

Remember when the Bucs bunted all the time and small ball was their mantra? Funny how they've morphed into Earl Weaver's Orioles in a few short weeks. Jeff Karstens faces Jordan Lyles tomorrow night as the Bucs look for their third straight win.

  • Starling Marte is the third Bucco to homer in his first at bat. The others were Walter Mueller on May 7th, 1922 (also on the first pitch) and Don Leppert on June 18th, 1961. The last player to lead off with a HR in his first game was the Mets' Kazuo Matsui in 2004. Here's the list of other MLB players who homered on the first pitch they saw.
  • Kevin Correia told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review that he's not on board with his demotion to the pen. ""I'm not happy about it," said Correia. "Starting pitching is what I want to do. I think that's best how I help the team."

Roster, Rotation Settled

Time to catch up on the roster, with just a couple of predictable moves overall. We knew that LHP Wandy Rodriguez and OF Starling Marte joined the club to start a mini-domino effect. The pitching roster space was cleared when RHP Evan Meek was sent down; Gorkys Hernandez joined him today to make room for Marte, and probably earned himself a September return because of his leather.

Marte is penciled in at leadoff, and will be playing left field tonight. His line at Indy was .286/.347/.500 with 12 HR, 62 RBI and 64 RS. He was 21-33 in stolen sacks (64%) and has a rep as a nice fielder with a rifle arm.

The pitching staff was settled when Kevin Correia was sent to the pen to replace Meek. He'll fill the old long man/spot starter role that Jeff Karstens once had, and bump Brad Lincoln closer to the back end of the bullpen. It's not a new situation for Correia. He was pretty much a full time reliever until 2008, and even afterward he worked an outing or two in relief most seasons.

The Pirate pitching rotation now is looks like this: AJ Burnett, Jeff Karstens, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Erik Bedard. It's a good mix, breaking up not just the lefty-righty scheme, but also pitching styles. And now they have Lincoln and Correia if the need for a starter arises.

It may not be the last move for KC. Now that he's won six straight decision to put up an 8-6 record with a 4.24 ERA, his value on the market is the best it's been since he was a Bucco. That may not be terribly high, but the Pirates have had him on the trading block for a while and would like to get a player for him in his walk year.

If not, he'll be the Bucco insurance policy if a spot starter is needed during the dog days.

Astros Lineup, Notes

RHP A.J. Burnett (11-3, 3.59 ERA) will match up against the Astro's LHP Dallas Keuchel (1-2, 4.03 ERA). Houston has lost nine in a row, frittering away ninth inning leads two straight nights as new closer Francisco Cordero blew back-to-back save opportunities against the Reds. Pittsburgh just lost 2-of-3 to the Cubs, so it's pretty important for them to ignore their clippings and play ball. The game will be shown on Root Sports at 8:05 and is tonight's free mlb.tv game.

The lineup: Starling Marte 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.

Yep, it's officially the start of the Starling Marte era.

  • For scorecard fans: Wandy Rodriquez will wear #51 and Starling Marte will wear #6.
  • Tyler Kepner of the New York Times loves him a little Cutch and Bucco baseball.
  • The Cubs drew 94,018 people, a record for a three-game weekday series at PNC Park
  • Kevin Correia is the first Pirate pitcher to win 5 consecutive starts after a streak of 5 straight losing starts since The Deacon, Vern Law, did it in 1965 sez Elias Sports Bureau.
  • If you're wondering if the Reds ever lose; it doesn't really seem so. Cincinnati has won 14-of-16 games, 11 of 13 since the All-Star break, and seven in a row. Good thing for the rest of the division that Votto is out, hey?
  • Today is the one year anniversary of the Jerry Meals game in Atlanta, heralding the end of the Bucco's 2011 run.
  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects tells us not to sleep on State College's RHP "Clay Holmes has gone five innings without giving up an earned run in six of his seven starts this year. In his previous three starts he gave up just one hit each. Tonight he gave up three hits. On the season he has an 0.80 ERA in 33.2 innings and just 16 hits allowed." The Pirates drafted high schooler Holmes in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, signing him for $1.2M bonus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rumors, Rodriguez Analysis

Dunno if there's much more wheelin' and dealin' left by the Bucco FO, but here are the latest rumors and Wandy Rodriguez thoughts from around the blogosphere:

  • Jayson Starks of ESPN wrote "In the wake of dealing for Wandy Rodriguez, the Pirates are sending signals they could now trade away a starter, with Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia the most likely suspects to move." Correia is more likely both because of performance and the fact it's his walk year, while Karstens is still under team control next season. But if they find someone willing to overpay, JK does have more value.
  • Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston reported that "Several clubs have approached the Red Sox about their surplus of outfielders. The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates both have scouted the Red Sox extensively. Ryan Kalish, Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross all have attracted varying degrees of interest."
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports served some old news: "The Orioles, Indians, Pirates and A's are among as many as 10 teams to have checked in on Headley." Pittsburgh could slot him in right or first base.
  • Right after the Rodriguez deal, Danny Knobler of CBS Sports tweeted generally that "Pirates are definitely going for it. They still want a hitter, too. Want someone at corner OF or 1B." 
  • We'd add that the Cubs have OFs Bryan LaHair, Reed Johnson, David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano available, although the Pirates haven't been linked to any of them.
 Wandy Rodriguez Feedback:
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN's "Sweet Spot" posted that "It looks like a win-win deal to me. As much as they (Pittsburgh) need another bat, they did need another starter, so they get a decent No. 3 or 4 without giving up a top prospect. For the Astros, you take a chance on three guys and hope one or two turn into regulars." 
  • Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects "Rodriguez won’t hurt the Pirates, and should help them this year. But I feel the Pirates could have gotten similar help for much less in prospects and money, especially if Rodriguez doesn’t go back to being more like the 2010 version. And for a small market team with not a lot to spend, and a reliance on prospects, you can’t afford to make an over-payment in one of those categories, much less both."
  • Blogger Charlie Wilmoth of SB Nation wrote "This is a risky deal for the Pirates, but it's a solid gamble on their part. The fact that they're only paying Rodriguez $1.7 million this season may give the Pirates the financial flexibility they need to swing another deal." 
  • Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports: "The concern among opposing scouts about Rodriguez always has been quite simple: They worry his stuff won't play outside the NL Central. Well, that's not an issue here, as the Pirates passed on the marquee names and chose instead the successful if overpaid left-hander. Pittsburgh is better today on account of the deal, and with a talented St. Louis team in chase mode, the Pirates needed to improve. The price was hefty."
  • Keith Law of ESPN tweeted: "Love it for Houston." He explained "Not a disaster, but too much to give for veteran player who doesn't make team substantially better" 
  • From Andrew Kaufman of The Bleacher Report: "While Neal Huntington managed to acquire Rodriguez (who will likely remain under contract through 2014) without giving up any high-end prospects, the Pirates still played a steep price for the pitcher. Indeed, the Bucs shipped three of their top 25 prospects to Houston. Yet a player like Rodriguez, a quality option at a position where the Pirates are currently thin, is worth the price. This trade may be the first step that leads to the Pirates' return to the playoffs."

Starling Marte Freed

Well, the Starling Marte era has finally arrived. The Pirates announced that they'll call up Marte from Indy for the Houston Astro series that begins tomorrow.

The team optioned RHP Evan Meek back to Indy to clear a space; they need to open one more spot before tomorrow for Wandy Rodriguez, too. The most obvious move would be to send down glove guy Gorkys Hernandez, currently the reserve OF, for a month and then recall him in September, but that's just speculative at this point. A case could be made to cut loose pretty much any of the Bucco bench guys at this point.

Marte, 23, was hitting .286 with a .348 OBP, 61 RBI, 12 homers and 20 doubles in 98 games for the Indians. He's also stolen 20+ sacks since 2008, and has 131 swipes in six minor/Dominican League seasons, a real plus for a team struggling at the top end of its lineup where he'll likely be inserted.

The Santo Domingo native's arrival has been long awaited by the fan base, but the Pirates seemed in no rush to take the last step with him. Oddly, a short slump may have convinced them he was ready.

After tearing up the International League, he went through a 2-for-18 slump, with some wondering if he was trying too hard to put on a show for the big team. He quickly settled back into the groove, hitting .500 in his last few games, and that seemed to convince the FO that he had matured enough to begin his MLB journey.

The Pirates and Rene Gayo signed Marte from the Dominican Republic for $85,000 in 2007. Marte is the first player from the Pirates Latin American academy in El Toro, Dominican Republic, which opened in 2009, to reach the majors.

He's been on the radar since 2009, when he hit .319 while zooming through all three Class A levels. Marte's breakout season was 2011 when he .332 for Class AA Altoona, leading the Eastern League in batting average and doubles while reaching double digits in homers with 12 for the first time.

Baseball America rated Marte as the fourth-best prospect in the Pirates' minor league system coming into this year. They also chose him as the best athlete, best hitter for average and best outfield arm in the organization. As of July, BA ranked him #36 in their prospect list, climbing from a pre-season ranking of #73.

Like all young guns, he'll have to work his way through the education that MLB pitchers and advance scouts have waiting for him. His knock is that he's not that disciplined at the dish and chases the ball; be sure his big league opponents have that memo. But the Pirates let Pedro work that out in the show, and Marte will have the same chance.

His fielding, though, should be MLB ready after a little acclimation - he's only played 20 games in the corner OF at Indy, having been in center most of his minor league life. Baseball America said that he's "Good enough defensively to spur talk of pushing Andrew McCutchen to a corner."

We won't expect that for a while, but Marte looks like he'll be more than capable of covering PNC's pasture in left, though he can play either corner. The Pirates have options with him - how he'll combine with Alex Presley and Garrett Jones could end up in any of several configurations yet.

His call up may also be the FO's tacit admission that they're not adding another bat, though we have a few more days to see if they can wrangle a stick from the league without roiling the minors too badly.

But hey, they brought in a pitcher and a bat, with maybe more on the way. The FO is all in this year, so let's see where the next two months in these uncharted waters take the team.

(Marte's bio is here.)

Bucs Grind Out 3-2 Win Over Cubs

KC got off to a quick start; five pitches, two outs, thanks muchly to Garrett Jones tumbling backhand grab on David DeJesus' soft liner in right. Looked pretty good against rookie Anthony Rizzo, too, as Correia quickly jumped ahead of the first baseman 0-2. KC tried to pump a heater past him, but Rizzo clobbered it over the Clemente Wall to make ti 1-0 early. The Bucs used the long ball to tie it; Neil Walker took a slider to right against Ryan Dempster to knot the score after one.

Correia walked Steve Clevenger on five pitches to start the second, then used one more to pick him off as he broke way early on his way to stealing second. Luis Valbuena whiffed, but it wouldn't be that easy; Darwin Barney doubled. KC has become quite the strikeout artist in the past three games, and fanned Tony Campana to end the frame. Dempster struck out the side swinging; blowing his 90 MPH fastball past the Buccos like he was Rapid Ryan.

In the third DeJesus hit what looked like a homer with one away, but the umps huddled and called it a ground rule double because of fan interference. An out later, KC was ahead of Rizzo 0-2, wasted a couple, then watched him roll a slider into right to plate DeJesus. The Bucs went down in order.

The fourth was a 1-2-3 inning for both clubs. There was one hit in the fifth, and it was a big one for the Bucs. The Fort worked a 3-2 count off Dempster and then smacked a slider off the left field pole to tie the game at 2. In the sixth, Rizzo was up, this time with one out. KC got ahead of him 1-2 - and walked him. It didn't hurt this time; he finished up the frame with a pair of routine outs.

It was KC's last inning. He went six frames, giving up two runs on four hits, two walks, and four strikeouts while hurling 78 pitches.Josh Harrison led off the sixth as his pinch hitter and flew out. Alex Presley was down 0-2, but knocked a splitter into right for the Bucs third hit. Walker whiffed, but with two down, a Cutch liner into center on a 1-2 heater put Bucs on the corners. Dempster dropped a 1-1 splitter down the middle just under Jones' knees, and he lined it into right for a two bagger to put the Bucs up 3-2.

Jared Hughes toed the rubber in the seventh, and put away the Cubbies on a K and two grounders. Scott Maine grabbed the ball for Chicago (after Dempster let his frustrations out on the dugout cooler at getting yanked). He got Pedro to bounce out, then gave way to Manny Corpas. He sat down McKenry on strikes and Clint Barmes on a grounder. Jason Grilli (and Gorkys Hernandez) joined the fray for the Pirates in the eighth.

After an opening punchout, DeJesus lined Grilli's first pitch heater into right for a single. A Castro fly out and Rizzo fan job ended the frame. Shawn Camp took the hill for the Cubs and retired the Pirates in order. And that made it Hanny time. Gorkys made a very nice running catch in right to deny LaHair's leadoff extra base bid. Clevenger grounded out to The Kid, and to the fans delight, Luis Valbuena went down swinging at a slider as the Bucs salvaged a game against Chicago 3-2. Nice to have a drama-free save.

KC is now 8-6 after Joel Hanrahan's 29th save and 75th as a Bucco. Well, fasten your seat belts; looks like the Bucs are gonna have to grind it out for the last two months of the season. Time is tickin' away; we'll see how many more aces the FO has up its sleeve by Tuesday.

A.J. Burnett takes on lefty Dallas Keuchel at Houston tomorrow as the Bucs pack their bags.
  • Kevin Correia won his sixth straight decision; gonna be interesting to see how the Pirates handle Wandy Rodriguez joining the staff. They play straight through until August 1st, take a day off, and then dive in for 20 in a row. Could a six man rotation be in the cards?
  • PNC Park was home to 33,935 fans today, the highest ever for a 12:35 weekday start at PNC Park. Wonder if they came to see Zoltan , the Buccos, or a little of both?
  • The Fort's homer was #107 on the year for Pittsburgh, equaling last year's team total - in July.
  • Why is Pittsburgh looking for an outfielder? How about because the Pirates have played eight left fielders and seven right fielders so far this year.
  • The Pirates home winning streak of eight straight series came to an end yesterday.
  • Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk wrote that for his five years, Jason Kendall was on a Hall of Fame path before being injured.

Bucs - Cubs Lineup, Notes

RHP Ryan Dempster (5-4, 2.11 ERA) goes against RHP Kevin Correia (7-6, 4.31 ERA) this afternoon. It might be the last start in their current uniforms for both guys. Dempster has been rock steady for the Cubs, but is pretty certain to be dealt shortly; the question being to what team? KC has won a career-high five straight decisions, but the trade for Wandy Rodriguez puts his spot in the rotation in serious jeopardy. The game begins at 12:35, and is not on TV. Too bad; Zoltan (Hal Sparks) is throwing out the first pitch.

Chicago has popped Pittsburgh's bubble the first two games because the Bucs couldn't hit, so the Pirate FO went out and got another pitcher; go figure. Anyway, KC will try to stop the Chi-Town nine from brooming the Bucs while the FO tries to find a stick by the deadline.

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

  • Garrett Jones may become a full time RF; he has six hits in his last 13 at bats vs. LHP and is shedding his platoon rep.
  • Since 2009, Andrew McCutchen leads the team with 73 homers; Jones is second at 72. 
  • Alex Presley turns twenty-seven today.
  • From Matthew Leach of MLB.com: "One name to watch is the Angels' Peter Bourjos. There's a potential fit there, with Los Angeles willing to deal Bourjos for a bullpen upgrade and Pittsburgh flush with relievers who might be available for an outfielder."
  • Hey, a little MLB news overnight: Cole Hamels signed an extension for 6 years/$144M; Hanley Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers for Nathan Eovaldi, and A-Rod got plunked and broke his hand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bucs Get Wandy Rodriguez

Tom Singer of MLB.com reported earlier tonight that the Bucs were nearing a deal with Houston for LHP Wandy Rodriguez. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports claimed a done deal shortly after that, as reports from Houston had Rodriguez in the dugout, hugging his teammates goodbye. Within minutes of the story breaking over Twitter, it was confirmed by the Pirates.

The Bucs sent Rudy Owens, Colton Cain and Robbie Grossman to the Astros, who are in full tilt rebuilding mode, for Rodriguez and cash. Originally, Top Fifty prospect SS Alen Hanson was mentioned as part of the deal for a second, but that was probably because he got pulled from his game. That was purely a coach's decision based on the youngster not hustling out a grounder, not because of the trade. Thankfully, he's still with us and maybe learned a lesson on running out balls, too.

Owens, 24, is a MLB-ready lefty at Indy who had an 8-5 record with a 3.14 ERA. Cain is a 22 year old LHP working in Class A Bradenton where he's 3-5 with a 4.20 ERA. Grossman is an intriguing 22 year old OF prospect at Altoona, where he was hitting .262 with a .374 OBP and 58 runs scored. He's considered kind of a tweener with a CF bat but corner skills, and scouts are all over the board on him.

It's also sort of a homecoming for the trio. Owens is from Mesa, Arizona, Cain from Waxahachie, Texas, and Grossman from Houston.

All three are solid prospects, but none are considered an impact player and come from areas of organizational depth. As Jim Callis of Baseball America said "Three decent prospects, no cornerstones." It's a fair enough deal; both sides got what they wanted.

Rodriguez is what the FO was looking for, a LH guy for balance who would fit between Karstens and the bottom of the rotation. The 33 year Dominican is 7-9 with a 3.79 ERA this year, and has eight seasons in the show, all with the Astros who signed him in 1999. This is also Rodriguez’s fifth straight season with a 3.80 ERA or under, so he's a hoss that should find PNC Park a more friendly yard to toss in than Minute Maid.

He's not a rental. Rodriguez is under team control for 2013 ($13M) with a player option ($13M/$2.5M buyout) for 2014. He could still have $30M left on his contract if he exercises his Pirate option in 2014, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Cash wasn't an issue, though. The Pirates are on the hook for just $10.2M over the next two years and $7.5M if he exercises the 2014 option. Houston tossed in quite a pile of chips, $12M and some change, to get more upside prospects.

Rodriguez will stay in Houston and meet the Pirates when they arrive Thursday at Minute Maid Park to play. Ironically, his first Pirate start could be against the Astros on Saturday.

In a couple of sidebars, the Pirates have to make room on the 25-man roster for him (the 40-man is good). The Bucs will also have to decide how to shape their rotation now that Rodriguez is in town; six is a crowd and someone is headed to the pen or out of town this week.

He fits nicely into the Pirates' 2-3 role on the staff, and helps set up not only this year's rotation, but also 2013's, joining James McDonald, AJ Burnett and Jeff Karstens along with a list of potential fifth starters from within the organization, led by Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson.

Now to work on a bat or two as time ticks down...

Bucs Haunted By Ghost Of PNC Past, Lose To Maholm And Cubs 5-1

J-Mick got the start he wanted, freezing David DeJesus with a two strike hook. Not so hot for Starlin Castro, though, who launched McDonald's first pitch heater over the fence in center. The next two Cubbies went down quietly by bouncer and whiff, and it was 1-0 Chicago as the Bucs jogged in from the field. Paul Maholm got Drew Sutton swinging on three pitches, the last a hook in the dirt. A pair of ground outs by Walker and Cutch finished the Bucs in the opening frame.

McDonald had a clean second, although Geovany Soto almost matched Castro when he ripped an elevated first pitch fastball to the wall in center where Cutch pulled it in. Maholm ticked the Bucs in, too. He's sharp early on, avoiding the middle of the plate and staying down. J-Mick's curve is on so far, so we might be looking at a lot of pitching again tonight. 

The Cubs were retired in order again. Good thing McDonald's fastball has some action today; it's been his first pitch to every Cub that's hit except Alfonso Soriano, who saw nothing but curves. The Bucco futility ended with two outs when J-Mick drew a 3-2 walk. Didn't help; Sutton went down swinging again. After three, it's still 1-0 Chicago.

McDonald went soft in the fourth, relying mainly on his hook, and it was another 1-2-3 frame for eleven Cubs in a row. The Bucco righty has five whiffs, but still is only at 46 pitches. Maholm almost watched Cutch tie it when he rocketed a one out, 3-2 curve toward the Notch, but it was pulled in just by the bullpen fence by David DeJesus. The game was knotted after the next batter, Garrett Jones, caught an under-the-letters 1-2 fastball and yanked it into the right center field crowd. Casey McGehee joined the square-it-up club when he roped a 2-1 fastball into center, but DeJesus was there again, a busy guy this inning.

Soto drew a 3-2 walk with one away in the fifth. A fastball in the dirt skipped past Rod Barajas for a wild pitch, moving Soto to second. J-Mick caught a break when Darwin Barney turned on a slider and lined it right to Pedro. The eight hitter Luis Valbuena, with a .217 BA, was intentionally walked and Maholm was then unintentionally walked on four pitches. DeJesus caught a hook that was down the middle and banged it into right for a double to plate a pair. Castro grounded out, but McDonald gave the Cubs the lead right back at 3-1.

Pedro ripped a cutter on the line to first; the Bucs are squaring up on Maholm now, but can't find a hole. Barajas K'ed flailing at two curves; Hot Rod is having a brutal month. Clint Barmes drove one to the track in front of the bullpen, and PM escaped another inning.

Anthony Rizzo hasn't touched a J-Mick curve, but was started off with a fastball that he spanked into center for a lead off single. Rizzo stole second, his first MLB steal. Soriano had an even count after two heaters, then McDonald dropped a curve at his knees and watched it disappear over the fence; the Pirates insist on working him downstairs, and he continues to kill them. It's 5-1 Chi-Town in the middle of the sixth.

The bullpen got up and J-Mick sat down for Josh Harrison. He went six, giving up five runs on five hits (2 HR) and three walks, one intentional. He struck out five and threw 87 pitches. The Bucs went down in order. Barmes started the Bucs off with an infield knock, but was erased on the front end of a 6-4-3 DP rolled into by Gorkys Hernandez.

Jared Hughes climbed the hill for Pittsburgh. DeJesus got aboard with an out when Hughes dropped McGehee's toss on a grounder to first. He stole second, even after a pickoff toss and pitchout. Hughes got Castro swinging at a sinker on a home team check swing call and Rizzo bounced out. After two out in the Bucco half via the K, McGehee rolled a single to left. Pedro followed with a bloop knock into left. Barajas halted the party with a routine fly to center, and after seven, Maholm is cruising on a three hitter with six whiffs.

Brad Lincoln took the ball, and Soriano led off with a flare knock into right to open the eighth. But a strikeout and DP cleaned up that nicely. The Bucs led off with an infield knock by Barmes. He was erased on a 6-4-3 DP rolled into by Gorkys Hernandez, and Sutton K'ed to end the frame for the third time tonight.

Evan Meek took the hill in the ninth. After a pair of routine outs, he gave up a line knock to Reed Johnson, who stole second, and then walked DeJesus on five pitches. Castro lined out to center, and the Pirates were down to their last three outs. Carlos Marmol came on to do the honors.

Walker greeted him with a double and Cutch walked. The rally was short lived; Jones flew out and McGehee banged into another DP.

Bad day at the ranch. The bats and arms are regressing; J-Mick has a 5.60 ERA in July. But good news is on the way. Wandy Rodriguez is said to be a new Pirate, so reinforcements are on the way. That leaves them a week to find themselves an outfielder to add to the dugout, whether it be Starlin Marte or from the outside and whatever other bats may be floating around. They went through a spell without all cylinders clicking and got away with it; now they're building for the longer haul.

Ryan Dempster and Kevin Correia finish the series tomorrow afternoon after Zoltan tosses out the first pitch.

  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review tweeted he had heard that the Pirates bid for Shane Victorino got hung up when the Phillies asked for Brad Lincoln; the Bucs had offered Jared Hughes and a minor leaguer.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports's "Baseball Insider" writes that Hanley Ramirez would make sense for the Pirates, but gives no indication that Pittsburgh has any interest in the Marlin IF. We suspect they don't - his contract is awfully heavy ($31.5M for 2013-14) for a guy who's hit in the .240s for the past two years.
  • A couple more names to add to the fire: "The Angels are willing to offer outfielder Peter Bourjos for the right reliever. The Angels are also suggesting to teams that they would deal designated hitter Kendrys Morales," according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sport's "Baseball Insider." Bourjos is having a poor season, but Morales is one of a just a handful of 1B available.
  • The Bucs drew 32,497 on a Tuesday at PNC Park.
  • Ya probably could have guessed the bullpen was way up there: the Pirates' relievers ranked second in the MLB with a 2.58 ERA going into tonight. They had allowed just 16.7 % of their inherited runners to score, the lowest rate in the majors. The relief corps had recorded 35 saves and posted an 85.4% save rate, leading the show in both categories.
  • 17 year old Luis Heredia went five innings for State College, giving up a run on two hits with two K. He's 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA, not bad for the youngest guy to ever wear a Spike uniform.
  • Well, that was quick. Jason Kendall, 38, unretired on July 19th to sign with KC. He retired for good today.
  • Hal Sparks, aka Zoltan, tweeted that he is going to throw out the opening pitch tomorrow. Wear your bubble wrap.

Lineup, News, Notes For Maholm's Homecoming

LHP Paul Maholm (8-6, 4.09 ERA) takes his familiar spot on the PNC bump as he goes against RHP James McDonald (10-3, 2.93 ERA). Maholm, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Pirates compiling a 53-73 slate, is on a roll; he's 4-0 with a 0.89 ERA in his last five games. McDonald is in a bit of a slump, but is currently enjoying a career-best five-game winning streak thanks to booming Bucco bats behind him. Something to watch for: J-Mick has allowed six first-inning runs in his last two starts. The game starts at 7:05 and will be aired by Root Sports.

The Lineup: Drew Sutton LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones RF, Casey McGehee 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Rod Barajas C, Clint Barmes SS, James McDonald P.

Drew Sutton in left...and at leadoff. Oddly, the guy he's replacing, Alex Presley, has a strong 2012 reverse split - he's hitting .283 with a .321 OBP against southpaws, but just .216/.255 against righties. It is a small sample size for this year, and lifetime he's about even with his splits (LHP - .258/.291, RHP - .263/.305).

  • Dom Cosentino of Deadspin did a major piece on Andrew McCutchen with a lot of excellent stuff.
  • Andrew Kaufman of The Bleacher Report posts "Why The Pirates Can Keep This Run Going."
  • JJ Cooper of Baseball America has a sidebar article on Alen Hanson, with a look at where his glove will play in the show. Greg Polanco is the main story, but is behind a subscriber wall.
  • Mea culpa, Ryan Dempster is still a Cub. Apparently he was miffed when Atlanta leaked news of the deal to a beat guy. He tweeted it to the world before the Chicago FO could get to Dempster, who was aware of the talks. Then again, Dempster may have just had a change of heart. He would rather, as some reports state, go to the LA Dodgers. Anyway, as a 10/5 guy in his walk year, he holds all the cards.
  • BTW, the Cubs are third in the NL with a .652 winning percentage (15-8) since June 25th.