Sunday, March 31, 2013

Past Blasts: Bucco History 3/31-4/1

A little bit of past blasts:

  • March 31, 1895 - OF Carson Bigbee was born. He played eleven years for Pittsburgh, his only MLB club, from 1916-26, and hit .287 lifetime. His best seasons where 1921-22, when he batted .323 and .350, scoring 213 runs over that span and leading the NL in singles both years.
  • March 31, 2002 - “Operation Shutdown” OF Derek Bell was released, telling the media he would sail into the sunset on his yacht.
  • March 31, 2003 - Pittsburgh helped the Reds christen Great American Ballpark. Cincy played second banana for the yard’s opening act; the Bucs won 10-0 behind homers from Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton and Jason Kendall.
  • March 31, 2008 - In an Opening Day shootout at Turner Field, the Bucs beat the Braves 12-11 in 12 innings. Damaso Marte and Matt Capps blew a 9-4 ninth inning lead, capped by a fly ball dropping between Jason Bay and Nate McLouth with two outs to tie the score. Pittsburgh reclaimed the lead in the top of the 12th on a Xavier Nady three-run bomb, but Atlanta almost tied it again with two runs in their half before Franquelis Osario nailed down the save. The X-Man had four hits while McLouth, Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Doumit had three to prime a 17-hit attack.
  • April 1, 1979 - The Pirate Parrot was “hatched” at Three Rivers Stadium as a response to the Phillie Phanatic, introduced the year before. The idea of a parrot came from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s pirate tale “Treasure Island.
  • April 1, 1987 - St. Louis sent OF Andy Van Slyke‚ C Mike LaValliere‚ and P Mike Dunne to Pittsburgh in exchange for All-Star catcher Tony Pena. Van Slyke thought it was an April’s Fool joke when first told of the trade, and Pena cried at the press conference when the deal was announced.

2013 Pirates - The Pitchers

Yah, yah, the streak. If the Bucs are going to put that into their rear view mirror, the pitching is going to have make the difference. The Pirates have a lot of options, not so much coming out of camp but certainly within the next few weeks, when Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and Jose Contreras will become available.

The key to the staff is that depth. There is no ace, so the Pirates will depend on workmanlike performances from one through five. They'll win their series because the bottom end of the rotation holds up their end of the deal and the bullpen is rock steady.

For their improved performance last season, according to Fangraphs, the Pirate starters still finished 22nd among MLB rotations in WAR in 2012, with a 61-64 record, 4.21 ERA (4.05 FIP) and a combined 8.1 WAR. The Cards were at 15.8, the Brewers at 14.1 and the Reds at 13.7, so the rotation is still considerably behind the Division's Big Three teams. Heck, even the Cubs came in with an 8.0 WAR, so the Buc staff has a way to go to catch up to the Central's standards.

The bullpen was, contrary to popular opinion, not a whole lot better, finishing 19th with an 18-19-45 slate, 3.36 ERA (3.73 FIP) and 2.3 WAR. But it was one of the better collections in the Central; the Reds were the NL's best relief corp with a 6.3 WAR, but the other Central clubs fell below the Bucs, and that helped the cause.

The final pitching WAR ratings were 20.1 for the Reds, 16.8 for the Cards, 15.3 for the Brewers, 10.4 for the Bucs and trailing the pack were the Cubs at 6.3. The Pirates have to close that gap to compete, and that will be the story of the season.

Starting Pitchers: AJ is the returning ace; he went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA last year and provided the starters a little edginess on the bump. But he's 36, had a shaky spring and is expected to regress a little, with his ERA dropping into the 4.00 range. But he should still work a couple hundred solid innings for the staff.

Wandy Rodriguez could be the staff anchor this season. Like Neil Walker, he's Mr. Dependable; Wandy's worked 175-200 frames with a sub-4 ERA for years. But his K rate has dropped and he's never been a huge winner, usually racking up a dozen or so victories. He does keep you in games, though, had a good spring and should be comfortable with Pittsburgh now.

James McDonald is the Jekyll and Hyde of the staff. In the spring, he's had first inning problems before settling into a groove. We'll assume that this season, his 4.21 ERA will smooth out, and that should be worth 10-12 wins. A breakout year from him would help get the staff over the hump, but he hasn't shown that's in the cards yet this year.

Jonathan Sanchez won the fourth spot after a rocky start; we feel the lefty is a potential bounce back guy after a 2012 season from hell. He's healthy, and is another guy that projects to a 4+ ERA, never been a big inning eater and except for his 2010 breakout year, has never won 10+ games. But that year showed he has some potential, especially as a back-ender, so like J-Mac, we'll see which pitcher shows up on the hill.

Jeff Locke holds down the fort; he worked a steady spring. The lefty went 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA. But an above-average walk rate and a low K rate hold him back, limiting him to a back-ender unless he gets more agressive.

And this staff won't be intact; by June, there could be wholesale changes. We mentioned in the lede the guys that are coming back. But how much they can improve the staff is a question; Cole has the stuff but no experience; Liriano's control issues have held him back, and Morton/Karstens have an injury history. Still, we think the staff can claim more than the 61 W's they earned in 2012.

The Bullpen: The question here is whether the Jason Grilli/Mark Melancon duo can match the Joel Hanrahna/Jason Grilli combo of 2012.  Grilli may not have closed last year, but he faced the heart of the order plenty of times, greasing the skid for Hanny. Melancon had a bumpy start for Boston, but finished strong and has a solid late-inning resume. We're comfortable that they may not be as dominating as in 2012 but should be able to close out games effectively.

We're a little more concerned with the bridge guys. Jared Hughes continued to look like money in the bank this spring, but both Tony Watson and Chris Leroux were inconsistent at camp. Justin Wilson and Jeanmar Gomez were added to the staff. With them, the Pirates have two pitchers that can come in early without killing the pen, and we think Wilson, even with his control issues, can be the multi-role Brad Lincoln of  2013.

They also have a little depth behind them. Contreras and youngsters Bryan Morris, Kyle McPherson and Phil Irwin at Indy are capable and vets like Ryan Reid can step in when injuries and performance ring the bell.

The pitching last year seemed like up to the fans because it had been so poor in prior years, but it still has a lot of room to grow. This is a transitional period; Cole and Jameson Taillon, along with a group of mid-to-back level minor league arms, will take their place in Pittsburgh over the next couple of seasons or so.

If the Pirates, with their collection of decent but not elite pitching this year, can continue to rise toward the middle of the league pack statistically, they could well be a winning club this year. And it's been a long time since we've been able to say that.

But they also have enough questions that they could hang out in the bottom third of the MLB again, and that will lead to yet another "wait til next year" moment.  As the pitching goes, so goes the season.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Curve Beats Bucs; J-Mac & Tony Watson Rocked

OK, if there is anything more insignificant than a spring game, it's an exhibition against a minor league club in March when it's 45 degrees out. The pitching staffs were mixed up, and the big league club sprinkled a few minor league guys in the lineup. So the Buccos 8-6 loss to Altoona didn't matter much except to a Twitterer or two.

Here is what matters: James McDonald had another first inning from hell. He faced the entire Curve order and gave up four runs on three hits, three walks, and gave up two stolen sacks. Tony Watson went against Pittsburgh and lasted for two outs. He gave up four runs on three hits with a walk and a K.

Starling Marte continued to look sharp. He went 2-for-3 with a grand slam off Watson, launching a 3-2 heater down Broadway over the left field wall. Russell Martin and Travis Snider had a pair of knocks. The Bucs actually banged out 14 hits, but were 2-for-13 in RISP and stranded nine.

Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas and Justin Howard had two hits apiece for Altoona. Lambo was pretty solid at the plate when he got into the spring games. The 24 year old's quest will be to get through a season in one piece to get back on the radar screen. The Curve drew eleven! walks, four served up by J-Mac and four more by Nathan Baker, who were the main wild children.

Baker gave up the other four runs to the AA club. Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes and Justin Wilson all put up zeroes in their inning of work.

Time for fun and games to end; the Bucs practice tomorrow and host the Cubbies Monday. And that one counts.

  • Jack Moore of Fangraphs (and Disciples of Uecker blog) has a piece on Andrew McCutchen's "Controlled Aggression."
  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports thinks that Clint Hurdle is one of the twelve MLB managers on thin ice this season.
  • Zach Link of MLB Trade Rumors reviews the Pirates off-season moves and gives his team overview.
  • Hey, it's just not the Bucs. Lyle Overbay made the Yankee squad after being cut by Boston.
  • Steve Pearce made the Orioles club after clocking seven spring bombs.
  • Nick Evans, who played at Indy last year, signed a minor league deal with Arizona.
  • The Mariners released Ronny Paulino.
  • The Curve drew 10,116 people for today's game, a team record.
  • Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror points out that the Curve are now 2-0 all-time against the Pirates. They won the only other matchup 8-5 in 2000.
  • Even though they beat them, the Pirates magnanimously extended the Curve's minor league working agreement through the 2018 season.

Bucs v Altoona & Saturday Stuff

Altoona hosts the Pirates in an exhibition contest set for 2PM at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Taking the hill for the Buccos in the matchup will be RHP James McDonald. He'll be working against some familiar faces.

Climbing the hill for Altoona will be Jason Grilli, who will be followed by Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson, all three who pitched for the Curve on their road to Pittsburgh. In all, the MLB roster features ten Curve alums.The match is sold out, and The Fan 93.7 will air the game. It will in be televised in the Altoona area by Fox 8.

The Bucs will work out tomorrow at PNC Park in preparation for the Cub Opener on Monday. The practice will be open to the public from 1-3PM if you have a late Easter dinner and it doesn't get rained out; enter through the left field (Legacy Square) gate.

  • Tyler Blackwell of Rumbunter keeps the LHP Chris Capuano trade fires roaring, reporting that Pirate scouts watched him work during his last outing in a minor league game.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweeted that RHP Jose Contreras and the Bucs worked a release-and-resign deal to keep in him the organization.
  • The Pirates 40-man roster is finalized. It's almost certain that Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, and Charlie Morton will join Chase d'Arnaud on the DL, so remove them from the active roster and the 25-man is set, too. (Ignore C Miguel Perez; he's a typo).
  • The Pirates reacquired C Brian Jerolman for cash from the Indians in a depth move. He was the guy they claimed, waived and lost in a week's span last off season.
  • Altoona's roster has been set, keyed by pitchers Jamison Taillon and Stolmy Pimentel. Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects has the lineups and rotations for the other full-season clubs.
  • Bill Brink of the Post Gazette has his list of the Bucs Top Ten Prospects.
  • March 30, 1952 - Deacon Phillippe passed away. The RHP tossed 12 seasons (1900-11) for the Bucs with a 168-92 record and 2.50 ERA, winning 20 games six times and never suffering through a losing season. He won three World Series games against Boston in 1903, beating Cy Young in the opener and tossing five complete games, winning three.  Toward the end of his career, he worked six shutout innings in the 1909 Series against Detroit. In 1969, Pirates fans voted him as Pittsburgh's top all-time right handed pitcher.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Travel Day Bucco Bits

A couple of items while the Bucs bring it home:

  • The Pirates don't have any time frame for Jeff Karstens' recovery. He'll start the season on the DL with right shoulder inflammation and won't hit the mound until it's cleared up. So far, no MRI, but one could be in his future. JK will join hurlers Francisco Liriano, Jose Contreras and Charlie Morton on the rehab circuit, along with IFs Brandon Inge and Chase d'Arnaud.
  • The news isn't all bad. Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reports that “There's been no health issues for Neil (Walker),” (Clint) Hurdle said. “No setbacks. There's nothing he hasn't been able to do on the field.”
  • Quite a matchup at Altoona tomorrow - James McDonald takes on Jason Grilli! The teams will mix and match rosters during the Bucs last tune-up. The 2:05 game at PNG Field is sold out and a crowd of over 10,000 is expected.
  • Tom Singer of has the Bucs expected Opening Day lineup: LF: Starling Marte, C: Russell Martin, CF: Andrew McCutchen, 3B: Pedro Alvarez, 2B: Neil Walker, 1B: Gaby Sanchez, RF: Travis Snider, SS: Clint Barmes and RHP: A.J. Burnett.
  • Matt Gagne of Sports Illustrated has his 2013 preview of the Pirates. He has the club finishing in fourth place with 76 wins.
  • David Manel of Bucs Dugout breaks down the PECOTA numbers to take a look at the projected performance of the 2013 Bucco club and the division.
  • Mike Sanserino of the Post Gazette has his NL Central preview.
  • Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports "Big League Stew" blog also has his NL Central preview.
  • CBS Sports blog "Eye on Baseball" has its 2013 MLB championship/playoff/award picks. The Bucs are conspicuously absent, except for Travis Snider, who was chosen by Dayne Perry as the surprise player of the year in the NL.
  • Mike Waterloo of the Yinzers Pittsburgh Sporting News notes that "The Pirates rank 27th out of 30 teams in payroll this year at $66,289,524." Looks like up to us...
  • If you've got tickets to the Opener - and we understand that just some scattered singles are left - come hungry.
  • Wonder why the Bucs are worried about Gerrit Cole's clock starting too soon? Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has agreed to a multi-year contract extension that could earn him $202 million over the next eight seasons, the richest contract ever for a pitcher. Just saying...
  • So much for sneaking Clint Robinson through waivers. He was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays.
  • A couple of excellent veteran pitchers going the opposite way: Adam Wainwright of the Cards signed a 5 year, $97.5M contract extension, while the Mets two-time Cy Young winner Johann Santana has a career-threatening tear in his labrum and will miss at least the season.

The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates - Position Players

They've broken camp and headed north. Now the question is: what does 2013 hold in store for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Most pre-season predictions have them in the middle of the NL Central pack, looking at 80 victories or so. And we think 80-85 wins is achievable, if the pitching holds up. Our quick take on the position guys:

The lineup: The strength will be the middle of the order - Cutch, Pedro, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez. It's not the Angels, but provides a workable core. Cutch's average should regress and he'll never threaten to lead the league in stolen bases, but his power held up during the spring, his OBP stayed strong and he still runs the paths like a demon. He's the Pirates one indispensable guy.

Walker has been a model of consistency throughout his career, and .275/15/80 is a given.We're looking for Pedro to keep on cranking out bombs, and that should smooth over his projected .250 BA/180 K. Jones had a breakout year, and still should be good for another 20 long balls as a platoon guy. His alter ego, Sanchez, was the surprise of camp. He came to camp healthy and squared up on balls, so first base should be in good hands.

Pittsburgh is stronger in a couple of positions this season. Starling Marte was impressive in winter ball and camp. His strikeout rate is still sky-high for a leadoff guy, but he is establishing his eye (his spring OBP was .373) and base presence (4-of-6 stolen bases). He's a work in progress but could evolve with time into the top-of-the-order hitter the Pirates need.

Russell Martin and Travis Snider, even if they both hit .250, will fortify the back third of the order, a black hole last year. The only glaring gap is in the two hole, and filling that could have a domino effect on the whole lineup. JT is the natural fit, but he'll be watching a lot of innings from the pine while the Bucs find out what they have with Snider.

But the batting order should be more consistent throughout this season instead of being so middle-heavy, and that in turn will help even out the peaks and valleys the offense went through in 2012. It should be an average-to-slightly-above-average attack.

The bench: JT, Mike McKenry and Jones/Sanchez were locks coming into camp. Josh Harrison hung on to his spot and John McDonald was acquired  to handle the infield glove position.

We're still not sure what kind of season to expect from Tabata. His spring was eminently so-so, and his lack of options was his ticket to Pittsburgh. McKenry provides the potential for an occasional bomb, as does whoever is sitting out 1B. Jones and Sanchez provide a touch of versatility as GI can play the pasture and Gaby got some innings at the hot corner. Josh is a dirt dog that can play multiple positions passably and hit .250 or so, even if he has the plate patience of an expectant father.

We don't have a problem with McDonald. Our problem is that there were young guys equally deserving of the spot in Jordy Mercer and Ivan DeJesus, so we think the Pirates fixed something that wasn't broke. But he is a better glove guy than either of them, and if that pair were sent down to get everyday work and evaluated as internal options for 2014's SS role, we can live with it. Hey, if we put up with Ramon Vazquez and Bobby Crosby...

The biggest hole on the bench is a lack of lefty bats. In the late innings, everyone will be facing RH relievers, and a portsider with some punch would be useful.

This year, they should have some real minor league depth when injuries or poor performance rear their ugly heads, as they will. Alex Presley and Felix Pie can certainly present cases that they outperformed JT as both hit .300 with .400 OBP's and are lefties. Mercer and DeJesus also had strong springs. All four have MLB resumes, so they won't be approaching showtime with stars in their eyes.

The gloves: The team should field fairly well. Pedro can catch balls just fine; his problem is launching lasers into the third row. Jones is adequate at first as long as he doesn't have to start a DP, and Sanchez is pretty accomplished at the bag. Barmes and McDonald are two of the premier leathermen at short, and Walker has improved by leaps and bounds every year at second; he's at least league-average now. But his size and a cranky back may not allow him to finish his career there.

The outfield is really strong; Cutch and Marte can run down balls that mere mortals would concede as doubles. Tabata looked like his 2010 self in the OF during camp, Snider is a bit above average and Jones can hold his own in front of the Clemente Wall. With Presley and Pie a call away, theses guys can go get it.

The catching should be an upgrade. Martin may not receive balls quite as well as Rod Barajas, but his rep as a framer (which we didn't notice too much in the spring, but then again, we only saw the TV games) should make up for that. His arm was all that; he tossed out 5-of-17 would-be stealers in the spring, a 29% rate, even if he did show show inconsistency by firing three balls into center field during the spring. McKenry is a step behind. He's an adequate or better guy at receiving pitches, but was 3-of-17 in stolen base tries, 18%, the same average he had for the Bucs in 2012.

On the path: The team is just average in speed. Cutch and Marte can fly, most of the guys are average, and Jones, Sanchez, & Pedro are the turtles. There are no real speed guys on the bench, though JT is above average and Harrison can run a little. But the team did a good job of getting the bases they deserved last season, and one of Clint Hurdle's strengths is pushing the running game.

But he won't have a lot of luck stealing bases; Marte showed improvement and should eventually become a threat, while Cutch has never quite shown the instinct for larceny. The rest of the roster consists of pick-your-spot guys.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bucs End On Upbeat Note; Edge Yankees 2-1

Jeff Locke and Hiroki Kuroda did a pretty good job of defining a pitchers duel this afternoon. Both hurlers went six shutout frames, with Locke surrendering four hits and whiffing three while Kuroda was almost untouchable, yielding a knock and striking out five. Neither issued a walk and neither was ever really in trouble.

The Bucs did their damage in the seventh against Boone Logan. Travis Snider walked and JT lined a shot off Logan's hip to put runners on first and second with no one away. David Aardsma came on (Logan said he was in one piece and OK; we'll see how he feels tomorrow) and promptly tossed a wild pitch. Pinch-hitter Stephan Welch plated Snider and moved Tabata to third on a grounder to the right side.Jeff Larish singled him home, and that would be the sum of the Bucco attack. But it would hold up.

Mark Melancon worked a clean frame. Pittsburgh went down without much fuss in the eighth, and Justin Wilson took care of the New York side, giving up a walk and claiming a punch out. The Pirates had a chance to add on in the ninth, but left a couple of walks go to waste.

Minor leaguer Ethan Hollingsworth came on for the save. With one out, he served up a double and bopped a batter. A two-out double scored one and left Bronx Bombers on second and third, but Dan Johnson looked at a third strike to preserve the win for the good guys.

The Bucs finished the spring at 13-18, just about what they deserved considering that most of the camp was spent auditioning guys to fill in the fringes of the roster.

  • Baseball Prospectus gives the Bucs a 20% playoff chance in 2013.
  • Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout and today moonlighting for Yahoo Sports, has a post on the Bucs fantasy baseball values.
  • Mark Smith of Fangraphs compares the farm systems of the NL Central.
  • Gaby Sanchez is the only man left standing after the Miami deal during the 2012 deadline. The Marlins have informed Gorkys Hernandez that he will not be making their Opening Day roster. Brock Holt didn't make Boston's roster; he was optioned to Pawtucket

Bucs v Yankees, Then Heading Home

The Bucs will break camp after taking one last Grapefruit League road trip to Tampa and George M. Steinbrenner Field to face off against the Yankees and Hiroki Kuroda. Jeff Locke makes the start for the Bucs with the pressure off for a bit. The game begins at 1:05 and won't be aired.

Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Garrett Jones RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Russell Martin C, Clint Barmes SS and Jeff Locke P.

Jones is not only in the OF again, but is in the two hole for another day. He, Russell Martin, Neil Walker, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata have all spent time there; looks like that spot may become the Pirates' mix-and-match lineup position. 

Pitchers: Jeff Locke and ?

Locke had a so-so spring, putting up a 3.38 ERA without any shiny peripherals. But he kept an even keel as the other starters took on water in the last week or two of camp, and became the Bucs' #5 starter by default, at least until the DL gives up its posse in the coming weeks.

The Pirates are off tomorrow and then play an exhibition at Altoona on Saturday.

  • ESPN finished its Top 500 MLB Players series. They're often ridiculously slotted, but hey...
  • Happy birthday, Mark Melancon. The righty turned 28 today. And B-Day wishes to Avery Bryan Morris, too, as the Indy reliever hits 26.
  • On this day in 1946 - Cum Posey, who owned the Homestead Grays from 1912-46, died in Mercy Hospital from cancer. He played until 1929 and managed until 1937. Posey was a big-time owner, and his teams played regularly in Forbes Field and Washington DC’s Griffith Stadium. The Grays won eight Negro League pennants and three World Series titles. 
  • And in 1972, Owen “Donie” Bush died in his hometown of Indianapolis (until 1996, the Indy ballyard was called Bush Field before a new downtown park, Victory Field, opened). He managed the Bucs briefly, from 1927-29, taking them to a World Series in 1927 against the Yankees’ “Murderers’ Row” club (and the Pirates got murdered; they were swept by the Bronx Bombers). But he’s probably best remembered for his feud with Hall-of-Fame OF Kiki Cuyler, whom he benched and then traded to the Cubs.
  • BTW, curious about who really invented baseball? The History Channel has the 411.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Twins Rally For Late 7-4 Win; AJ's Last Spring?

Well, AJ's first frame went like a lot of other frames so far this spring. Bryan Buxton led off with a bouncer up the middle, stole second, went to third when Russell martin's throw went astray and scored on a groundout.

The Bucs tied it their half off Vance Worley. Garrett Jones, Cutch and Pedro singled to load the sacks with an out. The Kid grounded out to bring home Jones. Martin got plunked to juice them again with two away, but Travis Snider looked at strike three to close out the inning.

The Twinkies took the lead again in the second when a beaned batter and two-out double plated a run. The Bucs tried to answer again. Josh Harrison doubled and Starling Marte singled to put runners on the corners with one away, but Jones went down looking and Cutch flew out the opposite way. But they did get the equalizer a frame later when Pedro went yard to knot it at 2-2 after three.

The middle three innings went by without any further damage. AJ went just 3 IP, giving up 2 runs on four hits with 2 K; maybe the 55 degree weather had something to do with the quick hook. Jeanmar Gomez came on, and worked out of a fifth inning jam, stranding a pair and aided by a throw-out of a stealer by Martin.

There were a lot of moving parts that added up to a Twin run in the seventh. The first batter singled, but was erased when Martin nailed him trying to swipe second. Gomez walked Bruxton - note to Jeanmar; try not to walk leadoff guys - and he did swipe second.

The next guy whiffed, and Hurdle brought in Chris Leroux. A Bucco blast from the past, Eric Fryer, greeted him with a single through the right side. The throw home was late, and Martin's relay to second got away; Fryer ended up at third. Leroux reared back and got Antoan Richardson swinging to stop the dance.

He had no such luck in the eighth. A one-out knock scored ahead of Daniel Ortez, who got a fly into the jet stream for a Florida homer. And out later, it fell apart. A single, a boot by Pedro and a walk loaded the bases; Fryer exacted a little more "how do you like me now?" on the Bucs by lining a two-run single to right off reliever David Bromberg from the minor league side, and that was about all she wrote, making it 7-2.

Pittsburgh put up a couple of more in the ninth. With an out, Marte singled and Jones walked. A grounder moved them up 90', and Pedro's knock drove them both in to make it a slightly more respectable 7-4 loss.

The Bucs left 10 on base and committed three errors, so the loss was pretty much a team effort today. Jeff Locke takes the bump tomorrow afternoon against the Yankees at Tampa to close out the Grapefruit season.

  • To keep it interesting, 36 year old AJ told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review that he might hang 'em up after the season. He did add that if he comes back, it'll be as a Bucco.
  • The Bucs #2 guy, Wandy Rodriguez, made a start at Pirate City this afternoon, tossing 6-2/3 innings against the Phillies’ AAA Lehigh Valley club at Pirate City. He gave up two runs on nine hits and a walk with two strikeouts while delivering 94 pitches.
  • The Pirates DFA'd Clint Robinson and Hunter Strickland to place Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge onto the 40-man roster. So we're guessing that means Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton will all be on the 15 day DL rather than the 60. That either shows a lot of confidence in the medicos or not so much in the current rotation.
  • Baseball America selected the Bucs organization as the seventh strongest in baseball.
  • The Pirates set their spring attendance record this season by luring 93,433 fans for their 15 games at McKechnie Field, averaging over 6,200 warm fannies per contest.

Bucs v Twins

AJ Burnett takes the bump today against Twin Cities' Vance Worley in the final tune up of Opening Day pitchers. The game is the spring's last at McKechnie Field. It begins at 1:05 and isn't on the air.

Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Garrett Jones 1B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Russell Martin C, Travis Snider RF, Clint Barmes SS and Josh Harrison DH.

Garrett Jones hitting second?

Pitchers: AJ Burnett and ?

AJ hasn't thrown against big-leaguers since March 9th. We're a little concerned because the FO kept auditioning back-end contenders while leaving AJ, Wandy and J-Mac on cruise control. We understand that the Three Amigos are vets, and hope their lack of live work doesn't bite them in April.

Tomorrow's game against the Yankees closes out the Grapefruit League. The Bucs finalized the roster this morning (see the post below), with  options playing a role and a couple of DL designations coming into play. The official 25/40-man rosters are due on Sunday, March 31st.

The Pirates have Friday off, play an exhibition in Altoona Saturday, have a public workout on Easter from 1-3 at PNC and open at 1:35 on April 1st against the Cubbies.

  • Fangraph's series on position rankings continued with the pitching. Dave Cameron pegs the Bucs rotation as #20 in the league, writing that "...there’s some interesting pitching in Pittsburgh’s future. It’s just not quite here yet." As for the bullpen; Jack Moore thinks it's thin, and ranks it 24th overall.
  • Matthew Leach of has his Central Division preview. He says the Reds and Cards are the class of the group, but gives both Pittsburgh and the Brew Crew a darkhorse's chance.
  • Ryan Doumit is hitting .265 with 2 dingers for the Twins this spring, while Kevin Correia is 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA.
  • We mentioned the TV schedule yesterday, but didn't include the MLB Network games:- April 13, vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m.- April 17, vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 7:05 p.m.- April 19, vs. Atlanta Braves, 7:05 p.m.- April 20, vs. Atlanta Braves, 7:05 p.m.and- April 22, at Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 p.m.

Pirate Roster Set; No Surprises

The Pirates set their roster today, and there are no real surprises. They followed their MO of using option time remaining as the ultimate yardstick, and so the 25-man looks pretty much as expected. The only real coin flip was RHP Jeanmar Gomez, who was kept as Jeff Karsten's bullpen replacement. (The Bucs actually have 26 guys on the roster; we're assuming Brandon Inge will go on the DL soon.)

The Lineup: Starling Marte (LF), Andrew McCutchen (CF), Travis Snider (RF), Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez (1B), Neil Walker (2B), Clint Barmes (SS), Pedro Alvarez (3B) and Russell Martin (C).

Judging by the spring, against RHP, the lineup will be Marte, Walker, Cutch, Alvarez, Jones, Snider, Martin and Barmes. Against LHP, it looks like Marte, Martin, Cutch, Sanchez, Alvarez, Walker, Snider, and Barmes. Of course, that could all be out the window come Monday.

The Bench: Jose Tabata (OF), John McDonald (IF), Josh Harrison (IF) and Michael McKenry (C).

JT got the last spot because he's RH and out of options, certainly not on his spring stats.

The Rotation: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke.

It's what we expected it to be in February. But Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are all rehabbing and should be good to go before the All-Star break and maybe sooner, while Gerrit Cole is not that far from being MLB ready.

The Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Chris Leroux, Justin Wilson and Jeanmar Gomez.

Wilson was a minor surprise, but outperformed Mike Zagurski handily to earn the lefty spot, while Gomez, who is out of options, has a spot more due to circumstance than performance. Jose Contrelas is lurking in rehab, and he's another arm that could be ready to go sooner rather than later.

Reassigned to Indy were Alex Presley, Jordy Mercer and Kyle McPherson. Sent to minor league camp were Felix Pie, Carlos Paulino, Lucas May, Mike Zagurski, Vin Mazzaro and Ryan Reid. Presley (.311 BA, .396 OBP), Pie (.318 BA, .423 OBP) and Mercer (.300 BA, .500 OBP) had good springs while McPherson needs to get some upper level innings under his belt.

We're thinking Mercer and Ivan DeJesus Jr. will share SS at Indy so the FO can determine if they're internal candidates to replace Clint Barmes, whose contract ends this year. We're not sure if JT is ready to bounce back or not; his spring was disappointing (.260 BA, .296 OBP) and there are clubs looking for OF help, so Presley and Pie are more than organizational insurance.

We're kinda meh about the roster and don't believe that the most productive club is going north, though our beefs are centered around the fringes rather than with the core. The pitching determined its own level, and even though the everyday roster was set before camp, Pirate City did feature a competitive few weeks with guys like Presley, Pie, Mercer and DeJesus making things interesting. It makes sense that the FO would try to buy some more time to sort out the pieces.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bucs Fall Behind Early, Go Down 6-3 To Jays

Well, Jonathan Sanchez made the team and had a chance to show what a good decision that was today. It was a chance he let go by, giving up a three spot in the first frame as the Bucs fell to Toronto 6-3 this afternoon.

Pittsburgh drew first against Ricky Romero with some small ball. Starling Marte singled, stole second, took third after a bunt and touched home on a Gaby Sanchez bouncer. The Blue Jays answered quickly. With an out, Melky Cabrera singled and Jose Bautista followed with a walk. JP Arencibia singled a run home, and a sac fly by Mark DeRosa plated another. Adam Lind cranked out a double, and it was 3-1 before the beer guy could peddle his first tray.

In the second, the Pirates opened with a Garrett Jones double and Jordy Mercer walk; they ended up stranded at second and third.  They made it 3-2 in the third. After opening walks to Felix Pie and Gaby Sanchez, a one-out knock by The Fort drove in a run. But the hardest hit ball of the frame killed the rally. Jones lined a shot to first; Lind gloved it and stepped on first to double up the helpless McKenry.

Sanchez left a pair on in the Jay half, and the Bucs tied it in the fourth. With two away, Sanchez helped his own cause with a double. Marte reached when Lind dropped the toss to first to put runners on the corners. Marte managed to get himself picked off when he was caught leaning, but stayed alive long enough for Sanchez to scoot home. The tie didn't last long. Maybe Sanchez was gassed a bit, but the first Toronto hitter, old Bucco Rajai Davis, greeted him with a bomb to make it 4-3.

Pie opened the fifth with a soft single over third, but he happy-footed himself into an out at second trying to stretch the bloop. Sanchez got the first two outs, then Jhonathan Ramos came on to whiff DeRosa. Sanchez went 4-2/3, giving up four runs on seven hits and a walk with six K. The Pirates went quietly in the sixth. Jason grilli came on, and he was greeted by a Lind long ball to make it 5-3.

The Bucs were blanked in the seventh, as were the Jays against Tony Watson, who appears to have found his previously missing mojo over the last couple of appearances. Mark melancon gave up a run in the eighth on a walk, stolen base and single, and that was the ballgame, a 6-3 Toronto win.

As happens a bit too often to the Bucs, two walks turned into two runs. And the hitters went 1-for-11 with RISP. Ah well, it's the spring, right?

AJ. Burnett goes against the Twins tomorrow afternoon in the last home game at McKechnie Field.

  • We expect the Bucs to finalize their roster tomorrow afternoon when they break camp.
  • Root Sports will air 151 Pirate games this year. In addition, five more will be shown by Fox Sports on May 4 vs Nats, June 1 vs Reds, June 29 vs Brewers, July 13 vs Mets & August 17 vs D'backs
  • Chad Qualls has won a job in the Marlin bullpen. If you're curious, Matt Capp signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and Lyle Overbay did the same with the Yankees.
  • Exicardo Cayones, who the Pirates sent to the Yankees as part of the AJ Burnett deal, was sent by the Bronx Bombers to Cleveland as part of the Vernon Wells trade. Have salary dump, will travel.

Bucs v Jays; Sanchez, Inge On the Roster

The Bucs travel to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin this afternoon to take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Jonathan Sanchez climbs the hill to face Ricky Romero in the 1:05 clash. The game won't be broadcast.

Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Felix Pie CF, Gaby Sanchez, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Mike McKenry C, Garrett Jones RF, Jordy Mercer 2B, John McDonald SS and Jonathan Sanchez P.

Gaby is batting third while Garrett Jones is n right field, both for the first time this spring..

Pitchers: Jonathan Sanchez and ?

Welcome to the rotation, Jonathan.

  • Tom Singer of posts that Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon Inge have both made the club, although Inge is likely to be placed on the DL. We understand the move with Sanchez, but we're not so sure why Inge is on the roster. At least he's not blocking anyone while on the disabled list. The Pirates have until Sunday to officially add them to the 40-man roster.
  • The starting pitching should clear up today, and the roster set by tomorrow when camp breaks. The FO wants to leave Florida with just the 25 players on the active roster.
  • Fox Sports has its 2013 Bucco Preview on the web.
  • The Bucs break camp after Thursday's game against the Yankees, take Friday off and play an exhibition at Altoona on Saturday. Then it's showtime Monday.
  • The Marlins have agreed to a minor league deal with OF Matt Diaz, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Lyle Overbay, however, was cut by the Red Sox.
  • Michael Love of the Tribune Review has a piece on RHP Scott McGough, a Plum Hi pitcher now in the Miami system. The Bucs thought enough of him out of high school to spend a draft pick for him in 2008, but he choose college (Oregon) instead.
  • March 26, 1940 - After being released by the Pirates‚ Chuck Klein signed up for his third go-around with the Phils. Klein was a Hall-of-Fame OF who hit 300 homers, helped greatly by the Philadelphia Baker Bowl’s short porch. He played 85 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .300 with 11 HR, but was released at age 34 and became a bench player for Philly through the war years.

McPherson Fizzles Again In Bucs 6-2 Loss

Well, it was crunch time for young righty Kyle McPherson, and he went an inning too far against the Jays yesterday. In five frames, McPherson allowed five runs on seven hits, three of which left the park, and one walk with two whiffs.

The Bucs looked like they would get off to a fast start, but left the bases loaded in the first. In the second, Shelley Dincan went deep, and the Bucs answered with two outs in their half. McPherson and JT singled and Russell Martin roped a ground rule double to left; JT would have scored if the ball hadn't hopped into the stands. Still, that's four guys stranded in scoring position in two innings, and that's not good.

The Pirates took the lead in the third when Gaby Sanchez drew a free pass, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Josh Harrison's two-out knock. Both sides stranded a pair in the fourth, as the Pirates were walked twice and the Rays got men aboard on a Brandon Inge drop and single.

Pittsburgh went quietly in the fifth; not so Tampa Bay. With two outs, the roof fell in on McPherson. With a runner on first, Ben Zobrist cranked a long fly to right. baseball's a funny game; McP was an inch away from getting out off the frame: JT's leap to snag the ball wasn't quite Olympian enough, and it ticked off his mitt and into the stands. McPherson had another bad break when Neil Walker had a slight bobble to allow an infield knock, and that was followed by a booming blast to left by Evan Longeria that cleared the wall by fifty feet.

The game played out pretty quietly after that, with the Rays tacking on another tally off Vin Mazzaro in the sixth thanks to a walk, wild pitch and ground ball knock up the middle.

For the Bucs, it was a matter of stranding a dozen, blowing several golden chances early on, and not being able to corral that third out on time. For the Rays, it was long ball city, and that's a pretty good formula.

McPherson wasn't as bad as his final stat line, but his up and behind in the count too much; we'd guess he's taken himself out of the competition to break camp. And that's not much of a surprise; he's got the stuff to be a mid-rotation guy when it's clicking. But he's actually got more MLB innings than AAA on his resume (26-1/3 to 18-1/3), so a trip to Indy isn't the end of the world.

  • Brandon Inge went 1-for-5, struck out twice and left eight runners. He made an error at first and hasn't done much to help himself in the battle for the pine. 
  • Rick Gurnick of wrote that "Scouts from Seattle, Pittsburgh, Texas and Cleveland trekked to a back field on Monday to watch Chris Capuano pitch the Dodgers step up efforts to move a surplus pitcher."He added that many of those same scouts will be around today for Aaron Harang's start.
  • The Pirates' Easter Sunday workout will be open to all from 1-3 PM at PNC Park. Fans can enter at Legacy Square gates (LF entrance, where all the Negro League All-Star statues are).
  • Erik Bedard has won a spot in the Astro's rotation. He signed a minor league deal with them and made the most of it; we'll see how long the good times roll for the talented but fragile lefty. Xavier Nady was cut by KC, which hopes to keep him in their system.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bucs v Rays

The Pirates will hop the bus to Charlotte Sports Park to take on the Rays at 7:05. Kyle McPherson, against all odds, is still alive and kicking, although another booty-beating like he had against the Braves in his last outing should pull the plug. He'll face off against Matt Moore. The game will be broadcast on The Fan 93.7.

Lineup: Jose Tabata RF, Russell Martin C, Andrew McCutchen CF, Gaby Sanchez 3B, Brandon Inge 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Josh Harrison LF, Clint Barmes SS and Kyle McPherson P.

Brandon Inge is back in the lineup; we're not quite sure why. He's at first base, flopped with Gaby, who is at third base. Josh Harrison is in left. Nothing like a week before the season and jerking guys all over the field, hey?  And JT, even with being RH and out of options, could stand a finish as strong as his start to camp was.

Pitching: Kyle McPherson and ?

Kyle will try to keep his hat in the ring; the Pirate pitching has taken some odd twists and turns in the last week.

  • The Diamondbacks have released ex-Bucco C Rod Barajas, who was in camp on a minor league deal
  • The Brewers signed the last FA standing, Kyle Lohse, for 3 years/$33M. The draft pick dance per Jim Callas of Baseball America is that they forfeit the #17 pick (value $2.1M) and the Cardinals gain the #28 pick (value $1.8M). 
  • March 25, 1965 - Camp isn’t all fun and games, even for vets. Bill Mazeroski broke a bone in his right foot and was out of the Bucco lineup until May. He came back to hit .271 and earned another Golden Glove for his trophy case. It was the only time between 1964-67 that he didn’t appear in every game; Maz played in 130 contests after his foot healed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not A Great Day To Evaluate Piching...

Well, Chris Leroux ought to be more careful about what he wishes for. Notified that he would finally get his wish, a start, four hours before the game, he got just one out while giving up eight runs (seven earned) on five hits (one a grand slam) and two walks.

Of course, he wasn't alone in the train wreck, giving up an infield knock, watching his teammates commit two errors on the same play and later a passed ball while having his catcher, Russell Martin, ejected for complaining about balls/strikes. Justin Wilson got the last two outs, with a walk in between.

Cutch smacked a two-run dinger in the Bucco half off Brian Matusz. The O's got a run back in the third off Wilson, using a double-single combo. Pittsburgh answered with a two spot on back-to-back two baggers by Cutch and Gaby Sanchez, followed by a Neil Walker knock an out later to make it 9-4.

Pittsburgh made it 9-5 an inning later thanks to a Fort McKenry double and Lucas May's two-out single in Matusz's last frame. The Orioles put up another score in the fifth with three singles off Ryan Reid. Then Pittsburgh exploded in the sixth.

With Travis Snider and John McDonald aboard on singles and two down, May singled home a tally and Cutch walked to jam the bases. Sanchez lined one up the middle off (literally) pitcher Troy Patton. Jacob Pettit relieved him, and Pedro doubled off the CF wall to bring home two more scores. So after 2-1/2 hours and six innings, it was a 10-10 game.

But not for long. Mike Zagurski, who has been snake-bitten by the long ball lately, gave up a solo shot to Steve Pearce with two down in the seventh. For the ex-Bucco, it was his the sixth homer of the spring, and was also the fourth straight appearance that the Z Man has been touched for four-bagger.

The Bucs loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs thanks to a walk, hit batter and infield single off Pettit, but a Josh Harrison bouncer ended the frame. David Bromberg, a minor-league guy, got within an out of going 2-1/3 clean innings, but a two-down flare into left by Pearce brought in Russ Canzler, who had doubled to open the final frame and make it 12-10.

Pittsburgh tried for some two-out lightning in their half when McKenry and Felix Pie both singled on two-strike counts. May, who had three hits on the day, didn't have a fourth knock in him. He looked at three strikes to end the game.

Who'd of thunk it? After playing a ten frame, 0-0 match a couple of days ago, the Bucs and O's decided to try their hand at Arena football today. And that doesn't make the roster decisions any easier on the pitching side. The Bucs used six hurlers and only Jared Hughes came out of the game unscathed.

The Pirates travel to Port Charlotte and Charlotte Sports Park tomorrow to bump heads with the Rays in their last night game of the spring. Kyle McPherson will take on Matt Moore.

  • It was sort of a head scratcher among local bloghorns, but David Miller of Rant Sports calls John McDonald and the Pirates the perfect match.
  • Rob Beirtempfel of the Tribune Review tweets that the Pirates are "intrigued" by RHP Chris Young, but wonders if they have a roster spot for him. Young, 33, has an opt-out clause with Nats; we'll see if he exercises it, as it's thought that he's the odd man odd in their rotation. We're not so sure he fits - he has a career ERA of 3.79, but has a 2:1 fly ball/ground ball ratio, and that's not a recipe for success at PNC Park. On the other hand, the four projection services used by Fangraphs have him working between 2.99-3.25 ERA in 2013, and he has a 20% lifetime whiff rate.
  • On the Neil Huntington radio show, he said the roster will probably be set Tuesday or Wednesday, and it didn't sound as if Jordy Mercer would be on it.
  • Kevin Wells of the Washington Times has his 2013 Pirate Preview. He picks the Pirates to finish third in the division.

Bucs v Baltimore; Karstens Out

Chris Leroux gets his first start of camp against the O's and Brian Matusz today, replacing the sore-shouldered Jeff Karstens.  The game is at McKechnie Field and first pitch is slated for 1:05. And hey, it's like a big boy game - it will be aired on Root Sports on the TV side and The Fan 93.7 on the radio side.

Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Russell Martin C, Andrew McCutchen CF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Neil Walker 2B, Jose Tabata RF, John McDonald SS and Mike McKenry DH.

Looks like Martin will get some regular season time in the two hole, while Pedro drops to fifth against a lefty. Old McDonald gets a little more work now that he's a Bucco, and JT was booted to the bottom of the order instead of his usual two spot. The Fort was a late addition to the lineup and took over the pitcher's batting spot against the AL Orioles, which wanted to use a DH.

Pitchers: Chris Leroux and ?

Leroux wanted a shot at starting, but hasn't worked longer than two frames yet this spring, even in the WBC, so a lot of guys should get some work today.

  •  Jeff Karstens was scheduled to start but was scratched because of "continuing shoulder discomfort," the team announced this morning. That trip to the DL looks just around the bend, and the battle for the back end of the rotation just got a little more interesting, with spots now open for both Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke, with Kyle McPherson and Jeanmar Gomez hangin' around with maybe a bullpen shot. It's also a reminder of why the Pirates didn't tender JK earlier in the year.
  • Pittsburgh still has 35 guys on the roster, not counting Francisco Liriano, Jose Contreras and Charlie Morton. With a couple of obvious cuts and possibly sliding JK and Brandon Inge to the DL, that leaves them with a half-dozen tough decisions remaining, especially now that the pitching has been shook up a bit.
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review has a piece on the forgotten next big thing, Stetson Allie, and how the switch to first base from the mound helped his attitude. He also gives an update on infielders Alen Hansen and Dilson Herrera.
  • Kaitlynn Rielly of the Post Gazette covers another aspect of the Pirates minor league program (no, it's not all belly crawls and carrying logs, SEAL-Style). Every player in the system has to contribute 10 hours of community service per year, a requirement that began with the current FO.
  • March 24, 1989 - The Pirates sent SS Felix Fermin and UT Denny Gonzalez to the Indians for SS Jay Bell to complete a PTBNL deal from November 28th, 1988 (Gonzalez + the PTBNLs). Bell would man the SS spot for eight years and earn an All-Star berth in 1993 for the Bucs. He returned to the team this year as the batting coach.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pedro's Blast Buries Bosox 5-3

The Bucs tried to get something going against Clay Buchholz right out of the gate with an opening double by Starling Marte, but the club left him iced at third. Jeff Locke got what he wanted in the first frame, a zero. It wasn't pretty after giving up a leadoff two-bagger to Jacoby Ellsbury and issuing a two-out walk, but he left the O's at first and third.

Pittsburgh took the early lead in the second when Garrett Jones popped one over the left center wall. Baltimore wasted little time getting over that. Jarrod Saltalamacchia started the O half with a double and scored when David Ross' single skipped past Travis Snider. Ross ended up on third and trotted home after Jose Iglesias rolled a ball up the middle.

Locke helped his own cause by dropping a fly the opposite way for a ground rule double to open the third, but he was stranded by the top of the order, the second leadoff double in three frames to die on base. The Red Sox added on when Will Middlebrooks tripled and Salty singled him home to make it 3-1.

The Bucs got their fourth straight leadoff hitter aboard when Pedro singled to kick off the frame, but he never got to second. Russell Martin tried to get chase El Toro home, but his shot to right center was run down at the track by Ellsbury 400' away.

Locke tossed a 1-2-3 frame, his last. He gave up three runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk, and was generally up in the zone and behind in the count this afternoon. The lefty didn't have his best stuff, nor did the defense behind him. It wasn't terrible, but surely wasn't the outing he hoped for in the free-for-all for a rotation spot.

The game stayed that way until the eighth. Mark Melancon whiffed a pair in the fifth, Tony Watson was back to his old self by throwing a clean inning with a K, and Vin Mazzaro stuck out five of six Beaneaters in his two perfect innings to further complicate the Buc bullpen picture. Buchholz went 5-1/3, giving up the run on four hits with a walk and five K. Junichi Tazawa got Boston into the eighth when he ran into problems after retiring five straight Pirates.

After getting JT swinging on a 3-2 pitch, he walked Jordy Mercer (who leads the club with 10 walks so far this spring) and Marte. Anthony Carter took the ball and watched Mercer reach third when Ross threw behind Marte at first and hit him. Alex Presley bounced one to short and the throw by Xander Bogaerts got away. It was ruled a single and error, scoring Mercer and putting runners at second and third.

Josh Harrison's grounder to the right side tied the game, and Pedros blast to left center put the Bucs ahead. Nathan Baker came out for the save, and provided the club with his version of the Hanrattack, thanks mainly to 1B Matt Curry.

Lyle Overbay reached on Curry's boot and Jonny Gomes was hit by a pitch. But Curry made up for his error in his own awkward way. He dropped a pop bunt in front of the mound (and not intentionally), but recovered and tossed to third for the force; the relay to second by Eric Avila turned the misadventure into a double play. No, the umps didn't blow it - bunts can't be ruled infield flies. Saved by the baseball gods, Baker whiffed Bogaerts, and the Pirates came away winners; they've taken 8-of-12.

Jeff Karstens goes against the O's and Brian Matusz tomorrow afternoon.
  • Jeff Banister coached the Bucs today; Clint Hurdle stayed in Bradenton to catch some of the minor league action and watch Jason Grilli & Charlie Morton. Grilli worked a frame in a minor league game while Morton tossed a bullpen session.
  • Don't let the current cold snap bum out your Pirate jones. The Weather Underground has the forecast for the Bucs and says it'll be in the fifties for the Cub series, with Opening Day on April 1st fast approaching.
  • If you're wondering about Mike Malle's commemoration of Buccos past, The Legends of Pittsburgh mural that greeted Downtown visitors entering the City at Second and Ross, here's the 411 from Pittsburgh's Outdoor Murals and Art.
  • Someone does love Ronny Cedeno; the Astros signed him, pending his physical. Not so for old Bucco 2B Delwyn Young; the Nats cut him today.

Bucs v Boston One Mo' Time

Jeff Locke climbs the hill today as the Pirates visit Fort Myers' Jet Blue Park to take on the Red Sox and Clay Buchholz. It's the fifth meeting between the clubs already; they've split the series to date. The game starts at 1:35, and will be aired live by Root Sports and on delay by the MLB Network at 8 PM.

Lineup: Starling Marte CF, Alex Presley LF, Neil Walker 2B, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Garrett Jones 1B, Russell Martin C, Travis Snider RF, Clint Barmes SS and Jeff Locke P.

Cutch was scratched; he has the flu. Gaby Sanchez was down for sick day (officially because of an allergic reaction) recently, so maybe there's something sickly going around the clubhouse. Snider continues to get penciled in the seven hole, which is a lot more logical match for his tools than the two spot. Buchholz should provide a pretty strong challenge; he's 2-0 with an 0.68 ERA so far this spring.

Pitchers: Jeff Locke, Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro and Mark Melancon.

Locke has had a workmanlike spring (2-1, 3.12 ERA) and is part of the roiling mix of guys looking to claim a back end rotation spot. So today is a big outing for the young lefty, who will face the Bosox A Team. Mazzaro is having a tough spring and is out of options while Watson has had mechanical and physical problems, leaving Melancon as the only sure shot to make the staff among the four hurlers today.

  • 1B/OF Brad Hawpe was given his release today. He told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review that "The game has gotten faster and I didn't catch up."
  • Mike Sanserino of the Post Gazette tweets that "Francisco Liriano will throw his third bullpen session of the spring tomorrow and estimates he is less than a month away." He also reports that Brandon Inge is out for at least the weekend with a sore wing. Bad time to be off, unless the FO is greasing the skids to slip him on the DL.
  • Pedro Alvarez explained his even demeanor to KDKA Sports by saying his goal is to "...keep that positive attitude and not show gives the opposition a sense of satisfaction. I think we’ll all live if I don’t slam a helmet or two or break a bat.” 
  • Thomas Belmont of Baseball Instinct has his list of the Pirates Top 21 Prospects.

Bucco Bits and B-Days

Just to kill some time before the lineup is posted...

  • Spring numbers for the right field/fourth OF'er candidates: Alex Presley - 48 PA, .317/.383/.415, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 8 RS; Travis Snider - 43 PA, .314/.372/.457, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 RS; Felix Pie - 45 PA, .308/.400/.590, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 RS; and Jose Tabata - 46 PA, .238/.283/.405, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 7 RS. 
  • We're wondering if the Bucs will push their pitching decisions down the road a bit. The street talk has Jeff Karstens starting the season in the pen, but  he hasn't made an appearance in a Grapefruit game yet. So the possibility exists that he could open the season on the 15 day DL while the FO sorts things out on the mound. His workload this week should tell the tale. If he does land on the DL, he'll join Francisco Liriano, Jose Contrelas and Charlie Morton in Rehab City.
  • BTW, don't put much faith in the rumor we reported yesterday from NY that the Yanks and Bucs are contemplating a David Aardsma - Gaby Sanchez deal. Aardsma is coming off 2011 TJ surgery and worked all of 7-2/3 IP last year, majors and minors combined. Additionally, the Pirate FO doesn't place a lot of value on relievers as a class; they're much more apt to sell than buy. Now if the Evil Empire was looking for a spare outfielder and had something a little shinier to offer...
  • March 23, 1893 - RHP Ray Kremer is born. Kremer pitched ten seasons for the Pirates, his only MLB club, and went 143-85, winning 20 games twice and leading the NL in ERA in 1926 and 1927. What's more amazing is that he didn't make his major league debut until he was 31 years old! Also born this day in 1948 was announcer Lanny Frattare, who was part of the Pirate broadcasting team from 1976-2008 and announced over 5,000 Bucco games during those 33 seasons. He was the Pirates longest-tenured voice.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Buc B-Team Rallies To Rock Rays 6-4

Righty Jeanmar Gomez had his best outing of the spring, going four frames against a split Rays team, giving up a run on three hits, a walk and a bopped batter with two K. He left the game with a 3-1 lead. In the second, he surrendered his run on a Luke Scott double that came in a couple of batters later.

Pittsburgh tied it in the third when The King walked and Felix Pie doubled him home with two down. They took the lead the next frame off starter Alex Cobb. The Fort and Josh Harrison singled and were moved up 90 feet on a Jordy Mercer bunt. Newcomer John McDonald singled home McKenry and a Garrett Jones fly chased in Harrison.

Jason Grilli tossed a quiet fifth. Mike Zagurski came on in the sixth with a golden opportunity. With Tony Watson looking shaky, there's an opening for a lefty on the roster. But alas, as happened the last two times out, he sailed on rough seas. Ben Zobrist greeted him by going yard to left. A lined single, stolen base and double brought home another run. After getting a fly out, a walk and a double made it 4-3 Tampa, with runners at second and third and one down.

His Bucco teammates bailed him out. Jordy Mercer turned a grounder into an unlikely DP with a heads-up play, tossing to John McDonald to nail the back runner, who then gunned the ball home to get the lead guy at the plate.

Mark Melancon and Jared Hughes kept it close, and then the Pirates made their move.

With two away in the eighth, Jeff Larish doubled off Dane de la Rosa, followed by a Lucas May walk. Then WBC/Olympian Aussie Stefan Welch, who played 1B for Bradenton and Altoona last year, dinged a three-run homer off reliever Kirby Yates as the Bucco B Team carried the day.

Tim Alderson, the one-time wunderkind, worked the ninth and gave up a hit and punched out a pair to save the win.

Pittsburgh takes on Boston tomorrow afternoon with Jeff Locke on the bump.

  • Brandon Inge was removed from the lineup today due to lingering discomfort as a result of being hit by a pitch in right shoulder blade on March 14th. X-rays taken in the morning proved negative. 
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post speculates "I am wondering if there is at least the beginning of discussions on a trade package built around Aardsma going to Pittsburgh and one of the first basemen coming back to the Yanks."
  • RHP Todd Redmond, who the Bucs traded way back when for Tyler Yates in one of the current FO's first transactions, was released by the Orioles and quickly claimed by the Blue Jays. SS Ronny Cedano wasn't quite as popular; he cleared waivers after the Cards released him.

Bucs v Rays

Jeanmar Gomez will start against Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb in today's contest. It's a last chance for Gomez (0-2, 9.00 ERA), who still harbors slim hopes for a bullpen spot. The game is at McKechnie Field with a  1:05 start time, and it won't be broadcast.

Lineup: Alex Presley CF, Jose Tabata LF, Felix Pie RF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Brandon Inge 3B, Mike McKenry C, Josh Harrison 3B, Jordy Mercer 2B, John McDonald SS and Jeanmar Gomez P.

Inge was a late scratch after being posted in the lineup; most of the guys are getting a last peep by Clint and the boys.

Pitchers: Jeanmar Gomez, Jason Grilli, Mike Zagurski and ?

We don't think Gomez can work his way onto the staff; the game is more important for guys like Zagurski.

  • Remember 2008-09 Bucco back-up infielder Luis Cruz? He could end up the Dodgers' starting SS while Hanley Ramirez is on the mend.
  • The Reds grand experiment has fizzled; they announced that Aroldis Chapman, much to the relief of Dusty Baker, won't join the rotation but remain the Cincy closer.
  • March 22, 1991 - At Sotheby's in New York‚ a 1909-10 baseball card in mint condition of Honus Wagner was auctioned off for $451‚000 to hockey star Wayne Gretzky and LA Kings owner Bruce McNall. The Wagner cards are so valuable because the Dutchman refused to endorse tobacco products, and only 57 cards were printed before he had production stopped.

Bucs Cut Morris, DeJesus, Goedert

The Bucs lopped a couple of more guys off the roster today, sending RHP Bryan Morris to Indy and assigning infielders Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Jared Goedert to Indy.

Morris wasn't a surprise. Once the Bucs announced that he had gotten an extra option year, it was pretty apparent they intended to use it sooner rather than later. He didn't really help his cause in camp, pitching to a 5.14 ERA in seven innings, walking five guys, but the option bought him another year in the system.

DeJesus, 25, was making a strong run in camp, hitting .406 with a .955 OPS. Our guess is that he and eventually Jordy Mercer - their chances of making the club took a big hit when John McDonald joined the team, although Mercer is till hangin' around - will split SS time at Indy to see if the Bucs have internal options when Clint Barme's contract ends after this season. DJ was part of the Hanny deal, and his spring showing put him on the back on the radar after a slow recovery from a broken leg.

Goedert, 27, was signed as a minor league free agent (he was in the Cleveland system) by the Pirates as a guy with a rep for a good stick, and he lived up to that early but faded badly down the stretch, and ended up hitting .207 in camp.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Yes, There Are Ties In Baseball...

Yes there are ties in baseball. Only in the spring and during All-Star games, of course, and tonight was one of those nights, as the Bucs and Baltimore fought to a ten inning, 0-0 draw. No runner for either club got past second base.

It's not like the Bucs didn't have their chances; they banged out eight hits, but went a depressing 0-for-14 with RISP. Jake Arrieta gave up six of those hits over six frames, but his 9 K kept the Bucs at bay.

Starling Marte opened the game with a double and was stranded. Garrett Jones and Travis Snider were on first & second with one out an inning later; there they stayed. Russell Martin and Snider were on first and second with an out in the fourth and died there. Snider doubled with an out in the sixth and never moved.

After that, Pittsburgh went dry. Luis Ayala and Troy Patton each worked two frames of no-run ball.

Brad Hawpe may have punched his ticket out of camp; he stranded five runners while striking out all three of his at-bats, dropping his BA to .139. Clint Barmes whiffed twice in four appearances, leaving six runners on. The middle of the order had its woes, too, as Cutch and Pedro each left four Buccos aboard.

But that performance at the dish didn't seem to rattle the pitchers. Jonathan Sanchez came up with his second strong start, going five innings and giving up two hits, a walk, and whiffing four. He never allowed a runner to reach second. Ryan Reid went two no-hit frames, with a walk and two Ks. Chris Leroux and Justin Wilson finished up with an inning apiece; Leroux yielded a hit while Wilson gave up a hit and a walk with a K.

So Sanchez and Jeffrey Locke have kept alive their claims for a spot on the staff. The FO is coming up on decision time; Sanchez's opt-out date if not on the 40-man roster is Sunday. Cuts are expected this weekend as the Pirates only have eight more games to go before they count.

Jeanmar Gomez goes against Alex Cobb and Tampa tomorrow afternoon.

  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review wrote that "The lineup against the Rays includes several position players who are on the bubble: Ivan De Jesus Jr., Josh Harrison, Brad Hawpe, Brandon Inge, Alex Presley and Felix Pie. For some of them, it could be a 'one last look' game before rosters are reduced, perhaps as soon as Saturday." He added that Neil Huntington told him “The other two spots, it might be two outfielders, or it might be one infielder and one outfielder. Time will tell as it plays out.” The Fort and Gaby Sanchez are already guaranteed roster spots. W'd assume the first infield spot is John McDonald's and JT, being RH and out of options, the first OF choice.
  • Travis Rietsma of Getting Blanked reviews the Bucs; he pegs them at 84 wins and posts "With improvements from their still-young core of position players, the Pirates could be a sleeper in the National League and only stand to get better in the years to come with a number of high-impact prospects on the way."
  • Wandy Rodriguez gave up a run and three hits, while walking three and striking out two in 5-1/3 innings during a minor-league contest at Pirate City today. AJ Burnett will work a minor-league outing tomorrow as Jeanmar Gomez gets a last look on the hill.
  • New SS John McDonald will report to camp tomorrow. 
  • Mike McKenry is sponsoring a veteran's family with game tickets during every home stand.
  • Trip Advisor selected PNC Park as baseball's top stadium.

Bucs v Orioles

The Bucs' Jonathan Sanchez get the nod against the Orioles and Jake Arrieta at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The game starts at 7:05, and nope, not a TV game. But it will be broadcast by The Fan 93.7.

Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Neil Walker 2B, Andrew McCutchen CF, Pedro Alvarez 3B, Gaby Sanchez DH, Garrett Jones 1B, Russell Martin C, Travis Snider RF and Clint Barmes SS.

Clint's breaking out the big boys tonight. And it looks more and more like the days of Snider sliding into the two-hole are over.

Pitchers: Jonathan Sanchez and ?

Last start before his opt-out date, 3/24. 

  • Jared Stonesifer of Yahoo Sports asks "Is Russell Martin The Answer...?" He writes "Martin might not be the answer Pirates fans were looking for in a catcher, but he'll have to do for now."
  • Dave Cameron has the final team power ratings to conclude Fangraph's series. 
  • Joe Posnanski of Hard Ball Talk has a sweet piece on old Bucco C Tony Pena.
  • Craig Calcaterra and Kay Adams of Hard Ball Talk prognosticate on the fortunes of the 2013 NL Central clubs.
  • This day in history - Manny Sanguillen was born in Colon, Panama in 1944. Happy 69th! And in 1986, the Pittsburgh Associates, a coalition of 13 public and private investors, saved baseball in Pittsburgh when it purchased the Pirates from the Galbreath family for $21.8M in a deal that had been essentially hammered out in the previous fall.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cuts Get A Little Easier As Bucs Bow 18-9

Well, the good news is that the Bucs plated nine runs for the second time in three games. The bad news is they lost both of those contests. After losing an 11-9 slugfest to the Yankees on Monday, Pittsburgh pitchers were hammered by the Atlanta Braves today in Orlando by an 18-9 count, beat down by a 21 hit, five homer barrage.

Kyle McPherson started and went 4-2/3 fairly brutal innings, giving up nine runs (eight earned), including blasts to Freddy Freeman and Andrelton Simmons. He surrendered ten hits and struck out three. The best that can be said about the outing is that McPherson didn't walk anyone.

Vin Mazzaro worked an inning following him, and was blistered for a six spot, with Freeman and Simmons going long off him. he gave up eight knocks and whiffed a pair; like McPherson, he didn't give up a walk. Tim Alderson came on to get the last out of the sixth, and it was Tony Watson's turn.

Watson, who was working on his delivery and some physical troubles, was greeted by a pair of singles and a bomb off the bat of Jordan Parraz in his frame. Jared Hughes, bless him, threw a clean eighth.

The Buc bats were alive, banging out 16 hits. Going into the bottom of the fifth, they had clawed back to cut the lead to 8-6 before the roof caved in. Andrew McCutchen went 2-for-4 with a homer, Jordy Mercer went 2-for-3 with a trip-trip-triple, The Fort had three RBI with a single and two sac flies and Alex Presley had a two-out, two-run single in his only AB. Felix Pie & Brandon Inge also came through with a pair of knocks.

The Pirates take on Baltimore tomorrow night and Jonathan Sanchez gets the start. His opt-out date of March 24th is right around the corner, so this could be a make-or-break start for the veteran lefty.

  • The Bucs are taking their roster evaluations down to the wire; Wandy Rodriguez will throw 85-90 pitches in a minor league game tomorrow while the fringe guys get another look, per Kristy Robinson.
  • Mike Sanserino of the Post Gazette tweeted that "Neal Huntington said John McDonald will be Clint Barmes' primary backup." That makes that last bench spot in the infield quite a brawl; Harrison, Mercer, DeJesus and Presley have all had strong camps.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America announced guys who got an extra option year granted them by MLB. The Pirate trio are Pedro, Bryan Morris and Andy Oliver. That's good news for the Bucs, though Alvarez is hopefully established. Oliver gets an extra year of tinkering in the minors. Morris was out of options. He should make the 25-man roster this year on ability, but that extra option may delay his debut awhile while the FO sorts out its self-imposed logjam of arms.

Pirates Keep Collecting

The Pirates have traded for Diamondback infielder John McDonald in exchange for a PTBNL, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and  Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

McDonald, 38, appeared in 70 games as a shortstop, second baseman and third baseman last year, posting a .249/.295/.386 batting line with six home runs and an OPS+ of 79. The 14-year vet is a solid glove guy, but in his many years in the league, his lifetime WAR in 2.9.

He's in the second season of a two-year, $3M contract and will earn $1.5M in 2013 before his walk year.

Who knows what it means to Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Ivan DeJesus, who have all had good springs? We're guessing that since they've got their glove guy for the bench, Harrison is the front runner to claim the other spot on the pine, with Mercer and DeJesus headed to Indianapolis.

Mercer beat McDonald in the field last season, with a 9.6 UZR/150 versus McDonald's 8.5. Mac's bat was better, but we're talking an OPS+ of 79 for McDonald and 76 for Mercer; so not much gap there. And Mercer is a decade younger and would make a million bucks less. But Mercer does have an option...

And that could be the logic behind an otherwise seemingly illogical deal. With Clint Barmes in his walk year, the FO may have decided to bring in a glove-first guy for the bench so that Mercer can start at Indy. There, he would get regular PT with a chance to compete for the big team's starting job in 2014.

Then again, maybe Clint Hurdle just wanted a veteran on the bench; he's decidedly squeamish about putting youngsters on the field if he can help it. So who knows?

But whatever the reason, John McDonald is a Bucco now. We'll find out the cost soon enough, when the PTBNL is sent to Arizona and when the Bucs trim someone off their 40-man roster (they'll probably DL Chase d'Arnaud) to clear space.

Bucs v Braves

The Bucs return to action against the Braves today. Kyle McPherson gets the nod against Mike Minor at Orlando. The game begins at 1:05 and will be aired on tape delay by the MLB Network at 11 PM; there's no radio. The weather isn't cooperating; it's gray and rainy in the land of Disney.

Lineup: Starling Marte LF, Jose Tabata RF, Andrew McCutchen CF, Garrett Jones 1B, Neil Walker 2B, Brandon Inge 3B, Jordy Mercer SS, Mike McKenry C and Kyle McPherson P.

Hurdle is starting to get the starters ready; Inge and Mercer are the only fringe guys in today's lineup.

Pitchers: Kyle McPherson and ?

McPherson gets maybe his last chance to make an impression. We think the Bucs are down to the nitty-gritty. After this weekend, if not sooner, they're going to have to get the roster close to finalized and get ready for the season.

  • David Manel of Bucs Dugout takes a peek in the crystal ball to calculate the Pirates 2013 win total as projected by WAR. 
  • Fangraphs continues its positional power ranking series. Michael Barr picks the Bucs LF spot as 11th best in MLB. He adds "Between Marte and McCutchen, the Pirates have to be pretty pleased with two thirds of their outfield for the foreseeable future, and if Tabata can realize his potential and grab the starting role in right, the Bucs could be set for years..."
  • The Bucs announced to the beat gang that they released six minor league guys, including RHP Mike Colla, 26, who was thought to still be on the radar as a middle-reliever type. Mike Sanserino of the Post-Gazette tweeted that Jared Lakind, 21, drafted as a 1B, will be switched to pitching. The lefty touched the low nineties as a prep pitcher. Guess that's to balance out Stetson Allie's flip.
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review noted that SS Chase d'Arnaud had surgery on his thumb earlier in the week and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
  • Buc first base prospect Alex Dickerson has had back problems since his college days. Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects posts that the team hopes it's found the solution - shoe inserts!
  • More ex-Buccos earn their release: SS Ronny Cedeno was set free by the Cards and IF Dallas McPherson by the Dodgers.
  • The Dominican Republic won the WBC, whipping Puerto Rico 3-0 yesterday. They certainly earned the title - they were the first club in tournament history to go undefeated through all the rounds. For all their strong pitching, Robinson Cano ended up as the WBC-MVP.
  • This day in history: In 1937, the Homestead Grays acquired future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Judy Johnson for $2,500 in cash and a pair of journeymen players after Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee was forced to unload his stars for financial reasons. And in 1973, after a special election held by the BBWAA‚ Roberto Clemente was voted into the Hall of Fame. The Board of Directors waived the 5 year eligibility period for Clemente, and he was inducted on August 6th as the first Hispanic player to enter Cooperstown.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Off Day Notes

A couple of Bucco bits to keep you occupied on an off day:

  • Drew Silva of The Hardball Times has his 2013 Pirate review posted. 
  • Jared Stonesifer of Yahoo Sports takes a look at the upcoming Jason Grilli era.
  • Drew Lembo of the Bradenton Herald writes that Neal Huntington likes his starting rotation going into the season. Now if he'd only share it with us...
  • James Santelli of Pirates Prospects crunches the numbers and his result: Bucs Bench Projected As Top Four In NL. That would certainly be a step up.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has a list of young guys who impressed this spring; Gerrit Cole made the Top Ten.
  • Chris Garosi of Fantasy Fix features Gregory Polanco in his prospect review "30 Prospects In 30 Days."
  • Add LHP Daniel Moskos and RHP Zach Stewart to the list of ex-Buccos who were cut from camp.

Could Bucs Carry Five OF's?

The battle for the Bucco bench is getting interesting. The sure shots are the extra first base man (Gaby Sanchez/Garrett Jones), the fourth outfielder (Jose Tabata), and the reserve catcher (Mike McKenry), with two spots open. It's assumed those would go to a corner and middle infielder.

But Alex Presley is making it a tough decision. He's pleading his case by batting .297 with a .357 OBP. The King is, of course, the perfect fourth outfielder for the Pirates with the ability to play left and center along with being a top-of-the order type hitter, which Pittsburgh is not very deep in at the MLB level.

Presley has scored seven runs this spring, tied with Starling Marte for the club lead. And he's worked hard on the big hole in his game, his eye, historically taking too many whiffs and too few walks. The 27 year-old has an strong 11% K rate, and while not outstanding, his walk rate is a more acceptable 7% so far during camp.

He does have a couple of strikes against him. The Bucs do have an extra OF'er in Garrett Jones, and the team likes to have a bopper in right field. Presley also has an option remaining, which Travis Snider and Jose Tabata don't. And the guys vying for infield spots aren't exactly conceding their seats on the bench.

Last year's holdovers, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, have put up nice offensive numbers. Harrison is on a six-game hitting streak, and is hitting .286/.364, while Mercer's line is .368/.552. Josh is an Energizer bunny who can play a variety of spots with a lifetime .250 BA off the Bucco bench, while Mercer provides a strong glove up the middle.

The Bucs also brought in a pair of non-roster guys to challenge them in Ivan DeJesus and Brandon Inge. The once-hot but oft injured prospect DeJesus has grabbed his opportunity with both hands, batting .400 with a .553 slugging % while playing three infield positions. Inge hasn't been showing much with the stick - he hasn't for a couple of years - and is way under the Mendoza line with a .111 BA. Clint Hurdle longs for a veteran presence on the bench, but despite that, Inge should be a longshot to cash in on his chance with Pittsburgh.

Of course, there's a reason they're bench players. Harrison can play all over the field, but is more a jack of all trades and master of none type with the mitt. Mercer is the internal heir-apparent to Clint Barmes, at least until lower-level guys like Alen Hanson and Max Moroff percolate through the system. He has an option remaining, so he may be better off playing every day at Indy in 2013 if he is indeed the shortstop of the near future (Barmes is in his walk year). DeJesus has been a cup-of-coffee guy for the Dodgers and Red Sox, with just a .205 MLB average to show for his 80 PA. Inge hasn't hit north of .250 since 2006.

Our guess is that while Presley has done everything he was supposed to do in camp, he's the odd man out, at least early in the year. Jones can fill in as an extra OF'er if needed, eliminating the need for a fifth guy. And the Pirates roster is such that there are no infield options among the position players (they are trying to get Sanchez some 3B time) that would allow them to run the risk of carrying just one bench IF. Hurdle loves his two-fer changes late in the game, and that only works with some versatility on the pine.

That, of course, doesn't mean things are cut-and-dried right now. Snider and JT are both in show me years, and Presley could easily be called up if they don't fill the bill by the summer. Also, the Pirates are still said to be looking for at least a reserve catcher. If they have to deal for one, their obvious surplus is among fringe outfielders. And Pittsburgh has been lucky with camp injuries, and we'll see if that holds up for the next week or so.

The camp was supposed to be deep this year and feature some competition, even if the starting lineup was pretty much set in stone. That it's been, and it's about time that the Bucs have to make some hard lineup decisions. Hopefully they'll be able to manage that situation without diluting their talent base/MLB depth too badly.

  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reported that Jeff Karstens surprised the staff by changing his windup yesterday to a full, over-the-head motion. After throwing 50 pitches in the minor league game, he's scheduled to work against the Orioles on Sunday.
  • Mike Axisa of Fangraphs rates the Bucco CF position as the tops in baseball. In the same series of Power rankings, Enos Saris ranks the Pirates right field spot at #19 among MLB clubs heading into the season. Jeff Sullivan doesn't have as much love for SS; he lists Pittsburgh 23rd in that position.
  • Jason Linden of The Hardball Times has this year's list of Five Questions For The Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • Rumbunter tweeted: The Pirates 39th win of the 2013 season will be their 10,000th all-time victory. Only five teams have hit the 10,000 win mark - the Cards, Braves, Reds, Dodgers and Giants, who have the most at 10,616 victories.
  • Some former Buccos were recently released: C Chris Snyder (who signed quickly with the Angels), RHP Matt Capps, OF Matt Diaz, 1B Nick Evans and IF Bobby Crosby.
  • The Player's Association and League are talking about implementing a world-wide draft, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors.