Saturday, June 19, 2004

Game 64, Joel Pineiro vs. Sean Burnett Saturday

Don't let the 2-8 record fool you, this guy is one hell of a pitcher and he's been unhittable all June. Pineiro is right-handed power pitcher who gets an average groundball/flyball mix from the hitters.

Thanks to the geniuses at ESPN, we can see the Pirate splits against power guys for this year. And there's no surprises here.

I liked the lineup the Pirates fielded last night. Jason Bay looks fully recovered from his strikeout nightmare. Ruben Mateo didn't get a hit last night but he's shown great plate discipline on the year and can't be overlooked. Going into last night, he had five walks in only 30 at-bats, and a .333 OBP on a .200 batting average. Jack Wilson has to hit .316 to get on base that often. And he's shown a lot of power - something the Pirates really need. For the love of God, play Ruben Mateo.

Rake Tedman I mean Tike Redman showed he can come through as a pinch-hitter. If he can excel as a part-time player, then we are one step closer to a team full of better players. Maybe he's not cut out for a starting role, and a defensive replacement who can pinch-hit and play well on spot starts is a valuable thing to have.

After that 0-for-4 on Fireworks night, I don't want to see Chris Stynes in the lineup again this weekend. Rob Mackowiak can start at third, Hill or Castillo at second, Ward at first, and the Bucs are ready to roll.

Kip Wells's right middle finger

Bob Dvorchak has the latest and most information on his finger problem.

Back end of the bullpen

Boehringer will be out for more time, Joe Rutter notes. Mark Corey will be sent down to make room for Sean Burnett.

One thing I didn't consider when suggesting the Bucs move Vogelsong to the bullpen is Mark Corey. Any lateral move of a struggling starter to the bullpen is going to displace someone like Corey. Corey's a right-handed power pitcher.

I have no good sense of the relationship between the bullpen jobs and the starting pitching jobs right now. It's clear that the Bucs don't see the bullpen as a good way to break in starters; they've been using the minors to do that. They haven't called up Sean Burnett and used him, for example, the way the Phillies have been using Ryan Madson. Say they decide to convert a starter to relief work. Would they do that in the major leagues, or would they send the guy to Nashville for a few weeks? Does a starter like Vogelsong have a "right" to a big-league bullpen job, in the eyes of management? in the eyes of the coaches? in the eyes of the other relievers? Would many players grumble if Vogelsong took Mark Corey's job?

The Expos just put Claudio Vargas in the bullpen. (The early results, as you can see in his starter/reliever splits, are encouraging.) Lots of teams move starters out to the pen, and until I read some compelling argument to the contrary, I'm just going to assume that yeah, the Bucs would be better served with Vogelsong, and not Corey, in the pen. No doubt we have a lot more invested in Vogelsong, and he has the fuller repetoire and the better stuff. Maybe it's too early to give up on him as a starter, and maybe returning him to Nashville to start is the best way to go. It's not like he'd block Zach Duke from pitching there this year.

And yes, I guess it was a quality start last night, so it's not like this question interests me because I think it's urgent. The team is about 12-deep with starters who could or should start soon for the Pirates - or deeper if you count Figueroa or Frank Brooks (? when did he become a starter?). At some point we'll find out if the Pirates will find some relievers in this group.

Vogelsong still in rotation

For now at least. Judging from Joe Rutter's report, Burnett will have a chance to stick, and Vogelsong will stay at least until Kip Wells is healthy.

Suspensions

An A's fan wrote in the comments this past week that, from their point of view, Mac is "erratic" and he ordered Torres to throw at Miller. I certainly didn't see it that way. Looks like the big MLB front office took Oakland's view of the situation.

Bobby Hill in the outfield

Mac says not until next spring, Ed Eagle reports: "I think he has a chance to be a pretty decent utility-type player," said McClendon. "It's something we are going to explore. It only makes him more valuable and helps our club." Or maybe they will try it next year. That possibility seems to be left open in Joe Rutter's notebook. Here Mac's talking about trying Hill in right. How many 5'9" right fielders with no power do we find in the league? Position flexibility is a great thing these days with the smaller ballparks forcing teams to use more roster spots on pitchers. Sounds Bobby Hill is being groomed to go the Rob Mackowiak route to Pirate stardom.

OK, scratch him from the list then. Ruben Mateo got the start in center Friday night. How do you think he did out there?

Walker and the draft

Go read Steve Novotney's latest on Neil Walker's introduction. He reports that Walker went 46-for-49 in batting practice, which sounds like some kind of record but c'mon, who knows.

Steve also breaks down the draft and did some counting. Turns out that half of all the 2004 picks were pitchers, and half were position players. And half were college players, and half were high school players. Last year the draft was more heavily weighted toward college players and toward pitchers.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Gray crown caps available

Thanks to reader Chrysostom for noting the gray crown caps are still available through the Cooperstown Ballcap Co. Here it is. They have a ton of vintage Pirates hats available. Go here and in the second drag-down menu, select "PITTSBURGH" to see their dazzling array of Pirates, Crawfords, and Stogies caps. They'll do leather or cotton bands, regular, short, or full cuts, and every size from 6 3/4 to 8 3/8.

Is a leather band more comfortable than a cotton band? Maybe I'll strap a belt around my forehead and see how that feels for half the day.

...why am I writing about this? See here. There's nothing about this site that is for-profit, and we're not making a dime from that cap website or any other thing we do here.

Game 63, Friday night vs. Seattle

Tonight the Bucs face soft-tossing eastern PA boy Jamie Moyer.

He's a bit unusual in that lefthanders have done a wee bit "better" against him the last four years. None of the current Pirates have a statistically significant record against him. Against lefties in general this year, Kendall, Craig Wilson, Ward, and Ruben Mateo have been great. Perhaps Mateo will get a start tonight.

Moyer is what STATS, inc. calls a "flyball" and "finesse" pitcher. (His groundball/flyball ratio has been under 1, and his K+BB/IP rate has been under .93). The splits for finesse pitchers show the Bucs have only seen about nine of them this year, and no one has a lot of at-bats against them.

Third base is the big question. Mackowiak will probably get the night off. Stynes has been especially bad against lefties this year (375 OPS), though he was once a little better against them, as you'd expect with a right-handed hiter. Stynes was better against flyball pitchers but worse against finesse guys the previous three years. So maybe Hill will play third. I'd like to see Bobby Hill start again. He switch-hits, he gets on base. The other choice is Abraham Nunez. Nunez has done better against flyball and finesee guys. Nunez supposedly "owns" Tom Glavine, a left-handed finesse guy (who generates way more grounders than Moyer, however). So maybe he starts at a third, with Castillo at second, and Bobby Hill and Rob Mackowiak paying attention from the bench as they wait their turn to pinch-hit. Hmm, Nunez's ownership of Glavine didn't amount to much two months ago, did it?

If I directed this soap opera, I'd run out something much like what we ran out the last two nights. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Bobby Hill started twice, the Pirates won twice, so rub the short guy's head, put him in the lineup, and see if it works again.

The Pirates start Ryan Vogelsong, who will probably be OK and silence all the talk about what to do with him. Still, we may need five or six or eight runs to win, so let's hope we score a lot of runs. I wouldn't put the all-hands team on the field expecting a low-scoring game. It's fireworks night, after all.

Also, there will be a huge crowd. For that reason, I'd rule out Simon or Stynes. Simon will get booed if grounds into another double play, which is always likely, and Stynes will get booed if he doesn't get a hit in his first at-bat. A manager could be stubborn and play them before an unusually large home crowd, believing he gets a sliver of an edge by doing so, but why add distractions when you've got a rookie pitcher on the mound? Neither guy had much of a role in the two victories. I'd start Kendall, Wilson, Ward, Wilson, then Mateo - get him in there, maybe he'll hit a home run, and we'll need some runs - with some mix of Hill, Redman, Castillo, Nunez, and Mackowiak filling out the lineup. Since Redman's getting it going, put him in center; flank him with Wilson and Mateo; put Ward at first.

I don't know; it's hard to say there's a 100% sure thing to do with the choice of two from Nunez, Hill, and Castillo. At some point maybe you just start the guy who cranks the most homers in BP. Or, you make them arm-wrestle for it. Or, you go with the guy who started in the two wins. Either way, Mac has plenty of options tonight and lots of homework to do before he sets the lineup.

SportsCenter and the national, non-partisan view of baseball

I cringe to think a Pirate runs off the field to watch SportsCenter "to see how he did." Do you have to see it on the tube to believe it? Cue Howard Beale.

Actually, that easy & cheap crack aside, it's not the medium (television) but the show itself (a national one) that gives me the creeps these days. Baseball is one of the great national pastimes, but only as a soap opera with dozens of different - and mainly regional - interpretations of the action. There's no one, non-partisan, overarching take on the season that is satisfying or meaningful. The game is only as good as the degree of disagreement fans might have about how to interpret the action on the field.

As much as I loved USAToday when it first came out - the expanded box scores, all the statistics, a little note for every team - I've come to think that you can't really enjoy following a team like the Pirates if you rely only on the national media. It has a superficial bias towards the players and dramas of the largest markets and most-recently-winningest teams. The highest-paid players are usually the focus, and we're always reminded that they are the highest-paid players. Teams like the D'Rays and the Pirates only get notice if they win or lose a lot in a row, which signals not the best but the worst time for usually uninterested persons to look in and mouth off with their take on the meaning of the streak as it is happening. Teams that weren't picked to be winners - like the Cincinnati Reds - are subjected to overwhelming negativity until the team stops winning, and you have to wonder if that negativity ("they can't keep it up," "they have no pitching," "they get outscoured too much,") doesn't do a lot to erode the morale of the small-market Reds and their small-market fans. And morale is everything in a game that's mainly mental.

If Daryle Ward wants to know how he did, he should ask the fans. He should talk to the guy at the gas station or the burger joint (no - I take that back - he should talk to the guy at the health food store). We can't expect a show like SportsCenter to describe what events on the field mean to the audience of a small-market recently-losing franchises like Pittsburgh. The most meaningful games, for local fans, are usually the ones that appear nondescript to the usually-ignoring fans/pundits of the "whole league."

SportsCenter did a great job with the Rob Mackowiak-had-a-baby story, but that was a very easy pitch to hit, and the good feeling you might get from the national media there was totally erased by the gloating & condescending & unwelcome coverage of the losing streak. SportsCenter and ESPN are fantastic and great in their own way. But they have their limitations. And those limitations are especially felt by fans of teams like the Pirates. It would be really easy for a transplanted Pirates fan to think, after watching SportsCenter religiously for several years, that he would be better off if he divorced the team of his youth and started to root for teams with Ichiro!, A-Rod, or other national celebrities.

Burnett next

It is going to be Burnett if the Bucs need another starter, as it ought to be.

Smizik: Get better players

Huzza for Bob Smizik. Today's essay on Mac is right on and he closes with Littlefield's sane assessment:

"Lloyd is not part of the problem. Lloyd is part of the solution," he said. "Our biggest issue is we have to get better players."
If that isn't true, then the sky is purple and the earth has three suns.

Rajai Davis

Lynchburg OF Rajai Davis was named to the Carolina All-Star team with Zach Duke. Ira Liebman's story here. Here's a bit of it:

Davis a 38th round pick by the Pirates in 2003 is well deserving of being an All-Star and has developed into perhaps the best leadoff man in the Carolina League. He leads the league in both hits (75) and stole bases (25), is 3rd in runs scored (43) and 4th in walks (34). Through Monday June 15th Rajai was batting .300, 0 hr, 18 RBI with 25 SB and 75 hits. Davis who last year in the SAL was selected to the Post Season All-Star Team when he hit .305, 6 hr, 54 RBI, had 7 triples, scored 84 runs and stole 40 bases for the Hickory Crawdads. Rajai is on pace to steal 50 bases and get over 150 hits this season.

"The Duke" has become royalty in Lynchburg; a 20th round pick straight out of high school was also picked in the 2001 draft. Duke who is from Waco Texas came out with his guns "a blazin’" this year as he pitched the night he was named an All-Star, and improved to 9-2 with a league leading 1.26 ERA. Duke also leads the league in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) at 0.88, is 2nd in strikeouts one off the lead with 78 and has only walked 14 batters in 71 innings which is better than a 5 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. Duke also no stranger to All-Star Teams was picked to the mid and post season All-Star Teams last year finishing with an 8-7 record and a 3.11 ERA. He was 6th in the Pirates system with 113 strikeouts and 7th in ERA over 141 innings.

Duke might not return to the Hillcats after the All-Star game.

Scrap Garner

Steve Novotney has this on recent Phil Garner sightings. Wednesday was Phil Garner figurine night at PNC.

2004 Draft scorecard

Click here for Baseball America's handy draft scorecard - it lists the picks and indicates which players have signed.

In case you live in a cave and missed this news, Neil Walker signed yesterday.

Bagwell ailing

We've been noticing Bagwell's slump since May. Here's some Houston coverage of what ails him.

Of course, we go to Houston next week. The Pirates love to play in Houston and always have a good time bouncing home runs off the left-field wall.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

All hail Tike Redman

BATTING: 2B - J Wilson (16, B Colon); J Kendall (12, B Colon). HR - R Mackowiak (12, 4th inning off B Colon 0 on, 2 Out), T Redman 2 (4, 7th inning off B Colon 0 on, 0 Out, 8th inning off K Gregg 1 on, 2 Out), J Wilson (6, 7th inning off B Colon 0 on, 2 Out). S - K Benson.
Baseball is a beautiful game.

Interview with a four-year-old fan

Saw this at Primer, and I have to link it here for you to see too.

At four I was like that, but a Pirates fan, but not as smart as Elias Eberman. I didn't have a five-seam fastball at that age. I didn't develop my own pitches until later. By the age of six or seven, my signature pitch was the "dustball." I'd go to the back of the mound and load up the whiffle ball with loose dirt. It would spray out as a cloud on the way to the plate.

Game 62, Thursday night vs. Anaheim

Ed Eagle has a report on tonight's game that focusses on Benson. He'll be fine tonight I think. Here's the rest of the game post I wrote up this morning. Today's many new posts pushed it way down the page.

Tonight it's Bartolo Colon against the Bucs. He's been mediocre for more than a month but better on the road than at home. Righties and lefties have been pounding him equally hard so far. The closest match, in the 2004 stats, to Colon's .323 / .389 / .598 numbers vs. right-handed batters is Vlad Guerrero; in other words, put together, all the right-handed hitters have hit like Vlad off Colon so far this year. We know he's better than that so he's probably due for one of his signature complete-game two-hitters.

Mac will also know that Colon was rough on righties the last three years, but I guess he favors righties over lefties since the lefties played last night. I'm anticipating a lineup that includes Bay, Castillo, and Stynes. Simon is 6-for-8 off Colon - must have seen him as a Tiger I guess - so maybe he plays first again. I expect the Pirates will continue to play Simon so long as he's on the roster. He's not going to ride the pine like J.J. Davis; he'll just go away when his time comes. That's what I expect at least.

Bay or Mateo might play center tonight, replacing Redman with a more powerful righthanded bat. Mateo deserves a good long look. With seven Ks in his last eight ABs, Bay is the prime candidate for extra pine time. Mateo had 99 games in centerfield in his travels through Cincinnati and Texas. Daryle Ward will probably get another start in the outfield - how can they sit him after the big home run last night - probably in right. This makes our predicted lineup something like Kendall - Wilson - Ward - Wilson - Simon - Mateo - Stynes - Castillo with some variation likely in the specific order. Hill or Mackowiak could also start at third, and would probably provide more offense than Stynes.

Another wildcard is Jack Wilson's knee. He might have to sit out tonight after yesterday's tumble at first.

Altoona on fire

Report here. We'll have to talk about 2B Jeff Keppinger sometime soon.

Wells and signing players for 2005

Ron Cook is eminently reasonable again as he writes today about Kip Wells. Unless Wells gets back to being Wells, I think he's looking at Brett Tomko money, or a little better, for some kind of one or two-year deal.

Here's a question we should debate. If the Bucs were going to lock up one player soon, who should it be? We'd have to know what kind of money it would take for that player, of course, but off the top of my head I think Craig Wilson would be my pick. He plays three positions and excels as an everyday player in PNC Park. Solid rightfielders are replaceable, sure, but Wilson is showing an elite talent with the stick that's going to make him Jim Thome money if he keeps hitting like Jim Thome. If he could be signed now for two more years, I think that would be a smart investment. As investments, three true outcome sluggers are far more reliable than starting pitchers.

Change time coming

Bob Smizik is making threats again. This time the dwindling fan base via Smizik demands some roster moves.

All of Smizik's moves make sense to me. We supported Sausage Man and Tike Redman at the start of the season and hey, guess what, we were wrong. Simon has not gotten in shape and Redman, yes, hard as it is to admit, has been the second coming of Adrian Brown (without the shoulder injury).

But why bring up Rich Thompson when we know he can't hit? We can't use a pinch-running defensive specialist; if we could, Tike could have that job. I'd rather see Mateo, Bay, Mackowiak, or Bobby Hill take over center while Tike finds his stroke at Nashville. Yes, the outfield defense might be shaky, but give them time out there and see if they don't improve with practice, study, and experience.

And yes, it's time to make a change or two in the rotation. I'm not sure Dave Williams is the guy up next. I'd still bring up Burnett first since he broke camp with the "sixth starter" tag. I'm not concerned about his AAA numbers - I don't think they mean as much, in Burnett's case, as a lot of people think. Either way, be it Burnett, Big Ben, or Williams, it's a win-win-win situation for the Pirates and the fans.

Now, Vogelsong. The Pirates have been raising up these young starters to give us about 25 starts a season. Vogelsong's next start will be his thirteenth. That's half a season for a young starter, and enough PT that no one can say the Bucs muddled his development by being overhasty with the demotions and promotions. If I ran the circus, I'd do everything I could to move a player no more than one level per season and, when they made the Show, I'd do everything I could to find some place for them on the team before I demoted him.

Vogelsong has great stuff but starting has not been his gig. Rather than return him to the Nashville rotation, I'd put him in the bullpen and see what he can do as a reliever. We sure could use a hard-throwing right-hander in the bullpen. Torres's arm will fall off if we keep using him as the two-inning setup guy. He's on pace to make 88 appearances and throw 96 innings. Even Octavio Dotel topped out at 83 appearances when he was the go-to guy in 2001. Torres only pitched 36 innings last year, so who knows how much he can throw before he gets a case of semi-permanent fatigue.

Vogelsong has the stuff. His big-league K/9 rate has not been at the super Dotel level, but it's around 8 and might go higher if he was only used one inning at a time. Regardless, the trick now is finding some role that he excels in. We need more players that are excelling if we are going to be excellent. Duh. If he turns into Brad Lidge, everyone will be happy. Heck, if he turns into T.J. Tucker, we can use that too. If he falters in short relief, move him to mop-up. If he does that well, make him a swing man. If he can't do that, what can he do? Today or next year? Send him to Nashville and work out what role he'll have down there if/when this demotion has to happen.

The Bucs do not need to be spending $2M per year on relievers when they have $311K struggling starters a-plenty. Eric Gagne, LaTroy Hawkins, Octavio Dotel, lots of dominant relievers were great-stuff starters who couldn't get it together in that role. It's obvious that Vogelsong can throw, but he hasn't pitched well as a starter. Maybe he'll click in relief. We won't know until we try him there.

Jack Wilson's jammed knee

That slide last night was not good for Jack's knee. Joe Starkey has the story here. Nunez would probably pick up the start if Jack needs to rest it.

Photo fest this Saturday

Official press release.

2004 Pirates Pose for Annual "Photo Fest" on Saturday

Pirates players and coaches will participate in the team's annual "Team Photo Fest" this Saturday, June 19 on Federal Street from 3:00 - 5:15 p.m., prior to the start of the Pirates/Mariners game at 7:05 p.m..

The event is presented by Giant Eagle Pro Series Photofinishing and will benefit the Salvation Army.

Players and coaches will be appearing in 45-minute time segments throughout the event. The first 500 fans making a donation ($5 minimum) to the Salvation Army will receive a Giant Eagle Pro Series disposable camera.

THE FOLLOWING IS THE SCHEDULE OF PLAYERS/COACHES AND WHEN THEY WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR PHOTOS. Please note: Players will appear in groups of two or three, and the schedule is subject to change. You are responsible for bringing your own camera.

Session #1 ~ 3:00-3:45 p.m.

Craig Wilson Rob Mackowiak

Ruben Mateo Abraham Nunez

Rusty Kuntz Bruce Tanner Alvaro Espinoza

Mike Johnston John Grabow

Lloyd McClendon Spin Williams

Session #2 ~ 3:45-4:30 p.m.

Jason Kendall John Russell Gerald Perry

Jack Wilson Tike Redman

Randall Simon Salomon Torres Mike Gonzalez

Kris Benson Pete Mackanin

Brian Meadows Brian Boehringer

Session #3 ~ 4:30-5:15 p.m.

Kip Wells Mark Corey

Josh Fogg Jason Bay

Jose Castillo Bobby Hill Daryle Ward

Jose Mesa Chris Stynes

Oliver Perez Humberto Cota

Sounds fun. Go to it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Get well, Kip

More tests, more worries, more mystery with that important finger.

Latest news here.

Alternate home uniforms

The Bucs wore the red, gold, & black unis tonight, the alternative home jerseys I think they are called. Today I wore my 1997 gray crown cap - a short-lived alternate road cap - and my wife, who more often sees me in this or this, liked it a lot. This is ironic since I bought it only to wear around a friend who ridiculed the gray hat every time it showed up in the highlights on SportsCenter. Around him (and only around him), I defended it as the height of good taste. I wouldn't let him talk any smack on the gray hat. (He's a Braves fan with very different feelings about Francisco Cabrera.) Like a lot of things from the late 1990s, the gray hat was phased out pretty quickly and quietly and no one mourned its passing. This thing is so rare these days, I can't find a picture of it for a link. I doubt Mitchell & Ness will be on it any time soon.

Here's a great but not too recently updated website on the history of the Pirates uniform. A lot of people think the red in the alternate unis is a new thing, but in ye olden days when I walked to school uphill both ways in the snow "Pirates" was written across the chest in red script.

Rally parrot

Didn't think it would take too long for one of these to show up on eBay. Not a bad way to try to make something of an otherwise forgettable interleague matchup.

Tonight's lineup

Facing John Lackey, a 25-year-old righthander who has been pretty mediocre for the last month or so:

Kendall
Wilson
Ward RF
Wilson LF
Mackowiak 3B
Simon 1B
Hill 2B
Redman
Wilson played right when we had Mondesi, because left is deeper and bigger in PNC. So Craig Wilson appears to get the nod as the superior fielder over Daryle Ward. Mackowiak starts at third; yesterday he didn't start since the team faced a left-hander and he probably needs some rest for his shoulder and knee. Simon gets another chance tonight, and so does Redman. Hill could see more time at 2B if he plays and hits well tonight & it's true as some have reported that the Pirates are leaning toward returning Castillo to Nashville.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a big night from one of Simon, Hill, and Redman. Here's hoping that Fogg throws six good innings, too.

Jason Bay started yesterday against the lefty Washburn and struck out four times. He's out tonight probably because of that and probably because he's a right-handed batter and lefthanded batters have gobbled up Lackey this year. Hence Ward, Mackowiak, Simon, Hill, and Redman all get in tonight's lineup. With Hill a switch-hitters the lineup runs R, R, L, R, L, L, S, L. McClendon has to feel good about his matchups.

Meet Joe Blog

We're not totally biased. Just a little drunk. Sometimes.

Oliver Perez

Has that Amish beard look going on again.

Do the batters find that intimidating?

Sanders a class act

Photo here.

...Brian D at Cardinalate compares Reggie to Barbie's Ken and has this link to Sanders' modest home. Yowza.

Zach Duke

Clay writes to tell us all to check his K/BB ratio down at Lynchburg. Good eye, Clay. His pro career stats here. His career record as a pro is now at 25-10. Paul Meyer answers a question about the 6'2" 200-pound lefthander in today's Q&A. A little Google finds this gem that we missed in early May. Here's what Graham said about him then:

"He's throwing a lot of pitches for srikes, and more improtantly, he's commanding his fastball and throwing his curve for strikes at all counts," Pirates farm director Brian Graham said. "He's definitely pitching the way we hoped he would. It's still early in the season. You certainly don't want to get too happy in April and you definitely don't want to be sad in August. You want to teach a pitcher to perform through 24-25 starts in a season. He keeps doing things we hoped he would, and he's certainly doing it very well."
Winston-Salem Manager Ken Dominguez had this review after Duke beat his Warthogs earlier this month:
Zach Duke started for the Hillcats. Duke, a left-hander who improved to 7-2, entered with a league-leading 1.15 earned-run average. Duke has struck out 68 and walked 11 in 602/3 innings this season, and is 3-0 against the Warthogs.

"He commands both sides of the plate with his fastball and he gets his breaking ball and changeup over effectively and in situations," Dominguez said. "He didn't have his best stuff tonight but you have to give him credit. He battled. I've seen him pitch a lot better against us but he kept his team in the game."

They will move this guy once this year and maybe next year he can come to Spring Training and compete for a job at Nashville.

...Dayn Perry at Baseball Prospectus adds that Duke pitches in what might be "the best hitter's park in the Carolina League." He continues: Duke "rarely reaches 90 with his fastball, but it has good movement and has been more than enough to complement one of the best curveballs in the minors." There's more in his report, check it out if you have a subscription.

Need help with pick 'em pool

Picking NFL winners SU & ATS is one of life's great joys around here. We'd like to do a big pool this fall and invite all our readers to compete against us. Can anyone recommend a good free service? Yahoo? USAToday? CBS Sportsline? Anyone tried various free options & have wisdom to share? If so, leave it here in comments or send an email to honestwagner at yahoo dot com

Sometimes it takes two bottles

John Perrotto seems to anticipate some kind of roster shake-up though he was not successful at getting a bunch of quotes supporting that expectation. Still, the Pirates will have to make some kind of move when J.J. Davis is finished his rehab assignment, and they may decide they've seen enough of Tike Redman, Chris Stynes, and/or Randall Simon.

Quote of the day from Mac:

McClendon said he spent most of Monday's off day considering ways to improve the team after a 1-8 road trip to Chicago, Texas and Oakland.

"I looked for answers," McClendon said. "Unfortunately, they weren't all in the same bottle."

Big Ben looks ready

From the Sounds recap of yesterday's doubleheader:

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospect has posted a 1.99 ERA (9er/40.2ip) over his last six starts after logging an 8.13 mark over his first six outings this season."
Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten will have a chance to surprise in PNC this year.

My finger

The Bucs will learn more about Kip's middle finger today when he flashes it to the medical staff.

Big J.J. Davis, rehabbing his crooked finger at Nashville, hit a bunch of home runs.

Bobby Hill

From Paul Meyer's Pirates report:

Bobby Hill has played second base and third base for the Pirates -- and his role might be expanded in the future. There's some sentiment in the organization for working out Hill in the outfield. "His bat is valuable," manager Lloyd McClendon said.
Are they thinking centerfield? That's a good place for a high-OBP leadoff-hitting-type guy.

Meyer today

Ernest Hemingway Paul Meyer answers the is-he-incompetent question about David Littlefield.

When we judge the most recent crop of offseason signings, we can't forget Jose Mesa and Daryle Ward and Ruben Mateo and Chris Truby and Terry Shumpert and the other minor-league contracts. I'm not sure (& it's too early) to say if that's evidence for or against, but the recent free-agent signing record goes beyond Simon and Stynes and Mondesi.

Craig Wilson likes the nickname "Joe Dirt," if that fan is to be trusted.

Best stats geek ever

OK, I'm easing my way into the beat reporting after taking the weekend off to listen to Ray Charles and feel warm and fuzzy when the man sings about going down to the river to drown himself.

Brian O'Neill served up his best SG article to date today. It goes over the defense with the Zone Rating stat and makes a hell of a lot of sense if you've been following the team.

Not discussed is the possibility that moving all the players around so much contributes to the shoddy defense. Brian can't write about the sun and the moon in every article so that's not said as if I'm finding a fault with the essay. Still, I have this image in my mind of Craig Wilson and Rob Mackowiak looking at each other as a fly ball falls between them for a big hit. That kind of thing starts to happen less often as players get comfortable not just with one position but also with the irritating but predictable shortcomings of the dudes who play the neighboring positions. Is it harder on Craig Wilson when it's Bay, Redman, and Mackowiak taking turns in center? Maybe. Will he get over there and catch the ball after this happens two or three more times? For the love of God, I hope so.

Anyway, that's my case for expecting the defense to improve as the season wears on. One of these days, the Pirates will make some moves with the position players. There will be less giving a guy two more starts just to see if he can't get his OPS up over 600, and there will be more playing the same people in the same positions.

I don't know why I expect this to happen--I just do--we can't play the whole season like an exhibition for 2005. Or can we? Does Chris Truby get a long look once the Pirates discard Chris Stynes? I dunno.

...P.S. Truby is doing his part to look like he deserves a chance. After tearing it up in March, I wrote that the Bucs should send him to AAA to prove his improvement was for real. So far so good for Truby at Nashville.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Mateo picture

Here is a picture to download, print, frame, and hang in your drinking room.

Shorter version of today's posts

I put up two posts today - one on the pitching, one on the hitting - and took them down because the tables were breaking the blog in some browsers.

Send an email to honestwagner at yahoo dot com if you'd like to receive them as an email.

Here's the shorter version for those who missed it: Pitching bad, defense bad?, hitting good.

Prediction

Bucs win tonight.

We have "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley" on in the Honest Wags clubhouse this afternoon. The Bucs can sneak this one past the Angels.

...aww, rats. I should have realized the guy gets caught sneaking Sally through the alley in that song. The Pirates hung around until the end, but not so many fans left the park wondering how soon they could come again.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Jason Quarles

In his column today Peter Gammons mentions Bucs 7th round RHP Jason Quarles as one of the steals in this year's draft.

It's the Pirates

I reject this line of thought unequivocally.

This is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The national media want to make the franchise into some kind of Arizona Cardinals of MLB. That's bullshit. This is more the-sun-will-never-rise talk. It's pure bullshit.

Every team goes through a losing streak at some point in the season. And of course Mac needs a day or two off right now to listen to eight solid hours of Ray Charles. But none of this means that the Pirates are now synonymous with futility.

5 World Championships, 9 Pennants, and 14 Playoff Appearances. Even a team like the Philadelphia Phillies can only claim 1 World Championship, 5 Pennants, and 9 Playoff Appearances. The Pirates are not the Arizona Cardinals of baseball.

They will win again. They will have winning streaks. And they will finish a season above .500 before anyone outside Pittsburgh predicts it or expects it.

Find some other franchise for your pollyanna, existential driveling. I'd suggest the Colorado Rockies if you national media types must indulge in this kind of gloating. In the meantime, know that we resent your piling on in this way. It's not original, it's not accurate, it's not interesting, it's not helpful, and it's not welcome. Send your paparazzi to some other car wreck.

The Bucs lost eight in a row. So what? The season isn't over by a long stretch.

Sunday's game

OK, the Bucs were destroyed again yesterday as Mark Mulder took Kip Wells to pitching school. Mulder used less than 100 pitches to go eight innings. Wells threw 113 in four and a third. He walked two, which is not good for four innings' work, and gave up eleven hits and two home runs. From the box score, I can't tell if he was nibbling again or just throwing the ball where the A's could hit it hard. He must have faced about 25 batters. Either way, he's now up to 19.1 pitches per three outs. This, for those of you keeping score at home, sucks. If the Bucs are fortunate enough to get 3300 pitches out of Wells this year, at this pace he'll give them 172 season-destroying innings. When you think of "present and future ace," hopefully your expectations are a little higher than Brett Tomko. The Pirates had one error and what might be their best infield defense (with Stynes-Wilson-Castillo) on the field. Unless the outfield defense was clumsy or porous, Wells probably can't hang any responsibility for that outing on his defense. I'll go out on a limb now and predict that Kip Wells is not getting another one-year, $2.5M contract from the Pirates, not when Tomko will be available for $1.5M. I'm not saying the Pirates should give up on Wells. Hell no, just the opposite. And I'm not endorsing any kind of punishment for Wells. That's stupid and would make the situation worse. The coaches have to work with him and see if they can help him to pitch better. The fans should back off and give him time and space to find himself again. Meanwhile, everyone should know that he's not pitching like an ace and the Bucs obviously are not getting much ROI on the deal they gave him at the beginning of the year.

Other observations: No one got hit by a pitch. Maybe that nonsense will stop before someone gets their forearm fractured. Rotowire tells me Mackowiak left with a bruised shoulder. Hopefully he can relax today, listen to eight solid hours of Ray Charles, and feel well enough to play some tomorrow.

The A's put 34,000 fans in the seats. No doubt every one of them left thinking, "How soon can I get back to the ballpark?"

Can't say I look forward to catching up on the beat writing.

Three months from yesterday the Steelers host the Raiders in the NFL season opener. Mmm, Steelers.

More later on the fact that the Bucs are 5-14 over the last three weeks.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Ray Charles today

No Pirates today for me ... I'll catch the box score Monday morning.

I spent the day listening to Ray Charles. I set the iPod to shuffle through all the Ray Charles tracks and we listened for half the day. Genius + Soul = Jazz, Legends in Music, Modern Sounds in Country and Western, the Essential Collection, and four or five beaten old LPs that I ripped several years ago with a turntable and a strawberry iMac.

At the end, we heard "Alone in the City" - with that haunting refrain, "Won't you help me, yeah, tell me / What will become of me" - and then it went silent. For some reason I thought there would be more but we had listened to everything we have. I got up to re-start the playlist but sat down. Of course it was right that the music would stop before we were ready, and it was appropriate to let the stereo go silent. We were half an hour or so from a thunderstorm. We sat out on the porch, watched lightning bugs, and listened to the wind in the trees.