October 2012

Bucs add Beck, Solis via waivers

The Pirates acquired a fresh battery through waivers on Thursday, claiming right-hander Chad Beck from the Blue Jays and catcher Ramon Solis from the Padres.

Beck could be a live one. He had a very impressive 2012 season for Las Vegas in the hitting-friendly Pacific Coast League.

To make room for the two on their 40-man roster, the Bucs designated for assignment catcher Eric Fryer and first baseman Jeff Clement.

The addition of Beck is somewhat ironic in that one of his brief tenures last season in Toronto apparently ended when he had to make room for Brad Lincoln, whom the Blue Jays had landed in a July 31 deal with the Pirates for outfielder Travis Snider.

Beck, 27, had seven scoreless appearances among his 14 for Toronto last season, when he compiled an overall ERA of 6.32 in 15 2/3 Major League innings. He’d made his big-league debut with three scoreless appearances in 2011.

A 14th-round Draft pick in 2006 by the Diamondbacks — he went to Toronto in a 2008 deal for infielder David Eckstein — Beck had a breakthrough Minor League season in 2012, with 18 saves and a 1.31 ERA in 43 appearances for Triple-A Las Vegas.

Solis, who goes by his middle name of Ali, signed with San Diego in 2005 as an amateur free agent out of Mexico. He made his brief big-league debut in 2012, after having hit .283 in 87 games with Double-A San Antonio. He was chosen to both the Midseason and Post-Season Texas League all-star teams. He threw out 28 percent of runners trying to steal (29 of 104).

Fryer, 27, acquired in a June 2009 deal from the Yankees for Eric Hinske, appeared in 16 games across the last two seasons with the Pirates.

Clement, a former No. 1 Draft choice (2005) of the Mariners, has battled injuries for much of his career. He had a strong comeback season with Triple-A Indianapolis (.276, with 16 homers and 57 RBIs in 112 games) before joining the Bucs, primarily as a pinch-hitter; he was 3-for-22.

Bucs shopping for new hitting coach

Gregg Ritchie was the world’s worst hitting coach in April and May. Ritchie was the best hitting coach in June and July.

Today, Ritchie is George Washington University’s head baseball coach.

The “worst” and “best” designations are made tongue in cheek. The first two months of the season, the Bucs hit .218 as a team. The next two months, they led the Majors in scoring. So Ritchie’s reputation was as volatile as the team’s fortunes.

His acceptance of the GWU job had been an open secret for weeks. Now that it’s official, the Bucs join a growing list of Major League teams searching for a new hitting coaches.

Ritchie, 48, was a seven-year member of the Pirates organization and the big-league club’s hitting coach the last two seasons under manager Clint Hurdle.

In the week since the end of the regular season, numerous clubs have dismissed their hitting coaches: Seattle (Chris Chambliss), Kansas City (Kevin Seitzer), Colorado (Carney Lansford) and Philadelphia (Greg Gross).

“Coming back to George Washington brings my career full circle as in many ways this is where it all started for me,” Ritchie said in the statement released by George Washington U.. “I met my wife (Kelly) here at GW, and we both made a lifetime of extraordinary memories going to school and competing in the heart of the nation’s capital. To have this opportunity to coach at my alma mater and play our home games in the premier facility in the conference at Barcroft Park is extremely special.”

Meek, Sutton elect free agency

Drew Sutton, who very briefly was the embodiment of the Bad News Bucs, and 2010 All-Star Evan Meek are among more than two-dozen six-year Minor Leaguers to recently elect free agency.

Sutton’s one-month tenure in Pittsburgh included one of the most thrilling moments of the Pirates’ season: His walk-off homer on July 3 for an 8-7 win over the Astros. It wasn’t so much the home run itself as the expression on Sutton’s face as he was rounding first base: It said ‘Did I really do that?” and seemed to capture the confirmation of  a nine-year professional career, very little of it spend in the Majors.

Sutton acknowledged as much in his post-game comments.

“It’s why we play the game,” he had said. “Even guys like me, who bounce around from team to team, every once in a while you get a moment like that. It’s a bookmark we can look back at.”

In 24 games and 74 at-bats with the Bucs, Sutton batted .243 with seven RBIs. It should be also noted that he was demoted on July 30, as part of the Pirates’ Trade Deadline turnover and at a time the Bucs were tied for the NL Central lead and after having gone 17-11 with Sutton in the starting lineup.

Meek had no ’12 highlights, pitching to a 6.75 ERA in 12 scattered appearances, but was a stud on the 105-loss Bucs of 2010, when he had a 2.14 ERA in 70 outings. Injuries and a consequential drop in confidence set him back but, at 29, the righty can have a big bounce-back in him.


It’s been a Bucco Blast

Thank you, Pittsburgh.

As I watch the Bucs play the final innings of a promising season that ends in disappointment, I can’t help reflecting on the past six months with a mixture of awe, satisfaction and more than a little sadness that it’s over.

I’m also watching that beautiful skyline against the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge, a sight I could never tire of and will miss.

So thank you for welcoming me to this wonderful city for an unforgettable summer. Thank you for the rolling green hills. Thank you for the breathtaking drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Thank you, as long as this profession demands so much travel, for the most efficient airport I’ve  ever experienced.

Thank you for everything black and gold. Thank you for making the hair on the back of my neck stand with so many thrilling moments. Thank you for letting me hear your cheers, and for letting me feel your frustrations.

Thank you for all the new memories forged. It has been great.

We must do this again. 2013 can’t come soon enough.