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The (Saturday) Windup, “Get a Grip” edition

Why couldn’t Jared Hughes throw out Yasmany Tomas, who took off from first base Friday night while the Pittsburgh reliever still had the ball in his glove? Hughes calmly stepped off the rubber and turned to second, but “I had a slider grip on the ball and had to readjust my fingers, and by then I threw too late.” … 

A.J. Burnett takes the mound tonight as the third-worst supported pitcher in the bigs. The Bucs have given him a total of four runs in his first three starts, and only Tim Hudson and Phil Hughes have received less. …

Clint Hurdle and Jeff Banister are obvious soul mates, and Hurdle enjoyed a close relationship with Josh Hamilton while serving as the Texas Rangers’ batting coach in 2010. However, Banister apparently didn’t chat up Hurdle before the Rangers swung a deal with the Angels to bring Hamilton back to Arlington. … 

Two former Pirates managers are calling the shots today. Lloyd McClendon will do his daily thing with the Mariners, and John Russell is running the Orioles with Buck Showalter absent to attend a relative’s memorial services. … 

The Bucs are taking another crack at their first four-game April winning streak since 2008. …

The (Friday) Rewind, A-Train edition

Maybe because it was in the same house (but not under the same roof, Chase Field’s retractable being open Friday night). But Gerrit Cole’s gem against the D-backs reminded me of a seminal pitching effort of a few years ago.

I watched a studly right-hander, pitching for Arizona, pour strike after unhittable strike over the plate and thought, “This guy might have a chance.” His name? Max Scherzer.

Cole displayed the same command. He worked through 108 pitches, but did not throw his 23rd ball until the eighth inning. Most remarkable, in my eyes, was how effortless he made it look. You wouldn’t think he was throwing near 100 mph if the radar reading wasn’t there to tell you.

That natural deception must throw off hitters, too. …

Andrew McCutchen alert: He went hitless for a third straight start — overall 0-for-12 — and that usually serves him as a launching pad for a hot streak. McCutchen doesn’t have too many lulls like this, but he followed up three instances of 0-for-10s last season by going a collective 43-for-114 (.377).

After three consecutive hitless games in May, McCutchen included 10 multi-hit games in his next 15, hitting .410 (25-for-61) over that span. …

Now you know why his beard is growing: After Andrew Lambo hit another vicious liner into another out, teammates continued to keep sharp objects away from him. … 

Clint Hurdle’s honest, candid evaluation of Jung Ho Kang: “Right now, he isn’t better than Harrison. He isn’t better than Mercer. He isn’t better than Walker. But we believe he will eventually be a very good Major League player.” … 

The (Friday) Windup, April 24: An ERAnt

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In this forest of new statistics, one old tree that has become completely meaningless is the Earned Run Average. And not just for modern relievers, whose ERA — earned runs allowed every nine innings — represents weeks’ work.

But consider starters. They rarely pitch the complete game the ERA was originally designed to reflect. Six innings is the norm. So it isn’t the ERA that has become obsolete, but what it represents.

Solution: Turn the ERA into a six-inning stat. Very easy to calculate, as simply two-thirds of what we now consider an ERA.

If Gerrit Cole has a “virtual” ERA of 3.00, his factual ERA is 2.00. In an average start of six innings, he can be expected to allow two earned runs. 

Show of hands of support, please — and I’ll start referring to … let’s call it the 6-ERA … in my coverage. … 

Gregory Polanco is building a solid platform for a breakout season. The difference in his confidence/approach was vivid in Wednesday’s game-winning AB against the Cubs’ Phil Coke. Gets in an 0-2 hole, patiently lays off some tough pitches to run the count full, fouls off a couple of nasty pitchers’ pitches — then punches a single through the shortstop hole.

Relaxed, Polanco will start loosening his swing. The power always comes last. …

The Bucs are tied for the early NL lead in sacrifice flies, with 6. So? Last season, they were 14th (next to last) with a total of 35. … 

Seven decades after Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan, the Bucs have another Arky: Arquimedes Caminero in the box score, henceforth Arky Caminero for Buccos fans. …

It’s an AC thing: Before it was only Aroldis Chapman, but Arky Caminero has joined the NL Central’s Century Club, as in 100-mph heat.

Tuesday Rewind: Cubs 9, Bucs 8

Pitchers’ year? Maybe. But it sure wasn’t pitchers’ Tuesday. 163 runs! Topped by the Reds’ 16-10 win over the Brewers — who scored as many runs as in their previous six games combined, to no avail. …

Attn. Neal Huntington: Addison Russell went 0-for-5, with three strikeouts, in his Major League debut; he looked like a guy who has had a total of only 59 plate appearances in Triple-A. …

Clint Hurdle offers some leeway in the typical control demands placed on pitchers: “You try to put the ball … maybe not in a tee cup, but in a soup bowl.” … 

Mark Melancon has appeared in 151 games for the Pirates. Games in which he has allowed three runs: April 13 against Detroit; April 21 against the Cubs. …

It is misguided to blame his troubles on a drop in velocity. As long as it is not health related — and it does not appear to be — a drop from 91 to 88 is insignificant, because 91 isn’t overpowering to begin with. It really is a matter of ball movement/control. When his pitches are diving knee-to-ankle, Melancon gets a lot of chases and ground balls. But he hasn’t had his usual sink. …

Bryan Price apologized for the language he used, but stood by his message? I think he got it backward: In a real-world sense, didn’t mind the language, don’t have a problem with someone showing fire and emotion; but berate someone for doing well the job that serves the public? For Woodward and Bernstein’s case, come on! … 

The Windup, 4/21: Pedro hitting, pitchers missing

Pedro Alvarez will never be Tony Gwynn in the batter’s box, but pitchers who still try to blow a fastball by him will have to be careful. Last season — admittedly not the most positive reference point — Alvarez missed 19.8 percent of the fastballs at which he swung. In the early going this season, that percentage is down to 3.6. …

The Bucs surrendered a season-high 14 hits in Monday night’s series opener with the Cubs, not to manager Clint Hurdle’s surprise.

“We probably missed more (pitch) locations in that one game than we had in a whole series before. And we paid for it,” Hurdle said. …

The (work-in-progress) results are in — and Starling Marte owns the fourth-longest homer hit this season in the Majors. Marte’s 460-foot blow Friday night off Brewers reliever Jonathan Broxton was 51 inches shy of the leader in the clubhouse — the 477-foot shot jacked the same night by Alex Rodriguez in Tropicana Field off … wait for it … Ernesto Frieri. …

With Joe Maddon in town, it was timely to ask Hurdle whether he’d ever consider batting his pitcher eighth. The skipper admitted to having theories of why and when it makes sense — but basically hasn’t bought into them enough to actually do it. …

Maddon routinely lists his pitcher No. 8, even when he isn’t a hitter the calibre of Tuesday’s starter. Travis Wood even had two pinch-hit homers this Spring Training. Addison Russell thus is making his Major League debut as the ninth-place hitter — the first position player to bat ninth in his first big league game since right fielder Mark Little with the 1998 Cardinals, managed by the equally eccentric Tony La Russa. …

Rewind: ‘Clean’ Hurdle, Kang gets up to speed

Not passing judgment on Bryan Price. But a good time to point out that in four years of covering Clint Hurdle, I have never heard him utter any profanity.

Neither have umpires. A couple of years ago, a lip-reading expert “transcribed” 20 on-field confrontations that led to ejections. The two involving Hurdle were the only ones that did not involve any profanity. Even when Hurdle gets mad, he remains civil. … 

Now I know why, when asked prior to Monday night’s game whether he shared others’ curiosity and looked forward to his first look at Kris Bryant, Hurdle offered only a curt, “Well, yeah …” …

Have to admit, was surprised when Jung Ho Kang, whose primary Korean billing was as a “great fastball hitter,” cited velocity as the biggest difference in Major League pitchers. In 13 at-bats, Kang has gotten the ball out of the infield three times — a soft single to center for his only hit, and two fly balls. … 

Club officials are still weighing Charlie Morton’s next step on his rehab from labrum surgery,  extended spring game or sim game. Whichever, his target will be 65 pitches. … 

The way their bullpen sets up, the Bucs like their chances in any  game when the starter gives them seven innings. That’s a daily target and, through 13 games, the rotation is in that neighborhood, averaging 6 1/3. … 

The Windup: April 20, 2015

Baseball has its proverbial “bulletin material,” but “marquee stuff” apparently ranks even higher.

Clint Hurdle thinks baserunners have been challenging his outfielders because of all the hype accorded the Holy Trinity of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco.

“Put them on a marquee, somebody wants to take them down. When everybody writes them up, who wouldn’t?” Hurdle wondered before the Bucs took on the Cubs in the first of four at PNC Park.

Most glaring was Detroit’s Jose Iglesias running a routine single to center into a double last week, a “free 90” that “got everybody’s attention,” Hurdle said.

McCutchen simply didn’t hustle to that ground ball fast enough.

“He had some challenges with the (sore left) knee early in the week,” Hurdle acknowledged. “He has played through them and seems to have moved much better the last two games.” …

Jared Hughes is a different pitcher when he enters the game to get someone else out of trouble, or gets his own clean inning. With men on base, he throws the DP-making sinker. Otherwise, it’s the swing-and-miss slider on which he gets most of his strikeouts. …

Gerrit Cole rolled Sunday with Chris Stewart as his catcher. Even last season, Stewart (10) caught nearly as many of Cole’s games as did Russell Martin (11) and did it slightly better (3.41 ERA to 3.53).

Are they an item in the making?

“Aw … nah,” Hurdle said, with slight hesitation. “They do have some history. But it’s just the way they matched up, with a large number of day games falling to Cole, and Martin getting those off after the night game. Stew does have a very solid relationship with Gerrit. But both (he and Francisco Cervelli) can catch him well.” … 

A win tonight would give the Bucs their first April four-game winning streak since 2008.

The windup: Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some random thoughts as you await first pitch tonight in Cincinnati:

There must have been one other, unannounced nonroster invite in the Pirates’ camp: a dramatic muse.

Announcing Josh Harrison’s long-term, long-deserved deal in his Cincinnati cradle? How perfect. …

So, what was I doing 41 years ago today? Getting ready to go to Atlanta Stadium and cover Hank Aaron going yard against Al Downing for the seminal 715th homer of his career, that’s all. …

A year ago, the Pirates made history by opening the season with three Dominican natives in their starting rotation: Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez.

Only Liriano remains, but the Pirates can still claim the biggest slice of one demographic pie: Their Opening Day roster included the most players born in one nation outside of the United State, the seven from the Dominican Republic (Antonio Bastardo, Arquimedes Caminero, Radhames Liz, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Liriano). …

I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to this, but am surprised Chris Davis was allowed to have a full-participation Spring Training with the Orioles even while his 25-game suspension still had a couple of games to go. Davis was activated for the O’s second game, Tuesday night. He’d played in 20 Grapefruit League games before that. …

Speaking of the Orioles … how weird it must’ve been for them to open the season in Tampa Bay against the Rays, after having already spent six weeks in the area (their Sarasota camp is about 40 miles from St. Petersburg) and seen the Rays five times in exhibition play? How do you talk yourself into feeling those Opening Day vibes? …

Listening to some people, you’d think the Phillies should be allowed to park their team bus in a handicap zone. There is this perception that they are ancient. During a brief flareup with the Bucs in McKechnie Field, for example, some wondered via Twitter whether the Phillies stormed the field with the help of their “golden walking sticks.”

Wrong. Not even close: According to the usual Opening Day analysis, the Giants are the oldest MLB team — the only one whose roster averages more than 31 years — and the Phillies aren’t even in the Top 5.

You can still be nice to them. But has nothing to do with being nice to the elderly. …

Sorry, Charlie, we could see this – and Worley – coming

When everyone — the manager, the GM, the pitchers themselves — said that Jeff Locke and Vance Worley would “both make important starts before the season is over” for the Pirates, they weren’t kidding.

How about before the first weekend of the season is over?

No one can be surprised that Charlie Morton winds up on the DL and Worley will wind up against the Brewers in Milwaukee on Saturday. The only surprise is that Charlie had to return to Florida, from his embarrassing Saturday start in Philadelphia, rather than just stay behind when the Bucs broke camp.

Morton clearly wasn’t yet right, struggling to get comfortable in his delivery post-labrum surgery. Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington both wanted to believe he could get it in time, but weren’t three strikeouts in 15 1/3 Grapefruit League innings a big enough hint? … 

When he was “sent” to the bullpen, career starter Worley’s one request was to be given “enough time to warm up” if the Pirates needed him. Six days should be long enough. …

I love Andrew Lambo, the guy and the player. Still has a great future, But right now, I’m not sure Pedro Florimon — fantastic leather, speed, switch-hitter — would not have been a better fit on this team. …

Is this going to be a Pirates specialty, surrendering home runs to lightweights?

The last two homers the Bucs allowed in exhibition play were by Baltimore’s Everth Cabrera — 12 career homers in 1,733 at-bats — and by Philadelphia’s Ben Revere — 2 in 1,905 ABs. …

If I were to run down the differences between Barry Zito, who is accepting a Minor League ticket from the A’s simply because he loves playing the game, and guys like Jermaine Dye, who quit it in his prime because he wasn’t being shown enough money, I’d be blue in the face before I was done. … 

Bucs just need to stay step ahead of pick pack

The way I see it, all the Pirates have to do to cop the NL Central title is stay a step ahead of the “experts.” In both 2013 and 2014, the legions of preseason prognosticators picked them to finish middle-down in the division. This time, forecasters seem unanimous in their belief that the Pirates are a second-place team, to the Cardinals.

Go one better than expected, again, and go straight to the Division Series (no “play-in” game, as Clint Hurdle steadfastly refers to the Wild Card Game). … 

Is there a theseaurus in which “Pittsburgh” is listed as a synonym for “regression”?

A year ago, it was the Pirates as a whole. This time around, the individual leader of the regression squad appears to be Josh Harrison. Everybody is trying to run him down. That’s cool … we know how Harrison handles rundowns. … 

Only two Major Leaguers will be starting 2015 carrying over hitting streaks of 10-plus games from 2014.

One is a current Pirate, Starling Marte, who has a 13-game streak.

The other is a former Pirate — Rob Grossman, who has a 10-gamer with the Astros. Grossman was one of three prospects packaged for Wandy Rodriguez in July 2012. …

You always hear about catchers making the best managers. Among those who believe that are the GMs who make the hires: 15 ex-receivers, or half of all managers, are calling the shots this season. … 

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