Author Archive

The (Monday) Windup, Kang-sized problem edition

Don’t get me wrong: No one is dispensable. But with the possible exception of struggling outfielder Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison was probably the least traumatic regular for the Bucs to replace, thanks to Jung Ho Kang — who is making his 31st at third base tonight, to 51 for J-Hay. … 

The best hope is that the second medical opinion Harrison will get once the swelling in his left hand subsides discounts a torn ligament in the thumb. That would require surgery, and an extended recovery time. … 

I’m going to place my cards on the table. The Pirates I expect to be added to the N.L. All-Star team tonight: Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett. With either Mark Melancon or Francisco Cervelli a Final Vote candidate. … 

If it happens, Burnett will be at work when the announcement airs, dealing to Padres:

Do you think the PNC Park will let him hear it? … 

Starling Marte is also out, for an indeterminate time, with discomfort in the left side. The Cardinals are approaching for the big pre-All-Star Game break showdown. Are the Pirates just trying to play fair by evening the playing field for the Redbirds missing Matt Holliday and Matt Adams? … 

The (Wednesday) Windup, “Cole Bug” edition

Not everybody was buying that Brandon Phillips was scratched from the Reds’ original lineup due to a jammed left thumb. Some people around the park felt it was Cole-itis: An allergy to 97-mph fastballs and vanishing sliders from Gerrit Cole. … 

One of the consequences of Phillips’ removal is Billy Hamilton returning to leadoff and Mike Leake, of all pitchers, batting ninth for the Reds. Leake is 3-for-6, including a homer, off Cole. …

The lineup that’ll try to bring the Bucs their first win over Leake in 12 starts:

  • Polanco RF
  • Marte LF
  • McCutchen CF
  • Walker 2B
  • Harrison 3B
  • Alvarez 1B
  • Mercer SS
  • Stewart C
  • Cole P

Reminder: Cole has allowed multiple runs (really, only two each time) in only three of his last 124 innings, since Sept. 7. …

While the Cole Train goes for his 12th win — he’d be the first Buccos pitcher with that many in the first half since Ken Brett in 1974 — Stewart goes for his 13th. Pittsburgh is 12-3 in his 15 starts behind the plate. … 

A win would be the Bucs’ eighth straight at PNC Park, second longest in the yard’s history. The 2004 club clipped off 10 in a row. … 

The (Tuesday) Rewind, “Shark Sharp” edition

While doing a national radio gig yesterday afternoon, I was actually asked whether the Pirates had any concerns about Mark Melancon’s shrinking strikeout rate and whether it might jeopardize his job as the team’s closer. Seriously.

I mean, are you kidding? A few hours later, the guy went out and converted his 22nd consecutive save — nine of which, by the way, have been one-run, no-margin-for-error saves, matching the total of those he had all last season.

Oh — and he did it by striking out all three Reds he faced. How’s that for a strikeout rate?. .. 

The Bucs will admit to having gotten away with one last night. About the time Jeff Locke surrendered his seventh hit to his 11th batter, they had to be regretting not having activated Chris Volstad to the game roster. He’d been paged from Indianapolis “as a precaution” in case they deemed an extra bullpen arm was needed — which certainly appeared to be the case in the early going. … 

Typically, outfielders are praised for their ability to go back on balls. But is there anyone better at coming in for balls than Starling Marte? Two snares last night any other left fielder would have fielded on a hop, no thought whatsoever to going for the catch. … 

The 7-run fourth inning was the Bucs’ first multi-homer inning at home since … Opening Day, when Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart went yard in the seventh inning against the Tigers. …

The (Saturday) Windup, “28-K Runup” edition

This late-afternoon’s pitching matchup could be of historic proportions. It may be impossible to actually research, but wonder how many times starters faced each other off 28 punchouts in their previous starts?

Washington’s Max Scherzer fanned 16 in his one-hitter Sunday against the Brewers. The next day, Francisco Liriano whiffed 12 in eight innings against Detroit. Furthermore, each had only one walk in the gem. So it could be quite a show, although Clint Hurdle offered a familiar caveat:

“That’s the beauty of the game: We have an idea of what will happen, but how many times does that play out? Enjoy, watch and learn. It should be a good match up, but we’ll see where it goes.” … 

Bryce Harper (hammy) is back in the Nationals’ lineup, and this is how the Bucs will confront Scherzer:

Liriano will have to introduce Harper to his wicked slider. The two have never met before. …

Gregory Polanco “just had the wind knocked out of him” according to Hurdle in that collision with the right-field wall. … 

Hurdle also called attention to the fact Polanco grounded into his first double play — on his 248th plate appearance — when he hit a grounder right to the second base bag in the seventh inning of Friday night’s game. …

The “stomach discomfort” that had Neil Walker out of the lineup for a fourth straight day actually is some abdominal tightness, painful and doubtless a little disconcerting to the second baseman: Exactly a year ago, he was on the DL after abdominal discomfort led to an emergency appendectomy. Thankfully, you can have your appendix removed only once. …

The (Friday) Rewind, “Whiff-le ball alert” edition

Soooo. … The Bucs warmed up for their Saturday meeting with Max Scherzer by fanning a season-high (in nine innings) 13 times against Joe Ross (Township) and a couple Nationals relievers? There could be a breeze in Nationals Park tonight. … 

A.J. Burnett was only the fourth pitcher in the last three season to allow 14 or more hits while gutting his way through 6 2/3 innings Friday night:

  • May 7, 2015: Tim Hudson, Giants v Marlins (15)
  • May 9, 2014: Brandon Maurer, Mariners v Royals (14)
  • Sept. 6, 2013: James Shields, Royals v Tigers (14)
Seeing A.J. endure that and allow only three earned runs — the last of which required Gregory Polanco to slam into the right-field wall — was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever witnessed. Guy is always credited with setting a good example, and A.J. definitely walked that talk last night. … 
Clint Hurdle last night said Polanco should be good to go today. The big post-game ice pack on Polanco’s left knee said “No.” … 

I’m not saying that the Buccos offense has been slightly inconsistent, but … After a stretch of 12 runs in seven games, they erupted for an 11-0 win over the White Sox on Monday … and since have tallied 10 runs in four games. … 

For Buccos pitching, even when they lose, the hits keep coming (or not): They have surrendered one home run in the last 86 innings — Geovany Soto’s seventh-inning shot off Gerrit Cole on Thursday. … 

The (Friday) Windup, “Hearing Footsteps” Edition

The Pirates go into action tonight trailing the Cardinals by 4 games; they haven’t been as close since April 29, when they were 3 out. … 

The Bucs also bring in an eight-game winning streak, already their third of the season of 5-plus games. In all of 2014, they had only one of those — and not until Sept. 19. … 

While the Nationals will be without three big guns — Bryan Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth — only Neil Walker (still beset by a stomach ailment) is missing from the Bucs’ usual lineup. All the pregame nuggets you need:

Sounded like Chicago was as glad to see me leave, as I was to leave Chicago. As I was checking out of my midtown hotel, this was the tune playing over the hotel’s sound system: “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more …”

Entering weekend play, the Phillies last got a win from a starting pitcher on May 23 (Cole Hamels, over the Nationals). In that interim, Pirates starters gathered 17 wins. … 

Looking forward to Sunday’s Nationals Presidents Race, you’d think the Father of our Country (George Washington) will be a shoo-in on Father’s Day, no? … 

Cole and the Candy Man: Gerrit Cole has joined John Candelaria (spanning 1977-78) as the only Pirates pitchers under 25 since 1926 to mine 11 wins out of 13 starts. … 

The (Thursday) Windup, “More in Stewart’s furnace than just Cole” Edition

With the Cardinals’ afternoon loss against the Twins, the Bucs will begin tonight’s game within 4 1/2 games of division leading St. Louis — the closest they have been to the top since May 1. …

The Bucs will begin tonight’s game with a staff ERA of 1.74 through the first 15 games of this month. As the brilliant minds at the Elias Sports Bureau tell us, these are the lowest team ERAs on the record for the month of June:

How long can they keep turning away hitters and turning back the clock? … 

With Neil Walker dealing with a “stomach ailment,” Josh Harrison is pressed into second-base duty, resulting in Corey Hart getting the start against a right-hander (Jeff Samardzija). It’s not Hart’s first go against a righty; his first two starts of the season, in the opening week, were against the Brewers’ Jimmy Nelson and Detroit’s Shane Greene.

  • Harrison 2b
  • Marte lf
  • McCutchen cf
  • Kang 3b
  • Alvarez 1b
  • Polanco rf
  • Mercer ss
  • Hart DH
  • Stewart c
  • [Cole p]

Stewart has worked a fabulous catcher’s ERA of 1.66 this season, and you’re shortchanging him if you associate that number with the fact he usually catches the arguably best pitcher in the rotation. Perhaps surprisingly, fewer than half of Stewart’s innings behind the plate have come with Gerrit Cole on the mound ( 60 1/3 of a total of 135 1/3). … 

As usual, Clint Hurdle has been holding his pre-game media briefing in the manager’s office, which in U.S. Cellular Field is very … well, let’s just say cozy. Doesn’t take many of them to make it wall-to-wall reporters.

Pirates media guru Dan Hart asked Hurdle whether he’d prefer to hold the presser in the dugout, “for my comfort,” Hurdle grinned, setting up his punchline.

“I told Dan I’m very comfortable here. I enjoy watching your guys’ Pilates class,” said Hurdle, referring to the body contortions required to get in and out of his closet … I mean, office. … 

The (Wednesday) Rewind, Deja Vu edition

For a couple innings Wednesday night, the heads of some older baseball fans were exploding with deja vu thoughts. In the fourth, When Melky Cabrera was called for catcher’s interference for stepping in front of Francisco Cervelli as Adam Eaton was swiping second — resulting in both White Sox being called out — it kept Jose Abreu’s ensuing single from resulting in a run.
When Jeff Locke finished putting up that zero and then added another, the shutout string of Pirates pitchers reached 35 and they were also within four frames of a sixth shutout in seven games, forging into historic territory.
The circumstances were so eerily similar to those in 1968 that enabled Don Drysdale to break Walter Johnson’s record for consecutive innings pitched. In the ninth inning on May 31, 1968, with the bases loaded, the Dodgers’ Drysdale hit Dietz of the Giants — of course! – with a pitch. But — umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz had not tried to get out of the way, and waved off the run-scoring  HBP.
Big D finished off his fifth consecutive shutout, went on to beat Johnson’s record of 56 scoreless innings, and didn’t stop until 58 (since, Orel Hershiser has pushed that mark to 59). … 
Oh, the Bucs did extend to 37 innings another streak of not having an opposition runner on third base — ‘cause Eaton and Cabrera both ran through it on their way to scoring from second. Duh. … 
After the game, I tried to congratulate Mark Melancon on his 20th consecutive save conversion, and for continuing to lower his ERA, now down to 1.93. He had no idea what I was talking about. Seriously.
“I don’t know. I really don’t,” he said of his developing stats. “I don’t pay attention to it. I don’t really like to know. I feel good, the bullpen’s been doing well, keeping leads … that’s all that matters.” … 
We’ve been doting on the starters, for putting up an 0.55 ERA in the course of the seven-game winning streak. The relievers, as the saying goes, ain’t been chopped liver — 0.90 across the same stretch. … 
Well, pigs did not fly. But the Cardinals did lose on a night the Pirates won. Close enough. …

The (Wednesday) Windup, “Hunting” Bany edition

Clint Hurdle had no reason to be aware of the White Sox’s schedule until he got to the visiting manager’s office in U.S. Cellular Field. That’s when he realized that following the Pirates into Chicago will be the Texas Rangers, managed by Jeff Banister, his former bench coach and good friend.

“I’ll probably leave something in the drawer here for him,” Hurdle said from behind his desk. “Leave him some music, maybe.”

Hurdle acknowledged keeping close tabs on the Rangers — who, as did the Pirates, came out of an early-season tailspin to play better ball the last six weeks. Or, as Hurdle put it, “I hunt him. I follow. I’m a big fan of the Rangers, have been ever since I left there (after being Texas’ batting coach in 2010).” …

The Bucs’ lineup tonight, noteworthy because Andrew McCutchen is making his second career start at DH — the other was in 2011 — and the absence for the fourth straight game (all against lefty starters) of Pedro Alvarez:

  • Harrison, 2b
  • Marte cf
  • McCutchen dh
  • Kang 3b
  • Cervelli 2
  • Mercer ss
  • Rodriguez lf
  • Hart 1b
  • Polanco rf
  • [Locke p]

Where are the people who were throwing darts at Mark Melancon two months ago? Why aren’t they showering him with rose petals now? Nineteen straight saves, an ERA that was 8.53 on April 21 down to 1.99. That’s an amazing statistical nosedive. … 

The Shark’s 70th Pirates save on Tuesday, incidentally, tied Jose Mesa for fifth on the club’s all-time list. …

Never mind that the Bucs already have more series sweeps (seven) this season than they had in all of 2014 (five) — last year, they did not even wield their first broom until July 6, that’s the noteworthy part. … 

The (Tuesday) Windup, Zip-Zip Hooray edition

If you surf the Web or turn on the tube, you know chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball. Headlines and highlights dote over homer exploits — so the Pirates fly under the radar. They are an anachronism with their dead-ball style pitching. Zip, zip, hooray is so old school.

The Pirates have hit two homers in their last eight games. Oh … they’ve won six of them. …

The Mound Murderers Row’s fabulous run of pitching — the whole staff, really, not just the starters — has the team ERA at 2.79. Rather than focus on the fact that still trails the Cardinals, I think it’s far more significant that it is more than a full run lower than the NL average if 3.81. … 

Francisco Liriano’s eight-inning gem on Monday night generated a Game Score of 89, the Pirates’ third-best in 13 years. A.J. Burnett’s July 31, 2012 one-hitter over the Cubs and Todd Ritchie’s one-hitter over the Royals on July 13, 2001 both scored 91s. …

Man, talk about tough acts to follow. But it’s been ongoing for more than a week. Next to take up the dare is Charlie Morton:

  • Harrison rf
  • Marte lf
  • McCutchen cf
  • Kang 3b
  • Cervelli c
  • Mercer ss
  • Walker 2b
  • Rodriguez 1b
  • Morton p
This will be Marte’s eighth start of the season in the two-hole. He’s 16-for-32 (.500) there but, don’t worry, he’ll eventually get the hang of it. …

The Bucs playing their first game in an American League ballpark tomorrow night and facing yet another White Sox lefty [John Danks] would appear to provide the perfect opportunity for Corey Hart’s next expedition to find his swing. But he may not be the automatic choice to DH. The role, his primary job with the Mariners last season, gave him problems. Hart hit .196 as a DH, with merely 18 RBIs in 215 plate appearances. … 

Pirates hitters are loving taking batting practice off Chris Peters, who is receiving high marks from Clint Hurdle as well. Still, the club has lined up a couple of other left-handers to come in next week to throw BP. It may just be a case of Peters, a busy man with family and other endeavors, being unavailable.

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