The (Friday) Windup: Correia returns edition

Let’s welcome Kevin Correia back to town. He was an outstanding “team pitcher” during his Pirates tenure and, let’s not forget, one of the pivots in the franchise’s turnaround — the Bucs were 105-game losers when he came, and postseason contenders when he left. …

We’ve heard enough about A.J. Burnett being the Majors’ biggest loser last season, with 18. But right behind him — Correia, with 17 losses camouflaged by the fact it was split between two leagues and teams, the Twins and the Dodgers. …

His Philadelphia debut tonight will be Correia’s first big league start since September. …

Something else that hasn’t happened since September: The Phillies winning a series away from Citizens Bank Park. So it’s a good thing the Pirates’ manager doesn’t believe in the law of averages, because the Phillies have gone 14-32 on the road since that last win, Sept. 5-7 in Washington. That includes 10-23 this season — their first time they’ve lost 23 of their first 33 away games since 1941. …

Pirates lineup v Correia:

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

Watching Pedro Alvarez’s latest bomb leave PNC Park — the 438-foot shot onto the riverwalk Wednesday night — I was struck by how captivating it would have been to see him bat in Forbes Field.

I was blessed to have been able to attend many games at the ole yard, and the right field roof was a Holy Grail for left-handed hitters. Few conquered it. In Forbes Field’s 62 seasons, only 18 balls were hit over that roof, by 10 different hitters:

Babe Ruth, Ted Beard, Mickey Mantle, Wally Moon, Bob Skinner (2), Eddie Mathews (2), Jerry Lynch, Rusty Staub, Willie McCovey, and Willie Stargell (7).

El Toro would have taken regular shots at that target. …

Corey Hart — remember him? — will soon come out of hiding. The Bucs will face Cole Hamels on Sunday, and will also get lefties the next three games against the White Sox — Carl;os Rodon, Jose Quintana and John Danks.

“I’ve never had a season with such a lack of left-handed pitching against us,” Hurdle said of the Bucs having thus far seen only eight southpaw starters. …

The (Wednesday) Rewind, clean shaven edition

Jordy Mercer shaved off his beard prior to Wednesday night’s game, then went out and went 3-for-3.

Ballplayers are superstitious. But Mercer can’t shave off his beard again. He might shave off Sean Rodriguez’s beard before Friday night’s game. By the time the entire team is clean shaven, Mercer could be a .300 hitter. … 

Charlie Morton’s gem kept the Pirates rotation hogging wins. That’s 17 straight team wins claimed by starters — a Pittsburgh first since July 12-August 25, 1987.

Big difference: The Bucs’ overall record during the current streak is 17-11; during the ’87 run, the team record was 17-23. …

Good thing the starters — and relievers; can’t ignore their contributions because none of those 17 were complete games! — have kept up their end, because the offense is going through one of its funks. With 10 runs the last five games, the Bucs have been fortunate to win two of them.

Manager Clint Hurdle blames the lull on “a number of quick-fire at-bats,” the opposite of working counts. Sure enough, in that five-game span, hitters have seen an average of 3.5 pitches per at-bat. …

By the way, Pittsburgh’s rotation isn’t the only one in the Majors doing strange things. In a somewhat related note, the Blue Jays have won 18 games since May 4, with not a single save by their bullpen. … 

The Cleveland Indians, who a few years ago had both CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee help them to a 96-win season, just called up a pitcher named C.C. Lee. What’s in a name, you ask? The Tribe will soon find out. …

The (Wednesday) Windup, Kang Kare edition

The Pirates created great panic in Korea by using their top three picks in the First-Year Player Draft on left-side infielders (two shortstops and a third baseman). Fans there grew alarmed that the Draft strategy was somehow a reflection on Jung Ho Kang.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. The Bucs, with the agenda of taking the best available athlete at any Draft stage, used their No. 1 on a shortstop (Cole Tucker) last June, too — with Jordy Mercer already firmly established as their guy. And, of course, quite a few prospects end up at a different position than how they are drafted (i.e., Neil Walker and now first baseman Josh Bell). …

Tonight’s lineup, without, surprisingly, Jose Tabata — lifetime 15-for-36 (.417) versus Kyle Lohse:

  • Polanco RF
  • Marte LF
  • McCutchen CF
  • Walker 2B
  • Kang 3B
  • Alvarez 1B
  • Cervelli C
  • Mercer SS
  • Morton P

The last day the Pirates and the Cardinals did not match either wins or losses when both played: June 1 (while the Brewers have been taking care of the Bucs, the Cards were losing two in Colorado). … 

Clint Hurdle refuses to attribute one run in two games against Milwaukee to the fact the Bucs were due to cool off after two weeks of lusty hitting.

“I don’t expect us not to hit just because we’ve hit,” Hurdle says. “I don’t believe in the law of averages.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask him how he feels about the law of on-base percentages. … 

The (Tuesday) Windup, MISsed oPportunity edition

In their Monday night/Tuesday morning loss, the Pirates left nine men on base and were 0-for-10 with men in scoring position — glaring for a slim  2-0 whitewash.

Indeed, the Bucs had not suffered a bigger clutch oh-fer in a home shutout defeat since Sept. 22, 2004, when they were 0-for-11 with MISP in a 1-0 blanking by the Cubs. … 

Facing Taylor Jungmann tonight in the Brewers righty’s Major League debut, the Pirates will be trying to solve a pitcher they had never seen before for the fourth time in the last eight games.

The previous results in this stretch have been good. The Bucs emerged victorious in two of the three, and nicked San Diego’s Odrisamer Despaigne, San Francisco’s Chris Heston and the Braves’ Williams Perez for 10 runs in 16 2/3 innings. …

Jungmann’s first big league obstacles:

  • Harrison 3b
  • Polanco rf
  • McCutchen cf
  • Walker 2b
  • Marte lf
  • Alvarez 1b
  • Cervelli 2
  • Mercer ss
  • Liriano p

Veteran lefty Clayton Richard continues to get rave reviews as he works at Indianapolis toward a return to the bigs. He turned in his second consecutive seven-inning start on Monday, holding Rochester to one unearned run. That outing reduced his ERA for six Triple-A starts to 1.69.

“This is the first time he’s been able to take the ball every fifth day in some time,” Hurdle said of Richard, working his way back from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. “He’s encouraged about that, and looking forward to getting more reps to develop his pitches.”

Definitely something that bears watching. Richard didn’t exercise a March 31 opt-out in his Minor League contract with the Bucs, feeling they offered him the best opportunity to return to the Majors. … 

The (Sunday) Windup, Emil Yde edition

Quite an interesting karma-coincidence this morning in the Turner Field visitors’ clubhouse: The big screen flashed with the FOX Sports broadcast of a UCLA football game from the archives. Here in the Deep South. A couple hours before proud Uclan Gerrit Cole would take the mound. Strange, hopefully in a good way. … 

Cole, by the way, would become the first Pirates pitcher in 90 years to reach 30 wins within  his first 53 Major League starts. The last to do that was Emil Yde, in 1924-25. Yes, that Emil Yde. ….

The Pirates may still win the World Series, as Buster Olney predicted, but I don’t think it will be over the Seattle Mariners. … 

The Pirates’ lineup forms on the right, please, against Braves southpaw Alex Wood:

  • Harrison 2b
  • Mercer ss
  • McCutchen cf
  • Marte lf
  • Kang 3b
  • Tabata rf
  • Rodriguez 1b
  • Stewart c
  • Cole p

This is probably a good day for a lefty to face the Bucs and provide a convenient excuse for Gregory Polanco to sit out the start. He tweaked his knee while diving back to first on one of Julio Teheran’s pickoff attempts Saturday night, and is limping considerably. Thanks to the magic of ice, manager Clint Hurdle felt he’d be able to come off the bench if needed. … 

The Bucs have lost a total of 25 games. Saturday night’s was the eighth walk-off, and the 11th last at-bat defeat. Ouch. … 

The (Friday) Windup, starters rule edition

Quite a phenomenon has been overlooked in the wake of the 11-out-of-13 run the Pirates brought into Turner Field: Their starting pitchers earned all 11 of those wins and, in fact, have received credit for the Bucs’ last 14 victories, since May 11.

Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in this bullpen era. The fact none of those have been complete games attests to the efficiency of Buccos relievers, but manager Clint Hurdle also credited his offense — still not firing on all gears, but at least early and timely.

“It’s been our best offensive spurt of the year as well. You’ve gotta get your starters some runs to put them in that position,” Hurdle said. “The magic number for any team is four (runs), and we’ve been able to put up a lot of fours the last two weeks.”

In each of the last 11 wins, in fact. … 

Former Buccos closer Jason Grilli, now doing his thing for the Braves, exchanged a pre-game hug with A.J. Burnett and told him, “I should be retiring … you’re having a helluva season, man.” … 

Hurdle explained to reporters this afternoon why he finds himself out of the loop with other sports during baseball season:

“When I multi-task, I’m multi-mediocre.” … 

It follows, then, that tonight’s Pirates lineup had his undivided attention:

  • Polanco RF
  • Marte LF
  • McCutchen CF
  • Walker 2B
  • Kang 3B
  • Alvarez 1B
  • Cervelli C
  • Mercer SS
  • Morton P

Friday is National Doughnut Day. That means Vance Worley, who consumed two doughnuts prior to every start but now is in the bullpen, should still be ready. … 

The (Tuesday) Windup, Walker on the double (play) edition

Neil Walker deserves a lot of credit for the Pirates leading the Major League leaders with 61 double plays — despite the fact he’s had to work with two different shortstops, Jung Ho Kang and Jordy Mercer. … 

Clint Hurdle, when asked about the absence of Kang from tonight’s lineup:

“We also have a very good shortstop in Jordy Mercer, who played 149 games last year, more than any of our other players. We are mindful of giving him reps as well, to keep him in play.”

Other than that, and the battery du jour, the Bucs are lining up the same way as they go for the series win against the reigning World Series champs:

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

In retrospect, Pirates prospect Alen Hanson violated baseball’s edict to not take your bat on the field, or your glove into the batter’s box. The idea is to separate offense and defense, not let worrying about one phase affect the other.

Now a second baseman for Indianapolis, Hanson was named International League Player of the Month after blistering the league’s pitching in May for a .362 average, with 15 multi-hit games.

For the season, Hanson is hitting .303 in his first Triple-A campaign, after not having  hit higher than .280 in Double-A. That goes along with having made only four errors in 48 games at second — compared to 61 errors in 227 games at short the last two seasons. … 

Speaking of taking your bat on the field … why was Gregory Polanco taking phantom swings in right field between pitches the other day? … 

The (Monday) Windup: Cleaning up with Walker edition

Pirates lineup tonight, with Neil Walker — and his .438 lifetime average against Ryan Vogelsong — back in the cleanup slot:

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

Cole is matched up with Stewart for the fifth straight time. Clint Hurdle:

“Every once in a while, you run into a situation — and it’s hard to explain — they seem to think alike. And when it happens, you take advantage of it.” …

Hurdle is a big admirer of the Giants, and of their manager. He and Bruce Bochy grew up in the same corner of Florida, and have a relationship that dates back 40 years. Bochy is from Melbourne, about 15 miles from Hurdle’s Merritt Island roots.

“So we were in the same conference,” Hurdle recalled. “I was a sophomore when he was a senior. The name — he was one of the biggest baseball stars we had. We played against each other throughout high school, and on the same (American) Legion team one summer.” …

It’s been a while since I took a fresh look at All-Star Alchemy — the remarkable relationship between hosting a Midsummer Classic and soon thereafter appearing in a World Series — but the historical trend has continued in recent years. Quite spooky:

  • 2007 ASG host: Giants (2010 WS champs).
  • 2008 ASG: Yankees (2009 WS champs).
  • 2009 ASG: Cardinals (2011 WS champs).
  • 2012 ASG: Royals (2014 WS).
  • 2013 ASG: Mets (?, but on heels of Nationals).
  • 2014 ASG: Twins (?, but currently have AL’s best record).

The (Sunday) Windup, Cutch class edition

Andrew McCutchen has said he wants to be a role model and inspiration for Black youngsters, the way Ken Griffey Jr. once was for him. When actions back up the words, that’s special.

His little gesture at the end of Saturday night’s game spoke volumes about Cutch. Making a connection with two young fans, returning the love they’d obviously been showering on him all night, captured this unique athlete’s essence. As I watched it live, I was thinking, “Man, what an awesome scene. I hope it doesn’t get lost.”

So am very glad that it has gone viral. MVP — Most Valuable Player, Person — all the way. …

You can’t have short-term reactions in the long-term world of baseball. So it was with Clint Hurdle’s decision to remove Francisco Liriano from his 2-0 shutout on Friday. Those who see it as the only thing now keeping the Bucs from going for a 10th straight win tonight backed Hurdle into a defensive corner.

The skipper cited Liriano’s upcoming Wednesday afternoon assignment in San Francisco as one reason he pulled him after 96 pitches, since he would have shorter than a full four days of recovery time. That makes perfect sense in view of the lefty’s workload history.

Liriano had thrown 112 pitches in his previous outing. The last time he had thrown 100-plus pitches in back-to-back starts was a year ago, on May 30-June 4. And during his Pirates tenure, he has topped 208 pitches in consecutive starts only once (barely, at 212), in July 2013.

Pitch-count cynics won’t agree, but that track record gave Hurdle a pretty sound reason for the hook. As did this: Until Jered Hughes’ command yips led to the Padres’ comeback, the  Hughes-Tony Wilson-Mark Melancon end-game had been money. … 

The Pirates take a 13-3 record against the NL’s other two divisions into tonight’s game. They still have a long stretch to gear up for their next extended run of division games: Only six of the next 35 games are against NL Central foes. …

The (Monday) Windup, 10K run edition

We are grateful every day. This day, we just take the time to express it. …

Designating Radhames Liz and his $1 million contract for assignment — rather than optioning out someone like Rob Scahill and his $517,500 minimum — again shows these aren’t  your father’s Bucs. …

Liz was hardly a disaster — although 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings were a concern — but he became a two-time victim of Charlie Morton’s return: Bucs needed his roster spot; and Vance Worley moving to pen gave the Bucs one too many to fill the same long relief role. …

Tonight’s lineup:

  • Harrison 3b
  • Polanco rf
  • McCutchen cf
  • Marte lf
  • Walker 2b
  • Alvarez 1b
  • Cervelli c
  • Mercer ss
  • Morton p

No team in recorded history (baseball’s began in 1900) has had its starting pitchers register 10-plus strikeouts in four straight games. Morton steps up tonight against Miami in the wake of Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano. Morton has only one career double-digit Ks game — but it came last June 25, in Florida (against the Rays, though). … 

With the Marlins in town for three, the Pirates can perpetuate a curious trend. The Bucs are 8-2 against teams from the other two NL divisions, and only 12-16 versus the Central. …

If they don’t man-up against division foes, does it ruin chances for a third straight postseason appearance? Not necessarily — the Bucs finished 36-40 against Central teams last season. … 

What?! Josh Bell has been released? Yeah, but not that one: The San Diego version, a 28-year-old third baseman, got his papers from the Padres earlier today. …

Today’s Numb-er:

Couple of guys last week hit their fifth homers since the start of last season.

  • Former AL batting champ Joe Mauer got his in 610 at-bats.
  • Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner got his in 85 at-bats.

Said the one-time overpowering right-hander who had to reinvent himself to again dominate, “As time goes on, you find different ways to get outs. You come to grips you are not the same guy you once were. … Obviously it was an ego thing. No one wants to believe his stuff will diminish. … I have come to grips with the pitcher I am this year.”

A.J. Burnett? Not this time. That’s Tim Lincecum, who got the message eight years earlier than Burnett. …
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