Tagged: Spring Training 2007

The Party’s Over

Paul Maholm had a three-run lead and was pitching a perfect game through the first two innings. Up to that point he had fallen behind on the count to just one batter — Mauer.

The third inning began with a little ground ball that was hit to Bautista. Not only did he not handle it, but he fell down trying to [link].

It was a play any third baseman should have made but Bautista’s route to the ball was to barehand it off the right side of his body instead of charging it head on knowing that slower Rondell White was running, and when the ball changed direction on him at the last moment, Bautista was out of position to make the play. 

The batter was given a hit, but Maholm just shook his head as he retreated to the mound showing his confidence had just taken a hit.

The very next pitch Maholm threw was a fastball thrown so far out of the zone it caused Colborn yell out to Maholm to settle in. It was a pitch of disgust. Maholm came back with another pitch out of the zone but it was inside-outed by Cirillo but beat on the ground to Castillo to turn a double play with.

Two outs in the inning.

Bartlett came to the plate and, on a 2-0 count, stroked a little fly ball to right field that Nady first started back on then came running in to try and catch, but the ball fell in for a hit just at his feet inside the line.

Yet another out that went for a hit.

Maholm waited for the ball to come back to him with a coy half-smile on his face as if to say ‘oh well, things happen’. But it was obvious from Maholm’s body language that he had lost his self-composure knowing he was going to have to get five outs to get out of the inning.

His body language translated to his mechanics on the mound and he promptly lost the strike zone, lost his concentration, lost his focus, and lost his game management plan as a result. He then walked the Castilla on 5 pitches putting men at first and second.

Before delivering the first pitch to the next batter, Maholm seemed to be looking at Jack Wilson who was playing way back in the hole and not holding the runner at second. Maholm pitched and it was a ball. On the next pitch, Maholm didn’t even bother to look at the second base runner or for Wilson and both runners took off for a double steal.

Maholm was visibly upset at this point and delivered three more pitches which walked Punto to load the bases.

Up came Mauer who took the first pitch for a ball, he then hammered three straight strikes for fouls, and then lined a Maholm curve that forgot to break right over Bay’s head who must not have even seen the ball because he didn’t even turn until the ball was about over his head.

Three runs scored on Mauer’s double.

Five outs and three runs later, not to mention the game being lost, we look back at why it all happened — a misplayed grounder to 3B, a poor route run in RF on a popup, and a young pitcher who lost his composure. And, Paulino, Bay, and LaRoche’s 5-9 production wasted.

Welcome to the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates.

After watching the organization’s talent stroke an NLCD bottom feeding .414 winning percentage in spring training this year, I tremble remembering that  since 1999, the Pirates have had a better winning percentage in spring training every year but one; .. every year but one.

That one year might be safe this year the way we look.

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Roster Moves

Can you believe the Pirates cut the umbilical cord to Jose Hernandez? I’m shocked. I thought Hernandez was a better option than Kelly, but I was probably the only one. We’ll see how Kelly does this year.

In a move that perhaps signals the front office’s belief in Andrew McCutchen, Luis Matos was cut loose today. McCutchen won’t be tracking balls down in center field any time soon, even if called up, so that leaves McLouth as the team’s backup center fielder if Duffy chokes on his first 75 at bats.

That’s a bit of a shock since McLouth’s route running in center field is about as strong as Doumit’s catching skills.

McLouth, Kelly, and Castillo have officially made the team leaving Eldred, Doumit, and Cota fighting for the last two roster positions. Because Cota is the target of a few teams looking for a backup catcher, we might see a trade here shortly involving him or Doumit, if Littlefield doesn’t want to deal away Cota.

John Grabow looks to be starting the year on the DL and that opened the door for the team to take Bayliss, Perez, and Wasdin. Bayliss and Perez I understand and agree with. Wasdin being used in a middle relief role is one I don’t understand considering his penchant for giving up the long ball and the fact we’ll be playing in a lot of small parks.

There must be a trade or waiver wire deal coming, as I mentioned above.

We’ll know more over the weekend.

Bucs Win Hammering Low-A Ball Pitcher

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MLB’s box score, play-by-play data, and game notes [link]

Yet another sad day for Pirate fans as we trucked out what is likely to be our opening day lineup against the Twins and we managed just 1 hit over 7 innings in support of Tom Gorzelanny.

Never mind that it was Ramon Ortiz who threw four innings of one-hit ball and Wilson, Bay, LaRoche, and Nady have a career .435 batting average against him.

Never mind that Matt Guerrier and Juan Rincon, part of perhaps the best bullpen in all baseball, tossed another perfect three innings of work.

Never mind that the Twins fielded the equivalent to a AAA team by starting only regulars Bartlett and Krubel.

No, what is really sad about this game is that it took the Twins sending in Mount Carmel native David Shinskie, a low A-Ball hurler, before we could manage any production at all.

While the Pirates might have won the game, they really walked away with their heads hung low between their legs.

Consider this – in the last 6 games during what is typically known as "tuneup week", the Pirates total offensive production against 25-man roster starters and relievers:

— 34 hits, including 10 against Harang;
— 12 earned runs;
— in 46 innings thrown at them;
— having sent 180 batters to the plate;
— with 9 walks; and
— 25 strikeouts.

That’s a .199 batting average folks. Toss the outlier game out vs the Reds and you have a wonderful .160 batting average over 137 plate appearances.

Ouch.

I’m a believer in the thought that spring numbers don’t translate but I do believe the big picture translates. Things like the Pirates turning the fewest double plays in the NL, walking the third highest number of batters, and having the 4th worst OBP absolutely translate, imo.

Credit Tom Gorzelanny for pounding the strike zone and striking out 8, walking just 1, allowing just 4 hits, and 2 earned runs against what most would consider a AAA Twins lineup. That’s a start. It was also nice to see Wasdin, Marte, and Torres pretty much handle the youthful Twins players too. That is also a start.

But neither were impressive, except Gorzelanny’s dominance. Now, can he do the same against men in the batters box? We’ll see next Friday against the Reds who, by the way, have had almost as dismal a spring as the Pirates.

I should mention there are some positive spring signs for the Pirates. They do have a nice contact rate at the plate, have hit into very few double plays despite the contact rate, and our pitching has been outstanding outside the walks issued. But not hitting into DP’s when every batter is swinging for the fence in windy conditions isn’t unusual.

Waiver Wire Deals Getting Away?

JD Durbin was plucked off the wire today by the Diamondbacks. He sports an impressive 8.14 K/9, 1.31 WHIP, 47-22 record, and 0.64 HR/9 in his seven year minor league record. He was drafted in the second round by the Twins out of high school so at 25, so he has yet to see his prime.

The Pirates should call the Twins and make a deal in the two-day window to get him because Durbin would be a nice addition to the 40-man over Rajai Davis.

Losing Durbin would be a huge loss, imo, unless the Pirates are after Rosario. But in either case, they should go after Durbin and put him back on the wire if they do get Rosario, or let Nyjer Morgan hit the wire instead.

Has Brendan Harris been put on the wire yet? Lots of possible opportunities this year.

Kolb was released today.

Yawn.

Pirates picked higher than 5th by a member of the media? Yep – Kevin Kernan with the National Enquirer New York Post tabloid [link]. Remember him? Yep, he’s the reporter who talked about vaporizing garbage after talking about an email he got from Anna Benson [link].

Yawn.

How about this post from "Hap’s: Pittsburgh Pirates" at Baseball Toaster:

"I make cookies out of just the stuff I have at hand. You know, I’ll use like a bunch of flour, one egg, a little baking powder, and then a whole bottle of vanilla because I’m running low on sugar. Even if I manage to hit upon a combination that keeps the dough together, and then I manage not to burn everything to a crisp in the oven, the results always end up tasting a little peculiar. As you can imagine. I mean, I’ll eat them. You don’t want to know what I’ll eat come the 28th, the 29th. But even if they turn out the best leftover scrap cookies I’ve ever made, they’re still not going to be in the same league as the store-bought oatmeal raisin delicacies my sister sent me for my birthday last month.

And that’s the Pirates. They’re making a team out of cheap scraps, and even in event that no one gets hurt and everyone plays out of their minds, their ceiling is low." [link]

Wow. And he actually took all that time to write that.

Yawn.

Pirates Rough Up AA Pitcher, Still Don’t Win

Box Score [link] — Recap [link] — Audio [link – subscription required]
MLB’s box score, play-by-play data, and game notes [link]

The Pirates faced the Phillies young starter James Happ, who has made just 14 starts beyond A-ball, and touched him for six hits and five earned runs over his three innings of work.

You have to wonder if Jim Tracy or Dave Littlefield read Bucco Blog’s memo the other day where we suggested that Paulino should bat in front of Bay, then LaRoche and Eldred flip-flopped behind him based on the hand of the starting pitcher, as today’s lineup featured such an order [link].

They combined to go 5-12, all five hits were doubles, they scored three runs, and had five rbis.

Now that’s what I’m talking about when I say let’s mash with ‘da lumber, mon.

So going into the regular season, Pirate fans can feel comfortable knowing the Pirates lineup can at least hack away at minor league pitching pretty good.

Hitting major league pitching this spring has been quite another story, like today when five Phillies relievers threw a three-hit shutout the rest of the game and our bullpen gave up the lead.

Oh yes, the blunders continued.. Eldred caught wandering off first, Castillo had another fielding error and was doubled off first when McLouth couldn’t get a bunt to hit turf, yadi-de, yadi-da.. etc, etc, etc. Bonehead plays, as Leyland might say. "You don’t have your head in the game."

The ship is far from being tight as spring draws close to an end.

Highlights?

Juan Perez pitched well again with his funky elbow delivery. I wonder if he can throw 70 innings and not end up on the disabled list with his bounce-back mechanics?

Matt Capps found the plate for the first time all spring, Franquelis Osoria finally looked like a major league pitcher, and Duffy got another hit even though it wasn’t on the ground, and he stole second and eventually scored.

For a team that has to face Roy Oswalt in four days, they sure don’t look like they are ready. But maybe the players know the stats like we do:

— the Pirates have only won 11 of their last 53 games in Houston, including losing three straight in a series after the break last year;

— we managed just eight hits and one run in 15 innings Oswalt threw at us in August and September when we had our "best second-half in years" going on;

— Oswalt won 9 of his last 10 decisions in 2006, has won 7 of his last 8 games against the Pirates, and has given up just 4 hits and 3 runs in his last 11 innings this spring.. (for the record, Eldred has the only home run off Oswalt on the entire roster);

— and Duke is 0-4 against the Astros, including a 10 hit, 7 runs allowed game late last August, has a 6.35 ERA this spring , and has given up 16 hits and 10 runs in his last 9.7 innings.

Ouch.

Ah.. another great Pirate baseball year is upon us. Luckily, the games have to be played on the field.

Pirates Lose as Duke Chokes on Longballs

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MLB’s box score, play-by-play data, and game notes [link]

One of the real disappointing things about being a small market team fan is the lack of quality coverage in the spring. I had a conversation with Minor League Baseball sixteen months or so ago wanting to Internet broadcast every Pirate game, but was told no.

I mean, why not? I wasn’t going to charge anyone anything. Instead, they said they had "plans" to do that.

Here it is two spring trainings removed and I’m still only able to watch a couple of spring Pirates games. That’s ridiculous, considering the money in the game now.

So today I had to listen to boring Reds announcers yahooing about how their team is destined to win the Central despite not knowing who their fifth starter is. And when Duke gave up back-to-back home runs, their reasoning was he was tired.. done in.

Perhaps he was, but Pirate fans wouldn’t know.

Rob Beertempfel over at the Trib said Duke "turned in a solid effort", but I would hardly call 2.57 home runs per nine innings of work for a career 0.60 HR/9 guy "solid". Nor is it "solid" for Duke to allow 64% fly balls when he averaged half that last year. Maybe Duke was setting Reds batters up knowing he faces them again in a week? "Swing for the fences guys," as they beat the sinker into the ground.

Trying to shake the rust off, Bay and LaRoche went a combined 1-5 today giving them a combined 96 at bats in the spring, just 6 extra base hits with two of those LaRoche bombs, plus a 30% K-Rate.

That’s not solid either, especially when 67% of their at bats have been against lower level pitching. That’s actually a bit worrisome.

But Humberto Cota and Jose Castillo continue to swing relatively hot bats, God Bless them. And how about Duffy.. 2-4 including a bunt hit. Way to go Duff. Have you tossed aside those Nikes yet?

And not only did Cota throw out a runner trying to steal second and Marty McLeary get a pick off, Nate McLouth shot down Encarnacion at home. Now you know if McLouth guns someone down, they shouldn’t have been sent to begin with. I should have kept up this spring with all the runners Castillo and Kelly have gunned down on the base paths – their arms should be registered as lethal weapons.

And how does Moeller "double through the hole at shortstop" scoring two? I missed the play on the broadcast but we must have had either a serious lapse in our outfield route running or failed to hit the right cut off man for that to happen. And yes, Moeller did eventually score too. Geez.. same old Bucs.

For a team bent on playing good defense, the metal lapses this spring are very concerning. From Jack Wilson throwing two-hoppers to first, Paulino sending airmails into center, numerous cut off throws over relay men’s heads, and a battery that has consistently looked out of sync, the Pirates better hope they can mash and the bullpen better find their "A" game because I’m afraid we’re looking at a long season.

But as everyone says – it’s just spring training.

What a great quote Dejan Kovacevic at the Post-Gazette had from Salomon Torres today [link]:

"It’s the first time all spring where I felt like I had my sinker under control," Torres said. "And that’s good. This is the time. We’re getting close for the bell to ring."

Lay your bets down folks.. "For Whom the Bell Tolls.."

What a great idea the Pirates front office had – let’s push Freddy Sanchez to see if he breaks.

Pleeeeease..

I hope the Pirates have a long-term disability contract that includes loss of revenue on Sanchez with Hartford in place.

If Sanchez has mental reservations about his knee, what possible good will it do to push him? All we need to see now is him tear his ACL. What then? A whole season of Bautista at 3B and Wilson whining about Castillo? Oh my.. can you spell a 100 loss season?

McCutchen Puts on a Show, Bucs Win

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MLB’s box score, play-by-play data, and game notes [link]

Andrew McCutchen drilled a a shot into left field for a clutch two-out rbi double against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield today. Cutch will remember that hit the entire year – perhaps all his life. He’ll probably also remember striking out on a Wakefield knuckler he couldn’t get a bead on.

After McCutchen’s two hits on the day, the rest of the team managed just six hits all day including another Ronny Paulino home run with a man on.

And Brad Eldred was caught trying to steal second by Doug Mirabelli, who is not known to have a great arm behind the plate. If Eldred had made it, I suppose Mirabelli would have taken a hit and opposing teams would have been running on him all year.

That’s hilarious.

Tony Armas started the game for the Pirates and was anything but sharp, although he managed to keep Boston from scoring several times from jams he created. Between throwing several wild pitches and not covering the plate with a man on third trying to score when he threw one, and Paulino not being on the same page as Armas a few times and having a hard time blocking many pitches, the battery seemed out of sync.

Despite all that, Armas took home the win which is the name of the game, although that is uncharacteristic for him as he is known historically to find ways to lose even when pitching fairly decent games.

The Pirates sent out John Wasdin, Juan Perez, and Dan Kolb to battle for one of the reliever spots behind Armas and the three of them pitched a no-hitter over 3.1 innings facing the minimum, with Wasdin striking out two of the three batters he faced and dropping his spring ERA to 0.87.

Wasdin seems to be putting on a show but his nickname isn’t "Way-Back" without a reason – he sports a career 1.56 home runs allowed per nine innings of work, which is very high. Plus, the average NLCD park the Pirates play in boosts right-hand home run rates to left field by an average of 12%, and three of the parks are over 19%. That makes it highly doubtful John Wasdin will break camp with the team even knowing his best work is as a reliever.

He’ll get mauled.

Worth noting is the fact the Pirates have still not centered their lineup and played them together routinely in spring games. Today only four starters even made the trip, which is one above the minimum a team in the spring needs to field. Perhaps it was because Wakefield was starting?

But if Dave Littlefield has any intent of getting this club moving forward as a cohesive unit, some believe he better start putting out his regulars immediately.