Results tagged ‘ Brad Lincoln ’

Pirates vs Detroit Tigers 6/23 and 6/24 PNC Park

The Pirates won the first game of the series, but there were still two games to be played.

First off a congratulations to Tigers starter Max Scherzer. His brother had committed suicide just two days prior to his start. He did not want to make the start against the Pirates, but his parents told him they wanted something to smile at so he pitched. What a courageous move and it makes me respect him so much more than I already did. I don’t think I would have been able to emotionally cast that aside and make the start given the same circumstances.

Saturday was a tough day. I had already been to the NHL Draft and was very pleased with my experience (more on that in another entry).

The gates were an issue. It ended up that the Clemente Gate was operating like it was a Sunday. The gate should have opened at 1:30 to let us in at 2 PM. Sunday gate times are ridiculous and now we had to essentially endure two Sundays in a row.

Well I decided to blow off some steam on the Clemente Bridge and throw once more.

I knew there would BP, but it was 2:00 and the Pirates were already done with their BP so any of those easter eggs were already pocketed.

Only thing I could do is play for Prince Fielder who absolutely rakes during BP. Have to say I was a Fielder fan when he was on the Brewers because of this and this only. Unfortunately nothing happened for me and to boot, there were kids in the outfield so no toss ups.

When the gates opened, I ran to the first baseline as I knew there were two groups of Tigers still throwing.

There were no easter eggs, but I got there just in time for a ball that rolled right to where I stood. I saw a Tiger coming over but knew I needed to avoid a very possible shutout at all costs. I placed the ball in the glove for ball #1. Phew. As I brought it up, I gave it a quick look, and then still in the glove passed it to the Tiger.

30 seconds later, the second Tigers reliever Luis Marte saw me as the only person over with a glove and an easy toss up later I had ball #2.

I would get a third ball in BP although I forget how to be honest, I just know I got it. You will have to take my word for it.

That would be it for Tigers BP.

I then made my way to the bullpen and forsome reason with the whole 4:05 deal Euclides Rojas and Herbie Andrade were already in there.

I had asked Euclides Rojas to sign my glove Thursday but neither of us had a Sharpie. We had already said ours hellos today and I looked down and saw he had a Sharpie. I then looked down and somehow he remembered and we made eye contact. He motioned down for me to toss the glove and tossed it back up an easy catch.

I was in for a surprise though.

You will see Rojas who is the signature on the bottom right asked Herbie to sign as well. Kevin Correia also signed since you saw the glove last.

That was not the biggest surprise though.

Took the picture of the glove and then opened it up.

Ball #4

On this night it was a now clean shaven Brad Lincoln vs Scherzer.

The Pirates were able to get this win and take the series. Still there was one game to be played.

There was day 2 of Rojas and Rojas by the way, although the Tigers Rojas was blocked from my view.

Lastly, every Saturday Pirates Charities does a raffle selling 1 ticket for $2 and 3 for $5. You can try to win various items with the money going entire to Pirates Charities.

I got permission from Pirates Charities, most of the people I know to take some pictures. Here is one item.

Finally, some golf balls with the World Series logo and signed by Rocco Mediate. I got permission to take a golf ball out and take the photo.

Lastly, thing #2 that disgusts me about PNC Park. Let’s give it to the music at PNC Park. Literally every single day it is the exact same music being played outside the stadium. Then inside the stadium it is the same thing. I want to hear some diversity and it just gets on all of our nerves. I know season ticket holders always are talking about wishing the music was different and it truly annoys us all.

6-24

I think I have learned my lesson with Sunday games. There was a Pitch for Hope event that ended a little after 10. Pirates would not have to take BP until 11:15 and Saturday’s game ended at 7:04 PM so the option to take BP was possible but of course not.

So we were stuck until 12:00 when all of the gates were open.

With the Tigers not taking BP, it quickly became a borefest. It would be harder than ever just to get one baseball.

I won’t even discuss how there were two balls in play and I stood back to separate myself only to see kids get the balls.

Yeah I was really only there to support my college Point Park University. Their baseball team made it to their division’s World Series and it was a big deal for them. They were invited by Pirates President Frank Coonelly to be recognized on the field.

Pioneers Manager Loren Torres throws out a first pitch to the Pirate Parrot.

It honestly was a miracle I even got these pictures because the bullpen was crowded. Why? This guy was starting.

It was very hard to get pictures but I tried to get Kevin Correia vs Verlander.

All good things must come to an end and with this being the series finale, that meant goodbye Rojas and Rojas.

Here was the Pirates starting lineup:

After the game started, Rojas saw me and tossed up ball #1. Streak still alive but barely. I hate Sunday games.

Speaking of hated things, time to hit on thing #3 that disgusts me about PNC Park.

This time it’s the grounds crew. Cocky attitudes and being ridiculous in unnecessary circumstances warrents this award. Rain that ruins BP only to have it stop and have them do nothing but say “no bp”. Refer to other’s blogs on what all they do, I really don’t need to go into it.

As for the Pirates, they were in it against Verlander but fell short 3-2 in the end to lose the game.

The Pirates come back from a week long road trip Monday against the Houston Astros and that is when I plan on being back as well.

Pirates at Baltimore Orioles 6/14 Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Despite being delayed for a couple of days, I was really looking forward to heading the Baltimore. Erik and Nick’s schedule did not match mine, so I called fellow ballhawk Rick Sporcic who was more than willing to make the trip with me.

I was pleased to have a lot of leg room in Rick’s Camaro which made the 4.5 hour trip a whole lot easier.

We left at 9 AM on Thursday and arrived right on schedule.

We parked inside the Marriott Hotel parking lot and right when we left there, knew that we were in Orioles country.

We walked to the Eutaw Street Gate which is unique because it essentially is a street inside a ballpark. Tons of Orioles souvenir shops, eats, views and memorabilia all on a street and then the both ends serving as entrances.

Also there are a lot of great things to see outside of the Eutaw Street entrance.

With tons of time left, the two of us went sightseeing, and this was the first picture I took and ultimately what would be my first impression of Baltimore. A really weird impression to say the least.

This woman posed with four cops in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. They let her borrow a night stick. Uhh…

Also saw the most interesting name of a restaurant in Baltimore as well.

Stay classy Baltimore

I had my sights set on the Barnes and Noble in the Inner Harbor which I heard was rather large and it was.

The traffic was more than I had expected although there was a Sailabration being held in Baltimore. Apparently the event was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem.

I was able to buy a couple of books.

With Eutaw Street opened early, I bought my ticket and was able to go in way early.

Upon entering I went over to the bullpen area. Unlike the last time Rick was there, the area was locked off and someone was watching it.

This was my first image when I set up by the pen.

I then looked down into the bullpen where Pitching Coach Ray Searage was smoking something that was dark brown. Herbie Andrade and Euclides Rojas both were there as well and said hello to me.

They were there for Brad Lincoln’s bullpen session.

We also saw Jeff Karstens throw 15 pitches from the bullpen.

I knew I needed to try and snag that Boston Red Sox commemorative baseball. I thought my best bet would be to ask Rojas, a former Red Sox coach, so I did. I got the biggest look of confusion on his face afterwards, and obviously he had no idea what I was talking about.

Around 4 PM, we got kicked out and let the waiting game for 5 PM begin.

Rick and I would throw for 30 minutes and I have to say that I was throwing the fastest I had in a long time and the pop’s in Rick’s glove were evidence of that.

Afterwards I saw a man in an orange Orioles shirt and I knew right away who it was when he came up to me.

“Hit me,” I said.

What is this you ask? Well if you see the man in the following photo, he sprays a small squirt of water on your face and you get to choose a baseball card.

Don’t believe me?

Here was the card I picked.

Not too many pictures of BP but here is one of the Pirates pitchers throwing.

Then the camera was turned off. Lincoln tried protecting the pitchers but could not protect two hit balls that were hit into the stands about a minute apart very close to where I was standing for balls 1 and 2 of the day. Even better were that both were Orioles commemoratives meaning all I would need was the Red Sox commemorative to get all six.

I slowly filed over to the Pirates dugout and noticed Manager Clint Hurdle.

“Good luck today Clint,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said looking up and then realized me.

Then upon realizing it was me and recognized me continued.

“Hey, how have you been,” he asked.

“I’ve been great, how about you,” I replied.

“Great thank you. What brings you up here,” he asked.

“Honestly, I went up with a buddy to see a new ballpark, see the team play and to catch more baseballs for The Children’s Institute,” I replied.

“Hey, that’s my charity too,” he answered.

“I know, and I really would like to collaborate if that’s possible,” I said.

“Dang, now I’m going to have to get you the whole cart,” He replied referencing the big cart full of baseballs that would be thrown for bp.

He then went over to the top of the bag and pulled out a brand new baseball (with the practice logo) and tossed it to me for ball #3. I thanked him, wished him luck again and we parted ways.

Orioles BP ended and Rick joined me. He asked Orioles Bullpen Catcher Ronnie Deck for two Red Sox commemoratives and Deck did meet us.

“You’re the two that I owe baseballs to,” he asked.

We confirmed and he proceeded to check the baseballs. Weirdly he then blew us off and left with all of the baseballs. Needless to say we weren’t pleased but now not surprised when I heard that he stiffed Erik and Nick as well.

I would get two more baseballs, both from my buddy Coach Mark Strittmatter. There was a roped off area and he saw me, so I went down. He had a baseball which he gave me for ball #4. It had the normal logo on it. I asked if he knew anything about the Red Sox commemorative and he said they had some Orioles commemoratives but no Red Sox. He threw me ball #5 once BP was over and it was an Orioles ball. We talked as well and shook hands before parting ways.

Rick wanted to watch the whole game and I can’t blame him and he figured we’d leave Camden around 9:30 until I told him that Erik Bedard would get the start.

While Bedard went for the Pirates it would be Tommy Hunter for the Orioles.

After the first inning, I decided to walk around and check out the ballpark. Here are some pictures of what I found.

The Orioles kids club members got this poster.

Home of the Baltimore Ravens. If we had more time we would have gone in here.

$10 buys you a decent amount of chicken tenders and fries. The tenders were pretty good.

Common door opener at Camden.

This particular memorabilia store sold items from this, to…

… to this.

This is a seating area that is first come first serve.

View from the area

Here are some game pictures:

Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones.

Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen

Since Rod Barajas is the starting catcher, Michael McKenry enters the bullpen midway through the game.

Don’t laugh Pirates fans, Dana Eveland still does pitch in the MLB.

Rick and I got very close tickets towards the end of the game to try and get an umpire ball.

Yeah… the Pirates lost big time.

Jose Tabata makes contact in the ninth inning, but it is not enough to get the job done.

The Pirates would ultimately fall short.

Now my review of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The place is nice and spread out. Left field gives you room and a fair chance to stretch your legs and even get a baseball or two if you are a ballhawk.

The ballhawks can be aggressive but are friendly and welcome you to the ballpark.

You can get in early through Eutaw Street and this is a huge plus as it is open from 9-4 before reopening at 5 PM. It lets you get some food, buy that keepsake item and even go by the bullpen and get some interaction.

I am definitely did not like the fact that they have a designated smoking area. I apologize to smokers but I am against smoking inside a public place and that includes ballparks. It cluttered up the surrounding area and many smokers just ignored the designated area and just lit up wherever the pleased.

The fans are passionate about their Orioles but despite wearing a Pirates shirt all day, I was not heckled one time.

I will definitely be going back to Baltimore this year and it should be a great time. I thank Rick so much for taking me, although next time, I don’t think we should come and go in one day as we did leave right after the game and I got home around 3:30 or 4 AM and I was TIRED.

A quick time in to discuss the end of the game. The home plate umpire did not hook either myself or Rick up with baseballs. Frankly I wanted the lineup cards, but was ignored which sucked.

Jim Joyce was the last umpire in and signed two items, one of which was Rick’s baseball.

Before he left I knew I had something I wanted to say to him ever since the whole Armando Galaraga perfect game debacle.

“Jim. I really appreciate the way you handled the aftermath of that perfect game. You handled it with class and I really respect that,” I told him.

“Thank you so much, that really means a lot,” he said and he shook my hand before he left.

Before I finally wrap up this entry, I might as well show you a couple of the things I got.

Free from Orioles Fan Assistance

Somehow managed to get a free Orioles media guide and spiral bound too!

So not the greatest of days and no Red Sox commemorative baseball, but still all in all, a fun time and three Orioles commemorative.

Now the wait is until Tuesday for a six game homestand which ends on Sunday. The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers are coming to town and things could go well for me although Saturday’s game is a 4:15 start and not 7:05 which will hurt all ballhawks totals as there will be no season ticket holder time. With attendance being higher due to the Pirates winning and interleague, things could get a bit harder in this coming week.

The New Atkins Diet: Garrett Atkins cut and other notes

 1. The Pirates have unconditionally released Garrett Atkins today. Atkins hit .129 this spring managing only four hits in 31 at-bats. I along with many others predicted that Atkins would stick with the team, and my main reason was that Atkins played under Clint Hurdle in Colorado, however he never really got it going. Many also had anticipated that after his dismal season with the Baltimore Orioles last season that being reunited with Hurdle would help, as Atkins found a great deal of success in Colorado and the hitter’s friendly Coor’s Field, however that never came into fruition.

 2. Left-handed reliever Justin Thomas and right-handed pitcher Fernando Nieve were both reassigned to Minor League Camp, and neither was expected by anyone to make the 25-man roster and was evidenced by Thomas pitching in only 4 1/3 innings and Nieve being rocked in the early portions of Spring Training.

 3. Scott Olsen and Joe Beimel have both been injured for almost all of Spring Training and now Olsen is out of the fifth starter race and Pirates GM Neal Huntington “may be out of the bullpen competition”. There is a strong possibility that Olsen will start the season on the disabled list as he has recovered but according to Huntington, “…not where he needs to be”. Olsen spoke to the media today, and based off of those conversations, it is almost certain that he will start his year on the DL. With this news, it appears that Charlie Morton will be the fifth starter on this team as Brad Lincoln’s status is unknown. Morton has had a great spring and is getting his confidence back which will help this team.

4. Opening Day is April 1 in Chicago against the Cubs and either Paul Maholm or Kevin Correia will get the ball for the Pirates. Whomever loses this competition will receive the consolation of throwing the home opener April 7 vs the Colorado Rockies. I am sure that if it was up to the fans and even Correia, Maholm would get the ball, as he and Doumit are the longest tenured Pirates. Other than his start against the Red Sox, Correia has not fared well this spring and Maholm not great either however has shown promise and made adjustments.

 These are some of the Pirates news and notes for the day, and I am going to be posting an entry within the hour on some Pirates and their strengths/weaknesses.

Pirates Pre-Season Forecast

 Pitcher with the most to prove:

 1. Ross Ohlendorf- Ohlendorf is a great guy, but he only had one win last year. He pitched quite well last season but never received any run support. This year he got a huge raise in $2.1 million and he will have to pitch well and stay healthy.

 2. Kevin Correia- Correia pitched himself out of the San Diego Padres rotation while they were in the middle of the playoff race. Correia pitched with a heavy heart as his brother passed away and this season will have to prove that the Pirates made a smart decision in signing him. Thus far, it has not looked like a great investment as he has looked overmatched in Spring Training, but only time will tell.

3. Charlie Morton- Morton is expected to be the team’s fifth starter, and if he pitches the way he did early last year, then the team will struggle mightily. Morton has shown that he has been capable of pitching well, bouncing back from an Andrew Jones home run earlier this week and then calming down to take down the Yankees. If Morton can control his emotions and his pitching, then it could very well inspire his teammates.

4. Joel Hanrahan- Hanrahan has emerged as the closer, but he has to prove to management that he can handle the job. He was traded from the Washington Nationals due to his inability to close games. He “shared” closing duties last year with Evan Meek, although he closed almost all of the games. He blew a few games and thus I am concerned that he cannot finish the job.

 Winner: Charlie Morton

  Morton showed a lot of promise as a September call-up and even further by his willingness to go to the Dominican Winter League to work on his makeup. I think this season could be the season Pirates management expected from Morton in 2009 but if he does not succeed, then the Pirates may lose their patience with him.

    Hitter with the most to prove:

 1. Matt Diaz- Diaz was signed during the off-season and will be splitting time in right field with Garrett Jones. This experiment happened before when the Pirates got Lastings Milledge. Milledge like Diaz said the right things, but ultimately underachieved. At this very moment, Diaz is hitting .308 this Spring and will have to perform well.

 2. Jose Tabata- Tabata came up and at least in my opinion underachieved. I expected so much and his playing of left field was not great and only had speed. This off-season he has clearly bulked up and hopefully will have a much better season. He is in the Pirates future plans, but this season could be an indicator to how he does offensively.

 3. Pedro Alvarez- Alvarez was rumored to gain weight this off-season in what was considered the biggest no-big deal story of the Pirates off-season. Pedro is being compared to Adam Dunn and will need to rack up the home runs and have moments like that walk-off home run in Colorado. He a huge part to the Pirates offense so if he fails, so does this team.

 4. Ronny Cedeno- Cedeno is an average defender and a below average hitter. He is hitting .217 this Spring and is only starting because there is no one who can replace him, although Pedro Ciriaco is having a nice spring. Cedeno needs to have a good season, or else there will not be any real reason to keep him in the lineup.

 Winner: Matt Diaz

 Cedeno is right up there but Diaz is going to be a big part of the offense especially since we could always use help hitting southpaws.

 Finally here are my thoughts for 2011 season predictions.

 Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen

 Cutch is the best all-around player on this team and should put up similar numbers to last season.

 Ryan Doumit will be released and not traded.

 Paul Maholm will be traded to the New York Yankees and either Matt Diaz or Garrett Jones will be traded.

 Pirates will have another winning April and will once again fall apart in May

 Charlie Morton will have the most wins on the staff followed by Ross Ohlendorf, although no starter will have double digit wins

 Jeff Karstens will somehow get back into the starting rotation

 Brad Lincoln will come up to the big club and perform well

 Rudy Owens will struggle when he comes up a la Brad Lincoln. He will be Brad Lincoln 2.0

 Chris Snyder will continue the catching curse and he will get injured and Dusty Brown and Jason Jaramillo will platoon a la Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz from a couple seasons ago.

 Pirates will steal bases left and right… and will largely be successful

 Cutch will be the Pirates lone All-Star this season

 It will be the Pirates hitting that sets them back as Ray Searage will do a good job as Pirates pitching coach

 The Pirates will have a 42-39 record at home and thus will have road issues once again.

PirateFest 2011: Grading the players, managers and others

Baseball experts grade trades, but obviously there has not been a big trade in Pirates baseball lately. PirateFest is a way of players and coaches saying thanks to the fans and some players do it better than others. This entry is meant to grade the players on their off the field activities and behaviors and in Christmas terms show who was naughty and who was nice.

Manager Clint Hurdle Grade- A+: Clint Hurdle gets it; he knows that Pirates fans have dealt with a losing team for 18 seasons and he knows how hungry this city is for a winner. I was at PirateFest on Friday and Sunday and both days Hurdle was active. Friday he endured two consecutive hours of questioning from fans (Ask Pirates Management which he also participated in on Saturday and Q&A involving all players and coaches) and also had interviews with Joe Bendel of ESPN 970 AM and Stan Savran for Inside Pirates Baseball. I was at the Savran interview, and before it, he posed for pictures (including one with me) and signed autographs. He really is the anti John Russell as he tells you what he thinks and tried to make an effort to talk with as many fans as possible. He was very active on Saturday as well I heard. A small complaint was after his obligation of participating in the Youth Clinic on the baseball field, he left. Still, after the clinic he signed autographs for as long as he could and talked with some fans. Before he left he thanked host Joe Klimchak and shook my hand and left. Kudos to Hurdle for making us all huge believers in his philosophy. Here’s to hoping, he can keep the players motivated and build a winner.

Jeff Banister- Grade A: Banister had a tough role, because if you did not identify him, chances are that not many Pirate fans would have known who he was. He had only one question directed towards him at Friday’s Season Ticket Q&A so it was tough on him there. Also, when the players were escorted to the break room, I saw Banister being escorted and no one ran after him for an autograph or anything. Banister was a big part of Saturday’s and Sunday’s Youth Clinic. I saw a part of the Sunday event and Banister seemed to be a big hit with the kids. One kid asked him if he had a World Series ring and Banister said that he did not, but he took off his Minor League ring and let the child hold it and pass it around. The fact that Banister trusted a kid with a valuable possession of his and also was able to interact with parents and children really speaks a lot about him as a person. Banister stayed longer for autographs than Hurdle after the Sunday clinic. Banister still will not be a household name, but remember, he almost became our manager and he showed glimpses of being able to handle the job.

Ray Searage Grade C-: This grade would be lower if he did not participate in Saturday’s Youth Clinic. Searage got a lot of questions thrown at him at Friday’s Season Ticket Q&A. One such question involved whether Searage or Chris Snyder should receive more credit for the pitchers improving their numbers. Searage immediately replied “Sny-rich” which drew some laughs. Searage was not used much and I did not see him at all on Sunday which was a shame as I would have been interested in talking with him. Still, I am taking it a little easy on Searage, especially since fans have not been too high on pitching coaches in the recent past.

Garrett Jones Grade B+: Jones was at PirateFest on Friday and Saturday. Jones made an immediate impact on Friday as both him and Kevin Correia were the first to sign in the MVP Zone which was exclusive for season ticket holders. Jones was active throughout Friday as he participated in two games, autographs signings and the season ticket holder Q&A. Someone asked Jones a question and said, “hypothetically if you were to marry my daughter, which Pirate would be your best man?” Jones paused as the question was an awkward on all counts and then answered Steve Pearce as he was a good friend. After the question, the audience could hear Jones whisper awkward into the mic. Still, not many would answer that question. Jones is really nice to the fans and if you ask him for an autograph, he is one of the nicest guys to get it from. Jones is an engaging guy. He got some points taken off for not attending Sunday’s festivities as I know a lot of kids love Jones. Still, he made an impact on PirateFest.

Jose Tabata Grade B+: Tabata was a huge hit at his first PirateFest. The fans loved Tabata and his charm, as well as his willingness to sign countless autographs for fans. The fans loved when he said “Black and Yellow” when mentioning that he would root for the Steelers. Tabata needs to be less shy and show more of his personality. I was able to break through because I spoke to him in Spanish, but he is not completely comfortable with English yet and that forced him to be a limited and that is why he did not get an A.

Neil Walker Grade B-: I know that I am grading Walker harshly, but he is “The Pittsburgh Kid”. Walker was sick for two days although he did appear Friday on Inside Pirates Baseball and the Player Q&A. He agreed to use “Black and Yellow” by Wiz Khalifa as his new at-bat song in order for one Pittsburgher to support another. Despite being sick, Walker tried to make up for lost time by making appearances on Sunday and it was noticed by parents and kids, but still regardless of the excuse, I was a little under the weather Sunday but I still showed up.

Andrew McCutchen Grade D: I have a huge problem with Andrew McCutchen and it is his off the field attitude. I am a huge fan of his on the field play but off the field he is conceited. I had a similar problem with Nyjer Morgan as both shine when a camera is in their face, but when it is off, they seem to care less about being anywhere. I first encountered this with Cutch at Bowling With the Bucs. I don’t know how to describe it, I mean he signed stuff, but he just felt indifferent and didn’t really feel like talking. McCutchen started out Season Ticket Q&A by signing a kid’s baseball, but soon the autograph requests came in and he kept saying “we’ll see”. Cutch fled quickly afterwards. Fellow ballhawk Erik Jabs also put up a Youtube video of McCutchen at a Caravan stop rolling his eyes at someone who was talking to Ross Ohlendorf because he was taking too long to get to him. At PirateFest on Sunday, he was in the public autograph signing wearing just a black shirt. All of the Pirates wear their home jerseys and it has been that way for years, the problem was corrected during Sunday’s MVP Zone signing session. McCutchen will have to improve his attitude, and fans need to see what is going on.

Paul Maholm Grade A+: Maholm is always good with the fans and if he does go at the trade deadline, then it will be a true loss for Pittsburgh. Maholm posed in photos with fans at a booth on Friday and also signed a ton of autographs all three days. He was a part of games such as Minute to Win It and the Perogie Eating Contest and he is a clear fan favorite. Maholm also was one of the Pirates with which it is easy to communicate with. Hopefully, some of his teammates will take note.

Brad Lincoln Grade A: Lincoln put himself out there, signing autographs for the public and even signing in the Pirates team store. It is easy to root for Lincoln to turn himself around after a disappointing 2010 season in the Major League level. Lincoln was at PirateFest all three days.

Kevin Correia Grade A: Correia told Rob Biertempfl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he went to PirateFest to meet his soon to be teammates but he was very social with the fans as well. He put himself out there right away signing for the season ticket holders on Friday in the MVP Zone. There was a video of him released showing a child how to release when throwing the baseball as part of Saturday’s Youth Clinic and he offered encouragement to the child. Correia also signed autographs even when he did not have to and also was willing to talk with the fans. I really hope that he has a nice season, and I believe that if he has any run support, that he will be the breakout player of this team.

Jeff Karstens Grade A: Karstens was at PirateFest all three days and he was active during all of these days. Karstens signed countless autographs without complaining and also participated in a lot of games. He was not a part of Friday’s season ticket Q&A as I believe he was signing autographs elsewhere at PirateFest. What is holding him back a little bit is that he is shy and he is not that engaging when it comes to interacting with the fans. Still, like Maholm, Karstens is very active in Pirates initiatives in the community.

Ross Ohlendorf Grade A+: Ohlendorf easily could have stayed home. I mean he is having a disagreement with Pirates management over his contract and it could take him to arbitration. Freddy Sanchez missed PirateFest a couple of years ago because of this and Doumit missed both the Caravan and PirateFest over a loss of favor in the organization. Ohlendorf could have pulled a Doumit and not come, but that is not Ohlendorf’s style. Not once did I hear Ohlendorf complain, and he signed many autographs and even on Friday when he was supposed to leave the main stage right away, he still signed an autograph and allowed me to take a picture of him. Ohlendorf is one of the nicest players on the team.

James McDonald Grade D+: I heard that McDonald was very nice on Saturday, but still because of illness he was not at Caravan stops and he was only at PirateFest on Saturday. This is supposed to be the ace of the staff and to not have him consistently represent the team gives him a low grade.

Charlie Morton Grade B: I did not see Morton much if at all on Friday. It seemed like he laid low unless he had an autograph signing. I know he played the games, but not much of his personality came out either. Still he did show up and did not complain at all, and for that he deserves a lot of credit.

Evan Meek Grade A+: Meek was great on all three days of PirateFest. He did not complain when signing autographs and he hosted a ton of games while at PirateFest. He made a funny banker at Deal or No Deal and at season ticket Q&A on Friday he really let his personality shine. After games and radio interviews, players are normally whisked away as soon as possible and not allowed to sign autographs, take pictures or sometimes even shake hands. Meek frequently made sure that he had time to do this. This review is unbiased although he is my favorite player and we had a couple of nice genuine conversations. Still, Meek is a great person and should have a great season.

Bob Nutting Grade B+: Nutting was very engaging with fans, myself included on Friday before his appearance on Inside Pirates Baseball and thanked all of us for coming. Nutting takes a lot of heat from fans, and a lot of the criticism he receives is unfair. I know it is easy to blame Nutting, but it is not all his fault. I am not saying that he is doing the best job ever, but still he obviously is doing something right if there is a record breaking crowd at PirateFest. I know that he was there on Sunday to speak to Suite Holders, but compared to Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly, he was not out enough talking to the fans.

Frank Coonelly Grade A: The only thing preventing him from an A+ is that I did not see him on Sunday. I grade Huntington, Coonelly and Nutting harsher than others because they are expected to be out and about more than the others at PirateFest. On Friday, Coonelly was out and about all day talking to as many of the 3,500 fans that attended as possible. He posed for all kinds of pictures, answered questions at both Ask Pirates Management sessions, signed countless autographs and also tried his best to talk to the fans. The job he did is very commendable and Coonelly understands the need to talk to the fans to find out what they like and don’t like about what he is doing and the direction of the team. Here’s hoping that Coonelly will take in the fan’s opinions all season long in good times and bad.

Neal Huntington Grade A: Neal also took a beating from fans as like Coonelly, he had to answer questions in Ask Pirates Management. I did not see him make the rounds on Friday but he did make the rounds on Sunday and I was one of his many stops. For Huntington this is a make or break year as if the team does fail this season, he very well could go.

 I will have recaps of my Friday and Sunday adventures at PirateFest as well as pictures from Friday’s proceedings up later this week.

PirateFest 2011 Part 4

 I have heard a rumor involving the Friday autograph schedule for those season ticket holders attending Friday’s events. I forget the times and this is a projected list, so this very well may change.

Time #1: Garrett Jones and Kevin Correia

Time #2: Brad Lincoln and Clint Hurdle

Time #3: Evan Meek and Jose Tabata

Time #4: Jeff Banister and Charlie Morton

Time #5: Mike Easler and Bill Madlock

 These times were for the normal autograph lines and not the MVP Zone and again these could very well change, but with a week to go before PirateFest, it is a really exciting time to be a Pirates fan.

PirateFest Part 2

 There will be a part 3 for a break down of these features and a part 4 when the autograph schedule comes up, but the press release on information of the year’s PirateFest has been released. I actually got the press release in my email and thus found out about this before it was released. Here are the features:

 

Details for PirateFest 2011 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Saturday, Jan. 29 and Sunday, Jan. 30 have been announced.

PirateFest hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29 and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 30.

New in 2011, Pirates season ticket holders will have exclusive access to PirateFest on Friday, Jan. 28.

Tickets for PirateFest are $12 for adults and $4 for fans ages 14 and younger and can be purchased in advance online, or by calling 1-800-BUY-BUCS or at the door at the convention center.

This year’s event will feature the following:

• Free autograph sessions with Pirates players, including Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Evan Meek, Garrett Jones, Jose Tabata, Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia, James McDonald and Charlie Morton along with new Manager Clint Hurdle, Bench Coach Jeff Banister and Pitching Coach Ray Searage (*).

• Autograph sessions with Pirates alumni Al Oliver, Doug Drabek, Bill Madlock and Mike Easler.

• Opportunity to purchase 2011 individual game tickets for the first time beginning Saturday, January 29 at 10:00 a.m.

• All fans attending PirateFest will receive a 2011 Pirates wall calendar, 2011 pocket schedule and PirateFest program upon entrance.

• A 60-foot replica baseball field to host Youth Baseball Clinics with Manager Clint Hurdle and coaches Jeff Banister and Ray Searage.

• Q&A Sessions with the players as well as “Ask Pirates Management” with Pirates President Frank Coonelly, Pirates Executive Vice President and General Manager Neal Huntington and Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle.

• The chance to join your favorite players in versions of Pirates “Minute to Win It” or “We Are Fam-A-Lee Feud”, take on Pirates players in “Guitar Hero”, play “Deal Or No Deal” and take part in Pierogie Eating Contests.

• Giant Eagle Kids Fun Zone, featuring many activities for children, along with nutritional information on a variety of foods available at Giant Eagle.

• Pirates “Lost Treasures” area to include game-used jerseys, bats, baseballs and more available for purchase.

• A charity silent auction with proceeds to benefit Pirates Charities.

• Inflatable rides, batting cages and carnival games.

• Information on 2011 Pirates Season Ticket Packages and Group Outings.

• Information on the Pirates 2011 promotional schedule.

*players, coaches and schedules subject to change

Fans can also make a canned goods donation at the Pirates Charities booth throughout the weekend. Fans making a donation of any kind will receive a Pirates decal.

PirateFest 2011 Part 1

The Pirates have released all kinds of information on PirateFest except signature schedules. I actually got my tickets Saturday and will be going to the Season Ticket Holder Day on Friday and likely Sunday. Here is my assessment of each day as well as some names for autographs.

 Friday: This in my opinion is the best day to go. If you are a true Pittsburgh Pirates fan, then Fridays have been the best day to go. This year, the Pirates made Friday all about the season ticket holder. From 4 PM until 6:30 PM, season ticket holders who paid in full by December 17 get to mingle with all of the Pirates that will be in town. This could be a great opportunity to get that autograph or even find out all kinds of stuff about some of your favorite Pirates. The actual PirateFest event for the night will go from 6:30 PM until 10 PM. This event is only open to season ticket holders, and those who were a part of the 4:30 event will not have to re-enter.

Saturday: If you are not a season ticket holder, Saturday gives you the most bang for your buck. Tickets are $12 for adults and $4 for kids 14 and under. Also season ticket holders get two  free tickets to use in addition to the event on Friday. I personally have gone all three days and hated Saturday the most. The lines are longer and it just seems like people are there just to be there. There are some nice things that go on there though, but they are rare. Last year, pitcher Charlie Morton sang songs in support of what happened in Haiti. It was a nice interactive experience and I donated some money. A lot of the Pirates were there to support him. Rocco DeMaro was tragically fired by 104.7 and he would do his Weekend Sportsline radio show from PirateFest each Saturday. The Q&A sessions are always packed, although the questions which are asked by fans, are either stupid or have been asked before. This year, it may be the only chance to ask questions of Neal Huntington, Frank Coonelly and Clint Hurdle in the popular “Ask Pirates Management” event. The line to get in on Saturdays has always been ridiculous. I advise you to stay away unless you want to take a lot of pictures.

Sunday: Sunday has always been known as family day and left over day. Sunday is when the kids come and thus the lines to get in are even more ridiculous that Saturdays. Still it is much more worth it than Saturday for me. The autograph lines which are ridiculous on Saturdays are more sane on Sunday and even more so for season ticket holders who get MVP Zone access. During the games that go on at the big stages, prizes which are not won are typically given away to fans. Also leftovers are constantly given by Pirates and last year I got a Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm bobblehead as well as a shirt. Also as the day ends, the games get much more attractive as your dollar goes a longer way. It is prize city and prizes are just given away. Instead of one prize you may get three or four. The Pirates don’t want to keep all of last year’s promotions and thus they just give them away. While the hours are always shortest on Sunday, it is the most profitable of all of the days.

 With that being said, here are the players that will be at PirateFest. Just a reminder though, that these players will not be here all of the time, so if you are trying to get an autograph from a specific player go to www.pittsburghpirates.com , to find the times they will be signing.

 Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Evan Meek, Garrett Jones, Jose Tabata, Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Ray Searage, Clint Hurdle, Jeff Banister.

 I am sure that Neal Huntington, Bob Nutting and Frank Coonelly will all be there as well, and I am sure that other players will come as well.

 Pedro Alvarez is not likely to come as he is getting married the week before PirateFest. Also, Joel Hanrahan mentioned on Twitter that he will only be at Pirate Caravan thus meaning he will not be at PirateFest.

 I was surprised that Lincoln will be there and look forward to meeting Correia. I am also interested in why Charlie Morton and Ryan Doumit are not on that list.

 PirateFest part 2 will come up when I find out what the team’s final player list and autograph signings will be.

Pirates early season preview part 10: Relief Pitchers

 As it stands right now, there are not many locks to the bullpen right now. Here is what pirates.com projects as the current bullpen.

 1. Joel Hanrahan

 2. Evan Meek

 3. Chris Resop

 4. Daniel McCutchen

 There are only four spots on the Pirates depth chart which is interesting, but due to all kinds of changes to the 40-man roster as well as the wide open competition in the bullpen, it truly is anybody’s job to win.

 Joel Hanrahan truly had a nice season for the Pirates. As one of two to make it the entire year in the Pirates bullpen, Hanrahan learned some valuable lessons from Octavio Dotel early in the year becoming the regular set-up man and eighth inning man. Hanrahan constantly mowed down hitters striking out a total of 100 batters, the second best total of all Pirates pitchers.

 After Dotel was traded in July, management said that Hanrahan and Evan Meek would share closing duties. This seemed to be a lie though, as Hanrahan got almost all of the closing opportunities.

 Hanrahan saved a total of six games and finished with a 4-1 record with an ERA of 3.62. In his 69.2 innings, he gave up 58 hits, 28 runs (all earned), 6 homers and he walked 26 batters. Hanrahan also had 18 holds.

 For Evan Meek, the road to the Majors was a long road. He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2002 MLB Draft but later played in the Minors for the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He was selected by the Pirates in the 2007 Rule-5 Draft. During the season, Meek looked overmatched and he finished 0-1 with an ERA of 6.92. He was designated for assignment on May 4, 2008 and by Rule-5 rules was sent back to Tampa Bay on May 14. The Pirates sent cash to Tampa Bay in return for Meek and promptly sent him to the Minors. He pitched 9 games for the Altoona Curve and was then promoted to the Indianapolis Indians.

 Meek spent the 2009 season in the bullpen with the Pirates. He finished the season with a 1-1 record in 41 appearances, had a 3.45 ERA, gave up 2 home runs, 0 hit batsmen, 29 walks, 42 strikeouts, a .209 average against, and a 1.34 WHIP, in 47.0 innings pitched. Unfortunately for Meek, he got injured in the latter part of the season, and thus did not pitch down the stretch.

 Meek started the 2010 season as the seventh inning man behind both Hanrahan and Dotel. Then-manager John Russell asked Meek on numerous occassions to pitch multiple innings, and for most of the first half of the season had an ERA under 1. Early in the season, Dotel had given up a run in six straight games as closer and Meek was called upon for the save against the Los Angeles Dodgers and earned the save on April 29. Meek remembered the honor saying how much it meant for him, and how he idolized Los Angeles Dodgers Broadcaster Vin Scully and how much the save meant for him.

 An early highlight for Meek occurred on May 14 against the Chicago Cubs. He entered the game in the sixth inning with the score tied at 6. He pitched two scoreless innings and struck out four including Derrick Lee, Xavier Nady and Alfonso Soriano. The Pirates won the game 10-6.

 Another highlight came on June 10 against the Washington Nationals. He came into the game relieving Zach Duke. The bases were loaded with no outs, and Meek quickly got Willie Harris to line into a double play and then retired Cristian Guzman and ended the inning with only 6 pitches.

 Despite Andrew McCutchen being the front runner, Meek was the Pirates lone representative to the All-Star Game as he carried a 4-2 record with an ERA of 0.96. “It’s surprising,” Meek said. “A lot of starters and closers go to the game. I’ve always said there are a lot of great middle relievers out there who deserve to go to the game. I think they’re overlooked a little bit. It’s amazing to be selected, an overwhelming feeling.” Meek was the first Pirates reliever selected that was not a closer to the game since Mace Brown in 1938.

 On August 3, Meek stepped up to the plate against reliever Jordan Smith of the Cincinnati Reds. Despite the long shot, Meek lined single into right field and received an ovation from the crowd.

 Meek finished the season with a 5-4 record, an ERA of 2.14, 70 strikeouts, 4 saves in limited duty and 15 holds. All of these numbers were career highs.

 Chris Resop also has an interesting tale, as he went from seemingly the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. He was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fourth round of the 2001 MLB Draft. He made his Major League debut for the team in 2005 and stayed with the team in 2006 until he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Kevin Gregg.

 He was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves on October 25, 2007. On May 28, 2008, Resop was designated for assignment by the Braves. He was assigned to the Richmond Braves until July 7 when the Braves sold Resop’s contract to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League.

 Prior to the 2010 season, Resop signed once again with the Braves and was called up on June 15 after pitching 73.1 innings, recording a 1.84 ERA and  allowing 46 hits, 27 walks, and striking out 81 batters. He held batters to a .183 average. 

 Soon after Resop was placed on waivers and on August 4, he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 Resop got off to a great start with the team using his fastball and other pitches to overwhelm the hitter.

 Resop was doing a great job for the team and then another roadblock came for Resop in the form of injury. Resop was sidelined for much of the end of the season, although he did pitch close to season’s end. Resop’s work though exceeded everyone’s expectation, and barring injury, Resop is likely to start the season in the team’s bullpen.

 Resop finished his 2010 season with a 3.86 ERA although those numbers did not show his work in Pittsburgh as his one appearance in Atlanta resulted in an ERA 22.50/ This start did not reflect what he did in Pittsburgh. While wearing the Pirates uniform, Resop appeared in 22 games. In his 19 innings pitched, Resop allowed 10 hits, 4 runs (all earned), one home run, 10 walks, 24 strikeouts, and 5 holds. His WHIP was 1.05 and his ERA was 2.45 in the month of August and 1.29 in September. 

 Daniel McCutchen often times is the forgotten piece of the Xavier Nady trade. People remember that Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens were brought over. McCutchen tried to make a name for himself as a September call-up in 2009, and did a respectable job. In 2010 Spring Training, McCutchen beat out Kevin Hart for the fifth spot in the Pirates rotation.

 McCutchen had his struggles in the rotation though, and the Pirates sent him down to AAA to fine tune his game.

 McCutchen was brought up later on in the season and still wasn’t pitching up to par. The decision was made for McCutchen to pitch long relief and it was a role that McCutchen was fairly successful in. McCutchen still received the occassional start, and even emerged victorious in a couple, but McCutchen’s role is seemingly clear. 

 McCutchen finished 2010 with a 2-5 record and an ERA of 6.12. He appeared in 28 games and started only 9 of them. In his 67.2 innings, he gave up 83 hits, 48 runs (46 earned), 13 home runs, 28 walks and 38 strikeouts.

 From there the relief options are seemingly endless. One guy that will not be in the bullpen is Chan Ho Park. Park was designated for assignment by the New York Yankees on July 31 after having a 5.60 ERA. He was claimed off waivers by the Pirates on August 4. On October 1, Park became the winningest Asian pitcher in the Major Leagues. He was signed by the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball this off-season although the Pirates did seem to show some signs of interest in Park. Park went 2-2 with the Pirates in 2010 and his ERA with the team was 3.49 and finished with a total ERA of 4.66 for the 2010 season.

 One person that has a great chance of making the bullpen is Jeff Karstens. I failed to mention Karstens in my most recent post on starting pitchers. This is mainly because with the new mix of starters, it appears unlikely that Karstens will be a starter although there is a slight glimmer of hope for him.

 Jeff Karstens attended Pirates spring training as a non-roster invitee. He pitched relief in 8 games for a 6.23 ERA and was reassigned to the minor league camp.

He began the season in the AAA Indianapolis bullpen, but problems with starting Pirates starting pitching prompted a call-up on April 27.

Since that time, Karstens has become the Pirates’ most reliable starting pitcher, posting an ERA of 4.31 that is the lowest out of the starting rotation.

Karstens was the pitching matchup in the highly anticipated debut of young phenom Stephen Strasburg, giving up 9 hits for 4 runs (4 earned) in 5 innings for his second loss of the season.

 Karstens finished the 2010 season with a 3-10 record and an ERA of 4.92. Of his 26 appearences, Karstens started 19 times. He pitched in 122.2 innings, and gave up 146 hits, 72 runs (67 earned), 21 home runs, 27 walks and 72 strikeouts. Karstens though showed a lot of resilience and did not get much run support when he started, and thus his performance is not shown by his record. Karstens found himself with the ball in his hand when the Pirates needed a good performance, and more often then not he delivered. I could definitely see him being in the bullpen.

 Another possible candidate for the bullpen is Aaron Thompson. Thompson was signed off waiver by the Pirates, and as a lefty will probably be given every opportunity to start the season in the Majors. The team has a shortage of lefties in the Pirates bullpen. Thompson, a former Washington Nationals prospect, finished his 2010 season with a record of 5-13 (although he went 1-0 for AAA affiliate Syracuse) and an ERA of 5.65 (1.80 for Syracuse). He appeared an started in 27 games, and 141.2 innings. He gave up 169 hits and allowed 97 runs (89 earned). He also allowed 16 home runs and walked 56 while striking out 99. Thompson is the team’s top lefty relief arm option as it stands right now, and he could provide a lot of innings for the team.

 Another lefty option is Wilfredo Ledezma. Ledezma signed with the Pirates last off-season and started the season in AAA. He was called up on July 27 along with Steven Jackson to replace Brendan Donnelly and Brad Lincoln. He finished with a 6.86 ERA to go along with a 0-3 record. He appeared in 27 games and pitched 19.2 innings. He allowed 25 hits, 16 runs (15 earned), 2 home runs, 6 walks, 22 strikeouts and 3 holds. Ledezma was often a victim of bad luck though as he did not receive much help behind him. Still Ledezma was taken off the 40 man roster to make a spot for Thompson so Spring Training may be Ledezma’s last shot to make it with the Pirates, but as a lefty he will get looks but just because he is not on the 40 man roster, his chances do not appear to be that great.

 Another possible innings eater would be Sean Gallagher. The Pirates acquired him from the San Diego Padres for cash considerations on July 7. He appeared in 46 games (31 with the Pirates and 15 with the Padres). He finished with a 2-1 record (all three decisions were with the Pirates) and a 5.77 ERA. He pitched in a total of 57.2 innings, allowing 62 hits, 40 runs (37 earned), 7 home runs, 41 walks, 43 strikeouts and 3 holds (all with the Pirates). Despite his control problems and being off the 40-man roster, Gallagher was invited to Spring Training and thus has a shot to pitch himself into the Pirates bullpen. To do this, he will have to show control and limit the mistakes that plagued him in Pittsburgh last season.

 Another option for the bullpen is Chris Leroux whom the Pirates got off waivers on September 13. Leroux came off an injury earlier in the season and received limited time with the Pirates towards the end of the season. He appeared in 6 games with the Pirates pitching in 4.2 innings and allowing 4 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. He also had an ERA over 5 and a 0-1 record. If it makes you feel any better, his stats with the Marlins were worse as his ERA and WHIP were both higher in his 17 appearances with the team. I am unsure what the Pirates see in Leroux but they put Gallagher and Ledezma off of the 40-man and for no apparent good reason have kept Leroux.

 One final option that is not to be forgotten is Scott Olsen. I do not have him making my projected rotation and thus he is on this list. The team is short of lefties and Olsen in the bullpen makes sense, as he can eat innings as well as provide that left-handed arm the team needs. I have more information on Olsen in the starting pitching preview.

 There of course are more options for the bullpen, as these are only a few of them. Other names include Jose Ascanio who is still trying to come back from injury, Tony Watson a lefty, Kyle McPherson, Michael Crotta and Ramon Aguero. All of these options are on the 40 man roster.

 The Pirates have a lot of bullpen options, but one question remains, who will be the Pirates closer?

 Well it is a two-horse race between Hanrahan and Meek. Both have had their troubles with the position.

 Hanrahan relies solely on two pitches, in the fastball and slider. While it has gotten him this far, I feel that he needs to add at least another pitch because if he stays the way he is, he will become way too predictable. It is true that Hanrahan had 6 saves last season, but he also blew 4 saves last season. He just does not seem like a reliable option as if he were to be closer, he would have a ton of opportunities and when he closed for Washington, he did not fare that well either.

 Meek had some closing opportunities as well but each time he comes out to close, it seems to be an adventure. Technically speaking, Meek blew 6 games last year, but it is not like he pitched that many times in the ninth inning. When he did save games, they were very similar to Matt Capps when he wore the Pirates uniform. Meek in the ninth inning actually got what seemingly no other pitcher did, and that was defensive help. The defense had to help Meek save the day on numerous save situations and I don’t think that he is ready to take the ball in the ninth quite yet.

 Unless the Pirates can find a more reliable option, Hanrahan will have to be the team’s closer. Hanrahan will face some failure, but hopefully the team will be able to help him out.

 Here is my projected bullpen come April 1 2011:

 Scott Olsen- long relief

 Jeff Karstens- long relief

 Aaron Thompson- long/middle relief

 Daniel McCutchen- long/middle relief

 Chris Resop- middle reliever

 Evan Meek- set up man

 Joel Hanrahan- closer

 Of course all of this could easily change, as I think the Pirates could use another lefty. I think that Ledezma will fall short. As I said earlier, I project Olsen to just miss making the team’s rotation, although it makes sense for him to make it. This would provide the team with two left-handed arms in the bullpen in Olsen and Thompson. Both have starting pitching backgrounds and could be used as long or middle relievers. Regardless both can eat up a lot of innings.

 Resop is the only projected middle reliever and I can see him as the team’s regular seventh inning man, much like Meek was last season. Karstens has pitched as a long reliever in the team’s bullpen before so the title of long-reliever seems to suit him most although McCutchen has long relief experience as well.

This bullpen can have as many as four long relievers but perhaps two of these “long relievers” could move to provide middle relief and perhaps even move to long relief, as injuries happen and a long reliever or two may need to make spot starts.

 Thank you so much for reading my early season preview breaking down each of the Pirates positions as they stand today. I hope you have enjoyed my take. I will continue to keep blogging and I may put down quick previews of each team in the Majors. This would include breaking down either a division or team at a time. It would potentially feature key additions and losses, placement in division and more!

Pirates early season preview part 9: Starting Pitching

 I apologize for not being able to post this entry last night, however I was feeling very sick. I am better now and this will be my only post today as it is New Year’s. Just as a reminder, I thank each and every one of you for reading my blog. Whether you are a brand new reader or a loyal tried and true reader, I appreciate your support, and ask for you to continue your support for years to come. I also wish each and every one of you a happy and healthy New Year.

 Here is the projected Pirates rotation as it stands today:

 1. James McDonald

 2. Paul Maholm

 3. Kevin Correia

 4. Ross Ohlendorf

 5. Charlie Morton

 6. Scott Olsen

 Meanwhile MLB Network projects this as the rotation:

 1. James McDonald

 2. Paul Maholm

 3. Kevin Correia

 4. Scott Olsen

 5. Ross Ohlendorf

 James McDonald came along with Andrew Lambo in the trade that sent Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was at McDonald’s Pirates debut, and he looked dominant against the Colorado Rockies striking out a career high eight hitters. For me he compares to Ian Snell minus the attitude. He also is a lot more consistent. “I was just real excited today and ready to be on the mound and to get a chance to start every five days,” said McDonald on the start. “I was having fun today. When you get ahead, pitching can be fun.”

 McDonald showed throughout his tenure that he is closest to ace material for the Pirates. That does not say much, but once he became a Pirates, he got down to business and he has the fastest and most devastating pitches of the starters.

 McDonald also had a 20 inning scoreless streak as he shut out the Atlanta Braves on September 7 and the New York Mets on September 13. The streak ended September 18 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he bounced back and still won the game 4-1. That start perhaps impressed me the most, as many pitchers would have had the scoreless streaks in their head and then imploded once a run was allowed. Allowing the run early in the game helped McDonald settle down and concentrate and even give his team the win.

 Perhaps the biggest support McDonald received was from Jack Moore of Fangraphs who called McDonald an “ace” and even called him the biggest steal of the 2010 MLB Trade Deadline.

McDonald finished with an overall record of 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA, however one of those losses occurred when he was with the Dodgers.

 Paul Maholm has perhaps pitched like our ace in recent years, however he has been perhaps the most inconsistent of all of the Pirates starters in recent years. I broke down his stats in a previous post, but last year he gave up 225 hits in 185.1 innings and that is not that great.

 He did start 32 games which shows that he is healthy and not injury prone, and that is reassuring. Still Maholm was right up there for most losses in the Majors and finished with a 9-15 record, sometimes a victim of poor run support. Maholm also had a fielding percentage of .938.

 It is worth noting that Maholm seemed to pitch a bit better with Ray Searage as his pitching coach, and it is important to the Pirates that Maholm succeeds because as the pirates.com projects, he would be the only lefty in the rotation. Maholm, like almost all of the Pirates starters does not have the speed on his fastball, and thus location will be very important to Paul.

 Kevin Correia came to us as a free agent and a pitcher last season for the San Diego Padres for 2 years and $8 million. Correia was not a part of the Padres rotation come season’s end, and that could be a concern, however, you have to remember that the Padres were on the cusp of being a playoff team last season and the Pirates were not even close.

 Correia finished 10-10 last season with a 5.40 ERA. He appeared in 28 games, starting in 26 of them. My concern is his 145 innings pitched, because if you remember a couple of seasons ago, Ross Ohlendorf was having a great season, but because of his low innings count the season before, the Pirates limited and eventually shut down Ohlendorf. I think that Correia will have a nice season, but I worry that come September, Correia will be out of the mix because his innings count will be too high.

 Ross Ohlendorf was a deceptive pitcher as he consistently lost but was the victim of poor run support. His 1-11 season was clearly a fluke. Ohlendorf was consistenly injured throughout the season and a few of the losses were his fault, but often times the team would either score zero or one run in his start putting added pressure against Ohlendorf. Perhaps putting him in the fourth spot will be manageble for Ohlendorf who can put the injuries aside and get some support with a new look line up.

 Charlie Morton had a great 2009 and the team had high hopes for him to be a breakout star for the team. It is easy now to say that they should have known better. His first start was on April 8 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and he started out great striking out his first five batters. But in his 3.1 innings pitched, he allowed 8 runs. Morton lost all five starts in April posting a 12.57 ERA. Morton earned his first win on May 5 against the Chicago Cubs by a 4-2 decision. He couldn’t put anything together losing his next four games and then was placed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue and a 1-9 record.

 After rehab and a meeting with a sports psychologist, he was sent to AAA Indianapolis.

 Speaking before his first start with the Indians, Morton said “I was pressing. I wasn’t being myself on the mound those last couple times I went out there in Pittsburgh. There was so much going on in my mind. At the end of last year, I finished strong, I got a glimpse of what I could do, truly, in the big leagues, going out there and going deep into games, being competitive, being someone who was pretty good. I wanted to be out there for myself and because I care about this team and organization. At the same time, though, after that last one, that last start, because I care about these guys is why, exactly, I knew I couldn’t go back out there again.”

 He earned his first win in AAA when the team defeated the Durham Bulls on June 24.

 He was re-called by the Pirates when Ohlendorf was injured, and in his first start against the Milwaukee Brewers, he gave up 8 runs in 3 innings.

 Things got more encouraging with Morton as the season drew closer to an end. When Searage took the pitching coach job, Morton seemed more in his element. In a game I attending in mid-September, Morton was the scheduled pitcher and I happened to be close to where he entered and he seemed in control even saying “hi, how are you” to me. He got the win that day and looked like a changed pitcher. His final start was October 2 against the Florida Marlins, and although the team lost 2-0, things were encouraging as Morton struck out a career high 9 strikeouts. Morton finished with a 2-12 record with a 7.57 ERA but after that August call-up he had a 4.26 ERA.

 Morton is the clear wild card, so it will be interesting to see what he has to offer. Will we see the April 2010 version of Charlie Morton where he could not get a break, or will we see the September/October 2010 Charlie Morton where he was the aggressor attacking the strike zone and getting much more positive results? Spring Training will tell the tale, but Morton is a clear front runner for the fifth spot.

 While Morton was projected a starter on the Pirates website, Olsen took his place on the MLB Network projections. He signed for cheap with the Pirates this offseason, but he could get a lot more because of all of the performance bonuses he could earn. Hopefully Clint Hurdle can rid Olsen of his attitude problem, and if he does, I like Olsen in the rotation. My concern with Olsen is that he is essentially, a poor man’s Zach Duke. He can give up a ton of hits (he gave up 226 hits in 176.2 innings for the Marlins in 2007) and really bring up that pitch count. In Colorado pitchers pitched an average of 93 pitches per game under Hurdle, and if Olsen is giving up a ton of hits, then he will not last that long.

 Olsen finished with a 4-8 record and an ERA of 5.56 for the Washington Nationals last season. He appeared in 17 games starting in 15 of them. Despite a small portion size, he had a perfect fielding percentage as well, which could help an infield which constantly made errors. Olsen also has another thing going for him as he is left-handed. Currently Maholm is the only lefty in the rotation and Olsen could perhaps balance out the rotation a little bit more. It looks to be a battle between Olsen and Morton for that fifth spot. Whoever loses will leave an interesting decision for Hurdle and management as they could prove to be valuable as long relievers but perhaps there time could be better utilized as starters in AAA. Still that would be a huge blow to Morton’s new found confidence and Olsen could blow another gasket and get into more confrontations.

 A long shot for the role of fifth starter is Brad Lincoln. Lincoln was selected by the Pirates with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. By drafting Lincoln, the team passed on other current proven talent in Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Tim Lincecum. It is easy to say that now, as who knows what would have happened if one of these three were in our rotation.

 On Wednesday June 9, Lincoln made his MLB debut against the Nationals after a 6-2 record in AAA before the call-up. In his six innings, and gave up five earned runs and walked two and struck out three.

 He earned his first Major League victory on June 30 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Pitching seven innings while striking out six and walking one in the Pirates 2-0 win. “I felt like it was going to be my day. With the wind blowing in, I used it to my advantage,” said Lincoln.

 Lincoln was demoted to AAA Indy after his first loss of the season July 25 against the Padres. Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington cited a drop in Lincoln’s velocity since he was promoted and that he had strayed from the mechanics that made him a prolific starter with Indianapolis. “For me, it’s probably the best move,” said Lincoln. 

 Lincoln was a September call-up but was essentially useless as the Pirates did not use him in any critical moments.

 Lincoln finished the season 1-4 with a 6.66 ERA. He appeared in 11 games and started in 9 of them. In his 52.2 innings, he gave up 66 hits, 42 runs (39 of them earned) and 9 homers. He also walked 15 and struck out 25.

 While Lincoln’s pitching may not have been great, he did have a .400 average, making him a good hitting pitcher. He went 6 for 15 at the plate and drove in 3 runs.

 Lincoln may be a long shot because of his pitching, but perhaps his bat will give him some consideration as the season wears on.

 There are other names on the rise as well, and one of them is Rudy Owens. Rudy Owens was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 28th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft. It is not exactly the place where a name is made, but thus far Owns has made a pretty big impression on the Pirates.

 He is left-handed and with the rotation surprisingly loaded on righties Owens will definitely have the Pirates attention. Things started slowly for Owens in 2007 and 2008, but in 2009, things improved for Owens as he went 10-1 for the West Virginia Power with a 1.70 ERA. He then went 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA for Lynchburg.

 Owens spent all of the 2010 season in Altoona. He appeared and started in 26 games and finished with a record of 12-6 with an ERA of 2.46. He pitched 150 innings allowing only 124 hits and allowed 46 runs (41 earned). He only walked 23 hitters while striking out 132 hitters.

 Lastly, before I make my projections, I will say another farewell to Zach Duke. Duke was a great person, but I believe that Joe Kerrigan screwed up his delivery. In 29 starts, Duke finished 8-15 with an ERA of 5.72. His 15 losses are tied for the second most losses in a season in his career (he had 16 losses in 2009).  In his 159 innings, Duke gave up 212 hits, 115 runs (101 earned). He also allowed 25 home runs and walked 51 while striking out only 96 people. Duke did seem to bring it together with Searage at the helm, but his option was way too much money.

 Finally, here is my projections for the rotation come April 1 as well as the rotation that would make sense:

Projected:

 1. James McDonald

 2. Paul Maholm

 3. Kevin Correia

 4. Ross Ohlendorf

 5. Charlie Morton

 Makes sense rotation:

 1. James McDonald

 2. Paul Maholm

 3. Kevin Correia

 4. Scott Olsen

 5. Ross Ohlendorf 

 The reason why I project that is that the Pirates have a lot of options. Morton had a lot going for him in September. Perhaps that is reason to get rid of him because in 2009 he had things going for him once he got his chance but couldn’t put it together in 2010 until the very end. Olsen is left-handed as said before and that helps his case. If he has a good spring, I think that management gives him the nod. I put the makes sense rotation the way I did because it mixes the righties and lefties and at least gives opposing teams something to prepare for on a more regular basis. I am not suggesting that this has to be the rotation, I mean if Morton has a better Spring, then by all means give him the job, but if they have an even Spring Training or Olsen has a better Spring Training, then give Olsen the nod and put Ohlendorf in the fifth spot.

 Wow, that was a long post! I hope to my next post on the Pirates relievers up very soon. The only apparent locks in that department right now are Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. I will talk about them and others, as well as my pick for the Pirates closer job.

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