Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Red Hot Ronny; Bucs Beat Sox

If there is a more red hot hitter in the major leagues this spring than Ronny Paulino, I'd like to meet him. The Pirates second year catcher homered again today, driving in two runs, as the Pirates beat the Red Sox, 3-2, in Fort Myers.

Paulino is now hitting an even .500 for the spring, with 4 homeruns and 15 RBI. This is a great sign for a guy who hit the ball as consistent as any catcher in the majors last year and is already putting to rest any thoughts of a sophomore slump.

Tony Armas, making his final start of the spring, tuned up successfully with 5 and 2-3 innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, walking three and striking out six. Armas finishes the spring with a 3.70 ERA. He will make his first start of the year April 8th against Cincy.

Andrew McCutchen had two more hits, he is hitting .327 this spring, while Chris Duffy, who could stand as the only road block between McCutchen and the majors this year, went 1-for-5, lowering his spring average to .167

Other Bucs News:

-Freddy Sanchez will try to play in a minor league game on Wednesday to test his twisted right knee. It is still likely Sanchez will start the season on the DL and miss the first season series.

-The Pirates this morning optioned reliever Josh Sharpless to Class AAA Indianapolis, possibly, but far from definitively, clearing the way for Dan Kolb and Jonah Bayliss to make the bullpen.

-Masumi Kuwata's ankle is not broken, however it is severely sprained and he will not throw for 4 to 6 weeks. Kuwata should eventually pitch out of the bullpen in Indy.

-Despite his struggles this spring, struggles that strongly resemble the problems he experienced a year ago, Chris Duffy insists 2007 will not be a repeat of 2006. Last season Duffy had a terrible first third of the season before leaving the game to regroup and then tearing up the bigs in the latter part of the year.
Chris Duffy, in my mind, is the most important player on the Pirates roster this season. I believe the rest of the players on the roster will be good for what you can expect out of them, with Torres being somewhat of an unknown as a closer. However, Duffy holds the key. If he plays the way he did late in '06, the Pirates could have an extremely strong top of the lineup. Duffy has 50-steal potential, but doesn't seem to have 10-steal patience at the plate. Freddy Sanchez will do his share to get on base, but Adam Laroche and Jason Bay will not thrive if Chris Duffy doesn't jump start the lineup on a nightly basis. If Duffy falters, the Pirates will have to turn to Nate McLouth or Luis Matos, two options that won't blow anyone away. Option 2 could see Nady move to center, and Brad Eldred in right, a move that wouldn't help the Pirates defense, but would certainly improve their power output. Option 3 would be to rush Andrew McCutchen, an option I don't see the Pirates cashing in on before summer.

Lincoln back to the mound

The Pirates received some great news today when it was announced that the team's No. 1 pitching prospect Brad Lincoln will return to the mound. He's scheduled to throw a bullpen session today. There was no significant damage in his arm and he's been doing a throwing program for the past month.

"It's great that he's made it this far," director of player development Brian Graham said. "There's been no pain, and he's been throwing really well."

Lincoln will start the season in Hickory.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Buccos in Hi-Def

Apparently, Pirates fans will be greeted at the home opener in PNC Park this season with a brand new big screen scoreboard that is HD ready.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sean Burnett is furious

Left-handed pitcher Sean Burnett was sent to the minors yesterday, marking the Pirates' five-man rotation at Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny and Tony Armas Jr.

Burnett, who pitched better than just about any pitcher during Spring Training, was furious about the demotion, saying:

"I'm furious, frustrated," Burnett said. "I threw the [stuffing] out of the ball and I thought maybe I had a chance, but it's a numbers thing right now."

It does suck for Burnett. With the numbers he put up and what has happened to him, it's obvious he had no shot at the fifth spot. However, I don't mind him going down to Indy to start the season at AAA. He was terrible there last year and needs to prove in a regular season that he is fully back.

With a rotation that now features Sean Burnett, Bryan Bullington and John Van Benschoten, I'm pretty excited to keep up with the Indians when the AAA season starts. Three first-round draft picks that require your attention.

Any guesses on which one makes it to the majors first...or if either does, and who will be successful?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dice-K Dazzles, Sox beat Bucs 7-3

Daisuke Matsuzaka, making his third spring training start for the Boston Red Sox against big league competition, threw 5 2/3 innings allowing one hit -- a run-scoring single by Adam LaRoche in the first inning.

He walked one and struck out seven. He retired 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. Of his 92 pitches, 61 were strikes.

Pirate starter Tom Gorzelanny, looking a little slimmer since giving up beer, walked five and was charged with four runs in his 42/3 innings. Fair to say the spring has not been kind to Tommy, who's ERA ballooned to 9.60 after his work on Wednesday.

Ronny Paulino hit his third home run in the sixth inning. Andrew McCutchen doubled in a run in the eighth.

-Over at coolstandings.com, those kind folks are predicting the standings for the 2007 season based on the 2006 stats. It is kind of a funky setup, but for what it is worth, the Pirates are 45-72 through 117 games and are dead last in the NL Central.

-In this Spring Training Rumblings article on ESPN.com, Jayson Stark says that scouts have mentioned Ian Snell as a player who could really break out this season-In the same piece, Stark shared this info on Brad Eldred..."6-foot-5, 275-pound Pirates masher Brad Eldred has caused a stir among a few AL teams this spring with his .784 spring slugging percentage. "He's taken a step forward," says one scout. "He's starting to hit good fastballs. I've seen him against guys throwing 92-93-94, and he's gotten to it." But the Pirates are in no hurry to move Eldred, even though he's blocked at first base by Adam LaRoche. They've even tried him in right field this spring, and manager Jim Tracy says: "I've seen much worse [right fielders] playing in the major leagues."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This Week Inside the Bucs

A lot of news going on this week around the Pirates, let's take some time to catch up.

Sean Burnett was the man on the hill today as the Bucs beat the Tigers, 3-1. Adam LaRoche hit his first homerun of the spring. A day before, it was Ian Snell who was dazzling opposing hitters as the Pirates beat the Phillies, 5-1.

We all know Andrew McCutchen is having a great spring, but that doesn't change the fact that he will open the season in the minors, and the organization believes he still has much to work on.

Neil Walker and Brian Bixler, both of whom were having strong major league camps, were sent to the Minor League portion of Spring Training today. Bixler hopes to make fans forget about losing Brent Lillibridge when he likely opens the season at AAA and Walker will continue his transition to third base at AA Altoona.

Right-hander Brian Rogers was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis while Nick Green, a veteran infielder, was reassigned to the minor-league camp along with right-hander Jesse Chavez, infielder/outfielder Mike Edwards and outfielder Chris Aguila.

There are a lot of things for fans to do at PNC Park when the Buccos are in town, but starting this year, none of those activities will include the ability to smoke in the park. Anywhere in the Park, that is.

Ryan Doumit thinks he can still be a big part of this organization, but can he stay healthy enough to follow through on those beliefs?

What do the Pirates need to do to win this year, well many things, many of which are covered by the Stats Geek, a personal favorite of Bucco Wire.

In case you missed it, Tommy Gorz gave up beer for lent, and in turn, has been giving up runs. Plenty of them, to be exact.

Friday, March 16, 2007

News Catch-Up

-Will Einar Diaz make the Pirates roster? He has work to do if he wants to back up Ronny Paulino.

-Zach Duke will start the Pirates opener in Houston, while Ian Snell will start the Bucs home opener against the Cardinals.

-Jack Wilson looks like a brand new Jack Flash this spring with his defense back to where it was before the 2006 season. The Pirates had until today to cut Humberto Cota or Shawn Chacon, although neither is expected to be let go.

-Jonah Bayliss was worried he broke his hand today when a batted ball came right back at him, but the hand is not broken, its just sore.

-Shawn Chacon is happy in Pittsburgh, in fact he prefers it to New York. I don't know if I believe him yet.

-Worried about Saloman Torres closing games for the Bucs? At least he's not worried himself.

Bullpen Implodes in Loss to Tampa Bay

The Pirates bullpen, for the most part, has been very solid so far this spring. The majority of the pitchers who will end up in Pittsburgh come April have battled, including Dan Kolb, a spring surprise who is making the idea of cutting him a hard one to except for Tracy and Co.

Today, however, the bullpen lost their groove and allowed five earned runs over the final three innings as the Devil Rays beat the Bucs, 8-3, in St. Petersburg. Kevin Gryboski allowed four runs, three earned, in his one inning of work, while Jonah Bayliss and Marty McCleary each gave up single runs in their innings on the hill.

Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny made his second start, and fourth appearance, of the spring and allowed two runs on five hits in four innings worked.

Michael Ryan continues to hit for the Pirates, going 2-for-4, with a run scored. Andrew McCutchen had a hit in 5 at-bats, Jose Bautista and Nate McLouth each drove in runs for the Pirates.

McCutchen also continued his excellent defense in centerfield with another highlight reel, over-the-shoulder catch against Tampa Bay.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bucs beat Red Sox, 3-2

With the game-winning home run hit by Neil Walker in the seventh inning off of J.C. Romero.

Box Score

Ian Snell picked up the win in relief, pitching three scoreless innings. He didn't give a up hit, walked one and struck out four.

Zach Duke started the game and gave up two runs on a two-run homer off the bat of Mike Lowell in the fourth inning. He gave up four hits in four innings, walking two and striking out none. Josh Sharpless pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his first save of the spring.

Walker finished with two hits, while Jose Bautista, playing third base, finished with two hits of his own.

Sean Burnett

A report on The Sporting News about Sean Burnett surfaced yesterday and has been used in some papers today.

Burnett says he is 100 percent healthy. That's great news to add more depth to the rotation, especially when it comes to a 24-year-old who may have some upside left in him. As always, coming off a surgery is tough and Burnett showed that last year in AAA. He says he wasn't really ready and that everyone coming back will have that one roller-coaster season.

If that's the case, then his year will be huge for Burnett. He had a lot of success in the minors and has tasted success in the majors. He's still young and he's another lefty. I don't rule Burnett out of the future plans, yet. But he's sure got a lot to prove.

But if he's gotten better at everything like Littlefield says:

"I see an improved fastball, more life to the fastball, more crispness to the breaking stuff, and I'm definitely encouraged that he's getting back to where he once was," Littlefield said. "In some ways, he's a more mature pitcher now, and appears to be very serious about wanting to make this team."

...then he should be the greatest pitcher ever. Here's to you, Sean.

Update on Bixler

Looks like I should have looked over MinorLeagueBaseball.com before I wrote my post about Brian Bixler. Bixler got a story written on him over there. Check it out, just adds to the more attention he's starting to receive.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Brian Bixler impressing

It's nearly midway through March and I'm impressed with a few performances that some Pirates players are putting up in Spring Training. But none has impressed me more than Brian Bixler. Obviously, I have not been able to see him play in Bradenton, but from the numbers and what I'm reading, Bixler is doing quite a job in front of the Pirates brass.

Bixler has played in eight games this Spring and is hitting .417 (10-for-24). He's scored nine runs, hit two doubles, one triple and one home run. He hasn't stole a base, but he's limited his strikeouts. He's struck out six times, but has evened that out with four walks.

If these early numbers are any indication, Bixler could be on the verge of a big season in the minor leagues. It's desperately needed out of him, too. He was drafted in the second round, which many considered too high for him. And over his seasons after being drafted, he's gotten a little better at each level.

Should Bixler continue this pace, he'll put to rest the name of Brent Lillibridge.

Earlier this Spring, the PG posted a small report on Bixler being on the way up. Director of Player Development Brian Graham had some good things to say about the young shortstop at the time.

"Much, much improved," Graham said. "This guy's an above-average runner with great agility, really good balance. He showed that last season, and he's been really impressive in this camp."

With Jack Wilson's steady decline in performance, he may see a way out of Pittsburgh if Bixler can keep it up. He might join Andrew McCutchen at the same time and add an influx of young talent to the team in the next year or two.

Brian Bixler - The Baseball Cube
Brian Bixler - Baseball-Reference Bullpen

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bucs beat Tribe, 6-1

Tony Armas pitched four solid innings today to pick up his first win of the Spring. He allowed only one hit -- a home run to Ryan Garko in the second inning -- and didn't walk a batter. He struck out one.

Jose Castillo went 1-for-3 and scored two runs. Neil Walker hit his first home run of the Spring, which came in the seventh inning against Matt Miller -- a two run shot.

Jason Bay went 2-for-2 with a walk, while Ronny Paulino an Adam LaRoche both drove in a run.

The Bucs are now 4-8-1 in Spring Training and have tomorrow off before traveling to play Boston on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gorzelanny Ripped as Pirates Lose to Reds

Tom Gorzelanny didn't have any pain in his elbow after his three innings of work on Sunday. That's about the only thing that went well for the young lefty. Gorzelanny was ripped for four runs and six hits in three innings as the Reds beat the Pirates, 9-8 in Sarasota.

It started in the first inning when the Reds sent nine hitters to the plate against Gorzelanny. However after his initial struggles, Tommy settled in and retired the final seven hitters he faced.

Marty McLeary and Josh Shortslef each gave up single earned runs in their time on the mound while John Grabow allowed three runs in his only inning of work, earning his first blown save of the spring.

Jason Bay made his first spring appearance in left field and had a RBI single in three at-bats. Jose Hernandez had two hits, Nyjer Morgan drove in two runs and Jose Bautista drove in a pair with a double.

Other Notes:

-Yoslan Herrera is working hard in the Pirates minor league camp

-Really nice article on Masumi Kuwata courtesy of Yahoo Sports. I have to say I still don't really know why the Pirates brought Kuwata in, except for the attention they knew it would bring in Spring Training. But if Kuwata has no serious shot at making the roster, at 39, what is the point of having him pitch in Indy when there are more viable options for depth in the system. Either way, the guy seems pretty cool, hopefully he can hang around for a while longer.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Maholm Down; Snell Up; Eldred Solid, Bucs Lose

The Pirates lost Paul Maholm's spring debut on Saturday and it wasn't pretty for the young lefty. In the first, he gave up three hits and issued a pair of walks. Those baserunners helped the Yankees score three runs en route to a 5-3 victory in Bradenton.

Maholm's final line feature three hits, three runs, three walks and two strikeouts in three innings. On the contrast, Ian Snell came into the game in the fourth and was electric. His three innings were flawless, no hits or walks and featured one strikeout, lowering his spring ERA to 3.38

At the dish, Ronny Paulino continued to stroke, going deep for the second time, driving in two runs and finishing with three hits in all three at-bats. Brad Eldred, who has been nothing short of unbelievable this spring, had three more hits and made a nice running catch in the outfield. It was Eldred's first appearance in right field in game action and he certainly impressed Jim Tracy.

"I'll tell you this: He did a very nice job running the ball down that was hit to right-center," Tracy said. "The ball that went out of the ballpark in the ninth inning, if it's in the ballpark, he's gonna catch it."

Josh Sharpless and Damaso Marte pitched scoreless innings. Soloman Torres allowed two runs in the ninth to take the loss. Chris Duffy had a hit in two at-bats and was caught stealing second base. Jose Castillo had an RBI single in three at-bats.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Duke Dazzles, Bucs Split

Zach Duke had his first solid outing of the spring, allowing just three hits, one run, striking out five and walking none in four innings Friday afternoon, but the Pirates dropped the first of two games on the day, 8-5, to the Braves. The Bucs rebounded and won their split squad night cap, 6-2, over the Indians.

In the early game Duke was nearly flawless, making one big mistake to Willy Aybar that was driven out of the park. Other than that, Duke pounded the strike zone and was reminiscent of the Zach Duke we saw in his first major league season.

"The good thing for me is that I felt pretty much the same as last time out," Duke said. "I set the bar pretty high for myself last time, and I felt like I still had the command of all my pitches. I picked up right where I left off."

Jim Tracy raved about Duke and his stuff after the game.

"His changeup right now is devastating," Tracy said. "His fastball command is letter perfect. I mean, he looks tremendous right now."

Masumi Kuwata did not have the magic he had in his first appearance today, allowing three runs in two innings of work. Kuwata allowed a two-run home run by Kelly Johnson.

Ronny Paulino homered for the Bucs and Jose Castillo singled in three at-bats. Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' top prospect, singled twice and doubled in five at-bats and is 8 for 19 this spring.

In the second game against the Indians, Neil Walker and Adam LaRoche were responsible for 5 of the Pirates six runs and Shawn Chacon tossed three shutout innings helping the Bucs raise their spring record to 3-6-1. Walker finished 2-for-3 with three runs driven in, while LaRoche had two RBI singles in three trips to the plate. Jason Bay drove in the other Pirates run with a double.

Sean Burnett tossed three innings of solid ball, allowing one run, but it was unearned and walking two. Chris Duffy went 0-for-3 to drop his spring average to .133

Other Notes from the Day:

-The Brad Eldred outfield experiment begins.

-Jody Gerut's 18 at-bats cost the Pirates 2 million dollars.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bucs Win Again; Big News Day

Just two days after all of the Pirates team read my ridiculous and unnecessary post about losing this early in spring training, they have gone off and won two games in a row. Today Shane Youman sprung the Bucs to a 5-2 victory over the Devil Rays tossing three innings of shutout ball while Humberto Cota and Andrew McCutchen each added two hits.

Xavier Nady made his spring debut and had a single in three at-bats. Jose Castillo also came back from injury and went 0 for 3.

Michael Ryan came off the bench for an RBI single in the seventh to make the lead 4-1. Ryan, a native of Indiana, Pa., trying to make the roster as an outfield reserve off a minor-league contract, is 10 for 18 this spring.

Brad Eldred singled and walked in his two plate appearances after replacing Adam LaRoche at first base. Eldred is 7 for 14 this spring. Closer Salomon Torres fanned two during a 1-2-3 sixth.

Other Notes from the day:
-The Pirates cut Jody Gerut and also announced they would try Eldred in the outfield in order to try and find a way to justify keeping him with the big club coming off the bench.

-Will Nate McClouth make the 25 man roster? He certainly has competition.

-Brian Rogers got the save on Thursday

-The Josh Sharpless Fan Club has made an appearance in Florida

-John Perrotto says the Pirates fifth starter will likely be Tony Armas because of his contract situation

-Who has the most important arm out of the Pirates bullpen? It just might be Matt Capps says Rob Biertempfel over at the Trib.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Panic Button

There are only so many days in which Pirates Fans can check box scores from Spring Training, see another loss, and still feel OK chalking it up to it being "early".

Today, I am not OK chalking it up. The Bucs are getting smoked by the Phils, 9-2, as I write this. Ian Snell stuck out 7 guys in the first three innings, but allowed three runs as well. Tommy Gorz came on and mightily struggled through 4 outs, giving up 5 earned and walking 5. His spring ERA is now over 16.

Freddy Sanchez, who isn't exactly raking so far this spring, left the game with a minor leg injury after a hard slide at second base from Rod Barajas. It seems like Freddy the Great will be fine, but it doesn't take the sting away of what looks like an 0-5-1 start to March.

Adam LaRoche and Ronny Paulino are hit less. Torres' ERA is over 15. Capps is 13.50

I know it's only spring, trust me I know. But if I wasn't excited and if I wasn't a fan, I wouldn't care this much.

--The Pirates made their first cuts this morning. No surprises. Yoslan, Bullington and JVB among them.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Pirates tie Blue Jays, 8-8

Dejan reports.

The Pirates, 0-4-1, remain winless in Spring Training. Though, Brad Eldred has hit his third home run of the spring. It's very encouraging to know that Eldred is performing like this. He's basically putting on a show for the rest of his career. It's doubtful he ever stays with the Pirates, so if he can bump himself up to trading bait for at least an American League team, then that's great. I'd love to see him succeed somewhere, because it's just not going to happen in Pittsburgh.

I'm starting to think him being on the Pirates' bench would be the best thing. Besides, as Dejan has said, how many times do we need a pinch-hit home run in a game? He could be of some use in that regard.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

It's Only March 1st...

The Pirates first official game of Spring Training 2007 ended with the Bucs going down, but they went down swinging. The Reds hit five home runs as a team, one by Adam Dunn and one by former first pick Josh Hamilton, en route to a 9-7 win today in Bradenton.

What Went Right: Andrew McCutchen homered in his first at-bat and he later doubled finishing 2-4. Luis Matos, who many consider likely to make this team when it breaks camp, hit two home runs. Jack Wilson had two hits and the Pirates stole two bases

What Went Wrong: Four Pitchers, all of whom will open the season in Pittsburgh, gave up at least a run. Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelany, John Grabow and Saloman Torres were all touched up, with Torres giving up four runs in one inning. Jack Wilson made his first error of the season.