Game 70: Pirates open crucial series in Cincinnati

Lineups:

Pirates (41-28)
1. Starling Marte – LF
2. Alex Presley – RF
3. Andrew McCutchen – CF
4. Garrett Jones – 1B
5. Russell Martin – C
6. Pedro Alvarez – 3B
7. Neil Walker – 2B
8. Jordy Mercer – SS
9. Francisco Liriano – P

Reds (42-28)
1. Shin-Soo Choo – CF
2. Derrick Robinson – LF
3. Joey Votto – 1B
4. Brandon Phillips – 2B
5. Jay Bruce – RF
6. Todd Frazier – 3B
7. Zack Cozart – SS
8. Devin Mesoraco – C
9. Mike Leake – P

Notes:

  • It’s June 17, and the Pirates are just now making their first trip to Great American Ballpark for the season. That’s pretty notable, considering the Bucs own a 4-2 record against their division opponents — all six games being played in Pittsburgh.
  • It’s June 17, and the Pirates are half-way to that infamous 82-win mark. Trivial, but cool and indicative of how well they’ve started. The Reds are one-half game above the Pirates for second in the Central.
  • This is a start where the Pirates really need Francisco Liriano to continue his success. The team, facing injury issues, will throw out Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton in the rest of the four-game set. Morton and Cumpton can’t be relied on too heavily, especially against the Reds in Cincy, so if the Bucs want to feel confident in at least splitting the series and keeping pace in the standings, they should win this one tonight.

    Liriano pitched against the Reds on June 1, and was brilliant. In six innings, he allowed one measly run on five base runners while punching out 11.

  • Clint Hurdle has stated that Jordy Mercer will receive the majority of playing time at short, according to Travis Sawchik.

    Fine by me. Mercer is obviously the superior hitter, but right now the offense is clicking. Sure, Jordy has been a key to that success, but with this less-than-stellar rotation, I’d also be fine with Barmes helping out in the field.

    This is a great “problem” to have and it again speaks to the depth with which GM Neal Huntington has padded the team in the upper minors. While neither Mercer nor Barmes is really an above-average option at shortstop, it’s still encouraging that one (Mercer) was a 2008 draft pick and the other was a free agent acquisition. It gives me just a bit more faith that Huntington has at least a decent idea of how to stockpile some talent.

  • Speaking of talent, Starling Marte — who was actually signed during Dave Littlefield’s tenure — is back in the lineup after playing almost four innings in yesterday’s game. He had missed the two contests prior to Sunday with sore ribs, so it’s nice to have him on the field (hopefully) consistently again.
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    By tyle23r

    Reese McGuire, Pirates could soon agree to deal

    As tweeted by Travis Sawchik, catcher Reese McGuire is expected to receive a physical and sign with the Pirates tomorrow, according to the player’s high school coach.

    It’s kind of interesting that the news comes from such a source, but this type of “leak,” if you will, isn’t uncommon. There’s no reason for the coach to make this up.

    McGuire was the 14th overall selection in the June 6, 2103 first year player draft. If he does sign, he’ll most likely play with the short-season A-ball Jamestown Jammers.

    It’s obviously great to get him signed well before the July 12 deadline at 5 p.m. and now the Bucs can focus on their other first-rounder, HS outfielder Austin Meadows.

    By tyle23r

    James McDonald to move to the bullpen?

    As Travis Sawchik of the Trib reports, Neal Huntington admitted that James McDonald may not have a spot in the rotation when he returns from the disabled list.

    McDonald has been terrible in his rehab starts, including a lackluster outing at Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday. The 28-year-old righty went five innings, allowing eight hits, three walks, a home run and four runs (three earned). He struck out just one batter and threw 52 of 93 pitches for strikes. That’s not going to cut it, especially when Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Brandon Cumpton all present more reliable options. Not that any of those three — particularly the latter two — have blown out the competition, but that’s just how awful McDonald has been.

    Even before going on the DL in early May for a sore shoulder, McDonald was ineffective at the big league level. He posted a 5.76 ERA and 6.07 BB/9 in 29 2/3 innings and it’s reasonable to believe McDonald may be seriously hurt — as in, unfixable over just a 15-day DL stint. His career average fastball velocity is 92.3 mph, which is a hair above the 90.4 mph he’s averaged in 2013. To that extent, his max velocity over his career is 97.5, but this season’s the peak number is 93.2 mph.

    But let’s pretend for a second that McDonald isn’t hurt (anymore, maybe). Say he does come back and is inserted into the ‘pen: How does he fare?

    Continue reading

    Pirates win 6-3: Sons shine in the sunshine

    It took a little time for the sun to shine on this Father’s Day, causing the Pirates-Dodgers game to be delayed until about three o’clock.

    But once the skies cleared up and the rays illuminated PNC Park, it didn’t take long for the Pirates’ collection of sons — who honored their fathers throughout the ROOT broadcast — to shine in their own way and take a 6-3 win against Los Angeles.

    The Pirates jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against Zack Greinke and the Dodgers after Garrett Jones lined a two-run double to right-center field that scored Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen.

    Los Angeles got a quick run back off Gerrit Cole, though his role in the scoring was actually pretty minimal. Yasiel Puig singled on a decently sharp-hit grounder up the middle — just out of Mercer’s reach at short — to lead off the inning, then stole second and advanced to third on an Andre Ethier ground out. With one out, Cole shoved a 99 mph fastball up at Tim Federowicz’s hands, and he somehow was able to put the ball in play with enough pace that Puig could score on the grounder to short.

    In the fourth, Cole watched another 99 mph offering — this one fought off and blooped into left by Ethier — turn into an RBI and tie the game at 2-2.

    Cole wasn’t too sharp, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing seven hits and three earned runs while striking out just one and walking none. He still got the win, though, which puts him in company with Josh Fogg, Tim Wakefield, Jose de Leon and someone else I can’t/don’t need to remember as the only Pirates’ starters who won their first two big league outings. The only reason I point this out is because the graphic was shown at least a couple of times on the ROOT broadcast, as if it’s indicative of anything — and hopefully it’s not. Who knows, maybe the graphic was making the point that Cole will transform into a kunckle-balling, mustachioed flame-out who doesn’t get remembered.

    We can probably assume at least two of those descriptors won’t come true. But to ensure that, Cole is going to need more swing-and-miss stuff in the coming years. For now, though, he’s getting the job done just by avoiding walks and homers and limiting hard contact. Like I noted before the game, Cole’s rookie season could end up looking a lot like Greinke’s rookie campaign in 2004, and this outing furthered my faith in that notion.

    But the reason Cole nabbed a win and joined such an elite cavalcade of Bucs’ hurlers is because Pedro Alvarez crushed a three-run shot into the center field shrubbery off Greinke in the fifth. It was his 15th homer and his 41st runs-batted-in. And Pedro, more so than any other of the sons on this team, LOVES hitting in the sunshine of the daytime. He kept his production quota up in this day game.

    Alex Presley followed that display of power with his own long ball in the sixth, a liner above the Clemente Wall in right.

    That was all the Pirates needed to coast past the Dodgers and take a 2-1 series victory.

    A positive sight was Starling Marte coming into the game in the sixth. Hopefully this means his ribs are feeling OK and that he’s avoiding a DL stint.

    With the exception of some shaky command by Justin Wilson when he first entered the contest, the bullpen shut the opponents out. Jason Grilli struck out two en route to his 25th save.

    The Pirates now head to Cincinnati for a critical four-game series against the second-place Reds.

    Game 68: What can be learned from Zack Greinke regarding Gerrit Cole

    Lineups

    Dodgers (29-38)
    1. Skip Schumaker – 2B
    2. Nick Punto – SS
    3. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B
    4. Yasiel Puig – RF
    5. Andre Ethier – CF
    6. Tim Federowicz – C
    7. Luis Cruz – 3B
    8. Alex Castellanos – LF
    9. Zack Greinke – P

    Pirates (40-28)
    1. Alex Presley – LF
    2. Jordy Mercer – SS
    3. Andrew McCutchen – CF
    4. Garrett Jones – 1B
    5. Neil Walker – 2B
    6. Pedro Alvarez – 3B
    7. Travis Snider – RF
    8. Michael McKenry – C
    9. Gerrit Cole – P

    Continue reading

    By tyle23r

    How the Pirates’ 5-3 loss encouraged me to be grateful

    Believe me when I say this: I left PNC Park after a Pirates’ extra-innings loss to a team that’s 10 games under .500 and was satisfied — pleased even — with the afternoon.

    That last word is a big part of my feelings, since a Saturday afternoon baseball game in the summer is just about the most serene of atmospheres.

    But, again, the Dodgers came into the afternoon with a 28-38 record and the Pirates had a chance to win a game in which they faced Clayton Kershaw, but still lost — none of which was all that off-putting.

    Continue reading

    By tyle23r

    Lineups, thoughts on Brandon Cumpton

    Lineups

    Dodgers (28-38)
    1. Skip Schumaker – LF
    2. Yasiel Puig – RF
    3. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B
    4. Hanley Ramirez – SS
    5. Andre Ethier – CF
    6. Mark Ellis – 2B
    7. Juan Uribe – 3B
    8. A.J. Ellis – C
    9. Clayton Kershaw – P

    Pirates (40-27)
    1. Alex Presley – LF
    2. Jordy Mercer – SS
    3. Andrew McCutchen – CF
    4. Gaby Sanchez – 1B
    5. Russell Martin – C
    6. Neil Walker – 2B
    7. Pedro Alvarez – 3B
    8. Brandon Inge – RF
    9. Brandon Cumpton – P

    Notes

  • Obviously, the story here is Brandon Cumpton’s major league debut. So who is this guy, drafted in the ninth round out of Georgia Tech in 2010?
  • Cumpton is 24 years-old and has a solid pitcher’s frame, standing at 6-foot-2 and a tick under 200 pounds. As is typical with almost any prospect in the Pirates’ system, Cumpton has moved slowly throughout the minors since making his pro debut in the New York Penn League the same year he was drafted. He’s touched every level and experienced moderate success before advancing. In total, the right-hander has posted a 3.85 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 371 1/3 career minor league innings.

    While these numbers aren’t spectacular, the peripheral info suggests he can excel in the exact role he was drafted to fill: Add depth with a hint of upside and potential to thrive as a middle relief option.

    The Pirates should be content if a college righty with average stuff drafted in the ninth round can be effective — even if just for today. And given his acceptable control (career 2.22 K/BB) and ground-ball-inducing pitches (3:1 GO/AO in 2013), there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to hold his own as a spot starter.

    For a team dying to maintain its early success, which was built on strong pitching, and keep pace in baseball’s toughest division, the Pirates need to have reliable depth from guys like Cumpton, Andy Oliver and, yes, Gerrit Cole.

    Obviously Cole has incredibly higher expectations than Cumpton — and as a 1-1 draft pick his career value has substantial implications on the future of the Pirates — but I actually think their debuts/performance could be similar in the very short term.

    Cumpton’s fastball sits at 90-93 and he throws a mid-80s slider and low-80s change up, according to Tim Williams (who offers a great scouting report on Cumpton here). So although Cole’s stuff is clearly superior, the two pitchers have produced comparable results.

    The Dodgers are the seventh-toughest team in all of baseball to strike out and they are in the dead middle of the pack in taking walks.

    Like we saw with Cole on Tuesday, I expect Cumpton to pound the strike zone and be as efficient as possible. But since Cumpton features less dominating stuff, he’ll be easier to hit.

    Few strikeouts, few walks, lots of balls in play — especially on the ground — where the Pirates defense can help the rookie pitcher out (except in right field, where Brandon Inge is embarrassing himself tonight).

    That Clayton Kershaw also starts today has to add extra stress to Cumpton’s debut. It’ll be tough for Pittsburgh to do much against the Dodgers’ talented lefty, so Cumpton has to be absurdly sharp to out-duel his mound opponent.

    If the Pirates are going to avoid another collapse like they have the past couple years, Cumpton will have to be one of several guys who come up and prevent the pitching staff from completely disintegrating after injury/ineffectiveness. Today is the first true test (Cole’s debut was inevitable this year) of that depth.

    I’m at the game to watch Cumpton and the Bucs try to win the second game of the weekend set, so I’ll be sure to keep notes of the evening.

    By tyle23r

    Game 65: Can Pirates keep up pace against Cain?

    Last night was a long, freaking time coming. For the first time since May 11 against the Mets, the Pirates posted double-digit runs in a game. That 11-2 romping in New York mirrored the box score from Pittsburgh’s 12-8 victory over San Francisco on Wednesday.

    Jonathan Niese, a lefty whose average fastball velocity is under 90 mph, was the Mets’ starter in the May 11 game versus the Bucs, and he allowed eight earned runs on eight hits and three walks in just 4 2/3 innings.

    Barry Zito, another soft-tossing lefty who sits at about 84 mph with his fastball, surrendered eight earned runs on 11 hits and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

    Obviously Zito was knocked around a bit more, but the results (runs allowed) were the same throughout an equal sample (innings pitched).

    Also of note is the comparable top-of-the-order production in the two games. Of the 16 hits the Pirates pounded out against the Mets, five (in 12 at-bats) came from the top three, who also tallied five runs — Starling Marte (2-for-5), Jordy Mercer (2-for-5) and Andrew McCutchen (1-for-2 with a walk in five innings of play). In last night’s game, that trio went 10-for-15 and scored eight runs as the top of a batting order that, in total, produced 18 hits and 12 runs.

    So thing were proportionate: Neise is a bit better than Zito and the Pirates’ top three batters’ were only a hair less successful as a result.

    But the great thing is that the Pirates have been scoring(?!) against the Giants so far this series and now run into a talented-but-struggling Matt Cain (5.09 ERA, 3.93 xFIP).

    Charlie Morton makes the start in place of Wandy Rodriguez, who is on the 15-day disabled list. It’s Morton’s first start of the season.

      Lineups:

    Giants (33-31)
    1. Gregor Blanco – CF
    2. Brandon Crawford – SS
    3. Buster Posey – C
    4. Hunter Pence – RF
    5. Brandon Belt – 1B
    6. Andres Torres – LF
    7. Joaquin Arias – 3B
    8. Nick Noonan – 2B
    9. Matt Cain – P

    Pirates (39-26)
    1. Alex Presley – LF
    2. Travis Snider – RF
    3. Andrew McCutchen – CF
    4. Garrett Jones – 1B
    5. Neil Walker – 2B
    6. Pedro Alvarez – 3B
    7. Michael McKenry – C
    8. Jordy Mercer – SS
    9. Charlie Morton – P

    By tyle23r

    Game 64: Pirates vs. Giants

    Giants (33-30)

    1. Andres Torres – LF

    2. Tony Abreu – 2B

    3. Buster Posey – C

    4. Hunter Pence – RF

    5. Joaquin Arias – 3B

    6. Brandon Belt – 1B

    7. Juan Perez – CF

    8. Brandon Crawford – SS

    9. Barry Zito – P

     

    Pirates (38-26)

    1. Starling Marte – LF

    2. Jordy Mercer – SS

    3. Andrew McCutchen – CF

    4. Gaby Sanchez – 1B

    5. Russell Martin – C

    6. Pedro Alvarez – 3B

    7. Neil Walker – 2B

    8. Brandon Inge – RF (Why?!)

    9. Francisco Liriano – P

    By tyle23r

    Cole dazzles in debut, electrifies crowd

    Gerrit Cole commanded such a crowd in Pittsburgh tonight that the Pirates brought in extra security.

    And while the latecomers among the 30,614 in attendance were straggling into the gates, the outline of their bodies being traced by a waving metal detector, Cole was inside PNC Park making the first big-league batter he faced look just like those security guards.

    Gregor Blanco struck out on Cole’s first three pitches in the majors, flailing at a 99 mph fastball straight down the heart of the plate.

    Cole continued pounding the strike zone throughout the rest of the game. He threw 81 pitches, 59 of which were strikes (72.8 percent), and was consistently sitting at 95-97 mph. Though he struck out just two batters, he walked none and was extremely efficient during a streak of 13 straight retired batters. In total, the rookie went 6 1/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on seven hits — earning the win in Pittsburgh’s 8-2 triumph over the reigning World Series champs.

    His fastball was explosive, as indicated by the radar readings, and catcher Russell Martin said in his post-game interview on TV that Cole has the best fastball he’s ever caught.

    Such praise has to be taken with a grain of salt since Martin was essentially coaxed into saying as much, but it’s notable to consider the catcher has been teammates with Clayton Kershaw and C.C. Sabathia.

    But the biggest surprise — other than perhaps Martin’s comment — came when the 22-year-old Pirates’ hurler stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second.

    Cole smoked a line drive to left-center field and nearly split the two outfielders, scoring the Pirates’ first two runs. His Zoltan signal needs a little work, particularly in separating the hands a bit more, but I have no qualms about that hitting approach. Cole actually had a chance to go 2-for-3 if not 3-for-3, since he grounded one back up the middle to Tim Lincecum and lined another ball to center, though this one was snagged.

    It really was an electric night, just watching the game on TV.

    Pedro Alvarez went 3-for-3 with a towering homer to left-center and collected three RBI on the night. He also made a couple nice defensive plays at third, including a quick pick and throw to get Joaquin Arias at first — prompting Cole to pump his fist and pat Alvarez on the back.

    Starling Marte also homered, which is his sixth tater on the season, and stole a base.

    This type of night is exactly what the Pirates needed having lost six of nine games coming into Tuesday. Cole certainly has the potential to provide that boost — both to the team and the crowd — throughout the remainder of the season and it’ll be fascinating to see if he’ll be able to do so after adjusting.

    By that I mean, he won’t be able to thrive with low strikeout totals and nor will his defense be able to pick him up for every start. So something’s probably going to have to change, and the most probable thing is for the strikeout rate to climb.

    But for now, Cole and the Pirates will be the talk of the town and for all the right reasons, too.

    It’s funny that this debut needed increased security; if he continues pitching like he did tonight, Gerrit Cole will be the one providing security to a rotation — and ball club — that needed some patching and a pickup.