Not Hurdle's finest hour

Saturday, 17 August 2013 08:00 PM


When the day comes, and it doesn’t figure to be soon, that Clint Hurdle is looking for a job, this game won't be on his resume. This Saturday afternoon matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks was not Hurdle’s finest hour as Pirates manager. It has been a three-year run filled with lots of good decisions. Not many of them were today.


Forget for a moment the extended tour of duty Hurdle gave starter Jeff Locke and consider his decision-making process in the sixth inning when the Pirates had the bases loaded with two out and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson brought in left-hander Joe Thatcher to pitch with the Diamondbacks leading, 8-5.


Thatcher is the definition of LOOGY (lefty one-out guy). Over the past four seasons, he has appeared in 195 games and pitched only 109 1/3 innings. Over that same span, left-handed batters are hitting .199 against him.


Scheduled to bat for the Pirates was Neil Walker, a switch-hitter, who would turn around and bat right-handed against Thatcher. Batting right-handed this season, against lefties, Walker has a .212 batting average. In 66 at bats, he does not have an extra base hit. Trailing by three, a single would have been nice, an extra-base hit even nicer


The situation screamed for a pinch-hitter and, conveniently, Gaby Sanchez was available for the Pirates. Although a lousy pinch-hitter (2-for-22), Sanchez, a right-handed hitter, is considerably better at hitting lefties than Walker. In fact, Sanchez has a batting average against lefties that is 100 points higher than Walker’s; a slugging percentage that is 345 points higher than Walker’s; and a OPS of 995, which is ninth best in the National League, and is more than double Walker’s.


Inexplicably, Hurdle stuck with Walker. Against all logic, presumably a gut feeling, Hurdle sent Walker out to face Thatcher.


Strike one (looking), strike two (swinging), foul ball (which was close to being a hit), foul ball, strike three swinging.


In the end, it made no difference. The 8-5 score became 12-5 in the eighth and 15-5 in the ninth, which is how it ended.


Still, what was Hurdle thinking? He stuck with Walker in a similar situation earlier this month and Walker responded with a game-tying sacrifice fly. It makes no difference. Hurdle allowed a batter who is well known to have difficulty hitting lefties go to the plate instead of going with a player who is well known to have success hitting lefties at a crucial point in the game.


Hurdle's explanation (from Gene Collier's column): ``I think [Walker's] right-handed stroke has shown some momentum. He's worked hard. Every day we evaluate what the best lineup is to throw out, so we'll see as we move forward. He's workin' really, really hard on this because he believes he's got more to give from that side. We continue to go back and look at the 2010 tape in which the splits were very comparable.''


Hurdle's strategy in sticking with starter Jeff Locke, who labored from the start, was only slightly easier to understand. Managers hate to lift a starter early because it means throwing a ton of innings at their bullpen. But Locke looked like he needed help almost from the first batter. Arizona scored twice in the first on two hits and two walks as Locke was consistently behind in the count.


He gave up a hit and a walk in the second but escaped with the final two outs being line drives to the outfield.


Then came the deluge! In the third, after the first two batters were retired, single, single, double, single, single, home run, single. After the final single, Hurdle trudged to the mound and motioned to the bullpen.


Hurdle didn't know it at the time, but the afternoon would grow darker and longer.


Pirates-Arizona: Offense improving

Saturday, 17 August 2013 02:45 PM


Almost everyone, myself included, complains about the Pirates offense and about the need to upgrade, preferably with a power bat. Some people, myself included, are suggesting Justin Morneau is just what the Pirates need. If not Morneau, Paul Konerko, also a past-his-prime slugger who’s available.


Well, maybe not. In the second half of the season, which is a relatively small sample size but nevertheless at least a trend, the Pirates offense is doing much better. They are sixth in runs per game, right behind Cincinnati. More significantly, they are third in OPS at .736, a robust team figure, and well ahead of the Reds and St. Louis, who are posting .688 and .685 numbers. The Pirates also are second in total bases and third in home runs.


Those figures are proof once again that all of us too closely examine the warts of the Pirates and fail to realize other teams have problems, too.  For example, Allen Craig, a catalyst to the St. Louis offense in the first half and an MVP candidate, is batting .240 with a .643 OPS in the second half. Carlos Beltran, who had 19 homers in the first half, has one in 87 at bats in the second half.


*  *  *


Tabata in right field: Playing the semi-hot hand, manager Clint Hurdle has Jose Tabata in right field today over rookie Andrew Lambo, who was recalled from Indianpolis earlier in the week. It would be nice to get a long look at Lambo, but the Pirates main -- only -- priority now is winning games. Which means, based on the way Tabata has played and on the way Lambo has played, Tabata has earned and deserves the start because he gives the team the best chance to win.


All eyes on Jeff Locke, 9-3, 2.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, who was a key performer in the first half for the Pirates but has shown signs of decline in the second half. Locke was pitching well above expectations so a decline was expected. It’s has not been considerable. His ERA in the second half is a more-than-respectable 3.87. What is a bit alarming is his BAA has jumped from .202 to .287. Locke’s most recent start -- 5 2/3 innings, three hits, one earned run, four walks -- was an improvement on the three before when he put 37 men on base in 16 1/3 innings.


Opposing pitcher: Right-hander Trevor Cahill, 3-10, 4.66 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, has been on the disabled list and is making his first start since June 30. In his three most recent starts, his ERA is 10.45; in his past eight it is 7.91. However, he was a solid performer early in the season and had an ERA of 2.88 at the end of May. Clint Barmes is 2-for-4 with a home run against Cahill. This is a link to Cahill’s stats against Pirates batters.


Pirates lineup, 4:05 p.m. game time:


1. Marte, LF

2. Walker, 2B

3. McCutchen, CF

4. Alvarez, 3B

5. Martin, C

6. Jones, 1B

7. Tabata, RF

8. Mercer, SS

9. Locke, P


How Penn State football survived

Saturday, 17 August 2013 01:00 PM


You don’t have to be a Penn State fan to appreciate this inside look at how Penn State players and former letterman rallied around the program in the immediate aftermath of the harsh sanctions levied against the school and how their words and deeds helped the team survive. An excerpt from the book, ‘Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football.’


By John U. Bacon, Wall Street Journal


On July 23, 2012, Penn State's football players gathered in their lounge to watch on television as NCAA president Mark Emmert walked to the podium for a news conference.


Eight months earlier, prosecutors had arrested Penn State's former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on 40 criminal counts, including the sexual assault of several boys over a 15-year period, one of them in the showers of Penn State's football building. Within three months of Sandusky's arrest, Penn State trustees released their president, a senior vice president and their Hall of Fame coach, Joe Paterno, who died soon afterward. The athletic director also ultimately lost his job. Then a report commissioned by the university found that those leaders knew enough of what Sandusky had done to report him to the authorities, but cared more about protecting the university's image than his victims.


Most Penn State players didn't know who Sandusky was until they saw his picture on TV. Only then did some recognize him as the "old guy who worked out here once in a while."


Their reactions were swift. "They used to hang people at the Centre County courthouse," linebacker Mike Mauti told me, "and frankly, I would have been OK with that. Hell, give us the rope, and we'll do it for you."


Read the rest of the story.

Braun to apologize, admit guilt

Saturday, 17 August 2013 10:45 AM


Knowing he is probably wanted nowhere and knowing that the world sees him as a serial doper, a serial liar and an all-around bad person, Ryan Braun will now resort to the last option for such a person in American society: The complete apology. Hey, it’s worked for others.


By Bob Nightengale, USA Today


Milwaukee Brewers embattled left fielder Ryan Braun plans to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Braun, according to people who are familiar with his plans, is ready to soon admit that he used performance-enhancing drugs in parts of the 2011 season, the reasons why he did it, and publicly apologize for the lies and deception.


People familiar with the plans, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because Braun has yet to make the announcement, said he has begun sending apologies to baseball officials, and is expected to express remorse in the statement. It's unclear what specifics will be in the statement.


And, for the first time, he will admit guilt. People close to Braun said he is eager to be the anti-Alex Rodriguez and is desperately trying to distance himself from the New York Yankees third baseman.


Read the rest of the story.

*  *  *  Braun sued by long-time friend


Pirates win, competitors all lose

Saturday, 17 August 2013 12:15 AM


Three storylines from a three-pronged Pirates' 6-2 win last night over Arizona. The victory pushed back the Diamondbacks' wild-card hopes while at the same time opened up a game in the division on St. Louis and Cincinnati, which both lost. Reds closer Aroldis Chapman bleiw a ninth-innning lead to Milwaukee.


* Gerrit Cole: It’s been a long time since Pirate fans have been able to view the captivating development of a future ace. Cole is learning right before our eyes. He’s not close to being a finished product and maybe it would have been better for him to have more time at Class AAA.


But you’d have a hard time convincing his teammates of that. Cole has stepped in and competed like a seasoned pro and showing none of the intimidation that might be expected from such a young and inexperienced player.


He labored mightily in the fourth inning last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, throwing 30 pitches and giving back the two-run lead his teammates had forged for him in the third. But he retired seven of the final eight batters he faced before turning the game over to the bullpen. Cole got the win in the 6-2 victory before a sellout crowd at PNC Park.


* Jose Tabata: Has competition from the next Great Hope sparks a fire in Tabata, whose lethargy is well known, if not legendary? Probably not, but since the arrival of Class AAA slugger Andrew Lambo, Tabata has turned his game up a notch. How long it will continue remains to be determined.


In a typical Tabata move, he was in the starting lineup on Tuesday, when Lambo joined the team, but took sick shortly before game time. It’s not often a veteran throws open the door of opportunity to his potential successor. Lambo got the next three starts and was 1-for-8. When St. Louis had a left-hander face Lambo Thursday, Tabata was sent up to pinch-hit.


Who knew? Tabata finished the 12-inning game with three hits, including two doubles. Last night he produced the rare Jose Tabata-event, a home run, his fourth of the season and the 15th of his career that dates back to 2010. The home run provided the final two runs in the win, which halted a Pirates slump that had consisted of five losses in six games.


* Jeanmar Gomez: He is on the right end of one of the most unknown lopsided baseball trades of the past year. What were the Cleveland Indians thinking when they gave up Gomez for Quincy Latimore, a borderline prospect who was last seen playing for the Washington Wild Things in the indeptendent Frontier League?


A brilliant deal by Neal Huntington and his staff. Gomez has been the personification of a swingman, starting, pitching long relief or, like last night, setting up for Mark Melancon. He pitched the seventh and eighth innings and allowed no baserunners while striking out three.


In eight starts he has a 2.80 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and 2.06 BAA.  A rare bad outing -- five earned runs in one-third of an inning on Aug. 1 -- blew up his bullpen ERA to over 3.00, but that does not diminish his contributions or make the Cleveland Indians look any less foolish.


Pirates-Arizona: Looking for wins

Friday, 16 August 2013 04:15 PM


If it’s mid-August and you’re a contender, every series is a key series. When the opponent is a threat to you making the playoff, it only serves to ratchet up the importance and the drama. It’s pennant-race baseball and there’s nothing quite like it.


The Pirates, losers of five of their past six, seek to regain their footing tonight at PNC Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of six of their past eight including three straight from the Baltimore Orioles.


The Diamondbacks are 7 1/2 games behind Los Angeles, which is seemingly uncatchable, in the NL West. Their greater hope of a postseason berth is as a wildcard. They are currently six games behind the second wild card, which puts them 8 1/2 behind the Pirates.


It’s an important series for both teams. The Pirates need to win to maintain their lead in the NL Central, which is 2 1/2 games over St. Louis, which lost to Chicago this afternoon, and Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks need to win to make up some ground in their wild-card race.


*  *  *


Right-handers galore: In their next seven games, the Pirates are scheduled to face six right-handed starters, which pretty much is how it has gone for the team this season. Pedro Alvarez leads the Pirates in at bats against left-handed pitching with 96. That puts him 62nd in the National League. Starling Marte is second on the Pirates (81) and 85th in the league. Andrew McCutchen (77) is 91st. By comparison, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce of the Reds, playing a similar schedule, have 160 and 159 at bats against lefties and are second and third. The Pirates have a .734 OPS vs. lefties, which leads the National League. Their OPS vs. right-handers is .697, which is 12th.  


No respect:  There’s no talk about Jeff Locke being the pitcher the Pirates would look to in a one-game playoff. Some might even regard him as the team's No. 4 starter. Well, guess who leads the Pirates in ERA, BAA, OPS-against and is third in WHIP? Not only that, Locke is third in the NL in ERA and BAA and eighth in OPS-against. He’s 9-3 with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He’s also among the leaders in a more dubious category -- walks, where he’s tied for second in the league with 65 (4.27/9).  


Well-rested: Gerrit Cole, 5-5, 3.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP makes his first start since Aug. 8. That start would rank among his worst as a Pirate -- five innings, six hits, four earned runs, one walk, four strikeouts. Cole has never faced the Diamondbacks.

Oposing pitcher: Right-hander Brandon McCarthy, 2-6, 4.73 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, is having some rough going after an excellent stretch. In his past three starts, his ERA is 6.43 and he gotten out of the fifth inning only once. In the three starts before that, he pitched 24 innings and allowed 15 hits and one earned run (0.38 ERA). His splits are awful. Right-handers have an .839 OPS against him, left-handers .750. This is a link to McCarthy’s stats against Pirates hitters.


Pirates lineup, 7:05 p.m. game time:


1. Marte, LF

2. Walker, 2B

3. McCutchen, CF

4. Alvarez, 3B

5. Martin, C

6. Jones, 1B

7. Tabata, RF

8. Mercer, SS

9. Cole, P


MLB gets replay all wrong

Friday, 16 August 2013 01:30 PM


Not to be harsh, but MLB’s plan to implement more instant replay for the 2014 season stinks.


The decision to rest the replays on coaching challenges is beyond stupid. The burden of getting calls right should not rest with managers, nor should it rest with coaches in the NFL. Limiting the number of challenges is equally stupid. Some games have no plays worthy of replay, some have 10.


With good to outstanding methods of handling replay in place in college football and the NHL, it is beyond understanding why MLB would copy the cumbersome NFL challenge system. Jay Jaffe has the full story below.

By Jay Jaffe,


After discussing the matter at this week’s quarterly owners meetings, Major League Baseball has announced its plan to expand instant replay. According to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, starting in 2014,MLB will implement a challenge system via which managers will ask for replay reviews but be limited to three challenges per game, one in the first six innings and two for the later innings.


According to ESPN’s SportsCenter, the reviews will be done by a crew at MLB headquarters.


The need for expanded replay is long overdue, and it shouldn’t be overlooked that MLB is finally ready to move beyond the current system of boundary calls to cover fair/foul, trapped balls and outs on the basepaths, but not balls and strikes. Nonetheless, the creation of an NFL-style system with its artificial limits on the number of calls that can be reviewed in a game appears to be a less-than-ideal solution.


Read the rest of the story.


The Pirates skipped Gerrit Cole’s turn in the rotation this week due to a concern over the number of innings he was pitching in this his rookie season. Their attention might better have been directed at A.J. Burnett and the quality of innings he is pitching in this his 15th season in MLB.


There’s no explaining it, but for the four seasons preceding this one Burnett has been flat-out awful in August.  His July performances have been OK and he has mostly righted himself in September. But since 2009, Burnett has had an inexplicable August meltdown. What's alarming is that it looks like 2013 is headed in that same direction.


Normally, consecutive bad starts by a pitcher of Burnett’s caliber would not be a concern. But after blowing leads in Colorado and St. Louis in his past two starts -- after a strong first August start -- Burnett could be be headed toward another August collapse.


Including this season, Burnett's August ERA going back to 2009 is 7.03.  If August is subtracted from those years his ERA is 3.77.


Here are his August performance since 2009.


                        Starts      IP       ER       ERA   


2009                     6         37.1    25       6.03

2010                     5         30       26       7.80

2011                     5         22.2    30      11.91

2012                     5         33       19        5.18

2013                     3         19       11        5.21


The suddenness of his most recent meltdowns is particularly troublesome.


Against St. Louis yesterday, he pitched a very nice first four innings -- two hits, one an infield single, and a walk. And then, boom! This top-of-the-rotation starter, who had been one of the best in the National League this season, turned into batting practice: single, double, single, pop up (the pitcher attempting to bunt), triple, single, double


The 4-0 lead given Burnett in the top of the fifth now was a one-run deficit and the Pirates went on to lose.


In his start Saturday at Colorado, there were hints. Burnett was not in command through the first four innings -- four hits, two walks, one intentional -- but he retired the side in order for the first time in the fifth.


But when presented with his first lead of the game in the top of the sixth, Burnett came apart: Single, strike out, fly out, double, walk, double, single. The 3-1 lead became a tie game and the Pirates went on to lose.


Except for 2010, when his September ERA was 5.60, Burnett has donea good job of righting himself after the poor August. He was 1-5 in last Sept.-Oct., but with a 2.98 ERA.


The problem appears to be mainly August. It’s possible, Burnett wears down in August. But the fact the spent almost a month -- June 9 to July 8 -- on the disabled list would indicate the ineffectiveness he’s shown in the past two games is not due to overwork.


Whatever the cause, this deserves some attention from the Pirates. They cannot afford a another A.J.Burnett August.



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