Friday, August 6, 2010


I saw an article today about "yer" Pittsburgh Pirates that stated that the team was having trouble signing most of its draft choices.


While in itself this was not particularly shocking to me, the fact remains that as a follower of Pirates baseball, I am once again left shaking my head in wonderment at the way this franchise conducts business. While on one hand it was refreshing to see that the team didn’t trade Paul Maholm, a not-great pitcher, but still probably their best, I can’t help but wonder why a team that was so bereft of quality pitching, wouldn’t have tried to bring in a free agent starter during this past off-season and now they won't even pony up to sign their two hot shot pitching prospects. How can they not? Here's an idea: Use some of the forty or so million dollars that they're below the rest of the league in payroll and use it to sign the hotshots!

The Pirates’ pitching staff has been such a gigantic disappointment this year, that Neil Huntington cannot sit back and hope for a better performance from the same people next season. He now has a lot of very promising young ballplayers on his club and rather then giving them the opportunity to be clubbed like baby harp seals each night, he should try to have a pitcher on the mound who at least gives them a fighting chance.

As an example, the other night I had the privilege of watching Ross Ohlendorf throwing 105 pitches during his five innings of work. It absolutely amazed me that a major league pitcher could be so inaccurate with his throws, having made it to this highest level in his sport. I’ve coached players in Pony Baseball who had better control.

ABOVE: I just couldn't bring myself to put up a picture of one of these little guys getting clubbed. But you get the idea, it's not a pretty picture.

Then there is the “sixth inning syndrome” where nearly every pitcher routinely implodes. Did these guys ever hear of a complete game? How about the seventh inning or the eighth? Why is it that a minimum of three pitchers must be used for virtually every ballgame? Pitchers used to get mad when they were taken out. These guys can't wait!

No, the coddled pitchers of today are pleased to go six innings (a quality start we‘re told) and then we can expect to see those three different pitchers in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

The other night, this year’s all-star, Evan Meek, came in to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. Meek was totally unaccustomed to pitching more than one inning and it showed. All during this season, it’s usually been Meek, then Joel Hanrahan, followed by Octavio Dotel. With Dotel now departed for the Dodgers, and Hanrahan manning the closers’ role, Meek had to pitch two innings. Oh my gawd!!! While it was a humid night and Meek had thrown an Ohlendorf-like 50 pitches in two innings, when he came to the bench, he looked like he had just finished running the Boston Marathon!

Meek, who’s already on his way towards developing a fairly good spare tire, is obviously not in the best of condition. The Pirates pitchers need to be more physically fit and conditioned to not bail out once the sixth inning rolls around. These guys are way too soft. Steve Blass spoke of this during a Pirates telecast this past week. Truer words by a color man and former pitcher have never spoken. So where’s the Manager and the Pitching Coach? You mean to tell me that they can’t see that Meek looks out of shape? Next thing we know he’ll be blowing out his shoulder.

ABOVE: Maybe it was my TV set, but Evan Meek looks like he's growing one of these.

I also feel that Pirates management needs to get into their pitchers’ collective heads, be it from Bradenton to State College to Altoona to Indianapolis to Pittsburgh. Their pitchers need to be more mentally tough, they need to be physically stronger and above all else, they need to go into a ballgame absent the mindset that three runs in six innings equals a “quality start”. That's just plain baloney.

I hope that Neal Huntington can either pull off another trade or bring in a free agent or two in the off-season. As evidenced last night in James McDonald’s first successful start, a strong pitching effort makes all the difference in the world. With some better pitching, I’m sure that this current crop of young players would begin winning on a much more frequent basis. As the wins would come with greater regularity, the confidence level for their young players would grow exponentially.

You don’t need a degree in rocket science to be able to figure out that with some better starting pitching, some additional seasoning and a couple other pieces to the puzzle, the current group of young players could develop into the best baseball team Pittsburgh has seen since the days of Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke. Don’t laugh Pittsburgh, it could happen. But it won't happen if Neal doesn't get some starting pitching and soon.