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06 March 2009

Who Wants The Ball?

Our Buccos have come blasting through the gate on an absolute tear in opening Grapefruit League action. Currently the Pirates hold a 6-2 GFL record with no signs of slowing down. Oh, if only championships were won in the spring!

Pitching has been the name of the game early, as Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan tries to put his stamp on this semi young staff and raise them to their expected level of play. Overall the Bucs hurlers have amassed a collective ERA of 3.24 while holding opposing hitters to a measly .221 batting average.

Two pitchers are planted firmly in the rotation, ace Paul Maholm and former ace Ian Snell. Perennial struggler Zach Duke, who is battling for one of the remaining 3 starting positions seems to have an edge in managements thought process. Team President Frank Coonley recently had this to say while discussing the Bucs starting pitching situation, “Zach Duke has also accepted the challenge that he must win a spot in the starting rotation and worked hard in the off season, and looks much sharper than he did last year.”

The 2-3 remaining rotation spots are being battled for by Tom Gorzelanny (an expected favorite to win one of the spots, though he struggled in his last appearance), Jeff Karstens, Phil Dumatrait (recovering from off season surgery), Ross Ohlendorf, and Daniel McCutchen.

In the bullpen, things are a bit more unknown and could very well turn into the ultimate demise of this club. It’s no secret in MLB, that in order to field a good team, your late inning pitching is what makes or breaks you. The Bucs have some solid options in closer Matt Capps, and 2 other certain locks in John Grabow and Tyler Yates. Outside of those 3, it’s an open competition. Possible pen arms include Sean Burnett, Craig Hansen, Chris Bootcheck, Evan Meek (leads the GFL with 3 saves), and Rule 5 acquisition Donnie Veal. Obviously, any of the prior mentioned pitchers vying for a starting pitcher spot, who do not make the cut there, could be moved into the bullpen as a middle relief or a long relief option. There are still rumors that the Bucs are interested in acquiring another pitcher or two for the bullpen. The prominent names being bandied about right now are free agent relievers Will Ohman and former Bucco Joe Beimel. If either Ohman or Beimel is brought in, it likely forecasts a future trade of John Grabow or even Sean Burnett by the trade deadline.

The fact that the pitching has been as solid as it has, is very encouraging. Granted it is only Spring Training and everyday starters are not getting the bulk of playing time. It is a long believed theory that hitters have an advantage over pitchers early in spring training because pitchers are concentrating on building arm strength and throwing more fast balls rather than off speed pitches, which in turn allows hitters to tee off on fast balls in wind aided venues. The early success warrants praise, even if it is limited.

As with any teams season, and even more so with small market clubs, the success of the Pittsburgh Pirates season hinges on what these arms are capable of doing this summer. For years we have heard how our young pitching will carry this organization going forward, well, now is the time to start seeing positive, consistent results. The likes of Maholm, Snell, Duke, Gorezellany, and newer hurlers Karstens, Ohlendorf, and even minor leaguers like Brad Lincoln, and Daniel Moskos to name a few, need to show they are the heart and soul of this organization, and set in place the true foundation of championship caliber baseball.

“ I feel like we have all just looked in the mirror,” Duke said, “and decided it’s our time to make things happen.”

The 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates will be as successful as their pitching allows them to be.
As the Buccos work their way through the spring and towards opening day on April 6th in St. Louis, I will revisit these battles for rosters spots and keep you updated with who is in and who is out.

- The Pirates spring training game today at 1:05 vs. AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays is being webcast for free on www.pittsburghpirates.com.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the good point about your post is that I actually learned something...keep up the good work!