Collier: Lineup, pitching still have plenty of work to do
August 28, 2013 4:15 AM
Milwaukee's Scooter Gennett slides around the tag of Russell Martin to score in the Brewers' three-run fifth inning Tuesday night at PNC Park.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Apparently, there was just no point in letting the summer fade away without at least one more substantial road-repair project, so the Pirates have decided to throw up some barricades and queue up some cones and barrels.
Your patience is appreciated.
The amount of mental dirt that has to be moved around this team right now is fairly substantial, but general manager Neal Huntington hopes the result is a smooth surface for a ride into the postseason.
In a Tuesday news conference in which he unleashed that rarest of official Pirates phrases, "as we work toward October," Huntington briefly explained his reasons for sending a prospect and a player to be named later to the New York Mets for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck.
That this required no explanation didn't matter at all in a clubhouse desperate for any credible thumper, but the deeper meaning of Huntington's swashbuckling was impactful on many levels, hence all the mental dirt.
The first time manager Clint Hurdle writes Byrd's name on his lineup card, for example, the Pirates will be a substantially different team than they were when he was able to write Starling Marte's name in the leadoff spot. The absence of Marte, whose hand injury now precludes him from swinging a bat for another two weeks, severely constricts the production and aggression of the rest of Hurdle's lineup, most of which hasn't much swung a bat for the past five months.
"You try to look at if from another direction," Hurdle said about an offense that hasn't stolen a base in 11 days with Marte in the dugout. "Try to run maybe at different times, to maybe hit and run on occasion. In that series against Arizona, we pulled off two of the best hit-and-runs I've ever been around. Both of 'em were doubles in the gap. [Neil] Walker hit one and [Jordy] Mercer hit one with Marte running. Just because it's not Marte running, now there are some other guys we're probably gonna look at to put in action, get moving a little bit. We've got a couple of guys who hit into double plays, so we might have to move up on that a little more, get people moving in front of them.
"It'd be nice to be able to sit back on our hands and hit, but that hasn't always worked out."
With Byrd in the middle of their lineup, the Pirates will be much more of a sit-on-your-hands offense because Hurdle will suddenly be managing a team that boasts three of the National League's top 10 RBI men: Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Marlon Byrd. The Pirates tried to embrace the mindset in the first game of the Brewers series. Walker jacked a three-run home run, Alvarez rang one off the foul pole and the offense erased Milwaukee leads of 5-0 and 6-5, but not 7-6.
How in the world Byrd, who'll bring 21 home runs and 71 RBIs to town today, wasn't claimed by any team ahead of the Pirates in the waiver line is another matter that might require some heavy mental lifting.
Does somebody know something the Pirates either don't know or don't care to know?
Byrd served a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs only last summer, and, while he has been subject to increased testing scrutiny this year and is clean from all current empirical evidence, his history on this issue is very, umm, unfortunate.
Byrd has suffered from gynecomastia, a condition that enlarges breast tissue, which he said he first noticed when it hurt so much to slide head-first.
Fearing a reoccurrence last year, he took a drug that included the active ingredient tamoxifen, a banned substance.
Byrd said he was unaware of that, which is at best plausible, but something a lot of people certainly do know is that gynecomastia, while it can occur naturally, is common among abusers of anabolics. Byrd's side of all this would be easier to lift mentally if he weren't still associated with BALCO founder Victor Conte even after the commissioner's office urged him not to take any "supplements" from the reformed drug designer at the heart of the Barry Bonds mess.
"I expected it," Byrd recently told Newsday's Marc Carig about the suspicions that persist around him. "The big thing is, why wouldn't anybody question it? I'm 35 going on 36. Last year, I hit .210 with [one] home run and nine RBIs, in conjunction with testing positive."
While all this is going on, the Pirates appear to be facing a tough decision on Jeff Locke, the All-Star starter who has lost his rhythm in the second half. Locke started Tuesday night against Milwaukee and couldn't get through five innings.
Locke's ERA in his past six starts is 8.10 and he hasn't won one since July 21. Do you want to unLocke the starting rotation while you're rebuilding the offense in the same week you're trying to retake first place with 31 games to play?
That's a lot to think about.
And that phrase, "as we work toward October," has an obvious keyword. Don't forget to put up that sign as well.