Spring cuts can make for emotional scenes, almost invariably to the negative. But there was quite a lot to see in the other direction yesterday ...
Early in the morning, Luis Rivas was sitting by himself on an equipment trunk, shortly after hearing he had been added to the roster. One can only guess at what he was thinking, but judging from a narrow smile and distant gaze, it seems wholly likely that he was looking back on the two years of riding buses that led to this.
Neal Huntington walked behind him and playfully shook both of his shoulders, part congratulations and part get-back-to-work.
Nyjer Morgan played his usual comic role after getting the job, cracking up everyone from the reporters gathered to Jason Bay at a nearby stall. A couple minutes later, though, with only Doug Mientkiewicz seated a couple stools away, he became visibly emotional.
This guy was a hockey player at the next-to-highest level to the NHL, lost and confused after that, and he had just made a Major League Baseball team out of spring training.
No need to guess what he was thinking.
Nate McLouth was all business, as always, but there was a trace of gosh-wow in his reaction, from having a ring of media to going outside for a radio interview to getting handshakes all around.
But his real wow-I'm-an-everyday-player moment might have come when one of the many minor-leaguers who filled out the roster on this day approached him and thanked him for being a teammate for a day.
He called McLouth "sir."
We have Qs ...
Q: Dejan, if Matt Morris has an era around 9.00 by the end of April, with a salary like that, is it at all likely that the Pirates will flat-out cut him or at least take his starting gig away?
Maybe he'll improve with the start of the season but, if he pitches this way during the regular season, he's not even going to be trade-able.
Joshua Britton of Rochester, N.Y.
KOVACEVIC: First off, Joshua, Morris is not trade-able now. The Pirates tried this offseason -- rather aggressively, from what I understand -- and there were no takers. Not with a $9 million salary and a $1 million option buyout due.
Second, I find it highly unlikely, if only because of the Pirates' wish to trade him, that he would be removed from the rotation. A 9.00 ERA might do it. If he is outright costing them games, sure. But mere mediocrity or something just below it probably would not.
I am obviously guessing on all counts, but I do know that the best path for Morris to be traded is to have a strong first half like the one he had with San Francisco last year, and that will not happen if he is a long man in the bullpen.
Q: Hi, Dejan. Monday? Matt Morris gives up a ton of runs, and it ain't as bad as the linescore? Weren't both teams playing on the same field? Was it only windy when Tampa Bay batted? Is that the sort of reporting we can expect for the regular season?
(See? Not once did I type PBC. I hate that description of the ball club.)
Herbert Swanhart of Waipahu, Hawaii
KOVACEVIC: You are a long-time reader, Herb, and I respect your views on that piece, as well as a few other readers who complained about what they saw as my ... spinning ... Morris' day, as Dave Phillips of Kingsport, Tenn., put it.
Let me just say this ...
I hate writing stuff like that.
I know with every single keystroke that readers everywhere are rolling their eyes, accusing me of spinning Morris' performance into something positive, of being the company guy or whatever.
I am aware, even as I type, that the convenient approach would be to just say Morris was awful. Think about it: Readers would love it. His acquisition already was unpopular because of his salary, although he did nothing wrong in that regard. His spring statistics, as a whole, truly are awful. And, in general, readers love it when a player such as this is called out on a bad performance.
I had the easy path.
Trouble was, I watched the game.
I saw Morris getting awkward swings and misses on pitches other than his curveball for the first time all spring. I saw him planting his fastball in the catchers' mitts without the mitts moving. I saw him breaking bats, getting grounders and doing other stuff I had not seen to this point.
Moreover, I saw all of the various fluky things I described in the two pieces yesterday. The wind carried the two home runs he allowed by great margins. Ronny Paulino allowed a popup to fall 8 feet in front of home plate. Two of the 10 hits against Morris were bunt singles, another an infield roller, another a dribbler. B.J. Upton hit a single very hard, but not many other balls were struck with authority.
I have it all written down in indelible red ink on the scoresheet.
If it had been different, if Morris had been wild or been rocked, and his performance was a match for his linescore, that is what I would have written. Plain and simple. I have done it before, and I will do it again.
But that is not what happened, so I write what I did.
And shortly after filing my first version of the game story, immediately upon its conclusion, I asked manager John Russell to evaluate Morris' performance, and he described it much the same way. The same Russell who had no positive words after Morris gave up those 13 hits to the Yankees in his previous outing.
I went further and asked Jason Bay and Nyjer Morgan to confirm that those home runs were routine fly balls, and each did so.
I also had confirmed, a day earlier through pitching coach Jeff Andrews, that Morris was working on the changeup for the first time and that he was, in fact, being strongly advised to use it under any circumstance. It turns out that Morris' final pitch, which Carl Crawford stroked for a two-run triple, came on a changeup.
I can skip all this. I can just wait for the box score to get passed out in the press box, write down Morris' numbers and tell you that he stunk. For that matter, I can tell you that some other guy dominated a certain outing because he threw three perfect innings, even as I watch balls getting screamed right at his fielders with zero swings and misses along the way.
Or, I can do it this way, and try to give you the most accurate and thorough information -- positive or negative -- that I can compile.
Q: Dejan, are we about to see the talent evaluation abilities of the new management of our PBC with the upcoming bullpen decisions?
With all of the early-out clauses, the free-agent-to-be status of non-roster invitees, the lack of options, the contract buyouts, the Rule 5 implications, etc., it would seem this is going to be a good first test.
Or, as I am inclined to think, does the outcome of this decision not even need to be followed throughout the rest of the year? We are talking about pitchers that no one else wanted, either.
Kevin A. Van Asdalan of Banksville, Pittsburgh
KOVACEVIC: You make an excellent point, Kevin, about all the administrative fare entering the Pirates' equation in these couple of days. It is an overlooked and underappreciated aspect of player personnel moves, that the best management teams are the ones that not only make these kinds of calls in a short period but also systematically dig through all the information necessary to, say, instantly evaluate every player everywhere who is placed on 48-hour waivers.
So, yes, it will be a test in some ways. One could counter-argue that it should boil down to nothing more than the 25 best guys, but an example like Evan Meek stands out as one significant variation because of his Rule 5 status and what he could mean to the future.
I will disagree with you on one aspect, though, and I will do so strongly: All of these decisions, no matter how small, need to be analyzed not just now but down the road.
Remember: Dave Littlefield's single worst move as a GM, in the eyes of many, was the Rule 5 debacle. That boiled down to little more than evaluating players already in house and determining that they were worth keeping. So did the release of Duaner Sanchez or Jonathan Albaladejo -- anyone else notice that he is fighting for a roster spot with the Yankees this spring? -- and many, many other instances that I fear will spark a fresh wave of mail on old, bitter topics.
Q: Dejan, to the guy who wrote in yesterday about the home plate in Posvar Hall: First off, yes, I concede that the protective covering over the plate is not in the best of shape but, contrary to his statement, it most certainly is visible, as I walk by there just about every day on my way to class and always take the time to at least glance it.
However, stop down at Pitt in a few weeks and you will see why the protective covering is in such bad shape, and why replacing it really will do no good. I am speaking, of course, about finals week here at Pitt when hundreds upon hundreds of students will run, walk, jump, or even slide across the plate for good luck in something of a tradition that has taken root here.
Just thought you'd like to know the likely reason why the covering looks so old, when in fact it may be rather new with just a lot of wear and tear.
Roy Nelson of Oakland, Pittsburgh
KOVACEVIC: Never heard about that before. Thanks, Roy.
Q: Hi, Dejan. How is it that a small-market team like the Tigers can have such a high payroll?
Just kidding. I could not resist asking such a stupid question, especially considering your many earlier rants about how you cannot stand when people label Detroit as a small-market city.
Brandon Monticue of Fairfield, Conn.
KOVACEVIC: Oh, man. You had me there.
If you seen me angrily reaching my mouse arrow for the Reply button before I got to your second sentence, you would have gotten quite the kick out of it.
Needless to say, you will go without soup.
Thing No. 80 that makes Pittsburgh great, by Steve Gradeck of West View:
Hey, Dejan, as a frequent business traveler, I share your appreciation of our region in comparison to others ... and I'm sure you have it much worse that I have ever had in having to be in Florida for weeks at a time.
I have to let you know about the West View Isaly's and the West View Barber Shop.
I recently took my nephew, Gavin, to the former for lunch, and it was exactly as I had expected based on memories of when my grandfather took me to Isaly's where I grew up in the South Hills. We had a great lunch, off a two-sheet menu at a booth surrounded by memorabilia from old West View Park and the smell of grill smoke.
Afterward, we walked about 20 feet to get haircuts. The West View Barber Shop is staffed by a prototypical set of barbers: One who talks sparsely, one who talks a lot, and one who sits comfortably between the two extremes. All were very kind to my nephew, and he got to grab as many dum-dum pops as he could get in one hand out of their bucket before we left.
After the haircut, we went back to Isaly's to grab a milkshake and, again, it almost felt like I was back in the time of my grandfather.
I guess my basic point is that we have a city where a person can, even in a time of rapid development, find a simple strip of a neighborhood where they can give their nephew a taste of what it was like to grow up 25 years ago and, in turn, feel like they're keeping some sense of unique community going.
I thought this is the exact type of thing that you're trying to capture with your pieces.
KOVACEVIC: It is, Steve, although I can admit here that I have been plenty guilty of not doing much with the suburbs, being a city-dweller. I can attest to the throwback feeling of the Isaly's on East Ohio Street on the North Side, but I had no idea there was one in West View.
Your sharing is appreciated.
Until tomorrow ...