Pirates Notebook: Paulino still catching on behind plate

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SAN FRANCISCO -- There are two tangible reasons Ronny Paulino has become entrenched as the Pirates' catcher, now and for the foreseeable future.

No. 1, quite clearly, has been his handling of the pitchers. The staff has a 3.57 ERA when he is behind the plate, 6.53 with anyone else.

No. 2 is that, although he has shown little power, his .328 average is the best among National League rookies.

No. 3, though, might take a while.

That would be the defense.

Paulino has thrown out a respectable 32 percent of runners attempting to steal -- 7 of 22 -- but his other numbers are not as glowing: He has committed six throwing errors (most among National League catchers), four passed balls (second-most in the league), and his .979 fielding percentage ranks last among those with 25 or more games.

"We have never said that Ronny is a finished product, just so we totally understand that," manager Jim Tracy said. "As a result, there are some things where, sometimes, you'll know he's a work in progress."

Catching defense is not always easy to quantify, as was evident Thursday, when the Pirates' pitchers were charged with four wild pitches, including the one by Matt Capps in the ninth inning that handed the San Francisco Giants a 5-4 victory at AT&T Park.

Capps and Paulino each insisted there was no cross-up, that a slider was called and delivered. But the pitch hit the dirt to the outside of the plate, then, as often is the case when coming from a right-handed pitcher, reversed direction when it hit the ground, caromed off Paulino's left leg and went to the backstop.

Capps said Paulino was in "perfect position," and bench coach Jim Lett, who instructs the catchers, agreed.

"Just one of those things that happens," Lett said. "The guys here have confidence they can throw that breaking ball to Ronny when there's a man on third, that he's going to keep that ball in front of him. This was just kind of the luck of the draw."

Paulino, visibly disappointed after the game, offered a self-assessment yesterday that was not so kind.

"To me, I know I can do better than that," he said. "I'm a big guy, and I cover a lot of room. Sometimes, there's nothing you can do, but I feel I've got to stop every pitch. You know that breaking ball is coming, and you've got to be ready 100 percent."

In general, management has been satisfied with Paulino's progress.

"He's gotten a lot better defensively, and he still has a lot of potential," Lett said. "I know this: Everybody here has been really impressed with how he's settled in."

Paulino, too, is optimistic he will keep improving.

"In one way, I'm glad all these things happen now," he said. "Next time, I'll be 110 percent ready."

Trade offer rejected

The St Louis Cardinals' bid to acquire outfielder-first baseman Craig Wilson apparently fizzled after the Pirates sought right-handed starter Anthony Reyes in return.

Reyes, 24, currently is with Class AAA Memphis but is projected to be part of the Cardinals' rotation next season.

St. Louis, which visits PNC Park next week, is desperate for offense with first baseman Albert Pujols out of the lineup six weeks because of a strained oblique. It is possible talks will be revived at that time.

Bonds remains out

San Francisco manager Felipe Alou described Barry Bonds as "feeling better," but he could not predict if Bonds will play the final two games of this series after missing the Giants' past three because of a strain in his left side.

"I'd like to see him take batting practice first," Alou said. "It's been a while since Barry hit."

The Giants are off Monday, and that extra day might entice Bonds to skip this series to heal for the next one.

Buried treasure

Struggling starter Oliver Perez made no mechanical adjustments in his regularly scheduled bullpen session yesterday. Rather, pitching coach Jim Colborn stressed focusing on consistency as he goes through his motions. "His delivery is there when he's concentrating correctly," Colborn said. Perez seemed to get the message. "I was throwing the ball and thinking at the same time," Perez said.

After Jeromy Burnitz went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and 11 men stranded Friday, he was benched in favor of Wilson, even though the Pirates faced right-hander Matt Morris. Also, Tracy bumped Freddy Sanchez from sixth to fifth, where Burnitz had been hitting.

Tracy was visited by his son, Chad Tracy, a catcher drafted Tuesday by the Texas Rangers, and he offered some manager-to-player instruction on the field early in the afternoon. "There were some things I picked up in videos of him," the father said, smiling. "We took care of it in about 10 minutes."

The Pirates reached agreement with 11 draft picks, including Pitt second baseman Jim Negrych, their sixth-rounder. The other 10 are Stephen MacFarland (ninth), Kent Sakamoto (12th), Greg Smith (14th), Kris Watts (16th), Mike Crotta (17th), Brandon Williams (29th), Jared Keel (31st), Damian Walcott (37th), Matthew McCullen (38th) and Tom Hagan (39th).

Friday's results

INDIANAPOLIS (33-27) lost at Louisville, 4-3. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (4-5, 2.82) allowed four runs, three earned, and five hits in seven innings. He struck out four, walked two and threw 59 of 92 pitches for strikes. RHP Josh Sharpless (1.59) pitched one scoreless inning of relief. C Carlos Maldonado (.307) went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

ALTOONA (35-24) won at New Hampshire, 3-0. LHP Mike Connolly (6-3, 3.86) pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits. He struck out six and walked one. RHP Chris Hernandez (2.70) pitched one scoreless inning of relief. 3B Brandon Chaves (.264) went 3 for 5.

LYNCHBURG (29-32) lost to Salem, 5-4. RHP Wardell Starling (4-3, 2.67) allowed five runs in seven innings. C Neil Walker (.284) went 1 for 4.

HICKORY (28-31) lost to West Virginia, 9-8. RHP Joe Bauserman (3-4, 4.05) allowed four runs, three earned, in 2 1/3 innings. C Steve Lerud (.256) hit his seventh home run, a three-run shot. CF Andrew McCutchen (.280) went 2 for 5 with an RBI and his 12th stolen base.



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