Pirates Notebook: Youth serving up season-long struggles in rotation

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NEW YORK -- The Pirates have been criticized for employing veterans at starting positions rather than youngsters across the board, but that case cannot be made when it comes to the rotation.

Including Tom Gorzelanny's outing last night against the New York Mets, 80 percent of the team's starts have been made by pitchers 24 or younger. Ian Snell, Paul Maholm and Oliver Perez are 24, Zach Duke 23. The sole exceptions have been the starts by Kip Wells and Victor Santos, each 29.

No team in Major League Baseball has a rotation as young as the Pirates, with an average age of 24.6, and no other team has gone all season without a single start by someone 30 or older.

What does it mean?

For one, the Pirates' poor record should not be that much of a mystery, considering the natural fluctuation of pitchers new to the majors.

For another, the experience, good and bad, should benefit all concerned.

The latter is manager Jim Tracy's view, anyway.

"You look around baseball, and you start talking about four starters 24 or younger with the capability our guys have, you won't find it," he said. "We've got something that's very interesting."

Not yet successful, though. The 24-and-under crew is a combined 17-31, although that number improves to 15-21 when subtracting Perez, now in the minors.

Ask those involved, and they will express confidence that the generally trying first half will pay dividends soon.

"None of us needs to change a thing," Snell said. "Maholm and Duke should keep doing what they're doing. Gorzo is here now, and he's talented. I just hope we all come together and stay together as long as possible."

"I feel like I've learned something new every time I've been out there, and that's probably true of all of us," Maholm said. "We're going to have ups and downs. But the more experienced we get, the more we're going to expect to win and not just compete."

"It's a learning process, an adjustment," Duke said. "At the same time, it's a high-pressure situation. You're trying to get it done as quickly as possible, so there's a balance there. But we'll improve."

Duke was asked if the rotation might have benefited from an older pitcher or two.

"The thing with those veteran-type guys ... you like to have them around, just for their experience. At the same time, that veteran has to be willing to talk to the younger guys. It's a two-way street. I know that, with the young guys we have here, we can go to each other. There are no boundaries. We've known each other a long time."

For comparison's sake, 62 of the Mets' 85 starts -- 73 percent -- have been made by pitchers 30 and older.

Santos makes return

Santos, pitching competitively for the first time since June 15, was nearly perfect last night for Class AAA Indianapolis.

He pitched five scoreless innings and faced the minimum 15 batters in limiting visiting Columbus to one hit. The one batter who reached was picked off. Santos neither struck out nor walked a batter, and 42 of his 65 pitches were strikes.

It is expected Santos, who had been on the disabled list with a strained rotator cuff, will rejoin the Pirates after the All-Star break, likely in the bullpen.

Perez will make his second start for Indianapolis tonight.

Buried treasure

Utilityman Jose Hernandez, out since Sunday because of a strained back, took his first batting practice.

Shortstop Jack Wilson was rested last night, largely because the day off he was supposed to get Sunday was foiled by Hernandez's injury.

Why they call him steady: Third baseman Freddy Sanchez has not gone more than one game without a hit since June 9-10. And on June 10 in San Francisco, he batted once before being ejected for arguing.

Sanchez has 12 doubles in his past 17 games.

Thursday's results

INDIANAPOLIS (47-38) beat Columbus, 5-2. RHP Victor Santos (1-0, 0.00) pitched five scoreless innings and allowed one hit. He struck out none, walked none and threw 42 of 65 pitches for strikes. RHP Josh Sharpless (2.01) allowed two unearned runs in the ninth. CF Chris Duffy (.350) went 2 for 4 with three RBIs.

ALTOONA (49-35) won at Reading, 5-2. RHP Wardell Starling (2-1, 3.79) allowed one run and two hits in six innings. SS Brian Bixler (.226) went 3 for 4 with two doubles, an RBI and a stolen base.

LYNCHBURG (37-45) lost to Salem, 9-7. LHP Kyle Bloom (4-4, 4.12) allowed five runs in five innings. C Neil Walker (.248) went 2 for 4 with two runs.

HICKORY (37-45) lost to Augusta, 7-6. LHP Brian Holliday (0-2, 15.63) allowed seven runs, four earned, in five innings. RF Brad Corley (.297) hit his 10th home run, a three-run shot, and went 2 for 4. CF Andrew McCutchen (.271) went 1 for 4 with a run.

WILLIAMSPORT (6-8) lost to Batavia, 8-1. LHP Michael Felix (0-1, 2.25), the Pirates' second-round draft pick last month, allowed three runs in four innings. CF Alexander Presley (.179) went 3 for 4.



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