Pirates Notebook: GM backs hitting coach Manto

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Jeff Manto, the hitting coach who has presided over the worst offense in Major League Baseball, has the full support of Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield.

"I'm confident in Jeff Manto and his abilities," Littlefield said. "He's in his second year as a major-league hitting instructor, and he's the same guy who was part of a player who won a batting championship that no one would have expected last year, as well as a catcher who hit over .300 coming right out of the minors. No one expected that."

Those references were to Freddy Sanchez and Ronny Paulino, respectively. Sanchez batted .344, Paulino .310.

"Thirty-five games into the season or wherever we're at ... we're certainly not hitting very well as a team, but I think there are some individuals who are doing well," Littlefield continued. "I'm confident in Jeff Manto, and feel he's the right person to help us find a way out of this thing."

Manto, the Pirates' minor-league hitting instructor for three years before taking the current post, is the only member of manager Jim Tracy's full-time staff who already was in the organization. Tracy's first choice was Tim Wallach, his hitting coach while with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Wallach did not wish to leave the West Coast.

The Pirates' .235 batting average ranks 28th out of 30 teams in the majors.

Their on-base percentage -- the statistic that most directly correlates to runs -- is .293, by far the worst in the majors. That figure last year was .327, which ranked 26th.

Looking to deal?

Littlefield, who has $4 million in unspent money allotted by ownership, did not rule out making a trade to address the offense.

"We've had lots of discussions with other teams, as we always do," he said. "I am confident that we're going to score more runs, based on some of our guys who are struggling but have a history of hitting better. But we're always interested to upgrade where there's a deal that makes sense."

There is little precedent for Littlefield making a move to address an in-season need. Most of his major transactions have come at the trading deadline -- always as a seller -- or in the offseason. But he said some circumstances are different now.

"If you look in the past, there have been factors such as the players at hand and the resources available. I don't think I have any set-in-stone philosophy about this. You have to be extremely flexible in this job. I don't think what happened in the past necessarily dictates what's going to happen in the future."

Torres done after 2008?

Closer Salomon Torres said there is a chance he could retire after the 2008 season, even though his current contract includes a club option worth $3.75 million for 2009. But he sounded far from certain about it.

"We'll see," he said without elaboration.

Torres, 35, retired one other time, staying out of professional baseball in 1998-2000.

Buried treasure

Jose Bautista, brilliant all season at third base, finally committed his first error in the eighth inning last night. He fielded Kelly Johnson's grounder cleanly, but his throw pulled first baseman Brad Eldred off the bag. He handled his first 124 chances -- most in the National League at his position -- flawlessly.

Reliever Matt Capps' appeal of the four-game suspension for hitting the Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder will be heard by MLB officials Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

The Colorado Rockies have expressed interest in reliever Dan Kolb, who is with the Pirates' Class AAA affiliate in Indianapolis. Management told Kolb in the spring it would respect his request to entertain major-league options as they arose. Kolb, 32, has a 1.26 ERA in 13 appearances, but he is out indefinitely because of a pulled hamstring.

Saturday's results

INDIANAPOLIS (20-14) beat Ottawa, 5-2. RHP John Van Benschoten (3-2, 1.82) allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out one, walked none and threw 56 of 99 pitches for strikes. His ERA ranks fifth in the International League. C Humberto Cota (.400), in the third game of a rehabilitation stint, went 3 or 4 with two doubles. 1B Yurendell DeCaster (.330) also went 3 for 4.

ALTOONA (16-15) won at Harrisburg, 8-2. RHP Kip Bouknight (4-0, 2.31) allowed one run in six innings. 1B Steve Pearce (.293) hit his second home -- 13th overall in the minors -- and went 2 for 5 with three RBIs. 3B Neil Walker (.270) went 1 for 5 with two strikeouts. CF Andrew McCutchen (.184) went 0 for 4 with two walks and two strikeouts.

LYNCHBURG (12-19) lost to Winston-Salem, 7-3. RHP Blair Johnson (1-2, 4.91) allowed four runs, three earned, in six innings. 1B James Boone (.250) and LF Brad Corley (.186) each went 3 for 4 with a double.

HICKORY (14-19) won at Lexington, 6-2. RHP Henry Cabrera (2-2, 6.12) allowed two runs in six innings. 1B Kent Sakamoto (.299) went 2 for 4 with a triple.



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