Neal Huntington, the Pirates' general manager, made clear yesterday that some individual performances must be elevated for players to remain part of the franchise's long-term future.
INDIANAPOLIS (11-7) was off.
ALTOONA (8-9) beat Akron, 3-2. RHP Derek Hankins (0-1, 2.18) allowed one run and three hits in 4 2/3 innings. CF James Boone (.328) hit his sixth home run and went 1 for 3 with a walk.
LYNCHBURG (7-10) won at Myrtle Beach, 7-3. RHP Jared Hughes (1-3, 3.48) allowed three runs -- one earned -- and five hits in five innings. RHP Kyle Pearson (0.00) pitched two scoreless innings for his third save. C Steve Lerud (.218) hit his second home run and went 1 for 3 with a walk and two RBIs.
HICKORY (9-10) lost at Asheville, 6-1. RHP Emilis Guerrero (0-1, 3.00) allowed one run and two hits in five innings. LF Erik Huber (.303) went 2 for 4 with a double.
"Certainly, there are some guys with opportunities they're letting slip away. There's no question about that," he said before the home game against the Florida Marlins last night. "The reality is that we don't have the depth of the elite teams that, when we have extended poor performance, we have another option waiting in the wings. But we're going to be creative internally, aggressive externally, and see how we can continue to improve this club."
No one was singled out, but Huntington surely was including third baseman Jose Bautista, if not outright highlighting him.
Bautista is universally seen as having a critical chance this year, at age 27, to show he is an everyday player. But he is batting .185, has committed a team-high five errors and last night was benched in favor of Chris Gomez.
Neither Gomez, 36, nor the other third-base option, Doug Mientkiewicz, 33, is a long-term solution. And Neil Walker, the top third-base prospect at Class AAA Indianapolis, is not ready. That undoubtedly will give Bautista a longer chance to prove himself with the Pirates, as Huntington indicated, than if he were with another team.
To that end, the coaching staff is stressing to Bautista to take something off his swing, as he did during a fine second half of 2007.
"Some of the good things Jose did last year, he hasn't shown us this year," Huntington said. "It's been, essentially, an all-or-nothing swing from pitch one. It doesn't matter if there are two strikes or runners in scoring position. We need Jose to get back to hitting with intelligent aggressiveness. It almost seems like the power has become his focus, and we can't sacrifice the ability to be a good hitter to try to hit home runs."
Injured shortstop Jack Wilson will not be ready to begin playing minor-league games until "early to mid-next week," manager John Russell said. That points to a likely return of early May, about a week later than had been anticipated.
Wilson began running exercises yesterday in Bradenton, Fla., and did some light hitting. He experienced tightness in the strained left calf that has him on the 15-day disabled list, but that was deemed minor.
The Pirates have committed 24 errors, most in Major League Baseball, and Russell and his staff plan to address that with extra work this afternoon.
"Now that we're home and have more time on our field, we can get some things done," Russell said.
Russell and Huntington each pointed to the loss of Wilson as being pivotal to the defensive downfall.
"I think it's hurt a lot," Huntington said. "The one danger zone that we knew we would have is if Jack were to have an injury early in the season, because we knew we would have to over-expose Luis Rivas at short, where he hasn't played a lot. We like Brian Bixler, but we weren't comfortable with having to run him out there every day early in the season. And then, the worst-case scenario happened."
He cited two other factors.
"Freddy Sanchez's shoulder has affected his throwing strength and accuracy at times, and Bautista's just not been very good. We didn't think we'd be great defensively, but we also didn't think we'd lead the league in errors by far."
• Huntington, on first baseman Adam LaRoche, whose productivity has rivaled that of Bautista: "He's a veteran player who's gone through these struggles before, and we certainly need him to come out of it sooner rather than later."
• Walker was held out of Indianapolis' two weekend games because of a bruised elbow, the result of being struck by a pitch Friday. The injury is minor.
• James Boone, the center fielder at Class AA Altoona and the Pirates' third-round draft pick in 2005, was named Eastern League player of the week after raising his average to .328 with six home runs, including one last night.
• Owner Bob Nutting will discuss the Pirates' recent green initiatives on CBS' "Early Show" this morning, which will broadcast live from PNC Park.