CINCINNATI -- At some point, surely if the Pirates remain in or near the Central Division cellar, management will follow through with its plan to trade veterans for prospects and restock a depleted minor-league system.
But not yet, apparently.
There are no known trade discussions taking place and, as team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington confirmed, even if a trade happens, it should not be interpreted as the first spark in a fire sale.
"If our fans see one player getting traded, it doesn't mean the red flag is up," Coonelly said.
"As we've said for months, we are always going to pick up the phone when someone calls. And we are constantly talking internally about how we can improve the club for 2008, as well as going forward."
INDIANAPOLIS (26-29) lost at Lehigh Valley, 8-5. RHP Luis Munoz (2-5, 5.01) allowed three runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. SS Brian Bixler (.150) went 1 for 3 with a double, two walks and a steal. CF Andrew McCutchen (.303) went 1 for 4. 3B Neil Walker (.227) went 1 for 4 with a double. PH Craig Wilson (.213) hit his sixth home run in his only at-bat, breaking an 0-for-20 slump.
ALTOONA (19-31) won at Bowie, 9-8. RHP Derek Hankins (0-2, 4.80) allowed three runs and four hits in four innings. RF Brad Corley (.296) hit his fourth home run, a two-run shot, and went 2 for 4. 1B Jason Delaney (.315) went 2 for 3 with two walks.
LYNCHBURG (20-33) won at Potomac, 10-9. RHP Mike Crotta (4-4, 5.30) allowed five runs, four earned, and five hits in five innings. 2B Angel Gonzalez (.244) went 4 for 6 with two RBIs and a steal. SS Brian Friday (.309) went 3 for 5.
HICKORY (27-27) lost at Charleston, 2-1. RHP Brad Lincoln (2-1, 2.25) allowed two runs and five hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked none. In 16 innings since returning from elbow surgery, he has walked one batter. 3B Bobby Spain (.329) went 1 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 19 games.
"If we make that type of trade now, a veteran for prospects, it just means we had an opportunity we couldn't pass up," Huntington said.
For now, the Pirates' various special assistants continue to divide their attention between evaluating major-league players who might help the current team and prospects.
"We continue to walk that divergent path as this team shows us what it's capable of doing. And we'll continue to look to add until we decide differently."
When might that happen?
"There is no magical date," Coonelly said.
"We did say that we thought this team could compete, and I know we're still in that position. We're not ready to give up. But you can't operate an organization without understanding that there might come a point."
The Pirates, in dire need of fresh arms, recalled Bryan Bullington from Class AAA Indianapolis to pitch in long relief, and they returned reliever Marino Salas.
Bullington, 27, was 3-6 with a 5.68 ERA but won three of his past four starts and was just named International League pitcher of the week. Of his 46 strikeouts, 15 came in his past two starts.
He credited Indianapolis pitching coach Ray Searage with helping him focus on staying down in the zone.
"For a while there, it was just unbelievable, how everything was going wrong and how it affected my confidence," Bullington said. "Then, things got a lot better."
Salas, 26, had a 7.00 ERA in seven appearances, but manager John Russell said his demotion came about only because of the short starts by Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny in the first two games of the series with the Cincinnati Reds.
"He doesn't have the secondary pitches yet to go long," Russell said of Salas. "And, heaven forbid, something happens to one of our starters now, we wouldn't have anybody to pitch."
• Ryan Doumit's first major test of his fractured left thumb will come tomorrow afternoon in St. Louis, where he will catch a bullpen session with full-speed fastballs. He has been catching soft tosses -- and taking full batting practice -- for five days. "I'm ready," he said. If he has two or three successful catching sessions, he could return.
• The Tampa Bay Rays, the only team picking ahead of the Pirates in Major League Baseball's draft Thursday, announced that their field for the No. 1 pick is down to five: Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, Florida State University catcher Buster Posey, Vanderbilt University third baseman Pedro Alvarez, San Diego State University pitcher Brian Matusz and California high school catcher Kyle Skipworth. Most observers see that list as being down to Beckham and Posey.
• Nate McLouth was rested from the starting lineup last night for just the third time this season. Jason Michaels took his place in center field.
• Here is an unusual promotion: For every run the Pirates score in the four-game set in St. Louis that begins tonight, they will discount $1 off a $24 outfield seat for the Wednesday home game against Houston. If the Pirates score 24 or more runs in the series, those seats will be free to the first takers.