LaRoche in, Bautista out at third base

Management wants newcomer to 'get every opportunity'

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CHICAGO -- There invariably are winners and losers in trades, and the Pirates clearly had one in each category yesterday with their third base situation.

Newcomer Andy LaRoche was told by manager John Russell upon reporting in the morning that the everyday job will be his. And Jose Bautista, who held that job off and on for nearly two years, was told he will be deployed in a super-utility role.

The reactions, as one might guess, varied roughly 180 degrees.

"I'm going to have to deal with it, one way or another," Bautista said. "They told me Andy's going to play, so there's nothing much I can do about that. I'll just keep myself ready and be ready to go whenever they put me in the lineup."

He added that he was not told of anything he did to merit the benching.

"If there's a reason for my demotion, I don't have one. They really didn't give me one."

Bautista, 27, long has been seen by some in baseball as best suited for the super-utility role, as he can play every position on the diamond except catcher. (He even pitched in junior college.) It is possible that some in the Pirates' brass feel that way, too. But Bautista still entered 2008 as the unquestioned third baseman, in large part because prospect Neil Walker was not ready.

For the season, Bautista is batting .250 -- he struck out looking as a pinch-hitter yesterday -- with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs despite a couple of large dips: He got off to a .195 April, but batted .313 in May and .282 in June before a .225 July. Management often refers to him as "inconsistent."

Russell characterized the Pirates' decision as being based on the acquisition of LaRoche, an elite prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system.

"We're going to see what LaRoche can do at third," Russell said. "He's our third baseman. We want to give him every opportunity to play and get comfortable with our system. Jose's going to move around."

It is safe to say LaRoche had a better day.

He narrowly made it to the ballpark after a morning flight into Chicago but was delighted once he had his first chance to wear the same uniform as his older brother, first baseman Adam LaRoche.

"I am so excited!" he fairly shouted later. "It's always been a dream of mine, to be out there with him, and here it is."

One of LaRoche's coaches with Class AAA Las Vegas had summoned him Thursday to share the news of the trade and, as per LaRoche's recollection, asked, "If there's one team you'd want to go to, what would it be?"

LaRoche replied, "Pittsburgh!"

The coach came back, "Well, you got your wish."

LaRoche went 1 for 4 in his debut, a modest beginning of what the Pirates hope -- and many in baseball expect -- will be a highly successful tenure with his new team. He has spent the bulk of the past three seasons starring in Class AAA -- just 62 games with the Dodgers in that span -- and sees this as his time.

"I've played a few years there and put up decent numbers, so I'm just glad I have the chance," LaRoche said. "It'll be better than playing every three or four days or pinch-hitting."

The only downer on the LaRoche front was that Adam remains on the disabled list, though his strained rib muscle is showing enough improvement that he still hopes to be back Aug, 13, his first day eligible.

"I'd love nothing more than to be able to take the field with Andy," Adam said. "But that's coming."

When the rib heals and the brothers are at opposite corners of the infield, expect plenty of ribbing to ensue ...

Asked if they needed full names stitched onto their jerseys, Adam replied: "Not on mine. I was here first. Having different numbers is good enough."

Andy, when asked if he, unlike his brother, is capable of hitting in April, replied: "I don't know what that's all about with him. I think he carries his golf swing into the season."

The LaRoches will be the eighth brother combination to play for the Pirates, the first since Eddie and Johnny O'Brien in 1958.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.


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