Pirates Notebook: Morgan paces outfield defense

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If the Pirates' outfield has seemed defensively sound this year, it is no mirage.

Consider that:

• The three regulars -- Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss, left to right -- have yet to commit an error, a third of the way into the schedule. Neither has any other outfielder. No other team in Major League Baseball is without an outfield error.

• The outfield's 17 assists lead the majors, including McLouth's fifth last night when he threw out a runner at home, and four by Morgan.

• Morgan is, according to one respected defensive metric, the best player at any position, not just the outfield. The metric, established by the private Web site FanGraphs.com, is called ultimate zone rating, and it weighs errors, throws, range and, of course, glovework. Morgan's rating is a plus-11.8. Next in line are Seattle Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre at plus-9.8 and Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron at plus-8.0.

One reason for the Pirates' outfield success, apart from the obvious skills of Morgan and McLouth, in particular, is the team's unusual positioning: Morgan shades into left-center and covers from the line to the North Side Notch. McLouth, a Gold Glove winner in 2008, is responsible for well into right-center, to the edge of the Clemente Wall. Moss or whoever is playing right has comparatively little ground, especially given the proximity of the Wall.

"And it works really well," McLouth said. "It took a little bit to get used to it, but we like it."

PNC Park's spacious left field gives most opponents trouble, and even those who have played it extensively -- Brian Giles and Jason Bay -- spoke often of its challenge.

"I love it," Morgan said. "More room for me to run, and I love to run, man."

Informed of his ultimate zone rating, Morgan first needed an explanation, then replied, "That's cool. I just want to catch the ball, and I feel like I can get to anything."

Swine flu afflicting Mets?

The New York Mets again were without center fielder Carlos Beltran because of the flu, and there was at least a marginal concern that it could be the swine flu.

Beltran, unable to hold down food, remained at the team's Downtown hotel after undergoing tests in the afternoon.

A producer with SportsNet New York, who flew on the Mets' chartered flight here, also was diagnosed with the flu and drove back to New York after being told not to fly commercially after an examination at a local hospital.

Mets athletic trainer Ray Ramirez briefed the team about the symptoms experienced by the producer, which included high fever, joint aches and fatigue. Assistant general manager John Ricco said that the stomach-virus symptoms experienced by Beltran and pitcher John Maine were not consistent with the producer's ailment.

Lincoln ascending ladder?

Brad Lincoln, the Pirates' top pitching prospect, had another strong outing for Class AA Altoona Monday in Erie, and that goes beyond the line of two runs, five hits and seven strikeouts in five-plus innings: His fastball ranged from 93-96 mph, with the 96 achieved when runners were in scoring position, and his trademark curve was solid.

According to one American League scout in attendance, Lincoln looked ready for the next level.

Buried treasure

• Mets shortstop Ramon Martinez left the game in the fifth inning because of a dislocated finger, the result of an awkward slide into home.

• The Pirates engaged in extra -- and intensive -- infield work early yesterday afternoon, pitchers included.

• Stan Belinda, who threw the last playoff pitch in franchise history, will be among three former Pirates relievers signing autographs -- Elroy Face and Chris Peters are the others -- 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Hall of Fame Club.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog .


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