PHILADELPHIA -- Early last month, manager John Russell raised eyebrows by saying he liked the Pirates' current lineup better than the one from last season that included Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth.
This despite that 2008 lineup ranking among Major League Baseball's top 10 in batting average and home runs at the All-Star break.
Russell yesterday laughed when reminded of that remark and clarified his sentiment.
"I think it's more balanced and less streaky," he said of the current lineup. "With Bay and Nady, we would score in bunches, but we would also go in droughts when those two weren't swinging well. When everybody's healthy now and we're doing what we're capable of, we've got more speed, more guys who can move the ball around the diamond, a little bit of power now with Garrett Jones here ... it's just a more balanced attack."
As Russell acknowledged, the Pirates had 414 runs through 86 games last year, 365 at the same point this year. The 2008 team also had a minus-57 run differential, compared to minus-7 this year.
"No, we're not producing as many runs, and we don't have as many guys to hit balls over the fences, so there are pluses and minuses," he continued. "This year, I think, if you look at all 25, we're much more balanced. We give ourselves a better chance to win because of our pitching and defense."
As for strictly comparing lineups ...
"The overall picture really is what I'm talking about. It's not so much that our offense is better. Obviously, on paper, it's not. As a total team, though, I think we give ourselves a better chance to win. There were games last year where you knew in the third inning we had no chance to come back, no matter how good our lineup was."
The Pirates signed two more international players, including their first European amateur.
The latter is pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas, 16, of Lithuania. A 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander, he will start in the Florida Instructional League this fall.
The other is catcher Dylan Child, 18, from Australia. A 6-foot-1, 181-pound converted shortstop, Child will start at MLB's academy in his home country.
The Pirates' international total for signings is eight, and, by adding Europe, they now have signed at least one player from each of the six populated continents under new management.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia's All-Star shortstop, did not hesitate when asked to compare Jones' monstrous home run Friday with the only other two to clear the tall brick batter's eye beyond center field, each by Ryan Howard.
"Oh, it's not even close," Rollins replied. "Ryan hit one 496 feet. See that wall back there?"
He pointed to another wall, above and beyond the batter's eye.
"Ryan's went up there. It was unbelievable."
• The Pirates' top hitting and pitching prospects, Pedro Alvarez and Brad Lincoln, will participate in the All-Star Futures Game today in St. Louis. The game, which begins at 2 p.m., will be televised on ESPN2.
• The rotation will not change after the break, Russell said. That will begin with Paul Maholm pitching Friday against San Francisco at PNC Park.
• Having watched the Giants' Jonathan Sanchez throw a no-hitter Friday, Pirates infield instructor Perry Hill yesterday applauded the approach of that team's third baseman, Juan Uribe, on his eighth-inning error that quashed a perfect game. "He charged the ball, which is what you should do when a ball's first hop is in the batter's circle," Hill said. "It's easy to stay back if you don't want an error. He was trying to make the play."
• Vice president Joe Biden and wife Jill attended the game last night.