Pirates' trade of Grabow might be end of line

Huntington plans to tell players today: 'This is the group'

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So, is that it?

Even after the Pirates dealt pitchers John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Chicago Cubs yesterday for pitcher Kevin Hart and two prospects, pitcher Jose Ascanio and second baseman Josh Harrison, general manager Neal Huntington could not fully commit to being finished in advance of Major League Baseball's trading deadline at 4 p.m. today.

But he did come awfully close, when asked last night at PNC Park if this trade would be the last.

"We sit in front of you wanting it to be this one," Huntington replied. "We're working very hard to stop the cycle of losing and, with that, the cycle of trading."

He added that he and manager John Russell plan to share exactly that message with the players in the clubhouse this afternoon, shortly after the deadline.

  • Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
  • TV, Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (8-8, 4.51) vs. LHP John Lannan (7-7, 3.25).
  • Season series: Pirates, 3-1.
  • Key matchup: All pitchers vs. Washington's Christian Guzman, currently on a 12-for-26 tear with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs.
  • Of note: The Pirates have committed 43 errors, fourth-fewest in Major League Baseball. The Nationals have the most, with 94, but they also have played a season-high six consecutive error-free games.

Huntington and Russell are sure to face two sizable challenges:

1. Even they might need a scorecard after making four trades in nine days that sent away four major league players (Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Grabow) and two former major leaguers (Ian Snell and Gorzelanny) in exchange for two major league players (Ronny Cedeno and Hart) and nine prospects.

2. The audience will be loaded with skepticism, based on remarks made in public and private by players disillusioned by these trades, especially the ones that sent away Wilson and Sanchez.

Huntington seemed to recognize that.

"They've been through a lot, certainly in the last month or so," he said of the players. "They've lost friends, teammates, some veteran leadership. We're going to address that this is the group. This is the group we need to step up. They need to outwork, to out-prepare, to compete. Every one of those guys has a tremendous opportunity to step forward and become a major league player and to stranglehold a job that's theirs for years to come. And, if they don't, we've got people coming behind them in the system. The days of scholarship are over."

He does not intent to take a prepared speech into the room.

"I'm going to let the emotions take over. I believe so strongly about where we're going."

As of late last night, the Pirates were not engaged in any trade talks that they expected to reach fruition.

Hart is expected to join the Pirates' rotation immediately, though Huntington did not fully confirm that. He pitched yesterday in Chicago -- three runs over six innings in a 12-3 rout of the Houston Astros -- and cannot retake the mound until Tuesday.

The pitcher Hart surely would replace, Virgil Vasquez, is scheduled to pitch tomorrow, but no decision will be made until today when Huntington meets with Russell and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.

Ascanio will move into Class AAA Indianapolis' rotation, and Harrison was assigned to high Class A Lynchburg.

Hart, a 26-year-old right-hander with a fastball in the low-90s and a four-pitch repertoire, was 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in eight games for Chicago, including four starts. He entered the season as the Cubs' No. 6 prospect as rated by Baseball America. With Class AAA Iowa, he had a 3.10 ERA in 16 relief appearances, then found his groove as a starter, going 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA.

Huntington stressed Hart's size -- 6 feet 4, 220 pounds -- when discussing why he projects as a starter.

"Now, we have a major league pitcher with a big, strong, physical frame who can fit in a rotation," Huntington said. "But he also has the ability to pitch at the back of the bullpen."

Ascanio, a 24-year-old right-hander, also split this season between Chicago and Iowa. He was 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 14 relief appearances with the Cubs, 2-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 12 starts with Iowa, where he was at the time of the trade.

Huntington cited his hard fastball -- 94-96 mph -- and four-pitch repertoire and, although Ascanio will start for now, Huntington did not rule out relief.

"He could fill a lot of roles."

Harrison, 22, hit a combined .327 with five home runs, 20 doubles, eight triples, 42 RBIs and 26 steals for low Class A Peoria and high Class A Daytona. He stands just 5 feet 8, which is why the Pirates are moving him from third base to second, and Huntington added that the outfield could be added, too.

Grabow, 30, was part of the Pirates' organization since they drafted him in 1997, and he blossomed into one of the busiest pitchers in franchise history, his 390 appearances ranking eighth on their all-time list.

The names ahead of him: Elroy Face, Kent Tekulve, Bob Friend, Babe Adams, Vernon Law, Wilbur Cooper and Dave Giusti.

Grabow expressed mixed feelings about the Pirates' past few days.

"It's tough because Pittsburgh is such a sports town, and all of the teams are winning except the Pirates," he said. "They've got an awesome stadium, a great fan base ... they're just waiting for a winning team. But, in all the years I've been there, they've tried to build things piece by piece, and it's never worked. So, I think they've come to the conclusion that, well, let's completely overhaul it, get a young group of players and have them all flourish at the same time."

He had planned to settle in Pittsburgh for the long term, as his wife, Karey, is a native.

"I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for Pittsburgh."

Grabow's ERA over six-plus seasons was 4.09, including 3.42 in 45 appearances this year. But his strongest suit was getting out of jams, as his ratio of stranding inherited runners was one of the best in baseball over the past five years, and that trait could serve him well in entering his first pennant race with the first-place Cubs.

"I'm excited about it. I get to play some meaningful games right from the get-go."

Gorzelanny, 27, fell immediately out of favor with Kerrigan this spring and was among the Pirates' earliest cuts. He never rediscovered peak form after winning 14 games in 2007, but he did pitch well for Indianapolis this season, 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts.

Chicago assigned him to Iowa.

The Pirates are left with no left-handers in the bullpen other than sparingly used Rule 5 draft pick Donnie Veal, and they have no compelling left-handers at the Class AAA or AA levels, either, except for rehabilitating Phil Dumatrait.

"We feel the left-handed specialist role is drastically overrated in the game," Huntington said. "We'd rather have seven pitchers who can get right and left-handed hitters out."

Grabow shared that stance.

"You'll see that the bullpen that's still there will be fine, including against lefties," he said.

As expected, the Pirates today will promote outfielder Lastings Milledge from Indianapolis, and Huntington declared that he would be a "regular." That would put Milledge in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and torrid Garrett Jones in right, leaving Brandon Moss -- who has hit much better of late -- on the bench, except that the Pirates will try to use him frequently.

"We won't forget about Brandon," Huntington said.

Jones could play first base, too, as it is his natural position, but the Pirates sound determined to give Steve Pearce an extended look there.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published July 31, 2009 4:00 AM


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