GM backs Russell's handling of bullpen in light of recent trades
August 10, 2009 8:00 AM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno leaps over the Cardinals' Brandon Ryan to complete a double play.
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Cardinals pitcher Joel Pineiro threw seven innings with nine hits yesterday.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Repeat after us ...
Another loss for the Pirates.
Another late lead thrown away.
And yet another opportunity to question John Russell's managing of his bullpen.
This time, it was closer Matt Capps, summoned in the eighth inning to replace effective starter Zach Duke, who promptly allowed a two-run home run by St. Louis' Skip Schumaker that brought a 7-3 loss to the Cardinals yesterday at PNC Park.
It was the Pirates' eighth loss in a row, matching a season high, and it brought to a crashing halt a collapse-filled 2-8 homestand in which they had seven leads after six innings and squandered the final five.
"I'm just speechless right now," second baseman Delwyn Young said. "We have so many new guys here, but we still should be able to compete. And we are. That's the part that drives you crazy. We're right there."
• Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 8:40 p.m., Coors Field.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (9-8, 4.29) vs. RHP Aaron Cook (10-4, 3.93).
Right up until the end.
Duke did his part, as usual, by pitching 7 1/3 innings and exiting with a 3-2 lead and a man on first. That was when Russell, in what might have been taken as a sign of dissatisfaction with the rest of his bullpen, called upon Capps an inning earlier than usual in hopes of an Elroy Face-length save.
"He hadn't thrown in a few days," Russell said of Capps. "Our other guys have been pitching quite a bit. We've just got to get five outs, and the game is over."
The game was soon over, all right: Capps' first batter, Schumaker, swatted a one-strike, inner-half, 94-mph fastball into the seats beyond right-center to put St. Louis ahead, 4-3.
"You're going against the baseball rule there, pitching inside late in the game," Russell said. "He paid for it."
Catcher Jason Jaramillo called for the pitch to be tight -- "I thought we could jam him, get a ground ball," Jaramillo said -- but Capps took the blame.
"It was a bad plan," Capps said, referring to his not shaking off the pitch call. "It's my plan, and I take responsibility. I executed the pitch. But I can't put it there and get beat to that part of the field in that situation."
After Capps was ejected for hitting the next batter, Albert Pujols, Jesse Chavez gave up three more runs, and the crowd of 24,369 booed loudly.
So, why replace Duke, whose pitch count still was a modest 97?
"Zach gutted it out to go out there for the last inning," Russell said. "It was a hot day, he's sweating, and he did his job. He did a great job. I definitely thought bringing in our closer was the right move."
Did Duke feel he could have gone longer?
"Yeah, I think so," Duke said. "I was still locating the ball, and I felt like my stuff was still there."
Duke stressed, though, that he had confidence Capps would protect his lead.
"The way Matt's pitched lately, absolutely."
Capps has continued to allow too many baserunners, but he was coming off a dominant two-inning, four-strikeout appearance Thursday.
"This is on me," Capps said. "Nobody else."
General manager Neal Huntington's many veterans-for-prospects trades have had a tangible impact not only on the Pirates' record but also on the decisions made by Russell, and Huntington acknowledged as much after the game.
"Some of the moves I've made have put JR and his staff in a very challenging position, particularly with the bullpen," Huntington said.
He specifically cited the trading of John Grabow, the steady setup man he sent to the Chicago Cubs, along with Tom Gorzelanny, for pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio. In the 10 games since Grabow's departure, the Pirates' bullpen is 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA.
"John Grabow is an established, quality, back-end reliever and, much more often than not, he got the job done. In taking that one core guy away, it's unsettled the entire bullpen," Huntington said. "JR and his staff have been incredible in backing our efforts to accumulate and develop the talent needed to win in Pittsburgh. In the short term, there will be times where the guys you relied on to get a big out aren't there. I'm aware of that. But we also believe in the players we've acquired in the long term."
The Pirates' lead had been 3-0, on Steve Pearce's two-run home run in the second and Young's RBI single in the third. But two throwing errors, one by Duke and the other by Pearce, led to St. Louis runs in the fourth and seventh.
There is no end in sight to the losing: On deck are the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs on the road, and the nemesis Milwaukee Brewers upon returning home.
Already, the Pirates have plunged close to becoming Major League Baseball's worst team in more than mere theory: The Washington Nationals, who hold that designation officially, have won eight in a row to improve to 40-72. The Pirates are 45-66.