DENVER -- The Pirates traded Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, their most popular players, but the loss of the guy they traded the next day clearly has stung the most.
John Grabow, a dependable, tough-as-nails left-handed reliever, was the one manager John Russell deployed as a setup man or for any jams and, in his absence, the bullpen has struggled immensely.
Today in Chicago, Grabow will face his former teammates for the first time, wearing the foreign pinstripes of the Cubs after more than 12 years in the Pittsburgh organization.
"It's going to be different," Grabow said yesterday by phone from Wrigley Field. "I'm going to look over to the visitors' dugout and see the black and gold. I'm going to look over at the bullpen at all the guys I used to sit with. Yeah, it will be different."
As for how much he has been missed by the Pirates ...
"All I can say is that's a first-class organization, from the management team to how the training staff treats you to the people on the field. It's unfortunate that it isn't getting results yet, but it will. They're going in the right direction."
Grabow has made six appearances with Chicago and has yet to allow a run, but the Cubs will lug a five-game losing streak into this weekend.
"I'm still getting used to pitching for the Cubs and the uniform and the blue shoes -- I never wore blue shoes -- but the transition hasn't been difficult at all. I'm an older player now, so I can make that. And we all have the same goal, which is to win."
Charlie Morton has lasted longer than six innings in one of his first 11 starts with the Pirates, and he is coming off an outing in which he allowed one St. Louis run over five innings but seven hits: He fell behind 13 of 23 batters and, because of all that, ran up a pitch count of 93.
As a result, his plan for today is ???
"Throw strikes," Morton said. "I'm just going to try to use my fastball to get ahead, especially first time through the order. Get ahead, and stay aggressive. You watch good pitchers, and that's what they do."
• Still no word on a possible fine or suspension for closer Matt Capps for hitting St. Louis' Albert Pujols Sunday, and none is expected at this point.
• The Pirates are working extensively with Lastings Milledge on several facets of his outfield play, from how he catches the ball -- with the glove sideways, rather than upright -- to his breaks on balls to his throws. The coaching staff has been pleased with adjustments he has made to this point.
• Dinesh Patel, one of the two Indian pitchers the Pirates signed, recorded his first professional victory for rookie-level Bradenton yesterday in a 13-7 rout of the Braves. He allowed one run in two innings of relief. Patel has a 1.50 ERA.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org