The Pirates' Paul Maholm reacts to a defensive play during his three-hit shutout of Houston Sunday at PNC Park.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
General manager Neal Huntington, in his weekly media gathering at PNC Park, acknowledged that the Pirates' current season is falling below the front office's expectations. But he stressed the long view when asked how the team is evaluating its performance at the major league level.
"We have short-, medium- and long-term goals. Short and medium, we're beginning to be able to evaluate those," Huntington said. "Short term, we've accomplished a tremendous amount. It's below the surface. It's completely revising how we scout, how we evaluate, how we sign and develop players. That's gone very, very well. Short term, really, the only thing that we feel we've missed on is wins and losses at the major-league level."
Of the Pirates not meeting expectations: "We didn't expect this team to be staring at 90 or 100 losses again. I can also tell you we didn't expect to win 100 games. We set the playoffs as a goal, not as a prediction. Have we lost more games than we expected? Yeah, we have. How do we overcome that? We need to play good, sound, fundamental baseball."
He cited the maturation of the Milwaukee Brewers over the latter part of the past decade.
"The difference is, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks all had breakout years, and they went from second-to-last to second. The difference in teams making huge strides forward, it's not one or two players. It's a group of players that gets better as a unit. Wins and losses are an outcome. How we play the game is the process. And that's our focus, the process, and how we help these guys get better. If we take care of the process, the results will take care of themselves."
GM rejects Russell report
Huntington vehemently rejected the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's report Saturday that the Pirates needed to show improvement during this 10-game homestand or manager John Russell would be in trouble. The report was based on information provided by sources, inside and outside the team, who declined to be identified.
"When you hide behind unnamed and imaginary sources that aren't going to go on the record, you can say anything you want," Huntington said on his weekly radio show.
He also criticized what he characterized as a general search for a scapegoat for the team's performance.
"Ultimately, the responsibility comes back to me, and it always will," Huntington said. "There will come a time when wins and losses are the ultimate tool of judging the major league staff. We're not there yet. The looking for somebody to take the fall, to have the finger pointed at them, that's not what I'm about."
Russell had said Thursday that new catcher Erik Kratz will get more playing time than the previous backup, Jason Jaramillo, and Huntington clarified Sunday that Kratz will be used in a "platoon" with Ryan Doumit. Kratz would face most left-handed pitchers.
Doumit, asked about the situation after going 3 for 5 and catching Paul Maholm's three-hit shutout, had no complaint.
"I obviously want to be in there as much as I can," Doumit said. "I know my numbers are down from the right side."
He is batting .190 from the right side, .304 from the left.
"But we're starting to get to the dog days, I caught a lot in the first half, and I think a breather every now and then will probably be best for me. I'll be able to feel fresher and get in there and produce."
• The Pirates were close to selling the rights to minor-league starter Hayden Penn to the Japanese club Chiba Lotte for an undisclosed amount of cash, Huntington confirmed. Penn, 25, was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA for Indianapolis, including a 1.89 ERA in six June starts that earned him the team's player-of-the-month award. Huntington said it was Penn's preference to go to Japan because of a higher salary and that the Pirates "reluctantly" agreed. Penn was out of options.
• Indianapolis reliever Vinnie Chulk also is close to having his rights sold to a Japanese team, Huntington said.
• Reliever Diego Moreno, a hard thrower who is one of the system's top pitching prospects, was suspended from Class AA Altoona for "unprofessional conduct," Huntington said. He would not divulge details. "We have a standard that we expect of our players and, certainly, at the Double-A level, we need to be able to trust our players," Huntington said. "And Diego's conduct was such that it wasn't trustworthy."
• Huntington reiterated that the Pirates do not expect to be as active at this July 31 trading deadline as with previous ones: "This year, we've got some guys that we're not really motivated to move. If we get a good baseball trade, we'll make it. But we're beyond the prospect collection mode, and we're trying to move forward with this group."
• Outfield prospect Starling Marte, who had a setback last week in recovering from surgery on his left hand, should be ready to grip a bat again by early this week, Huntington said.