Collier: Pirates' trade contradicts latest need for bats

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No one thought the Pirates would just go ahead and win every home series for the balance of 2012, but the methods by which they've succumbed to the Chicago Cubs weren't anywhere in the forecast.

With an offense that has been restricted to one lane like an emergency PennDOT spasm coupled with the further wobbling of the reliable support structure that was James McDonald, Clint Hurdle's team has, if very little else this week, helped to focus its profile for general manager Neal Huntington as the trade deadline creeps to within a week.

Huntington had indicated that he didn't feel any alterations were necessarily imperative to push this promising summer toward a logical conclusion, but evidence was again all over the yard Tuesday night that the Pirates have glaring needs.

So it was a very good thing Huntington spent the evening doing something wholly productive, namely pulling the trigger on the first and perhaps the only major move he'll be able to make between now and Tuesday.

"We said at the start of the trading period that we were open to improving the club by adding either a pitcher or a position player," Huntington said five minutes after the Cubs skunked the Pirates, 5-1, for the second game in a row, snapping the Pirates' streak of winning home series at eight. "There were far more pitchers available than position players."

So Huntington sent three prospects to the Houston Astros for veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and cash, which lowers the temperature considerably in the atmosphere building around the GM to do something.

He did something, which, if you're scoring at home, is usually better than nothing, even around here.

Rodriguez isn't Cole Hamels or Ryan Dempster, so don't plan your October real meticulously just yet, but Rodriguez actually trails only Philadelphia's Hamels and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw among National League left-handers in strikeouts and wins since the beginning of 2009.

That should buttress a rotation that has been stung by the 15 runs McDonald has allowed in his past three starts, but it hardly makes the Pirates a finished postseason-capable product.

When you score one run in 18 innings against Jeff Samardzija and Paul Maholm, who arrived in Pittsburgh with a combined record of 14-14, it ought to be evidence that this isn't exactly an offense without dead spots.

Even its live spots -- specifically known Cubs thorns Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker -- can't put everybody on their backs every night.

Hurdle's second and third hitters, hitting a combined .329 vs. Chicago with 11 homers and 46 RBIs, are 2 for 13 in this series, and McCutchen's hit Monday night did not leave the infield.

The Pirates have seven hits in the series, but Hurdle wasn't accepting that as any clear cause for alarm.

"There's always a pendulum of emotion there -- if you don't hit, should you add a bat, and if you don't pitch, should you add an arm?" Hurdle said after Huntington briefed the media. "[Tuesday] night just happened to be the best game [Samardzija] pitched all year. He'd have beaten a lot of teams pitching like that. And we knew what Paul [Maholm] could do. His last five games he's pitched six innings and allowed a run or less. He's like the first guy in 94 years to do something like that."

True, but he's also 62-79 lifetime, and that's 94 years of Cubs baseball. But I'm glad Hurdle mentioned it because Maholm is indeed just the first Cubs left-hander in 94 years to work five consecutive starts of at least six innings while allowing no more than one run. He's just the second Cubs left-hander to produce multiple four-game streaks like that since Hippo Vaughn in 1918, and there is just absolutely no way I'm passing up an opportunity to get Hippo Vaughn's name in print 94 years after the fact.

Any fact, really.

So the Pirates' final shot at Maholm came in the eighth inning when, trailing 5-1, Clint Barmes led off with an infield hit. Hurdle looked down his bench and sent up the never-dangerous Gorkys Hernandez, who is not a major league player but somehow plays one on TV. Hernandez lugged his .091 average to the plate and promptly grounded into a double play. He's hitting .087, which is what 2 for 23 looks like.

It's not fair to say that if you selected someone from the stands he would have a better chance of getting a hit than Gorkys Hernandez, but he would have as good a chance of drawing a walk as Barmes.

Barmes has five walks in 287 plate appearances. He's playing an excellent shortstop while hitting .207. So there are needs remaining -- offense, bench, maybe a little seminar on holding runners on.

Not to be critical.

"What it does mean is that this isn't going to be easy," Hurdle said. "But we ripped the rear-view mirror off the car early in the season. We know we're not a perfect club, but we're going forward. It's supposed to be challenging."

There are 66 of these episodes left. Strap yourself in.

genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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