Dejan Kovacevic's sports chat transcript: 4.14.11

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Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings to all on another sunny, spectacular day in Downtown Pittsburgh.

A reminder here (clearing throat for shameless sales pitch): The conversation goes around the clock at the DK on Pittsburgh Sports blog on PG+.

Amber: After last night's game against Tampa, how do you see this team looking with Sid back in the lineup possibly?

Dejan Kovacevic: I thought they pretty much followed the formula they will need to succeed, Amber: Get the saves from Fleury, stay in the game, then work like maniacs to create tons and tons of chances so that they can score at least a couple goals. I also thought that, after the first period, they did much better with the backside pressure by the forwards, and the defensemen didn't have as big a gap to fill.

Health: How electric was the game last night?? Do you see it even being louder Friday with it being the weekend?

Dejan Kovacevic: I wrote on the blog last night that Arron Asham's goal brought one of the five loudest sounds I've heard for a hockey game in Pittsburgh.

Not sure what the weekend would have to do with the next crowd. If you think people weren't drinking there last night ...

Josh: I was a skeptic about the Pens being able to dominate a game without its stars but last night's game made me realize just how much this team wants to prove me and everyone else wrong. If Sid comes back, how scary is this team?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins didn't dominate anything, Josh. Marc-Andre Fleury did. The rest of the team did just about enough to get it done.

But yeah, if Crosby comes back, the tenor of the line combinations and, above all, the power play really take a huge step upward. The latter point can't be overstated.

Jeff King: Are there any more options left for Jason Jaramillo? I thought he had one left, so does that mean If Snyder or Doumit get hurt again or Doumit gets traded, he would have to pass through waivers would he not? Do you think another team would take a chance on him? If so, then we'd be out two catchers.

Dejan Kovacevic: An option covers a full year. Meaning you can option a guy as many times as you want in a given year, and it's still one option.

David: Will Sid be back?? No he said, she said, just your honest opinion?

Dejan Kovacevic: Watching him with those headsets on last night, about 25 feet to my left, the intensity on his face ... you can be very certain he wants to come back. The fact that he's skating on a regular basis without symptoms also bodes well.

But my opinion on this -- and I'm not ducking the question -- just doesn't matter. None of our opinions matter. It's only those of the doctors, and even they couldn't possibly have much of an opinion right now until he takes contact.

Brandon: Was yesterday the final time all season the Bucs will be .500? Looking at their upcoming games, I think there's a good chance.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thought about that. I think about that every year they dip under for the first time. I'd have to say no because I think they'll hit Randy Wolf tonight, as they were able to do a couple times last year.

But there are three this weekend in Cincinnati ...

KesaKount: Dejan, I know you love the way James Neal plays, and I totally agree. He's done everything except score consistently since he has arrived. But what is his issue when it comes to hitting the net? He consistently misfires or has shots easily blocked. One goal in more than a quarter-season's time with the Pens is disconcerting, no matter how well he has played in other facets.

Dejan Kovacevic: I've been writing on the blog since Neal's first game with the Penguins that his default mode is to try to pick upper corners. That has looked great on shootouts, but not even the great snipers in NHL history have done that consistently. You have to be able to pick your spots down low or five-hole or whatever.

Neal had a golden chance last night in the second period, and he shot it maybe 4 feet over the net. (Might have been blocked. Unsure from my perch way up high.) But we've even seen him shoot high when he has fellow forwards in front, which is a huge no-no. Those guys are looking for tips and/or rebounds.

PirateApologist: I liked your idea of having Doumit play some outfield. Also, when does Pearce get to start?

Dejan Kovacevic: My Doumit comment on the blog today was mostly aimed at the largely ineffective platoon in right to this point, notably Garrett Jones. This isn't just a bad couple weeks for Jones. He hit .208 in the spring and never really looked like he was in top form (short stroke, quick to the ball, power to all fields).

Doumit has the best arm of anyone on the roster, which helps overcome significant shortcomings with the glove out there. And he might be about to out-hit Jones as the left-handed part of that platoon.

Hunter: I didn't see your original prediction on the Pens/Lightning series (if you gave one). Did last night's game change your opinion of how the series is going to go?

Dejan Kovacevic: It was Penguins in six, almost entirely because of the difference in goaltending.

So no, nothing in Game 1 would change either of those.

Arriba Wilver: You were attacked on the PBC Blog earlier today, essentially for negative Pirate reporting. I know that's nothing new to you, but in the attack, the poster mentioned, in a negative way, that you were like Stan Savran (in other words the poster saw him in the same negative way). Any comment?

Dejan Kovacevic: "Attacked?"

No, I didn't see that. I stay pretty much focused on the new blog. But I have heard a lot of that, and all I'll say is the same thing I do to those who charge that I'm too positive: Look at the body of work. The same people who criticized my three-reasons piece never have anything to say about the feature on the three big prospects, or the takeout on Luis Heredia, or the five-tools analysis on Andrew McCutchen earlier this week.

That's part of the job.

The Pirates lost 105 games last season, and their system is no better than ordinary by most independent measures.

When those two things change, the coverage will reflect it.

Heather: How did Sid look last night in the box? Like he was ready to go?

Dejan Kovacevic: As a roving assistant coach?

You bet!

James_Indiana: How about the Fleury-Tim Thomas goalie battle in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take Fleury. Thomas still has too many moving parts, too much flopping. That's not to take away from a great season. He's a terrific, athletic goalie. I'm just not seeing someone in Fleury's class right now.

Are you?

sms: was the bucs hot start (lukewarm) a reflection of the cubs & st. louis being down & we're seeing the real bucs as we come up against better teams..

Dejan Kovacevic: The Cubs and Cardinals played into the Pirates' starting pitching looking better than it is, I think, but the Pirates' offense managed to produce some runs off some pretty good opposing pitchers. When Neil Walker is taking Chris Carpenter deep in St. Louis, all credit goes to the hitter.

Hunter: I haven't watched Ryan Miller much recently but with his pedigree a Fluery/Miller matchup would be fun to watch.

Dejan Kovacevic: It would be a blast, especially because Lindy Ruff's Sabres will skate all-out, none of that passive stuff the Lightning was doing for long stretches last night.

Seriously, did anyone else notice when Craig Adams had a one-on-three "rush" into the Tampa zone, and all three Lightning guys skated backward for about 30 feet and let him gain the blue line?

Something's wrong with your system when that happens.

mmeestro: Hey DK, any reason to start worrying about the slow start of Alvarez yet?

Dejan Kovacevic: Maybe at least a little. Remember that Clint Hurdle's focus with Alvarez, all through spring and still now, has been to establish better contact. We see that on occasion, but he's still striking out once every three times up, and he still has just one extra-base hit.

craigmarilynmonroe: Will Hines Ward decide to hang them up if he goes out on top with a Dancing with the Stars victory?

Dejan Kovacevic: I actually saw a bit of that the other night, as the rest of my family was riveted and practically made me look at the TV, a la the climactic scene of "Clockwork Orange." He seems like he enjoyed himself, but I'm guessing he'll take lining up against the Ravens if he had a choice.

Curt: Not to pile on Ronny Cedeno, but what does management see in him? Will Rodriguez get more looks at short?

Dejan Kovacevic: What management sees in Cedeno -- contrary to Neal Huntington's protests Sunday -- is that the Pirates have next to nothing at shortstop in the system, aside from Chase d'Arnaud. To d'Arnaud's credit, he is off to a fine start offensively and defensively in Indianapolis, his first experience at Class AAA, and that bodes well.

But if d'Arnaud arrives, he will be the first shortstop of note to make it since ... well, you can't even really count Jack Wilson because he came in a trade.

Bottom line: The Pirates have absolutely zero excuse for having failed as they have at stocking up on such a valuable position. A team simply has to have volume and quality of prospects at pitcher, shortstop and center field.

UPMC Mark: Fleury has look great, don't get me wrong, but the last time you talked about something so glowingly it was about Pitt and how if they play their best, no other team could keep up with them. That prediction turned out great (and also, left you a convenient exit if they lost, which they did). Please stop jinxing MAF.

Dejan Kovacevic: OK. He's terrible. Couldn't stop a beach ball right now.

Drew: How good would Fleury be on a trap oriented, defense first team? I'm not suggesting the Pens need to change, just trying to put Fleury in perspective.

Dejan Kovacevic: Maybe not as good. Seriously. There have been goalies over the years who thrive on the action rather than being rusty. To me, a large part of what's made Martin Brodeur so great is his ability to maintain his focus and sharpness despite seeing only 17-18 shots a game.

Fleury strikes me as the action type.

mmeestro: Doumit's improved defense: legit, or just due to a small sample size?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd say the caught stealings are small sample size, but the pitch-blocking definitely looks better, more technically sound.

James_Indiana: Dejan, do you have any idea the last shortstop the Pirates developed that made it to the majors? Jay Bell was acquired from the Indians.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not off the top of my head. Maybe it was Frank Tavares. Honus Wagner?

Anyone help here?

Jethro: Dejan, any surprises from the other NHL games last night? Personally, the way the Preds handled the Ducks was a big surprise. You are looking for someone playing as well as MAF right now....Rinne might be doing just that.

Dejan Kovacevic: Nashville was the only one that jumped at me, too, considering how awesome Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne have been for Anaheim lately.

Rinne was good, but man, did you see that Shea Weber slap shot?

Those will make a difference.

Guest: Brian Bixler, Kevin Polcovich, Sammy Khalifa.

James_Indiana: Dejan, maybe it was Dick Groat!

pghboyinca: Sammy Khalifa :)

Dejan Kovacevic: You're all very cruel.

Brett: DK, hope the new role's going well for you. Buccos question: do you see Rudy Owens being called up right after June (similar to Lincoln last year) if he has multiple outings like a couple days ago? Do you see him having more immediate success in the majors than Lincoln did due to the fact that he has more than 2 effective pitches?

Dejan Kovacevic: The new role gets better each week, especially as the features, game coverage and blog all kind of sync together. It's been a blast.

That's a great comparison between Owens' and Lincoln's final days in the minors. No one in management is discussing shortcomings in Owens' arsenal, as they were -- and continue to -- with Lincoln's changeup.

I could see Owens up sooner than mid-season if he keeps going well. But I'll repeat something I had on the blog: He needs to get his arm strength back to where it was in the second half of last season. Not there yet.

Bo: What were the other 4 loudest sounds you've heard for a hockey game in Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, putting me on the spot ...

OK, I'll go with Mario Lemieux's goal with seconds left in Game 1 of the 1992 final against the Hawks, Ron Francis' deflection of Larry Murphy's steal earlier in those playoffs against the Adam Graves Rangers, Lemieux's final goal before his first retirement against a hopelessly overmatched Garth Snow, and Mark Recchi's empty-netter in the 1991 conference final that sent the Penguins to their first final.

How's that?

Hunter: Couldn't have been Honus Wagner... he started his career in Louisville and came to Pittsburgh after Louisville was contracted.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, but that's not really an outside acquisition, is it?

The franchises essentially merged.

Shaun: Wiz Khalifa?

James_Indiana: Does Dale Berra count? He was drafted in the first round of the 1975 draft.

JAL: Several after Tavares--Dale Berra, Sammy Khalifa, Rafael Belliard,

Mary: How often do injured/scratched players sit in the media box and how often do they wear headsets?

Dejan Kovacevic: In hockey, they're almost always in the press box, but not in the GM's booth and not with headsets.

Drew: Seems to be a lot of writing off of Lincoln from the fan base. Don't we need to see him get another shot when the pitching coach is NOT trying to change his delivery during his first MLB stint? Even if he only has 2 good pitches, if they are truly good, doesn't that at least qualify for solid bullpen action?

Dejan Kovacevic: He'll absolutely get another chance. Huntington has made clear to me a couple times in recent weeks that the Pirates still value Lincoln, still expect him to be a major-league starter.

tcs3: GI Jones--not a great start for him, obviously. How is handling hitting so low in the lineup? I'm sure he's not offended, but it is quite a change for him.

Dejan Kovacevic: I know that the last thing Jones is thinking about is his place in the order. He's focused, as I mentioned above, on a shorter swing, better contact, power to all fields. Right now, he's 0 for 3 on those counts.

Mary: Are you allowed to ask questions of the hockey players when they're in the press box?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've interviewed healthy scratches up there, sure. If you're referring to Crosby here -- and I assume it's not Eric Godard -- Crosby isn't doing interviews right now with anyone. The policy is, he'll talk when his status changes.

Arriba Wilver: I know you admitted you were wrong on Tabata batting leadoff, but have you changed your thoughts on Walker and Cutch in the 2-3 spots?

Dejan Kovacevic: Let me clarify that a little: I'm never one who's shy to admit about being wrong, but my original contention was never that Tabata couldn't hit leadoff. That wouldn't make any sense, given his strike-zone command and bat control. He's got ample on-base tools.

Rather, my contention was that it wasn't the best possible 1-3, and I stand by that. I'm still not wild about Walker at No. 2, and, for reasons illustrated in my McCutchen five-tools piece this week, it remains to be seen if McCutchen can deliver the power there.

We'll see.

James_Indiana: Dejan why did you write that Dave Parker was the Pirates last five tool player? I thought that the dubious distinction went to Chad Hermansen?

Dejan Kovacevic: Remember, the criteria was "sustained excellence." Not walking on water in rookie ball.

Jethro: Based on a lot of the blog comments today, it seems like people are deceived by the margin of victory last night. TB was clearly a better team in the 1st and then the Pens started to get their legs in the 2nd. i see these teams very evenly matched and expect the series to go 7 games. Any sense that the Pens seized momentum or was it just one game?

Dejan Kovacevic: It was one game, but they had the far better goaltending. And, in saying that about Roloson, I'm not talking so much about the goals he gave up (even though he could have played Asham a lot better), but about his general flopping.

Goaltending builds momentum, too.

pghboyinca: You can only use rhetoric and words for so long and the false hopes the mirage that was the Pirates start actually backfires on them. Their starting pitching won't continue to be this good and their pitching and defense is this bad.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sounds like we agree that the starting pitching won't be as good as the opening trip, and the defense will struggle. I'll say again that I think the Pirates will hit.

Not sure of your reference there to rhetoric and mirages and stuff, so it's hard to respond.

JAL: Also couple in late 90s -- forgettable--Kevin Polcovich in 1997, Lou Collier in 1998

KesaKount: Wasn't Recchi's goal the go-ahead goal in that 1991 clincher? I remember the running, one-legged wrist shot burning Andy Moog. Then Mario finished it with the ENG from center ice.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, that's it. Lemieux was over by the right boards and scored on one bounce.

Was doing that off the top of my head in a live chat, so I appreciate that.

Bo: Please settle this. My Rangers-fan friend honestly believes the Graves hit on Lemieux was a fluky accident. He's crazy, right?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, tell your Rangers-fan friend that absolving Graves of that slash would be akin to a Penguins fan absolving Matt Cooke for his elbow to one of the Rangers.

Graves was an otherwise good guy, but that incident was outright criminal.

Phil: Who is the man in charge of the Pirates Defense and what is it that Perry Hill did that no one else seems to be able to figure out?

Dejan Kovacevic: Nick Leyva, the third base coach, is instructing the infielders.

Hill has his own techniques, which hardly are a secret given that he's been around a few teams now -- Florida currently -- but it still has to come with knowledge. He's the best.

Maybe if he hadn't criticized Freddy Sanchez being traded for a pitcher who currently is a Class AA reliever, he'd still be here.

One more today in this way-extended session ...

bleary: I know I'm not setting the bar too high, but would you say this Pirates team looks right now like the best group since 2003?

Dejan Kovacevic: I like the four young everyday players a lot. That's no secret. But they're not going to get it done without pitching and a better supporting cast.

UPMC Mark: To quote Earl Mann on the Graves' slash from the Penguins' Stanley cup video in '92: ""It was an incendiary situation -- Code Red. There was violent retribution in the air. The loss left many Pens fans wondering if there was any justice left in this world."

Dejan Kovacevic: Ooooooh, I can actually hear the voice and the music to go with that.

Do they sell those on DVD?

All I have is the videotapes, and I no longer have a VCR.

Brett: If Andrew Lambo, Alex Presley, Gorkys Hernandez, and/or Starling Marte are pushing on the RF door in the next 2 months-1 year, what happens to GI Jones? Trade bait?

Dejan Kovacevic: Players who bat .200 for the Pirates tend not to carry much trade value. It's early in the season, and I don't mean to pile on Jones. He's had slumps before, and he's broken out. I'm sure the Pirates will be more patient with him.

Thanks to all for participating, and I remind again that this goes on all the time at the blog. Give it a try. First few clicks are open to anyone.


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at DK on Pittsburgh Sports .


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