Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Sometimes, I wish all of you could come down here for just a week, if only so you could see the folly in taking spring numbers -- good or bad -- too seriously.

For example, examine, if you will, how ridiculous I might have looked in describing Zach Duke's outing Saturdaycompared to Paul Maholm's outing Sunday.

Each had a similar line, but each received a strikingly different tone in the coverage of their work.

Why?

Well, in Duke's case, two of his hits left the yard off left-handed bats. That is the obvious component. But a little deeper, even an untrained eye could easily see that hitters looked very comfortable in taking their hacks off him, just as they had for most of 2006 and 2007. Every pitch was timed, every swing came with a purpose.

And, as noted in the coverage, zero swings and misses.

Maholm, on the other hand, was getting done just about everything he wanted. He was throwing all four of his pitches for strikes, getting guys to lean and stumble and, yes, swing and miss once in a while. He had good zip, good efficiency and, as noted in the coverage, never should have gotten to the point where those three runs were scored because of goofy things that happened behind him.

Was he great? No. If that had been the case, B.J. Upton and Cliff Floyd would not have drilled those balls that resulted in those three runs. But, from the standpoint of a spring outing in which all kinds of things are getting gauged, it went pretty well.

Enough of that. Time to bury Duke ...




Q: Dejan, if Bucco management wants me to believe they intend to put the best product on the field, they will terminate this idiocy of having Zach Duke throw the baseball for them.

His 2005 season is a long way back. All Zach has done the past two years is post the worst, or near-worst ERA, WHIP and any other pitching stat you can think of. If Zach can spend an entire year at Class AAA and show marked improvement, then give him another shot. But for now, there is not another pitcher in baseball less deserving of taking the mound to face MLB hitters. He certainly does not deserve to wear the once proud uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Want to know how I really feel?

Stephen Duncan of Tucson, Ariz.

KOVACEVIC: You were not the only reader troubled to see Duke's line from Saturday. And, for however Duke or the team might have publicly analyzed it, there was no getting around seeing so many of the same negatives play themselves out in the first spring start.

He did have lousy luck and lousy defense, but he also gave up two bombs and one very solidly struck single in just two innings. Nothing remotely encouraging about that.

At the same time, sparing you the usual blather about the meaningless of spring games, the number of teams in Major League Baseball who would give up on Zach Duke at his age, 24, and experience level is exactly zero, Stephen. It could be that you are right about needing some time in the minors, but taking the criticism of Duke to the extreme of citing pride in the uniform strikes me as plenty over the top.




Q: When the Pirates send down Steve Pearce after spring training, he will be 25. I thought where I was at 25: I already served in the first Gulf War, four years in the Marine Corps, I was two years into my current career and purchased my first house. Do you see where I'm going?

If management could remember where they were at when they were 25 or 26, they would realize their players can become unmotivated in the minor-league system and regress.

Donald Lauridsen of Kingsford, Mich.

KOVACEVIC: Lots of angry mail over the weekend. We clearly no longer like Duke, and we clearly disapprove of the plan to send Pearce to the minors.

The Pirates' reasoning was explained in detail in the Sunday piece, so there is not much room for elaboration there. But I will underscore here that the approach is not popular.




Q: What have you heard is the reason for the new 10-foot chain-link fence shielding the bullpens at each end of McKechnie, where all the autograph seekers used to wait for their favorites to finish for the day?

It certainly changes the "friendliness" of McKechnie.

Kay Goetz of Avalon

KOVACEVIC: Yes, it does. I am no fan of autograph-seeking, and that goes back to my time as someone who bought tickets to enter games. But the bullpen railing you describe was an excellent place for fans to watch relievers getting ready, close enough to hear the rotation of the ball as it whirred by.

You are correct that this is no improvement to McKechnie.

You mention the chain-link fence, Kay, but you left out the additional green screen that keeps fans from even seeing inside, so there is no way the Pirates could explain this as a safety issue. It is a clear attempt to keep the fans out of that area.

We are angry about McKechnie, too. What else do we have today?




Q: My grandfather was Danny Murtaugh. My mom, Danny's daughter, and I are writing a book about him, and we have a chapter that features memories from fans. The book idea came from responses to an article I wrote that ran in the PG in December after my grandfather was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time (LINK: ). I received dozens of emails from fans who had fond memories of my grandfather.

I know you have a huge following among Pirates fans. My brother lives in Toledo and reads you online daily. You were the first person he said I should contact to spread the word about the book.

I can be contacted at colleen@dannymurtaughmemories.com.

Colleen Hroncich of Cranberry

KOVACEVIC: Consider it done, Colleen. And let me know how it goes.

I would be interested, incidentally, in a list of managers in the Hall clearly less qualified to be there than Murtaugh. (But, please, no more about Billy Meyer's No. 1 being retired. Nothing anyone could do about that now without looking petty.)




Thing No. 75 that makes Pittsburgh great, by Mike and Barb Jordan of Elkins, W.Va.:

No question and hands down, going through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

We went through the tunnel on our way to our first Pirates game almost 30 years ago. Since that time, we have had the privilege but almost impossible task of trying to explain to others what it's like to be transformed, through the tunnel, from suburbia to Downtown. Down through the years, we have taken friends, all four of our children, now some of their spouses, and most recently a foreign exchange student from Equador to their first Pirates game.

We can only assume that some around the city look at the tunnel with some dread. They weave their way through heavy traffic, changing lanes, almost at their destination, the clock-punching, daily grind of the job they despise. We always looked at it as the exclamation point at the end of the statement that was made almost every time we made the trip.

"We're here!"

Thanks, Pittsburgh.

KOVACEVIC: Always worth repeating that the New York Times once called us, "the only city in the world with an entrance."

Why did someone in New York have to come up with that?




Until tomorrow ...



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