Jim Tracy, putting the onus of the Pirates' woeful start on his players, found a new phrase to explain their persistent problem:
As in, "When you're getting photo-finished every day, there are ways and means of getting past that," the first-year manager said before the Pirates played Houston in the opener of a 10-game homestand.
Nosing opponents at the wire hasn't been part of his stable's capabilities, what with three of his team's past four losses and 14 of its past 18 coming by one run. Using a football metaphor as well as horse-racing parlance, Tracy added that it isn't as if the Pirates are losing all these games by a touchdown. Coincidentally, through 47 games, the Pirates have scored 47 fewer runs than the competition -- an average of a one-run loss per game.
Saying he doesn't hit, field, throw or catch, Tracy laid the club's National League worst record squarely at the players' feet.
"Every ... little ... aspect of the game has to be important to you if you're going to change the culture," Tracy said slowly for emphasis.
"That's not something you're going to convince a group of people about overnight. Over time, you're very hopeful that they gain an understanding of that. I'm not going to continue to jog in place, I promise you that. I'm patient; with young players, you have to be patient."
Tracy also maintained that, while he expects improvement soon, change might be in the offing.
"When the messenger has sent enough messages and they're not being heard, then you find something else," he continued. "It is going to get better. Because I didn't take this job to fail."
The same week as the 50th anniversary of former Pirates first baseman Dale Long's major-league record of eight consecutive games with a home run, Pirates left fielder Jason Bay has clubbed seven homers in his past seven games. OK, so he bunched them together over a week and carried a three-game spurt into last night.
"I haven't done [the seven] in straight games," Bay said. Possibly eight? "I'm not looking that far ahead.
"But I'll take it any day of the week, don't get me wrong," he added of the seven-in-seven. "But it's a little tough to enjoy it personally when we haven't don't so well as a team. Such is life."
Erie experience for Casey
First baseman Sean Casey, recuperating from fractures in his back, was scheduled to play six innings and take three at-bats with the Class AA Altoona Curve in Erie last night to start his rehabilitation.
He grounded out to second base in his first at-bat and, with a man on first and two out in the third, he flied out to center. Casey popped to shortstop in the sixth to complete his night.
If all went well, he was to play nine innings tonight. When he returns to the Pirates depends on Casey and his back.
"A lot of it has to do with how he feels physically," Tracy said.
"I don't think anybody needs any dissertation about how he's doing offensively. It's is he feeling up to par?
"If everything checks out OK ... you're hoping by early next week Sean Casey will be back in the lineup."
What then with Craig Wilson?
A right-field job share with Jeromy Burnitz is one possibility, Tracy said.
"Sure is [a nice problem] to have, and one that we haven't had for the last several weeks, obviously. The same argument can be said with Freddy Sanchez [upon third baseman Joe Randa's return from a slow-healing bone contusion in his right foot].
"Are you going to take a guy who's hitting .342 and not play him? But that's not [a question] to dwell on for a very long period of time."
Randa swung a bat and "did some things in the outfield," but he isn't "there yet" as far as taking batting or infield practice, Tracy said.
Ryan Doumit's left hamstring still isn't 100 percent, Tracy said, but the manager added that the newfound first baseman is "getting closer" to being able to take his usual catcher's spot.
The Homestead Grays' uniforms that the Pirates wore a week ago in Cleveland were given to each player as a gift. What will Craig Wilson do with his? "I'm going to put it in my closet at home along with every other uniform I've had in the big leagues."
Houston star first baseman Lance Berkman sat out the game last night because of a hyperextended right knee. He is listed as day to day.
INDIANAPOLIS (26-21) lost at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 5-3. RHP Ron Chiavacci (2-3, 4.79) allowed three runs, one earned, and five hits in 3 2/3 innings. RHP Josh Sharpless (2.08) allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings of relief. RHP Scott Strickland (0.00) allowed his first run of the season in the eighth inning, his scoreless streak ending at 25 2/3 innings.
ALTOONA (31-17) won at Erie, 8-6. RHP Matt Peterson (3-2, 4.88) allowed six runs, five earned, in five innings. 1B Sean Casey (.000), in the first game of his rehabilitation assignment, went 0 for 3, with a groundout, flyout and popup. He exited after the top of the sixth. RF Ray Sadler (.267) hit his second home run, a two-run shot.
LYNCHBURG (20-26) lost to Frederick, 2-1. RHP Derek Hankins (2-5, 4.17) allowed one run in seven innings. DH Neil Walker (.265) went 1 for 4.
HICKORY (18-27) lost at Augusta, 5-4. RHP Blair Johnson (0-1, 6.00) allowed five runs in six innings. CF Andrew McCutchen (.295) went 2 for 5 with his 28th RBI and committed his fifth error.