Pirates' Kerrigan undecided on returning

Pitching coach popular with players but has yet to sign extension


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LOS ANGELES -- Joe Kerrigan has not made up his mind whether to come back next season as the coach of a young Pirates pitching staff where he sees progress, particularly by the starters.

"Hopefully, I'll decide something in the next week or so," he said the other day. "I have to talk it over with my wife more."

His young Pirates pitchers have reached a conclusion, though.

They want him to return.

In a highly unscientific survey, most pitchers remaining from the club's opening-day roster were asked publicly or privately about Kerrigan, and there essentially was unanimous support.

"I think, for everyone on the staff, we definitely want him back," Paul Maholm said.

And Kerrigan, in his first season with the Pirates, was unanimous in his pleasure with his pitchers.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (3-8, 5.45) vs. RHP Tim Stauffer (4-6, 3.31). Season series: Pirates, 2-1.

Season series: Pirates, 2-1.

Key matchup: Forget Stauffer's overall record. San Diego has won his past four starts, during which he has a 2.22 ERA and has beaten contending Los Angeles and Colorado.

Of note: The Pirates' 40 outfield assists lead Major League Baseball and are the franchise's most since having the same total in 1991.

Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog.

"Every one of these pitchers we have here, they have been a joy to work with," said Kerrigan, who, the same as infield coach Perry Hill, has yet to accept management's offer of a contract extension.

"They've been fun. They made it fun every day. Every one's a good person, they're hard workers, and they care about their performance. That's every single one of them. I mean, these guys are a blast."

If that's an indication that he would prefer to remain so entertained through 2010, Kerrigan isn't tipping his pitch just yet.

But he did talk about goals for Pirates pitchers next season and about a Pirates plan needing to take shape over one or even two more seasons.

"It kind of reminds me of Montreal back in the early '90s, when we had a lot of young people," Kerrigan said of a group that included one Pedro Martinez. "Yeah, it is a two- or three-year plan. I mean, it takes a full season" for a pitcher to improve, learn, grow.

"I'll give you an example: Jesse Chavez pitching 70 games to understand all the variables, all the situations that are thrown at him. What pitch is needed in those variables and situations? How do I get out of those jams? How do I pitch with a one-run lead as opposed to a two- or three-run lead? How do I pitch around a lineup? What did this guy hit off me the last time I faced him?

"The only way you get better is to absorb all that knowledge and bring it with you the next time you're in that situation. And Jesse is getting a lot better at that."

Although Kerrigan wanted to reserve a full critique of his Pirates pitchers until seasons' end, when he has more opportunity to reflect, he sees a measure of progress.

True, the rotation pieced together quality starts in 10 of its opening 14 starts this season while topping the majors with a 2.97 ERA. Look at them five months later after two key injuries (Tyler Yates and Evan Meek), trades involving two left-handers (Sean Burnett and John Grabow) and the arrival of nine new pitchers. The Pirates finished this 1-5 road trip and headed home with a 4.61 ERA, the sixth-worst in the majors.

"Overall, I think our starters have done a good job. I really do," said Kerrigan, whose staff ranks ninth-best in the majors with 75 quality starts. "For the most part, for a young staff, we've done a good job of getting deep into the game. I think our goal next year is to try to extend that three, four, five more outs, build on that.

"Our bullpen has been inconsistent. But you've got to remember, we lost a couple of guys, we had a little bit of a flux with new people, new faces coming in in the middle of the season. I think anybody who watches us play knows that we have to have more consistency in our bullpen."

Such consistency isn't easy, as Chavez pointed out, with a core of a still-standing bullpen that began the season with barely five full seasons of major league experience combined, and most of that belonging to Matt Capps. That core group includes Chavez, Capps, Meek and Donnie Veal.

"But I think Chavez, Meek ... for youth, for pitching the first time for a full year in the big leagues, those guys have done a good job," Kerrigan continued. "They've grown. They've gotten better as the season goes on, from month to month. That's what you want to see from young pitchers.

"I think [Joel] Hanrahan has been a real good addition for us, a real good late-inning option. He's teamed up well with Jesse for the seventh and eighth inning."

The poster boy for pitching-coach achievement this year, however, is Ross Ohlendorf. In his first full Pirate season, Ohlendorf ascended from steady to relatively dominating. In his past nine starts, eight of them quality starts, he has crafted a 2.94 ERA and nearly struck out as many batters (42) as he allowed hits (45).

"Aw, that guy's grown by leaps and bounds. He's blossomed right in front of everybody's eyes," Kerrigan said. "He's going to be a horse to deal with in the future. He's got a chance to be a [Chris] Carpenter-type, a [Adam] Wainwright-type, a guy that just shuts you down every fifth day." He added: "I said he's got a chance to be."

Maholm spoke of Kerrigan improving his in-game adjustments and more, but also of how pitchers seek consistency from a coach as well.

"Me, [Zach] Duke and Capps, we've gone through four pitching coaches in four years," Maholm said. "He has definitely brought a lot to the staff."

Somebody not long ago "asked me who should be the Cy Young winner," Chavez added. "It's Joe. With what he's done."


NOTES -- The Pirates' 11 strikeouts and zero walks Wednesday in a 3-1 loss at Los Angeles was closer to the rule this past road trip. They compiled six walks and 28 strikeouts in the three games in Los Angeles, seven walks and 25 strikeouts in the three prior games in Houston. The last time they induced a walk, discounting two intentional walks for the Dodgers: 17 innings and 63 plate appearances ago, in the fifth inning Tuesday. ... The Pirates have won one of their past 16 road games.


Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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