Bob Smizik: Consecutive routs accentuate Pirates' weaknesses

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Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington is not a guy easily panicked. But the performance of his team the past two nights -- two runs in 18 innings in consecutive 8-1 losses at Coors Field -- certainly could push him in that direction.

While two games hardly constitute a trend, and while the Pirates were 5-1 since the All-Star break before coming to Colorado, there is no disputing this is a team that could use some upgrades -- both offensively and in pitching. The non-waiver trade deadline is Thursday.

Offensively, the Pirates are getting woeful production at first base and right field and Huntington has to think seriously about improvement at those positions.

Some stats:

First baseman Ike Davis from June 1 through Friday: 109 ABs, 2 HRs, 14 RBIs: .193/.323/.284 -- .608. Davis homered as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning last night.

Right fielder Gregory Polanco from June 28 through Friday.: 87 ABs, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs: .172/.258/.253 -- .511. Polanco was 1-for-3 last night.

First base: With little on the market and with Davis having had strong second halves in his short career, it seems unlikely the Pirates would give up on him and/or Gaby Sanchez at this point in the season. August is a more likely time for the Pirates to do something at this position.

Right field: As the numbers above indicate, Polanco is in a far worse slump than the much-maligned Davis. Nor does Polanco, a raw rookie, have any second-half numbers to offer a hint of optimism. As with first base, it’s unlikely the Pirates will make a move before July 31 in right field. But they cannot continue to go with Polanco much longer, if he continues to struggle so mightily.

Andrew Lambo, batting .351 at Indianapolis, is an internal option at both positions. The improved recent play of Travis Snider might earn him yet another opportunity in right field. Neither option, though, is close to optimal. The same goes for Josh Harrison in right field. Since June 18, he is batting .241 (28-for-116) with an OPS under .630.

Starting pitching: Let’s be realistic. The Pirates are not going to acquire David Price or Jon Lester and it’s rather amazing the amount of conversation these topics are receiving. The even-stronger rumor that A.J. Burnett, who has a 3.86 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP with Philadelphia, would be coming back to Pittsburgh seems no more realistic. His performance -- his K/9 is 7.40, down from 9.85 last year -- and his contract would weigh heavily against such a reunion.

But former MLB general manager and current ESPN analyst Jim Bowden says otherwise. Appearing on the ''Bob Pompeani Show’’ on The Fan Saturday, Bowden -- well connected but not always right -- said this about a possible Burnett deal:

“Ruben Amaro [the Phillies GM] and Neal Huntington continue to work on a deal that will bring Burnett back to Pittsburgh, and I do think that this is going to happen, Bob, at some point. What is complicated, of course, is the financial aspect, even more so than the player return Philadelphia would get. They continue to work on the deal, but every sign that we’re getting from the Phillies’ front office is they think at some point this is going to get done between now and the deadline.”

Jeff Locke was rocked by Colorado last night -- six runs on 10 hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings. Charlie Morton has had two consecutive sub-par starts, so it’s hardly out of the question that the Pirates are looking for starting pitching.

This is an article on the starting pitching market.

Bullpen: There are plenty of reasonably priced relievers on the market. Here is a list of right-handed relievers and here is a list of left-handed relievers believed to be available.

The Pirates have a need for a dependable right-hander. After closer Mark Melancon, their top right-handed reliever is Jared Hughes, who has pitched very well of late but has a history of inconsistency. But even if Hughes is OK, the Pirates need help behind him because the other right-handers, Ernesto Frieri, Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel, do not inspire confidence.

It’s too late in the game -- hopefully -- for the Pirates to continue to learn about Frieri. He has to be DFA’d or demoted to a lesser role. He may very well came back to being close to what he once was for the Angels, but after his meltdown Friday against Colorado -- one inning, four runs, three hits, one walks, 26 pitches -- he’s not to be trusted.

While some in the fan base and others in the media might call for heavy lifting in the days ahead, more than likely Huntington will heed the advice of Joe Sheehan, who wrote this in the current edition of Sports Illustrated:

''Huntington has no business cashing in the products of a strong farm system to bolster a team that, at best, is playing for the second wild-card spot. He can play out the year with what he has, knowing that Alen Hanson, Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow are on the way to add to Pittsburgh’s cost-controlled core in 2015 and beyond.’’

First Published July 27, 2014 12:00 AM

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