Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic
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Paul Zeise will be covering the club for these next four games in St. Louis. Some of you will know Zeise as our Pitt football and general college basketball writer. Others will know him from being the other guy who does that UPN nightly sports talk show each Friday.
I can only imagine what it would be like I had to go cover Pitt football or anything for four days, and I had to do so in mid-season with little chance to prepare.
As for me, I am heading home for two reasons: One, the daughter is about to have her very first dance concert, for which she has been preparing for a year and a half. Having already clinched the Worst Father Ever award just for being on this beat, I can ill afford to miss events like this. Two, I will be investing most of my time in the coming days on the draft, as you might have gathered from the various news elements popping up in the notebook and other pieces. That will take me out of some home games next week, too.
Anyway, on to the only pitching staff in baseball with more questions raised about their state of minds as opposed to the state of their arms ...
Q: OK, this may sound really weird, but is there some cosmic force that is messing with our pitchers' minds? Do we need to hire a sports psychologist to man the bullpen? A guy has spectacular stuff for four-plus, then something (which remained unnamed) just set him off? What's up with that? Or a guy feels really comfortable in the pen, then gets pounded and can't find the strike zone?
On a more serious note, do you see anything in this team that will prevent them from their annual 10-game losing streak that inevitably happens about this time of year? Especially the starters? We've already taken the plunge to the cellar.
Also, I like that John Russell yanked Tom Gorzelanny in the first inning. Sent a message. That's some of that A-word we've been hearing about in action. You don't perform, you get yanked.
Tim Lehrian of Marion, Ind.
KOVACEVIC: Hard to say if it is a cosmic force, but it is a force, Tim. And it is hard to see any signs that it will change.
Had a good talk with Ian Snell yesterday, and one of the subjects was about the need for there to be quality back-to-back starts, something that gave the rotation as a whole the feeling it was on a roll. His viewpoint was that a true roll does not take place if just one guy has a good outing because there is no such thing as individual momentum for a starting pitcher. I found that interesting.
That prompted me, upon returning to the press box, to look up how many times your PBC rotation had produced back-to-back victories, and the number was three.
Snell is not the team psychologist -- which he probably would tell you is a good thing, given his many quirks -- but he might be onto something. This rotation as a whole has zero confidence, regardless of the words being spoken at an individual level. It has no rhythm, no sense of being able to follow up anything, and I daresay I agree with Snell that the chances of this changing would be improved if they were to start feeding off each other's success a little.
Oh, by the way, the team does have a sports psychologist who I see around the clubhouse infrequently. But he would not be the one responsible in a situation like this. That would be Jeff Andrews.
Q: In regard to Russell removing Gorzo in the first inning: Considering the score and recent toll on the bullpen, might it have been a better idea to leave him in there in hopes that he might find something to right himself and at least save the bullpen? Or is it possible that he might have already exceeded his pitch count?
I don't really believe in sending messages, but if you want to send one, leave him out there to struggle.
Jim English of Sharon
KOVACEVIC: You and Tim, the reader above, are free to interpret messages as you wish.
My own feeling about Russell and the rotation, in a general sense, is that he is growing increasingly annoyed by all of this, and that might have been the first indication that he is about to start letting it show.
Which is highly understandable, one would think. Remember that the two question marks about this team were supposed to be, in order, the bullpen and the offense. They have been good, in some cases very good. If the rotation had just been mediocre, or even slightly below mediocre, it is not at all unrealistic to imagine the Pirates could have a winning record.
So, when a manager can isolate on one facet of the team as the problem, chances are it will be addressed in some fashion before long.
Q: Dejan, we've heard a lot about the pending departures of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, but there has been little news since the end of spring training on contract negotiations. Do you expect any progress on deals with any particular players as the season continues?
Jason Webb of Greenfield, Pittsburgh
KOVACEVIC: There have been no in-season talks of contract extensions for any of the young players, if that is what you are asking, and nothing further on Adam LaRoche, to the best of my knowledge.
I would not expect any at this point, either. For one, management is knee-deep in the draft. Two, the only other young player who had been considered for an extension is Gorzelanny, and he hardly has elevated his game.
Q: Hi, Dejan. What is wrong with Freddy Sanchez? I've been assuming all season that he would wake up and hit like Freddy Sanchez. That happens once a week. Then we see 0-for-4 and 1-for-5.
What's the deal?
Harry Wilson of Troutville, Va.
KOVACEVIC: That is a good point, and it might be one reason why Sanchez's poor season has not drawn more criticism from the readership. His slumps tend to be interrupted by a really strong game, after which he goes right back into the slump.
The leadoff thing got him going there for a while, but it might be getting to be a burden now. Or not. Sanchez always insists he could not care less where he hits, and he says so with conviction. Besides, the above pattern was in place when he was batting second.
Hard to say what it is. I know he and Don Long have done all kinds of different mechanical switches with his swing, but that would never matter much to Sanchez. I also know that the Pirates have stressed up and down that he stays more patient, but how could that be the primary issue when he was a National League batting champion while employing a Manny Sanguillen-sized strike zone?
Q: DK, I was lucky to be at PNC Park on Sunday to watch Major League Baseball for the first time in a year. It was great. As soon as my son and I walked into the park and saw this spectacular view of the field and the city, I told my son, "Take a deep breath and soak this moment in, as you will not see a better place to watch MLB."
I also realized, living in Raleigh, how much I miss watching MLB and how lucky Pittsburghers are to be able to see the Pirates play.
I know it is difficult watching a team that has suffered so many losing seasons, but at least fans can attend a major league game in the best ball park in the majors.
My son and I had a special day and enjoyed the hospitality being back home, even though it was for the weekend.
Steven Cohen of Raleigh, N.C.
KOVACEVIC: Pittsburgh's collective response: Can your son pitch?
Thing No. 96 that makes Pittsburgh great: I had this in mind even before this latest national survey backed my point that our city's drivers are the most courteous anywhere.
This might be one of those things that surprises people who rarely or never get out of the city, much like the widely held misperception that we have traffic.
The traffic that we have, meaning the 20-minute backups in front of the tunnels or the lights along Route 28, is the equivalent of being in line at the McDonald's drive-thru compared to what other cities have. On our major roads, for the most part, there is a pattern. You know exactly how far up Green Tree hill the Parkway West is backed up at exactly what time. You also know why it happened (inexplicable fear of tunnel portals among a people who have been entering those tunnels all their lives), as well as which direction the backup will or will not occur.
In other major cities, the traffic goes in all directions, with no rhyme or reason, and it backs up so hopelessly that you strain your neck trying to see 3 miles ahead in hopes of finding out why no one is moving more than an inch a minute.
And in Florida, where the cars overwhelm the roads even in the least densely populated areas and the only concept of mass transit is one in which there are two people squeezed into the same vehicle ...
Anyway, we are friendly drivers. It might not seem like it to you the next time you try the Pittsburgh Left and the driver opposite you is totally unaware of this excellent technique, but it definitely is the case.
The first time it struck me was a couple years ago, driving the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles, when I spotted a driver coming up an entrance lane and slid over to my left to create space. Well, they pulled up next to me and ... were laughing at me.
A good friend of mine, when he moved to Pittsburgh from Florida a few years ago, had a similar reaction when he realized that he could pretty much enter any highway in the region without having to even slow down on the ramps. Only his view was that we were not really smart for allowing this, as it adds to congestion on the highways. Other cities have meters that regulate the pace of cars that can enter a highway, so he might be right.
Whatever. There are worst things to be known for than being nice, especially when it comes to the single most dangerous thing any of us do on a daily basis.
Until the Monday chat and the Tuesday Q&A, I ask again that you be nice to Zeise ...
First Published May 30, 2008 12:00 am