Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic
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Being completely forthright here, I grow weary of the Sean Burnett e-mails.
Not because Burnett did not make the team. Not because I doubt that he will make it back to the majors and be a fine pitcher someday. And certainly not because I thought Tom Gorzelanny had a swell camp.
Rather, it is because almost no one is mentioning Shane Youman.
Consider these figures:
In 2006, Youman was 11-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 31 minor-league games. He was promoted to Pittsburgh in September and had a 2.91 ERA in five games, including three starts. Overall, he struck out 93 and walked 40.
In 2006, Burnett was 8-11 with a 5.16 ERA in 25 games for Indianapolis, his first action since two arm surgeries. He struck out 46 and walked 46.
In spring training, Youman had a 0.96 ERA -- one earned run allowed -- with five strikeouts and three walks over 9 1/3 innings.
In spring training, Burnett had a 0.00 ERA with nine strikeouts and seven walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Bottom line: Each had a fine spring, with Youman showing better control. But the comparison of their 2006 seasons -- the latest example of facing real competition -- is not close.
We move on ...
Q: Hi, Dejan. I was wondering how you see the potential of having both Chris Duffy and Andrew McCutchen on the 25-man roster later this season or the not-too-distant future.
I love having Duffy out in center field playing some excellent D (and making the job just a little easier for his fellow outfielders thanks to good range), not to mention a nice average of around .300 while stealing bases almost at will. As you pointed out two days ago and in the past, the Pirates are a different, much better team with him rolling.
Missy Wells of Austin, Texas
KOVACEVIC: I try to stay away from saying stuff like "Good question" in this forum, but this one is excellent, Missy.
Your answer ...
McCutchen in left, Duffy in center, Jason Bay moving to right.
Now, this all hinges, obviously, on Duffy performing consistently. And that has yet to happen, so it remains a variable. But if he does become the type of player you saw in the final 45 games last season, this is the Pirates' vision.
The thinking is this:
1. Duffy is really good defensively.
2. So is McCutchen, and left field at PNC Park is like center field anywhere else. And the Pirates, as Brian Giles and Bay have shown, can operate at a distinct advantage over opponents by having left fielders who can play it well.
3. Bay is closer to the field, where his subpar arm will not be as great a factor (unless, of course, he has to throw to third).
The first two are much, much bigger factors than the third, by the way.
(This is where the moderator ducks to get out of way of avalanche of angry e-mails about the .167-hitting leadoff man getting any semblance of preferential treatment over McCutchen.)
Q: Hey, Dejan, good to have the regular season almost underway. I was wondering: By what criteria, exactly, was Jose Bautista's mediocrity this spring acceptable, and Jose Castillo's not?
Nicolas Lewis of Bellevue
KOVACEVIC: Well, as long as I have set precedent for this one session, that is another good question.
The first thing to say here is that Bautista did nothing to "beat out" Castillo. It is incorrect to use such a term because it implies something that did not happen. He batted .207 in the second half last season, and he is at .211 this spring. Castillo batted .216 in the second half last season, and he is at .286 this spring.
Now that we have that out of the way, the reason Bautista became the choice had its genesis late last season when the Pirates -- Jim Tracy, specifically -- simply had enough of Castillo.
They watched him show up third-base coach Jeff Cox when Cox failed to wave home a runner that would have brought him an RBI.
They watched him repeatedly miss cutoff points and other defensive assignments.
And they watched him virtually ignore every bit of advice offered by hitting coach Jeff Manto in terms of improving his approach at the plate.
The difference between Bautista and Castillo is that Bautista -- a bright and ambitious young man, by any measure -- listened.
The question I have is this: Does it matter?
The bridge between the Pirates and Castillo is torched, in my view. If he is going to fulfill the alleged potential he has, it certainly will not be in a Pittsburgh uniform.
And the more important element: Neil Walker is the Pirates' third baseman. Not now, but soon.
Q: Hi, Dejan. I've noticed lately that you are cranking out what seems like 4-7 articles per day. My question is: Are you looking forward to the "normalcy" of the season and being able to focus on the games?
Ned Woodward of Wichita, Kan.
KOVACEVIC: Yes, yes and yes. Anyone who does this for a living will attest that there is no time quite like spring training. That is more true now in the Internet age than ever before, where news stories can be written and rewritten several times over the course of the day, then a fresh angle still must be found for the printed product the following day. And news happens down here at all hours of the day, where it is much more concentrated to 4-11 p.m. during the season.
Happiest day of the year for me -- other than Light-Up Night -- is opening day. To just show up at the ballpark at about 3 p.m. (as opposed to 7 a.m., like the past three days while anticipating cuts) and to know that all that is due is one game story and one notebook -- Houston will never look so good.
Thing No. 21 that I miss about Pittsburgh: Our fountain.
If I start talking about what that one little area of land means to me, the time I have spent there, the way I took my wife there straight from the airport on the day she first arrived in the U.S. ... well, I will not. Way, way too sappy.
Suffice it to say that it is a great point of pride -- no pun intended -- in being the world's tallest fountain when on full power (which is rare because floods have beaten up the old motors, according to a guy in that little control room there). And, above all, it is a majestic yet understated central focus to what makes our topography so dramatic, so breathtaking from every angle.
One can only hope that any upgrades made do not change the source of the water for the fountain, because then we all would be unable to explain to people how we actually have four rivers down there and not three.
Until tomorrow ...
First Published March 29, 2007 12:00 am