Hot Stove: Why should Pirates' pitching improve?
Freddy Sanchez, Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth model the three Pirates uniforms that will have sleeves this season. The pinstriped model will keep the jersey vest of previous seasons.
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It might seem strange that much of the optimism being offered this weekend at PirateFest is related to the Pirates' pitching. The same pitching that ranked last in the National League in ERA, gave up the most hits and walks and was next-to-last in strikeouts.
Still, there easily can be found three realistic reasons for that optimism:
1. It hardly could get worse.
2. There is a new, experienced pitching coach in Joe Kerrigan.
What: 19th annual PirateFest.
Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
When: 11 a.m.-4-p.m. today. Season-ticket holders can enter an hour early.
Tickets: $10 for adults, free for children 14 and under.
Autographs today: Ryan Doumit, Andy LaRoche and Dave Parker, 10-11:30 a.m.; Freddy Sanchez, Jeff Karstens and Neil Walker, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Matt Capps, Tom Gorzelanny and Nyjer Morgan, 1-2:30 p.m.; John Grabow, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bell, 2:30-4 p.m.
Youth clinic: Russell, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, hitting coach Don Long and third base coach Tony Beasley, noon-1 p.m.
3. The four principals in the rotation -- Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny -- each has had at least one quality season at age 26 or younger.
When Jim Tracy was managing in Pittsburgh, he often used to say, "If it's in there, it's in there," a Yogi Berra-esque way of illustrating his theory that a player capable of doing something once over a sustained period is capable of repeating it.
Duke probably would subscribe that theory.
"When you look at our statistics from last year and we're last in almost every category, yeah, it's all on us," Duke said. "At one point or another, all of us have tasted success. For whatever reason, we faltered. But we all have to remember what got us here, what made us successful, and we need to get back to that."
The one who has the best view of the pitchers echoed that.
"We have a chance to do some special things, and it's because of those pitchers," catcher Ryan Doumit said. "Our pitchers are a lot more talented than what their numbers indicated last year. Look, the pitching was a disaster. Everyone knows that. But they know they're better than that, and they're looking to make amends."
Looking for a fourth reason the pitching might improve?
The Pirates continue to look for a free-agent starter, waiting for prices to drop in an apparent buyer's market that is developing with more than 100 players still on the open market. They have an eye on Pedro Martinez, Braden Looper and others, and there is money in the budget for someone in the mid-range.
• Ross Ohlendorf, expected to be a key part of that rotation, is having his mechanics slightly reworked by Kerrigan: He is being instructed to pitch less upright, thus providing a more consistent release point. "Just straightening things out," Ohlendorf explained.
• Add Duke to the list of pitchers having a good offseason: He is slimmer, and his arm strength has improved.
• The management Q&A with fans on the second day of PirateFest yesterday was far friendlier in tone than the first. Toughest question came from a child: "I'm 9 years old. Will I ever see a winning baseball team?" General manager Neal Huntington, smiling: "Yes, you will."
• Highlight of the players' Q&A came when Nate McLouth was asked to predict the 2009 version of McLouth, meaning a breakout player, and he chose Brandon Moss.
• More than 1,000 fans attended each session, well more than the seats in place.
• Owner Bob Nutting made the rounds at the event, shaking hands and engaging fans informally. The primary topic, as could be expected, was management's plan. "They believe in what they're doing, and they're going to stick by it," he said of president Frank Coonelly and Huntington. "And the best thing we can do at an event like this is exactly what we're doing, which is to talk with our fans about that."
• Coonelly, on those 100-plus remaining free agents: "That's extraordinary, and the reason for it is simple: The economy has collapsed, and the agents for those players still haven't realized that the economy has collapsed. They're still asking for prices based on yesterday's market."
• Another bench piece could be added soon. It is not Doug Mientkiewicz.
• The Pirates announced a new initiative to build or renovate baseball fields in the region, beginning with a $100,000 commitment by the team. That includes $25,000 from Doumit. In each case where an organization applies to participate, the Pirates will provide a matching grant ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.
• The Winter Caravan's final leg begins tomorrow in Punxsutawney, DuBois and Uniontown. Tuesday, it is in Ridgway, Franklin, Steubenville, Ohio; and Weirton, W.Va. Wednesday, it is in Erie, Oil City, Youngstown, Ohio; and Boardman, Ohio. Thursday, it is in New Castle, Beaver Falls, Greenville and Warren, Ohio. Check pirates.com for details.
• Only 19 days until pitchers and catchers report.