On the Pirates: Derrek Lee ... Does He Fit In?
Derrek Lee arrived in Pittsburgh with little fanfare and even more skepticism.
Fans weren't sure the 35-year-old first baseman, who has since turned 36, could still produce. Or if he wanted to play in Pittsburgh at all.
But his production ever since has many clamoring for his return next season.
Entering this weekend's series against the Marlins, Lee had hit four home runs in 10 games as a Pirate.
"He's made his presence felt," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's gone out and he's made plays. He's absolutely added a dimension to our offense we don't have."
Who knows where the Pirates would be now had Lee stayed healthy through the month of August? He was on the disabled list from Aug. 10 through Sept. 3 after getting hit by a pitch on his left hand.
Instead of taking a few rehab starts in the minor leagues, Lee returned directly to the majors, what Hurdle called an "old-school approach." It paid off when Lee hit a game-winning grand slam in his first game back.
"I thought it was just better to jump back in the fire," Lee said.
Lee could not explain his offensive success since returning from the disabled list. He said he initially did not feel comfortable at the plate, though he hit two home runs in his first three games back.
"Baseball is funny like that," Lee said.
Sometimes, he said, he swings the bat well but struggles to get hits while other times his swing feels terrible, but he hits the ball just fine.
"One of the beauties of sport is sometimes there's not an answer," Hurdle said. "He's just going out and getting it done. The one thing I do think that helps players go out and get it done is they get rid of the distractions of why they might not get it done. They eliminate all the noise that could come up."
Before his first game as a Pirate, Lee said he did not intend to be a vocal leader; he just wanted to lead by example. Hurdle said the rest of the team can learn a lot by watching the veteran.
"Derrek brings a lot of intangibles, as well as a good skill set, for guys to look to," Hurdle said. "Not to look up to, but just to watch. Watch how he prepares. Watch his routine. Watch him throughout the batting practice."
Whether he returns to the Pirates next season is to be determined. The Pirates are giving him the majority of starts at first base to see how he plays and fits in with this team.
Lee said he needs to talk with his family and his agent to figure out if he wants to play next season, and if so, where.
In early August, Brad Lincoln toed the company line.
A starter, Lincoln had been recently called up from Class AAA Indianapolis to help the Pirates' bullpen. He said while he would rather be a starter, he was comfortable pitching in relief.
His stats said otherwise.
In 52/3 innings of relief in August, Lincoln allowed five earned runs on eight hits for an 8.65 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP.
But since moving to the rotation when Paul Maholm (shoulder) and Kevin Correia (oblique) went to the disabled list, Lincoln has been a whole new pitcher.
Now, he admits, being a starter and being a reliever are awfully different.
"That's a big part of the game is the mental side," Lincoln said. "Just being able to go over hitters for three days and know what you're going to face and know what their weaknesses are."
His numbers back that up.
Lincoln has made four starts since Aug. 22. In that time he has allowed seven earned runs in 24 innings -- a 2.62 ERA. His WHIP is 1.04 in those starts.
"I've been rolling with it," Lincoln said.
He views the final three weeks of the season as an audition for next season. He hopes he can do enough to earn a closer look in the spring.
"Every start from now on is going to be a showcase," he said. "If they like what they see, hopefully they will give me a shot next season."
September call-ups sent Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to Wal-Mart on Monday in search of girly backpacks for a slew of rookie relievers.
A developing tradition, rookie pitchers are often forced to wear pink backpacks -- typically sold to grade-school girls -- as part of their initiation to the major leagues.
But with five rookie pitchers on the Pirates' roster, Hanrahan had a full shopping cart. He had to call fellow relief pitcher Jason Grilli for advice on which backpacks to buy.
Jeff Locke and Tony Watson -- who has been on the Pirates' major league roster throughout the season -- showed up to work Tuesday with Dora the Explorer backpacks in their lockers. Aaron Thompson and Daniel Moskos had Hello Kitty backpacks.
The first thing Jared Hughes saw when he walked into the Pirates' clubhouse for the first time as a major leaguer? A Barbie backpack.
But as long as he's pitching in the majors, he doesn't mind.
"I will gladly take that out to the bullpen," he said. "No problems there."
First Published September 11, 2011 12:00 am