Pirates Notebook: McLouth's fall precipitous
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DENVER -- Nate McLouth went from being one of the Pirates' cornerstone players to the primary piece in what probably was this management team's most controversial trade to ... the minor leagues?
The Atlanta Braves demoted their opening-day center fielder to Class AAA Gwinnett Tuesday, after he batted just .168 with three home runs in 14 RBIs. He recently missed a month to a concussion but went 1 for 15 in his return, and the first-place Braves, clearly not in a position for additional patience, optioned him out despite a $5 million salary -- part of the three-year extension he signed in Pittsburgh -- that he will continue to collect.
McLouth's decline and demotion was a topic in both Coors Field clubhouses.
"Honestly, it's something I can't fathom at all," Colorado manager Jim Tracy, formerly of the Pirates, said. "I can't even wrap my head around it. The Nate that I knew and the one I've seen this year ... it's tough to get."
Don Long, the Pirates' hitting coach, oversaw McLouth's breakout 2008 in which he batted .276 with 26 home runs, 94 RBIs and 23 steals.
"When Nate was here, he was a guy who was on the edge of doing some really good things," Long said. "He'd been in the big leagues, but then he got the opportunity he could be an everyday player and, obviously, had a great year."
The reference was to 2008, although McLouth's career path through the minors and even into 2009 did not make 2008 that much of an aberration.
"Nate was never really high-maintenance in his thinking or his approach," Long continued. "I don't really know what's transpired with him since then, but I hope he can get back on track because I sure enjoyed working with him, and I enjoyed the successes he had when he was with us."
McLouth told Atlanta reporters he would welcome some pressure-free at-bats.
"My confidence or anybody's confidence certainly takes a hit when you've struggled for as long as I have," he said. "But I'm going to go rebuild that, too, and, hopefully, hit a bunch of balls hard and get back here."
On the Pirates' end of the trade:
• Starter Charlie Morton, 26, went 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA before his May demotion to Class AAA Indianapolis, where he is 3-4 with a 4.82 ERA after his victory Tuesday night in Syracuse, N.Y.
• Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez, 22, rode a July surge toward a .266 average with Class AA Altoona, as well as two home runs, 26 RBIs and 17 steals before his right ring finger was fractured Sunday. He is out indefinitely.
• The best of the trio this season has been starter Jeff Locke, 22, at 10-3 with a 3.22 ERA, including a 1.59 ERA in three starts since being promoted to Altoona from Class A Bradenton.
Reliever Wil Ledezma, officially promoted Tuesday from Indianapolis after posting dominant numbers in 35 appearances there -- 0.94 ERA, 50 strikeouts, .156 opponents' batting average and 20 consecutive scoreless appearances before this recall -- credited a delivery change in which his front shoulder is more closed. That, he said, will allow him to have better success in the majors than the 5.17 ERA of his first 160 appearances, the most recent one coming in early 2009 with Washington.
"It's better command," Ledezma said. "And every time I go in the game now, I have confidence. I say to myself, 'You can do it. You can do it.' "
Manager John Russell said he plans to use Ledezma much the same as his other left-hander Javier Lopez, which means not as a specialist.
"He's done very well, and he'll be a good complement to Javy," Russell said.
Ledezma is 29, but the Pirates could retain his rights for two more full seasons through arbitration if they like what they see.
"We look for him to help us not only this year but also the next and the next," Russell said.
Russell credited minor-league pitching coordinator Jim Benedict with pushing hard for Ledezma after seeing him in the Venezuelan Winter League.
• Reliever Steven Jackson also was promoted, for the third time this season. This is expected to be another cameo, as he likely will be returned before a starter is needed Saturday in St. Louis. That should be Daniel McCutchen.
• Bryan Morris, the Pirates' top pitching prospect, returned to the mound for Altoona Tuesday after skipping a turn because of elbow fatigue. He pitched five scoreless innings in Erie, allowing two hits, striking out eight and walking none.
• The Pirates signed pitcher Travis Chick out of the independent Atlantic League to add to the Indianapolis bullpen. Chick, a 26-year-old right-hander, had been with Camden after being in the Los Angeles Angels' camp this spring. He made three appearances for Seattle in 2006 and has minor-league career numbers of 48-45 with a 4.25 ERA in 189 appearances, including 142 starts.
• Major League Baseball suspended pitcher Jose Acosta of the Pirates' Venezuelan Summer League affiliate 50 games for use of metabolites of the steroid Stanozolol. That is the first such suspension of anyone in the Pirates' system since July 2008.
• Colorado might be without closer Huston Street for this series and longer after he was struck by a line drive on the right side of his abdomen during batting practice Tuesday afternoon. He was taken off the field on a stretcher, then hospitalized briefly. The Rockies said more would be known today.
First Published July 28, 2010 12:00 am