Pirates Notebook: Buccos win a West Coast series

The last time the Pirates were four games over .500 was early in the 2003 season. The last time the Pirates were doing this well so late in the season was in 2002, when they moved to a 13-8 record on April 26th after a 10-1 loss to the Padres.

That same season the Pirates got off to a 9-5 start before Aramis Ramirez, hitting .348 at the time, sprained his ankle charging the mound on April 17th, 2002. Ramirez didn’t return to the starting lineup until May 13th, the game the Pirates slipped to .500. Two days later would be the last time they saw a .500 record that season.

You could say that the Ramirez injury derailed a hot start. Ramirez was arguably the best hitter for the Pirates at the time, and when he went down the Pirates went 9-12 in his absence. He also hit .223 for the remainder of the season with 18 homers, evidence that he derailed his hot start to the season.

Fast forward to 2009. Today the Pirates were without two of their best young players in Ryan Doumit and Nate McLouth. They were without Jack Wilson, who was recently placed on the 15-day DL (more on that later). They were without Freddy Sanchez in today’s lineup. You could forgive the Pirates for losing today’s game, especially with Jake Peavy taking the mound.

But they didn’t lose. They won, and they won big, chasing Peavy after five innings on an Adam LaRoche three run homer, and getting to the Padres’ bullpen for three more runs. The best part about the offense was the players who stepped up.

The Pirates tied the score in the 4th inning thanks to a Robinzon Diaz single that brought in two runs. Brian Bixler broke the game open with an RBI double, bringing two runs in, and putting the Pirates up by five runs. Adam LaRoche, playing in a shallow lineup, stepped up to be the leader, hitting two home runs today.

Ross Ohlendorf also pitched a great game. The box score only shows two strikeouts, but Ohlendorf was dominating. The reason for that is simple. In his 21 outs, Ohlendorf forced 15 ground ball outs. He recorded two strikeouts, and the Pirates nailed Drew Macias at third trying to stretch a double in to a triple. That means the Padres only had three fly ball outs. Ohlendorf only allowed five hits in his seven innings, with only three extra base hits. He allowed three runs, thanks to two home runs (the second homer was a solo shot in the eighth inning).

I pointed out on Friday that the Pirates were horrible on the West Coast the last three years, with a .333 record over that time. The Pirates probably should have won the game on Friday, and left no questions on Saturday and Sunday, with a combined 18-4 score in the two victories against the Padres.

Next test for the Pirates: three games on the road against the Brewers, including one game against Yovani Gallardo.

Wilson and Hansen to the DL

I leave for one day and two Pirates are placed on the 15-day DL. Craig Hansen was placed on the DL on Saturday, and Evan Meek was brought up to replace him. Meek had a 1.04 ERA in 8.2 innings at AAA this season, although the 7 walks he allowed wasn’t encouraging. Meek would be a great reliever if he could get the walks under control (you could probably make that claim about anyone in the Pirates’ bullpen).

Jack Wilson was added to the 15-day DL today, with Brian Bixler brought up. I wrote on Friday that I thought the Pirates should re-sign Jack Wilson for his defense, since our starting rotation is full of ground ball pitchers. Bixler was hitting .327 in 55 at-bats at AAA, after an impressive Spring Training at the plate. Bixler’s defense isn’t as good as Wilson, so this will give us a chance to see the impact of a better bat at short. Bixler is already off to a 1 for 3 start, with a two-RBI double in today’s win.

The 25-Man roster page has been updated to reflect these moves.

The MVP Tracker

I was out of town yesterday, so here are the updates to the MVP tracker from the last two games…

Saturday:

-One point for Zach Duke for a great start Saturday night. Nice way to bounce back from his previous outing.

-One point for Andy LaRoche. 2 for 4 with two early RBIs to get the Pirates offense going.

-One point for Freddy Sanchez for his 3 for 5 day.

-One point for Craig Monroe for his 3 for 5 day with 3 RBIs.

Sunday:

-One point for Ross Ohlendorf for a great start.

-One point for Robinzon Diaz for tying the score in the fourth inning.

-One point for Adam LaRoche for his three run bomb in the 5th, and a solo shot in the 9th. LaRoche now leads the MVP tracker race.

-One point for Brian Bixler for his two-RBI double to break the game open in the 7th.

Other Stuff

-The Draft Prospects Tracker is updated with the games from Saturday and today.

-Dustin Ackley hit a homer yesterday, and went 0 for 3 today. Ackley is now hitting .384 on the season with 13 homers. He’s still my ideal pick at #4 for the Pirates, assuming he makes it that far.

-I did a rundown of the draft prospects on the 23rd, but with no games to track until Tuesday, and no afternoon games tomorrow, I plan on doing a recap of this weekend’s games tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to do these weekly rundowns on Monday, but I’ve been busy or out of town the past two Monday’s.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Todd Smith

    Because what we really need is for him to go down and crush minor league pitching for a few weeks….again.  Then bring him back up and let him struggle as he tries to adjust to facing better pitching…again.  He’s been making better contact as the season has been going on, he just can’t get anything to drop in.  A lot of it is just bad luck – like the play that knocked Chris Young out.  He’s not going to have a .000 BABIP all season.  It’s far too soon to panic.

  • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

    Todd – thanks for the comment. I don’t believe Pedro ever ‘crushed’ pitching at the AAA level. In 2010, his OPS at Indy was lower than Steve Pearce and Neil Walker and just barely north of Jeff Clement. He whiffed twice as often as he walked that season. When he was farmed out in 2011, his BA and SLG were both lower than in 2010. He has not dominated AAA pitching to the point that I would say he ‘crushed’ it.

    If by better contact you mean he has whiffed just three times in his last three starts (ten at bats), then you are right. But, if we are defining that whiff rate as ‘better contact’ then help us all as that would translate into 180 strikeouts in a season. The club record is 169 by Craig Wilson. 

    Strikeouts aren’t a big deal (most dinger hitters of recent vintage have elevated strikeout rates) so long as you don’t look bad time after time while striking out. Pedro has looked bad with so much frequency that he appears to be lost.

    Demoting him isn’t a panic move. Pedro certainly wouldn’t be the first or the last top shelf prospect to get straightened out in the minors. Another example like Ramirez and Gant is former Giants 3B Matt Williams who spent three seasons with time at both SF and AAA.

    • Todd Smith

      It would also translate into 54 HR based on his past three games.

      …or maybe it’s a silly argument to project stats based on 3 games.

      The club record for strikeouts is 169.  In 1971, Willie Stargell had 154 strikeouts.  He finished 2nd in MVP voting that year.  Mike Schmidt had 180 strikeouts in 1975. Jim Thome has had 140+ strikeouts 10 times in his career.  Reggie Jackson had 140+ strikeouts 6 times in his career.  

      Even if Pedro does fully realize his maximum potential at some point in his career, he is still going to have more than his fair share of strikeouts.  That’s just the kind of hitter he is.  Freaking out after a whole 30 games and sending him down to the minors isn’t going to fix that and turn him into Ted Williams.

      • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

        I agree it is silly to project anything based on three games – you started it by saying he was making better contact ‘as the season has gone on’. Hence my three game comment. Over the course of the short season, he hasn’t made good contact – not in a three game sample and not in a ten game sample. And over the course of his career he hasn’t made good contact. Baseball-reference.com notes he’d have 194 whiffs in a 162 game season. He hasn’t, over any sample size of any length, made good contact in his career. 

        I agree that sluggers often have high strikeout rates. I’m the one who brought it up in my first comment (‘most dinger hitters of recent vintage have elevated strikeout rates’). As I noted before, whiffs don’t scare me so long as the person striking out doesn’t often look foolish. Pedro has often looked foolish this year. It’s not the whiffs that scare me it is the fact that he has seemingly looked clueless at the plate. So, yes, I’m fine with him striking out often – if he can hit 35 homers a year and walk at a decent rate and play a marginal third base. But right now the way he is swinging and missing indicates he is lost at the plate. 

        I don’t see how sending him down is pushing the panic button. It is a measure taken frequently by teams to help get a wayward player back on track. I’m not advocating fixing the number of strikeouts. I’m advocating fixing how bad his at bats have looked. It’ll be easier to do that in the minors where there is less pressure on Pedro and no impact on the wins and losses for the big club.

        No one in their right mind expects him to turn into Ted Williams.

        • Todd Smith

          I tell you it’s ridiculous to make projections on a 3 game sample size, and you counter with a 10 game sample size.  Wow.

          • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

            No – I countered with the length of his Big League career. Go to http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/alvarpe01.shtml and take a look at the line that lists 162 game average. His 162 game average is 194 whiffs. That’s for his career – not just for 2012. His 2012 whiff rate projected to 162 games would be 243 (162 divided by 10 and multiplied by 15).

            How often he whiffs is immaterial to this discussion as we agree that he strikes out a lot and is the type of player who will strike out a lot.

            The problem is that right now he looks silly at the plate. It isn’t the number of whiffs, it is the manner in which he continuously looks fooled that needs to be fixed. The even higher than normal strikeout rate to start the season is a symptom of a larger issue – he is lost at the plate. Best place for him right now is AAA.

            • Todd Smith

              Clearly, he’s not improving at all.  Good call!

              • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

                He’s hitting .118. I wouldn’t exactly be gloating… 

                • Todd Smith

                  How about now?

                  • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

                    Yep – I think now is a good time to admit I was wrong. Gloat all you wish. You were right and I was wrong…

            • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

              He has two hits tonight. And two more RBI. I hope he keeps it up. One game is an even smaller sample size yet…

  • NorCalBuc

    Petey’s got to play regularly with the Bucs; he’s shown great improvement this week, with his HR in AZ; sharper contact; and two hits and RBIs off a top flight pitcher last nite.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Couldn’t agree more.  He needs to work on pitch recognition, and was rushed to the bigs.  Like Ramirez, who was rushed even more.  The Pirates have options, and Alvarez needs to learn how to hit.

  • st1300b

    Always going to be fireworks in any Pedro discussion. I agree with Randy, he has to improve pitch recognition and I wouldn’t be upset if it was in AAA – McGehee has played better than him and should start.
    Not sure what it’s going to take, but to start with he needs to cover the plate better and lay off the pitches at his neck which he has been swinging at with greater frequency.

  • Kevin_Creagh

    I want Alvarez to play the whole year in Pittsburgh so that the Pirates get a full year to evaluate him at the majors.

    I don’t want him to spend half the year in AAA and then this offseason hear fans say “We still need to see what we have in Alvarez.  He only spent half the year in Pittsburgh.”

    The Pirates need to decide this year whether to keep him or explore other alternatives.  If they keep shunting him from Pittsburgh to AAA, it will be a never-ending decision cycle of not knowing what they have.

    • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

      I don’t know if there is another reason other than his slump (I’m unaware if he was nicked up and needed to sit one out), but including the game of 4/24, Alvarez has only started 11 of 16 games in 2012. That equates to about 120 starts. If they are going to leave him up here, then he should start 150 times if he is healthy. I’d rather have him spend four weeks in the minors (or until he gets comfortable – two weeks, two months – whatever it takes) and then start him nearly every game from June to the end of the year in Pittsburgh than sit out twice a week as he has been doing now.