The Pittsburgh Pirates were looking to add a starting pitcher and bat by the deadline. And on Tuesday night, the club made a trade in order to improve the ball club on the mound. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was acquired from the Houston Astros along with cash in exchange for prospects Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens.
“As we talked really from day one of the trading season, we’ve been open to strengthening our club via pitching or via position player,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “The pitching market is much more plentiful than the position player market. We had an opportunity to make a move for a player that we liked for an acquisition cost that we felt was appropriate and made the deal.”
“We had several clubs that were inquiring about him,” Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said. “It was a fairly competitive situation. Pittsburgh put their best foot forward and it really feels like Wandy’s an important part of their playoff picture this year. They made us essentially an offer we couldn’t refuse.”
Rodriguez is making $10 M this year, and is owed about $3.93 M the remainder of the year. The Pirates will cover $1.7 M of that amount the rest of this season. Rodriguez is making $13 M in 2013 and has a $13 M player option in 2014, with a $2.5 M buyout. The Pirates will pay $8.5 M in 2013, and $7.5 M in 2014 if the option is exercised. The Astros pay about $12 M total in the deal, and would only pay in 2014 if Rodriguez exercised his option. The Pirates were looking to add impact for longer term deals.
“Part of it is multiple years,” Huntington said. “Obviously we’ve got him for the rest of this year, we’ve got him for next year. As we look at the free agent class for next year, we look at our possible ability to upgrade our rotation for next year, we felt this was a good acquisition for us…We like the innings, we like the strikeouts, we like the ERA, we like the competitor. He’s very quietly been one of the better pitchers in Major League baseball over the last three, four years.”
Rodriguez, 33, has a 3.79 ERA over 21 starts with the Astros this season. Prior to his July 18 start, Rodriguez pitched at least five innings in 48 straight starts, which was the longest active streak in the National League.
Since the beginning of 2009, Rodriguez trails only Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels among the NL southpaws in strikeouts (626). The left-hander has 89 strikeouts over 130.2 innings, which is down from his career mark, but Huntington said that he isn’t worried.
“What’s transitioned is he’s gone from fastball-curveball-changeup-strikeout,” Huntington said. “This year his groundball rate is up about 10 percent, so there is the trade off. He’s pitched to contact more. He’s tried to work deeper into games more. Our scouts have still seen the quality curveball. If we can get him back to four-seam in, two-seam away, a hard curveball, changeup, we still feel the ability to strike hitters out is in there. But at the same time, pitching efficiently and getting early count contact is not a bad thing.”
Rodriguez will remain in Houston and join the Pirates when they travel there on Thursday to open up a four game set. How the rotation shuffles is still to be determined. Rodriguez started on Monday, so would be set to make his Pirates debut on Saturday.
“We’re going to visit after the game tonight, probably tomorrow,” Huntington said. “Wandy started last night so we have a little bit of time until he’s ready to come back in. We’ll put our pieces together and we’ll let the people involved know.”
In the deal, the Pirates sent Robbie Grossman, Colton Cain and Rudy Owens to Houston. They are all expected to remain at the same level they were in Pittsburgh’s organization. (READ: The Departed – Grossman, Owens, Cain)
“They were all tough,” Huntington said. “Robbie Grossman is a hard working switch hitter that is, at his age, is having a very solid season at Double-A after a strong season in High-A last year. Rudy obviously in the middle of a very good season in Triple-A. Colton Cain, a guy we liked a lot out of the draft. We gave up three quality prospects to get an established starting Major League pitcher.”
The move helps strengthen an already solid rotation for the Pirates down the stretch of the season. While the club is still looking to add a bat by the deadline, the move proves that the club is trying to win now without needing to sacrifice the future. Pittsburgh is just 2.5 games out of the National League Central and have a half game lead in the Wild Card.
“The important thing for us is trying to add beyond just the rental piece,” Huntington said. “Derrek Lee came in and was phenomenal for us in September. Unfortunately wasn’t around because of the injury in August. Ryan Ludwick to his credit has found his stroke and is helping Cincinnati. We felt like those were two good additions for us, right acquisition costs, right time. To add a pitcher of the quality of Wandy Rodriguez with a year, maybe two years of control, impact for us, we felt it was a good move.”
“I’m happy we’re adding the player,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I’ve had to prep for him for years, since he broke into the league. From a managerial side, even when I was Texas with interleague, we faced him. So, I’ve had my eyes on him for a while. He competes. He’s been tough to hit any team I’ve had. He’s been tough to beat. I really feel that him getting an opportunity now to make a change, maybe a fresh start. I think it will help. A club that’s going to welcome him, a clubhouse that’s going to welcome him. I think there’s still a quality skill set in there and a guy that’s got a chance to breathe a little bit different. And get involved in the game in a little bit of a different aspect than he’s been involved in the past three or four years. We’re excited to have him and add him.”
McDonald Takes Steps Forward in Start
Since the second half of the season started, James McDonald has struggled on the bump. The right-hander posted an impressive 2.37 ERA over 17 starts pushing him to the No. 1 spot in the rotation after Manager Clint Hurdle decided to shuffle it. But over his first two starts after the All-Star break, McDonald allowed 10 earned runs on 17 hits over 9.2 innings. During that span he walked nine while striking out just four.
Prior to the game on Tuesday at PNC Park, Hurdle said what McDonald needed to focus on in order to bounce back was command. Just better overall command of all of his pitches.
“We shared our thoughts with him,” Hurdle said. “There’s going to be challenges throughout a young player’s development. To have the first half that he’s had, then come into the second half, you want to try and add more, try and be more aggressive with your fastball, more fine with your breaking ball.”
“In James’ case, much like what we did with Erik [Bedard], he’s just got to get back to that feeling he had early. Where there’s confidence, there’s confection, there’s commitment to every pitch he’s throwing.”
Over his first four innings tonight, it looked as if the first half of the season McDonald was on the mound.
After getting his first batter of the game looking on a 1-2 curve, Starlin Castro took the very next pitch for a solo-shot into the right-center field seats. McDonald stayed aggressive and retired his next two straight, including Alfonso Soriano swinging for his second punchout of the frame. Since allowing the long ball, McDonald retired 11 straight and whiffed four during that span. He took the mound in the fifth very efficient at just 46 pitches — just 11 for balls. But the right-hander struggled with his command in the fifth.
After getting a fly out, McDonald issued his first walk of the game. A wild pitch pushed the runner to second, but McDonald managed to get a lineout to third for the second out. The club decided to intentionally walk Luis Valbuena to get to Paul Maholm, but the pitcher drew a four pitch walk to load the bases. DeJesus took an 0-1 pitch and ripped a double down the right field line to drive in two runs.
“I feel like I competed,” McDonald said. “The ball came out a lot better than my previous two. It was a loss I can accept and live with…I had pretty decent command. They just hit the ball when they needed to. I went out there and gave everything I had. I had good stuff. They got me today.”
McDonald struggled again in the sixth, allowing Chicago to plate two more runs. Rookie Anthony Rizzo led off the frame with a base knock up the middle. Soriano followed by crushing a 1-1 pitch to left field for a two-run homer.
“Soriano hit a good pitch,” McDonald said. “Castro, it was a bad pitch but he still hit it. It’s not easy just to hit homers. I tip my hat. They hit the ball when they needed to.”
McDonald has allowed at least four runs in each of his last three starts since the All-Star break. During that span, he’s posted a 8.89 ERA. Overall on Tuesday, McDonald allowed five runs on five hits over six innings. He walked three and struck out six while throwing 87 pitches, 57 for strikes.
“He was so much better across the board,” Hurdle said. “Downhill plane with his fastball, consistent velocity, breaking ball was better, slider was better. A couple pitches he’d like to have back. I got in the way with the intentional walk. It was so much cleaner. That’s the James that we saw the first half of the season albeit a couple misses. Sometimes they make the same pitches and they don’t get hit. Tonight they were hit. Mistakes were made, they hit, they took advantage of it.”
“Just tried to focus a little bit more,” McDonald said on what he focused on between the two starts. “Worry about being down in the zone a little bit better. The results may not be as good as you see, five runs, but I think I took step forward from my previous two. I went after guys. Had good stuff. It was decent even though the results weren’t there.”