Pirate Pitching Grows, But Still Room to Improve

Like Tuesday, the goal here is to look at the pre-season expectations for the Pirates in comparison to how they’ve actually performed through 2007′s first 88 games. I already talked about the offense, so it must be time to think about the pitching staff. The bullet points refer to the ZiPS projection system made available by Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory this pre-season. Current statistics can be found at Pirates.com....

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Three Tribe Stars in Albuquerque

(photos by NancyZ)
Bryan Bullington -- photo by NancyZ
This is a strange feeling: being happy that Mike Hessman and Brandon Moss have hit home runs.
The International League All-Stars displayed some early fireworks, and then used the power of pitching to hold on to their lead, beating the Pacific Coast League All-Stars by a score of 7-5 tonight in Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Indianapolis Indians’ representatives to the International League team, starting pitcher Bryan Bullington, shortstop Brian Bixler, and infielder Yurendell de Caster, all got into the game.
The International League All-Stars jumped out to a big start in the top of the first inning. Rochester’s Matt Tolbert was hit by a pitch, Toledo’s Timo Perez doubled to score Tolbert, and then Toledo’s Mike Hessman and Pawtucket’s Brandon Moss hit back to back home runs. That gave IL starting pitcher, our own Bryan Bullington (photo), a 4-run stake when he took the mound in the bottom of the inning.
Bullington struck out the first two Pacific Coast League batters. Then Tacoma’s Adam Jones doubled to center field, and Albuquerque’s Val Pascucci homered to left field, cutting the IL’s lead to two runs. Bullington struck out the next batter, to end the inning.
Brian Bixler  --photo by NancyZ
Brian Bixler (photo), starting shortstop for the IL team, led off the top of the second inning with a single off the glove of the PCL’s shortstop, Colorado Springs’ Clint Barmes. Bixler did what he’s been doing in Indianapolis all season — he stole second base. Columbus’s Brandon Watson, who set a new IL record with his 43 game hitting streak last month, doubled into left field, scoring Bixler.
Bullington returned to pitch a scoreless bottom of the 2nd inning, the first half-inning of the game in which runs were not scored. He gave up a walk to Nashville’s Vinny Rottino, but left him stranded on base, and struck out Salt Lake City’s Terry Evans in the process. Bullington threw 33 pitches (21 for strikes) in his two innings, giving up 2 runs on 2 hits and one walk, with 4 strikeouts.

Brian Bixler led off the 4th inning as well, and added an insurance run for the IL. He reached first base safely, when he hit a grounder to PCL third baseman, Albuquerque’s Scott Seabol, whose throw to first base bounced near the bag and caromed off. Bixler promptly stole second base again, this time without even drawing a throw from the PCL catcher Rottino. Rochester’s Matt Tolbert lined a single into center field, allowing Bixler to score easily from second base. Toledo’s Timo Perez also singled, scoring Tolbert, and the score was 7-2 in favor of the IL.
The Pacific Coast League came back with three runs in the bottom of the 4th. Omaha’s Craig Brazell homered off another IL pitcher, Pawtucket’s Travis Hughes. Terry Evans doubled and Vinny Rottino walked, and a wild pitch by Hughes advanced them to third and second bases. Clint Barmes’ sacrifice fly scored Evans, and a single by Iowa’s Eric Patterson scored Rottino, lifting the score to 7-5.
Pitching dominated after the 4th inning. IL pitchers struck out a total of 11 batters, and PCL pitchers struck out 8. No pitcher stayed in the game for more than an inning after Bullington’s two for the IL in the 1st and 2nd, and the PCL’s (Portland) Jack Cassel’s two in the 2nd and 3rd.
In the top of the 6th, Brian Bixler came to bat one more time, against Travis Driskill of Round Rock. Bixler struck out, as Driskill set the side down in order. Bixler also struck out on a foul tip in the top of the 9th, against Tucson’s Chad Harville.
Yurendell de Caster -- photo by NancyZ
Yurendell de Caster (photo) entered the game in the bottom of the 6th, as a defensive substitution at third base. Two former Indianapolis Indians also entered the game in that inning: Mark Johnson (with the Indians in 2004), now playing for Tucson, batted for C Vinny Rottino (grounded out to second), and stayed in the game to catch for the PCL; Jim Brower, with the Indians earlier this season, and now pitching for Columbus, came in to pitch. Brower faced only one batter, Albuquerque’s Robert Andino, and induced a fly out to end the inning.
De Caster got an at-bat in the top of the 7th, and he grounded to the second baseman, for a force-out at second.
The PCL threatened in the 8th inning. De Caster had an assist for the first out, handling a routine grounder to third base. Sacramento’s Daric Barton singled, Colorado Springs’ Sean Barker doubled, and former Indian Mark Johnson walked. But IL pitcher, Rochester’s Bobby Korecky, struck out Robert Andino to end the inning with the bases loaded.
Norfolk’s Cory Doyne, the IL leader in saves with 26, came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th for the IL. He got a strike out, a ground out, gave up a single to Tacoma’s Adam Jones, and then struck out Albuquerque’s Val Pascucci to end the game.
Indians’ Bryan Bullington was the winning pitcher. PCL starter, Tacoma’s Justin Lehr, took the loss. He pitched only the first inning, giving up 4 runs on one walk and 3 hits, 2 of which were homers. Norfolk’s Cory Doyne earned a save. The MVP of the game was Toledo’s Timo Perez, who went 3 for 4 with a double and 2 RBI. Indians’ Brian Bixler was one of 3 IL All-Stars who played the entire game; also playing the entire game were Timo Perez in left and then center field, and Pawtucket’s Brandon Moss in right field. For the PCL, Iowa’s Eric Patterson at second base, Tacoma’s Adam Jones in center field, and Albuquerque’s Val Pascucci at DH all played the entire game.
Oops –ESPN2′s broadcaster Eduardo Perez, in giving the after-game wrap up, said that Bryan Bullington’s four strikeouts in two innings should be good news for the “Milwaukee Brewers”.
The “Zooperstars”, who appeared in last Saturday’s game here in Indianapolis, entertained between innings of the game.
Next year’s AAA All-Star Game will be held at Slugger Park in Louisville, KY. (Close enough for a road trip?)
Go Tribe!

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Bud Selig Says He Doesn't Care about the Pirates

I listened to MLB.com’s broadcast of Bud Selig’s annual town hall chat yesterday. You can view that 18-minute video here. Selig talked about the playoff system, steroids, expansion, the All-Star Game format and the internationalization of baseball. Of course, the salary cap and “competitive balance” were topics for discussion, too. The commissioner slapped Pirate fans in the face. Mr. Selig, for the good of the...

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LaRoche, Bay, Paulino Flop in the First Half

As I mentioned this morning, the goal here is to look at what we expected the Pirates to do in comparison to how they’ve actually performed through 88 games. The bullet points refer to the ZiPS projection system made available by Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory this pre-season. Current statistics are from Pirates.com. Catcher Paulino: 452 AB, .272/.327/.378, 8 HR, 49 RBI, 1 SB Doumit: 290 AB, .252/.322/.438 Cota: 220...

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All Star Brian Bixler

Brian Bixler  -- photo by NancyZ
Brian Bixler is spending his three days off this week in New Mexico. No, it isn’t a trip home, or a traditional vacation. It’s an appearance in the AAA All-Star Game, between the All-Stars of the International League and those of the Pacific Coast League. The 24-year old will represent the Indianapolis Indians and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization as the starting shortstop for the International League.
This is Bixler’s fourth year in the Pirates’ organization. He was drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft, and started playing that same season in Williamsport, the Pirates’ A-Short-Season affiliate. In 2005, he played the entire season in Low-A Hickory, where he hit a solid .281, with 23 doubles, 9 homers, and 50 RBI. He also stole 21 bases. Bixler started 2006 with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. In the first half of the season at that level, he hit .303, with 16 doubles, 5 homers, and 33 RBI, plus 18 stolen bases. That earned him a trip to the Carolina League All-Star game. He was also named to the Carolina League’s post-season All-Star Team, even though he had been promoted to AA Altoona mid-season. In 60 games with Altoona, Bixler hit .301, another 13 doubles, 3 more homers and 19 RBI, plus 6 more stolen bases.
Brian Bixler  -- photo by NancyZ
As a AAA-level rookie, Bixler has shone at shortstop and in a few games at second base. Though not on the Pirates’ 40-man roster, he is definitely on their radar. He started the season with Indianapolis with a 10-game hitting streak, and has since put together two separate 12-game hitting streaks. The second 12-game streak, which ended just two days ago, had him going 15-for-45, with 7 runs scored and 2 RBI. He currently leads the International League hitters with 9 triples. He is 5th in the league in runs scored (55) and second among active IL players in stolen bases (20). Manager Trent Jewett says that Bixler “has made a very good transition” to the AAA level. He was the Indians’ Player of the Month for June, and now is participating in the second All-Star game of his career.

Brian Bixler  -- photo by NancyZ
Is there a particular aspect of his game that Bixler has been working on this season? “I’m not trying to target just one thing”, said Bixler. “I try to get better at everything, work on getting better overall, and get some experience under my belt. I want to be a better player, and play along with all these guys who have been in the big leagues.”
He says that he has always had the running and base-stealing aspect of his game. “I guess I stole bases in college. I don’t remember how many I had or anything, but I did run a lot. My speed was good.” And what about running this year? “I think I’m running in better situations, getting better timing, and getting a better start.”
Brian Bixler  -- photo by NancyZ
Bixler grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, where he played baseball, as well as football and basketball. His favorite player when growing up? “Omar Vizquel”
He is very familiar with Cedar Point, the town’s big amusement park, and can even recommend his favorite ride. “The best in my opinion is the “Millennium Force”, he says. “There are a lot of good ones, but that’s the one I like best.” Unlike many other kids who grew up there, though, Bixler never worked at the amusement park. “I didn’t work too often. I was always playing summer ball, or involved in a lot of stuff, so I never got a job there.”
He attended college at Eastern Michigan, where he was the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2002, and the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year in 2004 and a Mid-American Conference All-Star in 2004.
“It was a great experience, just to get the opportunity to play,” says Bixler. “I really enjoyed myself. I just got a lot of experience there, and it enabled me to get better and grow.”
Brian Bixler  --photo by NancyZ
Does he like the city of Indianapolis? “I do, yeah, I do,” he says. “It’s a good city. It’s really clean. I like being here. A lot of good people. It’s kind of like a big league stadium. I have no complaints at all. I like it.” Another advantage is that it isn’t far for Bixler’s parents to drive, and they have been able to come to Indianapolis to watch him play.
Playing under manager Trent Jewett this season has also been a pleasure for Bixler. “I like him. He does a great job. He manages well. He’s helped me become more familiar with the game, with my game, and what to be looking for as a player out there. He’s helped me a lot.”
The Carolina League All-Star game last year was a fun experience for Bixler. “It went well. I met a lot of good guys.”
And what about the AAA All-Star Game? “I’ve never been to Albuquerque…. It should be a good time,” says Bixler, with a smile. “I’m excited to get there, and see what it’s all about.”
“I was fortunate to be voted in. There are a lot of good guys who have good numbers. There are a lot of guys who can play.”
Brian Bixler -- photo by EmilP
(photo: Bixler makes the tag at second base– photo by EmilP )
Joining Brian Bixler at the All-Star Game, also representing the Indianapolis Indians for the International League, will be starting pitcher Bryan Bullington, and infielder/outfielder Yurendell de Caster. The game will be televised on ESPN2 on Wednesday July 11th at 7:30 pm from Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Brian Bixler  -- photo by NancyZ
Brian Bixler -- photo by NancyZ
Thanks to Brian Bixler for his time!
(Photos by NancyZ unless otherwise specified.)
Go Tribe!

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Pirate Nation is Restless

With no vested interest in the All-Star festivities, Pirate fans are eager to get started with the season’s second half.  (Be honest, you didn’t watch the Futures Game to see Steven Pearce, and between last night’s derby and this evening’s exhibition, the only Pirate involved—Freddy Sanchez—probably doesn’t deserve to be there.) We put together a nice run in the last homestand, and I’m...

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