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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We Will Draw National Attention for Our Slogan

Last night on the big, big Sportsocracy show, we talked at length about the Pirates’ ineptitude. (You can listen to the recording at your leisure. There were a few four-letter words tossed around, so be careful around the kids. Thanks as always to those guys for having me on.) Maybe halfway through the hour, we started discussing the “We Will” marketing slogan the Pirates have used for the past season and a half....

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Tides Take the Series from Indians, 3-1

boxscore (photos by NancyZ)
Kip Bouknight  -- photo by NancyZ
For the third game in a row, the Indianapolis Indians found themselves on the scoreboard early, but unable to come back late in the game. They were able to put up only 4 hits as they lost to the Norfolk Tides by a score of 7-2 this afternoon at Victory Field. This was the last game before the All-Star break, and the Indians will have a little break to regroup and rest up, before going on to the second half of the season, with a road trip to Rochester at the end of the week.
Kip Bouknight (photo) made his second AAA start for the Indianapolis Indians today. He ran into trouble right away in the top of the first inning. Tides’ CF Tike Redman led off with a grounder back to Bouknight, which bounced off Bouknight’s glove and landed on the back slope of the mound, toward third base. By the time Bouknight could get to it, Redman was already at first base. Redman stole second base, thought it didn’t matter, because Bouknight walked SS Eider Torres. The next two batters flied out, and then 3B Terry Tiffee slammed a 3-run homer over the right-center field wall.
Humberto Cota -- photo by NancyZ
The Indians began to chip away at the Tides’ 3-run lead in the 2nd inning. C Humberto Cota (photo) led off with a line drive single into left field. He advanced to second base on RF Yurendell de Caster’s ground out, but couldn’t move on CF Luis Matos’ ground out. Luis Ordaz lined a single into left field, scoring Cota, but then Ordaz was caught stealing second base to end the inning.
The Indians scored again in the 3rd inning. 3B Don Kelly singled to center to lead off the inning. DH Russ Johnson and SS Brian Bixler both walked, to load the bases. LF Michael Ryan lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, to score Kelly well ahead of the throw in from Tides’ RF Adam Stern to C Alberto Castillo, and moved Johnson to third as the throw went home. That was all the Indians could get, though, as 1B Brad Eldred struck out and Humberto Cota grounded into a fielders’ choice.

Russ Johnson  -- photo by NancyZ
(photo: Russ Johnson comes to the plate)
Kip Bouknight bounced back from the 3-run first inning by striking out the side in the second inning. He got out of trouble in the 3rd inning without allowing a run to score. With two outs, 1B Mike Cervenak lifted a high pop foul to deep behind shortstop. Tribe SS Brian Bixler went back, and was shading his eyes with his glove, but apparently could not find the ball in the sun. LF Mike Ryan came running in, but couldn’t get there in time before the ball fell in for a hit. LF Jon Knott walked, and 3B Terry Tiffee grounded a single through the right side and to Yurendell de Caster in right field. Cervenak rounded third and headed for home as de Caster came up firing. He threw a bullet to Humberto Cota, who was plunked squarely in the baseline with the ball in his glove as Cervanak came charging in. Cervenak knocked Cota right over, but Cota kept the ball securely in his mitt, holding it up for the umpire to see when the dust had settled — the third out. (Check out the photo on IndyIndians.com ).
Cota popped back up quickly, but came out of the game an inning later, replaced by Carlos Maldonado.
Carlos Maldonado  -- photo by NancyZ
The Tides added an insurance run in the 5th inning. Tike Redman led off with a double down the right field line, and Eider Torres followed with a single. Mike Cervenak popped up for the first out. Torres stole second base with Jon Knott at the plate, and that prevented a double play when Knott slapped a grounder to third base. Tribe 3B Don Kelly scooped up the grounder and fired home to Carlos Maldonado (photo) to try to get Redman. But the ball came in on Maldonado’s right side, and he missed the catch, allowing Redman to score. At first the error was charged to Kelly, as a throwing error, but it was later changed back to a missed-catch error for Maldonado (the correct call from where I was sitting). That put Torres on third base and Knott at first base with one out. Terry Tiffee was intentionally walked to load the bases for the potential double play. The strategy worked, as C Alberto Castillo obligingly grounded to SS Brian Bixler, who started the Bixler to Ordaz to Eldred ( 6-4-3 ) double play to end the inning, with only one run in, bringing the score to 4-2.
Kip Bouknight left the game after 5 innings, having given up 4 runs (3 earned), 7 hits, and 3 walks, with 5 strikeouts. Reliever Mark Corey pitched the 6th inning for the Indians, and he allowed Norfolk another insurance run. RF Adam Stern led off with a double into left field, and he moved to third base on DH Luis Montanez’s sacrifice bunt. Former Indy Indian (2005) SS Cesar Crespo also lined a double into left field, to bring in Stern and bring the score to 5-2. Tike Redman grounded a ball to Tribe SS Brian Bixler, and Bixler’s throw to first took an odd hop right in front of 1B Brad Eldred. Eldred missed the catch, but quickly picked up the ball, and realized that Crespo had started for third when he saw that Eldred had not caught the ball. Eldred fired to third, where Don Kelly tagged Crespo for the second out. A simple grounder to Eldred at first base ended the inning.
Brian Rogers -- photo by NancyZ
Three more pitchers each took an inning for the Tribe. Brian Rogers (photo) was the most successful, setting down the side in order in the 7th. Jonah Bayliss gave up two more runs in the 8th. With one out, Adam Stern singled and stole second base. Luis Montanez walked, and then Cesar Crespo singled into right field, to score Stern. Tribe RF Yurendell de Caster had trouble handling the ball, and Montanez was able to advance to third base. Tike Redman hit a sacrifice fly, to bring in Montanez. Bayliss then struck out Eider Torres to end the inning.
Franquelis Osoria pitched a scoreless ninth inning, giving up a hit and a walk, but stranding those runners on base when he struck out Adam Stern for the third out.
Norfolk starter Tim Kester left the game after pitching 5 innings, giving up 2 runs (both earned) on 4 hits and 3 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Francis Beltran pitched the 6th and 7th innings, allowing only Brian Bixler to reach base, and that was on a throwing error by Tides’ 1B Mike Cervenak. Bixler stole his 20th base of the season, but was left stranded as Beltran retired the next two batters. Steve Green pitched the last two innings for the Tides. He gave up two walks in the 9th, to Luis Ordaz and Russ Johnson, but Ordaz was erased in a double play and Johnson was left standing at first base when the final out was made.
Tides’ starter Tim Kester earned the win, his 6th of the season. The Tribe’s Kip Bouknight took the loss, his first at the AAA level.
All of the Indians but three will have the next three days off, before heading to Rochester, NY to begin the second part of the season with four games against the Red Wings. The other three Indians, starting pitcher Bryan Bullington, SS Brian Bixler, and INF/OF Yurendell de Caster will be going to Albuquerque, NM, to participate in the AAA All-Star Game. The contest between the International League and Pacific Coast League All-Stars will take place on Wednesday, July 11th, and it will be televised on ESPN.
Indians’ hitting gems of the game: Michael Ryan hit a sacrifice fly for an RBI, and Luis Ordaz had a timely RBI single.
Indians’ defensive gem of the game: Yurendell de Caster’s throw from right field to C Humberto Cota in the top of the third, and Cota’s blocking of the plate, to keep Mike Cervenak from scoring. Luckily, Cota will have three days to shake off the effects of the collision.
NOTES:
Bam Bam Meulens was not with the team today, since he went to San Francisco for the Futures Game. Chris Aguila and Adam Boeve did most of the coaching at first base today.
Go Tribe!

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Pearce, Linares Head to S.F. for Futures Game

Steven Pearce and Serguey Linares represented the Pittsburgh Pirates at Sunday’s XM All-Star Futures Game, hosted by the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Pearce is making a name for himself thanks to a strong first half of the 2007 season. He started the year with Single-A Lynchburg before being promoted to Altoona, and before long, he should be making his Triple-A debut with Indianapolis. The short, stocky first baseman...

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