I've got a good amount of material (videos, pictures, observations, stories) to share from the Indianapolis/Durham game tonight, but I can't really get into that before I address Andrew McCutchen's three-homer night.
I got home just in time to see the highlights of 'Cutch's homers and a phone interview with him on MLB Tonight. During the interview he gives the usual, "I'm just swinging like I swing and I got lucky tonight," line that most guys that have nights like this give while the chuckleheads on the MLB Network (there is nothing on television that makes me want to punch my TV more than Mitch Williams) needle him about it. I'll keep saying what I've been saying since I saw 'Cutch in Durham last year; his swing will eventually hit him 15-20 homers a year in the big leagues. It's a great, quick swing and he pounces on mistakes because he's a very good hitter. Yes he's small and yes he's fast, but there's some real pop in that bat. And how many guys in baseball history have hit three homers and a bunt single in the same game?
It wasn't just a good night for McCutchen (though his three homers, four runs scored, and six RBI did account for seven of the team's 11 runs in one way or another). Lastings Milledge doubled in two runs, Andy LaRoche tripled in one run, added another single, and scored twice. Brandon Moss singled twice, scored twice, and knocked in a run. Garett Jones had two hits. Even Ronny Cedeno had two hits!
All of this should be tempered by the fact that we're playing the Nationals, but at this exact moment in time I'm pretty excited that we're scoring runs off of anybody. Besides McCutchen, everyone in the lineup is auditioning for a spot on the team next year. Every game in these last two months won't go like these two against the Nats, but they should be interesting to watch.
I'll admit that I'm a little less disappointed that the Pirates are blacked out tonight, but that's only because Indianapolis is playing in Durham with Jose Ascanio on the mound and Jose Tabata presumably making his Indians' debut. So while I'll have to miss Lastings Milledge and the new-look Buccos for the second time in a row, I'll at least be at the Indians' game getting a look at these guys and hopefully some good stuff to share here.
As for the real Pirates game, Virgil Vasquez makes what's likely his last start for a while against Craig Stammen. Stammen's having a weird rookie year. His ERA is pretty high (4.46), while his WHIP is pretty good (1.22), but his strikeout rate is pretty terrible (4.0 K/9). He hasn't walked many hitters, though, and he's holding the opposition to about a hit an inning. He's actually pretty similar to last night's starter, John Lannan, so hopefully we can throw some runs up against Stammen as well. The lineup is the same as last night, with the lone exception of Garrett Jones moving to first base and Brandon Moss moving to right field. Wouldn't want Steve Pearce to get too comfortable out there.
It goes without saying that I'll be paying a lot more attention to the minor league clubs both for the end of this season and next year given how much of the Pirates' future success is tied up in those players. Last night Tony Ferrante of the excellent Penguins' blog The Confluence was at the Indianapolis Indians game in Norfolk against the Tides. Which means he got to see both Jeff Clement's two homers and Argenis Diaz. He e-mailed me a short write-up after the game ended:
Clement was awesome in his debut with the Bucco organization in Norfolk with the Indy Indians tonight. In his first at-bat, against a lefty, he took a 2-1 curveball on the knees out of the park to right field. In his second at-bat, he went with a fastball on the outside half of the plate well out of the park to left center. In his third at-bat, he hit a rope to center field, but it was right at the center fielder for the third out of the inning. In his fourth at-bat, he lined a full-count pitch to right field for his third hit of the night. He walked in his final at-bat.
Diaz came as advertised. He made an outstanding diving stop behind second base on a liner up the middle, but had no chance to throw the runner out. He also made a nice leaping grab of a liner over his head. At the plate, he went 1 for 5.
He mentioned that he didn't get to see Jose Tabata, presumably because he hadn't joined the team yet. That's fine, because the Tribe is coming to Durham next and there's no way I'm missing out on seeing this team play.
With Tabata up in Indy, I'm also interested to see how Pedro Alvarez fares in Altoona. He was just fine last night, going 3-for-4 and raising his slash line with the Curve to .306/.355/.534.
As debuts go, I don't think I could've expected more than to see Lastings Milledge get two hits and drive in two runs against his former team tonight. Of course, I couldn't see it because of my ... proximity ... to Washington D.C. (thanks, Bud), but I'm watching through the highlights at MLB.com right now and I think I feel about as good as a fan can feel after a win over the Nationals.
There really was a lot to like about this game, from Steve Blass mutter, "Oh geez," under his breath as Ross Ohlendorf plodded around third base to score the first run on Milledge's single to Andrew McCutchen flying home from third on a chopper hit to second base by Garrett Jones to Andy LaRoche's two great plays in the field (one on a bunt by Nyjer Morgan, one leaning over the dugout rail to catch a popup). Throw in a nice start from Ohlendorf, a double and a homer from Steve Pearce and we've got ourselves a win. One against the Nats, sure, but it's a win.
With most of the Littlefield Pirates gone and Lastings Milledge in Pittsburgh, whatever it is that Neal Huntington is building towards begins tonight. We've all heard everything there is to hear about Milledge, but tonight we actually get to see him. I won't lie, I'm excited.
I'm also of the opinion that this Pirate team as currently configured right now won't be nearly as bad as people think. We'll find out this weekend; if they can't score against the Nats, they're not going to score against anyone. John Lannan and Ross Ohlendorf take the mound tonight to kick off what's certain to be a series only noticed by people outside of Pittsburgh and Washington if they take enough time to joke about it.
One final note: I previewed the series and talked a bit about trades and the general direction of these two franchies with fellow Bloguineer Will Yoder over at The Nats Blog, so click the link and check it out.
I don't think the Pirates will have much going on this afternoon, but I'm going to be keeping myself busy by contributing to trade deadline live chats at both FanHouse and Baseball Think Factory. The BTF chat has a number of great guests that I'm pretty humbled to be included with. They kick off at noon and I'll be joining them later in the afternoon, likely around 3 PM. The FanHouse chat kicks off at 1 and will feature all of your regular FanHouse favorites, including Ed Price and Jeff Fletcher, who have both broken their share of news this week.
In the event that the Pirates do do something interesting, I'll be posting it back here, of course.
I don't really even want to talk about this, but I guess I can't ignore, Sean Burnett's comments about the Pirates' rebuilding process:
"It's funny, but Nyjer and I knew this was going to happen," Burnett said last night from Milwaukee, shortly after hearing that the Pirates continued their trading binge by sending away John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. "They're the laughingstock of baseball right now. They've gotten rid of everybody
They're dying to cheer the Pirates on. And now, they don't have anybody they even know. Guys like Jack and Freddy, the faces of the franchise, players they're supposed to be locking up, they're all gone. What's going to bring people to the ballpark now?"
Personally, I'm with with John Grabow:
In all the years I've been there, they've tried to build things piece by piece, and it's never worked. So, I think they've come to the conclusion that, well, let's completely overhaul it, get a young group of players and have them all flourish at the same time. That's my take on it.
I don't like to fault players for statements like that because they're generally too close to the situation to see the forest for the trees, but yeah, it certainly irks me because I know it's fuel for certain fires that I think are already burning bright enough.
Look; Neal Huntington inherited a teetering, collapsing two-story house and was told to build a mansion. After some analysis, he decided that the building he inherited was poorly designed and that the foundation was fatally flawed. Despite cries from the majority of the fan base and some of the players to attempt to renovated the shoddy house he was given, Huntington decided that the only course of action was to demolish the old house and sell the remaining parts to help re-pour the foundation, then build the house he wants on the same site.
He was right. Given what he was given, this is the best way to do it. Whether the house Huntington builds is significantly better than Littlefield's hovel remains to be seen. The demolition of the old house is complete. The new foundation is being poured. Build us our house, Neal.
The dismantling of the Pirates continues today, as Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow have been sent to the Cubs for Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison. I think that the immediate reaction to this trade probably depends on how you evaluate Tom Gorzelanny at the moment. If you see him as a 26-year-old who's found himself in Triple-A and will eventually be an effective big league starter, the trade probably sees him as a wash at best. I'm not sure about that though; I've tended to think of Gorzo has a pitcher who's lost his stuff and managed to evolve into someone that can get Triple-A hitters out. I haven't seen him pitch for Indy at all, but in both his call-up last year, his stint in the pen this year, and some write-ups Azibuck did of him on Bucs Dugout, I've gotten the feeling that his fastball isn't coming back and he's a bottom of the rotation guy at best at this point in his career.
My instinct is to break this trade down into two parts; Hart for Gorzo and Ascanio/Harrison for Grabow. Hart, like Gorzo, is 26 and like Gorzo, he's put up nice Triple-A numbers and like Gorzo, I'm not certain how well those numbers are going to translate to the majors. He's looked good in a few starts/relief appearances with the Cubs this year, but check out his peripherals before his starts today: 6.6 BB/9 and 3.7 K/9. The minor league numbers indicate there might be more there and I'd rather see him in the rotation than Virgil Vasquez (which is where he'll be) because I think his stuff is probably better than VV, but I'm not sure he's an upgrade over what Gorzelanny potentially offered. Of course, I'm not sure because the team has played Gorzo incredibly close to the vest. We still don't know if he was hurt last year and how or if that affects his ceiling. Huntington does know those things, presumably, so he's working from a wider knowledge base than we are.
The second part of the trade, Josh Harrison and Jose Ascanio, is also tough to evaluate because of Grabow's pending status as a Type A free agent (according to MLB Trade Rumors' rankings). He's currently making $2.3 million, so in order to cash in on the two compensatory picks his current team will have to offer him arbitration and he'd have to turn it down and sign somewhere else. The twist is that Grabow will also be armed with the knowledge that he's a Type A, which makes him a less desirable target on the open market because honestly, who's going to give up a first round pick to sign John Grabow? I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear he accepts arbitration, especially if this winter's market is as depressed as last winter's.
So in return for a solid lefty set-up man and the vague and distant promise of either keeping him for another year or getting two draft picks for him, we get Josh Harrison and Jose Ascanio. Harrison was a sixth round pick out of Cincinnat last year and he killed the ball in the Midwest league this year, hitting .331/.377/.479, but he did that as a 21/22-year old in A-ball. He's also very small (5'8"), and looks like a guy without a position, as he's seen time at third, second, left field, and DH this year. Still, he's got some speed (26 steals in 36 tries) and he doesn't seem to strike out at all (only 55 Ks in 683 minor league PAs). If he can find a position, he might be a great pickup.
Ascanio might be the guy that makes or breaks this trade for the Pirates. After some mixed results in the Braves system, he finally seemed to put everything together, first as closer for the Iowa Cubs last year and especially as a starter this year. He's only 24 and he apparently has good stuff. He'll likely end up in the bullpen in the long run but I think his stats as a starter in Iowa this year (3.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9 in 12 starts, as he's spent some time in the Cubs' pen as well) are really interesting and make it worth a shot to keep him there for a while.
This trade doesn't exactly blow me away like yesterday's two deals did, but that doesn't mean it's a bad trade for the Pirates. A lot of it hinges on Gorzelanny, and I'm not at all certain he'll ever approach his 2007 numbers again. In the end, the Pirates swapped out Gorzo and Grabow for two guys that are certainly more interesting than they are in the long-run, plus they picked up an arm to plug into the big league rotation for now. I don't exactly love this trade, but I can't say I don't like it.