Raise your hand if you forgot today was a 12:35 start! Jeff Karstens vs. Russ Ortiz. Who's ready for an improbable pitcher's duel?
I think we can officially issue recalls on Aaron Harang and Chris Carpenter's stellar outings tonight. Mike Hampton tossed six shut-out innings at the Pirates tonight, striking out eight and holding the Pirates to just four hits. When that's happening, well, I'm just embarrassed.
The second ugly part of tonight's game was Ross Ohlendorf. I missed his first start this year, but I know I watched him pitch last year and I was still surprised tonight, and not in a good way. He's a pretty huge guy (listed at 6'4" 235 lbs), but he really gets very little of that mass into his throwing motion. It's not to say that he's actually all arm or anything, but he was really only hitting the high 80s tonight and it seemed pretty obvious to me why. He was very hittable all night and I just wasn't very impressed at all with him.
So ... dominated by Mike Hampton and a disappointing outing from a Pirate starter. I hate to go all Eeyore here, but this is certainly more along the lines of what I expected from the Pirates this year.
There were also a couple moments in this game that illustrated why having everyone wear the same number at once is probably a bad idea. In the sixth inning, Luis Cruz dropped a pop-up behind third base and was mercilesly booed by Pirate fans while the Astros announcers groaned, until everyone realized that it wasn't Andy LaRoche any more. The Astros announcers then literally took about three minutes trying to figure out the Pirates' double switch and just sort of gave up in the end. Later on, they couldn't decide if a pinch hitter was Brandon Moss or Eric Hinske; all they really knew was that the hitter was a lefty.
Jackie Robinson Day is a great day. It's something that should be celebrated every year. When Ken Griffey Jr. came up with the idea to take 42 out of the mothballs for one day for any player that wanted to wear it, I thought it was a touching and fitting tribute to one of the most important men in baseball history. But issuing a league mandate that everyone has to wear the number? It's not only confusing to the point of distraction, but I think it's considerably less personal than players choosing to wear the number out of tribute and removing that part of it kind of misses the point, I think. I guess I just think there are better ways to pay tribute to Robinson.
With the Penguins kicking their playoff season off tonight at Mellon Arena, the Pirates face the prospect of becoming completely anonymous in their own home town for the next few weeks/months. The baseball games, however, will march on and at least some of us will still be paying attention.
Tonight's a pretty important game for the Pirates in that Ross Ohlendorf is taking the mound tonight and I think he's a pretty important pitcher to their chances of relative success this year. He had a solid first outing against the Cardinals that was mostly attributed to his sinker, but I'd either like to see more strikeouts (he had just one in six innings) or more ground outs before I'm ready to agree with that. His mound opponent is Mike Hampton, who is lucky the Astros exist to give him a job this year. If he takes the mound and throws pitches, I feel like that has to be considered a small victory for Houston, no matter what happens on the field tonight.
And if you remember any of my previews from last year, you know that whenever I write a preview that slants heavily towards one way of thinking, the exact opposite takes place. So go ahead and write it down: Astros 11, Pirates 0. This one's already in the bank.
Good thing the Bucs didn't make the rumored Delwyn Young for Jack Wilson trade over the winter, because Young was DFA'd by the Dodgers on Monday and MLB.com is reporting that the Pirates have acquired him for two PTBNLs tonight.
I want to say that Young is a marginally-interesting semi-young player, but just typing that makes me think of George Carlin's sketch on euphemisms and so instead I'll say what I really mean: Young is a fourth outfielder. His minor league numbers are quite good, but I don't know how well that high PCL batting average is going to translate to the big leagues and his line is pretty average-heavy.
This move does raise some interesting questions, though. How are the Bucs going to make room for Young? My guess is by cutting Craig Monroe (and I'd be all for that move), but since Young started his career in the middle infield, I suppose they could do it by demoting Luis Cruz. That seems unlikely since he's been an outfielder for several years now, but Cruz has barely played so it's possible.
The next question is whether or not Young will cut in to Brandon Moss or Nyjer Morgan's playing time. It's pretty clear that Huntington likes Young and he's got an interesting enough track record that I doubt he was acquired to replace Monroe on the end of the bench. I'm willing to bet that Young will get some at-bats and it'll be interesting to see who it is he takes those at-bats from.
There's lots of talk about the little LaRoche brother on this off-day, and I think that's probably warranted given the details. Rob Neyer speculates that there's something "seriously wrong" with LaRoc439 in he, and guesses it's physical more than mental. Charlie, meanwhile, plays off of Neyer's piece and guesses that maybe it is mental. Since both of those pieces were published, the PG has run an article mentioning that LaRoche's back pain hasn't completely gone away yet and implied that that may be a reason for both his struggles and his subsequent benchings.
So what's the deal? Like both Neyer and Charlie, I find it hard to believe that a guy from a baseball family, who's dad and brother were/are both solid Major Leaguers, has some kind of mental block between AAA and the big leagues. It just seems implausible to me. I don't want to be redundant here in repeating points that have already been made, but I do have a few things to add to the discussion.
First off, I've already said that I think that Chad Hermansen is a bad comp for LaRoche. In fact, all the usual suspects are. JJ Davis had good minor league numbers, but his minor league K/BB ratio doesn't even come close to LaRoche's. Andy Marte might be the best comparison; I'm still not sure what went wrong from his great 2001 season in AAA at the age of 21 and now. And yet, LaRoche's minor league numbers were better than Marte's. Even accounting for park factors and hitter-friendly leagues, LaRoche's K/BB numbers in the minors are 294/243. The guy knows how to hit. All of these uber-prospects who have fallen off the face off the earth saw huge declines in even their minor league numbers once their slides began; LaRoche hit .293/.452/.439 in AAA last year and we know he did it with a thumb injury that sapped his power. I'm just not sure how any of those other "mysterious collapse" cases fit with him.
The other point I would make is this: don't be so certain that Russell is benching LaRoche without the consent of the front office. There seems to be a pretty strong, "I can't believe Russell is doing this" sentiment, but I'm not so sure that a player that Huntington wants playing would be so quickly benched by Russell. We know that the Pirates rule over their minor league coaching staff with an iron fist. While I'm sure JR has more leeway than that, if the front office wants LaRoche playing every day, I have to think he'd be playing every day.
So that raises the question, why is he not playing? It could be the back injury; that seems like a perfectly valid reason to give a guy a few nights off if he's struggling in the field. Or it could be that he's quickly moved into Steve Pearce territory with management. I can't imagine the team was terribly pleased when he came to camp and his back problem acted up, only to find out that he hadn't been doing his stretches to try and prevent that. And I had heard that one of the reasons he was placed in Joe Torre's doghouse in LA was for pulling a Jose Bautista last year; deciding in the batter's box that he was going to try and squeeze-bunt a runner home without really telling anyone about it when all he had to do was put the ball in play to score the run. Not being a Dodger fan, I don't really have verification for this. I've certainly gotten the impression in the past that the front office hasn't always been pleased with LaRoche and that that's not all related to his play.
In the end? It's four games. Everybody's gone hitless over four games before and maybe this is nothing. Maybe his back hurts and Russell's giving him some down time to alleviate the pain and by May, this is all going to seem silly. I hope that's the case, but I become less and less positive every day that it is.
On Saturday, WHYGAVS turned four. I'm not entirely certain why I feel like the fourth birthday for a blog is such a big deal, but it seems momentus to me for some reason. Regardless, I wanted to mark the occasion a bit and thought I'd do a quick retrospective. The first words that ever appeared under the "Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?" header were these words right here:
Seeing as how I spend 90% of my time thinking about, watching, or listening to the Pittsburgh Pirates, my thoughts and ramblings about them are really to long to fit into an AIM profile, so they will go here from now on. This is whole thing is really more for me than anyone else, but since I'm a nice guy I'll share this with everyone. This way in the long run we can all look back and point out all the places I was right and Lloyd McClendon was wrong, and all the places I said things that made me look like an idiot (more often than not). Feel free to share this with anyone you please, just let 'em know where it came from. Since we're in the infantile stages here, things will probably change around a bit until I figure out exactly what I'm going to do with this space, but hey, as a college student I'm a master of procrastination. At least I can focus it into one place here.
I was exactly what I said I was; a bored college sophomore looking for ways to kill time and not study for Organic Chemistry. This lead first to the birth of WHYGAVS and second to the first C of my life. There wasn't much in the way of readers back then, but a few followers popped up early on and kept me going. This is what WHYGAVS looked like for much of its first year:
After some time, I decided that maybe a Pirate blog should be black and gold instead of just black, so I learned some very basic coding skills and started turning things gold. I think at some point the links also became gold, but I can't find evidence of that in the Internet Wayback Machine.
Much to my surprise, WHYGAVS really began to grow in that second summer and inevitably, people started complaining about the black background. I finally caved and instead turned the entire blog into a hideous, jumbled, bright yellow mess that looked like the tragic love-child of ESPN's old Page 2 design and a 1970s era living room.
For some reason, people kept reading through the template disaster of the summer of '06 long enough for me to realize that my blog was a hideous-looking disaster, and when Blogger came out with some new templates, I finally got things into good working order.
If you ask me, that's a pretty kickass looking blog, and WHYGAVS stayed that way until Derek from Bloguin made me the proverbial offer I couldn't refuse, paving the way for my move from Blogger and to the site that you all see now.
But the important part about this post isn't the look back on the old versions of WHYGAVS, it's this part at the end where I thank each and every single person that reads this site for doing so. Exactly four years to the day after I started blogging, I was sitting in a press box with a press pass, watching the two best prospects in baseball go head to head in Durham. On April 11, 2005, I don't think I could have even possibly imagined a scenario that lead to that, but here we are. The truth, though, is that that's not why I write. I write because WHYGAVS has shown me that there are other Pirate fans out there just like me, who remember what I remember and who care as much as I care. I've never admitted this on here before, but I came perilously close to closing the blog down after my move to North Carolina in the dark days of the end of the Littlefield era. In the end, I just couldn't do it because I honestly felt like it would let people down. I kept going and sure enough, Littlefield was fired soon after and I haven't looked back since.
So thank you for all of the times we've agreed and especially for all of the times we haven't. WHYGAVS has made me a smarter, better baseball fan and a smarter, better Pirate fan because everything I write has to be up to the standards of not just myself, but of all the smart fans that read. If I could, I'd thank each and every one of you personally for four great years. Here's hoping the next four see some wins.
Before I even start this recap, I need to point the following things out: the Astros haven't scored since Saturday, they started Jason Michaels in center today, and Russ Ortiz took the mound for them today. This isn't so much a baseball team as it is a squad of players that even Dave Littlefield would be embarrassed by. All reactions to this game should be tempered by this reality.
That said, Zach Duke just threw a complete game shutout. Yes, I'm worried about him throwing 119 pitches in April, but it's hard to imagine JR was going to pull him at less than 120 so long as he had a shutout going in the home opener. His velocity looked good on the Gameday in the 9th inning, and so I'm just going to hope this is a non-issue.
Just like his first start against the Cardinals, he again did all the things that he hadn't been doing the past few seasons. I realize that Duke's not a strikeout pitcher and he never will be, but every pitcher has to strike some batters out, and if they're not it's a good indication that they're not pitching well. From 2006-2008, Duke's K/9 rates were 4.9, 3.4, and 4.2. Those aren't numbers he can succeed with. Today, he got five strikeouts over the full game, including getting Lance Berkman on K's three times. In his two starts this year, he's averaging 5.7 K/9. As everyone's been noting, his fastball has more zip on it and his breaking balls seem to have more bite. He looked like a different pitcher last Tuesday and while I didn't see today's game, it seems clear that he did again today. I still think it's too soon to start making any conclusions about him, but I like everything I've seen so far.
After Ian Snell's good start was wasted yesterday, it was also nice to see some offense today to back Duke's strong effort, even if it was off of a pretty motley crew of Astros' pitchers. Freddy Sanchez double three times and Adam LaRoche and Ryan Doumit both homered (right around the seats that I would've been sitting in if I had been able to make it home ... grumble grumble grumble) and added multiple hits to the seven-run, 14-hit attack.
At the end of the day, we can talk about how bad the Astros are, but the Pirates are 4-3 and my dad (who's been going to these things for quite some time) called today one of the best home opener's he's ever seen. Who's going to argue with that?
The Pirates are on a pretty ridiculous run of openers, from last year's fly ball debacle in Atlanta to Jose Bautista's impromptu bunt in the home opener last year, to this year's dramatic comeback to start the season in St. Louis. It's hard to believe that a game between two teams almost certainly ticketed for the basement of the NL Central is going to live up to that, but that doesn't mean that I'm happy about not being there for it.
Today I'm most interested in how Zach Duke fairs after his stellar season debut against St. Louis. I don't know when exactly I'm going to be convinced that he's "back," but each good start he makes is a step in the right direction, as far as I'm concerned. He's up against Brian Moehler today, and if that dude shuts us out with fewer than five hits, I'm not going to be pleased at all. Ramon Vazquez is predictably in the lineup for Andy LaRoche, but beyond that the Bucs look about the same as they have all season today.
I know a lot of readers are at this game today, but there are at least a few other out of towners and ex-pats like myself and we can all commiserate in the gamethread this afternoon. IT'S THE HOME OPENER! THE PIRATES ARE STILL OVER .500! GET EXCITED, EVERYBODY!
Nate at Sixty Feet, Six Inches was at the Indy Indians home opener. He's planning on following the Indians pretty closely all year, so make sure you keep an eye out for his posts. The above pic was sent along by Bam of the Blitzburgh Blog, who was also in Indy for the opener. I probably won't post pics from minor league games all year, but if you're at the games, I'd love to hear from people watching the affiliates play and I'll do my best to get whatever you guys send me in to posts.
Trying to keep the sidebar updated part 1,000,000: Everything Pittsburgh, B.U.C.C.O. Fans.com (lots of good stuff there), the Jolly Roger, This Is Getting Old, North Side Notch, and Is This Thing On?. If you've sent me the link to your blog and I haven't put it up yet, please don't interpret that as a slight from me. Just send it along again and I'll do my best to get to it this time around. And if you read a blog that I don't have linked, use this thread to tell me about it. I'm really going to try and get the sidebar cleaned up in the next week or so here.
Hope everyone has fun at the Opener today. I'm insanely jealous of all of you, mainly because I had intended to come home for Easter/the Opener this weekend, until I found out on Thursday that my thesis proposal is going to be on May 5th. Holy crap, that's soon. Posting might be a little light until then. Gamethreads and recaps will certainly be posted, but if you feel like I'm missing news stories or just not giving you enough to talk about, well, there is a forum.