Tagged: Jeff Karstens

Pirates vs Miami Marlins 7/22 PNC Park

This will be a short entry as I did not arrive to the 1:35 game until 1:15. You all should know that Sunday games are brutal. I got a nice workout in, and then a short while later departed with my parents, brother and his friend to the game. Why? I was finally able to redeem my suite and got to invite people to join me. With it being my brother’s 11th birthday on Monday, I decided this would be a great day to do this.

Getting shutout seemed very likely given the circumstances, however Euclides Rojas came through for me with a toss up after starter Jeff Karstens warmed up.

Meanwhile I try to help my brother get an autograph every time he shows up, which is once a season. Last year, he got Chris Resop on a baseball and this time I was able to get some help from Jason Grilli who signed my brother’s baseball and his friend’s hat (my brother and his friend forgot another baseball and toys but fortunately the TV in the suite change to Cartoon Network, so they were entertained).

So with all of us happy, I grabbed their hands and we all walked up to the suite where we were joined by 12 other friends and family. I played host and did my best to make sure everyone was enjoying the game before sitting with my friends Andrew and Colston. We all host A to Z Sports at Point Park, and this was the first time all three of us were together since the end of the school year. It was great to just talk and share tons of laughs like we always too. It was relaxing and just fun.

The Pirates had fans on the edges of their seats with a low scoring game, but they got the job done to get a sweep of the Miami Marlins. They had a ton of momentum as the Chicago Cubs came to town.

Thing that disgusts me about PNC Park = All You Can Eat Seats People are paying for an outfield seat just to eat food, and a lot of people choose not to eat the food. Really? Just buy the outfield reserved ticket and save the money then. Plus, they leave such a mess and can’t clean up after themselves. The Pirates employ people to clean up from the end of the game to close to when the gates open. Don’t make them do extra work because of your laziness.

Oh and this happened towards the end of the game. First it started in the third inning, but then they did the wave again and one drunk man cracked me up. Oh I still think the wave needs to be saved for certain situations, but everyone views that differently.

It was fun being in the suites and counteracted the hot weather. I would later find out that quite a few people passed out throughout the ballpark.

Although there was only peanuts, snack mix and chips there it was just great fun with a lot of people, and really that’s what it’s all about.

Pirates at Baltimore Orioles 6/14 Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Despite being delayed for a couple of days, I was really looking forward to heading the Baltimore. Erik and Nick’s schedule did not match mine, so I called fellow ballhawk Rick Sporcic who was more than willing to make the trip with me.

I was pleased to have a lot of leg room in Rick’s Camaro which made the 4.5 hour trip a whole lot easier.

We left at 9 AM on Thursday and arrived right on schedule.

We parked inside the Marriott Hotel parking lot and right when we left there, knew that we were in Orioles country.

We walked to the Eutaw Street Gate which is unique because it essentially is a street inside a ballpark. Tons of Orioles souvenir shops, eats, views and memorabilia all on a street and then the both ends serving as entrances.

Also there are a lot of great things to see outside of the Eutaw Street entrance.

With tons of time left, the two of us went sightseeing, and this was the first picture I took and ultimately what would be my first impression of Baltimore. A really weird impression to say the least.

This woman posed with four cops in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. They let her borrow a night stick. Uhh…

Also saw the most interesting name of a restaurant in Baltimore as well.

Stay classy Baltimore

I had my sights set on the Barnes and Noble in the Inner Harbor which I heard was rather large and it was.

The traffic was more than I had expected although there was a Sailabration being held in Baltimore. Apparently the event was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem.

I was able to buy a couple of books.

With Eutaw Street opened early, I bought my ticket and was able to go in way early.

Upon entering I went over to the bullpen area. Unlike the last time Rick was there, the area was locked off and someone was watching it.

This was my first image when I set up by the pen.

I then looked down into the bullpen where Pitching Coach Ray Searage was smoking something that was dark brown. Herbie Andrade and Euclides Rojas both were there as well and said hello to me.

They were there for Brad Lincoln’s bullpen session.

We also saw Jeff Karstens throw 15 pitches from the bullpen.

I knew I needed to try and snag that Boston Red Sox commemorative baseball. I thought my best bet would be to ask Rojas, a former Red Sox coach, so I did. I got the biggest look of confusion on his face afterwards, and obviously he had no idea what I was talking about.

Around 4 PM, we got kicked out and let the waiting game for 5 PM begin.

Rick and I would throw for 30 minutes and I have to say that I was throwing the fastest I had in a long time and the pop’s in Rick’s glove were evidence of that.

Afterwards I saw a man in an orange Orioles shirt and I knew right away who it was when he came up to me.

“Hit me,” I said.

What is this you ask? Well if you see the man in the following photo, he sprays a small squirt of water on your face and you get to choose a baseball card.

Don’t believe me?

Here was the card I picked.

Not too many pictures of BP but here is one of the Pirates pitchers throwing.

Then the camera was turned off. Lincoln tried protecting the pitchers but could not protect two hit balls that were hit into the stands about a minute apart very close to where I was standing for balls 1 and 2 of the day. Even better were that both were Orioles commemoratives meaning all I would need was the Red Sox commemorative to get all six.

I slowly filed over to the Pirates dugout and noticed Manager Clint Hurdle.

“Good luck today Clint,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said looking up and then realized me.

Then upon realizing it was me and recognized me continued.

“Hey, how have you been,” he asked.

“I’ve been great, how about you,” I replied.

“Great thank you. What brings you up here,” he asked.

“Honestly, I went up with a buddy to see a new ballpark, see the team play and to catch more baseballs for The Children’s Institute,” I replied.

“Hey, that’s my charity too,” he answered.

“I know, and I really would like to collaborate if that’s possible,” I said.

“Dang, now I’m going to have to get you the whole cart,” He replied referencing the big cart full of baseballs that would be thrown for bp.

He then went over to the top of the bag and pulled out a brand new baseball (with the practice logo) and tossed it to me for ball #3. I thanked him, wished him luck again and we parted ways.

Orioles BP ended and Rick joined me. He asked Orioles Bullpen Catcher Ronnie Deck for two Red Sox commemoratives and Deck did meet us.

“You’re the two that I owe baseballs to,” he asked.

We confirmed and he proceeded to check the baseballs. Weirdly he then blew us off and left with all of the baseballs. Needless to say we weren’t pleased but now not surprised when I heard that he stiffed Erik and Nick as well.

I would get two more baseballs, both from my buddy Coach Mark Strittmatter. There was a roped off area and he saw me, so I went down. He had a baseball which he gave me for ball #4. It had the normal logo on it. I asked if he knew anything about the Red Sox commemorative and he said they had some Orioles commemoratives but no Red Sox. He threw me ball #5 once BP was over and it was an Orioles ball. We talked as well and shook hands before parting ways.

Rick wanted to watch the whole game and I can’t blame him and he figured we’d leave Camden around 9:30 until I told him that Erik Bedard would get the start.

While Bedard went for the Pirates it would be Tommy Hunter for the Orioles.

After the first inning, I decided to walk around and check out the ballpark. Here are some pictures of what I found.

The Orioles kids club members got this poster.

Home of the Baltimore Ravens. If we had more time we would have gone in here.

$10 buys you a decent amount of chicken tenders and fries. The tenders were pretty good.

Common door opener at Camden.

This particular memorabilia store sold items from this, to…

… to this.

This is a seating area that is first come first serve.

View from the area

Here are some game pictures:

Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones.

Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen

Since Rod Barajas is the starting catcher, Michael McKenry enters the bullpen midway through the game.

Don’t laugh Pirates fans, Dana Eveland still does pitch in the MLB.

Rick and I got very close tickets towards the end of the game to try and get an umpire ball.

Yeah… the Pirates lost big time.

Jose Tabata makes contact in the ninth inning, but it is not enough to get the job done.

The Pirates would ultimately fall short.

Now my review of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The place is nice and spread out. Left field gives you room and a fair chance to stretch your legs and even get a baseball or two if you are a ballhawk.

The ballhawks can be aggressive but are friendly and welcome you to the ballpark.

You can get in early through Eutaw Street and this is a huge plus as it is open from 9-4 before reopening at 5 PM. It lets you get some food, buy that keepsake item and even go by the bullpen and get some interaction.

I am definitely did not like the fact that they have a designated smoking area. I apologize to smokers but I am against smoking inside a public place and that includes ballparks. It cluttered up the surrounding area and many smokers just ignored the designated area and just lit up wherever the pleased.

The fans are passionate about their Orioles but despite wearing a Pirates shirt all day, I was not heckled one time.

I will definitely be going back to Baltimore this year and it should be a great time. I thank Rick so much for taking me, although next time, I don’t think we should come and go in one day as we did leave right after the game and I got home around 3:30 or 4 AM and I was TIRED.

A quick time in to discuss the end of the game. The home plate umpire did not hook either myself or Rick up with baseballs. Frankly I wanted the lineup cards, but was ignored which sucked.

Jim Joyce was the last umpire in and signed two items, one of which was Rick’s baseball.

Before he left I knew I had something I wanted to say to him ever since the whole Armando Galaraga perfect game debacle.

“Jim. I really appreciate the way you handled the aftermath of that perfect game. You handled it with class and I really respect that,” I told him.

“Thank you so much, that really means a lot,” he said and he shook my hand before he left.

Before I finally wrap up this entry, I might as well show you a couple of the things I got.

Free from Orioles Fan Assistance

Somehow managed to get a free Orioles media guide and spiral bound too!

So not the greatest of days and no Red Sox commemorative baseball, but still all in all, a fun time and three Orioles commemorative.

Now the wait is until Tuesday for a six game homestand which ends on Sunday. The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers are coming to town and things could go well for me although Saturday’s game is a 4:15 start and not 7:05 which will hurt all ballhawks totals as there will be no season ticket holder time. With attendance being higher due to the Pirates winning and interleague, things could get a bit harder in this coming week.

Pirates vs Phillies 4/7/12 PNC Park

Saturdays were always good to me last year, as evidenced by my average of five baseballs a game on Saturdays. It was Passover, but with my numbers, I could not turn down attending this game. I decided to leave after the top half of the first inning, to appease my parents.

I arrived at the gate around 3:25 and was ready for what I hoped to be a good day. Erik and Nick had already been to Cleveland that day for BP and all three of us went over to the grassy area to throw around.

It was a great session, and I felt ready to go into the gates and have another great day. The mixture of pop ups, straight throwing, grounders and pitching boot camp that is the Saturday throwing session is a great way to see where you are at on the day.

Preparing for Saturday's gate opening. Photo by Randy Page

Photo by Randy Page

Starting my throw motion. Photo by Randy Page

Getting ready to make another catch in warm ups. Photo by Randy Page.

When the gates did open, I searched for Easter Eggs in left field and came up empty. I decided quickly to go to the first base side and I was pleased that the speed I had last season was still there as I was a little concerned that the lifting I have done in weeks would harm my speed.

When I went to first base, I was surprised to see a white speck. Upon close inspection, it was a baseball and I picked it up for ball #1 on the day.

I then saw a Phillies player on the field, and was surprised to see that it was Juan Pierre. I have long looked up to Juan and he is one of my favorite MLB players because he resembles me perfectly. He is an underdog, a leader, a fast runner and a singles hitter.

He essentially was just standing there, and I saw that he had a baseball, so I knew that two of my wishes could have come true.

Erik later asked who I was talking for as long as I was and he seemed surprised when I told him.

In short, Juan and I talked for 10 minutes and he was outside because he was getting ready for warm ups. He wanted to be outside since he is stuck in the clubhouse for such a long period of time. I had him sign a baseball, one I will keep and not sell for charity.

Juan Pierre signed this baseball for me that Tony Watson had just thrown me. You can tell that he is a religious man and I respect that a lot.

During this conversation, Tony Watson fielded a baseball and nodded to me, his way of asking me if I wanted it. I nodded and ball #2 was in my glove. Thanks Tony!

I did get to tell Juan about my charity and when I told him that every baseball counted, he tossed me the ball in his hand for ball #3, but he did ask for it back when he went to stretch which was fine.

Juan was a great guy, and we posed for a picture before he left. It already is one of my favorite pictures, and I think even more highly of him than I did before.

Phillies outfielder and all around great person Juan Pierre poses with me for a photo.

There was a lot of downtime after that, as the Phillies relievers stretched and of course with no overthrows, and no toss ups, I was standing still until I saw future Hall of Famer Jim Thome signing autographs. Thome has hit over 600 home runs putting him in the top 10 all time in homers hit and he is still playing in his early 40’s. I had Thome sign a First Pitch Program.

Phillies first baseman and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome signed this First Pitch Program. The program is currently up for bids with 100% of the proceeds going to The Children's Institute. Please comment on this entry if you have a bid.

Another highlight of my day involves Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. He asked me to watch his glove, which I did while he warmed up on the field before BP. I still did get my picture taken with the glove in its place.

I even got to hand it to him which was pretty cool. He thanked me and I told him I did not want to get Tulowitzki’d. That recent prank could have happened to me if I wasn’t careful. Here is that video:

Phillies BP then began, and there was a loose ball close to where I was standing. I did not have a glove trick and thus could not reach it. Who would come to the rescue? It was Phillies Strength and Conditioning Coach Dong Lien. Yes that name is right, and his name is not on the Phillies Coaching Roster. He was decent with tossing three balls to fans towards the end of BP, so I knew it was worth a try. Lien, threw the first two balls, both further away in and then came closer to me as the ball was close by.

“Could I please have that ball, it’s for charity,” I said.

“What charity,” Lien asked.

“The Children’s Institute,” I replied.

Right after I said children, I saw him toss me ball #4. I would thank him by name, but I think that WordPress wouldn’t be too happy about that, so I will thank him again in this way.

Dong Lien, Phillies Strength and Conditioning Coach

A couple of minutes later, a ball was hit just enough to get in the grassy area and close by where I was standing. I waited there and plotted my move. Soon enough, Thome was jogging back in to take his cuts. I was able to get his attention and his toss was like he was fielding a grounder and I was the pitcher running over. He underhanded it a little short, so I reached over and made the clean catch. It drew a nod from him, I thanked him and he was off. It was surreal to have him toss me a ball, especially since I was in my Pirates gear the entire time.

I then saw Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon signing autographs and I went over with the second Pirates First Pitch Program I had and had him sign it.

This Pirates First Pitch Program autographed by Phillies Closer Jonathan Papelbon is up for auction. Feel free to comment to this post if you are willing to bid on it. 100% of proceeds go to The Children's Institute.

Jonathan Papelbon signing autographs at the April 7th Pirates vs Phillies game.

I decided to stay by the dugout towards the end of BP and came up empty handed and thus ending BP with five. I was fine with that on this day.

I then paid my weekly $5 for the Pirates Charities raffle and then headed to the bullpen to get a good place to watch the action. I got exactly the spot I wanted as I wanted to talk to Herbie Andrade and Euclides Rojas for the first time this season.

When they did show up, they both remembered me and they both lit up with smiles. They both said that they had great off-seasons and asked how mine was, which was nice.

With the re-introductions out of the way, I was excited to see both Cliff Lee and Jeff Karstens warmed up.

Phillies Pitcher Cliff Lee warms up on April 7, 2012

Jeff Karstens starts his warm ups on April 7th vs the Philadelphia Phillies.

Karstens had a hiccup in the first inning allowing a run, but the Pirates were able to get it back for him to tie the game at one. The Pirates offense again was dormant, but they were able to have a successful ninth inning which started with a Rod Barajas tape measure double.

On the Root Sports Postgame show, former Pirate Kent Tekulve showed how close Barajas was to a homer, and the picture was rather funny actually.

The game ended on an Alex Presley infield single which brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Pirates their first win on the season. The atmosphere was electric and it was the second consecutive sellout.

Pirates celebrate after Alex Presley bats in the winning run. Photo by Randy Page

The third and final game of the series and homestand was the next day and it was Kids Day. I decided to take the risk and attend this game. Little did I know how much of a risk this would be and that my streak of games with a baseball was in serious jeopardy. How would I respond? You will have to read the next entry to find out.

So it begins: Pittsburgh Pirates Workout Day 2012

Today marked the unofficial start of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season as the Pirates decided to make their workout, the day before the home opener, open to the public. This was a great idea to raise the excitement levels for the fans and even make some money off of the concessions.

The only thing that ruined this good time was the Phillies who decided that they did not want the fans to see them hit. Erik Jabs decided to count his snags and although I was initially apprehensive, I opted to count mine as well.

I went to this event with my friends Andrew and Colston. We lined up by the Highmark Legacy Square entrance around 1:45 as that was the only gate that would be open for fans to get in come 2:30.

The three of us ran into some familiar faces which was great. We then all played a game of catch and I threw nice and easy. I was encouraged for the most part with the session and then got back to my position as first in line.

A short while later, my backpack was checked and we got to go in at 2:20, 10 minutes early. A couple of beer bellied fans raced ahead of me. I knew to save my energy as they raced off for the first base line. I ws carefree and knew I would be first into left field. I knew that Erik and Nick Pelescak would not be at the ballpark yet and I was on the clock. I would have to take advantage.

I was surprised to see some of the Pirates taking early cuts. From where I was standing Manager Clint Hurdle and 1st Base Coach Luis Silverio were in the outfield. A Pirate hit a hopper that traveled close to the wall and Hurdle had a glove and was getting it.

“Clint, may I please have that ball,” I said.

“It’s early BP, we don’t throw any of the balls up,” Clint said in his usual booming voice.

“O.K. I understand. Thanks for responding,” I replied.

“You know what? What the heck,” Hurdle said before tossing me ball #1 on the season. This was the first baseball a fan received at PNC Park this season. That was an awesome feeling. Thanks so much Clint!

With that done, I knew the relievers would be coming out very soon. I had already searched, and there were no easter eggs and when nothing was being hit out to me during early BP, I retreated to the third base side so that I would get a good chance for a toss up from a reliever. On my way up I ran into in-game host for the Pirates Joe Klimchak and we did a great handshake and man hug before I continued running.

Slowly the relievers all trickled out as well as Erik Bedard and Jeff Karstens. At this point, I had said another hello and then my buddy reliever Evan Meek came over and made a point to say hello and ask how I was doing. He is looking much thinner and may be in the best shape of his playing career. I am amazed at how healthy he looks.

The relievers then got ready to throw. Jason Grilli stopped once through his delivery to talk to me. As you may remember, he called me this off-season to discuss his business venture. He remembered my name and we talked for a little while he threw. We even were joking around with each other, and when I called him “J Grills”, we both laughed. Meek and Grilli threw together and when they were done, I asked Jason for the ball, which he tossed for ball #2. My goal for the day was three so I was one step closer to accomplishing that.

Jason Grilli tosses up a baseball during BP. Photo courtesy of Kayla Thompson

After the relievers were done throwing, they took part in a few drills and got their running in.

While they did this, I went up to Pops Plaza where I got a free Pirates shirt. It was a decent shirt, better than a lot of their t-shirt Friday shirts and frankly was just nice and simple. It was smart too because the shirt allowed them to promote the Pirates twitter account.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the screen came out, and BP started for the Pirates.

There was no competition at first base, so I went over there as it worked wonders for me last year. At this point, Erik and Nick were in left field, I decided to stay on the first baseline as there were maybe a handful of people.

I was rewarded fairly quickly, as Rod Barajas was in the first group of Pirates taking cuts. Barajas hit a cutting liner that I was able to field and catch for ball #3. Considering I have made it a goal to catch more batted balls this season, this was a huge confidence booster and a step in the right direction for sure.

Ball #4 came shortly after as Jose Tabata hit a bouncer which ended up in the seats and I scooped it up. Short, sweet and to the point.

Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez were over there when I made those plays and sure enough I figured I would have a chance to get another ball from over there so I stayed. Relievers Tony Watson and new Pirate Juan Cruz came over and I focused immediately on Juan.

It took a while since Watson was getting the balls, but when Cruz got a ball and was in earshot, I asked in Spanish. He looked at me and paused before throwing the baseball back in. Perhaps it was because Pitching Coach Ray Searage was close by, but I had succeeded and I knew he had heard me. I knew that if I continued to get in his head, he would have no choice but to throw it to me.

Sure enough a ball comes close to me and Cruz had not gotten back into position so I knew this was my chance. I asked again in Spanish and a random lady asked right after in English.

“He asked first,” Cruz said before throwing ball #5 my way. This was awesome and I knew that I had well exceeded my goal of three baseballs at that point. Muchas gracias Juan.

I then waited for the next set of hitters, and knowing that I would not get anymore toss ups, I was hoping for a baseball to get hit my way, but that would not happen. I moved to left field and essentially nothing happened so no luck for me.

I ended up with 5 baseballs on the BP which was good enough for tops on the day. It is a great feeling to know that I did a good job today. I have worked really hard towards the last few weeks of this off-season to get into shape and my stamina is up and my strength is up a little more. My confidence is also up by a lot as well. I only wish that I could have seen Phillies BP, I likely could have received a few more baseballs.

Still, five baseballs is a great way to start the season, and with clear skies tomorrow and the Pirates taking BP tomorrow I can only hope for some easter eggs and maybe a ball or two. Should be a fun day.

Erik Bedard the right man to start the home opener?

Earlier this week, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle announced that Erik Bedard will start the home opener April 5th vs the Phillies. He also named his four man rotation, which is as follows.

1. Erik Bedard

2. Jeff Karstens

3. James McDonald

4. Kevin Correia

There definitely are positives and negatives to Bedard starting:

Positives:

1. Bedard will be starting his third opener, which means he knows what to expect and can tune out the distractions that surround the opener. All of the players and coaches from both teams will be introduced and things tend to run long, as the Pirates have all kinds of honors and awards and thus Bedard may be the right man for the job.

2. Bedard has looked impressive during Spring Training and Hurdle is awarding him for this. You can’t go wrong with going with a hot hand.

3. Bedard is a ground ball pitcher which favors the Pirates well. Clint Barmes and Neil Walker are a solid defensive middle infield and should have no problem handling any of the grounders that are hit their way.

4. Bedard could be a silent leader, and has had successful seasons. A great start and a win over Roy Halladay could be what this team needs. It could fire up a young pitching staff and be what makes this team finally become consistent winners.

5. Phillies hit .247 against Bedard with 19 hits in 77 at-bats. Jimmy Rollins hits .182 against Bedard with two strikeouts in 11 at-bats. Jim Thome is a .263 hitter against Bedard in 19 at-bats. While he does have a homer and two RBI against him, Thome has struck out six times against Bedard. Shane Victorino has zero hits in two at-bats against Bedard. Ty Wigginton is a .259 hitter against Bedard and has struck out nine times in 27 at-bats vs Bedard.

Negatives:

1. Hurdle brings a lefty out to start the opener. The Pirates do not have another lefty in the rotation, and that means that teams will face four righties in a row often times. It is not a great balance and could come back to haunt the Pirates.

2. Roy Halladay is the starter and Halladay does not make many mistakes. Bedard had a rough 2011 season which included injury. With no Ryan Howard or Chase Utley in the lineup, and Raul Ibanez on the New York Yankees, the lefty power bats are all gone. Starting Bedard would have been ideal last year, but now those lefties are gone and that strategy is out of the window.

3. Jeff Karstens had the best 2011 of the Pirates pitchers and is one of the longer tenured Pirates. Despite a few too many walks, he has been solid this Spring Training and has been consistent much like last season. It makes no sense that the Pirates do not reward Karstens by having him take the mound on the home opener. Not to mention that Karstens survived a tense atmosphere and had a very good start against the Phillies at PNC Park last season.

4. His injury history still is a concern. Yes it is a concern no matter when injuries happen, but if Bedard gets injured on the opener it would be disaster. With A.J. Burnett out and Charlie Morton likely not 100% ready for the season right now, this could put the Pirates in a downward spiral. The Pirates pride themselves on quick starts, and they already may have the toughest opening month in the majors.

Pirates avoid arbitration with Hanrahan and Morton

The Pirates had an active morning starting with the signing of their all-star closer Joel Hanrahan. The signing means that the Pirates avoid arbitration for Hanrahan. The Pirates and Hanrahan agreed to a one-year deal worth $4.1 million with incentives based on performance totaling $50,000. Last season, Hanrahan went 1-4 but had an ERA of 1.84 and had 40 saves. Clint Hurdle seemed to make it clear that Hanrahan was to be used only to save games. Hanrahan also seemed to struggle with the four out save. The record is a little alarming and the ERA could have been lower had it not been for a regression in the second half of the season. Hanrahan still has that great fastball and I think he could be very successful. A very good and important sign for this Pirates team.

Hanrahan is on the far left in this picture

The Pirates also signed Charlie Morton to a one year deal. The deal is worth $2,445,000. I am sure the amount could have been higher had it not been for an injury Morton is working back from. The injury will force him to be unavailable for Opening Day and late-April is his estimated time of arrival back to the Pirates. Morton went 10-10 last season with a 3.83 ERA. Morton saw a delivery overhaul when he switched to pitching in a style similar to that of Roy Halladay. He earned the nicknames “Ground Chuck” and “Electric Stuff” for these efforts and while his control sometimes was off, the results were much better for both Morton and the Pirates.

Charlie Morton is on the far right of this picture

I got a chance to speak to both Hanrahan and Morton during the early stages of last season, and both were very candid with me.

Morton talked to me about the delivery and how it was started during Spring Training. This does not seem like a big deal now, but this was in April, before the media really picked up on the story and made it into (in the Post-Gazette’s case) a two part series. I found it telling that he compared this new motion to the old one.

“I think what happened was mechanically, I was showing the ball really early,” Morton said. “I may have been tipping pitches, I’m not sure, but I know that the hitters were seeing the ball really well. I adjusted some things, and release the ball a little later and as a pitcher, you can see the swings of the hitters. When I started seeing guys late on pitches after the adjustment, even if they were right down the middle, I knew was heading in the right direction, and that allows me to be confident.”

For Hanrahan, he was talking to me about that feeling of nailing down the save and having total control over any hitter that stepped up to the plate.

“That’s a great day any day you can do that,” Hanrahan said. “It’s a long season, long year, and the games are kind of long themselves, so once you get those three outs, everybody’s kind of relaxed a little bit more, and it’s one of the best feelings you can earn that day.”

As a side note, a quick congratulations to Joel Hanrahan on now being a married man as he tied the knot very recently with Kim.

The Pirates now have four arbitration-eligible players left, and they are Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Casey McGehee and Evan Meek.

Why the Pirates have been slumping

Catcher- Chris Snyder just came back and is starting to produce. Ryan Doumit is still not the answer defensively and his hitting was not good either. Jason Jaramillo was sent down and was the best of the three thus far as Snyder was injured. Jaramillo continued his good hitting from Spring Training and defensively is a clear improvement over Doumit. It seemed like the team never traded Doumit and the three catchers either are good offensively or defensively but never both. Thus they all are missing a part of the game and it sets the team back.

First Base- Lyle Overbay has been a mixed bag. This “great defender” blew a play the second game of the season which cost the team a game. Overbay hit a nice home run against St. Louis, but hs hitting is not great. Much like Adam LaRoche, the lefty Overbay is known as a slow starter and this haunts the team. Overbay has not had a hit against lefties and in a power position, and he cost a good deal of money for not producing. He is going to have to do more, or else Steve Pearce may get some looks at first base.

Second Base- Neil Walker has been one of the best performing Pirates. He has picked up where he left off last season. The average is down and the strikeouts are up, however the power has improved and he is showing that he can defensively handle the second base positon. Walker will need to continue hitting like this, and he will have to hit better against lefties. He also struggled during the homestand and he will have to hit better for the hometown crowd.

 Shortstop- Aki Iwamura gave up his position to Neil Walker, and if Ronny Cedeno is not careful, he could be next. Pedro Ciriaco had no reason to be sent down, especially since we have seen Cedeno and Josh Rodriguez get off to less than stellar starts. Cedeno usually starts off fast, and offensively he has not done much and he just is not getting the job done. Rodriguez has also had some good looks and he is just as bad. He was kept for his power, and I don’t see any power and I see a lack of patience at the plate. Cedeno has made a couple of spectacular plays at the shortstop position, however the routine plays such as grounders and turning the double play are just not up to snuff. Every time a grounder is hit his way, I hold my breath as it is an adventure. The shortstop position will need to produce more offensively and defensively will need to field their position.

Third base- Pedro Alvarez is expected to be the next big thing here in Pittsburgh. He is expected to be a power hitter and as a free swinger, is being compared to Adam Dunn. This season he has not met expectations. He is a notorious slow starter and in AAA last year hit in the .220’s this season. Alvarez will heat up when the weather gets hotter. His fielding is another story. His weight is in question and his fielding is inconsistent. He can make the plays half the time, and his arm strength is strong sometimes a little too strong. Steve Pearce has had looks at third and offensively hasn’t done much and defensively hasn’t done anything wrong, but hasn’t been truly tested. For all we know, he can do well but otherwise is could be another Delwyn Young experiment gone wrong.

Outfield- Jose Tabata has been the most complete player this season. He showed commitment to the team by putting on muscle and playing in the winter. He has already stolen seven bases and has added the home run to his game. He did well hitting leadoff but last night was bumped to the number two spot in the order. Despite his speed, he seems unsure in left field when he has to backpedal. Andrew McCutchen is known as a slow starter, however fans expected more from him after he tore the cover off of the ball in Spring Training. It seemed initially as though it would work as he hit two homers to start the season against the Cubs, but has since slumped. Clint Hurdle has tried to get him going again batting him leadoff but he struck out four times and was not a part of the offense. Furthermore McCutchen has as many steals for the team as I do right now- ZERO. McCutchen said at PirateFest that he wanted to have that “Ricky Henderson mentality” and know that the base was his when he would steal a base. He has looked like Lastings Milledge out there as the other day he was caught in a run-down. He like Alvarez will heat up soon. The platoon of Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones has not worked out well so far, with Jones hitting the lone homer. Diaz has been starting more as of late and he got two of the Pirates four hits on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. They need to produce now as that has been a part of the offense that has been missing. Finally we have not had a good look at John Bowker yet, but we know that he earned his spot with a solid Spring Training. He has been relegated to pinch hitting but has not done much with that. I say give him a start and see what happens.

 Starters- The ace has been Kevin Correia and minus one inning on his start on Wednesday, he has pitched magnificantly. Correia gave up that homer to Fielder and was unable to field a bunt on Wednesday and that cost him, but he was able to pitch well in his previous starts. He will have to continue to pitch well as he is the ace, but I am unsure as to how long he can keep this up. Paul Maholm had his second great start on Thursday against the Brewers but took the loss giving up two runs in the first inning and was not helped by the offense or lack thereof. Paul has looked like Zach Duke at times as he has looked very hittable. He will have to be able to pitch inside more like he is trying to do. Ross Ohlendorf was the weakest looking of the starters, as he pitched ok at best in his first start against the Cubs and now is injured and Jeff Karstens has been forced back into the starting rotation when he will pitch tomorrow against the Cincinnati Reds. Charlie Morton has been nothing but stellar for the team, getting a complete game win last night. He changed his arm angle in Spring Training and the walks are finally down. I believe that before he was tipping his pitches, and now is getting a ton of groundballs due in large part to that newfound sinker. James McDonald was slated to be the team’s ace until his injury in Spring Training. I don’t have much on him, but now he should be able to pitch deeper in the games. He just needs to stop those innings where he labors. He seems to pitch 30-40 pitches in an inning and it effects how far he can go in his starts.

Bullpen- The plesant surprise has been Mike Crotta. That new sinker has proven to be vital and he already is a staple in the bullpen. Chris Resop had some trouble against the Chicago Cubs in the second game of the season, but since has looked pretty good and has picked up from where he left off last season. Joe Beimel is back off of the disabled list and we soon will find out what he has. He can be used in many different capacities and is the lone lefty in the bullpen after Garrett Olsen was designated for assignment. He was ok at best, but he was a good filler. Beimel is in his second tour of duty with the Pirates. Daniel McCutchen was called up during the season and he will now serve as the long reliever with Jeff Karstens now in the rotation. His ERA was a bit high last season and he will have to limit the mistakes. Jose Veras slow the pace of play when he pitches and earned the loss on Saturday against the Colorado Rockies when he gave up three runs in that infamous sixth inning. He has good stuff but needs to place his pitches in more adventageous positions so that he can take command of the batter. Evan Meek is finally coming back after the shoulder injury and before had a couple of bad outings in a row. Meek was sick it cost him dearly as his placement was off. He would leave pitches up to where hitters had no problem hitting him. When he came back Wednesday against the Brewers, his fastball topped at 92 when it usually tops out at 96-97 so the arm is not 100% yet. Lastly, Joel Hanrahan has done a solid job. He is not being called upon to close the game as much as the team only won one of six total games thru the first homestand. Hanrahan is the only closer in the NL Central who has not yet blown a save and he just seems to have extra competitiveness when he squares off against the hitter. Hanrahan is showing the Pirates that the made the right decision when it came to who would close the game.