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Almost a storybook finish

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HOUSTON — Observations from the first two days of the season:

&#149 Monday, in the season opener, Mt. Lebanon native Don Kelly had a chance to make his major league debut truly memorable. With two outs, two on and the scored tied at 2 in the ninth, Kelly pinch-hit against Astros closer Brad Lidge.

It was a gutsy at-bat. Kelly hit a laser down the first-base line, just inches foul. “I thought I had it,” Kelly said.

Kelly worked the count full, then hit a looper into shallow left field that wasn’t … quite … far … enough. Shortstop Adam Everett snagged it on the run to end the inning.

&#149 Chris Duffy deserves wild applause for his throw from center field that nailed Chris Burke at the plate Monday. But do not overlook the role catcher Ronny Paulino had in the play.

Paulino might have been tempted to scoot out and snag the ball an instant or two sooner, but that would have taken him out of position. Instead, he stood his ground and blocked off the plate with his left leg. Burke had to adjust his slide, and Paulino was quick with the tag.

Think Jason Kendall would have made the same decision and gotten the same result? Me neither.

&#149 The group of outfielders at Class AAA Indianapolis includes Rajai Davis, Nyjer Morgan, Luis Matos, Chris Aguila and Michael Ryan. If Andrew McCutchen gets off to a hot start at Class AA Altoona, it won’t be difficult to find him a spot in Indy’s outfield.

&#149 So now Brad Lincoln joins the Pirates’ not-so-exclusive “Tommy John” Club. Lincoln, a right-hander who was drafted fourth overall last summer, will be sidelined for about a year, then will try to work his way back into shape during the 2008 season.

Before his injury, Lincoln’s likely ETA in Pittsburgh was 2009. Now, who knows? Sean Burnett, who had surgery in September 2004, is just now regaining his form.

You can’t blame this rash of arm/elbow/shoulder injuries on Pirates managerment. If anything, the team is uber-cautious with its prodigies — keeping strict pitch counts in the minor leagues and monitoring their outings in fall and winter leagues. Arm injuries happen. It’s the nature of the beast. Any pitcher could be a “Tommy John” victim in waiting — I’m talking to you Chris Carpenter.

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