Take that!

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CINCINNATI — Another reason I love Ian Snell as a pitcher:

In the top of the fifth inning today, Pirates catcher Humberto Cota was hit on the arm by a pitch from Reds righty Kyle Lohse. In the bottom of the inning, with the bottom of the Reds’ order coming up, the first batter was Alex Gonzalez.

Plunk!

Intentional? Oh, of course not. (wink wink) But maybe Loshe will be more careful the next time he pitches to Snell’s catcher.

There was a downside, though. Gonzalez was on base when David Ross, the Reds’ No. 8 batter, homered to left field. That gave Cincy a 2-0 lead.

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Let’s get trashed!

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ST. LOUIS — I think Joe Paterno is on to something.

As punishment for a recent late-night brawl which involved a few players, Paterno will make the entire team clean up the trash at Beaver Stadium after every home game this season. Considering the Nittany Lions draw 110,000 for every game, that’s a lot of discarded cups and hot dog wrappers to gather.

Now, the Pirates have not gone on any midnight escapades (at least, none involving the police). But the way they blew a 7-1 lead Saturday against Arizona was damn near criminal. So, maybe everyone — including manager Jim Tracy — should have been issued one of those nuclear-powered leaf blowers the clean-up crews use at PNC Park.

Do that, and I betcha we would have seen some serious hittin’ the next day against Randy Johnson.

Then again, considering the size of some of the crowds at PNC Park this season — the Pirates are averaging barely 19,000 — it might not be much of a punishment. How much trash can there be, if the stadium’s half-empty? (Hmm … in that case, I don’t suppose Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt will be taking a cue from Paterno, either.)

Now, about that Saturday game against Arizona …

In the fifth inning, the Pirates were up 7-2 when Xavier Nady reached third base with one out. Pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, who had struggled in the previous inning, was due up.

I figured Gorzelanny was done. A team that’s struggled much of the season at the plate has got to try to pile on every run it can, right? Wrong.

Tracy opted not to use a pinch-hitter. Gorzelanny struck out. Nady was stranded at third. Gorzelanny pitched the sixth inning, then, turned the game over to the bullpen.

After Gozelanny’s whiff, I turned to Trib columnist Joe Starkey and said, “You watch, Joe. That’s gonna bite them. They’re gonna lose this game by a run.”

Why not burn some bullpen? Gorzelanny already was closing in on 100 pitches, and had lost his edge. At most, he was going to give them one more inning. Monday was an off day, so there was plenty of time for the relievers to rest up. Worst-case scenario: Tony Armas, who tossed just three innings in his final start two days before, makes a brief appearance.

It will be interesting to watch Tracy’s managerial decisions over the next few days, in the wake of the snafus against the Diamondbacks. No one in the clubhouse or front office has admitted — out loud, that is — that brining in Marty McLeary to pitch to Tony Clark was a gigantic mistake. However, there was a non-verbal admission of guilt the next day, when McLeary was demoted to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Good enough to pitch with the game on the line one day, not even good enough to play in the majors the next.

No to play Tuesday Night Quarterback or anything, but here’s an idea: Why not use Salomon Torres in that spot. As the closer, Torres is the guy the Pirates turn to when they absolutely, positively must have an out when the game’s on the line. Well, the game was on the line when Clark pinch-hit in the seventh inning.

McLeary gave up a game-tying grand slam. I’m guessing things might have gone differently with Torres on the hill.

This is not the 1927 Yankees. Sometimes, it wouldn’t hurt to think outside the box — I’m talking, a completely different zip code — when formulating strategy.

Otherwise, the Pirates might keep getting trashed.
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Pitching problems

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PITTSBURGH — Who will be the Pirates’ new No. 5 starter?

Shawn Chacon would seem to be a good bet. He pitched just as well as Tony Armas did in spring training. But Chacon “lost” the battle for the spot because Armas did nothing in the spring to lose the job he was signed to do. The regular season, however, has been a far different story.

Armas has been terrible. He got seven starts and put up a 8.46 ERA in 27.2 innings. Chacon has been better than most folks expected in the long relief role, with a 1-0 record and a 2.84 ERA in 15 appearances (31.2 innings).

Chacon has plenty of experience as a starter and went 11-8 with a 4.60 ERA for Colorado in 2003.

Yet, Pirates manager Jim Tracy is reluctant to take Chacon out of the bullpen when he’s doing so well there. Chacon’s importance to the ‘pen is underscored by the impending suspension of setup guy Matt Capps, who is waiting for Major League Baseball to hear his appeal.

That could mean Marty McLeary will get the starter’s job.

Good luck with that. McLeary lugged a 7.36 ERA into tonight’s game against Arizona … and moments ago served up a game-tying grand slam to Tony Clark.

If Tracy really is intent on keeping Chacon in the bullpen, it might be best to give John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington or Sean Burnett a promotion from Class AAA Indianapolis.

The next six weeks of the season are crucial, if the Pirates have any hope of staying in the hunt in a watered-down NL Central. The pitching staff has to be sorted out, pronto.
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Hey, batter, batter!

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CHICAGO — You’re probably tired of reading about the Pirates’ lack of run production. I’m tired of writing about it. Yet, there it remains — the most frustrating aspect of this season so far.

“It’s the one thing right now that is holding our ballclub back,” manager Jim Tracy said today. So let’s get into it.

Please, stop with the e-mails demanding Adam LaRoche’s immediate demotion to Class AAA Indy. The guy’s got a three-year track record. He’ll come around.

And, yes, I agree that Ryan Doumit should be in the lineup every day, especially while he’s riding this hot streak. But you have to be careful how you do it. I generally like Tracy’s approach — take some time from Ronny Paulino, a bit from Xavier Nady and a smidge from LaRoche. A four-man rotation, with the hottest guy at the time being the constant.

I really like the move of Jose Bautista into the two spot, so long as he can keep his strikeout rate down and show some patience at the plate. I might even be willing to consider Doumit there (although the 3-to-1 K/BB ratio is yucky), once LaRoche gets his groove back.

Tracy shook up the lineup today, and it paid off with a win against the Cubbies. Consider, though, that nearly all the production came from the top four hitters. That won’t happen every night.

After the game, Tracy would not commit to using the same revamped lineup Friday against Atlanta. My guess is you’ll see some version of it, depending upon where Doumit plays.


One of my biggest pet peeves about traveling — there are not nearly enough electrical outlets in airports, especially major airports.

I had to wander around O’Hare for a half-hour until I found a free spot to set up, plug in my laptop and get some work done. With everyone today carrying either a laptop, digital music player, mobile phone or other device that needs plugged in at some point, it’s ridiculous not to have more outlets.

Oh, and comfy chairs, too.
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Two-fer Tuesday

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CHICAGO — Two leftover thoughts that did not make it into my story in today’s Tribune-Review about the No. 2 spot in the batting order:

&#149 Tracy said it sometimes is better to bat a talented young player second rather than eighth. That’s what Tampa Bay seems to be doing by using rookie Elijah Dukes, an outfielder with a bit of power, in the two spot.

“It’s hell to develop a young kid as a hitter by hitting him eighth,” Tracy said. “Because look at what (pitches) he’s going to get. With two outs and first base open, they want your pitcher to lead off the following inning, he’s going to get everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him.”

&#149 Former Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock, who was an outstanding hitter back in the day, said the evolution of No. 2 hitters — indeed, the way the entire lineup is skewed these days — is because chicks dig the long ball.

“That’s the whole thing,” Madlock told me. “That way, they can put together quick runs. It’s not as balanced. There’s a lot of free swinging. When I was playing, you wanted a fast guy, then a guy who will take pitches — not a guy like (Adam) Dunn.

The Cubs have (Alfonso) Soriano leading off. That might be 200 strikeouts. They don’t care, as long as they get home runs. The Cubs will have the first baseman, third baseman, left fielder, right fielder … they’ll probably have six guys in that lineup strike out 100 times each.”

A correction: In my entry from a few days back about the dear, departed GWRBI, I said Tracy lost out on the player of the week award to Gary Carter. In fact, it was Atlanta’s Bob Horner who won that week. My bad.

Wrigley Field would be a much finer place — and it already is damn near Baseball Nirvana — if only it had a press box elevator.
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Remember the GWRBI?

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MILWAUKEE — During a discussion about holds and other changing stats in baseball this afternoon in Jim Tracy’s office at Miller Park, someone mentioned the GWRBI, which was boxscore lingo for game-winning run batted in. GWRBI was an official stat from 1980-88, but was discontinued because it was awkward and kind of a cheap stat.

A GWRBI was awarded to a player who drove in a run which gave his team a lead it never relinquished. For example, Whiffer McStrike bloops a run-scoring single in the first inning to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. He pulls his hammy running to first base and leaves the game. In the eighth inning, Joe Blow hits a grand slam to make it 17-11. The Pirates never trail or are tied, and win 17-16. Was Whiffer’s RBI really the game-winner? According to the stat book back in the ’80s, it would’ve been.

Like I said, a dumb stat.

“One of my home runs, as a matter of fact, was a … what’d you call it?” Tracy said.

GWRBI.

On Sept. 27, 1980, Tracy, then a rookie with the Chicago Cubs, homered in the seventh inning at Wrigley Field off Pirates pitcher Jim Bibby. The ball landed in the wire mesh along the top of the outfield wall.

“Bibby was going for his 20th win that day, and we beat him 1-0,” Tracy said. “It was against the wind. It hit it the other way. A tisket, a tasket, I hit one in the basket.”

It was the third — and final — home run of Tracy’s brief career in the majors. He played in 87 games for the Cubs in 1980 and ’81, and batted .249 (46 for 185) with 14 RBI.

This is wild: all three of Tracy’s homers came in a span of seven days. He went deep against the Phillies’ Dick Ruthven on Sept. 21, the Expos’ Bill Gullickson on Sept. 25 and Bibby.

“I was nominated for National League player of the week,” Tracy said, smiling. “I lost out to (Expos catcher Gary) Carter.”
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