This ‘n’at …


Observations as we near the first homestand of the season:

&#149 Brian Bixler looks timid at the plate, on the bases and in the field. It’s not surprising, considering he’s a 25-year-old rookie who got an unexpected callup last weekend. Still, you’d like to see a little more aggression, especially in the batter’s box. Moments ago, he struck out with runners on the corners and one out and pitcher Ian Snell on deck. It was a great opportunity for his first RBI in the majors, yet Bixler never took one hard swing — he struck out on a checked swing.

&#149 Evan Meek could be getting ready to rev it up. Meek has been working with pitching coach Jeff Andrews on a revamped delivery. I’m not gonna go all seamhead on ya with the boring details; it has to do with Meek getting his hips a bit lower as he throws.

The alteration is designed to give Meek better control. At the moment, however, he’s struggling to get comfortable with it and doesn’t fully trust it. “When you see me get it back up to 97 mph, then you’ll know I’m close,” he told me. Thursday night, Meek blew a 97 mph heater past Derrek Lee.

He’s close.

&#149 Before today’s game, I asked manager John Russell if Tom Gorzelanny’s shoulder is healthy. Russell assured me everything is good to go. The lefty was overused last season, especially in the final few weeks. I would not be shocked if Gorzelanny needs to skip a start or two somewhere along the line this season.

&#149 Matt Morris, on the downward arc of his career, has to get it done with guile and guts. He showed plenty of both Thursday by going seven innings and giving the bullpen a breather. He won’t win 20 games … or 15, or maybe even 10 … this season, but he is teaching everyone else in the clubhouse — especially the 20somethings in the starting rotation — something about what it means to be a pitcher.


I jumped the gun


ATLANTA — I spoke (wrote, actually) too soon about Freddy Sanchez.

Just an inning or two after I posted an entry here saying Sanchez was due for a day off before his shoulder fatigued, Sanchez left the game as a precaution to rest his shoulder.

(That doesn’t make me a psychic. It just means I have a little common sense.)

I still think Sanchez could use a day off during the Marlins series. However, it will be tougher to keep him out of the lineup as long as shortstop Jack Wilson’s status is unclear. Wilson strained his calf while running to first base after a single, and is out indefinitely.

Wilson’s injury was set up by a collision at second base with Matt Diaz. Diaz was trying to break up what he thought was a double play attempt, and went out of his way to hook slide and take out Wilson’s legs.

Wilson said later there are no hard feelings because Diaz was trying to make a hard, clean play. Watch the replay, then believe that if you want.

&#149 The Pirates took two out of three games in their opening series against the Braves. It was nice to shut up those tomahawk-choppers. Still, the Pirates’ record at Turner Field is a measly 14-30.

&#149 Zach Duke looked pretty good, holding the Braves to three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings. Still, the lefty gave up 10 hits and a walk against 28 batters. Things could have been worse, if not for two outstanding defensive plays by center fielder Nate McLouth (I’ll write more about that in Saturday’s Trib …)

Easy does it


ATLANTA — Don’t be surprised if second baseman Freddy Sanchez gets a day off tomorrow or Saturday.

Sanchez’s bum shoulder still is causing him pain, and it was especially obvious moments ago when he made a lollipop toss to first base after fielding Martin Prado’s sharp grounder.

Sanchez already has adjusted his arm slot, throwing three-quarters (not quite sidearm) to make it less painful. But without rest, the should will quickly become fatigued and the inflammation may return.

“Nobody’s going to play every day,” manager John Russell said this afternoon.

From the look of things, Sanchez could use a break in the next day or two.