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Pride, passion … and pitching

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CINCINNATI — When the Pirates hired Jeff Andrews as pitching coach, I said it might be the most important offseason move the team made — bigger than bringing in John Russell, more crucial than any free-agent signing they made or could have made.

The consensus about Andrews was that his familiarity with most of the Pirates’ starting rotation — he mentored Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm in the minors — was a great thing. Familiarity leads to easy communication which leads to success.

At least, you would think.

However, of those four pitchers, only Duke has made significant progress this season. Snell and Gorzelanny appear to have taken huge steps back.

I talked with Andrews before and after last night’s game against the Reds, trying to get a read on what is wrong with the top two starters. As you can expect, Andrews was far more agitated after the game — Gorzelanny lasted just two-thirds of an inning and gave up six runs.

I get the sense that it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy.

“We’ve tossed too many (bad games) aside,” Andrews said. “That may be part of the problem. Too many, ‘Oh, well, we’ll get ‘em next time.’ We as a pitching staff don’t put enough pressure on ourselves to do what we need to do.

“You hear people say, ‘They’re putting too much pressure on themselves. Too much pressure.’ Well, maybe we’re not putting enough.”

Andrews is not going to attack and alter his pitchers’ mechanics. He’s not going to make them run extra laps or take away their postgame meal. But he is going to question their pride. That’s still something that remains priceless, even in an era when an average player makes more than $1 million a year.

One other side note: Andrews indicated the pitchers are nibbling too much, especially early in the count, starting on the edge of the plate and working outward. He wouldn’t say it aloud — nor will any of the pitchers — but it’s an indication the pitching staff is alarmed by the Pirates’ porous defense.

Freddy Sanchez made a nice relay throw to the plate the other night, but his shoulder still is not 100 percent. Jack Wilson finally got off the DL Tuesday, ending a run of stone-handed fill-ins at shortstop. Overall, the Pirates are the second-worst fielding team in the majors.

If the pitchers don’t trust their defense … and maybe not even themselves … who can they trust?
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