Final day


SAN DIEGO — Last game of the season … not on TV back home … players sitting around the clubhouse, exchanging cell phone numbers and checking their fantasy football lineups … and although no one’s saying it, everyone’s wondering who’ll still be around next year.

Should be a busy offseason.

Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — McLouth CF, Sanchez 2B, Michaels LF, Adam LaRoche 1B, Michaels LF, Pearce RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Chavez C, Cruz SS, Ohlendorf (0-3, 7.50) RHP

PADRES — Venable CF, Rodriguez SS, Giles RF, Adrian Gonzalez 1B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Headley LF, Hundley C, Antonelli 2B, Baek (6-9, 4.72) RHP


Watching waistlines


SAN DIEGO — The Pirates plan on keeping a closer eye on their players’ waistlines this winter.

Management will clamp down on offseason conditioning programs so the players arrive at spring training in better shape. Huntington said that will mean more face-to-face meetings and stricter checkups.

“We have to be more proactive,” Huntington said. “We want to treat them like men, but they need to earn that trust. This offseason, there’s going to be a lot more communication.

“We’re going to be a lot more involved in their offseason programs than maybe (management) has been in the past, because of a couple bad examples.”

Closer Matt Capps and left-hander Tom Gorzelanny both admitted that poor conditioning likely contributed to their performance problems this season.

Huntington did not single out any particular players for criticism. However, he did offer some praise.

“If you want to see what happens when you take care of yourself in the offseason, look at Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit,” Huntington said. “Those are three pretty strong models of success.”

Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — McLouth CF, Sanchez 2B, Doumit C, Adam LaRoche 1B, Michaels LF, Pearce RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Cruz SS, Barthmaier (0-1, 15.19) RHP

PADRES — Venable CF, Rodriguez SS, Giles RF, Adrian Gonzalez 1B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Headley LF, Edgar Gonzalez 2B, Hundley C, Young (6-6, 4.11) RHP


God bless us, everyone


SAN DIEGO — If you’re still reading this … well, God bless you. Three games left in another lost season, and it ends with a titanic clash of the Pirates and Padres. No TV back in Pittsburgh, so maybe many of you will instead tune into the presidential debate. (I’m sure my long-suffering Pirates fan Mort Davis in Centre County will be rooting on John McCain.)

– The season ended three days early for outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who strained his left hamstring last night in Milwaukee. Morgan is done for the year, though his status for winter ball in Mexico remains up in the air. “We don’t want him to go down there if he’s not physically ready,” manager John Russell said.

Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — McLouth CF, Sanchez 2B, Doumit C, Adam LaRoche 1B, Michaels LF, Pearce RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Cruz SS, Snell (6-12, 5.54) RHP

PADRES — Venable CF, Rodriguez SS, Giles RF, Gonzalez 1B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Headley LF, Hundley C, Antonelli 2B, Geer (2-1, 2.86) RHP


Moss will have surgery next Friday


MILWAUKEE — After getting a second opinion Thursday afternoon from Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., outfielder Brandon Moss opted to undergo microfracture surgery.

Steadman will perform the procedure next Friday. The extent of the damage to Moss’ knee — he has a divot on the bone — won’t be fully known until Steadman does the surgery. Rehab can take anywhere from four to eight months.

“(The injury) was caught early,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We’re optimistic Brandon will be back on the field early next spring.”

Moss initially had resisted the notion of surgery because of the potentially long rehab process.

Moss will return to Pittsburgh on Friday to gather his belongings, then spend a few days at home in Atlanta.

Left fielder Nyjer Morgan tweaked his left hamstring in the first inning of tonight’s 5-1 loss against the Brewers. Morgan was still sore after the game, and there is a good chance he’ll sit out the final three games of the season.


Hello, stranger


MILWAUKEE — Hello … Ronny Paulino?

The former first-string catcher tonight will make his first start for the Pirates since May 31. Paulino was used the next day as a pinch-hitter, then was sent down to Triple-A, where he spent a good chunk of time on the disabled list with ankle problems.

Paulino is hitless in three pinch-hit at-bats since being recalled Sept. 1 when rosters expanded. He hasn’t even been used as a warmup catcher for the pitcher on those occasions when the starting catcher is getting his gear back on after batting.

The entire bottom half of the Pirates’ lineup today won’t cause Brewers right-hander Yovany Gallardo to tremble in his first start back from knee surgery. Steve Pearce is batting .228, Andy LaRoche .167, Paulino .212 and Brian Bixler .160.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

PIRATES — Morgan LF, Sanchez 2B, McLouth CF, Adam LaRoche 1B, Pearce RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Paulino C, Bixler SS, Duke (5-14, 4.96) LHP

BREWERS — Cameron CF, Hall 3B, Braun LF, Fielder 1B, Hardy CF, Hart RF, Weeks 2B, Kendall C, Gollardo (0-0, 1.80) RHP


Alvarez’s next stop: Bradenton


MILWAUKEE — More than a month after saying “I do,” Pedro Alvarez finally went to the altar with the Pirates.

Alvarez, the team’s first-round draft pick, on Wednesday signed a four-year, major league contract with a guaranteed $6.355 million payout.

The deal includes a $6 million signing bonus, the same amount Alvarez verbally agreed to Aug. 15. The package could eventually be worth nearly $8 million, depending upon how quickly the hard-hitting third baseman rises to the major leagues.

Alvarez will report this weekend to the Pirates’ instructional league camp in Bradenton, Fla. The rosters for the Arizona Fall League are set, but the Pirates still might consider sending Alvarez to the Hawaii Winter League.

If winter ball is not an option, Alvarez will shut it down until it’s time to report to spring training — with the veterans and others on the 40-man roster — in mid-February. He almost certainly will open the 2009 season in Class A but could be in Double-A by July if things go well.

“I’m just here to play baseball,” Alvarez said. “I want to be the best player I can be, and I’ll work my hardest for the fans in Pittsburgh.”

After a six-week holdout that wound up netting Alvarez a better financial deal, many Pirates fans are sympathetic to Alvarez.

“I want the fans to judge me as the professional player that I am now,” Alvarez said. “Judge me on the field. I will work hardest to be a leader on and off the field and in the community.”

To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Alvarez, lefty Tom Gorzelanny was placed on the 60-day disabled list. Gorzelanny sprained a ligament in his middle finger, but will not need surgery.

The Pirates must reinstate Gorzelanny and Phil Dumatrait (shoulder) onto the 40-man roster after the end of the World Series. That shouldn’t be too difficult a task for GM Neal Huntington.


Alvarez deal nearly done


MILWAUKEE — About 20 minutes ago, Major League Baseball and the Players Association announced an agreement that resolved the dispute regarding the status of Pirates first-round draft pick Pedro Alvarez.

Alvarez, who was the second overall choice in the June 5 draft, has been freed to being his playing career and was removed from the restricted list.

Alvarez is in Pittsburgh today, presumably to undergo a physical and sign his contract. The Pirates plan to send him first to the Instructional League in Bradenton, Fla., then might assign him to the Arizona Fall League.

The agreement between MLB and the union also clarifies the rules regarding the Aug. 15 signing deadline for draft picks. In the future, deadline extensions must be approved by the Players Association in addition to MLB.

“We fully support and welcome the changes to the manner in which the August 15 deadline will be administered,” MLB executive vice president of labor relations Rob Manfred said in a prepared statement. “We believe that the changes will result in a cleaner and more consistent application of the deadline which is in the best interests of both Clubs and players.”

GM Neal Huntington has joined the club here in Milwaukee, and may have an announcement regarding Alvarez with the next hour or so. Stay tuned.

– Brandon Moss’ knee injury, which could keep him out of action for six to eight months (if surgery is necessary), took him — and the Pirates — by surprise.

Moss admits he had felt pain in his left knee earlier this season, but told the Boston Red Sox, his employers at the time, that he’d get it checked out after the end of the season. An MRI exam was performed Monday, and turned up what appears to be a divot on the bone. The team doctor already has recommended surgery and Moss will get a second opinion later this week from a specialist in Colorado.

If Moss has the operation and all goes exceptionally well with his rehab, he would be slowed at the start of spring training. In a worst-case scenario, he would be out of action until a few weeks into the season.

There is absolutely nothing that would indicate the Red Sox knew they were passing along damaged good when they traded Moss to the Pirates as part of the Jason Bay swap. But it’s still a bad break for the Pirates.

It’s not the first time the Pirates have gotten a player in a big trade, only to see him quickly go down with an injury.

In July 2003, the Red Sox traded reliever Brandon Lyon to the Pirates. But when Lyon arrived, a physical turned up a frayed elbow ligament. This story had a happy ending, though. After the Pirates demanded the deal be re-worked, they sent Lyon back to Boston and got Freddy Sanchez.

Three days after he was sent from San Francisco to Pittsburgh in 2001, outfielder Armando Rios blew out his ACL. Before the trade, there had been reports of Rios having knee pain.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

PIRATES — Morgan LF, Sanchez 2B, Doumit C, Michaels LF, Adam LaRoche 1B, Pearce RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Cruz SS, Maholm (9-8, 3.68) LHP

BREWERS — Cameron CF, Hall 3B, Braun LF, Fielder 1B, Hardy CF, Hart RF, Weeks 2B, Kendall C, Sabathia (9-2, 1.81) LHP


Moss done for year — maybe much longer


MILWAUKEE — Outfielder Brandon Moss will miss the rest of the season — and perhaps as much as the next eight months — with a knee problem.

Monday, Moss had an MRI in Pittsburgh. Dr. Patrick DeMeo, the team doctor, told Moss a divot is forming in the bone of his left knee. DeMeo recommended surgery, which would mean two months on crutches and another four to six months of rehab.

“The results that came back caught me off guard,” Moss said. “It hasn’t bothered me since June, when I was playing for the Red Sox in Tampa.”

Moss will return to Pittsburgh tomorrow to confer again with DeMeo, then go to Vail, Colo., to get a second opinion form orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman.

– Adam LaRoche’s sore hamstring is better, but manager John Russell gave him today off anyway. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to finish the season,” Russell said. “The extra day off should really help.”

– The arbitration hearing today for the union’s grievance against MLB was postponed, as the Pirates continue to hammer out the details of their revised contract with Pedro Alvarez.

GM Neal Huntington will join up with the team here tomorrow and make the rest of the season-ending road trip. The Alvarez situation should be in much sharper focus by the time he gets here.

The amount of Alvarez’s signing bonus — $6 million — will not change. However, the Pirates now will pay it in four installments of $1.5 million each, the first on Dec. 24, then three more annually beginning June 15, 2009. Previously, Alvarez was to be paid in two chunks, with both coming in a three-month span.

– The Brewers, in the thick of the wild card chase, still have not set their starting pitchers for Thursday’s games. CC Sabathia will pitch tomorrow on three days’ rest. Ben Sheets is expected to go Thursday.

– The San Diego Padres out not in any kind of playoff hunt, but they also have listed TBA for their starters this weekend. The Pirates will go with Ian Snell, Jimmy Barthmaier and Ross Ohlendorf in the season finale.

Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — Morgan LF, Sanchez 2B, McLouth CF, Doumit C, Mientkiewicz 1B, Pearce RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Cruz SS, Karstens (2-6, 4.37) RHP

BREWERS — Cameron CF, Durham 2B, Braun LF, Fielder 1B, Hardy CF, Hart RF, Counsell 3B, Kendall C, Bush (9-10, 4.22) RHP


Negrych buys into the plan


Jim Negrych was a home run-hitter during his career at Pitt. In the pros, however, he is a doubles hitter. Coming to grips with that — and embracing it — allowed him to blossom this year in the Pirates’ minor league system.

“It was a matter of getting my swing fine-tuned, compared to the year before,” Negrych said. “It was understanding what type of hitter I am, because it’s such a drastic change from what I was in college. I’m going to the plate with the mentality of, instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park., I’m just trying to put it in play.”

Negrych’s .359 batting average was fifth-best in all of the minor leagues this year. He also ranked fifth in on-base percentage (.438), ninth in hits (170) and 12th in doubles (41). Negrych finished the season with Double-A Altoona.

“In the future, if things don’t work out, I’m sure I’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, that was a pretty good year,’ ” Negrych said. “I went from hitting .280 last year and being hurt all the time to hitting .360 and feeling good all the time.”

Last year, Negrych was too aggressive with his swing, trying to hack everything out of the yard. This year, he calmed down at the plate and his swing was smoother.

“It’s the same thing my coach at Pitt preached at me, the same thing they preached at me in my first year in pro ball,” Negrych said. “It just took me a little while to get it and change it. I finally bought into the plan.”

This afternoon, Negrych will be honored as the Pirates’ minor league player of the year. He flew in last night from Bradenton, Fla., and will go back tonight to continue his Instructional League training. In a few weeks, he’ll compete in the Hawaii Winter League.

Rough life, huh? Negrych is eating up all the attention, though he was bummed about getting into Pittsburgh too late to see Pitt’s 21-20 victory against Iowa and will miss seeing the Buffalo Bills’ game on TV because of the return flight.

Lineups for today’s game:

ASTROS — Bourn CF, Loretta 2B, Tejada SS, Berkman 1B, Blum 3B, Pence RF, Wiggington LF, Ausmus C, Oswalt (15-10, 3.57) RHP

PIRATES — Morgan LF, Sanchez 2B, McLouth CF, Doumit C, Adam LaRoche 1B, Moss RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Cruz SS, Ohlendorf (0-2, 7.62) RHP


One for the other thumb?


Lefty Paul Maholm (9-9) is on track to make a career-high 31 starts, but still has one fewer victory than he finished with last season. His final start of the year come be Wednesday in Milwaukee against the Brewers.

Maholm said reaching 10 victories, which would match his total last season, would not have any special significance.

“It would be nice, but it’s not the main thing,” Maholm said. “(What counts) is giving quality innings and giving the team a chance to win.”

Lineups for today’s game:

ASTROS — Matsui 2B, Bourn CF, Tejada SS, Berkman 1B, Blum 3B, Pence RF, Wiggington LF, Quintero C, Moehler (11-7, 4.33) RHP

PIRATES — Morgan LF, Sanchez 2B, McLouth CF, Doumit C, Adam LaRoche 1B, Moss RF, Andy LaRoche 3B, Cruz SS, Barthmaier (0-1, 27.00) RHP