Post-game tidbits

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Here are some tibdits from the Pirates’ post-game interviews following the 3-0 victory over the Braves:

• The season is only two weeks old, but the Pirates’ team-ERA is now 2.90, the best in the major leagues as of 11 p.m. Friday night.

• Paul Maholm said his foot slipped during his ugly balk while facing Kelly Johnson in the eighth inning. The balk moved Jair Jurrjens to second base and came after a lengthy meeting between Braves manager Bobby Cox and the umpiring crew. There was no harm done. The pitch was a ball, so the count reverted to 2-2 and on the next pitch, Maholm got Johnson to ground out to end the inning.

“I was trying to quick pitch,” Maholm said. “My foot started to slip right before I started to pitch. I tried to throw it. It felt weird, it looked weird and, hopefully, I never do that again. It happened. Luckily it went back to 2-2 and I got the out.”

• Gold Glove center fielder Nate McLouth said his pretty diving catch in the second inning to rob Omar Infante of a base hit should have been more routine.

“I got a bad jump on it, which is why I had to dive,” he said. “It was one of those that ones that was right at me and kind of froze me a little bit. I shouldn’t have had to dive for it.”

Give the guy credit for being honest.

• Speaking of McLouth, he gets a prime view of Maholm from center field, and says it’s about time the 26-year-old starts getting mentioned with the best young left-handers in the majors.

“Being able to watch him from behind in center field, it’s amazing,” McLouth said. “He works in and out, lefties and righties. Not a lot of balls are hit hard on him. His location is amazing. He’s been amazing.”

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Pirates, Maholm win

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Paul Maholm pitched seven shutout innings and the Pirates held off the Braves, 3-0, on Friday night at PNC Park.

Maholm (2-0) struck out two and walked three, lowering his ERA to 0.87. Matt Capps pitched a scoreless ninth for his third save.

Jair Jurrjens (2-1), one of the top young right-handers in the NL, was just as impressive, allowing one earned run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked two while throwing a career-high 120 pitches.

Nate McLouth hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. The Pirates had gone ahead 1-0 in the second inning on Brandon Moss’ triple and Andy LaRoche’s grounder. It was the first RBI of the season for LaRoche, who finished 1 for 2 with a walk, a stolen base and a couple of slick defensive plays at third base.

The series resumes at 12:35 p.m. on Saturday, one of only two Saturday afternoon games at PNC Park this year.

John Grupp

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Delwyn Young arrives; Pirates make minor league trade

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• The Pirates have traded Triple-A infielder Andy Phillips, 32, to the Chicago White Sox for right-handed pitching prospect Michael Dubee. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Dubee, 23, the son of Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee, will report to Class A Lynchburg. He went 5-7 with a 4.37 ERA last season for high Single-A Winston-Salem last season. He was 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in two appearances this season at Winston-Salem.

• Utilityman Delwyn Young, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday for two players to be named (or cash considerations), arrived in Pittsburgh this morning and was in the clubhouse on Friday afternoon.

The 26-year-old Young, who will wear No. 48, is available to play tonight in the 7:05 game with the Atlanta Braves to open a three-game series at PNC Park. To make room for Young, the Pirates optioned infielder Luis Cruz, 24, to Triple-A Indianapolis. Young can play the corner outfield positions, as well as second base and third base.

“It’s all the same as long as you’re playing,” he said.

• Ryan Doumit is back in the starting lineup, batting clean-up against the Braves tonight after getting his first day off this season in Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the Astros.

Doumit, a career .341 hitter against the Braves, is one of the few Pirates in tonight’s starting lineup who has enjoyed success against the Braves. Jack Wilson is hitting .213 and Nate McLouth .211 vs. Atlanta, and Adam LaRoche is a lifetime .167 hitter against his former team.

Tonight’s starting lineups

Braves — 1. Kelly Johnson 2b, 2. Omar Infante ss, 3. Matt Diaz lf, 4. Brian McCann c, 5. Jeff Francoeur rf, 6. Martin Prado rf, 7. Casey Kotchman 1b, 8. Jordan Schafer cf, 9. RHP Jair Jurrjens (2-0, 2.45 ERA).

Pirates — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Brandon Moss lf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. LHP Paul Maholm (1-0, 1.32 ERA)

by John Grupp

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Karstens finds positives

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The results — four innings, three runs allowed and a no-decision — were not what Jeff Karstens hoped for today. But the righty did find some positives to take away from his performance in the Pirates’ 6-3 loss to the Astros.

“I had some success early,” Karstens said. “Just one bad pitch to (Hunter) Pence. Then the walks, but I was able to get out of it with minor damage.”

Pence hit a solo homer in the second inning. With two outs, Karstens issued back-to-back walks to Pudge Rodriguez and Jeff Keppinger, but he got out of the jam.

Another encouraging sign: Karstens is comfortable with his new, over-the-head delivery.

“It felt good,” he said. “It was a little different out of the stretch. But overall I think we’re going to stick with it and move on from this.”

• Scott Bacon, the media relations guy for Class A Lynchburg, provided this gem today in his game notes: In lefty Justin Wilson’s first start of the season, he allowed a second-inning, leadoff, solo home run to Chris Marrero of Potomac. Wednesday, in Wilson’s second start, he allowed a second-inning, leadoff, solo homer to Chris Marrero’s brother, Christian, who plays for Winston-Salem.

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Doumit gets a day off

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Ryan Doumit gets his first day off this afternoon. His absence dramatically changes the complexion of the Pirates’ lineup.

“Somebody should step up and carry the load,” manager John Russell said. “It’s the same when we give Adam (LaRoche) or Nate (McLouth) a day off. Somebody has to step up.”

Perhaps that somebody will be LaRoche, who has homered in back-to-back games and in three of the past four. Last season, LaRoche did not hit his third homer until game No. 32.

• The Double-A Altoona Curve has changed the starting times for two of its home games: April 22 vs. Reading will start at 5:05 p.m.; July 30 vs. Binghamton will start at 7:05 p.m.

• Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

ASTROS — 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Miguel Tejada ss, 3. Lance Berkman 1b, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Geoff Blum 3b, 7. Ivan Rodriguez c, 8. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 9. Russ Oritz rhp

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Jack Wilson ss, 3. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 4. Nate McLouth cf, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Brandon Moss rf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp.

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Wilson out with bruised finger

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Jack Wilson has been scratched from tonight’s lineup due to a bruised left middle finger.

He may have injured the finger during pre-game batting practice, which was held in the indoor cages. Wilson is expected to be back in the lineup tomorrow.

Ramon Vazquez will start at shortstop tonight against the Astros.

• Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus figures the Pirates have one of the toughest schedules in the majors this season. According to Jaffe’s strength-of schedule computations, the Pirates are tied with the Phillies and Padres for sixth-toughest schedule. The Marlins have the hardest road ahead of them, while the Cubs have it the easiest.

• First baseman Jason Delaney went on the seven-day disabled list at Triple-A Indianapolis. Second baseman Shelby Ford came off the DL and, last night, homered in his first game back.

• This summer, the Class A State College Spikes will have five “Going Green Tuesdays,” which feature eco-friendly giveaway items. Included are a reusable grocery bag (June 30) and a hemp cap (Aug. 11).

Revised lineups for tonight’s game:

ASTROS — 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Miguel Tejada ss, 3. Lance Berkman 1b, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Geoff Blum 3b, 7. Ivan Rodriguez c, 8. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 9. Mike Hampton lhp

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Craig Monroe rf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Ramon Vazquez ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf rhp.

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Young coming. Cruz going?

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The addition of switch-hitting outfielder Delwyn Young means the Pirates will have to make two sorts of roster moves. The first was revealed this afternoon, as pitcher Dave Davidson was dropped from the 40-man roster.

Because Young is out of minor league options, he must be added to the 25-man active roster. That will be resolved Friday, with the most likely scenario being infielder Luis Cruz heading back to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Cruz has not yet appeared in a game this season.

Young, 26, was acquired for two minor league players to be named later or cash considerations. He had elbow surgery in the offseason and was designated for assignment by the Dodgers after finishing a rehab stint.

• Right fielder Craig Monroe will make his first start of the season tonight against the Astros.

• The Pirates got minor league shortstop Chris Barnwell from the Astros for future considerations.

• The Pirates will have the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft. They also will get the final pick of the supplemental first round — that’s 49th overall — for failing to sign second-rounder Tanner Scheppers last year. The first three overall picks belong to, in order, the Nationals, the Mariners and the Padres.

• Lineups for today’s game:

ASTROS — TBA. 9. Mike Hampton lhp

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Craig Monroe rf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf rhp

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Confidence, sinker boost Duke

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Paul Maholm sees some subtle but important changes this year in fellow lefty Zach Duke.

“Just the confidence, the making-the-pitches,” Maholm said. “If he’s missing, he’s missing off the plate. He’s not leaving pitches over the middle. He’s mixing speeds. His sinker’s moving a bunch, and that’s huge.”

Duke seems to trust his sinker more this season than before, and the results — a 2-0 record and a 0.59 ERA — have been dramatic.

“We both learned it’s a good pitch for both of us,” Maholm said. “But we’ve also got to mix in the other pitches and change things up. Getting ahead against batters is a huge thing.”

Pirates pitches have turned in six quality starts in seven games. For that, Duke credited new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.

“It seems like our focus from the starting five has been outstanding,” Duke said. “We have a plan and we’re executing it. I think we’re doing some right things and we should stay on this track.”

• Outfielder Delwyn Young was designated for assignment by the Dodgers, meaning they have 10 days to release him, trade him or pass him through waivers. Don’t be stunned if Young winds up with the Pirates. Young was mentioned in the offseason trade talks involving Jack Wilson, and the Pirates scouted Young the past few days.

Young, 26, was the Dodgers fourth-round draft pick in 2002. He’s played a total of 110 games in the majors over the past three seasons and batted .267 with three homers, 10 RBI and a .331 on-base percentage.

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Big crowd finally sees a big win

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Too often, the Pirates have turned in some real clunkers when the stands at PNC Park were full.

Today’s home opener, a 7-0 spanking of the Astros in front of a sellout crowd of 38,411, was a refreshing change. The Pirates mashed 14 hits, including homers by Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche, which brought the joint to life. Zach Duke was electrifying, spinning a complete-game four-hitter.

“It was great, in front of a crowd like this, to have a good performance like this as a whole team, to play as crisply and sharply as we did,” Duke said. “I’m just happy they can see the type of baseball we’re playing. It’s a good brand of baseball.”

Another good sign was the business-as-usual mood in the postgame clubhouse. The music wasn’t any louder than usual. No champagne was opened.

“You don’t see anybody in here surprised that we won today,” LaRoche said. “You don’t see anyone in here happy that we came home from the road trip (3-3). Yeah, it was a solid road trip, but I think we could have done better. Nobody’s satisfied. Nobody thinks this is a fluke and we can’t keep it going.”

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