Russell gets feisty

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

It is just me, or is manager John Russell a bit feistier these days?

Sunday afternoon, the Pirates’ skipper was ejected in the eighth inning after disputing the call by first base umpire Bill Hohn on Russell Branyan’s double. Russell argued the ball was foul; a video replay seemed to show the ball landed on the line just beyond first base.

After Russell came onto the field, the four umpires briefly huddled, apparently discussing Hohn’s call. When that meeting broke up, Russell started back toward the dugout. Russell paused and said something to home plate umpire Paul Emmel, who immediately gave Russell the hook.

It was the fourth time in his career — and second time in a span of 27 games this season — Russell had been tossed.

Thursday night, Russell ran onto the field to argue when Andrew McCutchen was called out on a close play — replays indicated McCutchen beat the throw — at first base.

»»» Russell’s fireworks generated applause from the crowd of 29,845. They cheered again when reliever Brendan Donnelly got out of the jam without allowing a run.

Branyan’s double gave the Indians runners on second and third with none out and the score tied, 3-3. Donnelly got Jhonny Peralta to fly out to shallow center and Anderson Hernandez to ground out.

Jason Donald worked a full count, then grounded to short. After being called out emphatically by Hohn on a bang-bang play, Donald jumped into the air, hollered and threw his batting gloves onto the dirt. The first base coach guided Donald back to the dugout, ending the outburst before there was another ejection.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Kratz a dirty player?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Triple-A Indianapolis scored six runs in the 10th inning last night to upend Buffalo, 9-3. There was a flare-up in the final inning between Indy’s Erik Kratz and Buffalo catcher Josh Thole. The two exchanged words as Kratz scored, and they had to be separated by the umpire.

Indy’s clubhouse has gotta be buzzing this morning after seeing these comments by Buffalo manager Ken Oberkfell, who accused Kratz of throwing an elbow at Thole as Kratz beat the throw to the plate to score the go-ahead run: “It’s uncalled for and there’s no reason for that in baseball, considering (Kratz) did the same thing to Jason (Pridle) in Indianapolis, blocking the plate for no reason. There’s no rooom for that in this game. If you’re going to be a dirty player, you don’t need to be playing.”

The teams play again a 1:05 p.m. today.

»»» Evan Meek’s 0.68 ERA is the lowest by a Pirates reliever at this point of the season since Bill Landrum had a 0.50 ERA on Aug. 3, 1989.

»»» Garrett Jones last night extended his hitting streak to 10 games, matching his career-best mark set in 2009. It’s the second-longest active streak in the NL, behind the Mets’ Jose Reyes (11 games). During his binge, Jones has gone 15 for 38 (.395) with eight RBI.

»»» The Pirates are 4-0 at home this season when the crowd is 30,000-plus. Last year, they went 7-2 at PNC Park with more than 30,000 fans showed up.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Indians (26-41) – 1. Trevor Crowe cf, 2. Shin-Soo Choo rf, 3. Carlos Santana c, 4. Austin Kearns lf, 5. Russel Branyan 1b, 6. Jhonny Peralta 3b, 7. Anderson Hernandez ss, 8. Jason Donald 2b, 9. Justin Masterson (2-6, 5.02) rhp

Pirates (24-44) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Bobby Crosby ss, 9. Brad Lincoln (0-1, 7.50) rhp

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Nutting: ‘I’m just flat-out angry’

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Principal owner Bob Nutting on Friday said the Pirates’ performance and record this season are “totally unacceptable and incredibly frustrating,” but did not sound ready to make wholesale changes with either the coaches or in the front office.

“I’m just flat-out angry with the results,” Nutting said during an interview with the Tribune-Review. “But I really do believe the course we are on will get this franchise turned around.

“The pieces that have been put in place are the right pieces. The people who are doing it are the right people. We are not going to abandon ship at this point.”

Nutting’s comments came a day after president Frank Coonelly revealed GM Neal Huntington and manager John Russell were given contract extensions last October. Russell and Huntington are contracted to the team through the 2011 season.

The Pirates have lost 11 straight games and take a 23-43 record — the lowest in the National League and second-worst in the majors — into tonight’s game against the Cleveland Indians.

“Frankly, I expected the team to play better,” Nutting said. “Boy, I wish we’d never hit this stretch. But, also, the plan that has been put in place is beginning to show results.”

As he reiterated that the franchise is not for sale, Nutting pointed to the recent arrivals of highly touted rookies such as Pedro Alvarez, Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata as reasons for hope.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Indians (25-40) – 1. Trevor Crowe cf, 2. Shin-Soo Choo rf, 3. Carlos Santana c, 4. Austin Kearns lf, 5. Jhonny Peralta 3b, 6. Shelly Duncan 1b, 7. Anderson Hernandez ss, 8. Jason Donald 2b, 9. Fausto Carmona (5-5, 3.23) rhp

Pirates (23-43) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Church rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm (4-4, 3.63) lhp

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Contract eases JR’s mind

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A few days ago, Andrew McCutchen asked John Russell for advice about where to settle in Pittsburgh. At least Russell knows it won’t be his own house that’s on the market when McCutchen goes looking.

Thursday, the Pirates revealed they’d picked up the option on Russell’s contract for 2011. GM Neal Huntington also was extended through next season.

“We know (Russell) is going to be our skipper for now,” McCutchen said. “That’s one less thing we have to worry about. It’s good to have him here.”

The decision to extend Russell into what will be his fourth year was made in October, not long after the Pirates wrapped up their 17th straight losing season.

Russell and other team officials were under strict orders from team prez Frank Coonelly not to talk about contract matters. It wasn’t until last week — after FoxSports.com reported Russell might be fired — that Coonelly ‘fessed up.

“The contract is nice, but it still doesn’t deter what we have to do as an organization in order to get this turned around,” Russell said. “It’s a challenge, but we’re very much up to it.”

Russell tried to downplay the news about his contract. But his smiling, relaxed mood was a stark contrast to his edgy, anxious tone two days ago — the same day the FoxSports.com story broke.

Russell was so upbeat tonight that he even stormed onto the field during that night’s game to argue a call. Undoubtedly, some fans found that a refreshing change. The players know otherwise.

“He’s a laid-back guy, but he’s got that fire and drive,” first baseman Garrett Jones said. “He wants to win. You can feel it.

“When we have meetings in here, he gets fired up. He fires the team up with speeches and things. Sometimes he doesn’t always show it on the field, but he definitely has the persona and the drive to win.”

Pitcher Paul Maholm said Russell’s extension would “ease some guys’ minds” in the clubhouse. But, he added, there’s a better tonic for that than a new contract for the manager.

“It provides stability,” Maholm said. “(The players) like to know who’s going to be here. But it’s our job to go out on the field and win. That takes care of everything, if we play like we’re supposed to and win.”

• I got an e-mail this morning from Judy Templeton, a longtime fan in Warren, Pa. Her view echoes that of many Pirates fans:

“Why are the men in (front) office so high on John Russell? It puzzles me. I realize that he can’t play the game for the men on the field, and the fans only see him from afar, but I have never felt any ‘spark’ or enthusiasm from this man. My dream is to entice Jim Leyland back to the ‘Burgh to finish his career. He was always a guy with ‘fire’ for the team and the game, and a no-nonsense leader.”

Ms. Templeton’s logic seemed OK until I reached the middle of her message, when she said too much pressure is being placed on newbie Pedro Alvarez:

“The expectations have been very unrealistic and unfair. It’s crazy to believe that any one person can raise this team from the depths it finds itself in now.”

That raises an interesting question: If no single player can resurrect the Pirates, how can a single manager — whether he be fiery, dull, loud-mouthed or quiet — be expected to do it?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Huntington, Russell extended to 2011

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Team prez Frank Coonelly just issued this statement via e-mail:

“As you know, we have respectfully declined to discuss publicly the contract status of our non-player personnel.  While I continue to believe that internal understandings regarding goals, expectations, standards, performance and progress towards meeting those goals are far more productive than public votes of confidence or public discussions about the years remaining on an employee’s contract, it is clear that the desire to ascertain the number of years that remain on our manager’s contract has become and will remain a distraction, precisely the result we sought to avoid by declining to discuss such matters.

“As a result, while we have demonstrated in the past that a contract will not prevent us from making a change if one is appropriate and thus contract status truly is irrelevant, we will confirm that during the off-season we exercised the club’s 2011 option on JR’s contract and added a fourth year (2011) to Neal’s contract.  We did so because we believed that they were successfully implementing the organization’s vision of building a baseball organization that could compete for championships on a consistent basis.  We understood that returning this once-proud organization to championship baseball would not happen overnight and that the progress that we were making towards reaching our goal made such extensions appropriate.  Despite our very disappointing play at the Major League level thus far this year, we remain convinced that we are making progress towards our goal.  We demand performance at all levels of the organization and will continue to hold each and every person in the organization accountable for that performance.

“All of us are extremely disappointed and frustrated by the club’s results on the field thus far this year.  While we have made tremendous progress towards executing our long-term vision of building an organization that acquires and develops talented players who will form a core that can consistently compete for championships, we have, collectively, fallen far short of our shorter term goal of playing winning baseball at the Major League level in 2010.  We expected that this club would perform much better than it has to date.  With the significant changes that have been made to the roster recently, we still expect that the club will perform much better during the rest of the season.    While it has been painfully obvious that several players have not performed up to expectations, we have been and continue on a daily basis to analyze all of the reasons that we have performed so poorly and how we can get the club turned around immediately.

“We understand the very difficult job that we have given JR as we have completely revamped an underachieving veteran roster and invested heavily in the acquisition and development of young players who can return the Pirates to winning baseball.    While dismissing the manager when the Club is performing poorly is common in this industry, it is not the appropriate response in this case.  JR’s contract status has played no role in this determination. “

Lineups for tonight’s game:

White Sox (30-34) – 1. Juan Pierre lf, 2. Omar Vizquel 3b, 3. Alex Rios cf, 4. Paul Konerko 1b, 5. Carlos Quentin rf, 6. A.J. Pierzynski c, 7. Alexei Ramirez ss, 8. Gordon Beckham 2b, 9. Mark Buehrle (4-6, 4.93) lhp

Pirates (23-42) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge rf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Bobby Crosby ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (0-4, 4.95) rhp

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

GM, manager back in 2011?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Veteran baseball writer Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com today writes that the Pirates have picked up GM Neal Huntington’s option for 2011 and might already have done the same for manager John Russell.

Tuesday, Rosenthal reported via anonymous sources that Pirates upper management had begun discussing the possibility of firing Russell. That report was denied by president Frank Coonelly and Huntington.

I spoke with Huntington a few minutes ago, and he declined to comment on his contract status.

“We don’t talk about contracts publicly,” Huntington said. “Our focus is on doing our job well. What makes stability is results on the field.”

Coonelly has not yet returned a phone call and text message seeking comment.

Stay posted. More to come …

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Embarrassing end to 10th loss

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What could have been a feel-good story — something the Pirates sorely need right now — turned ugly in the final three innings tonight.

The Pirates lost 7-2 against the White Sox, stretching their losing skid to 10 games. What made it all the more brutal were six errors in the final three innings, including a four-blunder ninth, which led to two unearned runs.

“Embarrassing,” manager John Russell said. “We kicked the ball around and threw it around. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The “crowd” of 15,218 — which certainly was a bit below expectations, considering it was Pedropalooza — gave Alvarez a standing ovation just for walking to the plate in the second inning. But after the final out in the ninth, many of the folks left in the joint stood and booed.

• One ominous sign: After the game, more than one player confided that some finger-pointing has begun in the clubhouse.

• One upside: Jose Tabata smacked his first homer, a solo shot to left field in the eighth inning. Tabata nodded when I asked if he got the ball as a keepsake. What about the critics who say Tabata won’t ever flash much power? “We’ll see,” Tabata said, grinning.

• Alvarez went 0 for 2, with a walk and one run scored. He was charged with an error in the ninth when he failed to snag the low throw from catcher Ryan Doumit as Andruw Jones stole third base. Jones scored on the error.

“His at-bats were OK. He tracked the ball well,” manager John Russell said. “Third base, it’s going to take a little bit of an adjustment to this level. He had some tough balls hit to him and the tough throw he had to try to block. Overall, he looked pretty confident.”

• Seriously, six errors? That’s what happens when one-third of your lineup was in the minors just weeks ago. “There are going to be some (rough) games,” Russell said. “They’re young, they’re going to make a few mistakes. You have to move on. There’s going to be some development still at this stage. There’s going to be some anxiety in the field, and they have to fight through that. There’s going to be some times when it doesn’t look too good, but there will be plenty of times when it looks real good because they’re very talented athletes.”

• Zach Duke gave up three runs in the fourth inning and two in the sixth. Middle-inning struggles have been a problem him past few starts. “His pitches aren’t as sharp,” Russell said. “He’s not getting the ball down like he does in the first few innings. The big innings continue to get him because he’s not effectively getting the ball down where he needs to.”

• The White Sox will start lhp Mark Buehrle (4-6, 4.93) on Thursday instead of RHP Jake Peavy.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Alvarez is on his way

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pedro Alvarez will make his long-awaited Pirates debut Wednesday.

“He is on his way here,” general manager Neal Huntington said Tuesday night after the Pirates lost 6-4 against the Chicago White Sox. “Assuming there are not travel issues, we’ll make it official (Wednesday) and have a whole lot more to say about it then.”

Alvarez, the team’s top prospect, went 0 for 3 with a run scored last night for Triple-A Indianapolis against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He got word of his callup as he was preparing to board the team bus to go to Buffalo for a road series.

The news of Alvarez’s impending arrival caused a buzz in the Pirates’ clubhouse.

“It will be nice,” center fielder Andrew McCutchen said.

“I’m excited for him, very happy,” outfielder Jose Tabata said. “I know he can play here in the major leagues. I can’t wait to see him here. He’ll make the team better.”

The Pirates will make a corresponding roster move, sending out a position player — Ryan Church and Aki Iwamura are candidates — once Alvarez arrives.

The Pirates took Alvarez with the second overall draft pick in 2008. He received a four-year, major league contract and a team-record $6 million signing bonus, but signed too late to play in the minors that year.

Alvarez played last season with Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona and hit a combined .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBI. He hit .277 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI this season with Indianapolis.

Alvarez’s promotion completes a trifecta of sorts for the Pirates — all three of their top prospects have reached the majors in a span of one week. Tabata and pitcher Brad Lincoln made their debuts June 9.

The series of callups marks the start of a new phase for the Pirates — one which could cause changes among the coaching staff. Yesterday, FoxSports.com reported management has had internal discussions about firing manager John Russell.

Last night, after the Pirates suffered their season-high ninth straight loss, president Frank Coonelly denied discussing Russell’s potential dismissal.

Alvarez’s arrival had been anticipated for several days. Yesterday afternoon, Huntington said management was careful to make sure Alvarez, 23, was ready for the promotion.

“We’ve got to make sure we make the decision for the right reasons and that he’s ready to come up here — not only to survive, but to come up and do well,” Huntington said.

McCutchen did well right away after being called up in June 2009, and didn’t hit his first slump until August. However, Huntington cautioned it could be different with Alvarez.

“Pedro’s a different type of player, more power-based,” Huntington said. “Guys who can hit tend to come up and do well earlier. In Pedro’s case, we’re still working through some things.

“Statistically, against left-handers, he’s done what we’ve asked him to do. Is he ready to come up and face the best situational lefties in the game? You could argue he’s probably not going to be ready to do that for a year-plus.”

Alvarez will become the everyday third baseman. Before yesterday’s game, incumbent third baseman Andy LaRoche worked out at second base with infield coach Carlos Garcia.

“(LaRoche) will bounce around,” Huntington said. “If Neil Walker continues to play well, he’ll continue to play second. We’ve got a couple of fallback options.

“Neil’s deserves the opportunity to stay out there. Andy is going to be ready to go, whether it’s as a pinch-hitter, a bat off the bench late in the game, as a spot starter at third or second. We’re going to have some interesting competition as we move forward.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pedro Watch: Wednesday debut?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

No, he’s not here yet.

Pedro Alvarez is in the lineup tonight for Triple-A Indianapolis, which is wrapping up its series in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Indy is off tomorrow, then on Thursday begins a series in Buffalo.

There’s a chance Alvarez will not board the team bus tonight when his Indy mates shuffle off to Buffalo. Management could put him in a car and whisk him to PNC Park to debut in Wednesday night’s game against the White Sox.

Before tonight’s game, GM Neal Huntington did nothing to tip his hand.

“We’ve got to make sure we make the decision for the right reasons and that he’s ready to come up here — not only to survive, but to come up and do well,” Huntington said.

Andrew McCutchen did well from the start when he was called up in June 2009. McCutchen didn’t hit his first slump until August. However, Huntington cautioned it could be different with Alvarez.

“Pedro’s a different type of player, more power-based,” Huntington said. “Guys who can hit tend to come up and do well earlier. In Pedro’s case, we’re still working through some things.

“Statistically, against left-handers, he’s done what we’ve asked him to do. Is he ready to come up and face the best situational lefties in the game? You could argue he’s probably not going to be ready to do that for a year-plus. Is he a complete player? We’re certainly getting closer to that every day.”

• Whenever he does arrive, Alvarez is going to become the everyday third baseman. Andy LaRoche this afternoon got more tutelage from Carlos Garcia at second base before batting practice.

“(LaRoche) will bounce around,” Huntington said. “If Neil Walker continues to play well, he’ll continue to play second. We’ve got a couple of fallback options.

“Neil’s deserved the opportunity to stay out there. Andy is going to be ready to go, whether it’s as a pinch-hitter, a bat off the bench late in the game, as a spot starter at third or second. We’re going to have some interesting competition as we move forward.”

• Ryan Church (.186 BA, 2 HR, 10 RBI) will start tonight in right field. Lastings Milledge (.255, 0 HR, 17 RBI) still is adjusting to making the switch from left to right field. “We’re trying to get Church going. Lastings will get plenty of opportunities as well,” manager John Russell said. “I’m not going to say it’s a platoon situations; we’ll look at matchups and things like that. We’re not going to make (Milledge) just a bench player.”

Church has been a disappointment, but it bears mentioning that he was set back by a wrist injury and two bouts with a stomach virus. “He’s just trying to get back on track,” Russell said. “He’s just now playing pain-free and sick-free and is getting back into his routine. It’s a matter of time.”

• Steve Pearce (ankle sprain) will play in an extended spring training game on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fla. If all goes well, he should begin a minor league rehab assignment, likely in Indy.

There’s no guarantee Pearce will return to the Pirates once he’s healthy. “Time will tell,” Huntington said. “We’ll need to see where Steve is, timing-wise (and) health-wise.”

• Charlie Morton (shoulder fatigue) has made two so-so outings during his rehab stint with Indy. Huntington said Morton’s sore shoulder led to some mechanical issues which must be corrected before he can come off the disabled list. Huntington indicated Morton will make at least another start or two for Indy before any decision can be made. As in Pearce’s case, the GM did not commit to automatically bringing Morton back to Pittsburgh. “We’ll want to see where Charlie is in the process and see where we are and how it all fits together,” Huntington said. It’s too early to tell.”

• Huntington declined to comment on the status of contract/bonus negotiations with the team’s top two draft picks, pitchers Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. “The signing deadline is Aug. 16.

• The Pirates signed five 2010 draft picks: outfielder Justin Bencsko (20th round), catcher Matt Skirving (30th), third baseman Chase Lyles (32nd), shortstop Kelson Brown (34th) and pitchers Justin Ennis (33rd) and Kevin Decker (39th). Also, the team inked infielder Kevin Mort (University of Mississippi) as an undrafted free agent. Pitcher Zack Weiss, the Pirates’ 10th-round pick, told the Orange County Register he is leaning toward accepting a scholarship to play at UCLA.

• Today, short-season State College began its mini-camp workouts. The roster includes three of the Pirates’ top-10 draft picks in 2009 — pitchers Brooks Pounders (second round), Zach Dodson (fourth) and Zach Von Rosenberg (sixth) — and Australian pitchers Mitch Fienemann and Jarryd Sullivan.

• Former Pitt basketball standout DeJuan Blair will throw out the ceremonial first pitch tonight. “I’m looking forward to getting out on the mound in front of my hometown crowd and taking part in such a cool Pittsburgh tradition,” Blair said.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

White Sox (28-34) — 1. Juan Pierre lf, 2. Omar Vizquel 3b, 3. Alex Rios cf, 4. Paul Konerko 1b, 5. Mark Kotsay rf, 6. Alexei Ramirez ss, 7. Ramon Castro c, 8. Gordon Beckham 2b, 9. Freddy Garcia (6-3, 4.82)
Pirates (23-40) — 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Ryan Church rf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Brad Lincoln (0-0, 7.50) rhp

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Meek slams the door again

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

WASHINGTON — Starter Zach Duke was replaced by Evan Meek in the sixth inning tonight, when the Nationals loaded the bases with none out. Meek did the job, getting pinch-hitter Willie Harris to line into a 4-6 double play and Cristian Guzman to ground out.

“He did an amazing job there,” Duke said. “Come in with the bases loaded, nobody out and not give up a run, that’s kinda unheard of in this game. I can’t thank him enough.”

Meek has made eight straight scoreless outings, a total of 7 2/3 innings. He lowered his ERA to 0.76, which is tops among all relievers in the majors.

“Dominating,” was how manager John Russell described it. “That’s the way he’s thrown for us all year.”

• In the sixth, the Pirates had runners on first and second with two outs, but Bobby Crosby’s strikeout ended the inning. Crosby took a called strike two from umpire Lance Barksdale — on a pitch that replays showed was well outside the strike zone — and, clearly frustrated, fanned on a high fastball.

• Nice job tonight by lefty reliever Sean Burnett, who threw two scoreless innings against his former team.

• When Jose Tabata had two hits Wednesday, it marked the second year in a row that a Pirates leadoff hitter got at least two hits in his MLB debut. Andrew McCutchen did it last season. According to the stats wonks at Elias, the only other Pirates player to do it in the past 50 years was — would you believe? — Abraham Nunez in 1997.

• Friday, the Pirates begin a stretch of 15 straight interleague games. They won’t face another National League team until June 28.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail