Breaking up the bullpen

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ST. LOUIS — The Pirates’ bullpen, which was one of the most effective and experienced relief corps in the majors, now has a whole new look. Time will tell if that’s a good thing.

Closer Octavio Dotel, lefty Javier Lopez and righty D.J. Carrasco were traded today. Brendan Donnelly was released earlier this week.

“It’s very disappointing,” Evan Meek said. “Jeez, it’s frustrating. But it’s the business side of the game. All you can do is wish them the best. I’ll miss them. They were good guys.”

In a five-game stretch from July 25-30, the Pirates’ bullpen posted a 1.35 ERA. In 14 games since the All-Star break, the relievers had a collective 2.70 ERA and had held opponents to a .195 batting average.

“We had pride in our bullpen,” said Joel Hanrahan, who likely will become the new closer. “We were a close-knit group. We felt that we were one of the best (bullpens) in the league. It’s tough to see all the guys leave and you lose a lot of experience, but (GM) Neal (Huntington) has an idea of what he’s doing. We’ve got to continue to go out there and get people out.”

»»» Sean Gallagher will take Carrasco’s place as the long reliever. Steven Jackson also could get some multiple-inning outings. Wil Ledezma is the primary lefty. Right-hander James McDonald, acquired in the Dotel deal, will be join the bullpen for now, but could become a starter later. The Pirates still have to bring up another reliever, once the dust has settled from the trades.

»»» Dotel found out he’d been traded from teammate Lastings Milledge, who saw the news on the clubhouse television. As Dotel stood and watched his name crawl across the bottom of the TV screen, Milledge walked over and good-naturedly taunted him: “Watch out! I’ll see you next year!”

Dotel turned to Milledge and laughed. “Bring it,” Dotel said.

»»» When Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby were shipped to Arizona, first baseman Jeff Clement and shortstop Argenis Diaz were brought up from Indy.

Diaz will be a super-utility guy. “He can play anywhere in the infield,” manager John Russell said. “I’m sure he could play the outfield, too, if we needed him to. He’s a very good athlete.”

Clement, along with Ryan Doumit, will back up Garrett Jones at first. Mostly, Clement will be used as a lefty-bat off the bench.

“I know he’s done some pretty good things (at Indy) and I’m not saying he’s not going to play,” Russell said. “But realistically, with Jones and Ryan, I can’t sit here today and say Jeff’s going to play a ton.”

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Too many catchers

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ST. LOUIS — There are a lot of catchers — two too many, actually — in the Pirates’ clubhouse, now that Chris Snyder is on his way here from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ryan Doumit is on the DL with a concussion, his third such injury in a six-week span this year. He’s begun some light physical activities (yesteday, he played catch on the field) and is eligible to be re-activated Friday.

Erik Kratz and Jason Jaramillo have been splitting the playing time in Doumit’s absence. Kratz, who is a solid defender — he threw out three would-be base-stealers last night, the first time a Pirates catcher has done that since 1999 — has been getting most of the work.

The Pirates don’t need to carry more than two catchers. So, who goes?

Jaramillo, certainly, will head back to Triple-A Indianapolis. He’s a possible bridge from the end of the Snyder/Doumit era to the start of Tony Sanchez’s major league career. Sanchez was on a fast track until breaking his jaw this season, which set him back a bit.

Kratz, a career minor leaguer until last month, also will go back to Indy. That could change, however, if the Pirates flip Snyder to another team. So far, there are no indications that will happen.

Snyder and Doumit are very similar in age (both are 29), offensive and defense stats and contract situations. It would make no sense for the Pirates to tie up almost $11 million next season on a pair of catchers who have injury histories (Snyder has had back problems), are so-so defensively and offer limited offensive potential.

Stats-wise, Snyder is the better guy. Expect the Pirates to move Doumit this offseason.

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Snyder may depose Doumit

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ST. LOUIS — If a trade for Chris Snyder goes through, Ryan Doumit no longer will be the Pirates’ everyday catcher when he returns from his latest stint on the disabled list.

Friday night, FoxSports.com reported the Pirates are close to acquiring Snyder and cash from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The non-waiver trading deadline is 4 p.m. Saturday.

Snyder, 29, is hitting .231 with 10 homers and 32 RBI. He is owed about $1.7 million for the rest of this season and will make $5.75 million in 2011. His contract has a $6.75 million option or a $750,000 buyout for 2012.

Doumit, 29, is hitting .258 with eight homers and 32 RBI. He’s making $3.65 million this year and will get $5.1 million in 2011. If the Pirates pick up his $7.25 million option for 2012, it would automatically trigger an $8.25 million option for 2013.

This season, Snyder has thrown out 12 of 59 base-stealers (20 percent). He has a 30 percent success rate in his seven-year career. His career fielding percentage is .998.

Doumit has thrown out 5 of 61 runners (8 percent). His career success rate is 25 percent and he has a .987 fielding percentage as a catcher.

Doumit is on the DL with a concussion. Friday, he played catch before the Pirates’ 1-0 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

It does not appear the Pirates plan on trading Doumit now, which means he’d become a backup catcher and might also get playing time at first base and right field.

Friday, Erik Kratz, who became the starting catcher in Doumit’s absence, threw out three runners trying to steal second base. It was the first time that happened since Keith Osik threw out three Chicago Cubs runners on July 5, 1999.

This season, Kratz has gunned down 4 of 6 runners — a better success rate than either Doumit (5 of 61, 8 percent) or Jason Jaramillo (5 of 21, 24 percent).

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Maholm uneasy about trade rumors

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ST. LOUIS — According to an industry source, the Pirates are in close negotiations with more than one team regarding left-hander Paul Maholm. If he Pirates’ asking price is met — the Pirates want at least a major-league starting pitcher in return — a trade could be completed quickly.

“We will not discuss any specific trade rumor,” GM Neal Huntington said via email. “We are in discussions with multiple teams on various players and if we get an appropriate return, we will make a move.  If not, we will hold the player(s).”

The trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET Saturday. The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly have inquired about Maholm.

“I’m a guy who likes to plan stuff, so the next 24 hours are going to be tough,” Maholm said. “I have no expectations about it.”

Maholm (6-9, 4.52 ERA) was the losing pitcher Thursday against the Colorado Rockies, allowing eight runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

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Pirates add minor league OF

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ST. LOUIS — The Pirates acquired outfielder Mitch Jones, 32, from the Atlanta Braves for cash considerations and assigned him to Triple-A Indianapolis. Jones hit .250 with 18 homers in 89 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. He played in eight games last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

»»» Right-hander Craig Hansen pitched one-third of an inning Thursday for High-A Bradenton and allowed two runs on one hit and three walks. It was the first outing in 15 months for Hansen, who was out with nerve damage in his shoulder. … Righty Anthony Claggett was activated off the DL at Double-A Altoona.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (36-64) — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Lastings Milledge rf, Bobby Crosby ss, 8. Erik Kratz c, 9. Paul Maholm (6-8, 4.13) lhp

Cardinals (56-46) — 1. Felipe Lopez 3b, 2. Jon Jay rf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Matt Holliday lf, 5. Colby Rasmus cf, 6. Yadier Molina c, 7. Brendan Ryan ss, 8. Chris Carpenter (11-3, 3.09) rhp, 9. Skip Schumaker 2b

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McCutchen’s status is day to day

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DENVER — Andrew McCutchen did not play today against the Rockies and is day to day with a sore right shoulder.

“It’s a little stiff today,” McCutchen said. “I tried to take some swings in the cage (before the game), but it didn’t want t to loosen up.”

McCutchen was in the original lineup, but manager John Russell scratched him when McCutchen said he was unable to play.

“He tried to swing and felt it,” Russell said. “We didn’t want to take a chance. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”

»»» Lefty Paul Maholm (6-9) worked 5 1/3 innings and allowed eight runs on a season-worst 11 hits. Each of the first six runs Maholm allowed came via two-out hits.

“It never seemed like he got in much of a rhythm,” Russell said. “The biggest thing that hurt him was he had trouble putting hitters away. He gave up some two-strike hits, just didn’t quite get the ball where he wanted to. He battled; it just wasn’t his day.”

In the bottom of the first, Maholm gave up a solo homer to Carlos Gonzalez. With the bases loaded in the second, the Rockies got back-to-back, two-run hits by Dexter Fowler (double) and Clint Barmes (single).

“They went the other way,” Maholm said. “They didn’t take big swings. They just kind of put the ball in play. I wasn’t able to make the pitch. That’s just kinda how the day went.”

»»» Garrett Jones had an RBI double in the first inning, then was picked off second base. In the three-game series, Jones went 6 for 12, including three doubles and two homers, with five RBI. That might catch the attention of a team looking to add some pop off the bench before Saturday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.

»»» Neil Walker also finished the series with five RBI. He hit eighth-inning homers in the first and last games, including a two-run shot today off Rafael Bentacourt.

»»» Right-hander Craig Hansen, who’s been out more than a year due to Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, a rare nerve condition in his shoulder, has been cleared to pitch for High-A Bradenton. He has not pitched in a game since April 17, 2009.

»»» Righty Brendan Donnelly, who on Sunday was designated for assignment, cleared waivers and was released.

»»» Catcher/infielder James Skelton was promoted to Double-A Altoona.

»»» Best wishes for a speedy recovery to broadcaster John Wehner, who’s wearing a boot on his broken left foot. Wehner sustained the injury last week when he stumbled on a curb while jogging at night.

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McCutchen scratched

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DENVER — Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was scratched from today’s lineup against the Rockies. Jose Tabata will bat leadoff and start in center.
Last night, McCutchen reinjured his right shoulder when he crashed into the outfield wall while making a catch. He finished out the game and was in the original lineup this morning. However, McCutchen was scratched after his shoulder flared up while taking indoor batting practice.

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Ohlendorf expected to make next start

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DENVER — Other than the phone calls every two hours, Ross Ohlendorf got a good night’s sleep last night.

The Pirates’ medical staff made frequent checkups to ensure that Ohlendorf, who was struck on the head by a line drive in Wednesday’s game, did not have a concussion. A CT scan was negative.

Ohlendorf will not go on the disabled list and is expected to make his next start Monday against the Reds at PNC Park.

“I feel really good,” Ohlendorf said this morning. “I’m not cleared to do everything yet, but, hopefully, I will be in the next couple of hours or at least the next day or two.”

»»» Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is in the lineup today, despite reinjuring his right shoulder last night while making a leaping catch against the wall. McCutchen still could be scratched if his shoulder flares up during batting practice. “He seems to be OK,” manager John Russell said.

»»» McCutchen is one of just four everyday starters in today’s lineup. Russell said he watched to get his bench some action and also wanted veteran players such as Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby to face Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez.

“It’s not their first rodeo against some very good pitching,” Russell said. “I’m not sure Jose Tabata has seen much like this. We knew when he came up that there’d be certain games we’d give him off. (Jimenez) can be very tough on right-handers. We’re fortunate to have some left-handers on the bench.”

The Pirates will face two more top-notch pitchers — right-handers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright — in St. Louis.

“You find ways to score,” Russell said. “You’ve got to take advantage of any situation you get. Our guys have been swinging better, but every now and then you run into a buzzsaw. That’s the type of pitchers they are. Pitch and play defense — that’s how you win those games. That’s how we beat (Roy) Halladay earlier in the year.”

»»» Last night, Triple-A Indianapolis infielder Aki Iwamura was hospitalized after a collision at first base while running out a single. CT scan and chest X-ray were negative. “He should be fine,” farm director Kyle Stark said. “We’re hoping for (him to do) light activities today.”

»»» Indianapolis outfielder Alex Presley has 129 hits, which is tied for eighth-most in all of the minor leagues. Since being promoted to Indy on June 25, Presley is batting .352 with 14 extra-base hits, 16 RBI and a .406 on-base percentage.

»»» The lunch room in the Coors Field press box today is offering what it calls “Pittsburg sandwiches.” Misspelling our city isn’t their only mistake. The sandwiches consist of pastrami, lettuce and garlic fries on French bread. What, no fried egg?

»»» It’s a 15-minute walk through the LoDo section of Denver from my hotel to Coors Field. Over the past couple of years, there’s been a little construction and a few new stores/restaurants have gone in. One of the changes is a former gas station which is now a drive-in medical marijuana store. According to the sign out front, the store’s phone number is 555-WEED (I changed those first three digits).

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Gallagher steps up

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DENVER — Sean Gallagher stepped up at the right time for the Pirates, tossing three hitless, scoreless innings last night after Ross Ohlendorf was struck on the head by a line drive. That gave the offense time to build a 5-1 lead en route to a 6-2 victory.

Gallagher walked three and struck out four. It was his longest outing with the Pirates, the second-longest of his 21 appearances this season. He made two relief outings of 3 1/3 innings each while with San Diego.

“It was good to get out there and execute pitches like I know I’m able to,” said Gallagher, who notched his first victory since being traded to the Pirates on July 7. “My location was good, everything. I felt like I had a better idea where everything was going to end up. In my other outings, it was kind of like, who knows? My command was a lot better today.”

In his previous outing Saturday, Gallagher did not retire any of the four hitters he faced and was charged with four runs.

“He’s starting to get into a rhythm,” manager John Russell said. “He’s finding his comfort level.”

»»» MLB ‘s tentative 2011 schedule has the season starting sooner (April 1) so the World Series does not spill over into November. The plan would likely trim a couple of days from spring training.

“It’s a good thing,” manager John Russell said. “Keeping baseball in October is good. The weather gets a little iffy when you start getting into November. Spring training is long enough.”

Lineups for this afternoo’s game:

Pirates (36-64) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young rf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Church lf, Bobby Crosby ss, 8. Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Paul Maholm (6-8, 4.13) lhp

Rockies (51-50) – TBA. Ubaldo Jimenez (15-2, 2.75) rhp

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Ohlendorf: “I got lucky”

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DENVER — Pirates right-hander Ross Ohlendorf was not seriously injured Wednesday when he was struck on the right side of his head by a line drive during the Pirates’ 6-2 victory against the Colorado Rockies.

Ohlendorf was taken by ambulance to nearby Rose Hospital. Results of a CT scan were negative and he returned to Coors Field after being diagnosed with a contusion and abrasions.

“I feel fine,” Ohlendorf said after the game. “I guess I got lucky.”

With two outs and a runner on third base in the first inning, Troy Tulowitzki connected on a fastball away and hit a comebacker. Ohlendorf was following through on his delivery when the ball struck him near the temple.

“It was more than a glancing blow,” manager John Russell said.

Fans sitting behind home plate in the third level of Coors Field were able to hear the sharp crack when the ball connected with Ohlendorf’s head.

“You’re hoping it didn’t hit him in the face,” first baseman Garrett Jones said. “You’re hoping it hit him in the hardest part of the head. Ross must have a thick skull because that ball was hit hard, but he seemed all right.”

Ohlendorf dropped to his knees on the mound and watched as the ball caromed into right field for an RBI single.

Ohlendorf was examined briefly on the field, as Tulowitzki squatted on first base and grimaced.

“It’s funny,” Ohlendorf said. “Last year, (Tulowitzki) hit a ball hard back at me. It hopped up, hit me in the chest and knocked the wind out of me. This one was a line drive.”

After a couple of minutes, Ohlendorf walked off the field, assisted by Pirates head athletic trainer Brad Henderson.

“He said he wanted to stay in the game,” Russell said, grinning.

Ohlendorf hopes to be able to make his next scheduled start. Russell said only that Ohlendorf will be re-evaluated Thursday by doctors and his status is day to day.

Ohlendorf is the second Pirates starting pitcher this season to be struck on the head by a batted ball.

On April 24 in Houston, righty Chris Jakubauskas was hit by Lance Berkman’s line drive. Jakubauskas, who was struck behind the right ear and sustained a concussion, is on the 60-day disabled list.

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