Chapman dazzles Pirates

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CINCINNATI — Last night, the Pirates got their first look at Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman. The lefty threw 10 pitches — eight of them 101 mph or faster. He also mixed in two 90-mph sliders, which Garrett Jones swung through for a strikeout. Chapman worked a 1-2-3 inning and got two strikeouts.

“You barely have time to react,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen arm speed like that. You didn’t have time to pick up the release point because his arm was moving so fast. And he has a 90-mph slider to back up the 103-mph fastball. He’s tough.”

»»» The Pirates this season have won only three games in which they trailed after eight innings. All three came in April — against the Reds (April 17) and Brewers (April 27 and 28).

»»» Stats, streaks and slumps: The Pirates are 4-6 in extra-inning games. … Chris Resop has not allowed a run in his last six outings. … The Pirates have homered 11 times in their past seven road games, yet they won just one of those games. … The Pirates have gotten an extra-base hit in 23 straight games, their longest streak of the season.

»»» Practically the entire front-office braintrust — GM Neal Huntington, scouting director Greg Smith, farm director Kyle Stark and director of baseball operations Tyrone Brooks — flew here Friday with the team, and will be around for the entire three-game series against the Reds.

»»» The Reds originally listed Aaron Harang as the starter for tonight’s game. However, Harang (6-7, 5.15 ERA) has been sent back to the bullpen and will be replaced by righty Edinson Volquez (3-2, 6.17).

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (47-93) – 1. Andrew McCutchen 8, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. Charlie Morton (1-11, 9.66) lhp

Reds (80-61) – 1. Brandon Phillips 2b, 2. Orlando Cabrera ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jonny Gomes lf, 6. Ramon Hernandez c, 7. Drew Stubbs cf, 8. Miguel Cairo rf, 9. Edinson Volquez (3-2, 6.17) rhp

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No quick fix for Morton

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CINCINNATI — In this morning’s paper, I wrote about how Charlie Morton’s confidence issues wrecked most of his season and caused the Pirates to send to the minors for physical rest and mental repairs. Talking with Charlie and those around him, I get the sense he finally realizes what his problems are and has a plan to fix them.

“There were a lot of questions to be answered, as to what was going on,” Morton said. “So to put it back together, for the most part, feels pretty good.”

But it’s not gonna be a quick fix. His first start back with the Pirates was disastrous (eight runs in 3 1/3 innings vs. the Cubs). His second was a bit better (six runs, two of them earned, in 3 2/3 innings vs. the Nationals).

“If I can become more effective on the field, it will lead to me pitching better — and I do feel like I’m close,” Morton said. “My first start back showed me it’s not as easy as you want it to be. If anything, what I’ve learned this year is it’s not going to make sense just because I want it to make sense. It’s not going to be easy just because I want it to be. I do feel that I know now that my outlook toward overcoming difficulty and failure is up to me.”

Manager John Russell said spending three months in the minors likely will pay off for Morton, even if it doesn’t happen right away.

“I’ve played with guys who were good players who went back for a period of time, came back and then played well,” Russell said. “It’s part of the learning process. They get up here, they realize what they can do and what they need to do better. They go back down and work on it, and they’re more prepared. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to go through the same struggles, but they’re more prepared for it.”

Morton’s next chance to show what he’s learned will come tomorrow night against righty Aaron Harang.

»»» Infielder Aki Iwamura and catcher Erik Kratz, who on Tuesday were designated for assignment, both cleared waivers. Iwamura was released. Kratz was outrighted to Triple-A Indy.

»»» Indianapolis manager Frank Kremblas, pitching coach Dean Treanor and hitting coach Jeff Branson joined the team yesterday. Kremblas and Treanor will travel with the Pirates the rest of the season. Branson will be with the club through the end of this road trip.

Lineups for tonights game:

Pirates (47-92) – 1. Andrew McCutchen 8, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. Paul Maholm (7-14, 5.43) lhp

Reds (79-61) – TBA — Homer Bailey (3-3, 5.00) rhp

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Presley a ‘great story’

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Alex Presley went into spring training this year just hoping to win a spot in the outfield in Double-A after a mediocre 2009 season in High-A Lynchburg.

He did, and after a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he was named rookie of the year at 25 years old, Presley arrived in Pittsburgh this week along with the rest of the call-ups from the Indians.

“Great story,” manager John Russell said. “He started out and did very well in Double-A and just carried it straight into Triple-A and had a phenomenal season. We were excited to get him up here. It sends a good message that good things can happen if you take care of the things you need to do. Alex did some good things for us and I know he’s going to enjoy the experience, seeing major league ballparks, being in the clubhouse and getting to know some guys. It should be a good learning experience for him as well.”

Presley, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and looks like he belongs in a high school English class more than a major league clubhouse, was promoted to Indianapolis on June 25 and hit for the cycle in his third game with the team, going 5-for-6. The left-handed hitter had a team-best 13-game hitting streak and set a number of career highs, finishing with a .294 batting average, .349 on-base percentage and .809 slugging percentage with the Indians.

Whether or not the Pirates’ eighth-round pick in 2006 will get more than a pinch-hit opportunity with the Pirates this year remains to be seen. Russell said on Tuesday that not everyone called up from the minors for September would get an opportunity to play.

“Some will get opportunities, some won’t, but the experience of being here and being around this atmosphere will be good for them,” he said.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

For the Pirates: McCutchen cf, Tabata lf, Walker 2b, Jones 1b, Alvarez 3b, Doumit c, Bowker rf, Cedeno ss, Duke p

And the Braves: Infante 2b, Heyward rf, Prado 3b, Lee 1b, McCann c, Diaz lf, Gonzalez ss, Cabrera cf, Lowe p

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Lincoln says regaining form still a work in progress

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Brad Lincoln smiled when asked whether it was different coming to Pittsburgh this time than it was in early June.

A little easier? Yes.

But still, there’s that sense of anxiety and anticipation, especially after his first stint with the Pirates.

Lincoln was with the team from June 9 through July 24, when he made his last start against San Diego before being sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis with a few ticks off his velocity, a 1-4 record and a 6.57 ERA in nine starts.

Two weeks later, you’ll recall, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan was fired. John Russell wouldn’t get into specifics behind the decision to let Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho go, but general manager Neal Huntington did cite “some mechanical changes at the major-league level” when talking specifically about Lincoln.

Lincoln acknowledged today that there were some adjustments made that put his mind more on what he was doing rather than getting batters out.

But the biggest thing in Indianapolis was not to re-work his mechanics, Lincoln said, but rather his mental approach, and it’s still a work-in-progress.

“Getting back to who I was and being that guy who’s going to go right after somebody and not hold anything back,” Lincoln said. “For me, I have to be pretty physical with my delivery so I just need to get back to that form and way of thinking. That was a big part of it.”

Lincoln thought about it for a second when asked if he’d classify his performance as tentative the first time in Pittsburgh.

“I guess,” he said. “It was one of those things where I was just throwing. I wasn’t pitching. The catcher would call something and I’d say OK, just because, because I really wasn’t holding myself accountable for pitching my game. That’s what I needed to get back to doing and I feel like I’ve done that.”

Lincoln just pitched on Sunday with Indianapolis, so he won’t be available for a few more days. When he is ready, however, he’ll be in the bullpen.

Russell said it’s not a permanent move, and wouldn’t detail what, exactly, Lincoln’s role will be as a reliever. In four years as a professional, Lincoln has never pitched in relief.

“I can’t say we’ll use him for four-inning stand or whatever, it’s just kind of where we are in the game,” Russell said. “Obviously he’s probably going to start an inning and not come in in the middle because he’s never done that. We’ll give him ample time to get ready. It will probably be in the early or middle part of the game.”

Here are tonight’s lineups.

Pirates – McCutchen cf, Tabata lf, Walker 2b, Jones 1b, Alvarez 3b, Doumit rf, Cedeno ss, Snyder c, McDonald p.

Braves – Infante 2b, Heyward rf, Prado 3b, McCann c, Lee 1b, Cabrera lf, Gonzalez ss, Ankiel cf, Hudson p.

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Hello, B-Mo. Bye-bye, Aki.

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Brandon Moss will get a second chance — albeit a potentially brief one — with the Pirates.

Moss will be among eight players brought up Tuesday from Triple-A Indianapolis. Also on the list are outfielder Alex Presley; pitchers Brad Lincoln, Steven Jackson, Justin Thomas and Brian Bass; catcher Jason Jaramillo; and infielder Pedro Ciriaco.

Moss hit .266 with 22 homers and 96 RBI and was named Indy’s team MVP. He was the Pirate’ starting right fielder last season, but was sent back to the minors this year during spring training.

“He’s made a lot of adjustments and you could very easily (argue) we should give him another shot because of all he’s done this year,” GM Neal Huntington said.

Of course, right field already is pretty crowded with Lastings Milledge, Ryan Doumit, John Bowker and (sometimes) Delwyn Young and Garrett Jones. It will be difficult to find many at-bats for Moss or Presley down the stretch this month.

In order to clear spots for Moss, Presley, Bass and Jackson on the 40-man roster, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Clement were placed on the 60-day disabled list and Aki Iwamura and Erik Kratz were designated for assignment.

Yesterday, Lincoln gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings in Indy’s 6-3, season-ending loss against Louisville. Lincoln might take the rotation spot of Jeff Karstens, who’s sidelined by a sore shoulder, although Brian Burres did a great job filling in this afternoon. Lincoln was on Indy’s DL last month with a sore neck, and was just so-so in two starts since being activated.

Presley had a combined 166 hits this season for Double-A Altoona and Indy, which ties him with Nate McLouth for the fifth-most hits in a season by a Pirates minor leaguer. The leader is Jim Negrych, who had 170 hits in 2008.

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Meek ready to go?

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Reliever Evan Meek (bruised right hand) is playing catch this morning and said he feels ready to return to action. However, even as Meek was working out on the field, manager John Russell sounded a more cautious approach about Meek’s availability.

“It’s a possibility, but we’re looking more that it probably will be tomorrow,” Russell said.

»»» Right-hander Brad Lincoln will start today in the season finale for Triple-A Indianapolis. This will be Lincoln’s second start since coming off the DL (sore neck) and he’s on a 60-65 pitch count. If management is being that cautious with him, is he really an option to move into the Pirates’ starting rotation later this week? I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out.

»»» Indy outfielder Alex Presley goes into this afternoon’s game with 166 hits. That ties him with Nate McLouth for the fifth-most hits in a season by a Pirates minor leaguer. The leader is Jim Negrych, who had 170 hits in 2008. Ray Navarrete is fourth with 169 in 2002.

»»» Russell had good things to say about Joe Martinez’s debut yesterday with the Pirates: “He kept the ball down, had a little bit of sink and used his breaking ball. He was pretty efficient in the strike zone.”

»»» When Russell played for the Braves in 1989, Bobby Cox was Atlanta’s GM. “Bobby’s a guy I’ve always respected,” Russell said. “He’s had a great career.”

This series will be Cox’s last one in Pittsburgh. He’ll retire after the season.

“Not to see him in that dugout anymore is going to be a strange thing,” Russell said. “He’s been a fixture in Atlanta for so long and he’s been in baseball for so long, it’s going to be weird not seeing him around.”

»»» Russell spent time this morning working with Pedro Alvarez at third base. Alvarez hit a 447-foot homer Sunday and has reached base in seven of his past eight games, but he continues to strike out a lot and is batting just .232.

“It’s still a learning process,” Russell said. “He’s got to learn how to fight through it. He hasn’t played this much baseball in a long time. It’s a daily grind. He’s got to find a way to relax out there, but he’ll work through it. He’s in a little bit of a funk right now, but with as hard as he works, he get out of it.”

»»» Delwyn Young will start in right field today. Russell also has used Ryan Doumit and John Bowker at the spot, resulting in less playing time for Lastings Milledge.

“We’ve got some guys we’d like to get some playing time,” Russell said. “It’s a position where we can move some guys around and get a look at them.”

»»» Russell on the Maz statue dedication ceremony yesterday: “What a great day. It gave me goosebumps when I watched.”

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Braves (79-58) – 1. Omar Infante 2b, 2. Jason Heyward rf, 3. Martin Prado 3b, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Matt Diaz lf, 6. Alex Gonzalez ss, 7. David Ross c, 8. Nate McLouth cf, 9. Tommy Hanson (9-10, 3.60) rhp

Pirates (45-90) – 1. Andrew McCutchen 8, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Delwyn Young rf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Brian Burres (2-3, 6.31) lhp

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GM on Maz, Moss and more

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The beat writers spoke at length a few minutes ago with GM Neal Huntington. Some revealing highlights:

»»» Huntington said the club is in “wait and see” mode with injured right-hander Jeff Karstens: “No reason to rush him back, but also no reason to shut him down. If he can finish the year on the mound, that’s a better place than the disabled list.”

»»» Brad Lincoln, who has made one start since coming off the DL at Triple-A Indy, might take Karstens’ spot in the rotation: “Brad started on (Sept. 1) and got through it. It wasn’t real crisp or real sharp, but the velocity was fine. It seemed like he felt pretty good. It depends upon where Brad is and how he feels, what kind of command and stuff he has … does he come up and go into the rotation, does he come up and go into the bullpen, does he come up at all?

»»» Karstens has proven his grit, albeit not durability: “He showed us the willingness to take the ball in multiple roles, battle and compete. But we have the same concerns that (caused) us to put him in the bullpen — the (inability) to run out there for 30 starts and give us 190 innings. He’s not the most physical guy. He doesn’t do it the easiest. He’s had a tough time getting past that 90-pitch mark; the warning bells go off. He’s given us everything he’s had every time out. He’s shown us he has definitive value. Is it as a starter or a long man or swing guy?”

»»» High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona are in the playoffs: “What’s encouraging for us is, it’s age-appropriate players and prospects. You can push older players back to win games and hype things that aren’t really there.

“In both situations, and in Altoona in particular, they did it with the prospects that we’re excited about — the four starting pitchers: Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson. But they’ve also had some guys take big steps forward. Danny Moskos took a big step forward. They’ve had some guys pitch out of the pen who’ve done a very nice job and put themselves on the radar. Alex Presley had a very nice year before being moved to Triple-A. Jordy Mercer’s had a solid year. Josh Harrison’s had a solid year. It’s a fun group to think about as they move forward.

“The Bradenton group is kind of a remarkable one, in that they lost their catcher, shortstop, center fielder all for extended periods of time. They lost third baseman Jeremy Farrell. Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris moved to Double-A. And yet those guys just kept going out and winning. Some unheralded guys and guys were brought in from outside really needed to step up and they did.

“The wins and losses might not be where we hoped they’d be in West Virginia and State College, but there’s a lot of good things going on there.”

»»» More callups will arrive Tuesday, but Huntington is not ready to say who: “We initially talked about a moderate number. But with (Ross) Ohlendorf, Karstens, (Jeff) Clement and some of the injuries we’ve had recently, there’ll be more callups than we were planning. You want to get into September and give your manager some options and not overtax the bullpen. But at the same time, we have a lot of young positions players who we’re going to put out there. You hate to bring up a guy, have him get two at-bats in September and then take him off the roster in October. You also walk the fine line of emotional what you’d like to do and intellectually what you need to do for the organization. Those are never fun challenges.”

»»» It doesn’t appear that Brandon Moss will be a callup: “He’s not ruled out. It comes back to, (Jose) Tabata’s gonna play, (Andrew) McCutchen’s gonna play, (Ryan) Doumit’s gonna play. There’s (Lastings) Milledge there and we’ve already brought up (John) Bowker. Now you start looking at Alex Presley and Brandon Moss — there’s really not many at-bats to be had here in 2010. Now, you start looking to March 2011, thinking about the makeup of the club and how does it all come together.

“Brandon is the one who, emotionally, you’d love to bring to the big leagues. But intellectually you take a step back and ask, how does he first short- and long term? Come Monday night, we’ll announce the decision we’ve made. He’ll be a minor league free agent (next year). If we were to bring him in and put him on the 40-man roster, he’d have to make the club out of spring training next year or we’d take him off. He’s out of options, so if we hold him on the (40-man) roster this offseason, what player do we risk losing in the Rule 5 draft? There’s a lot that goes into it beyond the 92 RBI and the kind of guy who Brandon Moss is. And yet, he’s made a lot of adjustments and you could very easily push that we should give him another shot because of all he’s done this year. You can battle with yourself all day on that one.

»»» The Pirates have no special plans for Ohlendorf this offseason: “Let him heal, let him get healthy. Just a typical offseason throwing program. In a perfect world, he would’ve built up to 200 innings this year. But I don’t envision us asking him to go to winter ball to pick up innings.”

»»» Huntington marveled at Bill Mazeroski, whose statue is dedicated today: “It’s been very enjoyable to learn more about Bill Mazeroski the person. As a baseball fan, you know about the home run. Unfortunately, working in the game you lose that fandom and they become just ordinary people. When I talk to Maz, I still have that (excitement) because he generates that. But he doesn’t carry himself that way. Here’s a Hall of Famer from one of the most important, if not the most important, moment in Pirates history, and yet he sits there as if he’s your father or grandfather and you’re having a normal conversation with him. He’s one of the more remarkable men I’ve been around. It’s just the humility and also the knowledge and passion for the game. He still loves the game and still loves the Pirates.”

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Karstens shut down

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Right-hander Jeff Karstens probably is done for the season due to what manager John Russell described as a “cranky” arm. Karstens (3-10, 4.88) had his shoulder heavily iced in recent days.

“The doctors don’t see anything structurally wrong with it,” Russell said. “It’s been a long year for him, and it’s getting a little cranky. We don’t know for sure yet if he’ll be able to make another start.”

Karstens last pitched Aug. 31 against the Cubs and picked up the win by allowing two runs on four hits in six innings. But he was working on extra rest, as his Aug. 25 start was skipped because of the arm troubles.

»»» To replace Karstens tomorrow against the Braves, lefty Brian Burres (2-3, 6.31) will make his eighth start of the season. If he is recalled, right-hander Brad Lincoln, who pitches tomorrow for Triple-A Indianapolis, is a possible fill-in for Karstens the rest of the month.

»»» Righty Joe Martinez was called up from Triple-A Indy, but he does not appear to be a candidate to take Karstens’ rotation spot. When I asked how Martinez will be used, Russell immediately responded, “Bullpen.”

Martinez went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in four games with the San Francisco Giants before being traded to the Pirates on July 31. “He’s done OK,” Russell said. “He’s had some success, but also had some struggles.”

The Pirates still plan to make Martinez a starter in the long term.

»»» Congrats to High-A Bradenton, which last night clinched the South Division of the Florida State League. Bradenton will face the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the first-round of the playoffs, a best-of-three series which will begin Tuesday night at McKechnie Field.

»»» The Pirates are wearing “JLB” patches on their uniform sleeves to honor former GM Joe L. Brown, who recently died.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Nationals (58-78) – 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Ian Desmond ss, 3. Ryan Zimmerman 3b, 4. Adam Dunn 1b, 5. Roger Bernadina lf, 6. Michael Morse rf, 7. Adam Kennedy 2b, 8. Wilson Ramos c, 9. Jason Marquis (1-7, 8.13) rhp

Pirates (45-90) – 1. Andrew McCutchen 8, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. Charlie Morton (1-10, 10.03) rhp

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Bowker recalled from Indy

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CHICAGO — Outfielder John Bowker was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, and will be used in right field and at first base. “He gives us another option off the bench and occasional spot starts,” manager John Russell said.

The Pirates needed another bat, as Jeff Clement is on the disabled list with a sore knee. Clement today will begin a brief rehab stint with Indy, which ends its season Monday.

Bowker found out late last night he was being recalled. In 41 games with the San Francisco Giants this season, he hit .207 with three homers. Since being traded to the Pirates on July 31, Bowker hit .319 with four homers for Indy.

“I’m looking forward to an opportunity to play. That’s all I can ask for,” Bowker said. “When (the trade) happened, at first I was in shock. I’ve been with the Giants my whole career. I’m looking at this as a new opportunity for me.”

»»» Neil Walker had a big night Tuesday in the 14-7 rout of the Cubs. He went 4 for 5 with four RBI (tying a career high) and extended his hitting streak to eight games. In the sixth, he smacked a two-run homer over the ivy in center field.

“I see the ball pretty well here,” Walker said. “The wind blowing at your back kind of helps sometimes, too.”

During his eight-game streak, Walker is batting .400 (14 for 35) with eight runs scored, three doubles, two triples, three homers and 13 RBI.

»»» In 14 games against the Cubs this year, Garrett Jones is hitting .385 (20 for 52) with five walks, eight runs, five doubles, four homers and 16 RBI.

»»» Andrew McCutchen is one walk shy of matching his total of 54 from last season. He’s batting .485 (16 for 33) this year at Wrigley Field.

»»» Charlie Morton is 1-10 with a 10.03 ERA. Since earned runs became an official stat in 1912, the only other Pirates pitcher with an ERA of 7.00-plus in a season in which he had 10 decisions was Steve Blass, who in 1973 went 3-9 with a 9.81 ERA.

»»» Congrats to Double-A Altoona, which last night clinched its first division title since 2004. The Curve reached 80 victories for the second time in franchise history.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (44-87) – 1. Andrew McCutchen 8, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. James McDonald (2-4, 5.65) rhp

Cubs (56-77) – 1. Blake DeWitt 2b, 2. Starlin Castro ss, 3. Kosuke Fukudome rf, 4. Micah Hoffpauir 1b, 5. Tyler Colvin cf, 6. Alfonso Soriano lf, 7. Jeff Baker 3b, 8. Koyie Hill c, 9. Tom Gorzelanny (7-8, 3.98) lhp

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