Harrison enjoys big major league debut


Big congratulations are in order for Josh Harrison, who made his major league debut tonight, got his first major league hit off a guy that no one else on the Pirates was hitting AND drove in the tying run in the eighth inning with two on and two out.

No pressure, right?

“Harry coming in, doing great job, getting the biggest hit of the night in my mind, it was great to see,” said Neil Walker of Harrison.

Harrison said R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball was like nothing he’d ever seen before, yet he was the only one on the team who managed to get two hits off the guy.

“My first at-bat, I want to say I saw maybe five of them, so I had a pretty good idea of how to see it later in the game,” said Harrison, who grounded out his first at-bat. “That showed up big in I think the eighth inning. I was able to put a good swing on it.”

Yes, it was the eighth inning, but you can hardly blame the guy if the night was a little bit of a blur.

“It’s special, I’m so happy for him and proud of him. I can’t imagine how his folks feel,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s a very special feeling. It’s a day he’ll never forget. Started (Monday) and it hasn’t stopped. First impressions are hard to turn your head on so we’ll see where that leads for him.”

Only downer about the whole thing was that while Harrison’s parents flew in on Monday, they flew back out this afternoon and missed the game. They’ll be in Pittsburgh on Friday, however, to watch him play.
= Here’s a quote from Mets manager Terry Collins about James McDonald, with whom he became acquainted when both were with the Los Angeles Dodgers: “When we signed James McDonald, he really was a good-looking young pitcher out of Long Beach City College,” Collins said. “And he hurt his arm his second year. He was athletic enough that it didn’t require surgery. It was rehab. He was athletic. We put him in the outfield. We made him an outfielder for two years. And the injury went away. We put him on the mound two years later and now he’s pitching in the big leagues and very successful.”
= Hurdle switched up the lineup a little bit tonight, something I was originally exploring in my game story that wound up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, when the Pirates mounted their late-inning comeback. But he moved Garrett Jones from the No. 2 spot down to six, and said twice before the game that they needed to get Jones going or else they’d have to start thinking about plan b. Hurdle didn’t elaborate on what plan b is, but tomorrow I’ll try to get some clarification, as well as talk to Jones about what he thinks is going on with his offensive woes.
= ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law released his updated list of the top 25 prospects in baseball and the Pirates’ Jameson Taillon moved up from No. 30 to No. 19. Law wrote that he could be more of a breakout in 2010 when given more latitude, citing that he’s faced 20 batters in just one of his seven starts.


Pirates get zeroes from top of the order


There were a few big oh-fers in the Pirates’ lineup tonight, including Jose Tabata going 0 for 4, Garrett Jones going 0 for 4 and Andrew McCutchen, who at least got a walk, going 0 for 3. That was the top three in the order, with all the hits coming from the middle (Walker and Overbay 1 for 4, Snyder 2 for 3 and Cedeno 1 for 3).

Tabata was 5 for 16 while leading off the last four games, and McCutchen was hitting .333 with eight RBI and 10 runs scored in his last 13 games. But Jones goes into the last day of the month with just three multi-hit games and his last home run on May 2.

Manager Clint Hurdle talked about it again after the game tonight regarding the eight strikeouts that Mets starter Dillon Gee rang up that the Pirates continue to struggle with swings and misses. His quotes in tomorrow’s Trib.

= Here’s Hurdle on Daniel McCutchen, who’s been so fantastic and came into the game with the lowest ERA (0.40) among all National League relief pitchers: “I don’t think he’s going to finish the season with a .38 ERA. This was a night where the leadoff walk became a challenge right away and one of the few times he’s missed location with a 2-1 pitch he just center cut it and a major league hitter put a barrel on it.”

= The Mets did a really nice job with their Memorial Day salutes. By far the most touching was getting together troops stationed in Afghanistan and putting them on live video on the Jumbotron while their families were down on the field before the game. When I see a mom clasping her hand over her mouth at the first sight of her daughter or a little boy telling his daddy hello, oh man, it doesn’t take much more than that to get me choked up. One of my best friends, who is like a sister to me, is married to an Air Force fighter pilot and stationed in Japan. I know how much her two little boys miss their daddy and how hard it can be for her taking care of them on her own when he’s deployed. So here’s a big, big thanks not just to the Driscoll family but to all our military families, past and current, for everything you do. You were very much on the minds of everyone in our great country today, as you should be always.

= That’s all for now. I’m off to try to find a cab. Not as easy as one might think in this part of New York.


Pregame: The ‘mother’ of all shutouts

Foggy Wrigley Field this morning, about two hours before thunderstorms moved in.
Foggy Wrigley Field this morning, about two hours before thunderstorms moved in.

CHICAGO — Don’t ask me what he was doing up at 5:45 this morning, but Dan Hart, the hardest working man in the Pirates’ media relations department, fired me an email with this tasty note:

According to the Elias Sports wonks, yesterday’s 10-0 Pirates win was only the 25th time in 96 seasons at Wrigley Field that that Cubs were losers in a double-digit shutout. The Pirates won five of those games, more than any other club — including what Danny tabbed “the mother of all double-digit shutouts,” a 22-0 wipeout on Sept. 16, 1975 in which Rennie Stennett went 7 for 7. That’s the biggest shutout rout in modern history, and was tied by the Indians at Yankee Stadium in 2004.

»»» There was heavy fog all over Chicagoland this morning — so thick, I could barely make out the center field scoreboard from the press box at Wrigley. The tarp was off for a few minutes, but now it’s out and b.p was cancelled — nasty thunderstorms are in the area, and I doubt this one will start on time.

»»» This would have been Charlie Morton’s day to pitch if Jeff Karstens had not been bumped back in the rotation. Morton laughed when I pointed out that Mother Nature must’ve thought Morton — who was rained out in back-to-back starts May 12 and 17 — was still making his regular turn. “Karstens is pitching, so I’m not the one bringing the rain. It’s not me, it’s just the (fifth) day,” Morton said.

»»» Even if the game is played, Steve Pearce will spend the day on the bench. When I asked Pearcey if his sore calf was any better today, he grimaced and shook his head. Any chance he could play? “No way,” Pearce said.

»»» The game might have to be played with only three umpires. One member of the four-man crew was sent to Milwaukee last night to replace an injured ump. A new ump is supposed to fly here in time for today’s game, but the fog and rain probably will delay his arrival.

»»» At the risk of jinxing it … Pirates starting pitchers have gone nine straight games without allowing more than two earned runs. In that span, they’ve a combined 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA. Pirates starters have 19 victories, which is tied for fifth-most in the NL.

»»» Ronny Cedeno has gone 35 games without making an error. The last Pirates shortstop to play mistake-free for so long was Jack Wilson, who did it for 42 straight games in 2008. Cedeno has three errors this season, two of which came in road games. His 2.5 UZR is third-best among NL shortstops behind Atlanta’s Alex Gonzalez (3.5) and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki (3.2).

»»»If you’re near Charleston, W.Va., around 4 p.m. today, you can watch righty Jameson Taillon (1-1, 3.38) make his sixth start for the Power. Right-hander Vincent Payne, a 12th-round draft pick last year, was added to West Virginia’s roster to replace Porfirio Lopez, who was sent to short-season State College. Reliever Zach Foster was promoted to High-A Bradenton and Victor Black was added to West Virginia’s roster.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (24-26) — 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (3-3, 3.57)

Cubs (22-28) — 1. Kosuke Fukodome rf, 2. Darwin Barney 2b, 3. Starlin Castro ss, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Carlos Pena 1b, 6. Alfonso Soriano lf, 7. Tony Campana cf, 8. Koyie Hill c, 9. Ryan Dempster rhp (3-4, 6.29)


Pregame: Beimel goes on DL


CHICAGO — This morning, reliever Joe Beimel went on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his left elbow. He’ll have an MRI exam Tuesday in Pittsburgh and will be treated by the team’s medical staff. At this point, Beimel does not have any plans to see specialist Dr. James Andrews.

»»» Daniel Moskos was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. Even though he is the only lefty in the bullpen, Moskos is still relatively inexperienced and thus will not be used in late-game, high-leverage situations.

»»» Just thinking aloud here: It would make a lot of sense to lock up closer Joel Hanrahan to a multi-year deal. Something like three years, $20 million might work. Hanny will make $1.4 million this year and has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He’d probably be in line to get upwards of $5 million in 2012 through arby.

»»» For those who were (and those who still are) frustrated by the Pirates’ inability to find a upgrade at shortstop, consider this item from Baseball Prospectus writer Steven Goldman: “This year, the average age of shortstops throughout the majors is 28.8, the oldest the class as a whole has been at any time since 1950, and nearly two years older than the average age over that 60-year period. … There is little help on the way from the minor leagues. There are only a few apprentice shortstops who would seem to have anything like impact-level abilities, and several of them … have failed to convince scouts that they will be able to defend the position at the big league level.”

All of which means, having a a young, talented shortstop on the roster is almost as rare as seeing a unicorn — and it’s gonna stay that way for the next few years. GM Neal Huntington can’t just snap his fingers and land one in a trade. He probably was fortunate (!!) to get 28-year-old Ronny Cedeno in 2009 from Seattle in the Jack Wilson swap.

»»» The Pirates need just three more victories to match their total of 17 wins on the road last season. It could happen by the end of this road trip to Chicago and New York. “We’re not uncomfortable on the road,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

»»» Neil Walker snapped an 0-for-18 funk Friday with an RBI, infield single in the fourth inning.

»»» In case you hadn’t heard, ex-Buccos righty Ian Snell is back …well, sort of. Snell, who “retired” near the end of spring training after being demoted by the Cardinals, signed a one-year, minor league deal with the Dodgers. He was assigned to Triple-A.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (23-26) – 


 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Steve Pearce 3b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (1-7, 3.65)

Cubs (22-27) – 1. Tony Campana cf, 2. Darwin Barney 2b, 3. Starlin Castro ss, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Alfonso Soriano lf, 6. Lou Montanez rf, 7. TCarlos Pena 1b, 8. Koyie Hill c, 9. Randy Wells rhp (1-0, 1.50)


Pregame: Another try for new lineup


CHICAGO — The Pirates are using the same, revamped lineup today as they had Wednesday in the 4-2 loss against the Braves. “We’re going to try it for a while,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Our inconsistency speaks for itself. I’m trying to find a way to help them — whether it’s the lineup, whether it’s the mentality — to push some more runs across.”

The move worked out well Wednesday for Jose Tabata (leadoff) and Steve Pearce (No. 2 hitter), who went a combined 5 for 9 with a walk and two runs scored. Pearce, especially, had a good game (except for that final at-bat). No so much, though, for Andrew McCutchen, who went 0 for 4 with a walk.

Pearce is in the 2 spot again today, as the Cubs are starting a lefty. That will change when a right-hander pitches. “We’ll probably mix and match,” Hurdle said. “I’m not closed-minded about trying something new and seeing who might fit in there. I think I’ve hit Garrett Jones second this year already. His on-base percentage plays, especially against right-handed pitchers.”

Hurdle as ruled out putting Neil Walker in the 2 hole, simply because Walker is a better run-producer lower in the lineup. “As I’ve done my analysis of which spots in our lineup show up the most with runners in scoring position, it’s 4 and 5. He has the ability to drive in a run,” Hurdle said.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (22-26) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Steve Pearce 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Matt Diaz rf, 6. Chris Snyder c, 7. Lyle Overbay 1b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (6-4, 3.84)

Cubs (22-26) – 1. Kosuke Fukudome rf, 2. Darwin Barney 2b, 3. Starlin Castro ss, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Carlos Pena 1b, 6. Alfonso Soriano lf, 7. Tony Campana cf, 8. Koyie Hill c, 9. Doug Davis lhp (0-2, 8.31)


Pregame: McDonald’s rebound


The other day, GM Neal Huntington admitted the Pirates might have made a mistake by not putting righty James McDonald on the disabled list to start the season. McDonald was slowed during spring training by a injury to his left side — neither he nor the Pirates ever fully explained what it was — and he clearly was not ready to begin the regular season. Over his first four starts, McDonald went 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA.

However, McDonald has pitched much better lately, starting with a 4-3 win May 2 at San Diego. In his past four starts, J-Mac is 2-1 and has cut his ERA almost in half. After allowing five runs in his first start at PNC Park, McDonald has gone 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in his last two starts on the North Shore. Since being acquired from the Dodgers last July, McDonald is 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA at PNC Park.

»»» This is the first of four straight day games for the Pirates. They are 8-9 under natural light this season and are hitting .245 as a team. Neil Walker’s .354 average in day games ranks eighth-best in the NL.

»»» The Pirates have a .989 fielding percentage in May, which ranks fifth-best in the NL.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Braves (27-23) – 1. Jordan Schafer cf, 2. Alex Gonzalez ss, 3. Chipper Jones 3b, 4. Brian McCann c, 5. Eric Hinske lf, 6. Dan Uggla 2b, 7. Freddie Freeman 1b, 8. Joe Mather rf, 9. Mike Minor lhp (0-1, 10.38)

Pirates (22-25) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Steve Pearce 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Matt Diaz rf, 7. Lyle Overbay 1b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. James McDonald rhp (3-3, 5.51)


Post-game: Morton expects to see more lefties down the road


The Braves rolled out six left-handed batters in the starting lineup against Charlie Morton tonight, including Jordan Schafer in the leadoff spot. It was Schafer’s first big-league start in almost two years, filling in for Nate McLouth (out with a left oblique strain).

Going into the game, lefties were hitting .385 with 10 runs scored vs. Morton this year compared to right-handed batters, who were .156 with five runs scored. Morton said it forced him to throw more off-speed pitches, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see the strategy employed by more teams down the road if they have the option to do so.

“I would assume so,” Morton said. “I’ve done well against righties. The word’s out. So if they have good lefties they’re going to throw them out there. And they’ve got plenty of lefties. It’s a good lineup.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said he thought Morton was a little quick at times tonight, but was still impressed with the outing.

“He kept his emotions in check, he made pitches, he’s learning how to pitch without his best stuff, sometimes without his secondary pitches as well,” Hurdle said. “It’s probably the most left-handed hitters he’s had to face in a lineup so that’s another good experience. That’s going to happen. More and more teams are going to try to find a way to do that.”

= Interesting note in that before the game, Hurdle compared Morton to the Rockies’ Jorge De La Rosa in terms of being a pitcher that a lot of people had given up on and struggled before finding success. The Pirates went after De La Rosa in the offseason and, when they didn’t get him, turned to Kevin Correia. De La Rosa’s season likely ended tonight when he suffered a “complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.”

= The Braves had a ground-rule double in the fifth inning when Chipper Jones hit a fly ball to center field and a fan reached over and caught the ball in his hat for a second before it fell out. The officials conferred but the play stood as called, putting Martin Prado on third base. Here’s what Garrett Jones had to say about it: “That ball was going to hit off the fence but he reached down and caught it and almost brought it up. It actually helped us because it kept (Prado) from scoring from first. He probably would have scored so it saved us a run.”

= And finally, here’s a little post-game Evan Meek on striking out the side in the ninth. “It’s good to get back out there. It’s been a while. I was just telling myself to throw strikes, throw down, get some ground balls. Any time you can do that it’s nice. But I just go out and try to get ahead in the count and get guys to ground out or pop out, but it was good.”


Hanny not on the block


A trusted source today told me that, yes, the Texas Rangers have inquired about a possible trade for closer Joel Hanrahan. The overture was turned aside, though, as the Pirates are not actively shopping Hanrahan. Last night, Hanny escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam to notch his 13th save in 13 chances this season.

»»» GM Neal Huntington refuted a Yahoo! Sports report that high school pitcher Dylan Bundy warned the Pirates not to take him with the first overall draft pick. “We’ve not been told by any player in our four years here not to draft them,” Huntington said.

Bundy reportedly told the Pirates and a few other teams that he refuses to change his long-toss training regimen. Huntington said the Yahoo! story “put something out there that isn’t true about our system. We are not opposed to long toss. We don’t blanket-statement anything for anybody. We have a specific program in mind for our pitchers that we worked based on their individual strengths and talents. We’re open to long toss, if it’s done correctly. It can be an asset. If done incorrectly, it can be a tremendous disadvantage for a player and put him in harm’s way. That’s what we try to protect against. We want our pitchers to build arm strength and stay healthy.”

Huntington said there are “a number” of players in the Pirates’ farm system who use long toss as part of their programs.

»»» Infielder Gift Ngoepe went on the disabled list at Low-A West Virginia. Ngoepe already has missed a week due to a wrist injury. In 25 games, he hit .306 with two homers and five RBI. Left-hander Porfirio Lopez replaced Ngoepe on the Power’s roster and gave up an unearned run over two innings in his debut Saturday. Lopez, 21, had a 5.49 ERA in 11 outings this year for High-A Bradenton. Lopez pitched the past three years for the Pirates’ club in the Dominican Summer League.


Pregame: Meek’s role upon return


Righty reliever Evan Meek (shoulder tendinitis) pitched without incident the past two games in his rehab stint at Triple-A Indy, and will fly back to Pittsburgh today. Meek is expected to be activated off the disabled list Tuesday before the game against Atlanta.

When Meek returns, he’ll resume pitching in high-leverage, late-inning situations — but not necessarily as the main setup guy.

“Everytime we’ve talked about easing somebody back in, I haven’t eased him back in,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’ll pitch toward the back of the game. We’ll probably get him involved in the seventh or if there’s a quick (eighth) inning out there. He might pitch the eighth inning; we’ll see how it goes. We haven’t really stamped anybody, and they all know it. They’re all going to pitch late. This is the best he’s felt all year. No viral issues, nothing. I want to get him on the mound and see him go to work.”

»»» Pedro Ciriaco played all over the place in spring training, even including a couple of outings in the outfield. Ciricaco’s versatility will come into play while he’s with the Pirates, but Hurdle said the outfield is probably no longer an option. “The outfield was an experiment,” Hurdle said. “I heard the term ‘adventerous’ (used) and I think that was appropriate. We’ll see. I’m going to move him around based on need. If the opportunity presents itself, I might run him out there and let him try to track something down. We’ll see how it goes.”

»»» Are you the Pirates fan who hacked the Wikipedia page for Great American Ball Park?

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Tigers (22-23) – 1. Austin Jackson cf, 2. Scott Sizemore 2b, 3. Ryan Raburn lf, 4. Miguel Cabrera 1b, 5. Victor Martinez c, 6. Jhonny Peralta ss, 7. Brandon Inge 3b, 8. Casper Wells rf, 9. Rick Porcello rhp (3-2, 3.67)

Pirates (22-23) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Steve Pearce 3b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (1-6, 3.67)


Pregame: Pedro out, Pedro in


The Pirates have not yet announced any roster moves today, but it sure looks like they are about to swap Pedros by putting third baseman Pedro Alvarez (right quadriceps) on the 15-day disabled list and recalling infielder Pedro Ciriaco from Triple-A Indianapolis.

Ciriaco, 25, looked good in spring training — he hit .333 with four doubles and three stolen bases and played in a team-high 26 games — but was one of the final cuts. The Pirates instead kept Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez, who later was returned to the Cleveland Indians. At Indy, Ciriaco hit .190 and had a team-worst nine errors in 36 games. Last year, he played in eight games with the Pirates and had a single, double and triple in six at-bats. He struck out in the other three at-bats.

Alvarez has been bothered for a couple of weeks by a sore right leg. He re-injured it Sunday in the game against the Brewers, but played in two of the next three games. Alvarez was benched Friday due to the injury.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Tigers (22-22) – 1. Austin Jackson cf, 2. Ramon Santiago 2b, 3. Andy Dirks lf, 4. Miguel Cabrera 1b, 5. Brennan Boesch rf, 6. Jhonny Peralta ss, 7. Alex Avila c, 8. Brandon Inge 3b, 9. Max Scherzer rhp (6-0, 2.81)

Pirates (21-23) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (5-4, 3.97)