Pregame: More Sanchez

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Some leftover thoughts from catcher Tony Sanchez that didn’t make it into my story in Friday’s Trib:

… On making the jump from High-A Bradenton to Double-A Altoona: “Offensively, the biggest jump is … This isn’t A ball, man. They (pitchers) miss so many barrels. It’s a game of inches. Their ball has an inch or two more movement, an inch or two more break. That’s the difference between a ball in the gap and a 6-4-3 double play. That’s the thing I’m learning. These guys are up here for a reason, because they know how to miss barrels. But I’m up here for a reason, too. I know how to put the barrel on the ball.”

… On getting off to a slow start in early April: “The last thing you want to do is dwell on the ABs or get upset with the failure. This is Double-A; it’s not easy.”

… On tweaking his batting stance: “My base is a little lower and it’s helped me identify pitches earlier. I’m walking a little more and striking out less, and that’s always good. Obviously, I’m not pleased with the average or the power numbers, but it’s the first month. The day you start worrying about (how) you’re hitting in the first month is when you’re not going to be hitting in the rest of the months.”

»»» Bob Bush, a reader from somewhere out there in Internet Land, sent me this email regarding Friday’s blurb I wrote about Aaron Pribanic’s grandfather:

” I don’t mean to be unkind, and truly, eight seasons in the major leagues — with a team like the Yankees, no less — is quite an accomplishment. But Jim Coates’ response to the invitation to revisit the 1960 World Series, ‘Why would I want to go listen to them talk about how we lost?’ should be expanded upon. It was Jim Coates’ failure to cover first base on a ground ball by Roberto Clemente in the eighth inning. The Yankees were ahead at that point, 7-5. With two outs, on a ground ball to Skowron, Clemente got an infield hit because Coates does not cover the bag in time. Bill Virdon scored. Then Hal Smith homered and the Yankees trailed, 9-7. The Yankees tied it in the ninth, and then came Mazeroski. I wouldn’t want to revisit that, either, if I were Coates.”

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Astros (13-19) – 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Jason Bourgeois lf, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Brett Wallace 1b, 6. Angel Sanchez 3b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Humberto Quintero c, 9. Bud Norris rhp (2-1, 3.03)

Pirates (15-17) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Chris Snyder c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (3-1, 3.52)

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Postgame: A tough start

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maholm
Paul Maholm
seemed a bit preoccupied by his ongoing first-inning struggles Friday after the Pirates’ 3-2 loss against the Astros.

Maholm has allowed a total of seven runs in the first innings of his seven starts. Tonight was the fourth time this year the opposition had scored in its first at-bats against the left-hander.

The opening frame always has been tough for Maholm. Over his career, he has a 5.91 ERA in the first inning, a higher mark than in any other inning.

Tonight, Maholm quickly got into trouble by allowing a back-to-back singles to Jason Bourgeois and Michael Bourn. A sac fly gave the Astros a 1-0 lead.

After two walks and a wild pitch, the Astros had the bases loaded with two outs. Clint Barmes could have turned the inning into a total disaster, but instead grounded out to snuff the threat.

Maholm labored through 30 pitches, but yielded just one run. It was a nice, solid recovery and, as it turned out, boded well for the rest of his outing.

But when I started to ask Maholm about his great escape and how it set him up for the six strong innings that followed, he cut me off mid-question.

“I gave up one run,” Maholm snapped. “Get over it. I threw seven innings (and allowed) one run. Does it really matter if it’s the first or the fifth? I cruised for the rest of the time. Would I like to have a clean inning? Sure, but overall results are pretty much what we’re going for.”

Actually, that was going to be my point.

“It’s … I don’t know what it is about the first, but it is what it is,” Maholm said. “I got into a groove and, hopefully, I can come in next time and have that in the first inning.”

»»» Maholm was in line to notch his 32nd career win at PNC Park, which would have made him the winningest pitcher at the North Shore ballpark, until the Astros went ahead in the eighth. Instead, Maholm remains tied with fellow lefty Zach Duke.

»»» The Pirates have scored a total of 11 runs while Maholm has been on the mound this year. They have scored either one or zero runs in his four losses. “The guys are going to start swinging for me,” Maholm said. “I’ve got confidence in those guys.”

»»» Maholm went 9-15 last season and is off to a is 1-4 start this year. The bright side: he’s pitched seven innings in four of his past five games. The downside: “We’ve lost six out of my seven games, so it’s not really a whole lot of fun every time, talking to you (media) guys, trying to find a moral victory in the whole thing,” Maholm said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board, grind it out and keep going out there, trying to get on the other side of it.”

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Pregame: Ohlendorf not ready

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Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf (right shoulder posterior strain) this afternoon threw two 20-pitch sessions of live batting practice. He did not get exactly the results he wanted.

“I’m not quite ready to make a rehab start like I wanted to be at this point,” Ohlendorf said.

The problem is a lack of endurance and arm strength. Ohlendorf’s first set of pitches went fine, but pitching coach Ray Searage noticed Ohlendorf faded in the second set.

“We’re not there yet,” Searage said. “The delivery is good; I like what I see there. I see consistency of arm slot and the head staying on target. But his strength is not consistent. That’s normal.”

Ohlendorf will throw a bullpen session in Sunday, then be re-evaluated. Once he’s ready to begin a rehab stint, he’ll likely need at least three starts before rejoining the Pirates.

»»» Outfielder Jose Tabata is back in the lineup after sitting out the past four games with a tender hamstring.

»»» Third baseman Pedro Alvarez (sore right quadriceps) is out of the lineup. Alvarez took batting practice on the field. “Hitting is no problem,” he said. “It’s just running. I’m still a little tight, but it feels better.” Neither Alvarez nor manager Clint Hurdle would speculate on when Alvarez will be back in action.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Astros (12-19) – 1. Jason Bourgeois lf, 2. Michael Bourn cf, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee 1b, 5. Bill Hall 2b, 6. Angel Sanchez 3b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. J.R. Towles c, 9. Wandy Rodriguez lhp (1-3, 4.26)

Pirates (11-13) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Matt Diaz rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Chris Snyder c, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (1-4, 4.14)

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Post-game: Gotta watch that Chris Snyder

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You don’t usually see pitchers worrying too much about Chris Snyder stealing a base, and with good reason: Because he never has.

Ever.

Look at his stats and it’s goose eggs straight down the column from 2004 with Arizona until now. So it was amusing to watch Padres reliever Ernesto Frieri throwing to first over and over in the ninth inning. Manager Clint Hurdle suspects there was a little something more behind it than Frieri’s fear that the 6 foot 4, 240-pound catcher was going to turn on the jets, however.

“I really think if you look a little deeper they were trying to get their bullpen up and ready, give the guy a little more time,” Hurdle said. “I’m not so sure they were thinking that he might run. But, you never know. (Bud Black) is a good manager over there. I’m not so sure that was trying to pick him off.”

Just a few more little points that didn’t make it into the print edition here from the West Coast….

= 2010 top pick Jameson Taillon pitched four shutout innings, allowed two hits and struck out six in his second professional appearance with West Virginia tonight. He did not factor in the decision.

= Evan Meek had an MRI that confirmed the original diagnosis of shoulder tendinitis. His status is now week to week as there is a chance he won’t be ready to pitch at the end of his 15-day DL assignment.

= In the department of you don’t see that everyday, Jorge Cantu went diving over the wall in front of the cameraman next to the Pirates dugout chasing a foul ball in the eighth inning and wound up snapping his belt somewhere on the way down.

= That’s all until tomorrow. You stay classy, San Diego. Sorry, sorry, I couldn’t resist. That line’s been going through my head since I got here. And, even in a blog, I don’t think I can type the other line. Classic piece of cinema.

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Greetings from rainy Altoona!

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Another day, another town ... another tarp pull.
Another day, another town ... another tarp pull.

ALTOONA — I pulled into the parking lot at Blair County Ballpark this morning and — surprise! — it started to rain. It seems that’s the way it’s been all season, no matter whether I’m home, away or somewhere in between (like here). Karen Price is with the big league club this week in frosty Denver and sunny (??) San Diego, so I welcomed the chance to get a look at the Double-A Curve.

»»» Right-hander Bryan Morris (strained oblique) is scheduled to throw on flat ground from about 90 feet this afternoon. Morris, who went on the DL on Wednesday, told me he’s felt much better over the past few days and expects to be out “only a couple of weeks” with the injury.

»»» Lefty Aaron Thompson (2-2, 3.22) will start this afternoon (weather permitting) against Erie. I saw Thompson pitch a bit in spring training; the Pirates snatched him off waivers from the Nats over the winter.

»»» Daniel Moskos, whom the Pirates called up yesterday to replace Evan Meek (shoulder tendinitis), is the 83rd former Altoona player to reach the majors. Moskos pitched for the Curve in 2009 and ’10.

Moskos also is the first former short-season A State College Spikes alum to play for the Pirates. The Spikes already have sent seven former players to the majors from their one-year affiliation (2006) with the St. Louis Cardinals.

»»» I reminded catcher Tony Sanchez that Moskos toiled here at the start of last season and now is in the majors. GM Neal Huntington has said that he won’t hesitate to call up a prospect from Double-A, if the situation is right. Sanchez grinned — he knew what I was up to — but he didn’t take the bait. “I’m just focused on becoming a better player. I’m not worried about that other stuff,” Sanchez said. “I love playing here. It’s a great ballpark … when it’s not raining.”

»»» I had a very interesting chat with Jim Benedict, the roving minor league pitching coordinator, about right-handers Aaron Pribanic (2-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP in five games/four starts) and Tim Alderson (0-1, 1.35 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in seven relief outings).

Pribanic has shelved his curveball because he throws it with an overhand delivery, which tended to mess with the lower arm slot he uses for his sinker and four-seam fastball. A pitch-to-contact guy, Pribanic has a 1.73 ground out-to-air out ratio — not bad, but still not as effective as Morris (3.29), Jeff Locke (2.25) and Jared Hughes (2.21). More good news: Pribanic has issued just two walks in 24 innings — tops among Altoona’s starters.

Alderson’s drop in velocity is much-chronicled, but Benedict said it is symptomatic, not problematic. Alderson has taken well to tweaks to his mechanics and is pitching in relief to reinforce the changes. If things go well, Benedict would not be surprised to see Alderson eventually go back into a starter’s role.

»»» Altoona’s lineup for the game today against Erie: 1. Brock Holt 2b, 2. Starling Marte cf, 3. Quincy Latimore lf, 4. Jordy Mercer ss, 5. Jeremy Farrell 3b, 6. Tony Sanchez dh, 7. Miles Durham 1b, 8. Eric Fryer c, 9. Brad Chalk rf.

»»» “I haven’t hit lower than fourth since Legion ball,” Sanchez said. He understands the coaches dropped him in the order to help snap him out of a batting funk. The former first-round pick is hitting .262 with one extra-base hit (a homer) in 61 at-bats. “I’m not pleased with the average or the power numbers, but it’s the first month,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez isn’t the only one who’s struggling. Miles Durham is batting .188 and Jordy Mercer is at .154. The Curve (10-11) rank fifth in the 12-team Eastern League with a .245 batting average and fifth with 83 runs scored. They have 12 homers, which is tied for the fourth-lowest total.

“We haven’t really clicked yet,” Sanchez said. “This team is full of talent.”

»»» Moving from shortstop to second base seems to agree with Brock Holt, who’s batting .310. His .388 OBP is third-best on the team. “He gets two hits every night,” Sanchez said. “He’s a mutant. He’s my pick for the best hitter in the system.”

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