Thinking spring training

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Game 1 of the World Series is tonight, but, as usual, all Pirates fans have to look forward to is the start of spring training. The team won’t release its 2011 Grapefruit League schedule for another week or so, but listings for a few other clubs already have trickled out.

Today, the Orioles put out their ’11 spring schedule. The O’s opener is Feb. 28 against the Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton — however, I’ve been told the Pirates probably will play their first game a day or two before that.

The Orioles train in Sarasota, Fla., about a 15-minute drive from McKechnie Field. The two teams will play each other five times — Feb. 28 and March 10, 14, 17 and 24. That includes two 7 p.m. games (March 10 at McKechnie and March 24 in Sarasota).

The Pirates will face the Astros on March 20 in Kissimmee and March 23 at home.

There are at least three games against the Phillies — March 4 (home), 5 (away) and 18 (home).

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Casey wants a Miracle

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Former Pirates first baseman Sean Casey has set up a charitable foundation, Casey’s Clubhouse, to raise funds to build a Miracle League field in Upper St. Clair.

Miracle League fields allow physically and mentally challenged kids to play baseball. The specially designed fields have softer surfaces to prevent injuries and wheelchair-accessible dugouts.

In May 2009, a Miracle League field constructed with financial help from Pirates Charities opened in Cranberry, Robinson Township. When he played for the Reds, Casey helped raise funds for a field in Cincinnati.

“The South Hills needs one too,” Casey said. “There are 90,000 kids in Southwestern Pennsylvania who have a disability. One field is not enough. We need to get these fields all over Pittsburgh. I’m on a quest to make that happen.”

Casey hopes to open his field by Fall 2011. He’s gotten approval to build near the Rec Center on Mayview Road and has lined up local construction firm P J Dick to do the heavy lifting.

Casey figures he’ll need to raise about $1 million to complete the project. Donations can be made via the Web site www.caseysclubhouse.org.

“At the end of the day, when we’re all gone, hopefully, there’s a legacy for kids that’s left here with this field,” Casey said. “Kids of all ages and disabilities can go there and be a part of baseball and just be a part of the community. Why shouldn’t these kids be able to play baseball just like any other kid? Why shouldn’t their parents be able to sit in the stands and watch their kids play and see the joy in their faces?”

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Field of manager candidates shrinks

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The list of candidates for the Pirates’ open manager job is shrinking. Today, the Mariners hired Eric Wedge, who was the first person the Pirates interviewed the day after firing John Russell.

Also, media in Florida are reporting that Bo Porter seems to be the top contender to become the Marlins’ next skipper.

That would leave five candidates on the Pirates’ list (pending more interviews, if any): Dale Sveum, Jeff Banister, Ken Macha, John Gibbons and Carlos Tosca.

The day he was interviewed, something in my gut told me Gibbons will be the guy who’s eventually chosen. He seems to have many of the qualifications for the gig — a livelier personality than Russell, knowledge of what it takes to succeed in a so-called mid-market (Toronto), the ability to teach and motivate younger players, a bit of major league experience and a (I would presume) a reasonable price tag.

There was considerable speculation amid national media (and, I can tell you, from some industry sources with ties to the Pirates) that Wedge was the frontrunner here.

But would Wedge have been a great fit in Pittsburgh? I’m not sure.

As a manager, Wedge does not have a flashy personality. After he fired Wedge in 2009, Indians GM Mark Shapiro said the ex-skipper was “a blue-collar worker, a hard-nosed guy, extremely honest and consistent.”

However, Shapiro also said Wedge wasn’t “flamboyant” enough to endear himself to fans in Cleveland: “Fans want to feel the emotion and Eric, to protect the players, didn’t do that.”

Hmm … wasn’t Russell often criticized for not displaying enough emotion during games and press conferences?

In 2001, Pirates GM Neal Huntington, then an assistant GM under Shapiro, pushed for the Indians to acquire temperamental outfielder Milton Bradley. Wedge and Bradley had a sour relationship from the start.

Bradley was traded away during spring training 2004, just days after he had a heated argument with Wedge. Huntington later was demoted to special assistant/advance scout.

Would that previous turbulence have caused problems for Wedge and Huntington here? Perhaps. Either way, it’s now a moot point.

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Looking back at second half of the season

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At the All-Star break, the Trib ran a breakdown of highlights and (mostly) lowlights from the first half of the 2010 season. We didn’t get the chance to run one for the second half of the season, so …

July 17 – Erik Kratz, a 30-year-old rookie catcher, makes his first major league start. Kratz played in 555 games in the minors before the Pirates called him up from Triple-A.

July 18 – The Pirates rack up a season-high 19 hits, including seven doubles, and rout the Astros, 9-0. Andrew McCutchen injures his shoulder in the eighth inning making a diving catch and misses the next six games.

July 20 — Pedro Alvarez’s first career grand slam highlights a nine-run first inning, then Pirates scramble to hold on for a 11-9 victory against the Brewers. Alvarez adds a solo homer in the second inning and Neil Walker goes 5 for 5.

July 21 – Alvarez homers twice for the second game in a row in a 15-3 rout of the Brewers.

July 25 — After being designated for assignment, reliever Brendan Donnelly says the Pirates made the move to avoid paying him up to $1.5 million in performance bonuses.

July 28 — Ross Ohlendorf is struck on the head by a line drive hit by the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. Ohlendorf winds up with only a bad bruise. McCutchen reinjures his shoulder crashing into the outfield wall to make a leaping catch.

July 31 – The Pirates trade three spare parts for catcher Chris Snyder, which makes Ryan Doumit a part-time catcher/part-time right fielder. By the end of the day, relievers Javier Lopez, Octavio Dotel and D.J. Carrasco also are traded away.

Aug. 4 – About 16 hours after being hit in the back of the neck by a 90 mph fastball, McCutchen is back in the lineup against the Reds. “I’m good to go,” he says, then homers in his first at-bat.

Aug. 7 – Alvarez smacks a three-run homer with two outs in the 10th inning to cap a wild, 8-7 victory against the Rockies. Announcers Greg Brown and Steve Blass go ga-ga in the radio booth.

Aug. 8 – Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho are fired. Manager John Russell says internal issues led to the dismissals.

Aug. 14 – Russell shakes up the lineup, hoping to finally spark the offense. The Pirates score two runs in the first inning, then rack up 17 strikeouts in a 3-2 loss against the Astros. Bud Norris whiffs 14, the most ever by a pitcher at Minute Maid Park.

Aug 16 – The Pirates spend $11.9 million to sign draftees, including top two picks Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. The Pirates’ dollar total is the second-highest of the 30 MLB teams.

Aug. 19 – The Pirates buy the rights to 16-year-old pitcher Luis Heredia from Veracruz of the Mexican League for $2.6 million. It’s the fifth-highest bonus for an international signing in major league history.

Aug. 20 – A 7-2 loss against the Mets clinches the Pirates’ 18th straight losing season. It’s the fasted the Pirates have reached 82 losses in any season during their skid.

Aug. 23 – Leaked financial files show the Pirates made $34.8 million profit over the previous three years. Owner Bob Nutting holds a private press conference with four beat writers to defend the team’s policies, including a $20.4 million distribution of some profits to the partners in 2008.

Aug. 27 – MLB commissioner Bud Selig says leaked financial data shows the Pirates are “on the right track” with their rebuilding plan. A couple hours later, Lastings Milledge misplays a fly ball in right for a two-run triple, which sparks the Brewers to a six-run seventh inning and a 7-2 comeback victory.

Aug. 29 — Charlie Morton makes his first start in the majors in three months and is torched for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in an 8-4 loss against the Brewers. It marks the first time since 1954 the Pirates have five 10-loss pitchers. Evan Meek is hit on the hand by a line drive, but sustains only a bruise.

Sept. 5 – On a cool, sparkling afternoon, a 14 1/2-foot statue of World Series hero Bill Mazeroski is unveiled outside PNC Park. Inside the ballpark, the Nationals roll to an 8-1 victory, their fifth in six games against the Pirates this season.

Sept. 10 – The Pirates score two runs in the ninth inning off closer Francisco Cordero, but lose in the 12th on a fielding error by catcher Snyder.

Sept. 14 – Milledge pulls his left oblique muscle during extra batting practice, and is out for the rest of the season. His absence gives John Bowker a chance to play most every day down the stretch, auditioning for a 2011 gig.

Sept. 18 — James McDonald gives up a run against the D’backs, snapping his scoreless streak at 20 2/3 innings. It’s the team’s longest run since Zach Duke went 22 innings in 2005.

Sept. 24 – The Pirates blow a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning and lose 10-7 against the Astros. It marks the eighth time the franchise has lost 100 games in a season in its 129-year history.

Sept. 28 – The Pirates clinch the worst record in the majors and “earn” the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. It will be the fourth time the Pirates have the top selection.

Sept. 29 – Ten days after he guides Double-A Altoona to its first Eastern League title, manager Matt Walbeck is fired.

Oct. 1 — Chan Ho Park picks up career win No. 124 in relief, tossing three scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory against the Marlins. Park moves ahead of Hideo Nomo as the winningest Asian-born pitcher in major league history.

Oct. 3 – The Pirates lose 5-2 to the Marlins and finish with a 57-105 record.

Oct. 4 – Russell is fired and the coaching staff is told to look elsewhere for jobs.

QUOTES

— “Now that I’m here, it’s not time to sit back. I want to work hard and learn from these guys up here, so I don’t have to go back down and continue that grind.” — Kratz, who made his major league debut after spending eight-plus seasons in the minors.

— “It was like running a 100-meter dash and then running a marathon.” — Walker, after the Pirates go up 9-0 in the first inning and hold on for an 11-9 win against the Brewers.

— “I was watching it and, in my head, blowing it out.” — Alvarez, on his first career grand slam.

— “They said they’re moving forward. That’s fine. Good luck to the players here. I don’t know what their definition of moving forward is, but we’ll see.” — Donnelly, after being designated for assignment.

— “Ross must have a thick skull because that ball was hit hard.” — Garrett Jones, after Ohlendorf was hit in the head by a liner but got just a bruise.

— “As far as another catcher coming in, I’m all for improving the team. But, selfishly, I think I’m an everyday player. I expect to play and I want to play every day.” — Doumit, after the Pirates traded for Snyder

— “I lost two friends today, and that’s tough to deal with. But my main focus is this team.” — Russell, on his decision to fire coaches Varsho and Kerrigan

— “It sucks. I hate to cuss, but it does. Nobody likes it, nobody wants it.” — Russell, after the Pirates notched their 82 loss on Aug. 20

— “We have our bright spots and we have our days when we look like we don’t belong on the field.” — Jeff Karstens, after the 82nd loss

— “This group is young and it’s coming together. There is a plan being executed right now; it’s just not happening as quickly as anyone would like.” — GM Neal Huntington, in mid-August when the team had twice as many losses (80) as wins (40).

— “Yeah, we’ve set a lot of records this year.” — Russell, when it was noted the Pirates have five pitches with at least 10 losses for the first time since 1954.

— “I’m just thankful that we’re all alive and OK.” — Meek, after he became the third Pirates pitcher to be struck by a line drive.

— “Geez, how could anybody ever dream of something like this? All I wanted to be was a ballplayer. I don’t need all of this.” — Mazeroski, speaking at the unveiling ceremony for his statue outside PNC Park

— “I’ve done an excellent job here. Is it good enough? I don’t know.” — Milledge, on whether he’ll be an everyday starter in 2011.

— “It’s very special. I got a little lucky, but I also had a lot of motivation and a lot of focus.” — Park, after becoming the winningest Asian-born pitcher in MLB history

— “You look at our season in a nutshell, we got 83 losses from our starting rotation. You can’t overcome that. That was the biggest thing that disappointed me.” — Russell, on the final day of the season

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A few final notes …

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MIAMI — A few final notes from the 2010 season …

»»» Garrett Jones appeared in 158 games, the most by a Pirate since Jason Bay played in 159 games in 2006. The team record is 163, set in 1967 by Bill Mazeroski and in 1989 by Bobby Bonilla.

»»» Jose Tabata and Neil Walker failed in their bid to finish as the first set of Pirates rookies with .300-plus batting averages in 111 years. Tabata (.299) went 0 for 4 and Walker (.296) went 0 for 3 with a walk.

»»» Ronny Cedeno ended the season riding a seven-game hitting streak. During the stretch, he batted .400 (10 for 25) with two doubles, two homers, four RBI and three runs scored.

Cedeno accidentally wore a Spanish-language jersey — it had “Piratas” across the front — at the start of the game. After homering in the second inning, he changed into the usual road gray “Pittsburgh” jersey the rest of the team was wearing.

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Alvarez not in lineup for finale

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MIAMI — One last time …

»»» Pedro Alvarez last night turned his ankle running out a grounder and is not in the lineup for today’s season finale.

»»» Jose Tabata’s 14-game hitting streak ended last night. Tabata, Neil Walker (18 games) and Alvarez (11) had double-digit strings this season. According to the Elias stat wonks, it’s the first time the Pirates had three rookies with double-digit streaks in the same season since 1952, when Dick Groat, Clem Koshorek and Jack Merson did it.

»»» For the first time in franchise history, the Pirates have two rookies with at least 10 homers and 60 RBI: Walker (12, 66) and Alvarez (16, 64).

Lineups for this afternoon’s season finale:

Pirates (57-104) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit rf, 6. Ronny Cedeno ss, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Brian Burres (4-4, 5.01) lhp

Marlins (79-82) – 1. Emil Bonifacio cf, 2. Ozzie Martinez ss, 3. Logan Morrison lf, 4. Dan Uggla 2b, 5. Gaby Sanchez 1b, 6. Mike Stanton rf, 7. Wes Helms 3b, 8. Brad Davis c, 9. Anibal Sanchez (12-12, 3.62) rhp

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Hanny notches 100th K

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MIAMI — Reliever Joel Hanrahan got two strikeouts in the eighth inning tonight, giving him a career-high 100 for the season.

“There’s guys who have way more, but it’s a nice number to look at,” Hanrahan said. “I wish our season was better. But on the individual side, it’s a good thing to look at.”

“That’s a phenomenal feat, coming out of the bullpen,” manager John Russell said. “Especially to do it the way he did.”

It was not a clean inning for Hanrahan. He walked leadoff hitter Emilio Bonifacio and gave up an infield single to Ozzie Martinez. After Logan Morrison flew out to deep center, Hanrahan fanned Dan Uggla on a checked-swing and whiffed Gaby Sanchez with a 3-2 slider.

Hanrahan was thinking K all the way with Sanchez at the plate.

“What else do you think I was thinking about?” Hanrahan said, grinning. “I definitely wasn’t going to give in. (Catcher Chris) Snyder knew what I was trying to get to. It was fun.”

»»» Ronny Cedeno made another error, his 18th. The Pirates have made errors in nine straight games.

»»» Pedro Alvarez tweaked his left ankle running out a grounder in the eighth inning, but remained in the game. After the game, he was noticeably limping but otherwise was moving around OK.

»»» Jose Tabata’s hitting streak ended at 14 games. Over the streak, he hit at a .345 clip (19 for 55) with three doubles, two triples and seven RBI.

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Marlins scratch Sanabia

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MIAMI — Alex Sanabia was scratched due to elbow stiffness, so the Marlins will start Jorge Sosa, which probably will lead to The Night of a Thousand Relievers at Sun Life Stadium. Charlie Morton — who has not lost in his past four starts! — will make his 17th and final start of the season for the Bucs.

»»» Pedro Alvarez is raking. El Toro has homered in back-to-back games, giving him 16 — which ties him with Buster Posey for second among all major league rookies this year. It’s the most homers by a Pirates rookie third baseman. The last Pirates third baseman, rookie or vet, to hit this many homers in a year was Aramis Ramirez, who clubbed 17 in 2002.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (57-103) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Garrett Jones 1b, 6. John Bowker rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. Charlie Morton (2-11, 7.94) rhp

Marlins (78-82) – 1. Emil Bonifacio cf, 2. Ozzie Martinez ss, 3. Logan Morrison lf, 4. Dan Uggla 2b, 5. Gaby Sanchez 1b, 6. Mike Stanton rf, 7. Chad Tracy 3b, 8. Chris Hatcher c, 9. Jorge Sosa (2-3, 5.23) rhp

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Chan Ho Park makes history

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MIAMI — Chan Ho Park got his cutter from Mariano Rivera. Park got an injection of enthusiasm from his Pirates teammates. Park got support from everyone from Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley to Pirates manager John Russell.

All those ingredients added up Friday to a major league record: 124 career victories, the most by an Asian-born pitcher. Two weeks after tying Hideo Nomo, Park is now alone in first place.

“It’s very special,” Park said. “It makes me think about 17 years ago when I first came here. I think about the people who brought me here and who helped me.”

Park tossed three scoreless innings in the Pirates’ 5-1 victory against the Marlins. He dominated the Fish, striking out six of the nine batters he faced.

“I did, huh? It’s pretty cool,” Park said, grinning. “The cutter, which I’ve been working on, I saw Mariano (Rivera) throw it a lot earlier in the season with the Yankees. I learned the grip from him and I’ve been working on it all year. I didn’t have confidence on it during a game until tonight. I was aggressive, every pitch.”

Park began the season with the Yanks, but was put on waivers and claimed by the Pirates on Aug. 4.

“I was a little disappointed because I thought the Yankees were going to be a playoff team and maybe will win the World Series,” Park said. “But I knew this would be a big chance for me, so I prepared for the rest of the season. I wanted to achieve my goal. Now that I’ve done it, it’s very special. It’s great for my family and for my fans back in Korea.”

It took Park only a little while to feel at ease with the Pirates.

“This team has a lot of young kids,” Park said. “After my first couple weeks here, I began to feel awesome. This is a great — great players and talent. They respect me as a veteran and that makes me pretty happy. I feel comfortable here.”

Park has made a positive impact on the camaraderie in the bullpen. A few nights ago, Park took pitchers Daniel McCutchen and Brad Lincoln out for a Korean barbecue dinner.

“He’s a great guy with a great sense of humor,” McCutchen said. “And, as you saw tonight, he still has it, baseball-wise. ‘Chop’ went out there and was filthy.”

After the game, there were whoops and a beer shower for Park as he walked into the clubhouse. He’ll take a lot of souvenirs back to home to Korea this offseason.

“Skipper (Russell) told me he’ll give me the lineup card,” Park said. “I’ve got the ball. Everything I used, even my socks and underwear, I’m going to keep. It’s all very special.”

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Maholm: sore knee no big deal

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MIAMI — The Pirates are guaranteed not to have a 10-game winner this season, now that Paul Maholm, the only on the staff with nine wins, has been scratched due to a sore left knee. Maholm and manager John Russell both said the lefty was heatlhy enough that he could have pitched if it was a critical game.

“We came to an agreement that there wasn’t any need to push it through and make the final start,” Maholm said. “Everything is good. It’s not a setback or nothing major is wrong with it.”

Maholm said the knee bothered him a little during his last start and it got swollen after that game. He has had four surgeries on his left knee, and it bothered him off and on last season.

»»» This is the second time a span of three seasons that the Pirates cannot claim a pitcher with double-digit victories.

»»» Tonight, Daniel McCutchen will make his first start for the Pirates since Aug. 25. He’s never started against Florida, though the righty has tossed a pair of scoreless innings in two relief outings against the Marlins.

»»» The Pirates’ pitching staff has racked up 998 strikeouts, which is the team’s highest total since amassing 1,060 in 2006. This will be only the 10th time in team history the Pirates have gotten more than 1,000 strikeouts in a season.

»»» Russell said Ryan Doumit and Garrrett Jones are both healthy, even though neither is in the lineup today.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (56-103) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. John Bowker 1b, 6. Brandon Moss rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. Daniel McCutchen (2-5, 6.36) rhp

Marlins (78-81) – 1. Emil Bonifacio cf, 2. Ozzie Martinez ss, 3. Logan Morrison lf, 4. Dan Uggla 2b, 5. Gaby Sanchez 1b, 6. Chad Tracy 3b, 7. Mike Stanton rf, 8. Brad Davis c, 9. Adalberto Mendez (1-2, 4.19) rhp

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