Game 10: McCutchen powers up

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

CutchAtBatCHICAGO — Around the All-Star break last year, I was scrolling through the list of Pirates all-time home run leaders and was a bit surprised to see Andrew McCutchen’s name among the top 10. I’ve always viewed McCutchen as an all-around standout rather than a pure slugger, but there he was last year, just a couple of dingers behind No. 5 Dave Parker.

I wrote a story about McCutchen’s “sneaky” power on July 18, when he was one behind the Cobra. McCutchen matched Parker nine days later. He hit nine more that season to end the year with 175 home runs. Yesterday, he got his first of 2017 — a two-run shot to left-center field in the first inning. McCutchen is the first Pirate to homer at Fenway Park against an AL team since Jimmy Sebring hit one off Cy Young in the first game of the 1903 World Series.

That home run was historic for another reason: it was No. 176 and moved McCutchen into a tie with Barry Bonds for fourth place in franchise history. McCutchen probably will go yard a few more times this season, but he almost certainly will climb no higher than fourth on the all-time list. He’ll never catch Hall-of-Famers Willie Stargell (475 home runs) and Ralph Kiner (301). Could he get even with Roberto Clemente (240)? Maybe … if McCutchen gets a few more years in Pittsburgh. That would mean a contract extension and we all know the chances of that happening are about nil.

>>> The Penguins will knock the Pirates off Root on Tuesday, but you can still watch black-and-gold baseball on TV that night. MLB Network will televise the 8:15 p.m. Pirates-Cardinals game in the Pittsburgh area. Root will carry the Penguins-Blue Jackets game at 7:30 p.m.

>>> You want links? I’ve got one for ya:

Red Sox 4, Pirates 3:  Chad Kuhl’s solid outing (6.1 IP, 5 hits, 1 run, 6 strikeouts) was wasted by the bullpen.

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Josh Harrison 4, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, John Jaso 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 6.55)

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber 7, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ben Zobrist 9, Addison Russell 6, Jason Heyward 8, Miguel Montero 2, RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 6.00), Javy Baez 4.

Gamecatst: Cole has twice as many victories at Wrigley Field (six) as in any other road venue. For comparison’s sake, Cole has just two road wins against all three other NL Central rivals combined. … Hendricks last season went 3-0 with an 0.47 ERA (one run in 19 innings) in three starts against the Pirates.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00)

Cubs:  RHP Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.08)

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38)

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64)

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25)

Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 8: Gregory Polanco sits for the first time in ’17

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By Chris Adamski

NORTH SHORE – Facing lefthanded starters on consecutive days likely would have signaled an ideal time for a Gregory Polanco day off, regardless.

 

Taking advantage of an opportunity to rest a balky left shoulder made the decision that much easier for Clint Hurdle.

 

Gregory Polanco & Clint Hurdle
(Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review photo)

“Just to get his shoulder a break,” the Pirates manager said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re going to get another lefty (Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday in Boston), so it’s not so much that it’s a lefthander. It’s just the day; the day we chose.”

 

Polanco has hit .400 (6 for 15) in his past four games, reaching safely in all of them. He’s a .300 hitter at PNC Park since the start of last season. He’s a .202 career hitter against lefthanders, including 2 for 18 this season.

 

Adam Frazier is going to make his sixth start of the season (second in left along with two at second, one at third and one as the designated hitter).

 

Wednesday’s game is No. 6 in a stretch of 13 consecutive days with a game and 19 of 20 in which they play. Hurdle was asked if it’s already time to start picking spots to get players a day of rest.

 

“You know, we have continued to communicate with these guys on their thoughts and work with the training staff and the recovery program that we have in place,” Hurdle said. “We will see as we go on. Because I can sit here and tell you a plan – and then we play 14 innings today. So we have a mindset of what we want to do and how we’ll do it with certain individuals, and we will see how that plays out.

 

“But I do think the guys are fresh and they are ready to play and they are looking forward to getting into some routines.”

 

 

>>> Afternoon delights

Rare in the Major Leagues these days – even for the Cubs – is playing afternoon games on four consecutive days. But after Wednesday’s game, the Pirates head to Boston for a makeup game starting at 2:05 p.m., followed by Friday-Saturday-Sunday games at Wrigley Field all with a scheduled first pitch of 2:20 p.m. ET.

 

“Four straight days games,” Hurdle said, “that will be a routine in and of itself there.”

 

Hurdle was reminded that the Pirates recently went though a stretch in which they 27 day games (out of 28 total games) over a stretch of 30 days ending March 26 – in Florida during the first month of Grapefruit League play.

 

“We did that for a while,” Hurdle said, “so that one shouldn’t be too far to pull back from.”

 

At least losing balls in the new LED lighting won’t be a concern.

“Aaah! Natural light! Get it off me! Get it off me!”

 

 

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

“It’s not going our way right now with runners on base and in scoring position. But we’re going to fix it. We’re going to get there for sure.”

Offense lets Pirates down again in rainy home loss to Reds

 

“Facing big league hitters, you can’t really conserve anything — especially when you’re trying to get big league hitters out with the stuff I have.”

Notebook: Reliever LeBlanc downplays role in Monday’s Reds game

 

The Pirates have reached the billionaires club.

Team surpasses $1 billion in worth, according to Forbes


 

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None (due to conflict with Penguins playoff game). Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: Billy Hamilton 8, Jose Peraza 4, Joey Votto 3, Adam Duvall 7, Eugenio Suarez 5, Scott Schebler 9, Zach Cozart 6, Tucker Barnhart 2, LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Bell 3, Josh Harrison 4, Adam Frazier 7, RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

Gamecast: In seven career starts at PNC Park, Nova has twice as many victories (four) as walked batters (two). Of course, that mirrors his production with the Pirates overall (six wins, three walks) since being acquired in an Aug. 1 trade. … Garrett, a former basketball player at St. John’s University, is making his second major-league start after pitching six shutout innings in his debut last week.

 

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m.. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 3.60)

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 7.20)

 

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 6.55)

Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 6.00)

 

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00)

Cubs: RHP John Arrieta (2-0, 2.08)

 

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38)

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64)

 

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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Game 7: Josh Harrison returns, Wade LeBlanc beloved by all

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By Chris Adamski

NORTH SHORE – Josh Harrison’s absence from the lineup lasted one day.

 

Harrison was back at second base, back in the familiar (for this season) No. 7 spot in the batting order for Tuesday’s game against the Reds.

JHay
The real J-Hay will be on the field when the wildly-popular new PNC Park between-innings scoreboard segment, “Lil J-Hay” is playing. (Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review photo)

 

Harrison was struck by a pitch on his right calf in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game and did not play Monday. He finished out the inning but was in pain and was lifted the following inning. It was not expected he would be out long – and today was the proof.

 

>>> LeBlanc the hero:

Wade LeBlanc’s 5 1/3 innings of effective relief (only one baserunner, albeit it was a home run) on Monday night continued to earn praise from manager Clint Hurdle and teammates the following day because it saved the bullpen. Hurdle suggested that if LeBlanc only lasted an inning or two that a roster move or two would have been necessitated today to alleviate the taxed bullpen.

 

“I joked with the guys that I want to get through the season with seven relievers,” LeBlanc said. “So whatever I can do to make that happen, I’m game.”

 

A cynic would have termed LeBlanc’s work Monday as “mop-up duty.” LeBlanc didn’t use that term (and neither did us reporters). But talking to him, you have the feel he’s quite self-aware and comfortable in his own skin with his role at this point of his career (age 32, after 10 seasons worth of often bouncing back and forth from the minors).

 

A respectable .243 career hitter, check out LeBlanc’s one-liner when asked if he enjoyed coming up twice with the bases loaded against the Reds’ Brandon Finnegan and Michael Lorenzen on Monday:

“Not against those guys. I need to hit against me.”

 

 

 

>>> Rain, rain, go away??:

As this is initially posted coming up on close to two hours prior to the scheduled first pitch, the tarp remains on the field at PNC Park. Accuweather predicts rain will begin in Pittsburgh before 6 p.m….

Stay tuned.

 

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

“I’ve got to forget about this one and move on to the next one.”

Pirates’ Glasnow goes wild in loss to Reds

 

“It’s taken three times to find it, but I found it (Sunday). That’s the way it is sometimes.” 

Pirates notebook: Cole rediscovers slider in 2nd start

 

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Reds: Billy Hamilton 8, Jose Peraza 6, Joey Votto 3, Adam Duvall 7, Eugenio Suarez 5, Scott Schebler 9, Scooter Gennett 4, Tucker Barnhart 2, RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: Starling Marte 8, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 4, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00 in one start)

Gamecast: Yes, that really is his nickname. William Theron Davis was tabbed “Rookie” at birth by his father. “I’ve never answered to any other name,” Davis said. … Davis made his big league debut Thursday vs. the Phillies. He worked three innings and gave up four runs on five hits, walked two and struck out four. His catcher was Stuart Turner, who also was playing his first major league game. It was the first time in Reds history a starting pitcher and catcher made their big league debuts in the same game. … The Reds acquired Davis as part of the December 2015 trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees.

 

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None (due to conflict with Penguins playoff game). Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

 

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m.. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 3.60)

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 7.20)

 

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 6.55)

Cubs: TBA

 

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00)

Cubs: LHP Amir Garrett

 

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib

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Game 6: Marte uses all his tools

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

IceBucketAfter yesterday’s dramatic win against the Braves, Gerrit Cole had some high praise for walkoff home run hero Starling Marte: “He’s probably, truly the only five-tool player I’ve ever played with.”

Power wasn’t one of those tools last season, though. Marte went deep just nine times. He hit 19 homers in 2015. It wasn’t that Marte got off to a slow start last season, either — he hit three home runs by April 26.

Manager Clint Hurdle has repeatedly said he believes there is more juice in Marte’s bat. Will it show up this summer? “I don’t know,” Marte said through translator Mike Gonzalez. “We’ll see. I don’t try to hit home runs. I just try to put the ball in play, steal a base. Sometimes, I get a good swing and the ball goes.”

>>> About four hours before tonight’s game, Alen Hanson and Phil Gosselin took grounders at third and second base. Joey Cora looked on as Hurdle swung the fungo bat. The workout enabled Josh Bell to get in more reps snagging throws at first base. Two birds, one stone.

>>> According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Reds’ 8-0 win vs. the Cardinals was their second-largest shutout in St. Louis in the last 100 years. The Reds blanked the Cards,10-0, at Busch Stadium on Aug. 28, 2013.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Braves 5: Marte’s homer won it, but don’t overlook David Freese’s DP-busting slide in the ninth inning.

Notebook: In which Stewie makes his first start of the season and Glasnow awaits his turn.

>>> Monday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds (4-2): Billy Hamilton 8, Jose Peraza 6, Joey Votto 3, Adam Duvall 7, Eugenio Suarez 5, Scott Schebler 9, Zack Cozart 6, Scooter Gennett 4, Tucker Barnhart 2, LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates (3-2): Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Bell 3, Adam Frazier 5, RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Finnegan won’t turn 24 until Friday but already is in his third season in the majors. On Wednesday vs. the Phillies, he became the first Reds pitcher to throw at least seven shutout innings while allowing no more than one hit in his first start of a season since Jerry Arrigo in 1967… Three of Glasnow’s seven outings with the Pirates last season came against the Reds. At Great American Ball Park, he tossed three scoreless innings of relief Sept. 18 and one hitless inning Sept. 16. At PNC Park, he gave up two runs on five hits in three innings Sept. 11.

UPDATE: 3:59 P.M.Josh Harrison is not in the lineup today, but will be available off the bench, per Hurdle. Harrison was struck by a pitch on his right calf in the eighth inning last night. He stayed in the game for the rest of that inning and limped as he made his way around the bases to score the Pirates’ third run, then was benched in the ninth. “It tightened up dramatically (during the game), but he felt better this morning,” Hurdle said. Harrison said he was fortunate to be hit on the right (back) leg. “If it had hit me on the left leg, it would have gotten a lot more bone,” Harrison said.

UPDATE: 6:24 P.M. — Zack Cozart was scratched due to a sore wrist. The new Reds lineup is above.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None (due to conflict with Penguins playoff game). Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 3.60)

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 7.20)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 5: Cole seeks 23rd win at PNC Park

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By Rob Biertempfel

ColeAllStarThis afternoon, Gerrit Cole will make his 50th start at PNC Park. Cole ranks third with 22 wins here since the ballpark opened in 2001. He trails Paul Maholm (36 wins at PNC Park) and Zach Duke (33). At home, Cole has put up a 3.32 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.  Over 436 road starts, he has a 3.23 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. The Pirates have gone 31-18 in his previous home starts.

“His ability to recall pitches, sequences and reasons why after a game is as good as anybody I’ve come across in all the years I’ve been involved in ball,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It jumps out at you. I freshen up every starter, either every day or two days after his start, ask them for some ups and for some points they found challenging. His abiltiy to recall is second to none.”

>>> David Freese is out of the lineup for the second day in a row after taking a hopper off his collarbone on Friday. However, Hurdle said Freese is available off the bench today.

>>> The battery of Cole and Chris Stewart has been successful in the past, and they are reunited today. However, Hurdle said that ESP between the two “has nothing to do whatsoever” with why Stewart’s making his first start of the season today. “(Francisco) Cervelli has been working his way back from his foot challenges and he’s in a good place. A day game after a night game, that’s the sole reason for (Stewart’s start).”

>>> Trevor Williams is the lone member of the bullpen who hasn’t yet gotten into a game. Williams has done work on the side to stay sharp and was warming up during last night’s game.

>>> As of 11 a.m., Hurdle said it had not yet been determined whether Daniel Hudson and/or Tony Watson will be available out of the pen today after woking in back-to-back games.

>>> A win today would give the Pirates their first three-game sweep of the Braves in Pittsburgh since April 29-May 1, 1994.

Luis Heredia in 2011, checking out big league spring training camp.
Luis Heredia in 2011, checking out big league spring training camp.

>>> RHP Luis Heredia will continue to be developed as a reliever, according to farm director Larry Broadway, but has not yet been assigned to a minor league team and remains in extended spring training. Heredia was an intriguing prospect — a 16-year-old with a 92 mph fastball — when the Pirates signed him in 2010 for a $2.6 million. At the time, it was the biggest bonus the club had ever given an international amateur. Heredia has batted poor conditioning, shoulder soreness and general inconsistency/ineffectiveness with his pitches. Last season, he worked as a closer with High-A Bradenton — he was pretty good for about the first half of the year, then crashed in the second half. He’ll be a free agent after this season and almost certainly will not be back with the Pirates.

>>> UPDATE 1:52 P.M. — Some news and notes from the weekly presser with GM Neal Huntington:

Nick Kingham sprained his ankle near the end of spring training. After the ankle has healed, it will take a while for Kingham to be built up before he’s ready to join the rotation at Triple-A Indianapolis. “The challenge with Nick is that he hadn’t gotten to five innings or 90 pitches when he rolled the ankle, so there is some build-up time,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “So, it’s going to be every bit of April and maybe even some of May before we get him out and get him going.”

– David Freese will get the bulk of the playing time at third base during Jung Ho Kang’s absence. Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier also will get some time at that spot. “We feel very comfortable David can (take) a huge part of the workload over there,” Huntington said. “It’s as much about how much Clint (Hurdle) uses and feels about the matchups with Adam, Josh and David.

– The Pirates are “still working through” getting a valid passport for Gregory Polanco, Huntington said. The issue prevented Polanco from traveling to Montreal for the two preseason exhibition games agains the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates will play an interleague series in Toronto in mid-August. Huntington said he expects Polanco’s situation will be resolved by then.

– There have been a few shaky defensive plays with the new outfield alignment of Polanco in left, Startling Marte in center and Andrew McCutchen in right. Huntington is not concerned it’s anything that will linger. “We’re showing the typical adjustment period coming north (from spring training),” Huntington said. “We play very few night games in spring training and when we do the lights are completely different.” The outfielders also might be bothered by the LED lights on the new videoboard in right field. “The LED lights might have an impact, as they are a different look than our guys are used to,” Huntington said. “We’ve had a few challenges, but we feel these guys are going to adjust quickly.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Braves 4: In which Chad Kuhl is bailed out by Gregory Polanco’s four hits and the Braves’ sloppiness

 

Notebook: Freese update and thoughts on lineup construction

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves (1-4): Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Freddie Freeman 3, Adonis Garcia 5, Nick Markakis 9, Brandon Phillips 4, Tyler Flowers 2, Jace Peterson, RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates (2-2): Adam Frazier 5, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, Josh Bell 3, Jordy Mercer 6, Phil Gosselin 4, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Umpires: HP: Phil Cuzzi, 1B: Vic Carapazza, 2B: Mark Ripperger, 3B: Tom Hallion.

>>> Monday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 4 (for real this time): Freese not in lineup, but available and “all good”

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By Chris Adamski

NORTH SHORE – David Freese is sore. Sore enough he’s not in the lineup. But not sore enough he’s not available, if needed, Saturday.

 

The Pirates’ third baseman took a ball off the collarbone after a nasty hop late in Friday’s chilly win against the Atlanta Braves. He’s not in the lineup for Game 2 of the series today; the resulting chain reaction is Josh Harrison moving to third and Adam Frazier playing second.

 

 

23
Freese on Friday — before taking a ball off the clavicle (Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review photo)

“It feels better than I thought,” Freese said of how he felt Saturday morning. “But obviously it’s tight and sore. Not in (the lineup); available to go in later if need be, and we’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”

 

Also of note, John Jaso making his first start of the season at first base. Manager Clint Hurdle attributed that to the fact that a knuckleballer is going for the Braves (R.A. Dickey) and that Jason has experience against Dickey (3 for 10 with two doubles).

 

>>> Speaking of the knuckleball… Just had a couple quick, fun chats with Steve Blass about it. As Hurdle mentioned today, most knuckleballers anymore are knuckleballers because they failed in some other route to get to the majors and turned to it as a last resort. I asked Blass if he ever considered doing that, as Blass’ career arc is famous for its high highs followed by a sudden and precipitous drop.

 

Blass said he threw a knuckleball twice: Ernie Banks hit a home run, and Lou Brock smacked a double. “Postgame, Brock said it as a hanging slider. He didn’t even know,” the always-affable Blass said with a chuckle. “So, that was the end of that.”

 

A few minutes later, I ran into Blass again. He added another quick story: From the other side, he once got a good swing on a pitch from Phil Niekro – perhaps the most famous knuckleballer of all-time. It was a good enough drive it was destined to be a home run – but alas, it was caught by a glove over the wall.

 

>>> No Kemp. Outfielder Matt Kemp, the Braves leader in average (.500), home runs (two), RBIs (four) and OPS (1.654) on the very early season, is out of Atlanta’s lineup Saturday (tight hamstring).

 

>>> The weather is much, much, much, much, MUCH better today than it was for Opening Day yesterday. As I type this, it’s 60 degrees with not a cloud in the sky:

Much different weather for Home Game 2

A post shared by Chris Adamski (@chrisadamskipgh) on Apr 8, 2017 at 12:28pm PDT

 

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

“Dammit, Jordy, that base hasn’t moved in 150 years! You don’t need to be looking over there to throw it.”

Mercer’s magic saves Pirates in home opener

 

“It doesn’t really do much for my confidence because my confidence is already high.”

Just another day: McCutchen helps Pirates offense break slump

 

“I need to be mindful of my children, what they’re doing, how they’re doing and the demands that they have on their time.”

Pirates notebook: Hurdle finds more balance with work, family

 

“That’s the best experience I’ve ever had at a baseball game.”

Kevin Gorman column: Catching a memory from the home opener

 

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Freddie Freeman 3, Adonis Garcia 5, Nick Markakis 9, Brandon Phillips 4, Jace Peterson 7, Kurt Suzuki 2,  RHP R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Adam Frazier 4, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, John Jaso 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 5, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut)

Dickey’s final tune-up was on March 31, when he tossed two scoreless innings and gave up one hit against the New York Yankees in an exhibition at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. It was the knuckleballer’s best outing of the preseason.

 

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves (1-3): Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates (1-2): Lineup TBA. RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

 

>>> Monday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

 

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00)

 

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova

 

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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Game 4: Dashing through the snow …

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PNC Park as of 8:43 this morning. Not a postcard-pretty day for ball.
PNC Park as of 8:43 this morning. Not a postcard-pretty day for ball.

By Rob Biertempfel

I know it’s Happy Home Opener Day ’n’at, but please excuse me if I seem a bit ragged (I haven’t shaved since Wednesday) and cranky this morning. The storm that washed away game three of the Pirates-Red Sox series yesterday also delayed my flight home for several hours. When I triggered my garage door opener this morning, the clock in my car said 3:02 a.m. Five hours later, I’m in the press box at frosty PNC Park.

Misery loves company, though, am I right? Fellow scribes Adam Berry, Stephen Nesbitt and Dustin Dopirak were on the same flight, so we hit a few watering holes near Fenway Park before grabbing an uber to the airport.

OK, enough whining. On with the game. Oh, wait. One last dose of whining (because SNOW) …

>>> The Braves originally were going to start R.A. Dickey today, but wound up moving the knuckleballer’s season debut back to Saturday. RHP Mike Foltynewicz will get the ball today.

>>> Chad Kuhl is still bummed about yesterday’s rainout, which wiped out his scheduled start. He had lots of family who made the 5 1/2-hour drive from Delaware to Boston to see him pitch against the Red Sox. “My mom and dad and brother were actually at the exit (into Boston) when I texted to tell them the game was rained out,” Kuhl said. “I’m upset they drove all that way for a rainout.” Kuhl will pitch tomorrow against the Braves and is in line to work the make-up game Thursday at Fenway Park.

>>> During his pregame presser, manager Clint Hurdle was asked about what progress he believes his team has made: “They’ve grown from being young players and learning things to … They’ve gone from being survivors to being contributors to now, I believe, being winners. The opportunity is in front of us with this group collectively to own everything we do moving forward. That would be my biggest get for the season. The thing I’m encouraged by, watching the transition through spring training, is the work that was done physically, mentally. I’m very encouraged by all of it.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Here’s everything you need to know about the home opener,

Gorman: “It’s the opener, simple as that, so it’s ‘Play ball!’ Let’s just hope it’s not with snowballs.”

Hurdle didn’t exactly call out Starling Marte for an ill-timed bunt attempt, but …

Notebook: In which it rains (and rains, and rains) in Boston, Juan Nicasio goes one and done, and Andrew McCutchen is 0 for the season so far

>>> Friday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves (1-2): Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Freddie Freeman 3, Matt Kemp 7, Nick Markakis 9, Brandon Phillips 4, Adonis Garcia 5, Kurt Suzuki 2, RHP RHP Mike Foltynewicz

Pirates (0-2):  Starling Marte 8, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 4, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Nova went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. He also pitched in two minor league games during spring training. … Last season, Nova ranked fifth in the majors with a average of 1.56 walks per nine innings pitched. He issued three walks in 64.2 innings pitched after being traded to the Pirates.

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Dickey’s final tune-up was on March 31, when he tossed two scoreless innings and gave up one hit against the New York Yankees in an exhibition at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. It was the knuckleballer’s best outing of the preseason.

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Rainout: Hurdle won’t blame Marte (not out loud, at least)

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By Rob Biertempfel

marte2BOSTON — UPDATE 9:49 A.M. – The final game of the Pirates series at Fenway Park today has been rained out. It will be made up one week from today at 2:05 p.m.

The Pirates and Red Sox have five common off days this season, with April 13 being the easiest option. The Red Sox will be in the midst of a homestand, while the Pirates will be between the end of a homestead and the start of a weekend road series against the Chicago Cubs.

The other four dates would put either the Pirates or Red Sox in violation of MLB’s rule which prohibits a team from playing more than 19 games in a row.

>>> Locked in a scoreless tie in the ninth inning, the Pirates put their leadoff batter on first base when Jordy Mercer reached via an error. Up stepped Starling Marte, who at that point was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts — and 0 for 7 on the season.

Facing Craig Kimbrel, whose fastball was touching 100 mph, Marte tried to bunt. He popped the ball ball into foul ground where third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose error let Mercer reach base, made an easy catch. The Pirates went on to lose 3-0 in 12 innings. Manager Clint Hurdle said Marte decided on his own to try the bunt. “Marte felt it was the best move for him to try to help us win the game,” Hurdle said. “There was no bunt sign on.”

Did Marte make the correct choice? Hurdle smiled. “I’m not going to second-guess my players publicly. I know it’s hard to bunt a guy who throws almost 100 mph. However, that’s the initiative he took to try to help us win the game. It’s hard to tell a player, when he says he’s trying to help you win a game, that he might’ve done the wrong thing.”

>>> In addition to Mercer reaching on the miscue, the Pirates got five singles and one walk. None of those runners made it past first base. “I’m not going to overcook this thing offensively,” Hurdle said. “They threw some good stuff at us.” OK, in that case, let’s allow Joe Block to do some cooking via Twitter …

>>> Juan Nicasio tossed a tidy 11th inning, getting two strikeouts and a grounder. He has the ability to pitch multiple innings, but gave way to Antonio Bastardo to start the 12th. Bastardo served up Sandy Leon’s game-winning, three-run homer.

Hurdle said he didn’t want to tax Nicasio by keeping the righty out there on a late, chilly evening. “He’d gotten up earlier in the game and gotten hot,” Hurdle said. “Then he was down for three innings and got hot again. I didn’t think it was in our best interests on a cold night to run him out any more than he had to in the second game of the season.”

>>> Andrew McCutchen got his first assist as a right fielder on Wednesday. He made a catch to rob Mitch Moreland of a home run for the first time, too. That’s two items checked off the bucket list in the same game. “Now, if I can get my first hit off that bucket list, I’ll be good to go,” McCutchen said.

McCutchen went 0 for 5 in the 12-inning loss against the Red Sox. That dropped him to 0 for 9 on the season. It’s the deepest he’s gone into a season without getting a hit. In 2012, McCutchen went hitless in his first six at-bats.

Despite the slow start, McCutchen said he feels good at the plate. He didn’t strike out on Wednesday (after whiffing three times on Monday) and flied out twice to the outfield. “I know I haven’t gotten a hit yet, but it’s game No. 2, so I’m not going to stress over it,” McCutchen said. “I’m going to keep my approach. I’m going in the right direction. I took some good swings at some good pitches. I hit a couple of balls decent. That’s baseball sometimes. I’m looking forward to (Thursday) and going at it again.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Red Sox 3, Pirates 0: Leon whacked a Monster shot, as the Pirates waste a stellar effort by Jameson Taillon.

Notebook: In which Gregory Polanco is fixed in No. 4 spot, the payroll dips, and the home opener is threatened by The Winter That Wouldn’t End.

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

PNCparkAllStar>>> Friday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA RHP R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Mike Foltynewicz

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 2: Team payroll goes down this year

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

moneyBOSTON — This morning, I spent a few minutes looking over the MLB payroll information compiled by USA Today. The Pirates’ opening day payroll of $94.6 million ranked 23rd among the 30 big league clubs. It’s also about $6 million less than the club’s total player salaries last year.

Payroll information can be tricky to decipher. The USA Today numbers involve only players on the active (25-man roster) and do not include deferred payments, incentives, money received in trades or the costs of players who were released. Keep in mind that when Pirates execs, such as prez Frank Coonelly, talk about team payroll, they like to use figures that pertain to the entire 40-man roster — it inflates the total, even if most of those players are making around the MLB minimum of $535,000. This year, the Pirates’ 40-man roster salaries cost about $104.3 million (which is still a lower total than it was a year ago).

>>> A team press release from today reminds us that Friday’s game against the Braves is not merely the home opener — it’s the “home opener presented by PNC Bank.” Gates will open at 11 a.m. Starling Marte will get his Gold Glove on the field before the game.  Sally McCrady, chairwoman of the PNC Foundation, will throw the honorary first pitch. Bob Friend will be recognized for his contributions to the franchise over the years. “God Bless America” and the National Anthem will be performed by Gabby Barrett. The four children of fallen Canonsburg police officer Scott Bashioum will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

IndyLogo2>>> UPDATE 5:33 P.M. – Triple-A Indianapolis released its preliminary roster. The starting rotation order will be Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, Tyler Eppler, Clay Holmes and Josh Lindblom. The bullpen will consist of Cody Dickson, Dan Runzler, Pat Light, Brett McKinney, Dovydas Neverauskas, Angel Sanchez, Edgar Santana and A.J. Schugel. A press release from the team listed just two outfielders — Austin Meadows and Danny Ortiz — and added that 1B Jose Osuna also will get some time in the outfield.

AltoonaLogo>>> UPDATE 5:45 P.M. — Double-A Altoona’s roster includes four of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America: SS Kevin Newman (No. 4), RHP Yeudy Garcia (No. 16), LHP Brandon Waddell (No. 17) and 2B Kevin Kramer (No. 21).

>>> UPDATE 5:51 P.M. – RHP prospect Nick Kingham sprained an ankle during spring training and will begin the season on the minor league disabled list as he gets built up to eventually join Indy’s rotation. Kingham, 25, had Tommy John surgery in May 2015.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

CutchSwing2017Some interesting comments from hitting coach Jeff Brason at the end of this piece about power bats and launch angles.

Gorman: Josh Bell left his mark on the Green Monster.

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 4, Josh Bell 3, Adam Frazier DH. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia 4, Andrew Benintendi 7, Xavier Bogaerts 6, Hanley Ramirez DH, Mitch Moreland 3, Chris Young 9, Jackie Bradley 8, Pablo Sandoval 5, Sandy Leon 2. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

Gamecast: On Monday, Gregory Polanco said he expected to start the game in left field. Polanco, who has a tender shoulder, was the designated hitter in the season opener. … During the winter meetings, the Red Sox swapped prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz to the White Sox for Sale. … In his final spring training tuneup, Taillon worked three innings Friday against the Blue Jays. He gave up a run on three hits, walked one and struck out two. His final Grapefruit League ERA was 3.52 over five outings. … The Red Sox have won each of their past six and 15 of their past 17 interleague games. … Here’s a good tidbit courtesy of Pirates PR man Jimmy Trdinich: As high school opponents, Andrew McCutchen (Fort Meade High) homered off Sale (Lakeland High). They have never faced each other in a regular-season MLB game, but McCutchen did get a base hit off Sale during the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City.

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

>>> Friday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA RHP R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Shafted by the shift

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

ColeCervelliBOSTON — Gerrit Cole cannot pitch and simultaneously play third base. If he could, the Red Sox’s five-run fifth inning in yesterday’s 5-3 win against the Pirates would have been at worst a more manageable one-run inning.

If you need the details of the inning, you can find them in my game story in today’s Trib. Let’s cut to the chase: the Pirates were shafted by their shifts. Against Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon — neither of whom has sprinter’s speed — the infield set up with SS Jordy Mercer hugging the second base bag and, when Leon was up, with 3B David Freese in shallow right field. The numbers say Sandoval and Leon (who are both switch-hitters) more often pull the ball to the right side when they bat lefty.

The ball Sandoval hit went precisely to the spot where Mercer would have been standing if he wasn’t shifted. And, of course, Leon would not have bunted to no-man’s land if Freese, the third baseman, had actually been at … um, third base.

There were two outs. Sandoval and Leon were the numbers eight and nine batters, respectively. They are slow. The Pirates already had very good odds of getting out of the inning with a 0-0 score or at worst a 1-0 deficit. Instead, they tried to jack up those odds even higher and rolled snake eyes.

There was palpable frustration in the clubhouse after the game. However, none of the players dared speak up about the shifts during interviews. It’s a tiny clubhouse, and several coaches and front office folks were within earshot — as well as the Pirates’ traveling analytics wonks, who set up their laptops on a table in the center of the room.

Cole: “I just got into a little trouble there. … They found some holes. … They just hit ‘em where we weren’t.”

Francisco Cervelli: “That’s they way baseball is now. That’s it.”

Mercer: “It sucks. That’s the bad part about the big shifts. In big situations, it doesn’t work out for us sometimes.”

CervelliDuck>>> Cervelli whacked a fly ball to the deepest part of Fenway Park, the center field notch. Jackie Bradley Jr. made a fantastic running catch to rob Cervelli of what would have been at least a double. Cervelli really tagged the ball … “But it’s Bradley,” he said. “He’s been doing those kind of plays for years now, so it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a pro. He’s one of the best.”

>>> UPDATE 1:03 P.M. – The roster for High-A Bradenton is out. It includes three first-round draft picks — Cole Tucker (2014), Ke’Bryan Hayes (2015) and Will Craig (2016) — along with pitcher Mitch Keller (second round, 2014) and outfielder Casey Hughston (third round, 2015). Baseball America ranks Keller the club’s No. 2 prospect (ahead of Tyler Glasnow). Hayes (sixth), Tucker (eighth) and Craig (ninth) also are among the top 10. You can find the complete Bradenton roster here.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Red Sox 5, Pirates 3: The mood in the postgame clubhouse said the players believe they out-shifted and out-smarted themselves in the fifth inning.

Columnist Kevin Gorman says the Pirates expect and desperately need more out of McCutchen and Cole

Notebook: In which Frazier leads off, Cutch dodges the question and Taillon preps for his turn on the big stage.

Want some Boston perspective? It’s always a treat to read a Hall of Famer like Dan Shaughnessy. (And, yes, he does accurately rate the Pirates as “mediocre.”)

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

>>> Friday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA RHP R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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– Rob Biertempfel