Rabu, 31 Agustus 2011

Still more pitches to chase

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

HOUSTON - AUGUST 30: First baseman Garrett Jones(notes) #46 of the Pittsburgh Pirates can't reach a ground ball during baseball game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on August 30, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The Pirates' 19th consecutive losing season is all but sealed, and September will see the Steelers and Penguins in action, burying baseball even deeper in our city's sporting consciousness.

Anyone still remember Michael McKenry's magical blast into the bleachers?

How about just Michael McKenry?

Well, the schedule shows a full month remaining, 27 games from the finale tonight in Houston to the season-ending series in — where else? — Milwaukee.

And yeah, somehow, I still can think of 11 reasonable goals for the rest of 2011:

11. Leave Harrison alone.

No, it won't alter the course of the franchise to give a 5-foot-8 backup infielder a few extra at-bats. But neither will it hurt.

Josh Harrison seldom walks, so he doesn't fit the modern mold of a hitting prospect, but he gets the barrel to the ball. It might be a gapper, might be just a poke, but there's actual contact. That's not a trait to ignore in a lineup that generates so much wind the National Weather Service soon will assign a name.

I propose "Chase."

10. Same with Presley.

These Pirates aren't about to become a Lumber Company, so they might as well try Lightning. The current outfield of Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata just might make up in speed — offense and defense — for what the corner men lack in power.

No need, then, to see much of Ryan Ludwick, Xavier Paul or Matt Diaz.

9. Court Lee.

Yeah, Garrett Jones is hitting with pop, but that comes and goes monthly. The Pirates would welcome having Derrek Lee back as their starting first baseman in 2012, and getting him comfortable at pitcher-friendly PNC Park could help keep him from leaving through free agency.

Have a better idea at first?

8. Consider other keepers.

Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit have costly 2012 club options that probably won't — and shouldn't — be exercised. But both are amenable to working out longer-term deals, and the Pirates' needs in the rotation and at catcher make discussions a must.

7. Find a shortstop.

The Pirates don't sound intent on bringing back Ronny Cedeno for a third head-scratching season, so there's no risk in trying Chase d'Arnaud or even Brandon Wood.

When the offseason comes, though, help will be needed from the outside. And, given this management's miserable track record with shortstops — they wouldn't recognize Ozzie Smith if he did a backflip on Federal Street — I strongly recommend outsourcing the task.

6. Let Meek inherit the eighth.

It's no coincidence that the Pirates have allowed more runs in the eighth inning than any other, with Evan Meek, their lone All-Star in 2010, shelved all year by shoulder pain. His imminent return to the mound will be a boon to the bullpen well beyond this month.

5. Prod McCutchen to sign.

It's understandable that the Pirates and McCutchen aren't close on an extension, especially if management is low-balling McCutchen as it did with the offer that Tabata stunningly accepted.

But be sure that McCutchen will notice if Neil Walker gets done, especially before season's end. Walker and Tabata then will be due millions in guaranteed money while McCutchen keeps playing for minimum wage in 2012.

4. Draw 2 million.

The Pirates have drawn 1,682,888 to PNC Park for an average crowd of 25,117. They would have to average 24,393 over the final 13 dates to hit 2 million for just the fourth time in the team's 125-year history.

Even coming close would be the statistical achievement of the year.

3. Save some face.

A reader tweeted me this the other day: Through July 25, the Pirates were the best team in the Central Division. Since then, they're the worst.

For all the accolades heaped on Clint Hurdle this year, a September swoon would pile on top of the second-half damage already done, and that should reflect just as badly on the manager.

Let's see if Hurdle can make a difference after his first real taste of managing the Pirates.

2. Get Pedro a visa.

I've maintained all along that nothing mattered more to the Pirates in 2011 than Pedro Alvarez's progression toward becoming a big-time power hitter. That obviously hasn't materialized, but I'll stand by his importance, as well as his character and other intangibles.

For now.

If he blows off the Pirates' reasonable request to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, I reserve the right to change my mind. With all the time missed to injury and all those swings and misses, there is no viable reason Alvarez should say no.

1. Win in Milwaukee.

Seriously, just once.

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