Perrotto on the Pirates
The Pirates, at least for a night, made everyone forget about all the blowout losses, all the disappointing performances from players who were supposed to be key contributors and all those silly comments from club president Frank Coonelly.
Yes, the Pirates did the improbable on Tuesday night by beating Roy Halladay and the defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 at Citizens Bank Park. It even gave John Russell his first winning road trip in his third season as manager, which has to be some kind of record.
The Pirates don’t look like they are in the first year of their new dynasty as Connelly predicted in spring training as they are just 17-22 going into Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park that opens a two-game series and five-game homestand.
However, Tuesday’s stirring victory did provide hope that they might at least headed in the right direction on the endless road to respectability. With that in mind, let’s squint really hard and look for some positives about the Pirates through the first quarter of the 2010 season.
1. *Andrew McCutchen is really good
McCutchen is still two weeks away from the one-year anniversary of his major-league debut but the 23-year-old center fielder has already established himself as the Pirates’ best player and the cornerstone of their latest rebuilding attempt.
Without the benefit of having many legitimate major-league hitters surrounding him in the lineup, McCutchen is hitting .329 with five home runs, 12 stolen bases, a .383 on base percentage and a .447 slugging percentage. While he has committed a couple of silly errors, he continues on his path to becoming a Gold Glover in center field (.969 fielding percentage).
And we haven’t even touched on McCutchen’s intangibles. He is personable, has a great smile, has already taken on leadership responsibilities and is terrific with the fans. That is why McCutchen and not the wooden Pedro Alvarez will long be the face of this franchise.
2. *Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan are developing into dominant relievers
Hanrahan has a 4.70 ERA in 17 games after beginning the season on the disabled list but that figure is skewed by the six runs he gave up in one inning of the 20-0 debacle against Milwaukee last month. Hanrahan has 22 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings and been scored on in just three outings, including once in the last 12 since the beat down by the Brewers.
Meek’s ERA is a microscopic 0.69 through 19 appearances and he has 27 strikeouts in 26 innings. A sign that is just as encouraging is Meek has walked just six batters for an average of 2.08 per nine innings, down dramatically from his 5.55 mark as a rookie last season.
Both routinely throw their fastballs 95 mph and have shown the poise to step into the closer’s role once the Pirates either trade Octavio Dotel at the non-wavier deadline in July or allow him to leave as a free agent at the end of the season.
3. Some good things are happening on the farm
The Pirates should soon get a lift from two of their top prospects at Class AAA Indianapolis and, surprisingly, neither one is named Alvarez. Right-hander Brad Lincoln is 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA in eight starts, allowing 44 hits in 49 1/3 innings with 39 strikeouts and 12 walks.
While outfielder Jose Tabata has yet to develop the power many have hoped, he is hitting .327 with two homers, 12 RBIs, 19 steals and a .381 OBP.
Right-hander Bryan Morris went 3-0 with a 0.66 ERA in seven starts for high Class A Bradenton before being promoted to Class AA Altoona, where he will make his Eastern League debut Friday night at Erie, providing hope the Pirates might still have something significant to show for the trade of Jason Bay two years ago.
And the Pirates might also something to show for the Nate McLouth trade, too, as left-hander Jeff Locke is 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA in eight starts for Bradenton.
Meanwhile, two former first-round draft picks are resurrecting their careers after looking like busts.
Indianapolis’ Neil Walker has made a seamless transition from third baseman to super utility player at Indianapolis and is hitting .329 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 38 games. Moving from starter to closer at Altoona has rejuvenated left-hander Danny Moskos as he is 1-0 with eight saves and a 1.62 ERA in 14 games.