The Pirates still have not decided who will close out games during the 2011 season: Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek.
“They haven’t said anything,” said Meek, here at Pirate City for a weeklong voluntary minicamp. “In terms of [management officials] making their decision, they have haven’t said anything, but it isn’t something that should keep you up at night. Whether it is the eighth or ninth inning that I end up working, you still need to go out and get three outs. You know that as a person who does what I do.”
“If they’ve got their mind up already about who the closer is going to be, I don’t know,” Hanrahan said. ”I’m just trying to get ready for spring training. I’d be happy with doing either one, working the eighth or ninth. I know I’d be fine with whatever role it is, just as long as we are getting the opportunities. If we get the opportunities, that means we are winning games and, really, that’s the main concern around here.”
General Manager Neal Huntington has said they are discussing the role, and would name a closer before spring training starts (pitchers and catchers report February 13th, first workout for all players is on the 19th). It’s also not his main priority in mid-January.
“We have talked in generalities of choosing one or the other for those specific roles. We have talked in generalities of using both. Clint and I need to spend some more time, in the future, talking about this because I know both guys, Evan and Joel, are hungry to pitch.”
“This is not something that we have to answer right now, but this is something that we want to have an answer to before spring training,” Huntington said. We won’t have a competition for the closer … during spring training. Whoever is our closer, is our closer.”
After Octavio Dotel was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July, both Hanrahan and Meek split closing duties; Joel picking up six, Evan four.
The guys in the pen, however, are used to routine and the uncertainty of who would pitch in the ninth did effect them.
“It was different,” Hanrahan said of last season. “Everyone likes to have a role and know when exactly the situations are that they Dere going to come into a game. Last year was different. We’d kind of sit there and look at each other, and then the phone rang [in the bullpen] and sometimes that is how we found out who was going to work. It was just different.”
Both have said they would they would be happy being the closer, but there is no adversarial between them.
“You just learn to control the things that you can control. That is all you can do,” Meek said. “And, after that, you let everything else just be. That is something you learn the more you play this game.”
- It’s still undetermined where pitcher Tim Alderson will start the 2011 season. He will have to prove to Pirates Farm Director Kyle Stark during minor league spring training that he is ready for another shot at double-a.
“I have no idea where I’m going to start the season,” Alderson said. “Probably, I’ll go back to Altoona, but I’m not really looking to where I’m going to be. It’s about how I’m going to react and be able to pitch. If I can pitch (well), no matter where I’m at, I’ll have a good shot of getting back to where I used to be.”
Here, he tells the story of how it felt to be demoted to High-A in 2010.
- The Kansas City Royals have signed left-hander Jeff Francis to a one-year deal.
Francis, who has spent seven seasons with the Rockies, has a 55-50 record with a 4.77 ERA in 150 games.
The Pirates were reported to be interested Francis. Clint Hurdle managed Francis for five years when he was manager in Colorado.
- Former Pirates pitcher Ian Snell signed a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
- Jose Tabata did not make MLB Network’s “Top 10 left fielders -right now” list that aired on Thursday night. He did, however, receive a mention to those players to just miss.
Baseball America ranked the Pirates Top 10 Prospects of 2011:
1. Jameson Taillon, rhp
2. Tony Sanchez, c
3. Stetson Allie, rhp
4. Starling Marte, of
5. Luis Heredia, rhp
6. Bryan Morris, rhp
7. Rudy Owens, lhp
8. Jeff Locke, lhp
9. Zack Von Rosenberg, rhp
10. Chase d’Arnaud, ss/2b
I asked Tony Sanchez how it feels to be the #2 ranked prospect in the Pirates system. He said, “pretty damn good. still lots of work to be done tho.”
Some news and notes from day three of mini camp:
- Jose Tabata played against Jorge Julio (who recently signed a minor league deal with the Pirates) this offseason during winter ball. “He looked good,” Tabata said. “He’s still a good pitcher.”
- Players have noticed Tabata’s offseason weight gain by refering to him as “a beast.” Altough he claims to weigh 212 (Pirates media guide said he weighed 210 last year) it’s all muscle, not fat.
“Yeah, I’m bigger,” Tabata said, grinning. “I worked out in the gym every day this winter. I want to be bigger and stronger. This year, my idea is to hit more home runs.”
Tabata hopes that the added strength will help him produce more homeruns during the 2011 season.
“It’s a good feeling,” Tabata said. “But I have to be careful not to let it change my swing. Sometimes, when you want to hit home runs, your swing gets real long. I can’t let that happen.”
- Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, Joel Hanrahan, Neil Walker and Ross Ohlendorf held a round table discussion with some of the Bucs top minor leaguers. “I have no idea what I’m going to tell them,” Ohlendorf said. “I’ll come up with something.”
Tony Sanchez tweeted later that night saying, “had a good meeting with Hurd and some of the older big leaguers. lots of insight on how life is as a big leaguer.”
- Sanchez also broke the news (via twitter) that he was invited to spring training: “Just got the word that im invited to Big League Camp. Unreal! Get to pretend im one of the guys… “
- MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Pirates are one of six teams that have offered Jose Veras a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.
Veras posted a 3.85 ERA in 48 innings for the Marlins in 2010.
- Ross Ohlendorf took a break between conditioning and meetings to answer fans questions during an online chat (You can read the entire chat transcript here).
On if he is entering the new season healthy: “While the season didn’t get off to the best start for me, I was very happy with how I pitched those two months and feel I learned a lot from my early season struggles. My arm is feeling great right now, and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season.”
On the impact of manager Clint Hurdle: “Clint has already been making a great impression on all of us down here at mini-camp this week. He has great energy and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the game. He has been to the World Series twice in the last five years and we are all working toward sending him back there again soon!”
Ross Ohlendorf tossing on the field.
Steve Pearce taking batting practice.
Catcher Tony Sanchez (far left) at minor league camp.
- Clint Hurdle on the difference between mini camp and spring training: “Today, it was more eyes-on. We’re not doing any heavy-duty coaching right now. If we see something that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it. We’re not grading anybody out right now; that will start in spring training. Now, it’s about getting our feet underneath us, getting familiarized with personnel.”
- Clint Hurdle on if he’s happy with the attendance at mini camp: “The one thing you can’t control in these camps, they’re voluntary. I had conversations with some of the guys. There will be some guys here part-time, some of them will be here full-time. I’ll work with the people who are here. It’s not going to be held against anybody who’s not here. There are different reasons some guys aren’t here. Some of the guys who aren’t here, they’ve been around a little bit longer, they know what’s at stake and they know what they need to do. I’m happy with the guys who are here. They guys that aren’t, we’ll get them tuned in and, not that they’re catching up, but we’ll get them on board and in place when they get here.”
Tyler Yates and Kevin Hart threw bullpen sessions on Tuesday (both are rehabbing from surgeries). They each threw 25 pitches (only fastballs). Pitching coach Ray Searage said “I like what I saw.”
Hart, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum, said, “It was pretty good. I felt calm and relaxed and everything. It felt good to get on the mound.”
Yates had Tommy John Surgery in 2009 and suffered set backs during the 2010 season said, “Hopefully, I’ll be game-ready by the first day of spring training. If I’m a week behind, that won’t be too bad, either. Right now, I’m not worried about my velocity; it’ll come. My arm feels strong.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sat down for a presser after day one of the mini camp:
On why he preaches an old-school message of preparation and routine: “It’s important from the first time we’re together to put some staples in place that we’ll revisit throughout the season. You don’t hear the term ‘new school’ very often; you hear ‘old school’ more frequently. In our situation, it’s very appropriate because we’re building upon scouting people, going out and finding players, player development. That’s the way we’re going to have to do things. We’ll add some extra parts, when appropriate, when we find good fits. I think the players need to hear a message from the manager that’s clean, clear and accurate.”
On if he worries about trying to do too much, too soon: “The one thing I want to do is get the men out on the field, watch and listen. I have to ask good questions. I have to rely upon my coaching staff to take care of their individual responsibilities with the players their in charge of Really good men have gone before me here. We’re not going to be teaching a whole lot of revolutionary ideas. We’ve just got to get better at the fundamentals of the game. I think that is in place. I also think that when you come in from the outside … I’m sure these guys have made their calls on me and the new coaches. They want to know what you’re about, where you’ve been and things like that. I’ve had enough experience that during a game there’s not too much that’s going to get thrown at me that I haven’t already experienced as a player, coach or manager. Hopefully, I can be a sounding board. Hopefully, I can be someone who can continue to push ‘em, encourage ‘em and guide ‘em towards playing the game at a championship level. It’s not going to happen overnight, but there are going to be some staples in place that we’re going to get down early and they’re going to know what I do want from them.”
On emphasizing the simple stuff when a franchise is trying to rebuild: “We’re not starting over. I think there’s some good things in place. I’m trying to build upon the positives that already were here. The men who came before me have done some good things. The group that’s been here the past three years, Frank [Coonelly] and Neal [Huntington] and some of the coaches who were brought over, have done hard work. It just hasn’t come across on the playing field like we want it to. So, from that standpoint, we’re going to be professional. We’re not going to fear anything. I’m going to share with them some of the staples that I’ve seen work. It’s not so much that the mentality is different. There’s no such thing as a small thing. Coach [John] Wooden said that, and he’s a pretty smart coach. I let them know from the first day that we’re going to hold ourselves to a championship level of execution. That’s one thing that is not negotiable.”
On the difference between being a coach and a manager: “You’re in a role of leadership, even as a coach. But as the manager, I’m accountable for a very large portion of all the things that go on, on the field. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. When you’re a coach, you’ve got an area of heightened importance. Now, I’ve got to make sure my coaches have the freedom to coach, know the players and get them to know me. I want them to know I’ve got their backs. We’re going to do this together. I need to carry myself in a managerial fashion. I’m not here to be their friend; I’m here to manage the ballclub, first and foremost. I have to get this club up and running in a much better fashion than what we’ve been able to do in the past.”
The Pirates have announced what players will be at Piratefest this year. The indoor baseball carnival features live events, autograph sessions, prizes, games and much, much more. The event runs Friday, January 28th(for season ticket holders only), Saturday, January 29th (10-8) and Sunday, January 30th (Noon-5). You can purchase tickets here.
Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Evan Meek, Garrett Jones, Jose Tabata, Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia and James McDonald, along with new manager Clint Hurdle, pitching coach Ray Searage and bench coach Jeff Banister are scheduled to attend.
Yours truly will also be at Piratefest all day on Saturday and Sunday, so be sure to say hello.
Pirates beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers fans questions in this weeks inbox (You can read the entire transcript here). Here, she addresses the current pitching rotation.
Are the Pirates done pursuing free-agent pitchers? Can we expect any more help other than Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen? Neither of them seems to be a front-of-the-rotation guy. I certainly was hoping for more given the young talent in the field and the poor starting pitching performance last year.
The Pirates will contend that even if they don’t add any more starting pitchers this offseason, they will enter the 2011 season in better shape than they ended up last year. It’s hard to argue that given how bad the 2010 results were for the starters. Correia has potential to help stabilize the rotation, and Olsen gives the Bucs more depth for the back end of the rotation.
The truth is, though, that the biggest effect on the rotation can come not from the new additions, but the returning starters. Guys like Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln are going to have to put poor 2010 seasons behind them and move closer to their potential. If improvements can be made from that group, the rotation can go somewhere. If they don’t, it’s going to be another long season.
Now certainly, adding another experienced and proven starter would increase the chances of the rotation making significant strides forward. But there just aren’t many options left. The best free-agent pitcher left was Carl Pavano, who is returning to Minnesota.
A more realistic signing would be Jeff Francis, who continues to look for a contract that includes a guaranteed roster spot. The Pirates, who would give Francis the opportunity to play under Clint Hurdle again, might offer that. Francis, who has had recent injury issues, is a another risky sign. But he would likely take a contract laced with incentives.
Right-hander Kris Benson has announced his retirement.
The 36-year-old, and former #1 selection by the Pirates in the 1996 draft, decides to leave the game after nine big league seasons.
“I’m done,” Benson told the FOXSports.com via phone from his home near Atlanta. “I decided pretty much after this past season that I wasn’t going to pursue anything. I’ve been putting way too much into it and not getting enough out of it, as far as the rehab, working out, training, and then not getting the type of results I expect from myself.”
“I wanted to make this decision now, rather than go into another season on another Minor League deal. I didn’t want to go through the head games of, ‘Am I going to make the team?’ I don’t mind the pressure. I just don’t want to fall into another situation like I had the last couple years, where I busted my tail getting back and then got hurt again shortly after I made the team.”
“This is a chance for me to be at home with my kids and enjoy the family life, which I’m not used to,” Benson told FOXSports.com. “It’s something a lot of guys welcome once their career is over.”
Benson spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1999-04). He also played with the New York Mets (2004-05), Baltimore Orioles (2006-07), Texas Rangers (2009) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2010).
Benson’s best year came in 2000, when he posted career high’s in strikeouts (184), innings pitched (217.2) and games pitched (32). Benson finished with a 3.85 ERA that year –his best over his nine major league seasons. He also broke the record for most strikeouts in Pirates history for a right handed pitcher.
Injury plagued seasons, shoulder and elbow injuries have prevented him from continuing his career. Benson had a 70-75 record with a 4.42 ERA in 206 games (200 starts).
Pirates veterans Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit, along with Bucs primary catcher Chris Snyder were noticeably absent from the five-day mini camp that kicked off on Monday. Although the mini camp is not required, it is important for players to work with new Manager Clint Hurdle, meet the new faces on the staff/ball club and to build team chemistry.
I asked Maholm (on twitter) why he wasn’t attending the mini camp this week. Here is what he had to say:
“Have a personal trainer 4 times a week and throwing 4 times a week and spending time with fam. Sticking to the routine. Be down on feb 3rd.”