Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

4-17-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Ahh, Manfred ball giveth, and it taketh away. Nobody knows how to play the situation. I see teams get the run in the top of the 10th then just about go for conceding the tying run in the bottom half. Rarely do I see teams walk the batter to see if they can’t set up a double play and make it a ton harder to get that run home.

I hate Manfred ball FYI.

Let’s get into the thoughts today.

1. Shelton Will be Extended

I’m not breaking news, I’m relaying Jason Mackey’s reporting. Its happening, and the Pirates have already decided.

Before you fill up my comments with angry face emojis like anyone cares about that dumb stuff anyway, lets talk through this a bit.

For instance, the team has been shadowy about his contract status to begin with. Common perception is that he is a lame duck and after this year, he’d be technically unemployed. Mackey’s reporting made that sound at least less of an assured status than we’ve been going with.

Regardless, the team has decided to move forward with Shelton. Essentially saying they know what they asked him to do, and they know what they gave him to do it. Now they want to give him a chance at doing it with better players. To many fans, Derek Shelton was a “starter” manager, but this report clearly changes that, he’s now going to be expected to lead the team through the darkness and directly into the fight.

I’m not sure I like the message this sends, but I have to admit, I always thought this was going to happen. They signed him to a contract that carried with it a duration in which they were sure to send him next to nothing to work with. Many of the decisions being made by Shelton at a minimum were like choosing a dirty outhouse with toilet paper or a clean one with not one square.

To me, I think showing he could produce a 10 game improvement with an improved roster was a low bar I wanted to see him hurdle (no pun intended) before getting any kind of assurance he’d be retained.

2. What Has Surprised Me 16 Games In

First of all, Andrew McCutchen. I can’t say its going to last, but Cutch isn’t playing like an over the hill former star, he’s playing like every bit a bat you can’t take out of the lineup. I really wanted Cutch to come back, but I had mentally accepted he’d probably play 4 days a week, mostly at DH and while he’d contribute some, he certainly wouldn’t be someone this team would lean on in the middle of the lineup. All he’s done is go ahead and play all but one game with a .298 batting average and an OPS of .916. I mean, people, he’s already posted a 0.5 WAR number for 2023. His on base percentage is .426 driven up by his 11 walks. A 36 year old, getting on base almost half the time is just crazy.

Johan Oviedo – Look, I thought there was a good chance Oviedo would spend most of the year struggling to get his footing and if we were lucky, stake his claim to 4th or 5th starter by season’s end. Thank goodness for the Team I was dead wrong. Now, it’s not like he’s had 15 starts, so I or you, shouldn’t pretend he can’t or won’t regress, but man, he’s got some very special offerings. That slider he throws, I’ll just put it all on the table, I didn’t know that was there. What a weapon that thing is and scouting won’t help, if he throws it the way he can, it’s simply not something most hitters will touch. He’s already proven guys can now it’s coming, and they’re still not gonna hit it.

Carlos Santana – I knew a lot about Santana, not as much as Cutch, but he’s been around a long long time and I felt very comfortable I knew what they were getting. What I didn’t know was how impressive he’d be with all these kids. You’ll see him call back on the old Catcher skills and drape his arm over the starting pitcher to coach him up on holding runners a bit better. Look in the dugout how guys flock to him to talk about his at bat, or the at bat they just took. Hell, you’ll see the coaches go to him and point him at someone who needs a conversation. He’s played just about every day, and the dude is just a ball player. Super impressed.

And finally for today, Jason Delay. Where do I start? I didn’t expect him to make the team, and possibly below that I certainly didn’t expect him to contribute offensively in any tangible way. 9 games in, he’s only had 30 plate appearances, but I’ll take the .778 OPS from a backup anything, let alone catcher where hitting hasn’t been a thing since Cervelli started having concussion issues.

3. The Great One Debuts

Way back in 1955 on this date, April 17th, the Great One, Roberto Clemente made his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 21 didn’t begin his career wearing his now famous number, instead being assigned 13 for his debut and the first 7 weeks of his MLB career.

Something not everyone knows, he had a lower back injury from a car accident over the winter he was dealing with during his rookie campaign and struggled to identify many pitch types. Even given those disadvantages and the near constant racial and ethnic frustrations from teammates, fans and even local media, he was able to post a .255 batting average and showcase a special ability to field.

Sometimes I think about the mental strength it must have taken just to wake up and go to work everyday. Then I think of the forgiveness he showed to not only mend fences with many of the people who treated him poorly, but to the point of coming to love this city, I just can’t fathom it.

I think about what guys who hit .255 today (a much better number in today’s game than it was back in 55) and the things I see written about them. The things I hear screamed at them in the ballpark and honestly, because they’d get their cans kicked in today, some of them are being “reserved”, something that largely would have been unnecessary back in Roberto’s day.

When we look back at the “greatest generation” it’s easy to see why.

I never got to see one swing, throw, or sprint, but I grew up with a grandma and grandpa who had two pictures in their house that weren’t family. Jesus in the living room, and Roberto Clemente in the garage. All I can do is make sure some of the stories I heard don’t get lost.

Far too many people think Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and all of a sudden it was easy for everyone else of color following him. We may have come to understand that skin color doesn’t matter, but we wouldn’t be here if these heroes didn’t have skin thick enough to rival a Rhino.

4. Is the Rotation Sustainable?

Oh, I sincerely doubt it.

Not to be a wet blanket here, but we’ve just watched 6 straight quality starts, folks, that just doesn’t happen a whole lot. Sad thing is, they only won 3 of those games, but that’s beside the point here.

I think at this point, it’s fair to expect Mitch Keller to give you a good outing most times out. Roansy has been off, but he’s also someone who hasn’t let down the team often, so good shot he gives you a good one too.

Oviedo is young and hasn’t really done this long enough to know, but he’s becoming a lot safer to spend hope on.

Hill will give you a good one or a real bad one and there is rarely an in between. Vince Velasquez was way above his head in his last outing. He hasn’t even approached that since 2018.

So I’ll just leave it there, no, I don’t see this as sustainable.

Now, that’s not the same as saying they’ll stink either, it’s just not reasonable to expect this mix of starters to keep performing like that.

At some point the bats really do have to show up more consistently to take advantage when the arms do provide.

That’s really why the Cardinals series split isn’t seen as the success it was, they pitched well enough to win 3 or 4.

5. Let’s Talk About the Lineup

There are a ton of considerations when making out a lineup. Playing time, rest, offense, defense, bumps and bruises, so today let’s simply look at the best current offensively focused lineup this team can muster based on who’s on the roster right now.

So here goes, then we’ll talk about why I made some of the choices I did.

  1. Ji Hwan Bae – 2B
  2. Bryan Reynolds – LF
  3. Andrew McCutchen – DH
  4. Carlos Santana – 1B
  5. Rodolfo Castro – SS
  6. Jack Suwinski – CF
  7. Ke’Bryan Hayes – 3B
  8. Connor Joe – RF
  9. Jason Delay – C

Look, it’s never going to look as good missing Cruz, but from a strictly offensive standpoint, I love the flow of this lineup and I think some members like Delay and Joe has simply earned more time.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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