What Should the Pirates Do Now?

6-8-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

This isn’t some traditional date on the calendar. June 8th holds no significant importance in the game, but somehow, following a series loss to the lowly A’s at home and on an off day today, it feels like for this team, this year, it’s somehow a pivotal point of the season.

This division is simply not good. Look around enough and you’ll struggle to believe any of them have a real shot to do much in the post season, even if one is guaranteed to reach the playoffs. Check out what Corey wrote about the division this morning.

So I figured, today, lets come up with a list of things this team could/should do. Not two months from now, not at the deadline, but right now.

Help the Rotation

Let’s start at the beginning. Trades right this second would be difficult. For most teams it’s just too early to decide to move anything of worth, and for those who are in position to make that call, they likely don’t have much you’d want.

Now, the Pirates rotation is young, and that’s ok, but with youth comes teaching moments, struggle, and inconsistency.

Mitch Keller has struggled a bit in his last few outings, but if you’re worried about him I suggest you should get in line, they have 99 problems and a Mitch ain’t one.

Rich Hill is anything but young, but he too has inconsistency baked into his track record. He is what he is, and what he is happens to be a valuable veteran that is holding much of this glued together with twigs rotation hold up.

Johan Oviedo looks brilliant for 95% of his time on the mound, but that 5%, oh my, he looks like he belongs on the Wild Things. I think they’ll solve this, and I’m confident enough about the process they’ve taken here to believe we’ll see fruit by just continuing to trot him out there. No, I don’t think an opener is needed, his problem would just follow him to the 2nd inning.

Luis Ortiz is a still very raw talent. He’s going to look unhittable at times, he’s going to look like he belongs in Greensboro when he doesn’t. Last season he came up with a super high velocity fastball and a wicked biting slider that came out on the same plane. This offseason, the Pirates and Luis added a changeup and implemented a 2 seam fastball. They also asked him to pull back on the velocity in the hopes of going deeper and gaining some control. Nothing to do here but keep letting him work. I truly believe there is nothing left to learn in AAA.

Roansy Contreras is on the struggle bus. His velocity is down, his command is off, his curve isn’t landing, his slider gets no swings because the fastball isn’t a threat. Contreras himself remarked after his last outing that “his arm didn’t feel like part of his body”. In other words, he doesn’t know what’s wrong, or how to fix it. Derek Shelton candidly said much the same “I don’t know” he added “Learning experience here. We have to sit down and talk about it. We go 0-2 to the first hitter, we walk him, we don’t execute with two strikes, he didn’t execute the breaking ball today … I don’t think we were gonna let him go over 40 or 45 pitches. As not sharp as he was, that made the decision.”

Of all the learning going on in this rotation, Contreras is the only one I think requires the team to do something, well something some of you might consider drastic.

As we sit here, the Pirates have a few guys they could call up for a few starts, and that’s what I think Roansy needs. The plan was for Roansy to head to the bullpen to work on the issues the team has identified, and Contreras himself has no answers for. In order to do that, I think they need to get someone else up here so he can work on these issues in the pen.

I’ll suggest some guys here in a moment, but first, the reason I’d go this route as opposed to AAA, I don’t think Ro will learn at AAA. His stuff is so damn good, he’ll get outs at that level, and he needs to learn how to do more than just throw stuff, he needs to learn how his stuff plays off each other, maybe add a pitch, refine a couple, add velocity, all of that will be well served in the bullpen with coaches who know him best at this point.

Ok, so here’s who they could call, and each one will require a 40 man addition, which is ok, they have 2 spots. One of which will obviously go to Ji-man Choi when he returns from the IL.

Osvaldo Bido is a system guy, he’s 27 years old, never really been super highly touted, but he eats innings and has more AAA experience than just about anyone they have who wasn’t an NRI in Spring. In 11 games (9 starts) he has a 4.06 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP.

They could go big, and get the ball rolling on getting Quinn Priester’s feet wet. The 2019 first round selection has experienced some success at the AAA level, but he’s experienced setbacks as well. Recently, he’s been sharper, but this is a kid who needs to pitch, he’s not going to blow anyone away with stuff. In 11 games he’s posted a 4.38 ERA and a 1.422 WHIP.

This one is probably a reach, but I’d consider it. Jared Jones is in AA Altoona and was the Bucs 2nd round selection in the 2020 draft. If you want to talk about a kid with filthy stuff, Jared might be the poster child. He’s not refined, but he has arguably the best stuff in the system. Much like Priester, the Pirates will need to get him protected for the Rule 5 come December anyway. I see little possibility they don’t protect him, so might as well consider him promotable. In 8 games he has a 2.36 ERA and a WHIP of 1.107.

One more, and it’s Kyle Nicolas. Also a second rounder from 2020 by the Miami Marlins, the Bucs acquired him as part of the Jacob Stallings deal. The numbers aren’t great, but he too is a big stuff guy, and could survive for a week or two potentially on a callup. He too will likely need protected, and if they choose not to, I think they’ll lose him. In 11 games, he’s posted a 4.35 ERA with a WHIP of 1.530.

None of this is ideal, and you certainly don’t want to damage another to try to help Roansy, but at this stage, especially for Quinn and Jared, it might be good to let them see where their repertoire puts them against MLB competition, and again, come December they’ll both be added to the 40-man regardless, so I don’t think this is delusional to believe they might add either now.

If I had to pick one, I think I’d go with Bido. It’s low risk and he has a track record of at least being consistent. You may not get the highs, but you might not get the lows either. After all, if the guy you choose only gives you 2 innings cause they get bombed, it helps nothing. Jones as a fan would be the most exciting to me, I think he might even get some thinking about just keeping him up here.

Sure would be nice to have a Brubaker or Burrows.

By the end of June, Roansy goes back to the rotation if he’s found something, and if you’ve managed to stay healthy, you move out whomever is the low man. Everyone but Hill and Keller could be chosen. If he never gets back to the rotation, hey, it was always a possibility.

One thing you can’t do though, is just keep letting a kid go out there and get his brains beat in, it’s killing his soul and you can see it on his face. This isn’t a kid who’s experienced a bunch of failure.

Patch a Hole

The Pirates have gotten precious little from first base or catcher. Carlos Santana has played the position incredibly well, but the bat is just not playing right now. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s just hitting left handed too much, either way, it isn’t working.

Nobody needs me to tell you about the catchers at the plate, even if you’re still a believer in Delay and his Kevin Newman like batting average with underlying stats that say the opposite.

It’s Endy Rodriguez Time.

Overall, Endy’s numbers aren’t impressive at the AAA level, but he’s also been spending so much energy focusing on improving behind the dish, it’s hard to really know if he’s struggling or just not as focused on hitting as he’s been.

Endy all year: .247 AVG .735 OPS

Endy in June : .364 AVG .849 OPS

He’s found it recently, and if Super 2 is truly the reason he’s down there, the time is just about here.

Calling up Endy would potentially add some weight to 1B and Catcher. The Pirates need another stick and even if he needs to go back down, at some point the Pirates have to get his feet wet.

If you want to add Davis to this discussion, you’ll have to do it yourself, I don’t think they need to be up at the same time, and honestly, I’m not sure it’d be good for the MLB team do anything like this in bulk.

Bring up Endy, play him at first base a couple times, and once behind the dish, play it by ear from there, and do it for the Mets Series. They’ll want to bring him up for a home stand (yes, for ticket sales, it’s still a business) and after this series they’d have to wait until the 19th.

Is he ready? Hey, maybe not, but he’s going to come up this year, and bluntly, there’s no way to avoid having a kid play an important position. The more he does in 2023, the more you’ll trust him, or know you can’t by 2024. Let’s get this process started.

I’d keep both Delay and Hedges around. Yup, you heard me right.

Send down Mark Mathias (Endy can play 2B too) and keep 3 catchers so there is absolutely no pressure on Endy to “be ready” to handle the staff on his own. Pop him back there, have Hedges in the dugout to help coach him up, help him learn to call a game, work with him on technique, yet feel no pressure to be sure he’ll stick, at least for now.

Once he does get to the point where you’re more comfortable, assuming you do this year, then call up Henry, then move one of the catchers, maybe both.

This process is going to play out from the time one is called up all the way through 2024, get it started so we don’t have to wonder about 2025 too.

Embrace Your Best Lineup

Man, this one is simple. When a player shows you a place they shine, let them.

Ji Hwan Bae is their best Center Fielder, and while he plays a good second base too, let’s be real, he’s been incredible in Center. The best defensive alignment they have is Reynolds in Left, Bae in Center and Jack in Right, and I can’t really imagine anyone persuading me otherwise. If Jack is a platoon player, Connor Joe has been really good in right negotiating the Clemente wall and making smart decisions with the ball.

Tucapita Marcano has for now, taken short stop. He’s the best they have at the moment, and Castro is the 2B. All the shuffling is cute, and I appreciate the flexibility, but it’s time to clamp down on defense and I just think they need to start being more consistently placed in order to help them settle in and start to improve as opposed to holding a place.

I’d try to do this against right handed and left handed pitching. We must stop deciding guys are platoon players before giving them a real shot to prove otherwise.

Tweak the Hitting Philosophy

The Pirates offense has more ability to hit than this philosophy will ever allow to emerge. What they do isn’t’ necessarily small ball, it’s certainly not the Earl Weaver 3 run homer offense either.

What it is, is a near constant effort to not swing at balls off the plate. Sounds smart, can look smart too, but when it’s rigidly applied it creates called 3rd strikes with guys in scoring position, or kicking the can down the lineup to someone who has less skill to decide what they’re going to do up there.

How many times have you seen this team have runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody or 1 out, only to watch one of the boppers seemingly try to work a walk?

Run producers don’t do that. Run producers recognize they have an RBI standing there, and all they have to do is make some sort of contact to likely pick it up. Far too often they don’t seem to be willing to take the run, instead opting to try like hell to load the bases.

I understand the theory of the philosophy. More guys on base equals more runs, but that’s not what it’s creating.

Instead it’s creating what my grandfather’s root cellar used to create. A whole bunch of product (walks) that nobody wants to eat.

I’m not suggesting they start swinging at crap, I’m suggesting instead of taking that borderline ball, take the bat off your shoulder and try to do something to knock that run in. In this A’s series the Pirates scored runs via the walk but man, it takes one well placed batted ball to turn that 1 run into 3 and THAT is how you beat a team that’s actively trying to give you the contest with awful pitching.

Situational hitting.

It’s not a novel concept. It’s not like I made it up for this piece, but all the discipline stuff, all the making the pitcher work stuff, all the waiting for your pitch stuff, none of it matters if when the turkey is on the table you refuse to even pick up the knife, let alone start carving.

Know Your Enemy – May Edition

6-8-23 – By Corey Shrader – @CoreyShrader on Twitter

National League Central Standings
Milwaukee Brewers3428⬆️
Pittsburgh Pirates3229⬇️
Cincinnati Reds2933
Chicago Cubs2635⬆️
St. Louis Cardinals2637

The month of May saw several teams in the NL Central face some tough times, thus leading to a shakeup in the standings. While the month was forgettable for Pittsburgh, no one really took the bulls by the horn this month. Cincinnati did really put on a solid performance & St. Louis showed great resolve bouncing back into the realm of the living. It is becoming clearer that this divisional ride is going to be pretty interesting!

Let’s dive in to some team specific overviews:

Milwaukee Brewers 

Brewers had a more marginal month of May than April. Which, in combination with Pittsburgh’s own struggles, has led to an almost wide-open division still. Milwaukee still boasts a strong chance at winning the division. The team has a good mix of veterans and young additions. Many of the young additions are currently facing hard times, but such is life for a rookie. Make the adjustments or you won’t survive.

Pittsburgh and Milwaukee square off 4 times in June. A 3 game set in Milwaukee on 6/16-6/18 and once on the cusp of July in Pittsburgh on 6/30.


William Contreras – May has seen the young backstop hit a truly staggeringly unlucky streak at the plate posting a slash of .197/.293/.424. Now, this slash line is buoyed by a comical .196 BABIP even though he has barrelled the ball and hit it hard at a pretty solid clip this month. No denying it has been a BAD month of May at the dish, but it is reasonable to expect that to turn around in due time.

Owen Miller – Miller has been the anti-Contreras this month. The Brew Crew’s premier producer of May with a 174 wRC+ and .433 wOBA. Now, unlike Contreras, it is unlikely for Miller to continue this deep into the season given his profile being more of below-average to fringe MLB hitter. That being said – Miller was scorching hot this month and some of the underlying metrics support him being a useful player at the major league level. 

Christian Yelich – Gone are the days of MVP production, but Yelich has settled into the arc of being a rock solid across the board player. May treated him well with 4 homers, 6 steals, and a slash line of .293/.370/.488. Yelich should continue this sort of production as the season marches on, and may even see some more run production as his contact quality, ability to barrel, and hard hit % is consistently high.


Corbin Burnes – Burnes hurled 30 IP in May taking home a record of 1-3. Obviously the team is hoping to secure more Ws when their ace is on the bump, but the good news is that Burnes performed quite well other than one rough outing against the defending champion Astros. Burnes has been uncharacteristically wild in 2023 and it appears to be translating to less dominant outings than what we have grown accustomed to seeing. But his chunk of starts in May have seen a slight return to something closer to his 2022 and beyond form.

Adrian Houser – Houser was a man possessed in May through his first 4 starts of the season. Any pitcher that can shut down Tampa Bay & Houston in back to back starts is feeling it. Track record says he won’t keep this up, but there is no denying his month of May being wonderful. 

Freddy Peralta – Freddy had a pretty poor month of May. No other way to say it. Peralta had a good start in Coors Field and against the Dodgers, but the rest of his month was largely forgettable. His results have been a mixed bag in 2023. Some things are going well, he is inducing pretty weak contact & suppressing low hard hit rates, so things could still turn around. The talent is there, just struggling with inconsistency.

Minor League Check In

Eric Brown Jr. – The 2022 first round pick has really begun to come into his own in May. Brown has an across the board tool set that is anchored by the hit tool and his speed. There is power in his profile but it comes more from quality of contact than via big, raw power. This is exactly how you’d like to see a more advanced college bat perform in A+ ball, rocking the level in May to the tune of a .412 wOBA & 158 wRC+.

Jeferson Quero – Quero is quickly establishing himself as an “elite” catching prospect. In AA at the tender age of 20, he has slugged 7 homers, 4 doubles, and knocked in 17 runs this month. This kid has a bright future indeed.

Jacob Misiorowski – Misiorowski was a 2022 2nd round pick with electric stuff. He is a stuff over command archetype, but in 2023 he is bulldozing A ball. He is technically at an age appropriate level, but the real test for him will begin as he moves up the ladder, likely at AA. He is still a little wild, but the pure filth of his arsenal is over awing the level. He’s one to watch closely as he advances. Could be the next in the line of Brewers pitching development successes. 

Chicago Cubs

Overall a poor month for the Cubbies. Overall a poor offensive month in Chicago seeing them finish 24/30 in offensive fWAR. Losing the resurgent Cody Bellinger did not help their cause as the team was forced to play about half of their games without him, but there were enough other issues at play for us not to assume Belli’s absence is a huge factor overall. 

Chicago did finish the month taking 2 of 3 from Tampa Bay, so perhaps there are better days ahead in June. It should be noted that the Pirates & Cubs will square off 6 times in June, so we will get a good look at them this month.


Christopher Morel – In the April edition I highlighted Morel and warned that he was coming up soon. Called up on May 9th, Morel has gone on to rip 9 homers in just 17 games. He is big, strong, and fast. But he also whiffs and K’s a ton. The 42.2% whiff rate, 37.7% chase rate, and 36.6% K rate will cap the ultimate upside in Morel’s game. As we’ve seen though he is as tooled up as just about anyone in the game & when he is locked in, it is a sight to behold.

Trey Mancini/Eric Hosmer – The Cubs finally said vaya con dios to Hosmer, DFA’ing him as they needed to. It would not surprise me to see Mancini given his walking papers and/or dealt off for whatever they can get, even if it means selling a prospect with him. 

Seiya Suzuki – After a delayed start to his season Suzuki is back and looking healthy. A strong May has it looking as if Suzuki will establish himself as a really good professional hitter. The further removed from his oblique injury, the better he is looking, finishing May with a .402 wOBA and 154 wRC+.


Justin Steele – Steele keeps on proving his breakout to be real. Aside from getting absolutely poleaxed on May 26th by Cincinnati, even this start he posted a FIP of 1.10 despite his game ERA being 12.27, he has continued to pitch very well. Steele suppresses hard contact, induces weak contact, & limits home runs as well as anyone in the league. Good times keep rolling for Steele.

Marcus Stroman – Stroman has been rock solid in May. A ground ball machine, his sinker is one of the best in the league. In his career Stroman has been a guy that has outperformed his peripherals in part due to his repertoire. It looks like he is going to continue this in 2023.

Kyle Hendricks – Chicago welcomed back their long time lineup fixture this month. Hendricks turned in a decent enough debut and should be what he is going forward. 

Drew Smyly – Update is more of the same from April. Smyly just keeps rolling along creating poor contact against & limiting hard hits. As long as he remains healthy, Smyly will keep turning in quality returns.

Mark Leiter Jr. – Continuing a tremendous season, absolutely dominating with his split-finger fastball. Overall a great relief pitcher. 

Minor League Check In

Moises Ballesteros – One of the more under the radar prospects at the moment. Ballesteros is going to have the hype train depart the station with a strong June showing. His month of May has been a bit underwhelming, but overall the young backstop is showing some encouraging foundations. One of the rare young players that draws BB at a higher rate than he Ks, the approach being so sound gives him a really tantalizing base to build on.

James Triantos – Triantos, a 2021 2nd round pick, made his season debut in early May and he is living up to the reputation as a strong hit tool, strong plate approach prospect. Almost two and a half years young for the A+ level, Triantos may just be too advanced for the competition. AA should be a tougher proving ground for someone with such a polished skill set.

Ben Brown – Brown is likely the next man up when the time comes for the Cubs to need pitching reinforcements. Outside of one really bad start in AAA, Brown looks the part, piling up 36 Ks in 24 IP. The arsenal is bolstered by a strong slider that should play immediately. Just a matter of time until he is called up.

St. Louis Cardinals

Things could not have gone much worse in April for the Red Birds. This May they have really begun to show some signs of life. I was not one to pronounce them DOA after April, and they aren’t out of the woods yet, but this team has the talent to remain in the mix. 

The Cardinals and Pirates open the month of June with a series in PNC.


Nolan Gorman – Nolan Gorman has all the looks of being “A Dude.” Presently Gorman is being deployed as a strong-side platoon hitter, but he is making the most of it by posting pretty ludicrous production numbers: .394 wOBA/152 wRC+.The breakout looks to be mostly for real, but he does still have some whiff to his game that could cause periodic struggles.

Nolan Arenado – After a truly dreadful start to the season, Arenado got back to career norms in May. In the month he has slugged 7 homers, driven in 21 runs, and his monthly wOBA & wRC+ are about back to being in line with his career norms. He’s still got it.

Lars Nootbar – A breakout player in 2022, Nootbar was getting a lot of helium in the pre-season and through the World Baseball Classic. He followed that up with a poor start to the season and then an injury. Since returning to full time action, Nootbar seems to be getting back on track and appears to be locking himself in as an across the board quality ball player.


Miles Mikolas – Mikolas had a very good month of May. He tossed 38 innings across 6 starts, all of which were quality. After being a disaster in April, Mikolas got back closer to what he is expected to do and then some. His May line featured a 1.98 ERA/0.95 WHIP/28 K/6 BB.

Ryan Helsley – The theme with most of the Cardinals has been “after a poor April.” That continues here with the fireballing reliever. Helsley tossed 13 innings across 11 appearances in May. He racked up 3 saves, 3 wins, & 1 hold. Helsley had a lousy April as his wildness led to some bad outings. The wildness didn’t really change at all, still around 11.3% BB rate, but his results were significantly better. He is a premium back-end of the bullpen arm, but with his command issues things can get weird at any time.

Matthew Liberatore – Liberatore got the call after a super successful AAA run. It seems like the kid will get a chance to stick with the big club, but the Birds have already used him (disastrously) out of the bullpen once, so his role is kind of TBD. He did make two starts however and has looked solid enough, but unspectacular. Notably his fastball velocity has jumped about 1.5 ticks from its average in 2022. He now sits around 95.2 and that kind of increase should open up higher levels of achievement for a guy like LIberatore. 

Minor League Check In

Ivan Herrera – WIth the Cardinals bizarre decision to relegate Willson Contreras to DH (maybe?) the Cards may have to clear the deck for Herrera to take over the catcher position. In May Herrera walked more than he struck out posting an 18.2/16.9 BB/K and produced at a prolific rate with a .488 wOBA & a 184 wRC+. He had a brief taste of the majors in 2022, but he disappointed overall. At just 23 years old he is certainly a candidate to be the next long-term catching fixture.

Michael McGreevy – Performing well at AAA McGreevy seems poised to get a shot at the majors in 2023. He is pretty young for the level, so seeing him have success is great. His ultimate upside at the major league level is TBD. Does not look particularly exciting, but he is quite young.

Jordan Walker – Well, that could have gone better. The MLB debut was not THAT bad, truth be told. He could have been given a longer leash, but he simply wasn’t. Upon his demotion Walker has struggled. Not horrifically, but he certainly hasn’t been knocking the door back down. Is he still an “elite” prospect, I’d say yes. But as we all know, not all prospects hit the ground running. Walker will be back and I believe in the skill set long term.

Cincinnati Reds

While the Reds spent most of April & May in last place, they are definitely outperforming their expectations early on by virtue of a rather tumultuous divisional landscape. A good deal of their performance is owed to a handful of solid contributions from the offense that many expected little from. Some of this can be chalked up to playing in the second best park for offensive production, to be sure. But you have to give them some credit, through two months the team has shown some promise for the Reds faithful. As you can see the month of May has been a bit rough for starting pitching, but the bullpen is flashing good returns:

May fWAR Ranking:

Pitching – 2.1 fWar (22/30)

SP – 1.0 fWAR (26/30)

RP – 1.1 fWAR (11/30)

Hitting – 3.2 fWAR (18/30)

Cincinnati also has the benefit of some very exciting young players that are performing like gangbusters at AAA, the first of whom has arrived already in middle infielders, Matt McLain. Many expect his AAA  bashbrothers, Christian Encarnacion-Strand & mega-talent Elly De la Cruz to join soon. While it is important to realize that there will be an adjustment period for youngsters when making the leap, these kids all look like Major League players with Elly DLC looking like a singularly gifted talent. 

Let’s jump in to a few individual players and see what has been happening in May


Matt McLain – The former UCLA Bruin decimated AAA and in his 14 game MLB debut, he is carrying this success over. McLain had made huge strides in 2023 to improve his approach & this change was evident in AAA & so far it has stuck in the majors where he is running below MLB average whiff & chase rates. While he will see regression due in large part to a very high BABIP, the league will also adjust to him now that there is more of a book on him. But there is no denying the results so far & they are mostly backed up with good enough underlying numbers (.268 xBA & .328 xwOBA). 

Spencer Steer – Steer had a great May blasting 5 homers & scoring and driving in 16 runs this month. Also notable here is that Steer has reduced his K% by 5 whole percent while maintaining his BB%. Steer’s May triple slash is an impressive .311/.366/.553. Steer has the look of a well rounded hitter that will have his power/production play up in the friendly confines of GABP. His only real knock is that he is almost truly positionless posting poor defensive returns almost everywhere he has played in 2023. 

Jonathan India – Suffice it to say, but, Jonathan India is back. Whatever the injury in 2022 sapped him of, India has reclaimed it. He is impacting the ball with career high average EVs, cutting his K%, and appears to have his career back on track. While the power isn’t playing up as much as in his 2021 rookie campaign, I expect that to tick up as the season wears on. Just a very solid bat and a top of the order fixture.


Hunter Greene – Green tossed 28 innings in May & 22 of them were not particularly good. His final start, however, was pretty wicked. This last start saw him take a no-hitter 6 innings and post an 11/2 K/BB against the Cubs. While May was not particularly kind to Greene, the season as a whole shows that Greene has that tantalizing upside still. Huge K potential with a monster arsenal, but the downsides are still showing too with him surrendering hard contact pretty regularly despite the big time fastball velocity. The sky is still the limit given his age, but there is work to be done before anyone knows his final form.

Alexis Diaz – Diaz the Younger is a bad man. Alexis is doing his best imitation of big brother Edwin in 2023 posting a mind-blowing 49.5% K% on the season. Just a two pitch pitcher, Diaz makes hay on the strength of a Slider/Four Seam combo that are both nearly impossible to hit combining to give him a .196 wOBA good for 5th best in baseball. His only real wart is command. But it almost doesn’t matter with how good the rest of the profile is. As dominant as they come.

Ben Lively – Called up on May 11th, Lively accumulated 17 quality IP for the Reds. Benefiting from some “lucky” with a 92.6% strand rate & a very low BABIP, Lively is a prime regression candidate. But the underlying numbers support the notion that he might be a quality arm nonetheless. In his small debut his Four Seam/Slider have proven hard to square up, giving him a strong claim to remain in the Reds rotation going forward.

Minor League Check In

Elly De la Cruz – Most folks are pretty well aware of Elly DLC by now, but if you aren’t, be prepared. The man is a freak. The month of May has seen him cut his K rate down to 21.1% and his BB rate jump to 15.8%. Combine that with the fact that he posts absolute monster-tier EVs. Earlier this month he hit a ball from the left side 118.8 mph & one from the right side 116.6 mph. Oh, he also possesses near top-of-the scale speed. Assuming his gains in plate discipline are something he can replicate long term, he’s got “best offensive player on the planet” kind of upside.  Editor’s Note: Elly was just called up to the bigs and is already making an impact.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand – CES is yet another big boy that bashes baseballs. Similar to Elly, CES has approach problems. However, unlike De la Cruz, CES has not made the same kind of adjustments. He sort of is what he is approach wise, lots of swings & lots of whiffs. But, it is the classic slugger’s profile and he should mash dingers. Just going to have to take the good with the bad when he gets to town. He will likely be a player that can go on epic runs of hot hitting.

This wraps up a brief tour of the NL Central’s May happenings. As always, I tried to key in on a few standouts or let downs, if there are any that stood out to you, dear reader, please do not hesitate to comment!

June should help provide some opportunities for separation within the division, the Bucs play 13 divisional opponents alone. Next month’s check-in should be a lot of fun. Until next time around.

Pirates Fall Behind Early In Disappointing Loss To The Lowly Athletics: (32-29)

6/7/23 – By Craig W. Toth – @BucsBasement on Twitter

Plant this game in April, and nine times out of ten the Pirates walk away a winner. Not just because of the record, but also because the Pittsburgh Rotation was on a heater of quality games. Eleven in a row to be exact; while posting a combined 3.35 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP for the entire month.

Five runs should be enough to put your team in position to win the game.

Sure, they had the winning run in the on deck circle as Carlos Santana and Ke’Bryan Hayes stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 9th; but at that point Pirates Fans are praying for a little flair of the dramatics from their ball club.

Clearly the game shouldn’t never have gotten to this point.

Yet, when the first seven opposing batters cross home, you are actually pretty lucky to end up in that position.

Either way, it ends up in the loss column, as your Pirates drop 2 of 3 to the worst team in Major League Baseball; with today’s action finishing in a 9-5 A’s victory.

News & Notes

  • Roansy Contreras was instructed by Pirates Pitching Coach Oscar Marin to add a third pitch to his arsenal in the offseason; a changeup that would keep hitters off-balance, while allowing his mid to upper 90’s fastball and wipeout slider to pile up the whiffs. That pitch never came to fruition. In addition, he has all but dropped the curveball; which produced a .212 AVG Against-second only to his slider in 2022.
  • In a the short day for the Pirates Starter, Roansy’s final line stood at 0.1IP/6H/7ER/2BB/1K. For the season he know has a 5.91 ERA with a 1.54 WHIP across 56.1 innings. Maybe, it’s time for the Pirates to follow through with the plan to get him some work out of the bullpen before Vince Velasquez hit the shelf again. I’m just not sure who takes his spot in the rotation.
  • On a positive note Ke’Bryan Hayes and Rodolfo Castro came to play as Hayes collected 3 hits on the day, and Rudy provided most of the run production; knocking in 3, with one coming on a monster solo-shot.
  • Unfortunately for Rob Zastryzny he may be falling into the Chase DeJong path to the waiver wire, with his 3 walk and one strikeout performance as the fireman for Contreras.
  • Luis Ortiz was called upon in long relief; giving up 2 runs on 10 hits, with 2 walks and one strikeout in 5 innings.
  • Angel Perdomo has been a pleasant surprise since having his contract selected on June 3rd. In 4 innings, across 3 appearances he has not allowed a hit or walked a batter; striking out 6 along the way.

The Pirates get their customary Thursday off before welcoming the New York Mets to PNC Park for a weekend set.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST with Rich Hill (5-5/4.41 ERA/1.38 WHIP) set to go Pittsburgh. At the moment the Mets have not announced their starter.

Hump Day Pirates Q&A

6-7-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done one of these. The month of May for me this year has just been a marathon of near constant running around.

Time to get back in the saddle.

Lets Go.

Question 1

Just over a month till the MLB draft, what are your thoughts on how the pirates will strategize this year? Do you think they will try and go under slot again and get more depth, or do they grab one of these LSU Tigers slotted at the top of the draft??? – Seth Johnson

Couple things here Seth, and it really starts with understanding the situation at the top of the draft board this year, is not the same as it was in 2021.

In 2021, there were easily 5 guys who had an argument for being 1:1, this season there’s a pretty clear 1:1 and a couple guys who could potentially have some talking points that toss some consideration their way.

If you were to secure Langford or Skenes in this draft, you’d feel like you had a great pick, unless you were the team that passed on Crews to get them. To me, he’s still the most polished, and he has the longest track record of being good.

Now, is there a scenario that has them go in another direction than Crews? The slot value for the 1:1 pick is ~9.7 Million. If Crews refuses to sign for less than say 12-14 million, you could see them potentially going with one of the others, but I don’t see them trying to get him to agree to like 9 for instance. Well, I see them trying, but let’s just say I don’t think they’ll make it a deal breaker.

The slot values fall after that, to 8.9, then 8.3 and so on and so on.

The Pirates have a total of $16,185,700 to spend on the draft, so if you give your number one overall 9.7 or whatever, even 10, you still have a little over 6 million for the rest of the draft.

Importantly here, the Pirates don’t have a Comp pick, so they have 1 first rounder here, not two-ish, not three-ish, just one. They pick back up with pick 42 with a slot value of a little over 2 million.

Bottom line, I don’t see the opportunity to “game the system” like they did in 2021 and further, I’m not sure they have the offensive potential in their system to pass on a phenom type offensive talent with a plausible ability to reach the league in 2 or 3 years at worst. Feels like they have a bunch of guys who might emerge, but they need more who “will”.

I think they take Crews here, and I think they’ll get it done under slot slightly. Good Question Seth.

Question 2

Hey Gary! Long time reader, frequent commenter. I’ve been a big Keliever despite the struggles at the dish. With his added toe tap last week leading to a strong weekend against the Red Birds, are we FINALLY seeing Young Hayes put it all together? – Michael – 412 Double Play Podcast

I don’t know man. Once I’ve burned my hand a few times I tend to stop touching the hot burner ya know?

I’m pulling for him obviously, and I certainly don’t think he stinks, but we’ve seen him make these adjustments in the past. Things go better, his hard hit rate starts to look like it’ll matter, then suddenly he reverts.

Standing up straighter worked for a while, then he went right back to the inside out swing after a week or so of success.

Keeping the hands away from his body a bit more helped for a while, then, yeah, right back to the inside out swing.

I think at this point with Ke’, I just want to see him do anything for a month before I believe it’s a real change.

Like you, I believe Hayes has more to give, but I feel he’s got some evolving yet to do. I, again like you, hope every time he changes something this will be the one that sticks.

More than anything, Hayes making adjustments is fine, but when the league pushes back against it, he needs to either adjust more quickly to that push back or he needs to push through it and trust that its going to work through it. As it stands now, first sign of adversity, he’ll just go back to what is comfortable.

Question 3

Which players on the current roster could you envision pirates potentially trading prior to the deadline? – Wilbert Matthews

Obviously Wilbert, this at least partially depends on their record come deadline time and a little about what Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis can do.

The Pirates have a real need to get more production from 1B for instance. Ji-man Choi will be back and Santana is obviously still here. To get Endy at bats, the Pirates may choose to use him at 1B. If he’s really good, I’m not sure how they’d want to hold onto two expiring contract guys. So I’d say 1 gets moved minimally.

I think injury has changed some things on the Starting Rotation front. I can’t see them being “in the race” and trading Hill and he’s the only one I’d consider moving. In the offseason I proposed Brubaker, but obviously that’s not available.

The bullpen probably doesn’t have much of concern here. They won’t trade Bednar or Holderman. I can’t see why they’d want to move Moreta or Ramirez, I just don’t see them subtracting there unless they need to use some of this depth to acquire another need like a starter. May need to toss in a more proven reliever for now to get that done.

I can see them moving a middle infielder. Marcano, Castro, Bae, Mathias, even Peguero, any of those could happen as part of a deal to improve at the MLB level. Keep in mind, this would only be if they felt awfully good Cruz is coming back.

Cutch won’t be traded. In fact I’d bet he’ll be re-signed before the season ends for 2024.

I believe Hedges stays all year, and that will become clear sooner than later.

Really, I don’t see the benefit in trading most of what they have unless it’s part of improving the MLB team, this year, not in 2025.

I could see someone wanting Andujar. He’s hitting in AAA again and someone might offer a small piece in return. A bullpen arm or something of the like, maybe even just a guy with an option to bouce between leagues.

Question 4

With Hayes, Bae, Marcano making positive adjustments, is some credit due for Haines? Some one else? Too little too late? – Michael Hall

Well Michael, I gave Haines credit for April, I gave him credit for May. I gave him credit for Reynolds early surge (they worked together all off season), and I have to give him “credit” for Reynolds current power outage too.

Hitting coaches are easy to target and when an offense is humming it’s easy to praise them. This year though, it’s hard to look at the collection of players and believe this offense should be this anemic this often.

Let’s say this. Many people believe Endy and Henry will come up here and instantly “fix” the offense. If they do, Haines will get no credit. It’ll be that the team finally brought up superior talent right? If they don’t, Haines will get crucified for “ruining them” right?

I’d say this. I don’t like the overall hitting plan. I don’t believe Haines is the “architect” of this hitting plan, just the administrator of it.

What an MLB hitting coach does is schedule sessions, review mechanics, encourage, educate, arm with tools and let the talent take over. Implementing a hitting plan, meaning an overriding ethos for the offensive approach, that comes from the manager, the analytics team and is implemented organizationally.

For the Pirates, that ethos is very much so, we aren’t going to swing at pitches we can’t do damage to. That’s the idea, failure or not, that’s the goal.

I don’t think Haines is a good hitting coach, but if you give him credit for what’s ok, and what isn’t, it largely looks like mud. If I had to guess, he gets his walking papers after this year if they don’t get to middle of the pack on most offensive numbers.

Question 5

Is there anyone performing well enough to give hope for some power at 1B? Carlos has been a disappointment in that aspect. – Michael Hall (again, it was a good question)

I believe first of all, Carlos Santana is by far the best defensive first baseman the Pirates have. Defensively speaking of course. He can hit too, but because of the Choi injury, he’s been asked to do far more than they planned or wanted to ask of a 37 year old veteran.

Ask any professional hitter what drives their power at the plate, and each one to a man will tell you they get power from their legs. What kills legs for a veteran? Playing in the field too much.

I believe he has a role to play here, but he needs to be a reserve or DH more often.

Now, your best bet as we sit here is Endy. He can and will play 1B when he’s called up, and he’ll hit better than Carlos.

Nunez is injured. Shackelford is 26, and while he’s hit, I doubt he’s seen as a long term answer. Mason Martin has hit in AA, but he’s done that before, I truly don’t now what to make of him. Endy to me stands out as the best option to get an instant 1B offensive option internally.

Question 6

What’s going on with Reynolds? I thought he was supposed to be good in June. He’s striking out and bouncing into a lot of double plays. Don’t want that at the top of the lineup… – Brendon Gallagher

What’s going on with Reynolds? Easy, he’s first of all being too selective at the plate and his timing is off.

Answered. Lets move on.

OK, so it’s probably too easy.

Reynolds is largely alone in this lineup for “consistent threat” so when the offense as a whole heats up, he’ll heat up. Right now, if I’m any other team, Reynolds is the one guy I’m not pitching to.

When Bryan struggles with his timing, he tends to crawl into the comforting shell of drawing walks. Run into a stretch of guys who can paint the corners or umps who call the corners 100% for the pitcher and he can look very lost.

For Bryan, he simply isn’t a hitter who is going to fish for hits. If the ball isn’t in a place he feels he can do damage, he’s not going to swing and as we discussed, nobody wants to give him any. If he gets frustrated and starts swinging at all the borderline, he’ll bounce into double plays, or fly out weakly.

Now, “supposed to be god in June” is silly for a couple reasons. First, it’s June 7th, lol. Check back on the 30th, you’ll have a different take.

Second, I’m not sure how much more evidence you need from Reynolds that by the end of the season you’ll like his numbers. He’s 28, he’s in his prime, he’ll hit, but he’s never going to be a guy who goes 162 without a dip or even dive in performance.

It’s possible there has never been a quality hitter this tied to timing. When he’s on, he’s simply put an MVP candidate. When he isn’t, he’s a starter who looks like he belongs in the 7 hole.

Unquestionably though, he’s their best player, and he’s going to stay at the top of the order, if only because they don’t have anyone you could even pretend would be an upgrade.

All I can really say to this question is, baseball is not meant to be ingested in week segments. It’s meant to be more about the passage of time. When you answer a question about a guy and convince yourself he’s a piece, these blips really don’t move the needle. They knew this was part of the deal with him.

When/if this team is a World Series contender, I’m not sure he’ll be their 2 hole hitter, but for now, sorry, I don’t see it changing, nor should it.

The Pirates Need To Be Like The Rays


Craig and Chris talk about certain trends concerning two of the Pirates Most Important Players-Hayes and Reynolds, the need to fill holes on the roster and the Endy/Henry Situation in Triple-A, before eventually concluding that Pittsburgh needs to be more like that team from Tampa Bay. 

Brought to you by ShopYinzz.com! Craig Toth covers the Pirates for Inside The Bucs Basement, and joins his buddy Chris at a 9-foot homemade oak bar to talk Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball. Listen. Subscribe. Share. We are “For Fans, By Fans & All Pirates Talk.” THE Pirates Fan Podcast found EVERYWHERE podcasts can be found and always at BucsInTheBasement.com

Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers: Moving Toward The End Of May And Past Memorial Day

6-6-23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)

Every single one of you that is reading this blog post is doing so one some sort of an electronic device; from an IPhone to an Android, or a Tablet to a Computer. It’s just kind of how things work nowadays; except when they don’t.

Many times our electronics will simply freeze up. And, no matter what we try, the only way to get them up and running again is to do a hard reset; in essence shutting down the mechanism, in order fix the issue.

This past week my body-along with my mind-needed one of these.

For those of you that have been following along with this little hobby of mine-and Gary Morgan’s-you know that not only do I write down my thoughts on the Pirates Organization here, but I also make a weekly appearance on Ethan Smith’s Locked On Pirates podcast every Thursday, record my own podcast-Bucs In The Basement-on Tuesday and have started a secondary podcast on the same feed to cover Pittsburgh’s Minor League Affiliates; aply named Minor League News and Brews.

In an attempt to provide the best product(s) that I possibly can, I watch every Pirates game-either live or recorded, tune in the majority of the Indians, Curve, Grasshoppers, Marauders games each week, scour stat sheets and read countless articles in the morning and evening.

This is done on top of working a regular 40 work week at my actual job, raising three beautiful children, trying to be the best husband I can and of course being active/engaged in all of their activities and interests.

Some may think that writing these posts and putting out a minimum of three podcasts a week is as simple as just sitting down and recording or typing up your thoughts on a subject.

You couldn’t be more wrong. After watching, reading and studying each team it is time for prep work; which encompasses outlining a script, attempting to book a guest-that includes even more prep work through the development of interview questions-and then editing or producing the post or podcast.

It’s a labor of love; and believe me I didn’t let you in all of this for support, sympathy or anything of the sort.

It’s merely a long winded explanation why this blog post didn’t come out last week and the Minor League News and Brews episode of the Bucs In The Basement Podcast wasn’t published on Saturday.

I worked myself into a illness that started on Tuesday, and am finally coming out of today; that made me fairly useless in every aspect of life.

But, I digress; as I get back to doing something I truly enjoy…providing updates on Pirates Prospects.

Week of May 23rd Through May 28th

1) Anthony Solometo-LHP (Greensboro)

Solometo is a young man, who has impressed in nearly everyone of his outings thus far this season; allowing more than 2 runs in only one his starts, while striking at least 5 seven times-five in a row at this point.

This is not to say he hasn’t had any rough patches-as evidenced by a four run outing back on April 13th, or a six walk performance on May 12th. However, the six strikeout, one walk, zero earned run and 3 hit start this past week is more indicative of the type of pitcher he has for the Grasshoppers.

On the year, the 20 year-old has posted a 3.16 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP with 52 strikeouts and only 2 homers allowed, across 42.2 innings of work for High-A Greensboro.

2) Thomas Harrington-RHP (Bradenton)

Harrington has been excelling in his first taste of pro-ball since being last season, with the 36th Overall Pick; and much like Solometo there have only been two bumps in the road.

During his most recent start for the Marauders, Harrington only needed 68 pitches to navigate 6 innings against the Jupiter Hammerheads; as he struck out 3, walked one and only allowed 2 hits.

On the season Harrington owns a 2.77 ERA with a 1.103 WHIP with 40 strikeouts in 39 innings.

One thing of note should be his stats against younger versus older batters; with only 21 at bats separating the two.

Hitters that are younger than Harrington have a .214/.275/.321 slash line, while those who are older are slashing .297/.357/.453 off of the former Fighting Camel. Just something to pay attention to as he likely faces off against more of the later in Greensboro.

3) Jared Jones-RHP (Altoona)

At this point Jones has only pitched 28.1 innings due to a stint on the IL. However, when he is on the bump for Altoona he has been fairly dominant, to the tune of a 2.54 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and 33 strikeouts.

One downside of this injury-aside from the limited overall innings-has been building his pitch count to that of a starter.

After beginning the season with 70 plus pitches in each of his first three outings, Jones has gone 37, 54, 56 and finally 73 over his last four outings; still not making it more than 5 innings.

4) JP Massey-RHP (Bradenton)

Massey struggles with control. He has since before he was drafted. In 38.1 innings this season he has 18 walks, and has 3 batters with 6 wild pitches to boot. He also has 48 strikeouts.

There is no denying the athleticism, and potential to succeed. However, as I have stated before…he’s also 23 in Low-A; which is nearly a year older than the average hitter he is facing.

5) Aaron Shackelford-2B/1B/DH (Indianapolis)

At the moment the Pirates don’t have an answer at 1st Base beyond 2023. Carlos Santana is 37 years old. Ji-man Choi hasn’t stepped on the field since April 13th. He’s a free agent after this year.

No, I am not saying Shackelford is the answer; still, wouldn’t it make sense to find out?

Currently he is batting .268 with a .942 OPS, 8 homers and a137 wRC+; including 4 long balls over the past week.

Sure he has a K-rate that is a little high-landing at 27.5%; but he is also 17% of the time.

At 26 years-old I’m not sure how much more he can prove at the level.

Give him a shot. If it doesn’t work out, I’m not sure exactly what it would hurt.

Week Of May 29th Through June 4th

1) Anthony Solometo-LHP (Greensboro)

Here he is again. At this point it’s almost expected.

Solometo followed up a 6 inning shutout start, with another 6 inning shutout; almost matching last week’s numbers. In both games he allowed only 3 hits, but walked one more-2 to one-and struck out one less-5 to 6. Yet, I feel like it’s pretty much just splitting hairs.

He now has a 2.77 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 48.2 inning.

And honestly, I can’t wait to see him challenged in Altoona.

2) Jared Jones-RHP (Altoona)

Second verse, same as the first.

Jones has fully worked his way back from the IL, by tossing season highs in innings (6) and pitches (80). He did allow a run on 2 hits and 2 free passes, while striking out three; but he also showed he could battle.

Ever since he was drafted, scouting reports have profiled Jones as potential reliever due to his smaller frame; yet, Ben Cherington and company have always given him the opportunity to work himself into a role in the rotation.

On top of that they have continued to be aggressive with his assignments; moving him up a level each year, in spite of him being at least 3 years younger than the average competitor.

This season in Altoona he is 3.6 years younger than the average Double-A player. Nevertheless, he regularly achieves success.

Could he still end up in the bullpen? Absolutely.

That’s simply not the plan at the moment.

3) Tsung-Che Cheng-SS/2B (Greensboro)

From the chatter on Twitter this past week it seems like some may just be getting familiar with the potential of this International Signee; who was added to the Pirates Organization back in 2019, when he was just 17 years-old.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, Cheng is someone that I have had my eye on since 2021; and had first written about back in January of 2022.

Obviously, I’m not a scout, or even an expert on prospects; but every once in a while this blind squirrel finds a nut. Which is what I believe has happened with Cheng.

Thus far this season, the now almost 22 year-old Taiwanese ballplayer has been nothing short of dominant at the plate for the Grasshoppers.

Clearly many will point to the uptick and power due to him already eclipsing his career best in homers-with 7-in 263 less plate appearances; however, it goes without saying that the hitter friendly South Atlantic League Ballparks may have something to do with this.

Even so, for me it’s the advanced approach at the plate that continues to pique my interest.

While in the FCL back in 2021 Cheng had a 19.1% BB to 8.9% K-rate. Then last season in Low-A Bradenton he regressed a little bit, as evidenced by his 20.7% K to 13.8% BB-rate. Now, it seems to have corrected back to what could be the norm for him. At the moment he has a 17.4% K to 15.9% BB-rate.

4) Quinn Priester-RHP (Indianapolis)

Sometimes struggling with adversity and/or bouncing back from a rough outing can tell you more about a player than having them cut down opposing lineups like a hot knife through butter.

Sure, it would be nice if one of your top pitching prospects never had to face any type of misfortune. But, let’s be honest, how often does that really happen?

In his last outing, prior to this past week, Priester was chased from the mound by the Columbus Clippers after less than two innings and 59 pitches; having given up 5 earned runs on 4 hits with 6 walks.

So, how did he react? Well, he went 6 innings on 92 pitches, while striking out 6, walking 3, allowing 4 hits and not giving up a single run.

On the year he currently owns a 4.38 ERA with a somewhat concerning 1.442 WHIP.

Let’s see how he reacts to this moving forward.

5) Jared Triolo-3B/SS (Indianapolis)

During the offseason, Triolo was the most surprising of the additions to the 40-Man this past November, in my opinion; not that it wasn’t justified.

At the time his glove was arguably the best in the Pirates Farm System; and, his bat was more than serviceable-not overwhelming.

Unfortunately, after scuffling through Spring Training-ultimately resulted in him being sent to Minor League Camp-Triolo suffered a hamate bone injury; which required surgery, and delayed the start of his season for over a month.

After a quick rehab assignment with the Low-A Marauders, Triolo joined the Indianapolis Indians on May 9th in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Over his 92 plate appearances, Triolo has slashed .284/.413/.378 with a 112 wRC+. Not surprisingly the power is not there yet. It’s a pretty common side-effect of a hamate injury. What is surprising is his seven errors in just over 200 innings between third base and shortstop; seeing as he only had 12 errors in 900+ innings with the Curve last year.


There you have it! My Top 5 Pirates Prospect Performers for the last week of May and the first week of June 2023.

Now remember, let me know if I missed anyone, and who your Top 5 would be. And, be sure check back each and every Tuesday-hopefully-during Minor League Baseball Season!

Pirates Walk While A’s Can’t Run, Win Nail-Bitter 5-4 (32-27)

6/5/23- By Michael Castrignano – @412DoublePlay on Twitter

There are no givens in baseball. You can be the 1927 Yankees and still lose to the 103 loss Boston Red Sox 4 times. Heck, the Pirates last year proved any team can be any other team at any time when they swept the Dodgers in LA. Dodgers would win 111 wins on the year while the Pirates would lose 100.

Luckily, this wasn’t one of those times as Pirates hitters set a season high with walks and a critical late-inning caught stealing helped to set the stage for a Bucs victory.

Johan Oviedo has been extremely inconsistent this season as he has occasionally looked straight-up dominant and sometimes looked like he can’t get any pitches working for him. It was a mixed bag again for him tonight. He looked a bit wild early on, missing spots, walking 2, hitting 2 others. He managed to work through his recurring control issues with off-speed stuff and relied more heavily on his fastball. 

Scoring started early after Austin Hedges committed his third catcher’s interference on the season, which allowed Oakland’s lead-off hitter and MLB’s leader in stolen bases, Esteury Ruiz, to reach first. Ruiz immediately stole 2nd and scored on a Ryan Noda single.

Oakland would add on in the 3rd inning following a leadoff walk to Noda and a hit by pitch to Brent Rooker, opened the door for their right fielder Seth Brown to hit an RBI double to center and catcher Carlos Perez followed with a sacrifice fly to right, making it 3-0 for the Athletics.

Southpaw JP Sears kept the Pirates in check for most of the game despite uncharacteristically poor control. He walked a career-high five batters in his 4.2 innings of work but held the Pirates hitless until the 5th inning when Bucs bats finally woke up. Second baseman Mark Mathias led off the inning with a first pitch single to left, stole 2nd and scored on a 2-out, 2-strike double by Connor Joe, which also drove in Andrew McCutchen from 1st.

The Athletics bullpen coming into this series were worst in all of MLB in ERA with 6.19 and they showed why once Sears left. Lucas Erceg managed to get the final out of the 5th inning but allowed Hayes to single leading off the 6th and was immediately pulled for Richard Lovelady. Lovelady struck out Ji-hwan Bae but walked Mathias and Hedges to load the bases before he was also removed for Shintaro Fujinami. Fujinami was throwing triple digits easily, however, he had no clue where they were going as he walked Cutch and Bryan Reynolds to tie the game at 3 before Jack Suwinski, batting for Connor Joe, hit a fly ball deep enough to right to score Hedges from third and giving the Bucs a 4-3 lead.

The score held until the 8th inning when Oviedo was lifted for left-handed reliever Rob Zastryzny – who walked Rooker and then, facing pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz, surrendered a line drive double over the head of Reynolds which scored Rooker and tied the game once more. Zastryzny struggled with location as he also walked Shea Langeliers before being removed for Angel Perdomo. Perdomo hit the next batter with an 0-2 fastball in the elbow but managed to get a strikeout and lazy fly out with bases loaded to end the threat.

Bottom of the 8th had Bae reach base on an infield single to new shortstop Diaz and moved to third on a very hard single by Hedges to left. And then, with 1 out and the chance to put his team ahead, Cutch stepped up:

Colin Holderman would take closer duties for the night as David Bednar pitched each of the past three games and, while he ran into some trouble, was able to shut the door and seal his first career save and the Pirates 6th win in a row.

News & Notes

  • Pirates hitters walked a season-high 10 times, including bases-loaded walks to Cutch and Reynolds in the 6th inning which tied the game at the time.
  • On the Suwinski sacrifice fly in the 6th inning, right fielder Brown threw the ball to third instead of trying to nab Hedges at home. It is debatable whether or not he could have gotten Hedges if he had tried to make the play but Cutch played it smart and avoided getting tagged before Hedges scored the go-ahead run.
  • Cutch had 3 walks, 2 RBI and zero hits on the night, a feat that has only been accomplished five times in Pirates history previously.
  • A ninth inning caught stealing by Hedges of Ruiz was only the fifth CS for Hedges on the season (32 attempts) and just the 6th time Ruiz has been caught in 35 attempts.
  • With the Brewers loss to the Reds and the Pirates win, the team is now back in first place and 0.5 games ahead in the standings for the division.
  • Pirates look to keep things rolling with game 2 tomorrow night as Mitch Keller takes the mound. First pitch is at 7:05PM. Lets Go Bucs!

Five Pirates Thoughts at Five

6-5-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Anything I’d write the day after a series sweep against the Cardinals is bound to be at least a little positive right?

I mean, let’s not pretend this happens everyday. The Pirates haven’t swept the Cardinals in a 3 game set since 2018 after all. So it’s clearly worth bragging, getting excited about, all that, but let’s keep our heads about us to a degree.

For instance, after sweeping the Cards, beating at least, but more likely sweeping the A’s is almost being seen as a given. Look, it should be seen as a series they should win, it should even be seen as a series that you should shoot for a sweep, but folks, this team is squarely in the middle to slightly above middle of the pack, every series should be seen as an opportunity like that.

A’s stink yes, but when they play the Mets, they should feel the same. Win series, and always know what a team looks like now might not be what that team looks like in 3 weeks when they get here.

Let’s dive in and have some good conversation.

1. Pairs – AKA The Buddy System

When you construct a lineup, everyone has a way. Analytics drives much of this now for MLB staffs, but I think there needs to be some old school protection talk built in there.

To get to my point, let me start by taking us into the world of Hockey. I know, I know, many of you only follow baseball, but hang with me here, I’ll make it make sense and you won’t have to understand the game.

Mike Sullivan, the Penguins head coach builds his lines differently than most. Instead of picking his forwards by sets of 3 he instead chooses pairs. So for instance, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are a pair, the 3rd skater, well, they like to leave that interchangeable. This ensures that the line always retains some chemistry even as things are shuffled all around them. The second line always had Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker. So on and so on.

Well, a baseball lineup is typically viewed through who’s the leadoff, who’s the cleanup so on and so on.

What I’m proposing here is a way to build some comfort into the lineup along with some protection in an effort to have all these moving parts start working together a bit better.

I’d pair players together.

Now I’d only do this for a few players, specifically players that I think I want to be in the lineup more often than not.

Rodolfo Castro & Jack Suwinski – Rudy struggles to hit righties, Jack struggles to hit lefties. We all know this and late in games, teams that have the ability always get a lefty in for Jack and a righty in for Rudy. Put them back to back no matter where and you always have a poison pill baked in.

Bryan Reynolds & Andrew McCutchen – Andrew will murder left handed pitching, Reynolds doesn’t get many opportunities but he hits lefties like crazy too. I’ve put this example in here to illustrate, it doesn’t always help. If you get Reynolds flipped around to bat left handed and ensure Cutch faces a righty, you’ve achieved the ideal path through these two. They’re good enough to overcome it, but they also don’t “help” each other when it comes to matchups. Basically, this is an idea, and maybe it only helps a few players, further, maybe some players don’t need the help.

Carlos Santana & Ke’Bryan Hayes – We all know Hayes struggles against right handed pitching, and from an analytics standpoint, so does Santana. Prevent people from flipping Carlos by backing him with Hayes. Helps both.

I’ll stop here, and I wouldn’t be ridiculously stringent. Like when resting Santana you don’t have to also rest Hayes, but when all active, lets let these bats help each other.

The league put in this 3 batter rule a while ago now, but I haven’t seen many teams try to take advantage aside from pinch hitting opportunities. Let’s instead get in front of it and forecast out the tough decisions we’re creating.

2. Sweep the A’s or Bust

This is where I remind everyone the 100 loss Pirates swept the LA Dodgers in LA last year while my drunk ass was at the beach.

The A’s will forever in 2023 be playing teams that know beyond a shadow of doubt they’ll get no credit for sweeping them, and face the shame of the baseball world if they lose to them.

This comes with pressure, and that pressure, well, a team like the Pirates aren’t accustomed to that kind of pressure. They aren’t used to punching down, instead usually trying to pull themselves into the collective consciousness of the league at large.

It’s a different kind of pressure and following the high of sweeping the Devil Magic Cardinals at home, well, the attention to detail it requires to topple your nemesis isn’t the same feeling as playing 3 against a team you’re unquestionably supposed to beat handily.

So, should the Pirates sweep the A’s? Of course, but if they do expect it to go over like Manute Bol beating Danny DeVito in a slam dunk contest. If they don’t, expect a full blown referendum on Derek Shelton’s inability to keep them focused.

In reality, anything can happen in baseball.

This series won’t define what this team is, but losing it sure would feel like it.

As it stands right now, this team is still middling. Hovering around .500 in a division where that mark is “in it”. They are every bit contenders for the division, but that doesn’t mean they’re to the point where they should be assumed to do anything in any series. I simply don’t think they’re machine like in that way yet and if you need proof, Patrick Corbin of the Nationals seems to look like Clayton Kershaw against them every time he gets a chance.

3. Decisions Are Coming Faster Now

The Pirates have no choice really. The 40-man crunch that will arrive in December is very real and coming like a freight train. The time for endless tryouts has come and gone. It ended at their own hands.

The Bucs hot start will get the blame, but in reality, signing as many vets as they did this season was an indication they were ready to set some measuring sticks and allow prospects to surpass or at least reach them.

We’re seeing them much less worried about losing players like Chase DeJong, Miguel Andujar or Duane Underwood Jr. when they underperform or when they see someone in the minors they think can outperform them.

Meaning specifically, say what you want about those two pitchers, but one ate a ton of innings for this team and the other was legitimately one of their best performers in 2023. Chase is back now after clearing waivers and honestly, DUJ might be too at some point, but the decisions are beginning to be made. Say what you want about Andujar but last year he’d easily have gotten a good 100 at bats before they entertained DFAing him.

When you see the wave that’s coming start to make their way to MLB, you’ll see even more. For instance, if Nick Gonzales were to earn a call up this year, it’ll be because they aren’t satisfied with the ceiling on players like Marcano, Bae, Castro, and instead are ready to see what Nick has. When that happens, the low man on the totem pole will likely find his way back to the minors or maybe out the door all together.

Heck, one could see this treatment when Cruz is back.

This is where team building gets really really interesting and for some painful. It’s also where most teams either destroy or start to sure up construction on what they’ve built.

Bottom line, when prospects get congested right on the edge, it becomes really hard to see enough of each of them in the Bigs before having to make a call. It should end the practice of bringing in guys like Chavis Young or Ryan Vilade.

That’s not the same as Non-Roster Invitees, but they’ll look to get less of the 26-29 year old “this guy didn’t get a shot” types, because over time, the Pirates will have plenty of those themselves. Like, do you see Connor Joe here and starting for the next 3 or 4 years? Maybe. Seems like a great guy, under team control for a while, but ultimately if this is a World Series contender, is he starting? Hey, maybe he is that good by then, but if he isn’t, don’t be shocked if one day he’s being said goodbye to, even if he’s an above average MLB player.

I recommend to everyone, root for the logo. I say this because truly someone you think is absolutely part of this thing at this moment, might not be next year. Did you think Cal Mitchell was just about a lock to make the club out of Spring? I know I did before they went ape signing guys.

It’s why way back when, I used to get so irritated by seeing people posing as experts put out lineups for 2025. You have no idea. None.

I can honestly say before getting called up last season, Jack Suwinski was never on one of those silly proposed lineups. Most of them never mentioned Castro, Bae, Marcano, heck even Endy wasn’t a popular choice before last season.

Love the players. Root for their success, but know this, upgrades don’t happen without someone else losing their opportunity.

It’s super easy to wash your hands of Austin Hedges for Henry Davis or Endy Rodriguez. It’s harder to see the possibility of Rodolfo Castro being relegated to a bench role because he isn’t as good as Gonzales, Peguero, Cheng, Alvarez, on and on.

This is very hard for many fans, and some will see these coming decisions as financially motivated when they come. That though is, situationally speaking, a fallacy. It’s going to be because by year 3 (AKA the year before Arbitration) you should know if keeping them is a thumbs up or down in many cases. Many of them will still have trade value because at some point the Pirates cast offs will start being a higher caliber than they currently are.

Thank god Mitch Keller wasn’t just coming up now right? Look how hard it is having a competitive team and onboarding rookie starters. It wasn’t the plan, but they now have 3 rookies starting, and man, that’s enough growing pains to be 100% sure we’re going to get irritated at some point. Remember that when Quinn debuts, or Ortiz struggles, this is why next season when it seems on paper they have no room, they’ll go out and again sign a starter or two.

In 90, none of us missed Tony Pena. OK, we missed him, we just came to appreciate the move.

Welcome back to relevancy, and maybe this time around, let’s be less about kicking guys on the way out the door. Check out what one of those quicker decisions is doing in Milwaukee, Bryse Wilson. In 18 games he has a 2.30 ERA and a WHIP of 1.085 with 3 saves to top it off. Maybe a longer look could have been in order. Maybe we should brace ourselves, cause he won’t be lonely when we make a list one day 5 or 6 years from now.

4. What Holes Need Patched?

I guess this is really two Questions. 1, what holes need patched? And 2, which ones can’t be patched internally?

The Pirates are hanging around, for how long, well, the division will help tell that story. If it manages to bleed into July though, this team has some needs, we should properly highlight them, and see what we can do internally or should look to address on the market.

Before I do though, Yes, I fully believe this team will try to add to the roster if they’re in this race reasonably. Yes, I think they can do that while still moving more guys like they just did with Robert Stephenson. More on this another time in a more dedicated piece.

I’m tempted to add a third question here, is this move for this year or this year plus a year or two? This seems key, especially since some of their needs are going to just show right back up in the Winter.

Let’s go.

Starting Pitching – This team is starting 3 rookies. All talented, all encouraging at times, but all inexperienced. Maybe that’s ok, but more likely this team makes a run with the addition of another veteran starter. Seems self explanatory but you kinda can’t get that internally. We know they’ll have to get one to replace Hill in 2024 minimally, so I say if you make a move here, you make it one that carries with it some years.

If you go rental, I question the use of prospects for the acquisition. You may very well need to take this approach in the winter anyway, but now you have less “cash”. I’d also think the rental market will be flooded by the bigger boys who giving a top ten prospect for a veteran is a yearly occurrence. Longer term targets might not get as much attention.

Lastly, even if Vince comes back, I’d think you want someone with a longer tradition of success for the role I’m looking at here.

Short Stop – Yes, I know Oneil Cruz should be back, but let’s just say they have to know thumbs up or thumbs down by like July 10th. And if it’s even a question he’ll be playing the field, go get one. Marcano has been fine, but that position is too key to allow it to be a question mark. This is absolutely a rental player, unless we’re still pretending Cruz is about to get pushed aside. Speaking of Cruz, he could be the biggest deadline acquisition in the game if he comes back and looks right.

Catcher – Obviously the Pirates have internal options here. Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez are like all anyone can talk about. I can’t see getting one on the market but this sure as hell is a need. Feels to me like even if they truly don’t feel either of these are ready, they’re still both better than what they’d acquire.

Outfielder – I think this team could use another Outfield thumper. I don’t think it’s internal unless they were to use Davis in Right field for the season. Reynolds, Suwinski, Joe, Cutch, Marcano, Bae, Palacios, Mathias, I mean that ‘s a lot of guys who can play out there, but only one or two who you feel is star quality in this league, you typically need more than that in the playoffs or indeed to get there. I’d make this a rental, and I’d go nuts. Grab a Joc Pederson, or go get Blackmon, whatever, get an experienced bat, not unlike Marlin Byrd was back in the day.

Aside from that, I either really like the mix or feel they’re ok. I considered first base, but I think Choi coming back will solidify that along with Santana and Joe to a degree. Can’t help but feel they’ll need to address this in the offseason again, so maybe a move is the way to go now. Can’t do anything if both of these guys stay.

5. Henry and Endy at the Same Level?

I mean, eventually this is the goal is it not people? They’re both at AAA now, and one day they’ll both be in MLB. That’s what we all want right?

Couple things here. First, they’ll both still get at bats, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Second, I believe the Super 2 date is going to be somewhere between the 15th and the 20th of June, so even if they’re conservative you’re talking about 2 or 3 weeks of overlap here.

We also don’t 100% know which one they’ll call up first. We’ve all assumed Endy because he was the one on the 40-man, and he was the one in AAA, and he was the one everyone was complaining about, but Henry has hit his way into this situation. As it comes to catching, both are and will be green, so to be clear, neither is getting called up to fix a defensive issue, they’d get the call for their bat.

Henry could very much so be the choice here. Endy has had some very good nights but his overall performance hasn’t been spectacular. Henry has been simply put, incredible. Endy was well, every season since he was acquired, until this season.

They’ll manage them and everyone will read into who does what.

Henry has started XX games in Right Field and Endy has Caught XX times! I can hear it now.

The bats will dictate this if the plan is to let them play elsewhere and warm up to the catching position at the MLB level.

Basically, don’t get sweaty about this, the goal is to have them be teammates for quite some time. If you see them both in the lineup together impacting the franchise, it’s a win, even if neither of them catch. (But one will, I’m being dramatic because I’m a writer)

Pittsburgh Pirates vs Oakland Athletics Series Preview

5-2-23 – By Christian Wolf – @CWolfPGH on Twitter

When & Who

Oakland Athletics (12-49) at Pittsburgh Pirates (31-27)

Game 1 – (6/5, 7:05 EST)

Probable Pitchers:

For the Pirates – Johan Oviedo (3-4, 4.50 ERA)

For the Athletics – JP Sears, (0-3, 4.37 ERA)

Game 2 – (6/6, 7:05 EST)

Probable Pitchers:

For the Pirates – Mitch Keller (7-1, 3.25 ERA)

For the Athletics – James Kaprielian (0-6, 8.12 ERA)

Game 3 – (6/7, 12:35 EST)

Probable Pitchers:

For the Pirates – Roansy Contreras (3-4, 4.82 ERA)

For the Athletics – Hogan Harris (0-0, 6.97 ERA)

Team Trends

The Athletics are bad. Worse than bad. Their owner is counting down the games until he can move to Las Vegas. The A’s fans no longer show up to games. They are on pace to win less than 40 games. Next question.

The Pirates are coming off a series sweep of the Cardinals, and have won five in a row. The bullpen was fantastic all series and the offense did just enough in each game to get the win. David Bednar completed saves in three straight games for the first time in his career.

Who’s Hot

For the Athletics –  Ramon Laureano – Laureano collected hits in each game against the Marlins, and struck out only twice in the series. He is hitting .400 (8-20) over his last seven games.

For the Pirates – Ke’Bryan Hayes – This is certainly a welcome site. Hayes had two three-hit games against the Cardinals, going 7-for-11 in the series overall and hitting two home runs. Hayes is hitting .310 (9-29) over his last seven games.

Who’s Not

For the Athletics – Aledmys Diaz –  Plenty of options here, and Diaz is one. He is hitting just .100 (2-20) over his last seven games and did not collect a hit in the series against Miami, and struck out three times.

For the Pirates – Jack Suwinski – Suwinski collected just one hit against the Cardinals, and had three strikeouts. He is hitting just .212 over his past thirty games.

Series Overview & Prediction

Plain and simple, the Pirates are the better team, no matter where you look. The Athletics pitching staff is historically bad, and their offense has been trending downward recently as well. This team is 12-49. TWELVE WINS, and we are in June.

The Pirates, really, should sweep the A’s, no questions asked. But because I feel personally like I am the great jinx master; I will settle for a simple series win in terms of winning two of the three games. But it really will not get easier for the Bucs again this season.

Hill Dominates Cards as Bucs Complete Series Sweep (31-27)

6/4/23- By Michael Castrignano – @412DoublePlay on Twitter

Following two games where the bullpen had to cover 12 innings of work, Rich Hill decided to give them as much of a break as possible, lasting 6.2 innings, allowing only 1 run off 4 hits with 3 walks and 6 strikeouts in his performance.

Bucs got on the board against starter Miles Mikolas early as Ji-hwan Bae took advantage of a first inning bases-loaded, 2-out situation to singled to center to score Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski, providing all the run support the team would need.

Hill ran into some trouble in the 7th inning following two quick outs as Cards catcher Andrew Knizner homered to left cutting the lead to 1. Tommy Edman followed with a single to left and that was the day for Hill. Bullpen continued their tear of success as Dauri “Money” Moreta came on and struck out Paul Goldschmidt to end the inning. Yohan Ramirez pitched a 1-2-3 8th and David Bednar shut down the 9th, notching his 13th save in 14 chances, including 3 of 3 in the weekend series.

News & Notes

  • Ke’Bryan Hayes didn’t manage to homer in his third straight game but stayed hot going 3-for-4 on the day. He finished the weekend series going 7/11 with 2 runs and 5 RBI, boosting his batting average to .242 – up from .221 coming into June. He appears to have really figured something out lately.
  • Bae swiped two bags in the game today, now sitting at 17 stolen bases on the season, which is tied for 2nd in the National League.
  • Cutch sat for the Sunday game, still sitting on 399 doubles, 1,997 hits, 49 triples and 295 home runs. It is likely he will reach some milestones over the remaining games of this homestand.
  • This was the first time the Pirates have swept the Cardinals in a 3-game series since April 27-29, 2018. This is also the 4th series sweep for the Pirates this season.
  • Pirates stay home and hope to stay hot as the Oakland A’s come to town for a 3 game series tomorrow with Johan Oviedo looking to keep the momentum rolling. First pitch is at 7:05PM. Let’s Go Bucs!