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Long balls could shrink Bucs' long odds
Long balls could shrink Bucs' long odds
Monday, February 22, 2010
The other day, the Pirates' sluggers were on practice field No. 3 at their spring training complex in Bradenton, Fla. But after left-handed hitters Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez launched balls far beyond the right-field fence and smashed a couple of car windows in the parking lot of the River Run Golf Course, the Pirates moved the hitters to practice field No. 2.
What this meant is that the building beyond the left-field fence, near field No. 2, is probably a little dented today courtesy of Jones, the Pirates' enormous slugger who had three extraordinary months last year. On Sunday, Jones carved one long drive after another over the distance fence in left-center field; he looked like he was hitting a driver with a bad slice (but thankfully, his car window isn't busted).
After making his debut for Pittsburgh on July 1, he mashed 10 homers in his first 19 games. Pitchers began working Jones out of the strike zone, and in August his numbers went down. But the Pirates were encouraged by Jones' adjustments as the season progressed; he drew 18 walks in his past 130 plate appearances. Don Long, the Pirates' hitting coach, spent time talking with Jones in the batting cages Sunday about how to lay off the pitches low and away.
Jones finished last season ranked 14th among all hitters in OPS with 300 or more plate appearances; in slugging, he was eighth.
He looks like he has just enough patience to keep pitchers honest, and if he were to generate a 25- to 30-homer type of season, he would be one more reason why the Pittsburgh offense has a chance to be markedly improved over 2009, when the Pirates finished dead last in the majors in runs.
The Pirates will have the dynamic Andrew McCutchen in the big leagues the whole season, Ryan Doumit is healthy (at least for now), and Akinori Iwamura was acquired during the offseason to add some stability. Alvarez will probably be summoned to the big leagues in late May or early June, after seemingly figuring some things out in the second half of last season in the minors.
The Pirates are not likely to end their streak of consecutive seasons without making the playoffs, but they are getting better.
Either way, the golfers at River Run should beware: The Pirates' hitters are moving back to practice field No. 3 on Tuesday. As Pittsburgh media relations man Jim Trdinich notes: "Fore!"
• Paul Maholm struggled in the middle months of last season, posting ERAs of 5.52, 5.90 and 4.58 in June, July and August, and this has him thinking about adjustments, perhaps to deal with the warming weather of midsummer. He mused Sunday about possibly altering his pre-start throwing routine, his thought being that perhaps he should throw less in his warm-ups.
Maholm recalled how, before a game he pitched against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright last season, he went to the outfield to go through his usual bit of long-tossing. He kept looking for Wainwright to come out and start his pregame routine, and it wasn't until about 10 minutes before the first pitch that Wainwright emerged and starting throwing in the bullpen, without long-tossing. And he was ready to go.
Maholm subsequently chatted with Wainwright about his routine, and Wainwright mentioned that he had a similar experience in a start against Jake Peavy, who threw about 10 fastballs in 12 seconds in the bullpen and then was ready to go.
So Maholm is wondering if fewer pitches thrown in warming up might be a good way to help him save bullets for the game.
• By the way: Maholm is a huge fan of baseball. He followed offseason transactions closely, to the point that he kind of annoyed his wife with how much time he spent on the computer. In short, we have a lot in common.
• Just a thought: Major League Baseball should think about just inviting the best sluggers to the Home Run Derby, rather than trying to shoehorn the All-Stars into competing. Jones may or may not be at the All-Star Game, but he would be perfect for the Home Run Derby, clubbing monstrous shots all over the place. In the NBA, the best 3-point shooters generally get the invites to the 3-point shooting competition. If MLB did the same, the NL could field a heck of a trio in the Home Run Derby, in Jones, Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn.
MLB -- Buster Olney -- Pittsburgh Pirates aren't yet contenders in the NL Central, but more young power should help - ESPN
May the odds be ever in your favor.
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