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Original Issue


No Bang for TheBucs
A 17th straight losing season awaits a club with no pop and a regressing youngrotation

LAST NOVEMBER,days after he was tapped as Pittsburgh's fourth pitching coach in five years,Joe Kerrigan visited the Steel City—not to check out real estate, but to get tothe bottom of why the Pirates had the worst pitching staff in the NationalLeague. Kerrigan, known around the game as the Professor, hunkered down in adark video room at PNC Park and, after 10 days of studying video of his newstaff, declared to manager John Russell, "There's nothing we need to teardown and rebuild. A few tweaks, and we'll turn things around."

With those wordsKerrigan comes across as the Nutty Professor, considering the rotation heinherits is, on paper, a mess even TARP couldn't bail out. The Pirates—whosestarters ranked last in the league in ERA, base runners allowed and strikeoutsin 2008—made no upgrades to a rotation whose presumptive ace, Paul Maholm, had20 quality starts and a 3.71 ERA but would be a No. 3 or 4 starter on mostteams. Referring to the homegrown Maholm, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, generalmanager Neal Huntington points out, "We have three guys who have gone 200innings with a sub-four ERA in the last two years. The foundation isthere."

That statement isnot untrue, though it represents some selective interpretation of the numbers.While all three pitchers are entering their peak years, Gorzelanny, 26, andSnell, 27, took major steps back last season from their 2006 and '07performances, Gorzelanny so much so that he will start the season in theminors. "We need to step up now," Maholm, 26, acknowledges, "orelse accept that it just wasn't meant to be."

Kerrigan is astats-and-video freak who, during 12 years as pitching coach for the Expos, RedSox and Phillies, earned his nickname for his preparation and obsession withdetail. He believes three factors have led to the staff's troubles: anunwillingness to challenge hitters inside, an inability to throw first-pitchstrikes and a reluctance to make in-game adjustments. This spring he held dailydrills in which dummy hitters were placed at the plate and pitchers worked onthrowing inside. He handed out stat sheets that showed his pitchers how muchworse they fared the second and third times through the order. "He hasn'tmade any big mechanical adjustments," says Maholm, "just a big focus onsituational pitching and preparation."

Aside from alittle miracle work from Kerrigan, the Pirates will also need big seasons fromthe brothers LaRoche, who are under pressure to produce out of the gate. Firstbaseman Adam, a notoriously slow starter, had another dismal first half (.210batting average, .348 slugging through June 6) before an All-Star--calibersecond half (.316/.613 over the final 78 games). The burden is on Adam toprovide punch for an offense that ranked 21st in the majors in homers and 22ndin slugging.

His youngerbrother, third baseman Andy, was a major disappointment after arriving fromL.A. as a prize prospect in the three-team July trade that sent All-Staroutfielder Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston. Once regarded as the Dodgers'top minor league position player, the 25-year-old Andy hit .152 with three homeruns and 12 RBIs in 49 games with Pittsburgh and was symbolic of the team'soffensive futility down the stretch. After averaging just under five runs pergame with Bay, the Pirates scored 3.74 per game without him, going 17--37. Thiswinter the younger LaRoche worked with hitting coach Don Long. "We lookedat a lot of video," says Long, "but mostly I wanted Andy to clear hishead."

There is help onthe way for the offense, though its full potential will not be realized forseveral more seasons. This spring the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft, 22-year-oldthird baseman Pedro Alvarez, was drawing comparisons to former Pirates sluggerWillie Stargell, though his conditioning was questioned. Five-toolcenterfielder Andrew McCutchen, 22, will start the season at Triple AIndianapolis but should be a regular by midsummer. There are no suchreinforcements coming for the pitching staff. It's all up to the Professor.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

As they did withshortstop Jack Wilson last May and second baseman Freddy Sanchez in February'08, the Pirates made a big commitment to a middling player coming off a careeryear by signing centerfielder Nate McLouth (left) to a three-year, $15.75million contract. Pittsburgh has no chance to contend in the span of that deal,so instead of locking up McLouth, they should be leveraging his great 2008start (he had a monster first month, but went .261/.340/.461 thereafter) andGold Glove award into players who will be part of the next contending Piratesteam. They desperately need arms to stock a depleted farm system after years ofbad drafting. The Braves are loaded with young pitchers, are ready to win nowand weak in the outfield. As much as the Pirates like McLouth, his greatestpossible contribution to the current club is in his trade value.



Pitchers draftedby the Pirates with top-four picks since 2002, to disastrous results. In '02they used the No. 1 pick on Bryan Bullington, who would miss all of '06(shoulder injury) and be cut loose last year. In '06, with the No. 4 pick, theypassed on Tim Lincecum to take righty Brad Lincoln, who had his elbow rebuiltin '07. Last year, again picking fourth, they bypassed catcher Matt Wieters totake lefty Daniel Moskos, who was lit up in A ball.

The Lineup

Manager JohnRussell

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)


December 28, 1992

"I see Roberto all the time," Vera Clementesays, "mostly in his quiet moments. He is playing with the kids, working onhis ceramics, even shampooing this rug. He was much more than a baseballplayer, you know. He would rather be late for a meeting with the governor thanpass by a stranger who needed help with a tire. He couldn't read music, but hecould play the organ. He even wrote poetry. I remember once, it was a Father'sDay game in Pittsburgh, and he was sitting in his uniform, writing something onthe envelope that the children's card had come in. He was composing verses, abeautiful poem entitled ¬øQuién Soy?—Who Am I?"

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THE NEXT STEP There are a few coming attractions, notably five-tool centerfielder McCutcheon.