Kevin Hart, John Russell, and Bob Walk were on the Caravan from January 24-29th.

The Pirates Rotation Was Set Before Christmas

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Former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Bob Walk has said it before.  He said it again Sunday during the Pirates radio broadcast.   It sounds something like this:  The Pirates front office knows who they want on the 25-man roster long before spring training.   A comment like this comes across as a little brash when one first hears it.  Almost like that kid that breaks the news that, “there ain’t no Santa Claus, you dummy!  It’s your Mom and Dad.”

We all dream that spring training is a magical place where major league jobs can be won with a solid performance on the diamond.  But you know what?  Walk is right.

I am not a person who simply agrees with everything I hear.  Usually it’s the opposite.  Walk backed off a little on his comment when he added something to the effect that there might be a spot or two that has tobe sorted out.  But he added, for 23 players or so, it’s a done deal.   The topic came up tonight when some great friends of mine asked me about Brad Lincoln

Brad Lincoln never had a shot at this rotation.  Ever.    The job was won by Kevin Hart long ago.   It was won in a meeting room somewhere in which  a bunch of Neal Huntington’s baseball people made the decision.  The name Hart was written in as the Pittsburgh Pirates fifth starter.  It didn’t matter that is was months until baseball resumed.  The Pirates had important plans to make.  The marketing of the decision needed to begin.   The company line was typed up to be delivered by John Russell in a few months regarding Hart as the favorite in the fifth starter role.  Sure it surprised us.  But it set the tone for what we were going to see in spring training didn’t it? 

But you know what?  The beauty of spring training still makes me happy.  It still puts a gleam in every baseball fans’ eyes.  Most everyone I know has uttered the following phrase with some emphasis this week: “I can’t wait until April!”   Spring training is the dream of most every young baseball player and it is a dream that has never left my mind.   I know it makes you excited too.

Most everyone felt the first four spots were never in question.  I agree.  Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton were locks.   But everyone thought there was going to be a competition for the fifth starter spot.  There was never a competition.

No, this was never about Lincoln.  He didn’t factor into the mix this spring.  A number of important contract and player control issues are considered more important with Lincoln.  At RumBunter, we aren’t sure Lincoln is going to be that big of a long term factor in the Pirates future, but hell, Lincoln is all we have to look forward to at the moment, so who are we to piss on your parade.  Personally,  I will cheer my tail off for the guy.  

I still have visions of the Pirates starting pitching options that were in AAA just two years ago and had to be used by the Bucs.  Yeh, those were bad, bad memories.  Those days are over.  Sure, McCutchen, Donnie Veal, and Lincoln are not exclamation points, but each has some upside, especially Veal.  The staff at AAA Indy has its’ questions to be answered, but it also has more upside than we have seen in a long, long time should one or several need to be called up to the bigs.

The battle for the fifth starter spot was spun by the Pirates as being between Hart and Daniel McCutchen.  But if that was true, then why has McCutchen never started a game in spring training? You know, spring training….that sun shiny place where everyone between the white lines has a shot to make the team.  That’s  what a lot of fans believe.  I believed it for a long time too.    

I ask you to think about the particular example of the 2010 Pirates starting rotation for a little bit.  After all, the clues were right under our nose all along.  We have to point to the hype machine known as the Pirates Caravan.  Check out the Pirates appearing in group one this January:

Manager John Russell, players Andrew McCutchen, Kevin Hart and Evan Meek, and broadcasters Greg Brown and Bob Walk

Here is group two: 

Featuring third base coach Tony Beasley, players Garrett Jones, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, and broadcasters Tim Neverett and Steve Blass

Anyone look familiar to you on that list?   I see two names that we have already mentioned.  Walk and Hart.  Another one plays an important role in the decision and that is JR.

So, Hart was a member of the Pirates 2010 Caravan.  Two other starters were too in Ohlendorf and Morton.  But McCutchen wasn’t.  Hart was signing autographs and had a highlight video for all the fans to watch.  McCutchen didn’t.  Hart attended the private dinner for all of the returning players in both groups at The Duquense Club.  McCutchen was getting ready for PirateFest in a hotel room, probably having room service. 

McCutchen has pitched better in spring training.  The brass has just made sure it happened against lesser competition and in minor league games.  McCutchen and Hart are not in competition.  The only way McCutchen gets serious consideration for  the fifth spot is if Hart can’t throw strikes in his next two starts, or if he gets  ‘injured.’  Then we think Brian Bass could come into the mix.  Bass has pitched very well.

We should have seen it long ago.  The Pirates are still touting a race for the job in spite of Hart allowing seven runs, seven walks, and four hits in three innings this spring.  Both Hart and McCutchen have an option remaining, so either could go to AAA.  But nah, we aren’t buying it.  There isn’t a Santa Claus.

Kevin Hart will be the five, unless he falls down the chimney.

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The Tigers pitchers were hit hard yesterday.  The Phillies Dominic Brown crushed two homers yesterday off Detroit.  His second ‘homer’ was about three feet short, but still ruled a homerun.  It was actually a helluva catch by a fan using his baseball hat.  The fan leaned over the chain link at the top of the padded right center field fence and made a basket catch.  The fan was a white male, approximately 6’3” with a sweet mohawk.  Pirate scouts are interested.

Brown came up again in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, LHP Phil Coke fed him some breaking balls and on an 0-2 count, Brown cued a ball off the end of the bat over Coke for an infield single and his fourth RBI. 

The homer Ryan Howard hit didn’t need the help of a fan.  It was crushed.

Cole Hamels tossed five innings and the Tigers got just  two hits and  one unearned run.  He had four strikeouts.   Hamels  changeup was filthy.  I hope Charlie Morton can talk with Hamels about his change.  If Morton could get his change together, well… we would all be happier.  (We are working on a monster post on Charlie Morton.  It’s a new focus at RumBunter, the beast post.)

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Washington Nationals are in the win column with a 12-3 win over the Marlins yesterday.

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Tags: Bob Walk Brad Lincoln Charlie Morton Daniel McCutchen John Russell Kevin Hart Paul Maholm Ross Ohlendorf Zach Duke

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