Benching trend grows frustrating

Joe Rutter
| Monday, June 5, 2006

Unhappy with being benched for a fourth consecutive game, outfielder/first baseman Craig Wilson met for 30 minutes with manager Jim Tracy before the Pirates' game Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

Wilson declined to discuss specifics about the closed-door meeting, but he admitted to being surprised when his name was not listed in the starting lineup yesterday even though the Padres started right-hander Chris Young.

Jeromy Burnitz was in right for the fourth day in a row, and Sean Casey made his seventh consecutive start at first base. It was the second time in a week Casey started a day game following a night game.

"I really thought I would be in the lineup today," Wilson said.

Wilson appeared as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of the Pirates' 1-0 loss. He popped to second for the third out.

Burnitz went 0 for 3 and had his six-game hitting streak snapped. He stranded a runner on third with one out in the seventh when he popped out in foul territory. Casey went 0 for 4 and is hitless in 15 at-bats over his past four starts.

A free agent at the end of the season, Wilson is expected to be traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Wilson has not asked the Pirates to intensify attempts to trade him, but he did meet with his agent, Steve Hilliard, in Arizona during the team's previous road trip to discuss his future.

Casey's return from a back injury last Monday created a platoon in right field of Wilson and Burnitz.

Wilson started three consecutive games against left-handed starters, followed by four successive starts for Burnitz against right-handers. The Pirates are scheduled to face another right-handed starter tonight -- Colorado's Aaron Cook.

Wilson is batting .349 (15 for 43) against left-handed pitchers, compared to a .184 average (9 for 49) for Burnitz.

"There is opportunity for Craig there," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said yesterday.

Wilson started regularly against right-handed pitchers while Casey was on the disabled list. For the season, he is batting .248 (30 for 121) with six homers and 15 RBI against right-handers. Burnitz is batting .261 (36 for 138) with seven homers and 23 RBI against right-handers.

With the platoon situation, Wilson is likely to start only two games on the seven-game road trip to Colorado and San Francisco. Left-hander Jeff Francis starts for the Rockies on Wednesday, and left-hander Noah Lowry pitches Saturday for the Giants.

Both Wilson and Burnitz have recently made a case for being in the lineup. Before yesterday, Burnitz was on a 9-for-18 tear that raised his batting average to .245. He was batting .425 over his previous 12 games.

Wilson also was swinging a hot bat when he went to the bench. He batted .375 with two doubles and two homers in his previous seven starts.

Citing the injury that sidelined Casey for six weeks, Littlefield said he's not worried about playing time becoming an issue for Wilson or Burnitz.

"Who knows what is going to happen from the standpoint of injuries in the future," Littlefield said. "As part of getting better, part of it is having more depth. I don't want to apologize for having what I think is solid depth with three guys for two positions. I think it's only going to help us."

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