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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: April 4, 2013

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 6:08 p.m.

Greetings, all, from PNC Park, where the sun has come out but only in the most deceptive manner. Still cold here for the rubber match of Pirates-Cubs, which has a first pitch of 12:35 p.m.

We'll whisk right through that ...

Comment From Naterosboro: Which James McDonald do we see today, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? This season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Can't even hazard a guess. Honestly, he looks like a different pitcher not just from start to start but inning to inning. That held true this spring, too. Covered one of his starts in Sarasota against the Orioles where he gave up three home runs but alternately looked just fine.

He is THE swing vote on this team, no question.

Comment From Tyler: Dejan, what are your Pens lines going forward (w/ and w/o Crosby) ... it sure seems like Iginla and Neal are both more comfortable on the RW.

Dejan Kovacevic: Since it might be more pertinent, I'll go with my preferred lines once Crosby returns: 12-87-9, 14-71-18, 10-16-24, 48-36-27. If you don't know the numbers, apologies in advance. There is much to be said for keeping Crosby with his usual guys but, to me, more to be said for having Iginla and Neal playing on the natural side for each.

Comment From Zack: Should there be concern that Malkin isn't stepping up so far? Or does he just need more time to get used to Iginla on his line?

Dejan Kovacevic: Malkin needs to wake up. Simple as that.

Comment From Aaron: Did the Pirates really make a lineup decision based on a spring performance (Gaby Sanchez starting the first two games despite the fact that he does not hit well against righties)? Starting him over Travis Snider would seem to have two strikes against the coach/front office: 1)They went against what they said all spring based on a small sample size. 2)They ignored historical statistics showing Gaby is better off playing against lefties.

Dejan Kovacevic: That might be thinking about it too deeply, Aaron. Clint Hurdle very much fancies the notion that Sanchez can be his steady hand at first base. He'd prefer to go that way. But of course, Sanchez has to produce. We'll see.

Comment From OSU600: While I loved all of Shero's moves, is it possible that he might have done too much? With all these new faces and line changes, it appears everyone is a little lost. It's going to take some time for the players to get used to everyone.

Dejan Kovacevic: Two games. That's all. Two games. Nothing to do with chemistry or adding captains and Hall of Famers. Two lousy, blah efforts after a long winning streak.

Comment From Jason: Does Hurdle go with Snider against the lefty Wood today?

Dejan Kovacevic: The only wood Travis Snider will see today is the pine again. Jose Tabata is in right.

Comment From Guest: DK, this may not be an appropriate question for the blog but figured I'd ask it anyway. I was curious as to your thoughts on the so-called Pirate apologists. Is this something you see with the Pens and Steelers? Personally I find it to be baffling. Even after the last two soul crushing years I still love the Bucs but in no way shape or form can I defend this management group.

Dejan Kovacevic: If there's anything like that group for the hockey and football teams, I've neither seen nor heard from it. Unique to Pirates. Between my time on the baseball beat and now this column thing, the sense I have is that you're talking about the same 25-30 people who are all over social media and blogs defending close to everything the management does. It's weird, but it happens, especially as it relates to sabermetrics. Also a very small but very vocal group.

They're certainly entitled to their viewpoints, but blowing up the scope of it would be a mistake.

Comment From Butch: Ever hear any stories about Mike Rice being out of control while in Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: None. And if you saw the Trib's reports today from Robert Morris and Pitt , the people who played for Rice aren't saying anything of the kind. Might just have been a Rutgers thing for him. Just got out of control.

Comment From Kyle: What is your favorite moment in PNC Park history?

Dejan Kovacevic: Brian Giles vs. Billy Wagner. Until there's ever an actual important game in this place, that's going to stay at No. 1 for me. Unbelievable moment.

Comment From Kyle: I saw where Michael Mauti met with the Steelers recently... any chance they take a chance on him with a late round pick or sign him as a free agent?

Dejan Kovacevic: Readers know I'm a Mauti admirer, before and even after the knee injury. Exceptional football player, and exactly the kind of blow-things-up-in-the-middle backer who would be a powerful complement to Lawrence Timmons.

His visit can only be considered encouraging. For sure, teams will be scared off by how his Penn State career finished.

Comment From The Great Roberto: What did you make of the comments from the ex minority owner of the Pirates concerning Bob Nutting?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Trib exclusive by our Jeff Oliver the other morning was significant in that Jay Lustig confirmed the ownership does NOT take profits from the team, that all the money goes back into baseball ops. Been writing that for years. Good to see it substantiated from someone who's now free to speak publicly.

Otherwise, though, what Lustig was describing -- some billionaire owner who'd come in and invest his own cash -- goes against Major League Baseball's debt-to-equity regulations. It would be considered deficit spending. That's fine for the short term. We're seeing the benefits in Milwaukee and Cincinnati. But those teams are no more than $10 million or so in the red when they've made their moves, never too far. That's because of debt-to-equity.

Comment From Kyle: Is Masumi Kuwata still connected with the Pirates in any way? After he left the club in 2007, he was expected to help improve relations in the Asian markets.

Dejan Kovacevic: Funny that you ask. Just a few minutes ago, was asking my old friend Hideki Okuda, a Japanese sports writer of many years, that very question. Kuwata does some color commentary in Japan, including a couple games in the recent World Baseball Classic. But for the most part, he's just relaxing and enjoying being really rich.

Comment From Charlie: Could the Pens win a 7 game series against a playoff team without Sidney Crosby?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely! Against any team in the East, for that matter.

Comment From Matty O: Chances that we see J-Mac and see him for longer than five innings today?

Dejan Kovacevic: For all we know, JMac won't last through the chat. Or he'll go the distance. Who knows?

Comment From Mike H: Where do you see Jussi Jokinen's best fit right now and ultimately once Sid returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: The shootout.

No, seriously, he's a perfect fourth-line guy in the sense that he can be plugged into any forward position, any line, at any time. He's like a less skilled Miroslav Satan who can also play center.

And is great on shootouts.

Comment From Drew71: After Huntington's statements this spring that Snider would start the season in RF, Jones has had two starts and now Tabata gets the day game start. How should we process this? That spring training play DOES count? That Hurdle has a very strong grip on decisions that sometimes are shared between manager and GM? Or something else?

Dejan Kovacevic: Huntington made the comments about Snider both at the Winter Meetings and in spring training. It was Snider's "job to lose," as the GM put it.

Don't know how else to interpret this, then, other than that he lost it.

Or, again, that Hurdle really wants Sanchez to stick at first.

Comment From Matthew: Safe to say that the Steelers are in rebuilding mode and are not realistic competitors for a title this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't dismiss as a contender any team with Ben Roethlisberger at QB, but barring a significant addition at running back and wide receiver, plus some meaningful upgrade of performance on defense -- all three of which right now don't look likely -- then I side with Mike Tomlin in the "transition" debate.

Comment From PirateApologist: How is Pitt going to replace Steven Adams?

Dejan Kovacevic: Should know more in just the next few days. Jamie Dixon is supposed to be getting a look at some big men. One thing to remember is that players do get blocked at other places, and they're all aware when an opening comes up like this one. Might be very attractive for a center to come to a Pitt program and the ACC if he's pretty sure he'll play almost no matter what.

Comment From Mike H: Bigger loss for Pitt, Rushel Shell or Steven Adams?

Dejan Kovacevic: Adams, no question. I really believed that team could do something very good next season after seeing Adams finally come to life against Wichita State.

Comment From scapper: Worst possible first-round matchup for the Pens? Ovie and Caps are starting to hum. Islanders always break the Pens hearts.

Dejan Kovacevic: Worst matchup -- and I'll continue to say this until they're formally out -- is the Flyers. Next, I'd say, would be the Rangers. Not because of last night, but because Henrik Lundqvist is the goalie in the East most capable of stealing a playoff round by himself.

Comment From Jojo: I realize spring ball is one thing, but h ow long of a leash does McDonald have before he loses his rotation spot, provided he can't get it together?

Dejan Kovacevic: He has until the end of the chat.

Comment From Outlaw Pete: I have heard several people argue that Steven Adams leaving for the NBA this year will benefit Pitt's program in the long term. Agree or Disagree?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ridiculous. Based on what?

Comment From CJ: DK, how many times could u fly around the world on ur frequent flyer miles? Where would u go first?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm working on a round-trip ticket to Mars, actually. The planet, not the town.

In all seriousness, would love to see Australia someday. That and Antarctica are the only continents I haven't checked off yet.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sorry for the pause. Had to take the obligatory first-pitch photo for social media.

Where were we?

Comment From Tom from Hopewell: I don't know who would drive him in but i would love to see Cutch bat leadoff.

Dejan Kovacevic: You want 31 home runs at leadoff?

Comment From STEVEG: Why wear a mouthgard if it doesn't protect you?

Dejan Kovacevic: Those little rubbery mouthguards, like the one Sid wore, do protect from incidental contact. Not much protects from a blistering puck flush to the mouth.

Comment From Bucco Fan Forever: If the Pirates have any sense of history they will not make it 21 losing seasons. Is the number 21 not sacred?

Dejan Kovacevic: Here's what Roberto Clemente Jr. told me on that very subject near the end of last season:

Comment From Matty O: I just don't understand that, after you have for YEARS disproved the theory that Pirates ownership is pocketing profits, and now one of the ex-minority owners again re-affirms this, there are un-named credentialed media folk (be it radio, television, print, electronic, what have you) who still advance this notion. The Pirates have done enough in both the past 21 years, as well as the previous 5 to merit the scorn of this city, so it's just a tad frustrating to still see this, in this day and age of instant information.

Dejan Kovacevic: Narratives don't die easily. The Pirates have many, many problems organizationally. The owner himself has many, many shortcomings. But the owner pocketing profits isn't among them.

Comment From NYJohn: Any thoughts on the re-signing of Stevenson Sylvester?

Dejan Kovacevic: Nice special teams player. That's it.

Comment From Brandon: Realistically, what are the odds Sid comes back wearing a half visor/half cage. Unless you're an enforcer, what is the loss in wearing a cage?

Dejan Kovacevic: The odds that Sid comes back with a FULL visor is much greater. Can't mess with this stuff.

Comment From Newtang: Do you think Despres will stay in the lineup after the other injured D-men return?

Dejan Kovacevic: He'd need to really cement himself alongside Kris Letang, show that the two work together. The Penguins have been looking for that for a while. If Despres is it, he'll stick.

Comment From NYJohn: Who else do you think the Steelers would welcome back at the right price this off-season?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you're getting at James Harrison, I'm not feeling that.

Comment From Mike P: What is the deal with Matty Niskanen. Is he incapable of playing against top opponents and eating minutes?

Dejan Kovacevic: Niskanen has had three pretty down games in a row, and you're probably warm that it coincides with Letang and Paul Martin leaving a lot of minutes on the table. Niskanen is a bona fide NHL defenseman, but he's best suited for a 5-6 role.

Comment From J_C_Steel: I'm watching the game, and I'm noticing some downward action on J-Mac's fastball. Is it just me, or is he throwing a 2-seamer more than a 4-seamer early today?

Dejan Kovacevic: All he's done so far is throw bad pitches that the Cubs -- insanely -- have swung at. Whole lot of Cubbiness in this series so far, aside from Jeff Samardzija the other night.

Comment From STEVEG: I've noticed Iginla. Have you noticed Brenden Morrow yet?

Dejan Kovacevic: I have. It wouldn't make for much of a TV thing, though. Watch him away from the puck, and you'll see the work he's doing in front of the net. Causing a lot of trouble there, creating room.

With the puck, though, no, there hasn't been much.

Comment From Alan Gifford: From you 1st pitch picture seem like you are way up, is that pic deceiving, or are you far away?

Dejan Kovacevic: I just ducked a passing aircraft, if that answers your question.

Comment From Suzzie: Can you really try to compare the Pirates to the Steelers and Pens when the salary structure is apples to oranges?

Dejan Kovacevic: Comparisons are limited, but there can be fair ones, too. Good trades, smart drafting, experienced instruction and generally conducting a franchise with class all have absolutely nothing to do with salary caps.

Comment From jzpengui: Never thought I would ask this question, but from an all-around perspective, who do the Pens miss more - Letang or Martin?

Dejan Kovacevic: Martin. No question. His ability to gobble up 50-50 pucks, then convert them into offense, was as good as anyone in the league.

Comment From Walter White: Is there any old-school hockey part of you that wanted to see Sid playing with a few missing teeth?

Dejan Kovacevic: Only if he'd be facing the Flyers.

Comment From Mario: Is Friday a must win game for the Pens?

Dejan Kovacevic: Seriously?

Comment From Dave in Ross: Why do pitches that seem to be 6 inches outside always get called on Pedro?

Dejan Kovacevic: Maybe they just look that way because he stands so far off the plate.

Comment From tim m: know the penguins are very closed mouth when it comes to injuries, but do you get a sense of when crosby comes back?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't get the idea it'll be long at all, providing no setbacks due to infection. That's the real variable.

Comment From Mike H: Any chance the #historywillbemade will start up again this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: None. No silliness this season for me. Let them win, or let them be fired.

Comment From NYJohn: Knowing the Steelers tend to draft for 2 years out more than immediate starters, what positions do you feel will be targeted?12:57

Dejan Kovacevic: One interesting thing I've heard is that the Steelers' QB visits are way up over years past. I know it's commonly known that they're looking that way, but to see as many guys as they've seen in the past couple months, it might lend credence to the notion that this could actually -- remarkably -- result in an early pick.

Otherwise, it's the usual cast: Running back, receiver, safety ... heck, pretty much anything other than offensive line or defensive ends.

Dejan Kovacevic: One more today ...

Comment From Guest: For or against NHL expansion? Won't it dilute the talent pool even further?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ah, that was in a column recently ...

Let's try another one, then ...

Comment From Napper: With all the Penguin injuries and new players, will we realistically see any cohesive lines prior to the playoffs?

Dejan Kovacevic: I think so. Just look at Malkin, Neal and Iginla over the past three games. They look a little more comfortable with each shift. I have a hard time picturing Iginla taking long to adjust with anyone.

I'll repeat: This isn't about chemistry or whatever the topical intangible is for the day. The Penguins stunk in both games because they came out flat. Review the goals they gave up and how they did so. It was blah after blah.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for me. Going to go back to watching the Cubs hack at anything McDonald offers.

Thanks for participating. The columns normally run Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the radio show Tuesday and this here chat on Thursday. But I'll be off all next week, so forget all that.

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