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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Aug. 16, 2012

| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, 2:55 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Morning, all. Before we start, apologies for not being able to do one of these from London. Tried the first week and, long story short, logistics wouldn't allow it.Besides, I knew you had a pennant race to enjoy ...

Amos Otis: What would constitute a "choke"?...what if we end up 81-81, would you consider the non Jerry Meals version 2012 as chokers at .500 on Oct. 1st?

Dejan Kovacevic: That would be pretty epic, so yeah. But I don't see that happening. This team WILL break The Streak. And, for that matter, it's hardly out of contention, a half-game out of a PLAYOFF SPOT. As I wrote in the column the other day, everyone's in bonus territory here. Might as well have some fun with it.

Mike A.: Is it now fair to criticize the Rodriguez trade? Instead of being bold and acquiring a reliable, top notch pitcher for 2 months, NH acquired a mediocre "innings eater" for 2 or 3 years. Based on his performance so far, I'll bet Wandy's glad that option for 2014 is his. Bob Nutting will be thrilled paying a 35-year old, bottom of the rotation starter $14M.

Dejan Kovacevic: Wandy's overall numbers, especially over the past three years, very strongly suggest he's a good pickup. He's been pretty lousy so far, no question. That meatball he served up to Matt Kemp last night -- hanging curve, belt-high -- was way ugly. But he can and has pitched a lot better than that.That said, one of the names I'd tossed around before the deadline was Paul Maholm. The Pirates -- and Clint Hurdle, rather curiously -- made an unusually firm denial that they were interested when asked about Maholm at the time. You might remember that. Found it odd, as if some bridge had been burned.Maholm's been tremendous of late and won again last night. This is his time of year. The Pirates should know that better than anyone.

Guest: Will you read the upcoming Joe Paterno book?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean the one by Joe Posnanski, yes. Joe's an excellent columnist for SI by way of the Kansas City Star, a seamless, effortless writer, and he had incredible access to Paterno in the final year-plus of his life. Whatever Joe's thought process when beginning that book, I'm sure he has the integrity to tell the story as it played out.What I won't be reading is the second book Jerry Sandusky is said to be writing in prison right now. Or his first.

yinzer in va: Dejan, Welcome back from the Olympics, the best sporting event in the world (except when Pittsburgh is competing for a championship). Do you think Missy Franklin has a shot to earn more medals than Michael Phelps? She already has 5, and her best games are ahead of her. She'll be 21 and 25 for the next 2 games, giving her a chance for many more. Plus even at 29, she'll have a shot at a few more.

Dejan Kovacevic: Franklin's age bracket sets up better than Phelps', which is what I'm sure you're getting at there. Phelps went to Sydney as a child at 15. So yeah, she's got a head start. But to match Phelps, at some point, she'd have to have Phelps' Beijing. Just because she was rounded out well enough to participate in seven events doesn't mean she can WIN eight.I took a little bit of grief for writing in the Monday farewell column that there are no heirs apparent to Phelps or Usain Bolt. I'll stand by that. Franklin won three gold, five overall. That sounds like a ton except that it's swimming, which hands out 5 billion medals. And it doesn't yet show the necessary versatility to match the greatest swimmer of all time.Being totally blunt here, way more people in London talked about 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen than Franklin. So she'll have a rival, too.

Absolute Locke: Do you ever regret saying anything in a column?

Dejan Kovacevic: I write about 175 of them a year. What would you guess?

William: Are the Pirates soft?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's what Michel Therrien thinks. And it's soff, pal. Soff.

Dave Tresky: Dejan, With the problems with the pitching, especially starters, does it make sense to bring up Justin Wilson or give Jeff Locke a shot ?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's pretty clear from talking to Clint Hurdle the other day the Pirates are mapped out through the end of the coming road trip. After that, they'll meet to decide what's up with all of them. It's safe to say James McDonald, for instance, had better show a significant uptick tomorrow night.I wouldn't be starting Justin Wilson, and I don't think that's the Pirates' intention, anyway. They see him as a reliever, which is exactly right given his profile.So, Locke?Yeah, I think we're all at the why-not stage about now.

Mike A.: Quick follow-up on Wandy. I know you're not a big "chemistry" guy...but I noticed all season the four guys not starting being shown in the dugout joking and laughing. When I see Wandy...he's sitting alone, or talking to a member of the medical staff. He appears either aloof, or not happy to be in Pittsburgh. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Heard a lot of that from readers last night. My response: That is SOOOOO Pittsburgh.We think every time someone new comes here that they're going to hate the place or hate us. And I''m not even talking about sports here. But staying within sports, all anyone did last summer was monitor all of Derrek Lee's facial reactions to see if he really, really liked it here. Heard a lot of the same stuff from Penguins fans after the Jordan Staal trade about Brandon Sutter because he had the audacity to blow off us heathen media types for a day.Rodriguez is pitching lousy. He didn't run out a grounder to first last night, which looked awful but in reality was at least partly the result of his right hand being stung badly by the way the ball hit the bat on contact. He was, by all accounts, a terrific citizen in Houston.I could end up wrong on Rodriguez. I don't know him well. But for now, I'd worry a lot more about how he pitches than how he looks on sporadic camera shots.

kibab1979: Does Gary Bettman really want to be remembered as the only commissioner to cost his sport two entire seasons? Beginning to really look that way.

Dejan Kovacevic: The idiocy of whatever's happening at the NHL offices has been pushed to the back around here, I can tell, but it's going to be a bigger deal as we get closer to training camp time being missed.My Cliff's Notes view: Bettman's got a couple of miserable franchises in Phoenix and Florida, and he lacks the fortitude to ask the rest of the owners to chip in with additional revenue sharing. Maybe that's because those owners see the Predators match the Flyers' offer for Shea Weber and think everything's fine. Maybe it's just that they're greedy. But they're Bettman's bosses, not the other way around.So, rather than tackle a logical, rational plan from the union -- setting aside the massively hard-to-digest image of Donald Fehr accepting a salary cap -- for more revenue sharing, Bettman wants the players to forfeit more and more money to keep the Coyotes and Panthers afloat.You know what would be my next proposal if I'm Fehr?1. Move the Coyotes to Quebec. Tomorrow.2. Pay the city of Sunrise enough cash to bolt the Panthers out of their long-term lease in Florida, and move to Seattle.I know of at least one NHL team captain -- don't overthink it -- who is very much in favor of seeing the NHL add another team in the northwest. Would be great for the Canucks, the California teams and the sport.

Guest: Was Doc Emrick enjoying the pennant race from London?

Dejan Kovacevic: He was, indeed, even as he, Pierre McGuire and I were enjoying the Serbs devour Australia in water polo right in front of us.

Dave: Pitching...yada yada....ah who's gonna play 2nd base for us now?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd imagine you'll see some combination of Jordy Mercer or Josh Harrison, probably Mercer since Harrison's gone so cold.Either way, if you saw Neil Walker's tweet within the past hour, he described the injury as "just a dislocation." I'd have to presume that was written AFTER he met with Dr. Mark Baratz, the hand specialist over at AGH. That's excellent news.

Guest: DK, welcome back! Yes, a lot of folks were talking about Ye Shiwen - mainly that she was using PED's. What do you think the odds are that she is dirty?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, they talked about her being on PEDs. They talked about all the Jamaican sprinters being on PEDs. They talked about pretty much anyone coming from a country not close to their own being on PEDs. That's how it works.They're all tested the same by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Biz: Dejan, do you see the FO doing something to try to help the PBC get back on the right track? If so, what can they do?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, it has to be internal, for sure. But it's got to be something. This bench continues to carry some serious dead weight. Been pushing for Jeff Clement much of the summer, but if they didn't add him when he was on fire, not sure they'll do so now. There's always Matt Hague. Jose Tabata is hitting .304 but still with just nine extra-base hits in 148 at-bats. No thanks. Brock Holt's looked wonderful in his first few games there, but no way.It's not an attractive group of hitters, for sure.But pitching?Sure, let's see Chris Leroux, Bryan Morris, Wilson ... be open to it. And it doesn't have to wait till Sept. 1. These games count, too.

It's Tampa Bay Lightning time. Short Qs, short As, as many as we can ...

Matt in Chicago: Who wins more games this year, Pitt or Penn State?

Dejan Kovacevic: Neither school has a legit QB, but Pitt's got a running game -- especially if Ray Graham can be fully ready -- and Pitt's still in the Big East, so Pitt.

Mj: I really like Travis Snider so far, just a little concerned about his past hamstring problems.

Dejan Kovacevic: As you should be. Hamstrings don't go away. They're mostlly a matter of solid work ethic and maintenance, which is another red flag. Snider's batted .341 since the trade, which is nice, but he's got to stay on the field.

mayhay22: More brawling - Steelers camp or Trib staff meeting?

Dejan Kovacevic: Depends on whether someone brings donuts.

dillonerd: Are you satisfied with the punishment the NCAA levied on Penn State?

Dejan Kovacevic: Unequivocally, yes. I saw it and still do see it as worse than the "death penalty," as defined by SMU. See my reaction column to that for more.

Heartbreak Beat: Does Wallace report once camp breaks?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wallace's trainer told our Alan Robinson he'll be in soon. Sounds plausible and logical to me. At some point or other, he needs to be part of this offense, this playbook in order to best participate. He has to know that.

NYJohn: Starting running back against Denver?

Dejan Kovacevic: Chris Rainey. Sure is setting up that way, isn't it? Not only is Rainey the one doing all the slots and screens, but he's also healthier. Groin injuries are slow to heal, and Isaac Redman's running out of time.

dillonerd: Did you even think about having a cup of tea in London or was it just a straight Starbucks IV?

Dejan Kovacevic: You know that answer.

David: Who will end up leading the Steelers in rushing yards on the year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Rashard Mendenhall. He's not as far off as most people seem to think.

NYJohn: If Wallace shows, does a contract get done?

Dejan Kovacevic: No doubt in my mind. Look at how -- and when -- LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu were done last year. They finished Troy as the team was headed to the charter jet.

NYJohn: Will the entire Pirates season (and our collective mental health) really come down to the series against Atlanta?

Dejan Kovacevic: Would you take that if offered right now?Yep. Thought so.Enjoy!

chris: are we going to plunk someone when we see cincy again?

Dejan Kovacevic: One would think so. But part of the whole baseball etiquette is that you look kind of lame doing stuff like that too long after the fact. We'll see. Beating that team will mean a lot more than beaning them.

Creyzninja: Pens A cup favorite this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: With the planet's two best players, both healthy and ready?

How could they not be?

chuck: DK have to be getting a bit concerned about the Steelers depth at LB and RB with the injuries so far in camp?

Dejan Kovacevic: Much more about linebacker than anything else. There's no answer if James Harrison can't stay on the field. None. This is a defense that wasn't forcing turnovers as it is. And those won't come as the result of picks from the secondary, so it's got to be pressure.Who does that if Harrison's out?

Thundercrack: Is there any way we could get ROOT Sports to show more Wandy camera shots....and lots less crowd camera shots?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wandy Cam!Watch him pout and hate all of us Pittsburghers all game long!(I'm kidding, for your late-comers.)

Algiff: Your feelings on MLB adding 1 at bat to Melky to make him eligible for batting title. I think you add none or all.

Dejan Kovacevic: Check tomorrow's column for that topic.

Ryan W: Dejan thanks for your time, Do you think Chris Rainey can fill the "stretch the field" role if Wallace decides to hold out into the season?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's not something you do out of the backfield. When Wallace breaks off the line, he'll take two DBs with him 40 yards down the field. That leaves 10 against 9 closer to the line, and it leaves Antonio Brown more room to work underneath. That's where you'd see Rainey get the ball out of the air.

dillonerd: Do you think the Olympics would be better off dividing TV rights between competing networks like the NFL and other sports do instaed of selling everything to NBC?

Dejan Kovacevic: The world as a whole would be better off if the BBC took over EVERYTHING. Unbelievably professional broadcasts of the Olympics, news, everything.

Algiff: where do the Buccos finish in or out of the playoffs. Also did Cincy get in Cutch head by hitting him, not the same player since

Dejan Kovacevic: I've heard that theory. Convenient timing, nothing else. McCutchen's been hit before and hit in the head. He responded with the same toughness he's shown his whole life. This was on the shoulder.People are starved for narratives.

Jon: Many fans & media members bought in to James McDonald's great first half of the season. I was cautiously optimistic. The fact is - he has a better track record of a guy that loses his command & mental part of the game than a guy who is lights out. Do you see JMac consistently pitching to his upside, or will he always be a question mark?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ah, yes, YOU were the one who thought McDonald wasn't all that great when he ranked among the league's top five in nearly every category. Knew there had to be someone.No, seriously, he's hit a bad patch. That's all. When he rediscovers his curve -- a pitch he's thrown well all his life -- he'll be fine. Needs it more than most.

Last one today ...

Pirate Fan North: Starling Marte, 3 walks 23 strike outs and a .281 on base percentage... even if you like the power potential what possible reason could there be for him, especially given his poor minor league history in this area, to still be hitting in the lead off spot?

Dejan Kovacevic: Marte has never profiled at leadoff in his career, so it's unfair to attach leadoff expectations. Even until his final at-bat in Indy, he was batting third. I'd say third or fifth is more in line with what he can do over the long haul.

In the short term, who's your leadoff guy, the great on-base guy?If you go straight OBP, you put McCutchen back up there. No chance now with 24 home runs on the board.Maybe it could be Travis Snider. He's gotten on base consistently since the trade, and he had a .383 OBP for his career in the minors. He'll find a way.

That's all. I have a baseball column for tomorrow, and I'll cover Steelers-Colts on Sunday night. After that, I'll be taking a little time off. Was supposed to do that this week upon returning from the Olympics, but NBC's tape delay threw it off.The column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The chat is Thursday. And the blog is like the London Underground. Follows you everywhere even when you don't realize it.

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