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Kovacevic: Hey, can this Wandy guy hit?

| Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 12:04 a.m.
Houston Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez gives a thumbs-up in the dugout moments after finding out that he had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, during the fifth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 24, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Karen Warren)
Christopher Horner
Wandy Rodriguez pitches against the Pirates May 13, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Issac Redman during OTAs at Heinz Field June 7, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

I'm London bound on this Wednesday afternoon, all packed for 17 days of the world's greatest gathering of any kind. Before takeoff, though, some parting thoughts on stuff I'd never get through customs ...

· Wandy Rodriguez?

Yes, please, and seconds after that.

This is precisely the kind of commitment the Pirates' front office needed to show to this remarkable team - the past couple nights against the Cubs notwithstanding - and to the city that's now turning the stiles 32,000 times on Tuesdays.

Rodriguez, 33, is a durable swing-and-miss lefty who — if Erik Bedard pitches as he did Monday — would give the Pirates a nice combo from that side. It also gives them depth and a way to remove ineffective Kevin Correia from the rotation.

I really like at least two of the three prospects the Pirates sent away. Rudy Owens and Robbie Grossman have been under-appreciated by national types for years. But I like even more seeing Neal Huntington and the front office — Rodriguez is guaranteed $12.2 million the next three seasons — toward making this season better.

Now, how about that bat?

· We're still waiting on Starling Marte, more inexplicably than ever given what we've seen of late from Alex Presley and Drew Sutton in left field. (Not to mention late-inning, pinch-hitting demon Gorkys Hernandez, but that is a rant unto itself).

The Pirates need to get over their fear.

That's not a cheap shot. They're openly fretting over setbacks experienced by Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Presley and other players not named Marte. They worry he'll come up and fail, so they're hemming and hawing and fixating on slumps rather than streaks.

This has been one of my few beefs with the development process overseen by Huntington and Kyle Stark: They invest so much time and energy on what a player can't do that it blurs their view of what he can. There can be value to that in teaching, but it can go too far.

· Be very sure Marte isn't afraid.

· This is what Will Fleming, Triple-A Indianapolis' broadcaster, had to say about Marte on Tuesday: "Is he big-league ready? Yes. He is. Does that mean he could come up there tomorrow as an All-Star type player and not have any down days or growing pains? No. But is he a player who could help the Pirates win more games? Yes."

Isn't that kind of the objective?

Fleming isn't a baseball evaluator, but I've heard from plenty who share his sentiment. Passionately.

· Of all the new faces in new places the Steelers will see upon reporting to St. Vincent College, Isaac Redman is my pick to click, Chris Rainey is my pick to win the annual Baron Batch Award for camp buzz, and my main concern is Keenan Lewis.

What, you didn't know — or care — that William Gay is gone?

It's worth noticing. Yeah, Gay had only two interceptions (that's when a defender catches a pass by the quarterback), but he did have 13 passes defensed, two touchdowns allowed and no completions longer than 27 yards.

That's not All-Pro, but it's not all bad.

Lewis is 26 and still hasn't achieved much. He isn't lacking in athleticism or confidence, but he's made one NFL start since being a third-round pick in 2009 and has worked mostly on special teams. He did get out with the regular defense last season, but only in the nickel. Even at Oregon State, he had just seven career picks in 48 starts.

This is an anointed starter?

· By the end of the new contract Mike Tomlin signed Tuesday, he'll have been at the helm for 10 full seasons. So, between him, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, the Steelers will have had three head coaches over 48 years.

For further perspective, since 1969, the Pirates have had 11 different managers and the Penguins 20 head coaches.

· Nothing since the Zapruder film has been dissected like the Freeh report, but even so, one striking note slipped broader notice: According to the investigation, Joe Paterno never informed his assistant coaches of Jerry Sandusky's transgressions.

Roll your eyes at that if you wish. It does require a leap of faith.

But if we're accepting the Freeh report as the basis for massive sanctions against Penn State and the removal of Paterno's statue, it's only fair this chapter is accepted, too.

That means no more speculation about what Tom Bradley might have known and no more criticism of Bill O'Brien for employing two holdover Paterno assistants, Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden.

Can't have it both ways.

· I've been impressed with O'Brien from the day he was hired, and that hasn't been diminished at all with his pledge - reiterated Tuesday with gusto — to stick by Penn State through the four years of sanctions.

I just can't see it happening. O'Brien's a young man at 42, with a pedigree of success at a higher level in the NFL. No one should blame him — or be surprised — if he leaves.

· If it's true that an Eastern Conference team has offered free-agent winger Shane Doan a four-year contract — and one never puts anything past the Flyers — the Penguins should wish Doan good luck and a happy 36th birthday in October. Not worth it.

· The honor of covering these Olympics — my third — will be made all the more special by what should be a majestic Opening Ceremony in London on Friday night. Looking forward to bringing it to you every day.

Oh, and I'll let you know if the Zimbabwe contingent flashes the Zoltan "Z."

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