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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Aug. 30, 2013

| Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 1:06 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, everyone. Ton of ground to cover today. But I wanted to call attention to two items beforehand:

1. The Trib has its NFL Preview section coming out Sunday. It's 12 pages, filled with features and graphics and stuff, and it looks spectacular in print. Hope you can set aside a dollar for it.

2. About a half-hour ago, had a great talk on TribLIVE Radio about how a team gets covered critically, such as the Pirates and the how and why something like that can change. It was Guy Junker's question, and it was a great one. Here's the podcast.

Away we go ...

Matthew: I'm pleased with the acquisition of Byrd and Buck but are the Pirates still interested in Justin Morneau? Haven't heard much the last day or so.

Dejan Kovacevic: Indications are ... not strong, but outright powerful that the Pirates are pushing hard on Morneau. Doesn't mean they'll get him, but from what I've heard in the past 24 hours, I feel more strongly about it than at any point.

Dom: Good Afternoon DK, Based on last year and the preseason, I'm thinking the Steelers will have a sub-.500 season. Evidently, I'm in the minority. I've noticed numerous individuals on national sports publications had the Steelers winning the wild card and some had us winning the division! Am I underestimating the Steelers this season? Thanks!

Dejan Kovacevic: You are, Dom, though I respect the way you feel about it and should point out you aren't alone in that regard. Fact is, most readers I've heard from feel similarly, maybe swayed a bit too much by this blah preseason.

My season prediction will be in the Sunday column that runs as part of our NFL preview, but my stance all through this summer has been that the Steelers will outperform most expectations and that their schedule stinks. Both still apply.

It's a flawed team, but it's got enough winning pieces to win.

Ryan: What do you think Martin will decide to do with the Pens defense? Will the teams entire strategy change, or just their defense?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm sure you mean Jacques Martin, and the best way to answer that is to emphasize that we don't yet know if Martin will decide anything. The Penguins hired him but really didn't clarify a role or even specific specialties.

I'd be stunned beyond words if the Penguins changed much about Dan Bylsma's system, given his devout belief in it not only as the foundation for their play but also his reluctance to adjust in even the most dire times.

But we'll see. Ray Shero didn't hire someone of Martin's pedigree to scoop up the pucks after practice.

War Horse: Dejan, Very good column this morning. My question is: Is there a time-tested remedy other than a few days off and complete rest for end-of-season players' fatigue? I saw a Brewers player in the dugout last night drinking from a can of Red Bull. With the days of pep pills long gone, could extra caffeine be the answer? Do the ball players continue to run and work out in the gym as heavily now as they did in April?

Dejan Kovacevic: There are all kinds of ways to get yourself going (said the self-confessed caffeine addict), but caffeine for an athlete generally isn't a great idea. It comes with the famous caffeine crashes, and it has a dehydrating effect, neither helpful.

No, baseball players don't lift or run nearly as much. The games themselves keep them in optimal shape. It's more a matter of muscle maintenance and flexibility and, above all, sleep this time of year.

Thanks, regarding the wild card column today.

carisi99: Through the KC game last year, Ben had 17 TDs to 4 INT and a passer rating of 100. The team was avg 23 points a game with few short fields due to a lack of turnovers forced by the D. That was about 3 PPG more than the previous year. Is Todd Haley really the problem or would we be talking about how great Haley's offense is if Ben didn't get hurt?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's crossed my mind, but I suspect we'll never know now, given that Ben has successfully pushed back and gotten the no-huddle and the Ben-being-Ben plays back into the Rosetta Stone. You could be right, though. It looked very efficient there before the injury against K.C.

Mike Adams: DEjan, just ran the numbers and the Pirates have the WORST difference between OPS and OPS with RISP at -.055. The Cardinals are far and away tops at +.124. I agree with your thoughts on clutch, but this sure indicates that are not doing well with men in RISP. Is it a problem with their approach?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, you can cite it as a problem, Mike, but good luck with correlation vs. causation. In other words, you'd have to demonstrate that these players' performance drops in such situations, and you'd have to do it over a meaningful sample. I don't think you can. The research suggests you can't. That's why the stats geeks correctly, I think, pan clutch as a concept in baseball.

What the Pirates could use in this regard — and they did have some early in the season — is some plain old luck in terms of when their hits come. And, of course, they could do a lot better in terms of actually generating more baserunners. The Cardinals do that.

theplanisworking: After watching the preseason games, any surprises to make the Steelers 53-man roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, Mark Kaboly, the Trib's football beat man, posited on TribLIVE Radio this morning one wild scenario in which the Steelers would cut Landry Jones — presuming no teams will want him, and he can be retained to the practice squad — and keep six running backs.

How's that?

I kind of like it. No question Felix Jones has made this team, based on what Mike Tomlin was saying about him late last night.

T.S.: Beyond Liriano, not real confident in the Pirates playoff rotation. I'd like to see LHP Kris Johnson get a start soon; hoping maybe he's a darkhorse. Just don't see Locke in anything other than a bullpen spot come October.

Dejan Kovacevic: Man, Locke sure is getting buried for a guy who was a legit All-Star a month and change back.

Locke's tired, plain and simple. He's tired.

I had a rather spirited discussion with Clint Hurdle about this yesterday at PNC Park. When Hurdle was talking about Locke not getting the breaks on ground balls the way he did earlier this season, it sounded like more of the regression talk that's dogged Locke from Day 1.

It's accurate. It really is. Locke could never have continued stranding so many runners. It was bound to catch.

But to call it regression and wash your hands of anything else is to miss what I think is the larger point: He's tired and, as a result, he can't bust right-handed hitters under the fists anymore.

When I asked Hurdle about that, he acknowledged it's true. And I replied, “But that isn't luck,” and he acknowledged that, too.

The manager continued: “We've seen on occasion where he can still locate and pinpoint in that area, but it hasn't been as consistent as it was in the first half.”

Exactly. Don't give up on Locke. A couple weeks of doing nothing should help a ton. Remember, everyone else in that rotation — save for Locke and Gerrit Cole — have had actual down time with their arms this summer.

Delaware Ed: 3B coach is holding up too many runners on a poor hitting team-yes?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. Nick Leyva really needs to get more aggressive. And I'm not necessarily talking about Andrew McCutchen last night. (That's on Cutch for dogging it out of the box.) Just in general.

Jimmy D: Talk me off the ledge! 0-4 presason after a 2-6 finish last season. Every game it seems they give up an easy 6 points due to special teams, or an offensive turnover. I haven't seen anything in preseason that has corrected the bad trends from the last season.

Dejan Kovacevic: Two words, Jimmy: 1. Pre. 2. Season.

Check today's Morning Java blog entry for more on the preseason panic factor.

brendan: Regarding covering the forthcoming Olympics in Sochi, you've often made it clear when covering sports locally that you prefer understandably to keep politics a separate matter. The two are quite clearly on a collison course next year in Russia. Was curious as to how you planned to approach this coverage (obviously you've also covered international news in the past). Is it appropriate in your judgement solicit comments and reactions on the Russian laws from local Olympic participants (i.e. Penguins players), particularly those who are Russian citizens?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Olympics are a separate beast for me. When I've covered the Opening Ceremony — and I've done three — you've read in each account the various politics involved, whether it's protests or the two Koreas marching together or ovations for war-torn countries.

The Games are always bigger than sport.

And yes, I agree that — especially since athletes apparently are gearing up to make quite the statement, one way or the other, over Russia's anti-gay laws — politics will be part of Sochi. And all due questions and coverage will result, yes.

That said, wow, what a mess Vladimir Putin is making. There are a billion ways he could avoid this, even if just for show (not that I'm advocating that), and he's willfully taking the most stubborn approach at every step.

Newtang: Do you think the Steelers would've been better off in the long term to cut Ike Taylor and keep Keenan Lewis?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, no. That would have to take into account money owed to Ike and the cap hit for years to come. Besides, Ike is still very good at what he does.

There's a lot of angst over the No. 3 corner, and I get that. It's valid. Willie Gay has been lousy, Curtis Brown even lousier, Josh Victorian nowhere. It's a concern.

But you don't make roster decisions based on upgrading No. 3 by diminishing your 1 and 2.

Also, let's not pretend that Keenan was worth anywhere close to what the Cardinals just paid him. Not if he can't catch the football once in a while.

Chuddy: Will Travis Snider be on the expanded roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: He absolutely will. Hurdle mentioned that yesterday.

yinzer in va: Dejan, Gomez needs to start. He gives us the best chance to win. Yes, he's good out of the bullpen, but right now we need wins to retake the division.

Dejan Kovacevic: Gomez no longer can start, barring an emergency. He's at a 50-pitch limit because of the way his summer has played out, mostly in long relief. Not going to happen.

Matt in Ann Arbor: Excited for the Pitt Season to start Monday, and though I think Paul Chryst will have Pitt in a good position long term, is this year a bad year, with FSU, ND, Miami all on the schedule.

Dejan Kovacevic: The next person I hear from who's optimistic about the 2013 Panthers will be the first. And I'm not feeling much differently.

The defense has some good takeaway guys and an outright star in Aaron Donald up front, so that could be respectable. (Maybe not Monday, but after that.) It's the offense that gets you. There just aren't any true playmakers. Tom Savage, even if he scrapes off three years of rust, isn't going to turn into Tommy Football. Devin Street is a solid receiver, but he's not the bust-it-wide-open type. Tyler Boyd actually is that kind of player, but a true freshman coming out of Class A high school ball ... it's a bit early to ask that much. And running back doesn't look much better.

Looks to me like just another buildiing-block type year as Chryst puts his stamp on the team, especially the O-line he so covets.

hankpsu: How likely do you think it is that Bill O'Brien bolts for the NFL? And how soon? As thrilled as I am that he is our coach, can't help but worry he'll be off sooner rather than later

Dejan Kovacevic: Watch the Board of Trustees to see that. Not kidding here. The more that the Paterno wackos get their way by chipping at the Board's composition — and they're regularly getting their people elected — the less O'Brien will be able to just tune those people out.

It's a shame. O'Brien looks like he could be a great coach, and I really believe after this past offseason that he could make a home at Penn State rather than take off. But the old-timers among the alumni need to let him have the program and let the other stuff fade away.

I'll say it again: What O'Brien did in 2012 was the coaching job not of the year but of the century.

pattonbb: Hey Dejan, Have you ever witnessed a player cuss out a beat writer the way Brandon Phillips did C. Trent Rosecrans? Could you imagine Hurdle just sitting there smiling while a Bucco did that?

Dejan Kovacevic: Dusty Baker made a spectacular fool of himself there, didn't he?

As for the player cussing out the reporter, I've found it amusing that it's gotten that much attention, and I'm sure it's only because it was on camera. That type of thing happens a couple times a year to every reporter (worth his or her salt) everywhere on every beat.

One of the Pirates' coaches under Jim Tracy once swung a bat behind me, hard enough to dig into a wall, while I was talking to Matt Capps. It was supposed to send some kind of message, I presume. My talk with Capps never stopped, and the coach stormed away.

Happens a lot. We're not in this business to make friends.

DNY: Re: Landry Jones, if you're gonna spend a 4th round pick on a third-string QB (for the current year at least) shouldn't you at least be confident he can make the team and you don't have to hope no one else wants him? I know drafting is a roll of the dice but jeez.

Dejan Kovacevic: Looks like a lousy pick, no question. That said, it's hard to get on the Steelers' draft as a whole, when we're all talking about how the 2013 team just might be defined by not one but three players from that class in Jarvis Jones, Le'Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton.

Which leads us to Tampa Bay Lightning time, I do believe ...

Guest 23: Any hope at all that Savage can lead Pitt to a win over the Seminoles?

Dejan Kovacevic: Florida State would have to commit a bunch of turnovers for that to happen, and given that Jimbo Fisher's built this particular offense along the run, I don't see that.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised the line is still only 10. Ask me, and a 10-point loss looks pretty good on the Panthers' ledger.

Daquido Bazzini: I'm a fan of Kevin Colbert....But when the off-season started, he more than hinted of big changes coming to an 8-8 team. Why the lack of change in your opinion? And I might add....There were more cut-able players when it came to salary cap issues.

Dejan Kovacevic: Six new starters out of 22 isn't change for you?

That's what the number will be when Bell is back, and I'm not even accounting for Wheaton ultimately supplanting Jerricho Cotchery. That would be seven.

Guest 23: Speaking of the Olympics, will Parise be the American captain? Also, I can't think of a better brain trust than what's running the Americans.

Dejan Kovacevic: I could see it being Zach Parise, sure. You never know if the team will try to get leadership through an older type, but it's usually best to get it from a guy making an impact out there.

As for the brain trust, I'll agree that David Poile and Ray Shero will be great. But — and this pains me to say — Brian Burke and Ron Wilson got terrific results in international competition. They're both about as likable as barracudas, but they conducted themselves well in Olympic settings (not always easy) and produced winners. The 2010 silver medalist was one of the great achievements in American hockey.

pattonbb: Hi DK, does Ta'amu make the 53 man roster? What about Joe Long?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ta'amu yes. Long, jeez, that wouldn't bode well. But they don't have much on the outside.

hankpsu: How much longer will Pedro keep hitting cleanup? Would the Pirates be better off with Byrd there (even against righties)?

Dejan Kovacevic: I like Byrd there for a bunch of reasons, not least of which is I'll go for routine contact with guys on base vs. the strikeout.

pattonbb: I like Moye too. Will the Steelers keep 5 WRs?

Dejan Kovacevic: Derek Moye has been wonderful, a real find. No way he gets cut. None.

Rob: Did Mike Golic Jr. play at all in the preseason?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, he did. Was out there in the second half last night, too.

Copanut: Dejan - any chance John Buck can play first base? Could be a strong bat to substitute for Garrett and/or Gaby.

Dejan Kovacevic: Buck is a catcher. That's it.

BigNick: obviously, Pie is gonna be the odd man out. But who is Sundays starter? Taillion?

Dejan Kovacevic: Why would Pie be odd man out? Rosters can expand that day.

Sunday's starter hasn't been announced. All I know is that a) Sure doesn't sound like Gomez, given the pitch limit and b) Sure doesn't sound like Kris Johnson, given that he pitched two nights ago and, in Hurdle's words, “would have to pitch on short rest.”

hankpsu: Will the Pirates non-tender Garrett Jones this offseason?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd be surprised if they didn't.

Jim: Are there any rumblings regarding Heinz field upgrading their Wi-Fi capabilities? I see the Pats and other NFL trying to upgrade the stadium experience but outside of adding some cholesterol choices I'm not aware of anything in the land of yellow seats.

Dejan Kovacevic: The wi-fi is better there so far this preseason. Still not great. They need to go to Dallas and see how Jerry did it. Spectacular. The stadium shared by the Giants and the Other Jets also is great for this.

It's an issue, yes.

Bradford: Who gets the most carries in Week 1, or in the first five weeks for that matter? Seems like a big committee once again for now.

Dejan Kovacevic: I would say Jonathan Dwyer. I'd like to say Jonathan Dwyer. But I can just see where all Tomlin recalls from last night's game is that Dwyer fumbled for the second week in a row, and I can picture a whole lot of Isaac Redman and the little guys going against Tennessee.

Zack: Aren't people a little too concerned with the Pirates .500 record since July 1? They weren't going to keep up the pace they had.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a fair way to put it. Not like they've caved. Just kind of leveled off.

PirateApologist: When you are speaking to people in other cities, does the idea that Pittsburgh is a smog-filled city still come up and need to be corrected, or do people realize how great it is here?

Dejan Kovacevic: The misperceptions remain great. But you know what? It's changing. Derrick Goold, my friend who covers the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this week brought his wife with him to see Pittsburgh for the first time. I love hearing stuff like that.

Guest 23: I'm sure thrilled football is back! I miss it when it's gone!

Dejan Kovacevic: That makes two of us, at the very least.

Guest: Cam Heyward: where does he fit in Steelers plans?

Dejan Kovacevic: Fourth-quarter mopup duty in preseason games, apparently.

Copanut: Who wins the punting job, Dejan?

Dejan Kovacevic: Drew Butler, mostly by default.

Dejan Kovacevic: One more today ...

Daquido Bazzini: Some think Wandy Rodriguez will be back in September, and some think not till next year. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Watched Wandy throw on flat ground yesterday, then embrace Ray Searage and smile the whole way off the field. Seemed encouraging.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all for this week. The columns run Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. The TribLIVE Radio show is Wednesday, this here chat Friday. And the blog is like Curtis Brown. You keep sending it out there hoping it does good things, no matter all evidence to the contrary.

Thanks to all who participated!

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